Archive for May, 2010

May 24 2010

You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse

Published by under Peregrines

I couldn't resist using the slogan of the Westinghouse Electric corporation from the old days when they made home appliances.

The company is long gone, dissolved by a series of buy-outs and takeovers, but the Westinghouse Bridge that carries Route 30 over their old plant site in East Pittsburgh is still there.  And it hosts a new family.

Last month PennDOT workers were stunned when they were vigorously attacked by one - sometimes two - peregrines when they attempted to work on a particular area of the Westinghouse Bridge. They called the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Beth Fife came over to check.

On her first visit Beth found no eggs, but on her second she found a female peregrine and five eggs carefully laid in deep gravel in a dark, protected area of the bridge.  Beth could see the bird was banded but could not read her bands.  She hoped the pictures would reveal the peregrine's identity.

And here is one of those pictures, taken April 29 by PennDOT's Val Roskosh.

This image was too far away to read the bands but Beth went back later and got a closeup.  That's how we found out this female peregrine hatched May 10, 2005 at the Bank One building in Canton, Ohio.  She was named "Storm" at banding.  The PennDOT crew plans to call her "Val."

As of Friday, Storm's eggs had hatched and she and her mate, nicknamed Brian by PennDOT (no bands read on him yet), are now busy feeding their babies.  Beth will return to the bridge to band them.

Good luck, Beth.  This mother bird was calm when you visited her eggs but I bet she'll kick up a Storm when you come back!

(photo of Storm (a.k.a. Val), the female peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge, by Val Roskosh)

13 responses so far

May 23 2010

Tigers in the Park

There are tigers in Schenley Park.  They float over the trails and flit across the creek.  They glide through the sunshine and visit the flowers.

They're Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus).

They're almost my favorite butterfly because they're handsome and I see them close to home.

And because I can identify them!


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

One response so far

May 22 2010

Flowers in the Trees

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Here's something you don't see every day:  a tuliptree flower.

Right now the tulip trees are blooming but you can't see the flowers because the trees are very tall, the flowers are at the top, and the leaves hide the flowers from below.

Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are sometimes called "tulip poplars" but they're actually in the magnolia family.  Like magnolias their flowers are showy and attractive to bees -- so attractive that tulip trees are considered one of our major honey plants.

Have you ever smelled these flowers?  I haven't.  I'm lucky when I see them.

And I remind myself when I complain about Pittsburgh's hills that they have this advantage:  I can stand on a hill and look down on the flowers in the trees.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

4 responses so far

May 21 2010

Anatomy: Pin-Feathers

Two weeks ago my anatomy lessons embarked on the subject of birds' feet but I'm changing gears today for a special edition.  We need to know about pin-feathers right now.

If you've been watching the peregrine nestlings on the Cathedral of Learning webcam you've noticed that our former balls of fluff now look kind of spiky, have brown patches among the white, and are spending a lot of time grooming.  That's because their juvenile feathers are growing in.

New feathers are called pin-feathers because they're covered in a sheath that makes them look pin-like. 

When pin-feathers are quite small they have a blood vein inside that makes them sensitive to touch.  As the feather grows the blood vein recedes, the feather barbs emerge from the sheath (indicated by the red arrow) and the feather is no longer senstive to touch.  The sheaths dry out and fall off, a process the bird helps along by preening.   

Molting makes birds feel a little itchy so they enjoy preening and bathing while they're losing their old feathers and growing new ones. 

So that's why the nestlings are grooming a lot, removing the lose downy feathers and preening the new ones. 

And that's why they stand out in the rain.  "Ahhhh!  That feels good."

Soon they'll be covered in brown and cream feathers.  You'll be amazed at how fast this happens. 

(photo by Jack Rowley at the Pitt peregrine banding in 2003)

8 responses so far

May 20 2010

Best Bird This Week

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

It's been All Peregrines All The Time for a while now, but I do see other birds.

Best Bird this week by far has been the Wilson's warbler singing in the patch of trees across the street from my house on Sunday morning.  I heard his song and went out to look.

Wilson's warblers are bright yellow birds with a small black cap.  Unlike most warblers they can be found from coast to coast.  They winter in Central America and nest from Newfoundland to Alaska but are only seen in Pennsylvania during migration.

The bird in my neighborhood was travelling north when he reached Pittsburgh before dawn on Sunday.  He was a one day wonder.  As soon as he could leave, he was on his way. 

Quite the Best Bird!

p.s. On PABIRDS, Grant Stevenson pointed out this Science Daily article on the value of urban woodlands.  The trees in my neighborhood are important for migrating birds.  How about that!

(photo by Steve Gosser)

2 responses so far

May 19 2010

Peregrine Chat Tonight with Dr. Katzner

Last month's chat about peregrine falcons with Dr. Todd Katzner was so popular that he'll be holding another one tonight. 

