Mar 28 2017

Now Blooming at Raccoon Creek

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Harbinger of spring, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Harbinger of spring, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Last Sunday, 26 March 2017, I visited Raccoon Creek State Park’s Wildflower Reserve to see the newest flowers.

The woods were brown and the sky was gray so I had to look closely to find small signs of spring.

Raccoon Creek at the Wildflower Reserve, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Raccoon Creek at the Wildflower Reserve, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

(Winter floods scraped the creekside vegetation. Click on the creek photo above to see.)

 

Harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was opening its tiny salt-and-pepper flowers, shown at top and below.

Harbinger of spring, just opening, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Harbinger of spring, just opening, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

It was fun to find blue flowers in the grass:  corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis), a non-native.  Our earliest spring natives aren’t this bright.

Speedwell blooming in the grass, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Speedwell blooming in the grass, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) was past its prime.

Snow trillium past its prime, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St. John)

Snow trillium past its prime, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) was blooming everywhere.  This one is surrounded by garlic mustard. 🙁

Spring beauty, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring beauty, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) bloomed among old oak leaves.

Round-lobed hepatica, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Round-lobed hepatica, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) was in bud on the south facing Jennings Trail near Shafers Rock.  I’m sure it will bloom this week.

Cutleaf toothwort, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Cutleaf toothwort, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Mar 27 2017

Why Aren’t They Sitting On The Eggs?

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

Terzo and 4 eggs, Cathedral of Learning nest, 24 Mar 2017, 12:02pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo and 4 eggs, Cathedral of Learning nest, 24 Mar 2017, 12:02pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This year we have two peregrine nests on camera in Pittsburgh and both families are incubating right now.  At the Gulf Tower the adults are always covering the eggs, but at the Cathedral of Learning the peregrines sometimes leave them exposed.  Is this bad for the eggs? Will the eggs fail?

Don’t worry. The eggs will be fine.  What you’re observing is the parents’ response to different microclimates at the nests.

A microclimate is a small area with a different temperature and/or moisture than the larger region.  You’ve probably experienced this yourself.  When it’s 50 degrees at Pittsburgh International Airport it feels cold in the shade with a 20 mph wind.  Meanwhile, next to a warm wall out of the wind it can be 68oF.

The Cathedral of Learning nest faces south, is in full sun most of the day, and is sheltered from the wind by walls that surround it on three sides. The walls retain heat so the area stays warm and allows the adult peregrines to take a break from incubation.

The Gulf Tower nest faces northeast, has no direct sunlight, and is very windy on cold days (north winds).  The nest is so cold in March and April that the peregrines must cover the eggs almost constantly.

GulfTower nest incubation underway, 23 Mar 2017,12:19pm (screenshot from National Aviary falconcam)

Gulf Tower incubation in the shade, 23 Mar 2017,12:19pm (screenshot from National Aviary falconcam)

The heat at the Cathedral of Learning is an advantage in early spring but it’s bad news in May when the weather warms up.  The area becomes so hot that the parents pant and shade their young for fear the chicks will die of heat.  Below, Hope shades her chick on a hot day in early May 2016. The Gulf Tower never has this problem!

Hope shades her chick from the hot sun, 7 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope shades her chick from the hot sun, 7 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

So don’t worry when the Pitt peregrines take an incubation break.  They know more about eggs and about the temperature at their nest than we do.

 

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

p.s. Some of you were wondering if Terzo ever participates in incubation.  Indeed he does!  Yesterday, March 26, he spent half the day on the nest, 6.25 hours.  Here’s who was incubating and when on 26 March 2017.

  • Hope: overnight – 7:12a
  • Terzo: 7:16a – 9:46a
  • Hope: 9:47a – 1104a
  • Terzo: 11:12a – 12:37p
  • Hope: 12:42p – 5:37p
  • Terzo: 5:38p – 7:50p (It was getting dark by then.)
  • Hope: 7:55p – overnight

Look carefully!  Terzo is often on camera.  Use these tips to identify him.

4 responses so far

Mar 26 2017

Hays Bald Eagle Hatch Watch

Bald eagle near the nest, 25 Mar 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Bald eagle near the Hays nest, 25 Mar 2017 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Six weeks ago on February 13, the Hays bald eagle nest tree blew over in a storm while the female was incubating her first egg.  Within a week the pair built a new nest nearby and, though they can’t be seen on the webcam, observers on the ground can tell the eagles began incubation on a new egg on February 19.

Bald eagle eggs typically hatch in 35 days.  Today, March 26, is the 35th day.

Eagle fans don’t wait until hatch day to begin their vigil.  Yesterday Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook) arrived before dawn and captured the photo above. I stopped by at 3pm and found Eaglestreamer and LFL on duty.

