Archive for October, 2009

Oct 07 2009

Sleep standing up

Peregrine falcon, Dorothy, sleeps at the Cathedral of Learning (photo from the National Aviary webcam)
Yesterday morning the sun was warm and nothing of interest was going on.  Time for a snooze. 

Here's Dorothy, the adult female peregrine falcon at the University of Pittsburgh, asleep in front of the webcam.  Watching her sleep makes me want to nap, too.

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

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Oct 06 2009

Things that go bump in the night

Published by under Mammals

Raccoon (photo by Chuck Tague)
Last night I was awake at 1:00am when I heard a metal clang in the backyard.  It sounded suspiciously like our squirrel-proof metal bird feeder.  I almost ignored it and went back to bed but the sound made me curious. 

The moon was full and bright.  It lit the back yard but not the place under the trees where the feeders are located.  I crept downstairs.

From the kitchen window it was still too dark to see the feeders so I turned on the backyard light. 

Aha!  The metal feeder was askew, tilted so that all the seed had fallen out. 

It took me a long time to notice that the thieves were still there.  Two raccoons were meticulously searching the ground, eating the fallen seed.  Their keen noses could smell the treasures the squirrels had buried and they were digging holes to retrieve them. 

This morning my bird bath is muddy (they wash their food), the feeder is empty and the backyard looks like it was bombed by small explosives.  My only consolation is that the damage is light.  If I lived in the country, it could have been a bear.  (Click on the picture to see a bear in Marcy's Cunkelman's backyard in Indiana County.)

(raccoon photo by Chuck Tague; bear photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Oct 05 2009

Peregrines nesting in Australia

Published by under Peregrines

If you're anxious to watch nesting peregrines you'll have to wait five more months to see them in Pittsburgh, but you don't have to wait that long if you use the Internet. 

Thanks to the Alcoa Anglesea webcam you can watch them in Australia.  It's spring there and the peregrines at Anglesea, Sheila and Havoc, have hatched their first egg. 

Anglesea is a town on Australia's southern coast, 113km southwest of Melbourne.  Alcoa operates a smelter at nearby Point Henry.  Smelting requires a lot of electricity so they built a coal-fired power plant at Anglesea to provide the necessary "juice."  In 2004, Alcoa's employees placed a peregrine nestbox plus webcam on the power plant's water tower.  A pair of peregrines claimed it as their own and the rest is history.

This year the webcam came online August 3, Sheila laid her first egg August 28, and the eggs started hatching October 2.  Here's Sheila feeding her babies in a photo linked from the Alcoa Anglesea website.  By the time you read this most of her eggs, if not all, will have hatched.   

Watching the webcam will challenge your northern hemisphere assumptions.  For instance:

  • Peregrines nesting in the fall?  No, Australia's "March" is in our September. 
  • Why is it always night on the camera?  Australia is on the other side of the world so it's night there when it's day here.  8:00am in Anglesea is 6:00pm in Pittsburgh.  It's best to watch during our evening, but the date may confuse you.  Australia is a day ahead of us because they're across the International Dateline.
  • If you read about the nestbox on the Alcoa website you'll notice it faces northeast.  Since peregrines prefer their nests to face the sun I thought this was backwards until I realized the equator is north of Anglesea just as it's south of Pittsburgh.

So enjoy watching the peregrines in Australia. You'll be in good company. Shelia and Havoc have devoted followers around the world.

(photo of peregrine falcon feeding her chicks, linked from the Alcoa Anglesea webcam)

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Oct 03 2009

I’ll be on TV

Published by under Books & Events

Remember how I wrote that OnQ will feature Birding for Everyone this coming Monday? 

Well, I just found out Friday afternoon that I'll be on that show - live! - to talk about birding and blogging.  So if you're in the Pittsburgh area on Monday October 5 at 7:30pm, you can see me on WQED.

Unrelated to this but Very Cool:  Last night in the rain we watched hundreds and hundreds of chimney swifts circle and drop into the chimney of the Oliver Bathhouse on the South Side.  It was just like the Swifts movie.

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Oct 02 2009

Eyes in the back of her head

Published by under Songbirds

American Goldfinch (photo by Sam Leinhardt)

Sometimes you can't see a bird's traits until they're frozen in a photograph.

Look closely at this American goldfinch browsing on Sam Leinhardt's zinnias.  Even though only the top of her head is visible you can see both of her eyes. 

Goldfinches are small birds about 4.5 inches long.  At this size they are easy prey for owls, cats and hawks so they have to be wary.  What better way to be prepared than to have peripheral vision above and behind so you can see danger coming, even when your head is down feeding on seeds. 

Many small birds have this trait, but how did they get it?  Indirectly, from the relentless pressure of predators.  Goldfinches who couldn't see danger coming were easy prey while those with wide peripheral vision survived.  The survivors had "kids" with the same trait.

So, yes, she really does have eyes in the back of her head, just like all her relatives.

(photo by Sam Leinhardt)

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Oct 01 2009


Published by under Weather & Sky

Ducks in a huddle (photo from Shutterstock)

No, I'm not talking about football.  I'm talking about staying warm.

The weather has been getting colder every day for a week.  This morning it was in the upper 30s at dawn.  By now most of you have turned on your heat, but not us.  We're toughing it out until we get a new furnace.  The old one won't turn on and rather than pay to fix it I thought we could cope until the furnace man comes with a new one on Friday.

This plan has resulted in a couple of "learning experiences."

First, we've learned that 60 degrees feels great outdoors but when you're inside it's like Antarctica, especially when it was summer last week.

On Tuesday I was really crabby and could not figure out why.  Eventually I put on my coat (though I was indoors) and suddenly felt fine, even happy.  I was crabby because I was cold.

We've discovered which rooms are warmer and are spending our time there.  So why is the basement warmer than the living room?  Cold air should be falling to the basement - and it is - but the water heater is running more often and its metal exhaust vent warms the room enough to make a difference.

And finally, we're huddling.  We huddle at night just like the ducks in this picture and our cat finds a crack to sleep between us.  Emmy seems so affectionate right now.  I hope she remembers to love us when the heat is on.

(Ducks in a huddle from Shutterstock)

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