Archive for March, 2014

Mar 23 2014

A Brief Appearance

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Crocuses blooming at Phipps outdoor garden, 22 Mar2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

At last the crocuses are (or rather... were) blooming in Pittsburgh, though not in my yard.

Yesterday was a sunny and breezy day with a high of 50F.  I took a long walk in Schenley Park and found nothing blooming except a small selection of snowdrops and crocuses at Phipps Conservatory's outdoor garden.

Today it has already snowed a little, tonight will be 15F and the cold will continue through Tuesday so these flowers won't last.

If you want to see spring in all its glory visit the Spring Flower Show, indoors at Phipps Conservatory.  Theirs are the only flowers that have put in more than a brief appearance.


(photo by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Mar 22 2014

Dumpster Robins

Published by under Bird Behavior

The robins' dumpster and their favorite perch (photo by Kate St. John)

A few days ago I looked out my office window and saw two American robins perched on the dumpsters at Central Catholic High School.  As I watched, one dove into a dumpster and disappeared.  Soon it flew out of the flap opening on the left and the other robin dove in.

What is this?  I'm used to seeing crows, gulls and even house sparrows at dumpsters ... but robins??

I tried to photograph the robins but always missed so I've had to settle for a snapshot of the dumpsters with a green symbol for the robins' favorite pre-dive perch.

I wonder what attracted them into the dumpster.

I did not dive in to find out!


(photo by Kate St. John)

6 responses so far

Mar 21 2014

First Egg At Pitt!

Published by under Peregrines

pittvid_2014-03-21_07-40dorothy with her first egg of 2014 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

First peregrine egg at Pitt!  Dorothy laid it Thursday night, March 20, at 9:37pm.


I happened to be asleep and found out this morning around 5am.
First peregrine egg at Pitt, 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


And here's the first moment of the first egg thanks to @PittPeregrines.  (The egg is white in infrared light.)
Dorothy lays her first egg of 2014, Mar 20 9:37pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

It seems like we waited forever but Dorothy is right on time.


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

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Mar 20 2014

5 Eggs At Gulf Tower, None at Pitt

Published by under Peregrines


Last night (Mar 19) at around 9:30pm, @CathyPelican107 tweeted me with news that there were now five eggs at the Gulf Tower.  By the time I looked Dori was clamped down on the eggs and I couldn't count them so I checked the WildEarth video archives.

During the 8:00pm hour Dori stood up and appeared to deposit an egg in the nest.  It was really hard to see!  Eventually she settled down with the egg alongside of her (above), presumably allowing it to dry.

Later she stood up to rearrange the eggs and I was able to count 5 in these two screen shots.

This afternoon you can clearly count five.

5 eggs at teh Gulf Tower (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf)



Meanwhile at Pitt, Dorothy spends a lot of time at the nest looking as if she will lay an egg ... and then she doesn't.

Dorothy at teh nes, 20 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Don't worry.  Her median first egg date is March 23.  She has plenty of time.


(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Gulf Tower and University of Pittsburgh)

p.s. The fact that I mentioned Dorothy hasn't laid an egg will probably prompt her to do so immediately ... just to prove me wrong!


7 responses so far

Mar 20 2014

The Chicken From Hell With A Pittsburgh Connection

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Illustration of the chicken from Hell (Anzu wyliei) by Mark Klingler, linked from NPR

This morning NPR has news of a newly identified dinosaur that lived 66 to 72 million years ago.

Bones of "the chicken from Hell" were first discovered more than a decade ago by Tyler Lyson at the Hell Creek formation in the Dakotas.  Specimens made their way into museum collections and intrigued Matt Lamanna at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History who suspected this was an oviraptorosaurian theropod dinosaur (bird ancestor!) similar to those found in Asia.

Now Lamanna and his team -- Hans-Dieter Sues, Emma Schachner and Tyler Lyson -- have figured out what animal made these bones and published their findings in PLOS One.  It was Anzu wyliei, an enormous 500-pound feathered dinosaur with a bony crest on its head.

This illustration by the Carnegie's Mark Klingler shows what it looked like.  Wow!

Read the full story here at NPR.