Eaglestreamer and LFL at the Hays bald eagle viewing site, 25 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eaglestreamer and LFL at the Hays bald eagle viewing site, 25 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eaglestreamer has tracked the Hays eagles for years and told me that their first hatch date is often Day 37 so there’s still time to be there for the big event.  (See Eaglestreamer’s hatch website here.)

Even if you miss the hatch, the eagles will be exciting in the days ahead as they bring food to the nest.

Click here for directions to the Hays viewing area.  On Facebook, see Hays bald eagle photos by Annette Devinney, Dana Nesiti, Dan Dasynich … and many of their friends.

 

(bald eagle photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook. Eaglestreamer and LFL photo by Kate St. John)

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Mar 25 2017

Face In A Twig

Published by under Trees

A face in a twig, Schenley Park, 23 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

A face in a twig, Schenley Park, 23 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

After more than a week of cold weather, the buds were not bursting in Schenley Park last Thursday as I walked around taking pictures of Spring.

Instead, I found this unopened bud that looks like a devil’s face.

It’s the bud of a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) a very common tree in southwestern Pennsylvania that tolerates pollution and thrives in the poor soil of old fields, disturbed woodlots and roadsides.

Though black locusts have devilish looking buds and twisted branches, they’re good trees to have around because they enrich the soil through nitrogen fixation.

Their roots have a symbiotic relationship with the Rhizobium bacteria. Rhizobium enters the root hairs, the plant makes tumor-like growths to surround it, then the bacteria takes in nitrogen and converts it into a form that fertilizes the plant.  Strange but true.

Look for these devilish twigs soon.  When the buds open they won’t look like faces anymore.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Mar 25 2017

Birds Were On The Move Overnight

Published by under Migration

National Weather Service radar, 25 Mar 2017, 4:48am (screenshot from NOAA)

National Weather Service radar mosaic, 25 Mar 2017, 4:48am (screenshot from NOAA)

What are the blue dots in the eastern U.S. on last night’s radar?  Birds!

South winds overnight prompted songbirds to move north from Florida to the Great Lakes.  A storm front approaching the Mississippi River and rain from Chicago to Massachusetts brought them to a halt.

Today should a good day to go birding in the areas that have those fuzzy blue dots.  Get out there before it rains.

 

(screenshot from the National Weather Service full-res radar mosaic)

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Mar 24 2017

Pittsburgh’s Puzzling Chickadees

Black-capped chickadee (photo by Chuck Tague)

Black-capped chickadee (photo by Chuck Tague, prior to 2007)

A PABIRDS discussion about chickadees in North Park reached this surprising conclusion:  If you think you’ve seen a black-capped chickadee in Allegheny County, think again.  They’re hard to find and there are fewer every year. The reason why this is happening makes our chickadees harder to identify than your typical backyard bird.

Pittsburgh’s chickadees are puzzling because we live in the contact zone where black-capped (Poecile atricapillus) and Carolina (Poecile carolinensis) meet.  When the two meet they hybridize.  Females of both species prefer Carolina males so the birds cross and back cross until the gene pool gets really mixed up.  The hybrids aren’t as successful, though, so the species remain distinct.

Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are usually identified by range — black-cappeds in the north, Carolinas in the south — but in the contact zone they’re hard to tell apart and the hybrids have traits of both.  Some look like one species and sound like the other.  Robert Curry and his team at Villanova University study chickadees in eastern Pennsylvania’s contact zone and have found that the only reliable way to identify them is by DNA test!

Here’s a black-capped and Carolina chickadee side by side, linked from Robert Curry’s Lab website.  You can see that the black-capped is larger, more colorful, and has a relatively longer tail …

Black-capped Chickadee (left), Carolina chickadee (right). (Image linked from Robert Curry Lab Research website. Click on the image to see the original in context)

Black-capped Chickadee (left), Carolina chickadee (right). (Image linked from Robert Curry’s Lab Research website. Click on the image to see the original in context)

… but they don’t pose together in the field.  Use these tips from Project Feederwatch for identifying Pittsburgh’s chickadees.  Look and listen for more than one characteristic.  If you’re not sure, label the chickadee as Carolina/Black-capped in eBird.

So why are black-capped chickadees hard to find in Allegheny County?  Why are there fewer every year?  Because the chickadee contact zone is moving north in step with our warming climate! (more on that next week)

I used to assume that “north of the rivers” was reliable black-capped territory but not any more. In these maps from Neighborhood Nestwatch data, Bob Mulvihill plotted four years of banding black-cappeds (red), Carolinas (blue) and hybrids (green) within 50 miles of Downtown Pittsburgh.   Neighborhood Nestwatch didn’t use DNA tests; they measured the birds.

