Archive for March, 2014

Mar 16 2014

At Middle Creek

Tundra swans atMiddle Creek, 14 Mar 2014 (photo by Dave Kerr)

Though the lake at Middle Creek is ice-covered, snow geese and tundra swans are here in great numbers.

I say "here" because I'm at Middle Creek this morning.  I was considering the 8-hour round trip when Dave Kerr's photos from Friday convinced me it was worthwhile.

Here are my favorites: three tundra swans landing, a string of snow geese ...

Snow geese in flight, Middle Crek 14 Mar 14 (photo by Dave Kerr)

... and the glance.

A pair of tundra swans glances at each other, Middle Creek 14 Mar 14 (photo by Dave Kerr)


(photos by Dave Kerr)

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Mar 15 2014

Three Eggs at Gulf Tower

Published by under Peregrines

Three eggs at Gulf Tower, 15 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Overnight Dori, the female peregrine at the Gulf Tower, laid her third egg.

In this photo she's a blur as she leaves the nest before dawn.  Louie was probably calling her to come for breakfast.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

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Mar 15 2014

Bird in Bradford, June 6 – 8, with the PSO

Published by under Books & Events

Saw-whet owl from PSO 2014 flier (photo by Sandy Lockerman)Looking for unusual breeding birds in Pennsylvania?  Have you ever been to the Pennsylvania's Northern Tier?

This June the Pennsylvania Society of Ornithology (PSO) will hold field trips and its 2014 annual meeting at the University of Pittsburgh in Bradford, Pennsylvania from Friday evening June 6 through midday Sunday June 8.

Bradford is the county seat of McKean County, one of the few places in Pennsylvania where you can find breeding saw-whet owls, merlins, Swainson's thrushes, mourning warblers and pine siskins.

On Saturday and Sunday a choice of six field trips will lead you to local hotspots including Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny National Forest.  Presentations on Saturday afternoon include Golden-winged warblers, Saw-whet Owl breeding habitat, Snowy Owls and a raptor show open to the public.

Saturday night's keynote speaker will be Dr. Bridget Stutchbury of York University, Toronto whose studies of songbird migration have revealed their routes, wintering grounds and breeding grounds on two continents.  Her work with wood thrushes in Pennsylvania inspired me to write about their journeys last May.

Everyone is welcome at the PSO Annual Meeting.  You don't have to be a member to attend, though members get a discount.

Click here for the event schedule and here for registration and lodging information.


(photo of saw-whet owl by Sandy Lockerman from the PSO annual meeting flier)

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Mar 14 2014

Pittsburgh Peregrines To Watch

Published by under Peregrines

It's been a busy week for Pittsburgh's peregrines. All of them are courting and claiming territory and the Gulf Tower has pair already laid two eggs.

The cold snap and the work week have slowed down our (human) ability to observe all eight nest sites but a warm weekend is coming so here's an update on the birds' activities and information on where to look for them.

  • At the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, Dorothy and E2 make courtship flights around the top of the building and bow at the nest.  Typically E2 brings Dorothy a meal, then flies to the nest and calls her to join him at the scrape. These two aren't as loud as the video above would lead you to believe 😉 but they do call to each other.  You can't see them from inside the building.  Best viewing is from Schenley Plaza (click here for instructions) or on the NEW IMPROVED falconcam link with snapshots and archives!   First egg will arrive within sthe next two weeks.
  • At the Gulf Tower Dori has laid two eggs and we're expecting the third late today.  We presume this pair is still Dori and Louie but are awaiting confirmation from the sharp-eyed observers at Make-A-Wish.  Watch this pair at the north face of the Gulf Tower (click here for information) or online at the NEW Gulf Tower falconcam link.
  • The Tarentum Bridge peregrines have been very busy. Last weekend Rob Protz saw them mating, Steve Gosser took this photo.  If you go, best viewing is from the boat ramp under the Tarentum Bridge.  Check the superstructure on the upstream side and the railings on the pylons.  You'll probably see some of us "Falconuts" there if the weather is good. (Click here for directions from the 2012 nesting season.)

