Aug 31 2016

It’s Time To Watch Chimneys

Across North America chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) and their look-alike western cousins, Vaux’s swifts (Chaetura vauxi), are migrating south for the winter.

 

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

Swifts eat flying insects so they migrate during the day when the insects are out.  On hot days they circle high, coursing back and forth in the clouds of bugs.  It doesn’t look like organized migration but they’re tending ever southward while they eat.

At dusk the swifts gather at big chimneys, circle in a vortex, then pop into the chimneys to roost, as shown in the video.  On cold rainy days they roost during the day to conserve energy when the bugs don’t fly.

Vaux’s swifts are on their way to Central America but the chimney swifts will go much further, crossing the Gulf of Mexico to spend the winter in Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and western Brazil. I wonder if their over-water migration gave them the species name “pelagica.”

For the next several weeks, watch chimneys at dusk to see the swifts.  Click here for suggested sites in Pittsburgh.

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube, swifts photo by Jeff Davis)

4 responses so far

Aug 30 2016

Tiny Emperors

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Tawny emperor caterpillars (photo by Kate St. John)

Tawny emperor caterpillars (photo by Kate St. John)

Ten days ago Marcy Cunkelman flipped over a leaf and showed us two hundred tiny emperors.

The squiggly green lines are caterpillars of the Tawny Emperor butterfly (Asterocampa clyton) eating the mature leaves on a hackberry tree. They also feed on other trees in the elm family (Celtis).

At this stage the caterpillars huddle and move together for protection but after the third instar they travel alone.

Eventually each caterpillar spins a cocoon and pupates into a butterfly that looks like this:

Tawny emperor butterfly (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Tawny emperor butterfly (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The butterflies don’t visit flowers. Instead they feed on rotting fruit, dung, carrion and tree sap … an odd feast for an emperor.

 

(photo of caterpillars by Kate St. John, photo of butterfly from Wikimedia Commons)

No responses yet

Aug 30 2016

Last Sunday’s Outing in Schenley Park

Published by under Books & Events

Participants at the Schenley Park outing on 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Participants at the Schenley Park outing, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

On the morning of August 28, fifteen of us braved the humidity to explore the lower end of Panther Hollow in Schenley Park.

There were wildflowers and insects galore, plus 22 species of birds.  Highlights included Baltimore orioles, two immature rose-breasted grosbeaks and at least one ruby-throated hummingbird.

A noisy flock of blue jays alerted us to a red-tailed hawk perched on a pole above the lake while northern flickers and American robins joined the fray.  Here’s the eBird checklist.

By the end of our walk we were feeling the heat.  At 10:30am it was 82oF.  That doesn’t sound bad but the dewpoint was 70oF.  Dripping with sweat, many of us looked forward to a cool respite at home.

Thank you all for coming. The next outing will begin at the Westinghouse Memorial on September 25.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

No responses yet

Aug 29 2016

Peripatetic

Hope (69/Z) preens at the Tarentum Bridge, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Hope (69/Z) preens at the Tarentum Bridge, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Peripatetic: adjective [1] traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods. (definition from Google search)

Hope (69/Z, black/green) is a peripatetic peregrine falcon.  For five years she called the Tarentum Bridge her home until last spring when she nested at the Cathedral of Learning.

In my experience, peregrines stay put when they’ve claimed a prime territory but Hope does not.  On Friday she flew 15 miles back to Tarentum and set up shop for several days.

She’s so comfortable at Tarentum that, unlike her habits at Pitt, she perches in easy view.

Last weekend Tony Bruno and Steve Gosser stopped by for some great photographs. Above, Tony got a photo of Hope’s bands while she was preening.  Look how close she is!

Below, Steve caught the action when a curious mourning dove came close while Hope was eating. The dove escaped.

Peregrine falcon, Hope, confronts a mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcon, Hope, confronts a mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcon Hope stirs up a watchful mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcon Hope stirs up a watchful mourning dove at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

...and the mourning dove escapes at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

…and the mourning dove escapes at the Tarentum Bridge, 27 Aug 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Apparently three days were long enough at Tarentum because Hope flew back to the Cathedral of Learning yesterday afternoon.  She appeared on the falconcam at 3:30pm, dug a little at the scrape and then perched and preened.

You can see her band colors below.  Her greenish right-leg band and black/green left-leg band are a diagnostic combination.

Hope reappears at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope reappears at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

And here’s her familiar face.

Hope at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:34pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope at Pitt, 28 Aug 2016, 3:34pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

She probably was at the Cathedral of Learning during last night’s terrific thunderstorm, but who knows.