Map of black-capped, Carolina and potential hybrid chickadees banded at Neighborhood Nestwatch in southwestern Pennsylvania (map courtesy Robert Mulvihill)

Map of black-capped, Carolina and potential hybrid chickadees banded at Neighborhood Nestwatch in southwestern Pennsylvania (map courtesy Robert Mulvihill)

As you can see, the Carolinas and hybrids have (roughly) reached I-76 and jumped east of it in Monroeville.  Look at all the green dots — hybrids!  Click here for more of Bob’s chickadee maps including two zoomed in on northern Allegheny County.

Take care when you identify a chickadee in the contact zone that reaches from New Jersey to Kansas.    You can’t be lazy when identifying Pittsburgh’s puzzling chickadees.

 

(photo of black-capped chickadee at top by Chuck Tague. Black-capped and Carolina side-by-side photo is linked from Robert Curry’s Lab website.  Map of southwestern Pennsylvania Neighborhood Nestwatch chickadees: black-capped, Carolina and hybrid-sized by Robert Mulvihill, used by permission.)

4 responses so far

Mar 23 2017

A Familiar Face at Tarentum?

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcons mating at Tarentum Bridge, 21 Mar 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Peregrine falcons mating at Tarentum Bridge, 21 Mar 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

On Tuesday afternoon, March 21st, Steve Gosser was lucky to be near the Tarentum Bridge when a pair of peregrines showed up.  He was even luckier to photograph them mating.

This closeup shows that the male is banded, the female is not.

Closeup of peregrines mating at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Steve Gosser)

Closeup of peregrines mating at the Tarentum Bridge, 21 Mar 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

No, we don’t know who the male is.  The photo is too distant to read his bands even when Steve blows it up.

But I have an idea about the female.  In the closeup you can see she has lots of stripes and speckles on her breast that are similar to the unbanded female intruder who’s been visiting the Cathedral of Learning for the past year.   Here are two views of that female from her March 16th visit.

Female intruder at the Cathedral of Learning,16 March 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Female intruder at the Cathedral of Learning,16 March 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Speckled female intruder at Pitt, 16 March 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Speckled female intruder at Pitt, 16 March 2017 (This screenshot was enhanced using photo software)

Could the Tarentum female be the same bird that visits Pitt?

We need more photos and observers to know for sure.  If you’d like to help, click here for a map of the best viewing location for the Tarentum peregrines.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Mar 22 2017

Demonstrating Thoughts Of Love

Pigeons courting (photo by Aomorikuma via Wikimedia Commons)

Pigeons courting (photo by Aomorikuma via Wikimedia Commons)

In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast
In the spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest
In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove
In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

— from Locksley Hall by Alfred Tennyson

 

Despite this month’s cold weather birds are courting in western Pennsylvania.  In the cities, at the silos, pigeons are easiest to watch.

Learn how they demonstrate thoughts of love in this article from March 2010:

Thoughts of Love

 

p.s. The story told in Locksley Hall is different from its most famous line. Read more about the poem here.

(photo by Aomorikuma via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Mar 21 2017

Your Wizard For Identifying Birds

 

What bird is that? Small brown birds at the feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Small brown birds at the feeder in Indiana County, PA, early February 2014 (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

What bird is that?

There’s a small brown bird at the feeder and there’s no one to help you identify it.

Don’t you wish you had a personal assistant to help you?

Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free Merlin Bird ID app for Android and iPhone does just that.  Introduced in 2014, the app gets smarter every year.  It uses the simple information you already know — your location, the date and the words “small,” “brown,” and “at the bird feeder” — to narrow your choices and identify the bird.

To Identify a bird, answer 5 questions (screenshot from Merlin Bird ID app)

(screenshot from Merlin Bird ID app, Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

You can even take a picture with your cellphone and ask Merlin what it is.

Merlin’s answer is a list of the most likely suspects with photos, sounds and descriptions.  It even tells you if the bird is uncommon or rare for your date and location.  That’s one of the best clues you’ll find anywhere because an “uncommon” species in March can become “common” in May.

Watch the video below to see how Merlin works, then download the app.

Merlin’s a wizard at identifying birds!

 

p.s.  What birds are at Marcy Cunkelman’s feeder shown above?  She took the photo in Indiana County, PA, in early February 2014.

(bird photo by Marcy Cunkelman, Merlin Bird ID screenshot and video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

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Mar 20 2017

Birds On The Move Every Day

Published by under Migration

Birds in the Americas are on the move every day of the year — even in winter.

 Animation by Frank La Sorte/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Migration animation by Frank La Sorte/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

 

This animation by Frank La Sorte at Cornell Lab uses eBird data to show the movements of 118 species in the western hemisphere. Yes, your eBird checklists can lead to something useful and beautiful like this.

Click on the link to learn which species are on the map and how it was made in this January 2016 news from Cornell Lab:  Mesmerizing Migration: Watch 118 Bird Species Migrate Across a Map of the Western Hemisphere.

 

(animation by Frank La Sorte/Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Click on the image to see the original)

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