Archive for May, 2011

May 16 2011

Mis-Placed Names

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Many birds are named for the locations where they're found -- American robin, for instance -- but among warblers some place names are incorrect.  That's because they were first identified, and named, while on migration.

In May most warblers are traveling from Central and South America to the northern U.S. and Canada so they're seen across a wide swath of North America.

May must have been the time when Audubon and his cohorts named a lot of birds.  If they had waited until June they would never have found these birds in:

  • Cape May:  The Cape May warbler is only at Cape May, New Jersey during migration.  It nests in Canada and northern Maine.
  • Connecticut:  The Connecticut warbler, pictured above, is rarely found in Connecticut.  It nests north of Lake Superior westward to Alberta, Canada.  His name is really far off base!
  • Nashville: The Nashville warbler nests in Canada, northern New York state, New England and the Appalachians.  Nashville is just a rest stop.
  • Tennessee:  The Tennessee warbler nests in Canada, northern New England and the Adirondacks.  He doesn't linger in The Volunteer State.
  • Philadelphia:  The Philadelphia vireo may stop in Pennsylvania on its way to Canada and Maine, but he doesn't live here.

Happily, there are two warblers who were named for places where they actually breed.  The Canada warbler nests in Canada and the Kentucky warbler nests in Kentucky.  Both of them also breed in Pennsylvania.

Don't be confused by the other ones.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

2 responses so far

May 15 2011

Don’t Mess With Me

Great horned owls are very versatile, the most widely distributed owl in the western hemisphere.  They range from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and are found in forests, prairies, mountains and deserts, though they avoid the extremes of dense rainforest, hard desert and high Arctic tundra.

Adult great horned owls have no predators -- not even humans will mess with them -- but the babies are vulnerable.

Here are two baby owls just a couple of weeks younger than the Pennsylvania pair I featured on May 2.  Steve Valasek found them near his home in New Mexico.  Notice that they're paler than their Pennsylvania relatives, a characteristic of southwestern great horned owls.

These two appear to be alone and one of them is telling Steve to back off.  

Look at those eyebrows! 

But just in case the stare doesn't work, step back a bit and you'll see who's watching nearby!

Don't mess with me!

(photos by Steve Valasek)

3 responses so far

May 13 2011

Peyton Place For Dorothy’s Girls

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy, the female peregrine at the University of Pittsburgh, has successfully fledged 34 young in her ten years as Queen of the Cathedral of Learning, so it's no surprise that we hear of her many offspring. 

What is a surprise is the soap opera that's playing out with her daughter and granddaughter in Rochester, New York.

In 2007 Dorothy and Erie (her previous mate) fledged four young.  One of them was Beauty who flew to Rochester, New York and settled at the Times Square Building.  Here she is at the nest box after her arrival in 2009.  

This spring Beauty is incubating three eggs under the watchful eyes of five cameras and Rochester's dedicated falcon fans, but her nesting season got off to a slow start.  She laid one egg April 1, then waited eight days to lay the second.  This was probably because her mate Archer was not very attentive.  Watchers reported him in another part of town hanging out with a second female peregrine.  Hmmmmm!

Eventually Archer paid attention to Beauty, they completed their clutch of eggs, and everything seemed to calm down.  However, the second female peregrine stayed in town and settled at Kodak Park four miles away.  This female also has eggs and a mate who's often missing.  Hmmmm!

This week the watchers identified the second female and solved the mystery of her mate.

The second female peregrine is Unity, born of Belle at the University of Toledo, Ohio.  Belle is Dorothy's daughter from 2003 so she and Beauty are sisters, four years apart.  That also makes Unity Beauty's niece.

And here's where Peyton Place comes in.  It turns out that Archer is the mate to both of them.  When he's with Beauty, Unity is alone and vice versa.  This detective work was made easier by the fact that Archer has a distinctive wing mark.

Click on Beauty's photo above to read Rochester's Imprints blog about the Peyton Place among Dorothy's girls. 

Archer!  How could you!

UPDATE, May 18:  Staff at the Kodak Tower in downtown Rochester saw two female peregrines fighting on there on the afternoon of May 18.  Speculation is that the combatants were Beauty and Unity.  Read about the fight here.

(photo of Beauty in 2009, from the main camera at RFalconcam)

16 responses so far

May 13 2011

Save the Date: Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch!

Coming soon, my favorite week of the year:  Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch!

As amazing as it seems, Dorothy and E2's youngsters will be ready to fly at the end of this month.  They'll lose their fluffy, white, Buddha-look and become sleek with brown and cream-colored feathers.  And then they'll learn to fly.

While they're learning, the young peregrines walk and flap on the ledges above their nest.  It's easy to see them with binoculars so I sit at the Schenley Plaza tent (shown here) to watch the fun.

Come join me!  See the youngsters exercise their wings.  See Dorothy and E2 show their kids how to fly.  Swap stories about peregrines and the nesting year.

