May 25 2017

Flying Tigers

Tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Female eastern tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

There are tigers in the park, floating among the trees, gliding in the sunshine, visiting the flowers.

Eastern tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) first appeared in Schenley Park in April.  Their caterpillars feed on many kinds of trees including wild cherry, magnolia, tuliptree, cottonwood and willow, so they get started early and can produce two to three broods per year.

You can sex this butterfly by color.  Female tiger swallowtails have iridescent blue on both sides of their hindwings.  The males are black where the females are blue.

While you’re looking closely to figure out their sex, notice that their tiny bodies are striped, too.

Eastern tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Eastern tiger swallowtail (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Striped all over, these are tiny flying tigers.

 

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

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May 24 2017

Looking Speckled

Cathedral of Learning chicks, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Cathedral of Learning chicks, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At 29 days old, the peregrine falcon chicks at the Cathedral of Learning look different than they did a week ago on Banding Day.  Their juvenile feathers now give them a speckled brown-and-white appearance.

For comparison, here’s what they looked like on May 16.

Cathedral of Learning peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Cathedral of Learning peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Even though they’re older they still act like baby birds.  They sleep on their bellies and whine at their parents.  In the photo at top, two chicks shout at one of their parents while a third sleeps on her belly.  When they shout like this, one of the parents is perched above them out of reach.  😉

 

Meanwhile at the Gulf Tower …

Three peregrine chicks at the Gulf Tower, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Three peregrine chicks at the Gulf Tower, 23 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

… the peregrine chicks are a week older (35 days old) and already look quite brown.  When they’re not sleeping or eating they spend time pulling white down from their bodies.

The transformation is amazing.  Here’s what they looked like a week ago.

Gulf tower peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Gulf tower peregrine chicks, 16 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

The Gulf Tower youngsters will fly by the end of the month so come on down to Fledge Watch at midday, May 26-30, to see them getting ready to go.  Click here for date, time and location.

Keep an eye on the sky and check the Events page before you come Downtown!  Fledge Watch is a fair weather event so I will cancel if it’s raining. (Ugh! Rain is predicted all weekend.)

 

p.s. Yes, there will be a Fledge Watch for the Cathedral of Learning peregrines — probably June 2-6 — but I haven’t scheduled it yet.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at University of Pittsburgh and Gulf Tower)

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May 23 2017

Fluff In The Air

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Cottonwood fluff on the ground (photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

Cottonwood fluff on the ground (photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

In late May, you’ll see white fluff in the air as you search the sky for birds.  It’s not dandelion fluff.  This is cottonwood season.

The eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) grows in open and riparian habitats from the Rockies to the southeastern coast. Western Pennsylvania is on the eastern edge of their range.

Range map of the eastern cottonwood (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Range map of the eastern cottonwood (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Cottonwoods are one of the fastest growing and largest trees in North America.  Reaching up to 130 feet tall the trunk can be more than five feet across.  The trees require bare soil and full sun to germinate so you usually see them out in the open, sometimes alone.

Eastern cottonwood (photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Eastern cottonwood (photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

 

Their species name, deltoides, describes the leaf shape that looks a lot like aspens. Both trees are in the willow family.

Cottonwood leaves (photo by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

Cottonwood leaves (photo by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

 

In early spring cottonwoods sprout male and female catkins. The females are fertilized by wind-blown pollen and become drooping strings of seed capsules.  In May the capsules burst open to release thousands of tiny seeds, each one attached to a bit of “cotton” that carries it on the wind.  (The brown spots in this photo are seed capsule covers, not the seeds.)

Eastern cottonwood seeds, still on the branch (photo by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org)

Eastern cottonwood seeds, still on the branch (photo by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org)

 

The fluff breaks off and blows away but each tree is so prolific that in windless conditions, when the fluff falls straight to the ground, it looks like snow.