Tune in to the Cathedral of Learning Chat from 7:00 to 7:30pm for another informative discussion.

Dr. Katzner is a raptor expert, the Director of Conservation and Field Research at the National Aviary, and the co-editor of a new book, The Eagle Watchers, an insiders' view of what it’s like to study eagles in remote locations around the world.

A lot has happened in our peregrines' lives since the last chat so I'm sure you'll have questions about the Gulf Tower's "blended family," about the banding and about fledging -- just to name a few.

To participate, login at the “Please sign in or sign up for free” links on the Cathedral of Learning webcam page

Don't miss it!

(photo of Dr. Katzner with just-banded peregrine falcon in Scotland, courtesy Todd Katzner)

3 responses so far

May 18 2010

Three Boys and Two Girls

Published by under Peregrines

At the peregrine banding this morning we learned there are three male and two female chicks at the Cathedral of Learning this year. 

It was a typical banding day. 

For starters, it rained.  Guests and officials assembled in the banding area with suppressed excitement.  The media arrived with several reporters, photographers and a TV camera crew.

The adult peregrines became wary as banding time approached.  They probably guessed something was up because of the indoor noise and the memory that their chicks are banded every year at this age. 

Dorothy perched atop the snapshot camera.  E2 waited on the roof to swoop at intruders.   

As soon as Beth Fife and Doug Dunkerley of the Pennsylvania Game Commission began to approach the nest E2 flew by, kakk-ing in alarm, and Dorothy jumped into the nest with wings spread and hackles raised.  "Stay away from our babies!"

Beth captured Dorothy in a large net (like a butterfly net) and handed her into the building so she and Doug could collect the chicks without being attacked.  Then Beth gathered the chicks into two large pasteboard boxes and brought them indoors.

All five chicks and their mother received health checkups from Dr. Robert Wagner from University of Pittsburgh Veterinary Services.  The chicks were weighed to determine their sex and then banded.  Three boys and two girls.  All healthy.

The banding took only half an hour and then Beth and Doug were ready to return them to the nest, but not before cleaning up the mess -- enough to fill two plastic grocery bags.

Believe it or not an avid young birder is now in happy possession of Dorothy's garbage.  Just as he did last year, he will identify the feathers and determine what prey the peregrines are eating.  Some of us took a quick look at the debris and identified blue jay, oriole and possibly indigo bunting feathers.  But we couldn't look long.  It smelled bad! 

When the chicks were safe in the nest, Dr. Todd Katzner released Dorothy who flew back to the nest immediately and saw that her kids were fine.  Beth looked out to make sure Dorothy was OK and, in a parting shot, Dorothy got the last word.  She swooped at Beth's head and nearly hit her.  Yow!

"Don't mess with my nest!"

(photos by Kate St. John and from the National Aviary snapshot webcam.  Watch the streaming cam here)

18 responses so far

May 17 2010

Pitt banding on Tues morning, streaming cam will be off

Published by under Peregrines

The young peregrines at the Cathedral of Learning will be banded on Tuesday morning, May 18. 

The best - and only - time that PixController can perform on-site maintenance on the streaming webcam is when the young are away from the nest.  So the Cathedral of Learning broadcast will be down during the banding. When the camera comes back up the nestlings will be back in the nest with their new "bracelets."

For information on peregrine banding, see the Banding FAQ.

3 responses so far

May 17 2010


Published by under Peregrines

If a peregrine lives long enough she can represent four generations all by herself. 

This is the case with Dorothy, the female peregrine at the University of Pittsburgh.  This year she's a mother, as usual, but she's also a grandmother and great grandmother at the same time. 

  1. As a mother she laid five eggs this spring, hatched the entire crew and is now busy raising them.
  2. She's been a grandmother for many years with at least six offspring nesting in three states.  One of her daughters is Beauty in Rochester, New York.  Another is Belle, who nests in the bell tower at the University of Toledo, Ohio. 
  3. Last week Bell's son, Chayton was identified as the father bird at the peregrine nest on the Jackson County Tower Building in Jackson, Michigan.  This makes Dorothy a great grandmother!
  4. And what's the fourth generation?  Herself.

Quite the matriarch.

(photo of Dorothy by Jessica Cernic Freeman)

17 responses so far

May 16 2010

Signs of Spring: Canada Mayflower

Published by under Plants

If you take a walk in the woods in May, you'll often find a flower that resembles Lily of the Valley. 

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is in the lily family and occurs from the forests of Canada to the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia. 

Fortunately it's not as aggressive as the Lilies of the Valley which have long since escaped my garden border and invaded the grass.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

2 responses so far

« Prev - Next »