Archive for May, 2013

May 08 2013

Taking A Bath

Published by under Peregrines

I often see robins and starlings take baths but I've never seen a peregrine do so.

Meredith Lombard monitors the peregrines who nest at the Route 462 bridge over the Susquehanna near Lancaster, PA.  Early this month she observed one of them bathing in the river.  Fortunately she had her camera and scope ready.  Unfortunately it was windy, but it was well worth recording.

This video is a window on the lives of peregrine falcons.


(video by Meredith Lombard)

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May 07 2013

Important Rest Stops

Published by under Migration

Bay-breasted Warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Birders flock to Magee Marsh, Ohio in May because the birds do, too.  For us it's exciting to see them so close. For them it's an important rest stop on their long journey from Central or South America to Canada.

Songbirds migrate overnight and stop before dawn to rest for the day. They may be leisurely in the fall but they make the journey faster in spring.  This bay-breasted warbler travels from Panama or northern South America to Canada, a journey of at least 2,400 miles, and he does it in as little as 17 days.  His longest leg is more than 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico.

Rest stops are key.

Imagine you're driving each night on a long distance journey.  From experience, or because you're traveling in a group (i.e. flock), you've picked the rest stops in advance.  You're on a tight schedule and you're not going to stop often.  A few of the rest stops are the last food and fuel for hundreds of miles.  No problem.  You've been there before and you know those places are good.

But what if you arrive one night and a crucial rest stop is gone... destroyed?  No gasoline, no food and you're nearly out of both.   You have no idea where to find a substitute and you're already tired.  If you're a bird, this emergency can kill you.

That's why the warblers at Magee Marsh don't seem to care about people. They're hungry and they don't have much time.  They're fueling up so they can leave tonight for Canada.

And that's why the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network  are all working to preserve stopover sites for migratory birds.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

One response so far

May 07 2013

Quality Time

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy and nestling face-to-face (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy is spending quality time with her chick.

Thanks to @PittPeregrines for capturing this Pic-of-the-Day snapshot.

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

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May 06 2013

Downtown Peregrines On Camera At Last

Downtown Pittsburgh Peregrines website at the National Aviary

It's been two years since we've seen Pittsburgh's Downtown peregrine family on camera.

Louie and Dori used to nest at the Gulf Tower where we had a great close-up view of their activities but in 2012 they abandoned Gulf for the back of a building on Fourth Avenue.  They've nested in the same place this year but I was unsuccessful in finding the proper contact to permit a camera.

It looked like we'd have another year without a view of the Downtown pair until Amanda McGuire came to the rescue.   She works for Point Park University and her balcony is Louie and Dori's favorite perch during the nesting season.  I was excited when Amanda said, "I think we can put a webcam on my balcony" so I began a flurry of email to put everyone in touch with each other.

Amanda made all the arrangements with Point Park, Bill Powers of PixController donated his time and equipment, and Point Park University donated the camera location and Internet access.  It all came together when Wildearth began streaming and the National Aviary put the Downtown peregrine page on their website.

The webcam is located here on the National Aviary website or by clicking on the image above.  That's Dan Costa's photo of Dori on the splash-screen.

When you watch the webcam, keep in mind that it's a block away from the nest so you're seeing an exterior view without sound and nightlights.  Bright sunlight hides the interior space so you'll find that best viewing is during cloudy days or at dawn and dusk.

The image below shows the nest opening with Louie perched on the left while it rained Monday evening, April 29.  Yes, Louie matches the building.

Downtown falconcam view with Louie at left, 29 April 2013 (photo from the Downtown falconcam at Point Park University)

Here's a marked up snapshot that describes what you're seeing.

Description of Downtown falconcam scene (snaphot from the Downtown falconcam at Point Park University)

By now Louie and Dori's chicks are moving around the nest and visible in the back corner.  They're white and fluffy but will turn brown as they grow their juvenile feathers.  Fortunately they'll move to the front of the nest opening as they grow up.

Around June 1 they'll attempt their first flight and leave the nest, so now's the time to watch.  Click here or on the image at top to see them on the National Aviary website.


(images from the National Aviary's Downtown Pittsburgh Falconcam)

p.s. Yes, this temporary camera is blurry.  We'll have something better next year.

p.p.s. Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group have been watching this cam for several days and have captured snapshots of Dori and Louie in the nest area.

2 responses so far

May 05 2013

On Erie’s Southern Shore

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Cape May warbler (photo by Bobby Greene)

Cape May warblers are some of the many wonderful birds at Magee Marsh, Ohio this year.