(Illustration of "the chicken from Hell" (Anzu wyliei) by Mark Klingler, linked from the NPR article)

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Mar 19 2014

Frequent Heavy Downpours

Published by under Weather & Sky

Map predicting change in downpour frequency, 2040-2070 (map from NOAA
Here's something to look forward to ... or not!

If you've been keeping track of intense downpour events for the past 50 years as NOAA has, you've noticed that they are more frequent in Pittsburgh than they used to be.  This will only get worse.

According to NOAA's National Climate Assessment, by mid-century the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events will increase dramatically in some parts of the country, especially in Washington, Idaho and western Montana.  The bluest locations on the map will experience two or more additional days per year of record rainfall.

Pittsburgh is not exempt. We'll see an increase in downpours and there will be an even higher frequency north and south of us.  Watch out, Cleveland and West Virginia!

For Allegheny County this map is particularly scary because of our old combined sewer infrastructure (sewage + storm water) that overflows into the rivers after as little as 1/10" of rainfall.  If you visit our rivers you've seen the toilet paper.  The situation is so bad that Allegheny County is under a 2007 EPA consent decree to fix it.  We are not the only city with this problem!

Obviously, the time to fix our sewers is now and the solution has to handle more rain that we get today.

Click here to read more about downpours on NOAA's website and here for information on Allegheny County's wet weather problem.


(map from Click on the image to see the original map and accompanying article)

p.s. 24 March 2014: Oh no! Rain is the culprit in the deadly mudslide in Washington State last weekend:

2 responses so far

Mar 18 2014

Why Hooded Mergansers Have Hoods

March is the month for duck migration and a great time to watch them courting.

I mentioned last Thursday that common goldeneyes have an unusual courtship display.  So do hooded mergansers.

The males pump their heads, raise their crests, toss their heads forward as if to unfurl their hoods, and waggle their heads side to side.   "Look at my white crest!"

They also throw their heads back and point their beaks to the sky.  As they bring their heads upright they say "Merg-merrrrrg!"  Listen to the video.  They sound like frogs!

So why does the hooded merganser have a hood?  Relentless female selection.  The ladies are so impressed by a good head toss that they pick the guys with the biggest, whitest hoods.  The guys with little hoods never have kids.

"The better to impress you, my dear."


(video by Kathleen Fry on YouTube)

p.s. When they're not courting hooded mergansers often keep their crests down. Click here to see what a difference the hood makes.

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Mar 17 2014

Four Eggs At Gulf Tower

Published by under Peregrines

Dori with 4 eggs, 17 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

This morning (March 17) around 11:15am sharp-eyed observers noticed that Dori had laid her fourth egg when Louie came for a bowing visit at the Gulf Tower.


Here they are discussing the fourth egg, no doubt.

Dori and Louie with 4 eggs, 17 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)


But Dori is so tired that she forgot to pull it under her.  Ooops!   ... Or maybe she's letting this one dry.

Ooops! One gg is out of place, 17 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Not to worry.  This isn't the first time an egg has been outside her "sphere."  When she was a first-time mother she sat like this for a few hours, then woke up and rearranged the eggs.  They all hatched successfully.


(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

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Mar 17 2014

Reminder: March 20 at 5pm

Published by under Books & Events

National Aviary at Night event Reminder! I'll be at the National Aviary at Night this coming Thursday, March 20, 5:00pm to 9:00pm. Hope to see you there.

Click here for more information.

4 responses so far

Mar 17 2014

No Snakes Day

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Grass snake (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

If you are afraid of snakes, you'll be happy to know that this day celebrates someone who banished them from an island.

Legend has it that St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, chased all the snakes into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast.

In fact, there were never any snakes in Ireland since the last glacial maximum.  St. Patrick's legend may actually refer to the rise of Christianity and the end of Druid snake symbols.

In recent years biologists in Guam are trying to accomplish St. Patrick's legendary feat.  Invasive brown tree snakes are devastating the island's native birds.  The snakes must go.   So far the most ingenious plan has been to air drop 2,000 mice wearing tiny parachutes.  The mice were dead bait laced with a very small dose of acetaminophen that kills the brown tree snake but nothing else.

There was no need for St. Patrick to eradicate this grass snake from Ireland.  Photographed in Europe, it cannot cross the sea.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


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

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