Do you want to see a lot of cottonwood fluff?  Drive north on Route 528 from the bridge over Moraine State Park‘s Lake Arthur. Eventually cottonwoods are on both sides of the road.

There’s fluff in the air there!

 

(photo credits:
fluff on the ground by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
range map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original
clump of cottonwood trees by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
cottonwood leaves by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
cottonwood seeds on the branch by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org
)

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May 22 2017

Why He’s Called Orange Crowned

Published by under Songbirds

Orange crown on orange-crowned warbler (photo by David Amamoto)

Orange-crowned warbler (photo by David Amamoto)

Have you seen an orange-crowned warbler?  Have you ever seen his crown?

Orange-crowned warblers (Oreothlypis celata) are difficult to identify because they are so dull.  They’re drab grayish-yellow or olive-yellow birds with no wing bars and no obvious field marks except for yellow undertail coverts, very pointy beaks (like so many other warblers) and faint gray eyelines.

Like ruby-crowned kinglets, orange-crowned warblers don’t raise their head feathers unless they’re excited.  Kinglets are often excited but these warblers are calm.  I’d never seen an orange crown … until now.

Thanks to David Amamoto we can finally see how the bird got his name.  Great photo, David!

Click here and scroll down to see more orange-crowned warblers and the birds they resemble.

 

(photo by David Amamoto)

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May 21 2017

Today’s Outing in Schenley Park

Published by under Books & Events

Schenley park outing, 21 May 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Schenley park outing, 21 May 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Fifteen of us had a great time in Schenley Park this morning.  We saw 33 species of birds including nesting Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes.  The two youngest members of our group found frogs, turtles and an enormous goldfish in the lake.  Wow!

We started off with a distant look at a peregrine falcon perched at the Cathedral of Learning.  My guess is that we saw Hope watching over the chicks.  If you were viewing the falconcam you wouldn’t have seen her but she was quite close.

Best Birds were scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes, plus a first-of-year Acadian flycatcher.  Here’s the complete checklist on eBird.

I was worried that storms would cancel the outing but we had bright sunny weather.  As I write this, dark clouds are moving in.  Now it can rain.  🙂

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 21 2017

Jack In The Pulpit

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Jack in the pulpit, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Jack in the pulpit, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has been blooming for about two weeks in western Pennsylvania.  As the forest floor greens up you might not notice this unusual flower.

Here’s a whimsical look at Jack’s odd characteristics.  Sometimes he is “Jill.”

Jack Explains Himself

 

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May 20 2017

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, May 26-30

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Three young peregrines are growing at the Gulf Tower and will fledge before you know it.  It’s time for Fledge Watch, May 26-30, 2017.

This year the Downtown watch will be a purely social occasion.  The Gulf Tower is so tall that we don’t have to worry that the young birds will land in the street.  Instead we’ll have a falcon fans get-together and an opportunity to educate the public about peregrines.

With that in mind, on weekdays I’ll be at The Pennsylvanian entry — 1100 Liberty Avenue — where folks can stop by during lunch hour.  On Memorial Day weekend John English and I will be up at Flag Plaza where there’s plenty of free parking and a good view of the Gulf Tower.

Here are the details.

When & Where on Business Days:

Fri May 26 and Tues May 30
11:30am to 1:30pm
On the sidewalk at The Pennsylvanian RR station area, 1100 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. See arrow below.

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch on weekdays (screenshot from Google maps with pin)

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch on weekdays (screenshot Google maps with pin)

The Pennsylvanian, 1100 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh,PA (photo from oncarrot.com)

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch on weekdays at The Pennsylvanian, 1100 Liberty Ave (photo from oncarrot.com)

 

When & Where on Memorial Day Weekend

Sat May 27, Sun May 28, Mon May 29
11:30am to 1:30pm.  Hours may be extended. Check back as the weekend approaches!
At Flag Plaza (Boy Scouts building), 1275 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Location of Flag Plaza (via John English on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page)

Location of Flag Plaza (via John English on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page)

 

Come for as little or as long as you’d like. Bring binoculars if you have them.

