Monthly Archives: March 2011

Quiz: What tree?

And now for something completely different (not about peregrines).

I found this understory tree "blooming" in many places along the North Shore bike trail at Moraine State Park on Sunday.  It drew my attention because of its long, yellow catkins.

Do you know what it is?  Here are some hints:

  • The plant grows in clumps like a shrub.
  • The clumps are on average about 10 feet tall.
  • Its long yellow catkins indicate it's in the birch family.
  • Many of the catkins sprout alone instead of in bunches.
  • The catkins are as long as -- or longer -- than my fingers.
  • The leaf buds are alternate on the branches.
  • The bark is smooth and speckled.

Leave a comment with your answer.

(photo by Kate St. John)

The Big Sit 2011

The Big Sit has begun. 

Both of Pittsburgh's peregrine families are now incubating their eggs full time.  For the next month the most interesting thing we'll see on the falconcams will be the changing of the guard

Pictured above is Dorothy at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.  When she laid her third egg on March 18, I thought she would start incubation right away but she didn't begin in earnest until March 20. 

Meanwhile at the Gulf Tower, pictured below, Dori and Louie started incubation after Dori laid her third egg on March 21.

We're in for some boring video on the falconcams for about a month. 

Peregrine eggs don't hatch until they've been incubated 33-35 days.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams)

Not in Pennsylvania


This isn't a female mallard.  It's a mottled duck

Though she resembles a mallard, her head and neck are noticably paler than her body and her speculum is light blue instead of purple.  (Here's the speculum on a female mallard.)

The mottled ducks' lifestyle is very similar to the mallards' except that these live only in Florida and along the Gulf coast. 

Not in Pennsylvania.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

Animal, Vegetable

I usually write about wild things but this is a story about domesticated nature:  an animal and a vegetable.

This winter Esther Allen gave the members of the Wissahickon Nature Club an assignment.  Each of us must plant seeds from the kitchen and bring the results to the April 14th meeting.

My attempt with tangerine seeds failed to germinate and now, with less than a month left, I am running out of time so I bought a small turnip at the grocery store to sprout in water.  It shouldn't take long.

I don't like turnips -- never buy them -- so this one was a novelty.  About the size of a small red potato, it's white and lavender with a tiny tap root and emerging leaves on top.  At some point I showed it to my cat.  Her reaction was surprising.

Emmy sniffed it, put her ears back, narrowed her eyes and gave it a sharp whack with her paw.  I tried hard not to laugh.  I hid my face in my book so she wouldn't stop her assault on the turnip but I needn't have worried. There was no stopping her.  She kept beating the turnip until she knocked it to the floor where it rolled like an ungainly mouse.  She attacked it from below, then charged at it, chased it back and forth, and nearly launched it down the basement stairs.

I rescued the turnip and hid it under a plastic bag on the kitchen counter but before I set it down I sniffed it myself.  As far as I could tell, it didn't smell.

The next morning I sat drinking my coffee and Emmy puttered around the kitchen floor when suddenly her ears went back, she narrowed her eyes and sniffed the air.  Sniffing, sniffing, she moved below the spot on the kitchen counter where I had accidently uncovered the turnip.   She's not allowed on the counter (ha!) but she jumped right up to the turnip.

I had forgotten about it but she had not.  Apparently the turnip has a strong scent and she doesn't like it, not one bit!

How am I going to sprout the turnip with an attack cat in the house?

Maybe my excuse will be that the cat killed my homework.

(photo of Emmy planning her attack on The Turnip, by Kate St. John)


p.s. Here are some action shots:  Emmy about to attack the turnip, Turnip subdued, Emmy sends the turnip tumbling.

Fourth Egg at Pitt

Dorothy laid her fourth egg tonight just before 9:00pm.


Update, Monday March 21, 9:00am:  This morning, Dorothy and E2 bowed over their four eggs.

Update: Monday March 21 at 4:00pm: It's warm today & the wind picked up just after 1:30pm so Dorothy came off the nest and she and E2 did some beautiful courtship flying.  E2 was particularly spectacular, making close sweeps past the building, flipping upside down, kiting above the CL.  Sometimes he would kite, then flip over like a leaf and dive incredibly fast down the wind, descending from 500 feet high to 200 feet in seconds.  Wow!

(photos from the National Aviary webcam at Univeristy of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning)

First Day of Spring

Today is the spring equinox when the sun's rays directly strike the Equator and day's length is the same as night's. 

On Friday the warm weather felt like May, but the woods are still brown.  At this time of year even the faintest sign of flowers is enough to get me excited.  Here's a list of hopeful signs I've seen since my last phenology report only five days ago.

  • Robins singing before dawn.
  • Canada geese flying over my house in the city.
  • A northern flicker drumming on the metal floodlight hoods at Magee ballfield. (He's really loud!)
  • Swelling buds make the trees look denser.  The red maples look hazy-red.  Some trees already have tiny flowers.
  • New leaves on bush honeysuckle, an invasive plant that's always first to leaf out.
  • Red-tailed hawks mating.

My daffodils and tulips are pushing up through the leaf litter.  Today I'll be looking for coltsfoot in bloom.

Happy Spring!

(photo of coltsfoot by Marcy Cunkelman)

Duck, Duck, Goose

Waterfowl migration is in full swing across Pennsylvania.

Last weekend the lake at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area was completely thawed while the large lakes here in western PA still had ice.  Now, after a week of warm weather our side of the state has had a chance to catch up.

Tomorrow, March 20, the Three Rivers Birding Club will hold an outing at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park to see how many ducks and geese have arrived.  Meet at the South Shore parking lot at 8:00am.

Duck, duck, goose.  How many will we count?

(photo by Steve Gosser of ring-necked ducks at Black Swamp, Lawrence County)