Archive for April, 2012

Apr 20 2012

Reluctant Changing of the Guard

Published by under Peregrines

As usual, E2 incubated the eggs yesterday afternoon while Dorothy took a break at the Cathedral of Learning.   After she finished her snack she came back to take over incubation duties, but he was reluctant to leave.

She arrived at 3:18pm and asked him to get up, but E2 just looked at her and stayed put.   Thirty minutes later Dorothy was still asking and it was starting to get funny.  I got emails from Karen Lang and Rob Protz urging me to drop what I was doing and start watching.

By 3:55pm Dorothy's frustration was quite apparent.

"Get up!  It's my turn."

Finally at 4:00pm E2 reluctantly allowed a changing of the guard.

Click on the photo above to watch a slideshow of their interaction and the measures Dorothy had to take to get him off the nest. (Hover your mouse over the image to see the caption.)

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)


p.s. The webcam has some spots on its weather-proof cover so E2's face is sometimes obscured, as in the photo above.

5 responses so far

Apr 19 2012

Mass Migration

Last Friday I took the day off and visited Presque Isle State Park.  It felt like a mini beach vacation to walk along the shore of Lake Erie and pretend I was at the ocean.

With the waves lapping at my feet I paused to gaze north.  I knew that Long Point, Canada was more than 25 miles away but it was beyond the horizon, invisible.

Suddenly I noticed that butterfly after butterfly flew from behind me and headed straight out over the open water.  They were brown, orange and white and they flew very fast, zigzagging on their way.

What was this steady stream of butterflies?  Red admirals.

Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta) live in temperate Europe, Asia and North America.  They cannot survive winter's cold so they migrate south in the fall.  In the U.S. Red Admirals overwinter in south Texas.  In March they start their journey north.

How long would it take for these delicate creatures to cross Lake Erie?  I estimated I would have to run to keep up with them so I guessed they were traveling 7 miles per hour.  If they flew due north they'd reach Long Point in 3.5 hours, but they were headed northeast, a trip of 50 miles to the mainland of Canada.  This long route would take them more than seven hours.  It was 3:00pm.  They would arrive at night.

What I saw was only the beginning.  By Sunday the south winds and warm temperatures had triggered a mass migration.  From the Presque Isle Hawk Watch, Jerry McWilliams reported to PABIRDS:

"Probably the most remarkable observation was the mass movement of Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) flying SW to NE. A conservative estimate of the butterflies moving past the watch was 25 individuals per minute making the total estimate of the count around 5500 butterflies!"


The photo above matches what I saw.  The fall brood of Red Admirals is brown like this.  Those hatched in spring/summer are blacker.

(photo by Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University,

3 responses so far

Apr 18 2012

Carpet of Flowers

Published by under Plants

When Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) is at its peak the forest is carpeted in snowy blue.

The tops of the flowers are white, the lower lips blue.  Up close they're pretty, too.

These photos were taken last year at Braddock's Trail Park in Irwin, Pennsylvania.   Tomorrow you can go see them with the Wissahickon Nature Club.  Judy Stark is leading an outing there on Thursday April 19 at 10:00am.  See the details below.

I wish I didn't have to be at work...  🙁


April 19 - Thursday - 10:00am - Braddock's Trail, Irwin , PA.
Judy Stark - Cell: 412-327-9537

Directions from Pittsburgh :  Take 376E to Exit 78A to US 30E/Ardmore Blvd. toward
Forest Hills , go 11.0 miles.  Pass Norwin Town Centre.  At the next stoplight, take a
sharp Rt. on Robbins Station Rd.  Follow it carefully for about 3 miles (it makes several
right and left turns) until it dead ends in the park.

The Blue-eyed Mary's are spectacular here, as well as other Spring flowers.  Bring a
bag lunch and a chair or blanket.  There are 2 picnic tables and a porta-john.
The road through the park should be wheelchair accessible under a yellow gate.

(photos by Judy Stark, April 2011)

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Apr 17 2012

Hatching at Harrisburg

Published by under Peregrines

The first on-camera peregrine to lay eggs in Pennsylvania has hatched her first chicks of 2012.

Two eggs hatched overnight at the Rachel Carson State Office Building.  Watch the Harrisburg streaming webcam for more cute scenes like this.

Coming up soon:  The peregrine eggs at Wilmington, Delaware should hatch any day now!  Watch them here.

(photo from the PA Falcon Cam, Harrisburg, PA.  Click on the photo to see the PA Falcon website)

p.s. Thanks to Marianne Atkinson for the picture and alert.

3 responses so far

Apr 17 2012

Now Blooming: Wild Blue Phlox

Published by under Plants

Last weekend Dianne and Bob Machesney visited Buck Run in Washington County and saw 36 species of flowers and 13 butterflies.

One of the prettiest flowers was this Wild Blue Phlox.  I found it blooming at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve in Beaver County last weekend, too.

I had feared that March's summer weather would give us an April without flowers, but two weeks of cold weather slowed things down a bit. The flowers are lingering after all.