Hope to see you there!

p.s.  CHECK HERE or on the EVENTS PAGE for SCHEDULE UPDATES.
Fledge Watch is a fair weather event. It will be canceled if it’s raining or storming.

 

(photo credits:  Fledge Watchers by Kate St. John. The Pennsylvanian from oncarrot.com, Location of Flag Plaza via John English on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page)

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May 19 2017

Apples in May

Mayapple flower turning into a May Apple (photo by Kate St. John)

Mayapple flower turning into an apple in May (photo by Kate St. John)

I’m taking a break from peregrines today.   Here’s a plant.    🙂

In Schenley Park, mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) bloom in April and fruit in May. The plants must have two leaves to produce a flower because the flower stalk grows from the Y between the leaves.

Here’s what they look like when they bloom.

Mayapple in flower with twin leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Mayapple in flower with twin leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The fertilized flower transitions from flower to apple in May, as shown in the photo at top.

You can eat a mayapple when it’s ripe but Be Careful!  The entire plant is poisonous and the apple is only edible when ripe!  Find out more and see a mayapple sliced open in this vintage article from 2011.

Eating Mayapples

 

 

(top photo by Kate St. John. Blooming photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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May 18 2017

Peregrines at Two Bridges

McKees Rocks Bridge (photo by Robert Strovers on Wikimedia Commons)

McKees Rocks Bridge (photo by Robert Strovers via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

On Wednesday May 17, Dan Brauning and Tom Keller of the Pennsylvania Game Commission checked for peregrine nests at the McKees Rocks and Neville Island I-79 bridges.

 

McKees Rocks Bridge:

Four peregrine chicks at McKees Rocks Bridge (photo by Tom Keller)

Four peregrine chicks at McKees Rocks Bridge (photo by Tom Keller)

With PennDOT’s help and a bucket truck, Dan and Tom found four nestlings too young to band at the McKees Rocks Bridge.  About 15 days old, they were so young that their sex could not be determined by weight.  Their nest site didn’t have a place for the chicks to practice flapping before fledging so Dan and Tom relocated them to a safer location nearby. Their mother came close to defend them. Dan noticed that she’s unbanded.

 

Neville Island I-79 Bridge:

Neville Island I-79 Bridge (photo by Robert Strovers via Wikimedia Commons)

At the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, Dan, Tom and PennDOT staff walked the catwalk all the way to the Glenfield side before they found the nest.  The nest was so far away that the five of us who came to observe the banding missed the entire show.  All we saw was the adult male peregrine strafing the bridge in the distance.

Dan and Tom found and banded four chicks about 21 days old: three females and one male.  The mother peregrine stayed near her chicks the whole time.  Even in this small photo you can read her bands (black/red 62/H), confirming that she’s Magnum from Canton, Ohio in 2010.  (*)

Magnum protects her chicks at the Neville Island Bridge, 17 Mat 2017 (photo by Tom Keller)

Magnum protects her chicks at the Neville Island Bridge, 17 Mat 2017 (photo by Tom Keller)

 

(bridge photos by Robert Strover via Wikimedia Commons.  Peregrine photos by Tom Keller, PA Game Commission)

(*) p.s. Magnum has been at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge since 2013.

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May 18 2017

Schenley Park Outing, May 21, 8:30a

Published by under Books & Events

Buttercups blooming in May (photo by Kate St. John)

Buttercups blooming in May (photo by Kate St. John)

Join me on Sunday May 21 at 8:30am for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive for this 8:30am to 10:30am walk. We’ll see flowers and late migrating birds.

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

NOTE ABOUT THUNDERSTORMS!  As of this writing there’s a 60% chance of thunderstorms on Sunday.  Weather forecasts can change so check back at this blog post or on the Events Page before you come to the outing in case I’ve had to cancel because of lightning.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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