Archive for June, 2009

Jun 18 2009

At The Bath

Published by under Peregrines

Juvenile peregrine in a puddle on the roof (photo by Kimberly Thomas) 
A young peregrine falcon bathes in a rooftop puddle on the Cathedral of Learning, June 2009.

(photo by Kimberly Thomas)

11 responses so far

Jun 17 2009

June Blooms: Mountain Laurel

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Mountain Laurel (photo by Vlmstra via GNU Free Licensing on WikiMedia)

Mountain Laurel, the State Flower of Pennsylvania, is blooming now in the Laurel Highlands east of Pittsburgh. 

As you can see from this photo it has a very fascinating flower.  Each flower has five sides with an additional ridge down the center of those sides.  This makes 10 ridges on the outside and 10 troughs on the inside when the flower opens.  Each trough has a dent that holds a stamen in trigger position.  The stamens lie in wait while the pink circle at the center of the flower beckons like a target.  (Click on the photo to see a close-up of the flower.)

When a bee walks on the flower petal, the stamen is released and powders the bee with pollen. 

Pretty ingenious, eh? 

For more information on mountain laurel, see Chuck Tague's blog.

(front photo by Vlmstra from WikiMedia, close-up photo by Dianne Machesney)

2 responses so far

Jun 16 2009

Red-tail Rescue: Act One

Published by under Birds of Prey

Red-tail fledgling rescued at CMU by Barbara Kviz (photo by Kathy Borland)The drama began Sunday morning when Security Guard Andrew Loveridge found a red-tailed hawk fledgling hiding under a bush at Carnegie Mellon's Hunt Library. 

No one saw the bird launch from his nest on the roof of the Fine Arts Building but he had obviously missed the tree he was aiming for, if he aimed at all. 

The fledgling looked fine except for a slight limp, perhaps from a botched landing.  To add insult to injury he was being harassed by a food item!  A squirrel was chasing him from bush to bush.

Andrew guarded the hawk and enlisted the help of Barbara Kviz who formulated a plan.  She called her friend Kathy Borland, a fan of this red-tail family since the nest began.  Kathy also works for CMU Security so together with Dorothy Kweller they corralled and captured the hawk.

They knew the bird shouldn't be on the ground so they called Wildbird Recovery for confirmation. "Yes, he needs to be up high.  Put him in a tree and his parents will take over from there."

Barb, Kathy and Dorothy tried placing him in a nearby tree but the only reachable limb was too low.  Then Kathy realized it would be an easy matter to put him on the roof.  With her help they went upstairs in the Fine Arts Building and carefully put the fledgling on the lower roof near his sibling. 

Next morning when I walked by both red-tail babies were lounging on the railing of the lower roof.  End of the Act One.

Let's hope Act Two doesn't require a rescue.

(photo by Kathy Borland of Barbara Kviz holding the rescued red-tailed hawk fledgling)

4 responses so far

Jun 15 2009

Is there some for me?

Published by under Peregrines

 Two peregrine fledglings at Univ of Pittsburgh (photo by Kimberly Thomas)

That's what this young peregrine falcon seems to be saying to her sister.  They were hanging out on the 25th floor ledge at the Cathedral of Learning last week waiting for food deliveries from their parents.  Kimberly Thomas was able to see them from the 27th floor so she took their picture, though from afar.

It's been hard to get a good look at the Pitt peregrines ever since they fledged.  They're still on campus at dawn and dusk but they usually perch high on the Cathedral of Learning and can only be seen with binoculars.  If you work in the building the peregrines are sometimes just outside your window.  Oh how lucky!

This week the juveniles will explore Oakland.  Today at lunch I found only one young peregrine on the Cathedral of Learning but on my way back to work I found the other three - plus their father -  chasing each other around the steeples of St. Paul's Cathedral.  Peregrines in training!

(photo by Kimberly Thomas)

6 responses so far

Jun 14 2009

Look, But Don’t Touch

Published by under Plants

Poison Ivy vine and leaves (photos by Dianne Machesney)
If you're like 85% of the human race, you're allergic to Poison Ivy.  Some people are so sensitive it puts them in the hospital.  Others get no rash for years and then their bodies "switch on" one day.  Even if you're part of the 15% who won't react it's best to be careful, if not for yourself then for others.

