Monthly Archives: April 2013

April or May Apples?

Maypple single leaf will not have a flower (photo by Kate St. John)

(While we wait for the peregrine eggs to hatch, let's look at some plants.)

I used to say with confidence that mayapples bloom in May but I got worried last year when they came out in April.

This year I saw two plants blooming in Frick Park on April 17.  I started to worry again, but last weekend's cold weather put the flowers on hold.  Just to be sure I went out and checked on them.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are perennial plants that grow in colonies in open woods. When they first come up the colonies look like miniature forests of green umbrellas.

Each plant has one or two leaves but only the two-leaved plants have flowers because the flower stalk grows from the Y between the leaves.

Above are two mayapples with single leaves in Schenley Park.  Nice, but they won't have flowers.

Below, a nascent double-leaf plant shows the flower bud between the leaves.
Mayapple bud and closed leaves (photo by Kate St. John)


As the plant grows the umbrellas unfurl with the flower bud between them.
Mayapple double leaves beginning to open (photo by Kate St. John)


Then the bud turns its head downward and the flower opens vertically or face down. The leaves are so big and shady that it's hard to see the flower.

Schenley Park's mayapples weren't blooming yet (aha!) so I found a picture of a blooming plant on Wikimedia Commons.  It's on a hill so the photographer can look up to see the flower.

Mayapple in flower with twin leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)


If you really want to see mayapple flowers up close you have to lie on your belly to do it.

I'm sure that's what Chuck Tague did to get this photo.   I'm leaving the dirty work to him. 😉

Maypple flower closeup (photo by Chuck Tague)


A week from today will be May 1. Unless the weather heats up really fast, I think it's safe to say these will be "May" apples this year.

(leaf and bud photos by Kate St. John. complete flowering plant from Wikimedia Commons. Flower closeup by Chuck Tague.)

The Grandkids

Dot and Henry's 3 eggs (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

I'm counting the grandkids before they've hatched but here are three of Dorothy and E2's grandchildren from Shaker Heights, Ohio.  They've been laid in a bowl of moss beneath two floodlights.

These eggs are especially sweet to me because I watched their father closely when he was young.

Perhaps you remember Henry, too, born at the Cathedral of Learning in 2011.  Shortly after his sister Yellow died when she flew into a window, Henry hit the same building.  Stunned and wobbly he flew home to recuperate.

Though he was old enough to start hunting on his own, he must have looked ill.  Dorothy and E2 brought him food and continued feeding him for weeks afterward.  He begged loudly when they "weaned" him later.

That fall Henry left town and was not heard of until April 29, 2012 when he appeared in Shaker Heights at a site abandoned by the previous peregrines because of human disturbance.  Henry was still a juvenile but he claimed Tower East as his own.

This spring Henry attracted an unbanded female and courtship ensued.  Pretty soon it looked like Dot and Henry were nesting, but where?

With help from building maintenance, Chis Saladin explored Tower East a week ago and found the nest with two very protective parents.  Here's Dot in the foreground with Henry flying behind, shouting and swooping.

Dot and Henry defending their nest (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

By now there may be more eggs and, if this improvised site works, baby peregrines next month.

Congratulations, Henry and Dot.  And congratulations to grandparents Dorothy and E2 who are expecting their own eggs to hatch any day now.

A big thank you goes to "Bobbytimewarp" and Chad+Chris Saladin for keeping an eye on Henry, Dot and their nest.

For more news of Henry and Dot see the Ohio Falcon Forum for Tower East.


(photos by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Downtown Peregrine Eggs Have Hatched!

Louie prepares breakfast, 21 April 2013 (photo by Mark W. Anderson)

From March 18 until yesterday, April 21, there was almost nothing to report from the Downtown peregrines' nest.  Without a camera at the site we have to rely on in-person observations but the birds were elusive and rarely seen.

Then yesterday Amanda McGuire emailed me this picture that her boyfriend, Mark Anderson, took at 8:17am.  It's Louie plucking prey at the edge of Amanda's balcony.  (Louie's face is obscured by the railing.  Mark took the photo through a window so as not to disturb him.)

Peregrines don't take food to their nests unless they're feeding young.  The fact that Louie was preparing breakfast from a perch that overlooks his nest was new behavior and a hopeful sign that the eggs had hatched.

I stopped by the street late yesterday afternoon.  As I pulled up I saw Louie fly into the nest but I didn't have my binoculars out (heck, I was driving) so I couldn't be sure he was carrying prey.  I parked and waited to see what would happen next.

