May 29 2016

A Closer Look At Yarrow

Published by under Plants

Yarrow in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Yarrow in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Clusters of white flowers are blooming in fields and open forests in western Pennsylvania.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial in the Aster family, native to the northern hemisphere.  The genus name, Achillea, refers to the Greek hero who reportedly used yarrow to treat his soldiers’ wounds.  The species name, millefolium, means “a thousand leaves.” Look closely at the tiny feather-like leaves and you’ll see they’re arranged in a spiral on the stem.

Yarrow’s flowers deserve a closer look, too.  The central disk is a cluster of tiny flowers and the petals (rays) are individual flowers with nectar openings where the ray connects to the flower head.

In North America we have both native and introduced species and they hybridize so it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Watch for yarrow blooming this month and into June.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 28 2016

Roll Out The Green Carpet

Published by under Peregrines

C1 flaps her wings near the green carpet that's detached from the front perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 flaps her wings near the green carpet that detached from the front perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Last night viewers noticed a new feature on the nestbox gravel that they’d never seen before.  It’s a patch of fake grass carpet that used to be glued to the front perch.

At 9:49pm the carpet began to roll off the perch while Hope was standing on it.

The fake grass carpet starts to roll off the perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The fake grass carpet starts to roll off the perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

She pulled it away.  (Good job!)

Hope moves the green carpet out of the way (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope moves the green carpet out of the way (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The green carpet has been on that perch for nine years.  It was only a matter of time before the backing crumbled from sunlight (UV) exposure.  Yesterday it loosened up when Dan Brauning had to stand on the nestbox to convince Hope to stop attacking the back of his head.  That was just enough to make the glue spots fail.

Peregrine chick C1 cowers in the back of the nestbox while Dan Brauning stands on the green perch to fend off her mother's attacks (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine chick C1 cowers in the back of the nestbox while Dan Brauning stands on the green perch to fend off her mother’s attacks (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

So now there’s a patch of green carpet and a reddish circle floating around in the nestbox. You can see the backing still stuck to spots on the railing.

This fall when the nesting season is over we’ll remove the fallen carpet and that annoying red circle (people mistake it for an egg) and install new green carpet on the perch to make a soft place to stand.

How long will C1 have to live with that carpet?  I predict she’ll be out of the nest permanently by June 11.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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May 27 2016

She’s a Healthy Girl!

A closeup of female peregrine chick C1 from the Cathedral of Learning nest (photo by Peter Bell)

A closeup of female peregrine chick C1 from the Cathedral of Learning nest 2016 (photo by Peter Bell)

It’s taken me a while to publish this because I couldn’t take any photos at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine banding this morning. Thanks to Peter Bell, Kim Getz and John English for lending theirs.

At today’s banding we learned, first and foremost, that C1 is a healthy female and Hope and Terzo are devoted parents.

Even before the PA Game Commission‘s Dan Brauning retrieved the chick, Hope guarded her baby and didn’t give up until C1 was indoors. Then she stayed at the nest kakking while Terzo provided backup support.

Kim’s (silent) video below shows the perspective from the ground about halfway through: Terzo flying back and forth, Hope leaving the nest to attack the humans when C1 was returned, then perched on the bulwark after they’re gone.

 

Here’s why I didn’t take any pictures: Dan Brauning asked me to hold C1 while he applied the bands.  (You can see I was concentrating very hard!)

Dan Brauning explains the banding procedure while Kate St. John holds the chick, C1 (photo by John English)

Dan Brauning explains the banding procedure while Kate St. John holds peregrine chick, C1 (photo by John English)

Dan weighed C1 (900 grams), checked for trichomoniasis (none!) and feather pests (almost none).  He dusted under her wings with anti-parasite powder and applied her bands.  Here she is with her new jewelry.

Peregrine chick, C1, with her new color bands, Black/green, 06/BR (photo by Peter Bell)

Peregrine chick, C1, with her new bands, Black/green, 06/BR (photo by Peter Bell)

Then Dan braved Hope’s wrath to return C1 to the nest.

Hope attacks the banders on Banding Day at the Cathedral of Learning, 2016 (photo by Peter Bell)

Female peregrine, Hope, attacks the banders on Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

Female peregrine falcon, Hope shouts at the banders! Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

Hope shouts at the banders, Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

What a privilege to hold the chick and see her parents protecting her!

 

It’s a shame this will be the only peregrine banding in western Pennsylvania this year. Here’s why:

 

Why weren’t more peregrines banded in Penna. this year?

 

Peregrines are endangered in Pennsylvania so the PA Game Commission (PGC) normally visits every known nest site and attempts to band the chicks — that’s 9 locations in western Pennsylvania.  But this year severe budget cuts and layoffs forced PGC to band at only one site in the western half of the state — the Cathedral of Learning.

