Monthly Archives: February 2012

Pairing Up

I like February.  Not for its weather but because it's the time when peregrine falcons begin to court and claim territory in Pennsylvania.

After months of inactivity peregrine pairs are hanging out together and making their claims quite obvious.  Last Friday Dorothy and E2 did this by perching at the highest point at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.  "This is ours!"

Yesterday Steve Gosser found a banded pair of peregrines at Presque Isle State Park's Gull Point.  Though one of the falcons flew away, this one stayed close enough for Steve to get some great photos.

Gull Point is only 1.75 miles as the peregrine flies from downtown Erie where an urban pair would feel comfortable nesting, and not far from lakeshore bluffs if they prefer a pastoral setting.

I bet this Lake Erie pair is on territory.  Where will they nest?  Is anyone monitoring peregrines in Erie?

(photo by Steve Gosser)

Time To Wake Up

It's Groundhog Day all over again.

Moments ago (at 7:25am EST) Punxsutawney Phil emerged from hibernation, looked for his shadow, saw it(!) and told us we'll have six more weeks of winter.  Amazing... considering how warm it's been.

Every year Phil's predictions are preceded by a week of partying and fireworks, and accompanied by much fanfare and ceremony.  Thousands attend the celebrations in person and by webcam.  It's a formal occasion for Phil's Inner Circle who wear bowties, top hats, greatcoats and gloves.

The gloves are useful.  Yes, it can be cold -- it was 8 degrees in 2004 -- but there's a second reason.

Sometimes Phil is grumpy when he wakes up and it's better for all concerned that he nip a glove instead of a hand.

I'm with ya, Phil.  I'm grumpy, too, before my first cup of coffee.

(photo of Punxsutawney Phil from the Groundhog Day website.  Click on the image to visit Phil's website and read all about him.)


p.s. No one had to wear gloves today.  Phil was not grumpy, but some folks in the crowd were quite grumpy about his prediction!

Winter Trees: Black Locust

A friend of mine from Maryland once remarked that Pittsburgh has ugly trees.  "The gnarled ones look like devil trees," she said.

Though she didn't know their name I think she was referring to black locusts whose winter profile can look spooky.

Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) grow in twisted shapes if they've been broken, badly trimmed, or invaded by the locust borer that weakens and deforms the tree.  The tree pictured above has been through at least two of these assaults.

The bark on mature black locusts is gray-brown and so deeply furrowed it looks distressed. Though a bit spooky it's a good field mark for identifying the tree.


Up close you can see that each bud is surrounded by paired thorns, like devil's horns.


The thorns also grow on the trunks of young trees.


Black locust flowers are such good honey-sources that they've been planted for this purpose in Europe, Asia and southern Africa.  If you don't live in the black locusts' native range -- the southern Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and the Ozarks -- you might think of them as devil trees where they've become invasive.

Black locusts thrive in old fields, disturbed woodlots and along roadsides because they tolerate pollution and poor soil.  They make their own fertilizer through a process called nitrogen fixation.  As members of the legume family, their roots have a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria.  The bacteria enters the root hairs and the plant makes tumor-like growths to surround it.  This protects the bacteria which in turn takes in nitrogen and converts it to a form that fertilizes the plant.

With beautiful flowers and an ability to make fertilizer, they don't deserve to be called devil trees.

(photos by Kate St. John)