Archive for June, 2012

Jun 23 2012

Bottlebrush Blooming

Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

I can't help mentioning these flowers. I'm wowed every time they bloom.

Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) in Schenley Park was almost in full bloom last Wednesday (above).   By today the flowers ought to be spectacular and they're ahead of schedule -- two and a half weeks early.

Visit Schenley Park before the flowers fade. You can find them on the shady hillside above the pond.  If you stand below the Panther Hollow Bridge and face the pond, follow the gravel trail on your left.

Here's what they look like as you approach.

(photos by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Jun 22 2012

Chick at Tarentum

Published by under Peregrines

I don't mean slang for "girl" but a real chick, a juvenile peregrine falcon at the Tarentum Bridge.

Ever since they made the front page of the Valley News Dispatch on Tuesday, the Tarentum peregrines have become celebrities.  Lots of people have stopped by the boat launch to look for the beautiful birds in Steve Gosser's photos.

Steve himself has become an unofficial ambassador, spending his vacation at the bridge taking pictures of the birds.  On Wednesday he wrote:   "I must have had at least 6-7 people come during the time I was there looking for the Peregrines and of course when they saw me with my binocs and camera they asked me if I knew about them. Even some of the fisherman going out in boats asked me about the Falcons so it was nice to see so many people got to see the article in the paper."

By yesterday the peregrines had drawn so many people that Steve had lost count.

Meanwhile one of the two juveniles was very cooperative.  She perched so close to the boat ramp that Steve's camera could gaze into her eyes.

What a gorgeous bird!

If you want to see the Tarentum peregrines, now's the time to go.  In the weeks ahead the youngsters will become proficient fliers and spend less and less time at the bridge.  Young peregrines spend 5-10 weeks with their parents after they leave the nest -- and then they're gone.

(photos by Steve Gosser)

(*)  I said "she" about this bird but I don't really know if this chick is male or female.

7 responses so far

Jun 21 2012

Cowbirds Are Calling Their Kids

For weeks I thought that all the brown-headed cowbirds had left Schenley Park, that the females had dumped their eggs in other species' nests and moved on.  But I was wrong.

The cowbirds arrived in mid-April and immediately made themselves noticeable.  Males called from the treetops and as many as three puffed and courted a single female.  I felt bad for the song sparrows, their most likely victims in Schenley, who would be forced to foster those cowbird eggs-in-the-making.

The cowbirds mated, the females dumped their eggs, and then they disappeared.  Or so I thought.

As expected, in late May I saw and heard cowbird fledglings begging from song sparrow parents.

In early June I was surprised to hear male cowbirds singing again.  According to the literature they'd never left but had spent the intervening weeks monitoring the host nests to make sure their kids alone survived.

By now the young cowbirds are self-sufficient but they were raised in a song sparrow world.  It's time for them to learn how to be cowbirds (and for their mothers to lay another batch of eggs) so their fathers are singing.

"Hey, kid.  You're a cowbird.  Come with me."


(photo by Brian Herman)

p.s.  See Meredith Lombard's photo of a chipping sparrow foster parent feeding a cowbird fledgling and a Louisiana waterthrush with its baby cowbird. Notice that the foster parent is smaller than the baby.  🙁

6 responses so far

Jun 20 2012

Happiness in Rochester

Published by under Peregrines

After more than a year without a successful nest there's a baby peregrine in Rochester, New York this morning!   Beauty and DotCa are parents. Dorothy (at the Cathedral of Learning) is a grandmother again

Follow the Rochester nest at RFalconcam.  Watch the streaming video here.

(photo of Beauty's first hatchling of 2012 from RFalconcam)

3 responses so far

Jun 20 2012


Published by under Books & Events

Today is the astronomical northern solstice. In its honor there will be some astronomical (huge) parties.

Midsummer is not a big deal here, far below the 50th parallel, but it's huge in Scandinavia where winters are long, cold and very dark.

This is winter's antithesis, all light and warmth, the longest day celebrated since pagan times. 

When Christianity arrived in Northern Europe the Church added the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on this date so the partying is legitimate for everyone with festivals, bonfires, feasting, singing, and dancing 'round the maypole.