Why does PGC have a budget crisis?  They don’t rely on state tax dollars. They’re self-supporting through hunting license fees, timber sales, mineral extraction, and a federal excise tax on ammunition. But state law forbids them to raise the license fees that comprise 40% of their revenue. There hasn’t been an increase since the 1990’s.

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can help.

The Pennsylvania State House and Senate must pass a law — SB 1166 — to allow the Game Commission to raise the license fees.  Contact your State Senator and State Representative (find them here) and urge them to support “SB 1166.”

Click here for a letter about the budget crisis and information on what you can do.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

33 responses so far

May 27 2016

Today Is Banding Day

C1 pants in the heat as Hope perches in the sun (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 pants in the heat as Hope perches in the sun (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The peregrine family at the Cathedral of Learning is in for some excitement today. Hope and Terzo’s chick, C1, will be banded this morning.

Just after 10:00am Dan Brauning of the Pennsylvania Game Commission will venture out on the Cathedral of Learning ledge.  Don’t be shocked when you hear the peregrines “kakking” and the chick disappears for a while.  The falconcams will continue to run while the chick is absent.

C1 will receive a health check and some new “jewelry” and will be returned to the nest very quickly.  A side benefit is that we’ll learn whether he’s a “she” or a “he.”

Watch my blog for photos of the event later today.

 

p.s. It’s exceptionally warm here in Pittsburgh this week.  As shown in the photo above, you’ll see C1 panting and holding his wings open to stay cool.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh)

Note: I don’t announce the banding in advance because the event is not open to the public. The room is too small to allow for uninvited guests.

 

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May 26 2016

TBT: A Lesson Learned

Published by under Musings & News

Budgie in the budgie trap before I let her go (photo by Kate St. John)

Budgie in the “budgie trap” before I let her go (photo by Kate St. John)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Seven years ago a budgerigar frequented my backyard bird feeder with a flock of juvenile house sparrows.  I could tell she wouldn’t last long in the wild because she was not wise about predators. One of my blog readers offered to adopt the budgie if I could catch her, so I put a bird cage in the backyard and waited to see if she would go inside.

She did.  And I learned a valuable lesson about freedom which is with me to this day.  Click here for A Lesson Learned.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 25 2016

Pigeons and Bicycles Test The Air

Screenshot from Pigeon Air Patrol website: pigeonairpatrol.com

Screenshot from Pigeon Air Patrol website: pigeonairpatrol.com

The air’s going to be bad in Pittsburgh today — Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups orange flag — so don’t take baby out for a stroll this afternoon. How can we know exactly where it’s safe to breathe?  Birds and bicycles test the air.

 

Birds: London, England, March 2016:

Pigeons have been used for breeding, racing and message-carrying.  This spring in London the Pigeon Air Patrol tested the air — quite literally.

In March three members of a flock of racing pigeons were outfitted with air quality monitors and GPS.  Then the flock was released from various points in the city to record — and tweet — air quality data on their way.  People could see what they were breathing in real time.

This is of interest in London because they have a history of bad air with darkness at noon and killer smog (1952).  But the air’s OK now, right?  Well, that’s not what the pigeons found.

Typical air monitors sample fixed locations but the pigeons flew through hotspots of bad air.  Who knew that a particular street corner was a bad place to breathe?  The pigeons did.

Check the Plume Labs website to see what’s happening in the air in London and around the world right now.  (Scroll down to see the map.) If you have breathing problems there are quite a few places you should never visit.

 

Bicycles: Pittsburgh, PA, ongoing:

Two thirds of the year Pittsburgh’s air quality is in the “moderately polluted” range which doesn’t sound like much but constitutes a health risk in the long term.  Today our air will be worse –> Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Air Now forecast for Pittsburgh, PA, 25 May 2016 (screenshot from AirNow.gov)

Air Now forecast for Pittsburgh, PA, 25 May 2016 (screenshot from AirNow.gov)

The regional map doesn’t tell the whole story.  Some places have better air than others so the Group Against Smog and Pollution enlisted bicycles to help.  In this ongoing project, volunteers carry monitors on their bicycles and collect air quality data as they ride.  GASP then maps the data on a street by street basis.

See Pittsburgh’s air quality here on GASP’s street-by-street map, or here at Plume Labs.

When it comes to breathing, we need all the help we can get.

 

p.s. Do you ride a bike in Pittsburgh? Do you want to help map air quality? Click here.

(screenshots from Pigeon Air Patrol website and from Air Now)

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May 24 2016

Growing Feathers

Peregrine chick C1 with father Terzo, 19 days since hatch, 18 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary faloncam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrine chick C1 with father Terzo, 19 days since hatch, 18 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary faloncam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

After a big growth spurt the peregrine falcon chick at the Cathedral of Learning is now developing feathers. Here’s a five-day time lapse comparison.