Save these dates, weather permitting.  (I guarantee the weather will change this schedule, so watch the blog for the latest updates.)

  • Monday May 30 (Memorial Day), 11:00am to 1:00pm.  The youngsters will be visible near their nest, but won't be ready to fly.
  • Tuesday May 31, and Wednesday June 1, 1:00pm to 2:00pm.  I'll spend my lunch hour at the tent.  Come join me!
  • Thursday and Friday June 2 & 3, noon to 2:15pm.  I'm staying longer on Thursday and Friday because I think they'll be the best days. (I may be wrong!)
  • probably Thursday evening, 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  If Thursday is good, I'll be there after work, too.
  • Saturday June 4, 10:00am to 2:00pm. Almost all the chicks will have flown by Saturday but the last one keeps the family's focus on the nest area.
  • Sunday June 5, no time set yet.  This is a rain date whose schedule depends on what the peregrines are doing.

Don't miss the fun.  Plan on joining me at the tent for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

See this link for news of last year's fun and this Peregrine FAQ that describes what you'll see on camera as the young peregrines leave the nest.

(photo of the Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John)

8 responses so far

May 12 2011

Now Blooming: Jack in the Pulpit

Published by under Plants

Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has been blooming for about a week in the Pittsburgh area. 

The flower usually looks like this (click here) with three-part leaves and a long curving hood.

Dianne lifted Jack's roof to show his beautifully decorated pulpit. 

Some flowers don't have such bold stripes inside.  You'll have to lift Jack's lid to see.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

2 responses so far

May 11 2011

Happy Motoring!

Published by under Peregrines

Over the weekend the nestlings at the Cathedral of Learning moved out of their huddle and began to motor around the nest.  As soon as they discovered their wings, they realized they could move faster if they flapped while walking.


They were so busy on Sunday that they sometimes moved out of camera view.  Here you see only three of the four chicks. Clearly it was time to zoom out the snapshot camera so we could see them better. 


Of course I'll miss these cute close-ups.  (Peek-a-boo!)


But as soon as we had a wider view, we got a freeze-frame of an incoming peregrine.  What an action shot! 


And now we can see all the chicks, even when they're at the front of the nest.

Happy motoring.   😉

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at the Cathderal of Learning, University of Pittsburgh)

8 responses so far

May 11 2011

Richard Crossley Lecture, May 16 at 7:30pm

Published by under Books & Events

Here's a lecture you won't want to miss if you're in the market for a new field guide.  And even if you're not!

On Monday May 16 at 7:30pm at the National Aviary, acclaimed birder and photographer Richard Crossley will speak about his revolutionary new field guide, the Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds.

In his book, Crossley shows the birds in their natural habitat, on the ground and in flight, near and far, in breeding and non-breeding plumage and in transition.  This is as close to reality as you'll get in a guide.  It's what you see when you're out in the field.

Click on the image above to watch Richard Crossley's video and see what I mean.  It's a new look at birds.  I'm convinced!

The lecture is free and open to the public.  The guide will be for sale that evening and Crossley will stay after the lecture for a book-signing.

(video from YouTube)

4 responses so far

May 10 2011


Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

Here's a beautiful, small tree whose name escaped me until Dianne Machesney sent this picture.

This is American Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus).

I should have been able to guess its name because of its delicate fringe-like flowers.

Pennsylvania is the northernmost edge of Fringetree's range and it's even considered "threatened" in the state, but it's so pretty that landscape designers plant it as an ornamental.  I'm sure that's why I've seen it in Schenley Park.  Dianne found this one in North Park.

Keep an eye out for it.  It's worth a look.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

p.s. UPDATE, MAY 22:  Fringetree is now blooming in Schenley Park.

4 responses so far

May 09 2011

Almost Ready To Fly

Published by under Crows & Ravens

It's not often that you see a raven's nest in western Pennsylvania.

This spring Tim Vechter has been watching a family of ravens near Greensburg.   He took their picture through his scope last week when the four young birds were just about to fledge.  By now they've probably left the nest. 

I wish I could have been there to see them fly.

Ravens are so cool

(photo by Tim Vechter)

6 responses so far

May 08 2011

Best Bird From Afar

Published by under Water and Shore

Northwestern Ohio is known for warblers in early May but it's also a good place to find just about any bird that's heading north.  That includes shorebirds.

In May 2007 I saw my first ever American golden plover.  The bird was on a distant mudflat at Metzger Marsh, Ohio, so far away that I wouldn't have seen it had Chuck and Joan Tague not shown it to me through their scopes.  The bird's golden back is gorgeous, though hard to see in this photo.

American golden plovers are long distant migrants who nest in the Arctic and winter in South America.  Most of them travel through the Great Plains in spring but a few travel an eastern route that puts them on the shore of Lake Erie where we get a bit excited to see them. 

Even from afar, this one's a Best Bird.

(USFW photo in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

2 responses so far

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