Peregrine at the Tarentum Bridge, 9 Mar2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)

  • After a long winter without any peregrines at the Green Tree water tower this site has a very active pair right now.  Several observers saw both birds last weekend and Shannon Thompson watched them mate several times on Saturday.  Here's one of  her digi-scoped photos.  Best viewing of their courtship is from the Olive Garden parking lot area across Greentree Road. You can also watch from the municipal park below the tower but it's hard to see the courtship flights from there. (Click here for directions from 2013)

Peregrine at Green Tree water tower, 9 March 2014 (photo by Shannon Thompson)

And at the other four bridges last weekend..

  • Westinghouse: Nathalie Picard saw one adult on the bridge last weekend.
  • Neville Island I-79 Bridge:  Anne Marie Bosnyak saw both peregrines late in the day on Sunday March 9.  (I saw Anne Marie when I stopped by at noon.)  Click here for directions from 2013.
  • McKees Rocks Bridge:  This bridge has no good viewing location so it's hard to monitor.  Whenever I am in the area I check the power towers and tall structures nearby.  So far I've seen nothing.
  • Monaca & Beaver Bridges:  This pair used the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge for many years but switched last year to the big railroad bridge that crosses from Monaca to Beaver.  I didn't see any peregrines when I scouted last Sunday though Tim and Karena Johnson have seen them.  (Here's what that railroad bridge looks like.)

It's going to be a good weekend for peregrine watching.  Let me know what you see.


(video of Dorothy and E2 bowing via WildEarth streaming, transcribed to YouTube by PittPeregrines.  Photos: Tarentum peregrine flying by Steve Gosser, Green Tree water tower peregrine by Shannon Thompson)


p.s. If you're having trouble seeing the cameras, click here for more information

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Mar 13 2014

A Well Developed Sense Of Taste

European starling in Toulouse, France (photo from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This month the starling flocks will break up when the visitors head north and the locals begin to nest.  In the meantime this informational tidbit may be useful in controlling their roosting habits ... or it might not.

On a random search about starlings I found this statement on Wild Birds Unlimited's Chipper Woods website:  "Starlings have a well developed sense of taste, and are repelled by grape flavoring. Fogging with grape flavoring is an effective and environmentally safe method to discourage these birds from roosting."

I know that starlings will eat just about anything, including grapes, so I wonder:  What is grape flavoring made of?  Do starlings detect something unnatural and dangerous in it that we cannot?

This starling, photographed in Toulouse, France, knows the answer.  You can tell by his look that he has a well developed sense of taste.


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

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Mar 12 2014

New Banner, Thanks!

Published by under Books & Events

Thanks to the design skills of Joan Guerin and the coding skills of Jay Volk, there's a new look at the top of my blog.   Here's who contributed the gorgeous banner photos:
• Avocet flock: Kim Steininger
• Bobolink: Steve Gosser
• Peregrine falcon: Chad+Chris Saladin
• Starling flock above a tree: Tom Pawlesh
• Tundra Swans on the lake: Steve Gosser

Click on your browser's refresh button to see a new photo. Look up and see!

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Mar 12 2014

Two Eggs At Gulf Tower

Dori with two eggs, 12 March 2014, 3:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori laid her second egg at the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh around 3:00pm EDT today.  She kept it sheltered because it's been raining hard all day.


Above, Dori looks at her two eggs while Louie has gone to prepare a meal for her.  Below he shows her what he's caught --  something small, dark and wet.

Louie brings food for Dori after she laid her second egg (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)


p.s.  Meanwhile at Pitt, Dorothy looks like she'll lay an egg any minute now... except she didn't...
Dorothy looks as if she'll lay an egg any minute now, 12 Mar 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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Mar 12 2014

It’s On!

