Archive for November, 2009

Nov 06 2009


Published by under Phenology,Plants

Frosty leaves (photo by Dianne Machesney)
This morning the fog rose from the river and blanketed my neighborhood in frost. 

Above the fog the sky is clear, the sun shining.  Both fog and frost will be gone soon.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Nov 05 2009

Swan Song

Tundra Swans (photo by Steve Gosser)
Tundra swans are on the move.

Last Sunday at the Allegheny Front we heard three flocks whoo-ing overhead before we saw them very high above us, heading southeast to the Chesapeake.  That night I heard another flock pass over my house though I couldn't see them in the dark.  As their voices faded in the distance I heard a lone swan following them.  He had fallen behind.

Swans and geese fly in V formation because it cuts down on wind resistance.  The lead bird takes the brunt of the wind and expends the most energy.  The birds who follow fly just above the wing of the bird ahead of them and ride a cushion of air created by the previous bird's wing.  Eventually the lead bird tires, falls back in the flock and lets another bird take the point position.  In this way the entire flock shares the burden and is able to fly further without becoming exhausted.

A lone bird gets no benefit from the V formation and, if he's trying to rejoin the flock, he must fly faster than they do.  If they don't slow down, how can he ever catch up?

Tundra swans travel in family groups and pause more often during fall migration so their young can regain energy and keep up with the flock.  Juvenile swans are especially vulnerable if they fall behind because they don't know the migration route.  They learn it from their elders on their first trip south.   If a juvenile becomes separated from the flock, he's lost.

It's poignant to see a lone juvenile tundra swan in November.  When I do I always hope another flock will come along to take him in.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

(p.s.  How to recognize juvenile tundra swans:  In this picture there are three adults and four juveniles.  The adults have bright white heads, the juveniles have grey heads that gradually lighten to white on their necks.  Sometimes the juveniles have pink on their bills.)

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Nov 03 2009

South Side Story

Published by under Crows & Ravens

American Crows (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

The crows are back in town, raucous as ever!  Thousands flew over my house this morning.

When I showed this photo to my husband we both started to laugh.  The crows look so much like a gang that my husband began to sing When You're A Jet from West Side Story.  (He knows all these songs by heart because his parents were really into Broadway musicals.)  Soon he was inventing crow lyrics.  Soon he had written a crow version of the song.  And so was born...

South Side Story

Coal: Hey, Biff, getta load on what them filthy pigeons are doin’…

Biff:  Them?  With their stupid green heads and silly pink galoshes?  We’ve already laughed ‘em off the street…

Coal:  Oh yeah? Well they’ve moved into the parking lot down at the Giant Eagle.

Midnight:  Yeah, they’re takin’ over OUR dumpsters.

Sulfur:  [chiming in timidly] One of ‘em swiped a cheeto I had my dibs on…

Biff:  Well, don’t worry, we’ll take care of them – because we’re CROWS!

When you’re a Crow
You’re as black as the night.
You’re as sleek as cold steel
and you’re ready for flight.

When you’re a Crow
You are sure of respect.
You’ve got boys in your roost.
You’ve got cards in your deck.

The Crows are in gear,
our cylinders are clickin’.
You Pigeons stay clear --
cause once you’re in the pot
you know you taste like chicken!

When you’re a Crow
well, you’ve been to Crow school.
You can poke open bags.
You can even make tools.

You can steal a gold ring.
You can gang up on cats.
You can count up to five.
You’re a bird and a half!

When you’re a Crow
You’re an Army of One
You make plans for the day
and your plans all get done.

Here come the Crows,
we are cruisin’ your way!
We are takin’ the mirror
from that new Chevrolet.
We are climbing the curbs
and we’re eating old meat.
We are chasing the rats.
We are claiming this street!

Once you’ve been marked
With a capital C
You’re the top-perching bird
any pole, any tree.

When you’re a Crow
You can chortle and caw
You don’t "sing," man, you SHOUT
And your word is the law.

You Pigeons watch out
Cause we’re namin’ your name.
We’re not takin’ crap,
you are outta this game.

You’ll be feeling our heat.
You’ll be tasting our juice.
So, get off of our wires…
.........The Roost!

-- light verse for crows by Richard St. John with a huge tip of the hat to Stephen Sondheim and West Side StoryHere are the original lyrics.  Photo by Marcy Cunkelman.

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Nov 02 2009

Ideas for Nature Gifts

Published by under Books & Events

Shop WQED logo bagNow that Halloween is over the holiday shopping season has officially begun.

If you're like me you're hard pressed for gift ideas for friends and family and you might, like me, have a hard time answering the question, "What do you want for Christmas?"

Fortunately I got a head start on this last summer when Robyn Martin of our ShopWQED department asked me to select nature-related books and gifts for the ShopWQED website.  She gave me a catalog to select from and urged me to suggest additional items that she could offer as well.

I circled my favorites, many of which I already own -- I highly recommend Great Natural Areas of Western Pennsylvania and How Birds Migrate -- and I added one of my favorite wildflower books.

Wildflowers of Pennsylvania by Mary Joy Haywood and Phyllis Testal Monk, is an illustrated guide to the wildflowers of the entire state.  Published in Pittsburgh in 2001, every flower is illustrated by a photograph contributed by members of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania.   Wildflowers of Pennsylvania by Mary Joy Haywood and Phyllis Testal MonkThose of you who know Esther Allen will find many of her photos inside.

I use Wildflowers of Pennsylvania as a resource when I blog about flowers and in the winter I browse through the photos and think about spring.  I'm glad we could offer this book online to a wider audience.

Take a look at the ShopWQED Nature section.  Maybe you'll find some gift ideas.

p.s.  Click on the shopping bag above to see the entire website including Rick Sebak's DVDs and Chris Fennimore's cookbooks.


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Nov 01 2009

Pittsburgh Pete has a home!

Published by under Peregrines

Pittsburgh Pete with Judy Bailey (photo from Judy Bailey)

If you've been watching this blog for a while, you know that one of Pittsburgh's peregrine falcon "sons" has spent the past 11 months in rehab.  Now, at last, Pittsburgh Pete has a permanent home.  This is quite a victory for Pete, and for Judy Bailey who rescued him.

Pete (black/green 3/K) was born at the Gulf Tower in 2006 and nested successfully at the Burlington Lift Bridge in 2008 but he was seriously injured in a battle with a rival that June.  Pete seemed to recover on his own but was found grounded and unable to fly in November 2008.

Since then Pete has been in the care of Judy Bailey, pictured with him here.  Judy is an Animal Control Officer in Hamilton so she could nurse him back to health but is not licensed to keep him.  When it was determined last May that Pete's seizures prevented him from being released into the wild, Judy had to find him a permanent home.  Otherwise he would die. 

Over the summer Mountsberg Raptor Centre in Campbellville, Ontario offered to take Pete as an educational bird if he could sit quietly on the glove and tolerate people near him in an educational setting.  Pete didn't know these skills so Judy trained him.  Thanks to her hard work and Pete's ability to learn, he went to his permanent home at the Raptor Centre in late October.  Mountsberg is excited to have him.

Hooray for Pete and a big thank you to Judy Bailey!  She really is Pete's guardian angel.

For more information on Pittsburgh Pete's injury and recovery, see my blogs on August 5, 2008, December 4, 2008 and August 14, 2009.

(photo from Judy Bailey)

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