Monthly Archives: March 2008

Second egg at Gulf Tower

Two eggs at Gulf Tower peregrine nest, PittsburghI'm a little late announcing that there are now two eggs at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest in downtown Pittsburgh.  The second egg was laid late afternoon on March 13.

The interval between peregrine eggs is about 48 hours but can be as much as 72 hours for the last one.

Tasha, the female peregrine at Gulf, usually lays 4 eggs so you can expect to see more in the next few days.

Watch the National Aviary's webcam for updates.

Various musings

Dreary day, rain again, Pittsburgh (photo from my cellphone)Weather:  We had an east wind today - not good in this land where the prevailing wind is from the southwest.   Eventually the wind dropped and it began to rain steadily.  I took a picture at 5:00pm near the Cathedral of Learning.  Dreary, dreary sky.  Not a good day for watching birds.

As of yesterday Pittsburgh's precipitation was 2.39" - that's 37% above normal for the year - in only 10 weeks.  No wonder the rivers are in flood.

Meanwhile my car developed a leak in the driver's side door that made the carpet into a squishy, water-seeping bog.  I had it fixed today... I hope.

Crows:  Bonnie Jeanne Tibbetts brought an NPR story to my attention called "Taking Over the World One Crow at a Time."  Apparently Josh Klein invented a box that teaches crows to pick up loose change in exchange for peanuts.  I have no idea if he's tried it on wild crows yet, but I'd love to be there when he does.

Bird song:  As the days lengthen, more birds are singing every day.  Yesterday was a good day to hear cardinals, robins, song sparrows, house finches, goldfinches and the mockingbird at Pitt.

An Egg at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest!

Tasha2 lays her first egg of 2008 & Louie comes to see, Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh, PAThanks to Ed Shott who noticed that the Gulf Tower peregrine, Tasha2, had laid her first egg this afternoon around 3:30pm.  Ann Hohn of Make-A-Wish, whose offices are near the nest and can see the webcam on TV, confirmed that we should be proud indeed.  

Here are two snapshots from the Aviary's webcam.  (You can take snapshots too by right-clicking on the webcam's image and choosing Save.)

The first snapshot shows Tasha inspecting the egg - a rusty red color near her feet.  When she first lays an egg she waits for it to dry before she begins incubation.

The second snapshot shows Tasha incubating and Louie (father bird) coming to visit.  He appears to be bowing in congratulation.

As Ann Hohn said, "Cigars for everyone."

Our birds on Camera

Dorothy and Erie at Pitt nest - but is it Erie?This spring I'm learning a lot about peregrine courtship, thanks to the Aviary's webcam at the Pitt nest box.

Behind the scenes, the camera is sending snapshots to a server when it detects motion at the nest.  For the first time I've been able to see how often the peregrines visit the nest and what they do while they're there.

The surprise to me was how often Dorothy visits when the weather is good and how quick her visits can be.  Sometimes she's there less than 30 seconds.  Another surprise was how often the pair arrives to bow in courtship at the scrape.

Our web department put the snapshots in a slideshow so you can see the birds in action.  Click here or on the photo to see the show.  (You may need to allow pop-ups on your web browser.)

The slideshow moves fast to give you a sense of motion, but not the same speed as the snapshots were taken - one snap every 15 seconds.  If you leave your cursor in the slides' area, captions will appear for some of the photos.  Near the end, Dorothy appears headless in one snapshot because she is preening behind her wing.  Talk about a flexible neck!

Later this month the Aviary will switch the falconcam website from displaying snapshots to a live motion video feed, almost like TV.

Stay tuned - and keep watching the Aviary webcam for updates.

To read more of my blog entries on peregrines, click here.

Your bird is eating a rabbit!!!

Red-tailed hawk eating a rabbit at WQED (photo by Kelly Foreman)Yesterday at work Cliff Curley called me around 4:00pm to say, "Come right now!  Your hawk is on the ground by the loading dock eating a rabbit!"

By the time I got there she had created quite a stir.  (I could tell it was the female because she has a much paler head than her mate.)  According to all accounts, she was perched on our roof for quite a while, staring at the hillside behind the dumpsters.  When no one was watching - and certainly not the rabbit- she flew down and pounced.  Dinner!

Surprisingly, none of us had a good camera available but Kelly Foreman snapped this picture with her small one.  In the original wider photo, the hawk and rabbit both blend into the background so well you can hardly see them.  Obviously, this is how they avoid detection - the hunter and the hunted.

Our lady hawk has been very busy these past few days.  Not only is she eating well but she has been courting with her mate and building a nest.  Three times I've seen her fly past my window carrying sticks in her beak to some unknown place nearby.  I'll love to know where that place is.  I'm sure she'll keep it a secret as long as possible.

Breakfast at the Cathedral

University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning (photo from Univ. of Pittsburgh)This morning I saw my best bird at the bus stop.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a raptor grappling with prey in his talons.  He looked a lot like a peregrine and, through binoculars, indeed he was.

As soon as he positioned his prey for long distance flight, he straightened up and made a bee line for home, the Cathedral of Learning.

My neighborhood is 1.5 air miles from the peregrines' home (photo courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh), and we have lots of pigeons - up to 150 near our grocery store.  Yet in eight years of peregrine watching I never saw them catch prey in Greenfield until today.  I guess I was finally in the right place at the right time.