In the first photo on 18 May 2016 above, C1 has grown facial feathers that now define his face.  He stands like a small white Buddha while he waits for his father to feed him — 19 days after hatching.

Below on 23 May 2016, you can see pin feathers emerging at C1’s wing tips and and tail — 24 days after hatching.

Mother peregrine, Hope, feeds chick, C1, 23 May 2016, 24 days after hatching (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 with mother Hope 23 May 2016, 24 days after hatching (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

C1 is very demanding.  Terzo got an earful yesterday.

C1 shouts at his father Terzo (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 shouts at his father Terzo (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

(photos from the National Aviary faloncam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

8 responses so far

May 23 2016

To Catch A Venomous Mammal…

Published by under Mammals

ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez (center) draws blood from a solenodon for DNA samples, Dominican Republic (photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador)

ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez (center) draws blood from a solenodon for DNA samples, Dominican Republic (photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador)

There are only 16 (maybe 17) venomous mammals on earth and more than half of them are endangered.  One of the rarest is the Hispaniola solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), native to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Solenodons are nocturnal mammals that look like large, big-footed shrews.  They eat beetles, crickets, worms, snails and even birds and reptiles which they paralyze with a bite containing their venomous saliva.  Interestingly, solenodons aren’t immune to each others’ venom so if they fight they succumb when scratched by the teeth of a combatant.  (The Hispaniola solenodon is so poorly studied that we’re not even sure if it fights very often.)

Solenodon paradoxus (photo linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)

Solenodon paradoxus (photo by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog)

These mammals evolved in the absence of predators so they are slow, clumsy runners and tend to trip and fall when pursued.  They are now so rare and so endangered that they’re expected to go extinct in the next 10-20 years because of habitat loss and predation by dogs, cats and humans.

With time running out for this animal, scientists wanted to sequence its DNA before it disappeared, and they had to catch it in a manner that was safe for the animal and for them.  But how?

The researchers shown above caught the venomous mammal by allowing it to walk across their bodies at night in the forests of the Dominican Republic.

Yikes!

Read more here in Science Daily.

 

p.s. Did you know there’s a venomous mammal in Pennsylvania?  The northern short-tailed shrew has venomous saliva that paralyzes its small prey.  From Joseph Merritt’s Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania, “When humans are bitten, they may experience considerable irritation and swelling that could last up to three days.”  Predators, including house cats, don’t eat this shrew because it smells so bad.

(photo credits:
top photo by Taras Oleksyk and Yashira Afanador of ZooDom veterinarian Adrell Nunez with solenodon.
photo of Hispaniola solenodon by Miguel A. Landestoy, linked from The Mantis Shrimp blog
)

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May 23 2016

Yesterday’s Outing at Schenley Park

Schenley Park outing near the Westinghouse Fountain, 22 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park outing near the Westinghouse Fountain, 22 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday morning, twelve of us braved the foggy chill to look for birds near the Westinghouse Fountain at Schenley Park.

My original plan was to walk on the Steve Falloon Trail but it was a sea of mud after so much rain.  Instead we walked along the Serpentine Road with a good view of the treetops.

The birds weren’t particularly active so we were happy to see these Best Birds:  blackpoll warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, an eastern wood-pewee, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.  We also saw a half-completed Baltimore oriole nest hanging from a branch high above the road.

At the end of the walk we stopped near the Schenley Park Visitors Center and on Flagstaff Hill to see two peregrine falcons (flying and perched at the Cathedral of Learning), a red-tailed hawk, and a Coopers hawk.

Thanks, everyone, for coming out on a gray day.

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

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May 22 2016

Lady Slippers In A Cage

Published by under Plants

Pink lady's slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pink lady’s slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

This flower is in a cage at Ohiopyle State Park.

Pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) orchids are found in Pennsylvania, but increasingly rare because deer like to eat them.  The deer bite off the flower, leaving the stem and leaves behind.

Here’s what the entire flower looks like.  Imagine it with a headless stem!

Pink lady's slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pink lady’s slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And here’s how these beautiful flowers are protected: a deer exclosure.  Notice the 10-foot high fence with the yellow X.  The sign explains why the exclosure is necessary.

Deer exclosure at Ohiopyle State Park containing pink lady's slippers, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Deer exclosure at Ohiopyle State Park containing pink lady’s slippers, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Outside the fence I found five lady’s slippers with the chopped off heads.  🙁

We humans are the reason why there are too many deer in Pennsylvania and, so far, we haven’t the will to reduce their population to a sustainable level.

In the meantime we’re putting our most precious wildflowers in cages.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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