Other highlights on the south shore of Lake Erie include:

  • An eye level look at a cerulean warbler,
  • Discovering that a brown lump in a field was an American golden-plover when he turned around,
  • Finding two soras in the reeds ... and then they mated,
  • Seeing a great horned owl nestling with pretty face feathers,
  • And watching a sora cross the road. He made himself into a ball so he looked like a very slow, round muskrat without a tail (was this camouflage?) and risked his life by walking slowly in front of traffic.  Fortunately all the drivers were birders and we stopped to stare and spare his life.

Glad to be here!

(photo by Bobby Greene)

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May 04 2013

Purple Deadnettle

Published by under Plants

Purple Dead Nettle (photo by Charlie Hickey)

This flower has a scary sounding name but is quite beautiful up close.

Native to Europe and Asia, purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is often found in North American gardens where it escapes to the wild.

"Deadnettle" sounds daunting but is a happy name that means "similar to nettle but doesn't sting."

Two features make purple deadnettle easy to identify.  Its leaves are green at the base of the plant and purplish on top, and it has a uniquely shaped hood-and-lip flower that's a favorite with bees because it blooms in early spring when other flowers aren't available.

The lip provides a perfect landing pad.

Charlie Hickey's close-up shows us what the bee sees.

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

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May 03 2013


Dorothy touches beaks with her nestling  (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

With only one nestling, Dorothy and E2 are spending lots of quality time with their only chick.

Above, after puttering around the edge of the nest Dorothy returns to the center and touches beaks with Baby.


Later, E2 takes over nest duty.  He and Baby gaze into each others' eyes.
E2 and Baby have a long look (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)


And they touch beaks, too.
E2 and Baby touch beaks (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)


In a large brood these moments are fleeting.  We're getting a new look at peregrine family life this year.

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

5 responses so far

May 03 2013

Incubation Chamber

Egg illustration by Stuart Lafford from Michael Walters Birds' Eggs, published by Dorling Kindersley

Last week we examined a newly laid bird's egg.  This week things get more complicated.

Eggs are tiny incubation chambers with all the tools needed to transform an embryo into a baby bird.  The right temperature gets the process rolling.

As an egg is incubated the embryo changes and the membranes take on the critical functions of respiration, circulation and excretion.   The yolk and albumen shrink as they're consumed and the shell participates in respiration and bone construction.

This illustration by Stuart Lafford, from Birds' Eggs by Michael Walters, shows what's going on inside.

  • The embryo, surrounded by the amnion, floats in a fluid cushion.
  • The yolk is attached to the embryo's belly and shrinks as its food is consumed.
  • The allantoic sac acts like a sewer collecting excretion from the embryo.  It also functions in respiration because it's pressed against the chorion for air exchange.
  • The chorion supports all the embryonic structures and acts like a lung, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide through the shell's pores.
  • The shell thins as the baby bird takes up calcium to construct its bones.  The thinning allows for increased air exchange so the growing embryo receives more oxygen.  It's also easier to break the thinner shell at hatch time.

In a matter of weeks the egg contains a baby bird ... and then he breaks the shell.

The egg has fulfilled its role as an incubation chamber.


(illustration by Stuart Lafford from Birds' Eggs by Michael Walters, published by Dorling Kindersley, 1994, used by permission. Click on the image to visit Stuart Lafford's website. This "Tenth Page" article is inspired by page 425 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

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May 02 2013

Almost Too Big To Brood

You're almost too big to brood (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday we got a glimpse at how much Dorothy and E2's chick has grown in the six days since he hatched.

Above, he doesn't seem to fit under Dorothy.

He likes to play peekaboo.

Dorothy with her chick peeking out from under her (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)


And he draws a crowd at suppertime.  Thanks to @PittPeregrines for capturing this snapshot.

Family portrait, Dorothy, E2, Baby (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)


Baby is almost too big to brood.


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

2 responses so far

May 02 2013

This Is The Biggest Week

Published by under Books & Events

Black-throated blue warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

The Biggest Week in American Birding -- May 3-12 -- begins tomorrow in northwestern Ohio.

Birders are flocking from all over the world to see migrating warblers arrive at the south shore of Lake Erie.  The festival, headquartered at Maumee Bay Lodge, has great programs and outings scheduled for the next ten days.  Don't worry if you haven't planned ahead.  I learned at the San Diego Bird Festival that openings are often available -- especially in mid-week.

If you live within a few hours of the festival it's well worth the drive.  I'll be at Magee Marsh but (alas!) only for the weekend.  I wish I could stay longer.  The birding will be great!   Here's Kenn Kaufman's report from Magee Marsh Boardwalk yesterday.

While there, be aware that Ohio Route 2 is closed between Magee Marsh and Metzger Marsh.  It's the main road everyone uses so the organizers of the Biggest Week suggest this detour:  Click here for a snapshot of the directions or visit the Biggest Week website for more information.

I'm glad I checked the website.  Less driving, more birding!

Gotta run.  I hear warblers calling my name.  😉


(photo by Steve Gosser)

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