Tundra swans at Middle Creek (photo by Dave Kerr)

Despite today's awful forecast, despite the prediction of 7oF tomorrow morning, gusty winds and up to 2" of snow, be assured that spring is here.  The tundra swans are back!

This morning at 4:45am I awoke to the whoo-ing call of swans in flight.  I opened the window and ... Yes!  a flock of tundra swans was flying over my city neighborhood in the dark.

At that moment it was 49oF with no rain and a light wind out of the east-northeast, almost perfect flying weather for birds heading northwest.  Their goal is the Arctic coastal tundra from Alaska to Baffin Island.  In the fall they typically fly 1,000 miles non-stop from Minnesota to Chesapeake Bay but they make the trip in easy stages in the spring, pausing to wait for the lakes to thaw.

"My" swans were probably heading for Pymatuning and Lake Erie where there's not much open water yet.  Meanwhile other flocks are heading for Middle Creek where the situation is much the same.  But the birds know spring is coming. They're heading north.

Soon Middle Creek will be filled with the spectacle of snow geese and tundra swans on the move.  Click here for information and a video.

The show is on!

(photo from Middle Creek by Dave Kerr)

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Mar 11 2014

Rubber Necks


This month while the ducks are stalled in Pennsylvania waiting for northern lakes to thaw, they spend their time courting.  Some species merely chase the ladies.  Others have elaborate displays.  My favorite is the common goldeneye who tosses his head so far back it looks as if he'll hurt his neck.

In this video two male goldeneyes (blue-black iridescent heads with white face patches) show off for two females (brown heads).  The males raise or lower their head feathers to make their heads look round or flat.  When they toss their heads their feathers are raised and their heads look enormous.  The gesture is not enough.  They also make a rattling peent, "Look at me!"

If the lady likes what she sees she swims with head and neck outstretched as if she's dipping her neck in the water.  This suggests her posture during copulation so if course it keeps the action going.

"Do that again," she says, "Toss your head for me."

I swear they have rubber necks.

(video by slpatt on YouTube)

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Mar 10 2014

First Egg At Gulf Tower — Since 2011

Published by under Peregrines

Dori with first egg, 10 March 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

A week ago, on March 3, I began to lose faith that the Downtown Pittsburgh peregrines were going to nest at the Gulf Tower this year.

Peregrines had nested there for 21 years (1991 - 2011) but they abandoned the site in 2012 during installation of the new rooftop lighting scheme and chose a nook at the back of a building on Fourth Avenue (facing Third Avenue).  We feared this new site was permanent because they nested there in 2012 and 2013.

The Third Avenue site was fraught with difficulties.  Only 12 floors up, it was bad for peregrine fledglings because they had little room for gaining altitude during their first day of flight.  Three of last year's four fledglings had to be rescued from the ground.  It was also bad for observers because we had no camera on the nest, the street below was an unpleasant place to wait and watch, and the nook was inaccessible for banding.

We had high hopes that the peregrines would return to the Gulf Tower when they spent many days courting there in February, but on March 2 they abruptly changed gears and began focusing their attention at Third Avenue.  Oh no!  For a week they were never in the Gulf Tower motion detection snapshots.  I stopped by Third Avenue yesterday and found a peregrine perched at the old nook opening.  Oh no!  It looked like they were about to choose Third Avenue again.

This morning I checked the Gulf Tower camera to make sure it was on daylight savings time and behold, Dori was at the nest with an egg!!

I was so surprised I could barely believe my eyes!

First egg at the Gulf Tower in 2 years! 10 March 20114 (photo from the Nartional Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Just to be sure, I captured several snapshots including Louie's first visit before dawn.

Louie and Dori, first egg at Gulf, 10 March 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Louie and Dori with first egg, Gulf Tower 10 March 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori has come home!!

Dori inspects her firstegg atGulf Tower, 10 March 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)


Join the fun.  Watch the Gulf Tower nest here.


(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)

p.s. Thanks to Gulf Tower management for making this site so attractive to our downtown peregrines.

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