I'm not extremely allergic to poison ivy but I've made it my business to know exactly what it looks like because the rash is so uncomfortable.  It's caused by an oil found in the plant's leaves, roots, stems, vines and berry hulls called urushiol.  Humans are allergic to it; birds and other mammals are not.  Deer, horses, cattle and goats eat poison ivy without ill effect.  Birds eat its berries.  Bees pollinate its flowers.  Only humans are plagued by it.

Amazingly you can come in contact with urushiol and not know it for up to two days.  You can pick it up by brushing against the plant, touching clothing or tools that have touched the plant or its roots, or petting an animal that walked through poison ivy.  (How sneaky!)

If you know you've touched poison ivy, you can prevent the rash by a liberal dousing of the affected area with rubbing alcohol then copious water, but you have to do it within 4-6 hours of contact.  Otherwise, the oil works its way into your skin and breaks down.  A day or two later there's nothing to wash off but your body begins a huge over-reaction:  red, swollen skin and spreading blisters.  This is not because the oil is still present but because your body is freaking out.

The good news is that if you can avoid contact with poison ivy for many years, your body may forget the allergy and allow you a mild exposure every once in a great while.  But you have to remain vigilant.  Frequent exposure restarts the allergy.

So how do you identify this annoying - even dangerous - plant?

"Leaflets 3, let them be" is one of the clues.

  • A poison ivy "leaf" is actually a compound of three lightly toothed leaflets on a long stem.
  • The center leaflet has a stem of its own and is symmetrical (both halves of the leaf are the same shape).
  • The left and right leaflets have no stems, are connected at their base and are asymmetrical (lopsided).
  • All three leaflets are attached to the plant on a long stem that floats them out toward you, temptingly within reach.
  • New poison ivy leaves are very shiny but for full grown leaves that's not a good clue.  The older leaves are far less shiny than mulberry leaves.

Poison ivy's greenish flowers and white berries grow in the leaf axils (see photo on right).  Not all of the plants bloom.  They must be two years old to do so.

Though poison ivy is classified as a vine you'll often find it growing from gnarled woody stems.  Sometimes the stems support so many leaves that the plant looks shrubby.  When the stems find something upright to lean on they throw out aerial roots and climb as vines that look hairy (see photo on the left).  The vines and stems never have thorns.

In autumn the leaves turn red, dry up and fall off.  The vines become bare and the woody stems stick up from the ground like thin gnarly fingers.  Interestingly the dead leaves don't cause a rash because the plant pulls the urushiol back into itself as it prepares for winter.

Now that you've read about it, are you ready for a quiz?  Click on the photo above and see if you can recognize the poison ivy in the linked photo.

Or try this quiz on the Poison Ivy website.   (Also see the Comments for more links and advice.)


(photos by Dianne Machesney)

13 responses so far

Jun 13 2009


When Chuck Tague sent me this picture of a scarlet tanager I was struck by something I had never noticed before.  The underside of this black and scarlet bird's wings is neither black nor red, it's white!

This got me thinking of other birds whose underwings are an unexpected color.

My favorite are those of the rose-breasted grosbeak.  The rose color from the male's breast is repeated under his wing.  It's a real trick to see this because he just won't hold his wings open.  I discovered the color one day when I was sitting below a male grosbeak and he glided over my head to a nearby branch.  His color took my breath away.

Not colorful, but equally surprising are the black "armpits" of the black-bellied plover.  This bird is named for his breeding plumage but you won't see a black belly on him in the winter when he visits the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to South America.

I remember the first time I tried to identify a non-breeding black-bellied plover.  It was February in Virginia Beach.  Slowly and carefully I examined a flock of three drab birds and tried very hard not to scare them so I could carefully note all their features.  I was a "newbie" to shorebirds and I could not figure them out.  For 15 minutes I watched those birds, had no idea what they were and was careful, careful not to startle them.  Then someone walked by with a dog, the birds flew, and I saw their black armpits.  Black-bellied plovers!  I certainly felt like a fool.