And don't forget the theatricals.  You may know today's name -- even though we don't celebrate it  -- from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

So as you note the solstice at exactly 7:09pm (EDT) you might call it the "beginning of summer" but it's Midsummer to those in the know.

(photo from Shutterstock)

3 responses so far

Jun 19 2012

Tarentum Peregrines in Valley News Dispatch

Published by under Peregrines

The Tarentum peregrines are news this morning.  If you buy the Valley News Dispatch you'll see Steve Gosser's photos. Click here for the online article.

(photo of the Tarentum Bridge by Kate St. John)

9 responses so far

Jun 19 2012


Published by under Songbirds

This is my favorite photo of a dickcissel though she's not what you usually see in the field.  This bird is female so you won't find her singing from a perch like her mate who has a black throat and bib.

Dickcissels (Spiza americana) are so rare in western Pennsylvania that I had never seen one until last weekend.  They normally nest in the Great Plains but they're nomadic and will move their range when food is scarce.  This summer they've come east to Mercer, Lawrence, Crawford, Clarion, Indiana and Allegheny Counties.

These birds are well studied because their population declined precipitously from 1966 to 1978.  Scientists thought dickcissels would go extinct by the year 2000 but that didn't happen because the studies revealed the twofold cause.  One was the loss of un-mowed grassland habitat for nesting.  The other larger cause was death on the wintering grounds.

Dickcissels actually spend more of their lives in Venezuela than they do in the U.S.  While it's winter here they live in huge flocks in Venezuela where they eat grasses and grains, sometimes in agricultural fields.  A single roost may contain 10% to 30% of the entire species population so when frustrated Venezuelan farmers killed entire roosts with organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides (DDT), the birds were suddenly in serious trouble. Thankfully non-lethal control measures were put in place, wholesale killing was outlawed, and the dickcissel population stabilized.

But these grassland birds are still rare here. This summer provides an unusual opportunity to see them in western Pennsylvania. Check for sightings on PABIRDS or eBird and visit the grasslands soon.  Male dickcissels will sing while the females nest but the flocks will leave in August.  They have a long trip ahead of them.

(photo by Bobby Greene)

p.s. Here's what a male dickcissel looks like.  The species is named for his song: "dick! dick! siss siss siss"  Click here to hear.

One response so far

Jun 18 2012

New Tenants

Published by under Nesting & Courtship

Remember Marcy Cunkelman's bird house that hosted a family of chickadees last month?

After the babies fledged, the house was unoccupied.  The chickadees didn't reuse it because they raise only one brood per year.

The birdhouse was vacant, but not for long.  New tenants have already moved in.

Above, a tree swallow peers out of the nestbox opening last week.

Inside, there are five eggs surrounded by fluffy feathers.

If all goes well there will soon be five mouths to feed.

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

2 responses so far

Jun 17 2012

Railroad Lilies

Published by under Plants

When I was growing up I didn't know the name of these common summer flowers. Later on I learned to call them Railroad Lilies.

Their real name is Orange Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) and they're a garden plant gone wild.  As a cultivar from East Asia, their seeds are sterile so they spread by fibrous roots and rhizomes.  Once established, they're hard to get rid of and are even considered invasive in Wisconsin.  (In Pennsylvania they're on the invasive species Watch List.)

Their last name, daylily, comes from the fact that each flower blooms for only one day.  Their choice of habitat earned them two nicknames:  Ditch Lily and Railroad Lily.

They're blooming now in Pennsylvania.  Despite their weedy reputation they certainly dress up the landscape.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

7 responses so far

Jun 16 2012

Pea Trees

There's a bumper crop of pea pods on the redbud trees in Schenley Park.

Ten weeks ago the trees had delicate pink flowers and only a hint of leaves.

This month their trunks and branches are dripping with peas.

Normally the pods are hidden by the foliage but this year they're so prolific you can see them easily. Check the redbud trees on the right as you descend the stairs behind the Visitors' Center.

It's a good year for the pea trees.

(photos by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

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