Louie left the nest but soon returned and walked into the nook.  I could hear him chirping as if he was having a conversation with Dori ... and the kids?  After a few minutes he flew away.

He returned again!  Three visits in only 15 minutes!  Something really interesting was happening in the nest.

And then he flew away with the garbage.  I could see it clearly in his beak.

Woo hoo!  The eggs have hatched at the Downtown peregrines' nest.


(photo by Mark W. Anderson)

p.s.  35 days elapsed from the last time Louie was active on the balcony.  Peregrine eggs hatch in 33-35 days.  Right on time!

Pitt Falconcam is Zoomed for Hatching

Dorothy at her Cathedral of Learning nest (photo from the snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh)

Since Dorothy and E2's eggs will hatch in the next few days, I've zoomed the snapshot camera so we can see better.

Good morning, Dorothy!

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


p.s.  The streaming cam is blurry but you can listen for sounds of the baby birds and hear Dorothy and E2 talk to them on the audio here:
Watch less blurry snapshots here:

How Do They Hatch?

Chicken hatching in incubator (photo by grendelkhan on Wikimedia Commons)

In the next few days the peregrine eggs at the University of Pittsburgh are going to hatch, so now's a good time to explore...

How does a baby bird get out of the egg?   It's a strenuous one to two day process in very tight quarters.

  1. When a chick is ready to hatch, he pulls himself into the tucking position with his beak sticking out between his body and right wing.  This gives him the leverage he needs to whack at the shell.
  2. The chick then breaks through the membrane at the large end of the egg that isolates the air sac and he breathes for the first time.
  3. Next he starts to bump the shell with the curved ridge of his beak where he has a calcified egg tooth that's sharp enough to crack the shell.
  4. His strenuous hammering is aided by the hatching muscle on the back of his neck.
  5. While still in the egg he communicates with his parents and siblings by peeping and pecking sounds.  The parents know which eggs are alive because they're speaking.  The siblings know their brothers and sisters are ready to emerge.  In precocial species, which must all hatch at once, the chicks listen to each others' tapping to coordinate the hatch.  Elder chicks tap slowly, younger ones tap rapidly so that all of them reach the finish line in a 20-30 minute window.
  6. Finally the chick cracks his shell all the way around.  He pushes with his feet and the egg splits open.  His mother moves the shell away and he lies quietly, waiting for his down to dry.

After hatching the chick's specialized tools aren't needed anymore.  The egg tooth falls off (in songbirds it's absorbed) and the hatching muscle shrinks into just another neck muscle.

Watch the National Aviary falconcam for hatching at Dorothy and E2's nest.  The streaming cam is blurry but it is broadcasting sound so you'll be able to hear the chicks peeping inside their shells.  That will be our first sign that hatching is underway.


(Credits: photo of a chicken emerging from its egg from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original.  Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 460 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

So Glad For A Break!

So glad for a break, Dorothy leaves as E2 takes over incubation (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Whoa it is warm today!  Over 80 degrees in the sun!

Dorothy was panting at the nest so when E2 showed up for nest exchange Dorothy jumped at the chance.  Here he's the one standing in the background as Dorothy leaves in a hurry.


Watch for their eggs to hatch around Earth Day (Monday 4/22) give-or-take a day or two.  I plan on zooming the snapshot camera during the hatch so we can see the babies better.  This year it's the only webcam we have.  Will you miss the wide view?

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

Putting On The Green

Ohio buckeye leafing out (photo by Kate St. John)
This week the trees in Pittsburgh are putting on the green.

The flank of Mt. Washington is my favorite place to see it.  All winter the hillside is a flat brown color without the look of individual trees but now each leafing tree shows up as a pale green crown.  Some are white with flowers.

This appearance is ephemeral.  Soon the leaves will be large and shady and the hillside will look uniformly green.  So now while the trees are changing so fast here's a close look at what they've been up to.

Above, in Schenley Park an Ohio buckeye leafs out.  Below at a later stage the flower buds emerge. (*see the Comments for discussion on this tree)
Ohio buckeye flower buds (photo by Kate St. John)


The bitternut hickory is not so quick but its mustard yellow bud has begun a leaf.

Bitternut hickory bud opening (photo by Kate St. John)


The pignut hickory's end bud is furry, shiny and enormous.
Pignut hickory bud (photo by Kate St. John)


These catkins look like caterpillars.
(Dark bark, perhaps a sweet birch. Do you know what tree this is?)
Catkins that look like caterpillars (photo by Kate St. John)


And the crown jewels are the magnolias, native to Asia.  This is a star magnolia.  Wow!
Star magnolia blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)