(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Apr 16 2012

Try Not To Say Ewwww

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

In the past week my cat and I have had some excitement when I turn on the kitchen light in the morning.  Sometimes we’re startled by a 100-legged bug that zooms across the floor to hide.  I jump back and Emmy jumps forward to chase it.

Eeewww!  I’m repulsed by house centipedes but a book called Despicable Species by Janet Lembke taught me these critters help me indirectly.

House centipedes (Scutigera coleoptrata) are nocturnal raptors, the owls of the bug world.  They eat a wide variety of live prey including spiders, silverfish, ants, termites, bedbugs and cockroaches which they catch by running them down.  For this they need to be fast.

With rigid bodies their speed comes from their legs.  Amazingly house centipedes don’t have 100 legs.  Adults have 15 pairs of very long jointed legs (yes, only 30) with extra muscles that allow them to achieve a top speed of 1.3 feet per second very quickly.  The two longest legs in the back mimic antennae and the two shortest in the front are modified to sting and kill their prey.  The stingers sound scary but are very small and harmless to humans.   House centipedes can even lose a few legs to get away if captured.

Because they don’t have wax on their exoskeleton, centipedes must rest during the day in damp, dark environments so they don’t dry out.  They prefer basements and crawl spaces (I have both) and are sometimes found in the bathtub because they look for a damp place to rest.

Like many other bugs, house centipedes have a spurt of visibility in the spring.  It’s the sight of all those legs that make my scalp crawl.  I couldn’t even use an illustration of the entire bug for this post because I can’t bear to look at all those legs.

It's reason against emotion.  Now that I know they help me, I am trying very hard not to say “Eeewww.”

(close-up of a house centipede from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original)

8 responses so far

Apr 15 2012

If You’re Visiting Acadia…

Published by under Books & Events

Every year I blog about Maine in early September because my husband and I always Acadia National Park at that time.

In fact we've vacationed in Maine for nearly 30 years and we always stay at the same bed and breakfast, The Harbourside Inn, run by the Sweet family in Northeast Harbor.

What has drawn us to the same place for more than two decades?  The beauty of Acadia National Park, the Harbourside's peace and quiet, and the Sweet family's warm hospitality.

Recently Ann Sweet emailed me that they've updated their website, so you can see for yourself.

If you have a hankering to visit Acadia and like to stay at bed-and-breakfasts, check out The Harbourside Inn.

They're open mid-June to mid-September.

(photo courtesy The Harbourside Inn, Northeast Harbor, Maine)


p.s. I just checked the Acadia website and see that as of March 26 several trails are closed due to peregrine falcon nesting.  Way to go, peregrines!

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Apr 14 2012

Festivals and Celebrations

Published by under Books & Events

Late April and early May are filled with ways to enjoy birds and nature.  Here are just a few of the many events that celebrate Spring near Pittsburgh.


Festivals:  Want to see a lot of birds?  Want to learn from the top birders in North America?  Here are three birding festivals within a half-day drive of Pittsburgh, listed in date order.

And there are plenty more birding festivals in the works.  Check out the Festival Finder at Bird Watchers' Digest to find one near you.

Happy birding!


p.s.  Did I miss something?  Leave a comment to tell us about your favorite event.

(photo of birders at the Magee Marsh boardwalk linked from Photo courtesy of the Biggest Week in American Birding. Click on the image to see the original and accompanying article.)

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Apr 13 2012

Why Birds Get Here Last

Published by under Migration


Earlier this week Libby Strizzi sent me an email with this ruby-throated hummingbird migration map and the question:  Why are the hummingbirds everywhere but here?

The map from is shown above with a black circle I drew to highlight the absence of hummers.  Hummingbirds have been seen east, west and north of northwestern Pennsylvania but not in the "hole."

I'll bet this is because northwestern PA is not on any spring migration flyways.

Migrating birds use four aerial "highways" to reach their breeding grounds in the spring.  Pennsylvania is fed by the Atlantic Flyway.  You can see this on the map below by Melissa Mayntz, linked from


Notice the "hole" in northwestern Pennsylvania where the migration highway splits into two streams.  Early migrants are probably following the main highway and not stopping in PA's northwest corner.  Other migrants fill in the gap but they arrive later.

And notice that two flyways meet in northwestern Ohio at Lake Erie.  Two sources of birds!  That's why birders flock to Magee Marsh, Ohio in May.

We'll just have to be patient.  They'll get here when they get here.

(Hummingbird map from  Flyways map by Melissa Mayntz, linked from  Click on each map to see the original in context.)

2 responses so far

Apr 12 2012


Published by under Mammals

On a recent walk in the park I paused to look and listen for birds.  Instead of birdsong I heard rough scrabbling above me.

As I turned to look, the scrabbling stopped.


A squirrel lost his grip and fell straight down out of the tree. He landed flat on his belly and lay there blinking.

A second squirrel peered down from above.

Blink. Blink.

Game over! Lucky for him I wasn't a red-tailed hawk.

He picked himself up and slowly climbed the tree. Huff. Huff.

And they resumed the chase, leaping from branch to branch.


(photo by Jeff Buck on Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

One response so far

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