Do you have a bird whose underwing color surprised you?  Leave a comment and tell us about it.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

5 responses so far

Jun 12 2009

June Blooms: Dame’s Rocket

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Dame's Rocket (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Dame's Rocket is blooming now along roadsides and trails in Pennsylvania.   A native of Eurasia it was brought to America in the 1600's and went wild long ago.  It's now considered invasive in many states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia and Maryland.

Dame's Rocket is easy to find.  It's seed production is prolific and it tends to grow in dense stands.  The flowers are showy and produce a particularly sweet scent in the evening. 

Though we shouldn't plant it in our gardens it sure is beautiful.  I can see why the colonists brought it here.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

3 responses so far

Jun 11 2009

Update on Gulf Tower fledgling

Published by under Peregrines

This news from Beth Fife of the PA Game Commission:  The younger (and larger) peregrine chick at Gulf Tower was rescued from the ground at the Federal Building downtown on Wednesday evening.  She is being examined by a rehabber.  If uninjured she will be returned to the nest. 

Look for updates in the Comments area.

51 responses so far

Jun 11 2009

We Can Fly!

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcon fledgling (photo by Kim Steininger)

By Tuesday all four peregrine falcon chicks had fledged at the University of Pittsburgh.  This is not to say they're particularly good at flying, but they're getting better every day. 

First flight was an exciting time for those of us watching from the ground.  Dorothy and E2 encouraged their chicks by feeding them less, zipping past them in the air, and bringing food to tempt them - but not delivering it.  The idea was to make the chicks flap so much that they'd finally take off and fly.

Last weekend Stephen Tirone knew the chicks were about to fledge so he took his video camera to the Cathedral of Learning on Sunday morning.  He sent me a YouTube link ( and I've got to say he was very lucky.  It looks like he captured the first flight of one of the female chicks. 

On Stephen's video you can hear the chicks whining for food and see them flapping on the nestrail.  Then an adult swoops down from the antenna, the chicks flap even more and one flies off the railing - probably first flight. 

The action increases and it's confusing!  An adult lands on the nestrail, then leaves.  A fledgling makes a botched attempt to land on the left wall.  An adult - probably E2 - appears to deliver food to the nestrail but instead dives straight down off the building.  Finally a fledgling lands on the nestrail next to her sister. 

It's a good illustration of first flight and early attempts at landing.  The fledglings aren't hurt - just clumsy.

I do miss seeing them on the webcam - but I'm very glad they're flying.

(photo by Kim Steininger)

9 responses so far

Jun 10 2009

Butterflies or What to look for in mid-to-Late June

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, puddling (photo by Dianne Machesney)

"The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." - A Child's Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson

That happy thought perfectly describes the month of June in western Pennsylvania when "children go to bed by day."   Our days are long and warm, filled with flowers, birds, babies and butterflies.

Here's a quick list of what to look for through the rest of June.  For even more, see Chuck Tague's phenology.

  • The summer solstice - and our the longest day of the year - will occur at 1:45am on June 21.  Will you be awake for it?  Not me.
  • Babies are everywhere.  Fledgling birds, including juvenile peregrines, chase their parents for a handout. Young squirrels pursue momma hoping she wasn't serious about weaning.
  • With June flowers come even more butterflies and moths.  I'm "Butterfly Challenged" but here's one I can identify that I know you'll see this month:  the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.   Chuck has an excellent list of June butterflies in his phenology.
  • Enjoy birdsong in these last weeks of June.  In July the birds will begin to fall silent, species by species, as the purpose of their songs - territory and mate attraction - ends for the year.  The birds who raise more than one brood (robins and cardinals) will continue to sing, but others like the ovenbird will stop.
  • Watch for fledglings.  Listen for the begging calls of baby birds.  Sometimes you can locate a nest this way.
  • Watch out for mosquitoes and ticks.  Look for the fun bugs.  The dragonflies are here, even at Schenley Plaza.  Soon we'll see fireflies.
  • Enjoy June wildflowers.  Visit a state park, forest or woodland bike trail near you.

Enjoy it now.  No need to wear a coat!

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

One response so far

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