I imagine I saw Erie catching food for Dorothy this morning.  His offerings help her store up nutrients in her body so she can produce eggs in the next few weeks.

Dorothy sleeps at the nest box, 3/6/08 (photo from Aviary webcam)Dorothy usually lays her first egg between March 23 and March 29 so she's probably "feeling egg-y."  She visits the nest box quite frequently now.  Sometimes you can catch her on camera, standing on the scrape and staring into space or perched at the front of the box.

In this picture, Dorothy just ate and is feeling sleepy.  Her crop is full so her upper breast feathers are bulging.  Her eyes look white because she has closed her "third eyelid," the nictating membrane.

Have a good nap, Dorothy.  We're waiting and watching for your first egg.

Middle Creek: Wow!

Tundra Swans at Middle Creek (PGC photo by Joe Kosack)

I love white birds!  And I especially love big flocks of white birds, so I always try to visit Middle Creek in early March.  It's the biggest migration spectacle in Pennsylvania.

Every year in the first two weeks of March, snow geese and tundra swans stop at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Kleinfeltersville, PA on their way to the Arctic.  If the weather's just right, up to 180,000 snow geese and 8,000 tundra swans will be at Middle Creek when you arrive.  It's HUGE!

There is no way a picture can adequately capture the beauty of this spectacle.  The first thing that strikes you is the sound - a lake filled with white birds and the sound of a crowd.  When the snow geese take off all at once, the roar sounds like a cheering crowd in a packed stadium.  Their sight and sound and vibrant life fill the sky. 

Snow Geese at Middle Creek (PGC photo by Joe Kosack)Sometimes the snow geese settle on the lake again.  Sometimes they fly away in loose Vs that become wavy lines in the distance.  Either way it's as if the sky is moving.  The snow geese are a total sensory experience.

The tundra swans are calming.  In the morning they stay on the lake much longer than the snow geese, preening and calling to each other with melodious "whoo-ing" sounds.  As each flock gets ready to leave, they swim in V formations, hum to each other and bob their heads.  At take off they call loudly and run on the water to become airborne, then immediately form lines and Vs as they gain altitude.  To me, everything the swans do is beautiful.

The best times to visit Middle Creek are the two hours at dawn and dusk.  I always arrive before dawn and walk to Willow Point because I don't want to miss seeing the geese leave. 

The geese and swans aren't the only attractions.  This past Sunday I lingered in the parking lot to put on my gloves when a short-eared owl flew past my car - back and forth - and then pounced in the weeds and came up with breakfast.  Wow!

After a couple of hours standing in the cold you too might want some breakfast.  I hear the Kleinfeltersville Hotel and Tavern has good food.  I like to stop at Mel’s Diner on Cumberland Street in Lebanon (Rt 422 West, nine miles away via Rt 897) because they have homemade raisin bread.  

For directions to Middle Creek click here.   Don't miss the Visitors Center (open Feb 1 until Thanksgiving, Tuesday to Saturday 8am-4pm and Sunday noon-5pm) where you can see displays of the birds, get maps and information.  On busy weekends you can buy food at the Visitors Center, courtesy of local Boy Scouts or churches.

Both photos are by Joe Kosack, PA Game Commission.  The top photo is tundra swans taking off.  The lower photo is a flock of snow geese.

Merritt Island: Gone Tomorrow?

Roseate Spoonbills, Merritt Island, Florida (photo by Chuck Tague)No birding trip to Central Florida is complete without a visit to Merritt Island, home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center and thousands upon thousands of birds. 

Chuck, Joan and I visited it a week ago to look for Florida scrub jays, painted buntings and roseate spoonbills (spoonbills photo by Chuck Tague). 

Heavy rain moved in from the north so our trip was abbreviated but we managed to stop at Palm Hammock Trail, Haulover Canal, Black Point Drive and the Visitors' Center before it poured.  We couldn't find any painted buntings - hungry mosquitoes chased us away! -  but I loved seeing an adult peregrine falcon, American avocets and my favorite pink bird: roseate spoonbills.

Merritt Island is a magical place so we were dismayed to learn that all of this beauty may soon be gone, its fate decided in the next six months.

NASA is proposing two possible sites for a 200-acre commercial space launch area.  Both sites will have an impact on wildlife but Site 2 would close all the places we visited including the Visitors Center.  No more visits to Merritt Island!

Because of federal budget issues, NASA is worried their Florida operation will be eliminated so the commercial launch site is being touted as a typical jobs-versus-environment argument.  What is lost in this discussion are the jobs generated by the 500,000 to 750,000 visitors per year who come from all over the world to see Merritt Island's wildlife.

Last week there were public meetings in Titusville and New Smyrna Beach where NASA laid out their plans.  NASA owns the land and can take it back at will.  Their schedule for doing so is here.

For more information about the project and its impacts, see

You can influence NASA's site decision by submitting your comments to the address below.  You can also help by spreading the news to others who love Merritt Island. 

Send comments to:

Mario Busacca, Environmental Program Office
Mail Code TA-C3
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
Telephone: 321-867-8456; FAX: 321-867-8040