Hope doesn’t perch in sight at Pitt so I’m never sure if this peripatetic bird is actually there.

 

(photos by Anthony Bruno, Steve Gosser and the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

11 responses so far

Aug 28 2016

A Close Look at Wingstem

Published by under Plants

Wingstem flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

From a distance the flower head on wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) looks like a pin cushion or a sea urchin dog-ball.

Close up you can see that each “spike” is a small flower with a pistil that splits in two curls at the top.

Wingstem flowers, closer and sharper (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem flowers, closer and sharper (photo by Kate St. John)

How fancy!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Aug 27 2016

Slender Ladies’ Tresses

Published by under Plants

Slender ladies tresses at Marcy Cunkelman's (photo by Kate St. John)

Slender ladies tresses at Marcy Cunkelman’s (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s an orchid that’s blooming now in western Pennsylvania.

Slender ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes lacera) grow in open habitats in eastern North America.  They’re found in both natural and disturbed areas.

Marcy Cunkelman was mowing when she saw two of these flowers growing among the grass.  Wow!  She stopped the mower and protected them with stakes and bright pink ribbon.

Dianne Machesney’s photo below shows that the entire plant isn’t very large and could easily be overlooked in the grass.

Slender ladies' tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Slender ladies’ tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Without the pink ribbon it really blends in.

 

(photos by Kate St.John and Dianne Machesney)

One response so far

Aug 27 2016

Hope Is Visiting Tarentum

Published by under Peregrines

Hope at Tarentum, 26 Aug 2016 (photo by Rob Protz)

Hope at Tarentum, 26 Aug 2016 (photo by Rob Protz)

August is a good time for peregrines to wander.

Yesterday evening Rob Protz found Hope hanging out at the Tarentum Bridge, her former nest site from 2010 to 2015 before she came to the Cathedral of Learning.

Earlier in the day Karen Lang and I looked for Pitt’s peregrines with no success. Now we know why.

Rob’s sighting explains where Hope was. I wonder where Terzo goes when he’s not at Pitt …

 

(photo by Rob Protz)

p.s. And after I published this, Dori visited the Gulf Tower at 7:30am.

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 27 Aug 2016, 7:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 27 Aug 2016, 7:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

11 responses so far

Aug 26 2016

Meanwhile Downtown

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine at the gargoyle, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine (probably Dori) on the gargoyle at Lawrence Hall, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

While we watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam for female challengers, the Downtown peregrines have been seen on camera, too.

Lori Maggio, Ann Hohn, and the Gulf Tower falconcam provide these photos of Dori and Louie’s whereabouts, July 29 through August 23.

Peregrine taking off from the gargoyle, 29 Jul 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Winged gargoyle? It’s a peregrine! 29 Jul 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Peregrine on the shield at Wood Street Commons, 1 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

On the shield at Wood Street Commons, 1 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Dori says "hi" at the Gulf Tower, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Ann Hohn)

Dori says “hi” at the Gulf Tower, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Ann Hohn)

Ann’s photo, above, at the Gulf Tower was taken on the same day as the top photo at Third Avenue.  These sites are only four blocks apart.

 

Peregrine at the Times Building, 15 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Dori at the Times Building, 15 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Dori gazes at her domain, Gulf Tower, 20 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori gazes at her domain, Gulf Tower, 20 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

 

Louie visits the Gulf Tower nest at 8:45pm, 23 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Louie visits the Gulf Tower nest at 8:45pm, 23 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

 

(photo credits are in the captions)

 

5 responses so far

Aug 25 2016

Reminder: Schenley Park Walk, Aug 28

Published by under Books & Events

Asian lady beetles mating, 23 August 2015, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)Just a reminder: I’m leading a bird and nature walk at Schenley Park this Sunday, August 28, 8:30am – 10:30am.

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center to see birds, late summer flowers, bugs and hummingbirds.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.  So far the weather forecast looks great!

 

(photo by Kate St. John of Asian lady beetles mating, August 2015 at Schenley Park)

No responses yet

Aug 25 2016

On Their Way to Veracruz

Published by under Migration

Pair of Prothonotary Warblers courting (photo by Kim Steininger)

Pair of Prothonotary Warblers courting (photo by Kim Steininger)

On Throw Back Thursday:

It’s still summer but North America’s warblers are already on migration to their winter homes.

Beginning in August, prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) spend three months in transit. Read more about where they go and how they spend their time in this article from August 2009.

Leaving Now for Veracruz

 

(photo by Kim Steininger)

No responses yet

Next »