Archive for May, 2014

May 23 2014

Emerald View BioBlitz, June 6-7

Published by under Books & Events

Emerald View Bio Blitz (logo modified from Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation)Come One, Come All!   Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy are teaming up on Friday and Saturday June 6-7 for a BioBlitz in Pittsburgh's newest regional park: Emerald View.

What? A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event where teams of volunteer scientists, nature observers, families and community members find and identify as many species of plants, animals, insects, fungi and organisms as possible.

Where?  Located on Mount Washington, Emerald View Park forms a ring of trails through some of the City's most scenic green space.  BioBlitz headquarters are at Olympia Park's entrance, Virginia Ave. & Hallock Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15211.   Click here for a map of the entire park.

When?  Friday Owl Calling Hike, 6-9pm.   Saturday Bird Count, 6-10 am.  Saturday BioBlitz Main Event, including plant & animal inventory, nature games, crafts, hikes, 10am-2pm.  Click here for more information.

Help Wanted!  All hands on deck!  Sign up online here, or call Kathryn Hunninen at 412-481-3220 x200, or email her at

I'll be "BioBlitz birding" on Saturday morning.

Hope to see you there!

(logo, with "BioBlitz" added, from Mt. Washington CDC website)

3 responses so far

May 23 2014

Two At Tarentum

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine chick, Tarentum Bridge, 22 May 2014 (photo by Sean Dicer)

Peregrine chick, Tarentum Bridge, 22 May 2014 (photo by Sean Dicer)

A small, enthusiastic crowd was on hand yesterday morning for the peregrine banding at the Tarentum Bridge, rewarded by close looks -- and photos -- of the two peregrine chicks: one male and one female.

The event began at the boat launch parking lot where viewers watched as the PA Game Commission's Dan Brauning and Tom Keller and the PennDOT crew swung the bucket under the bridge to the nest hole on the main-channel arch.  We knew the nest location because Rob Protz, myself, and others had seen juvenile peregrines peeking from the hole.

PennDOT bucket approaches the nest hole, 22 May 2014 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

PennDOT bucket approaches the nest hole, 22 May 2014 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

The adult peregrines(*) attacked but could not deter the banders.  However, when the bucket got to the nest hole the two chicks were huddled far inside out of reach.  Tom Keller crawled into the hole!  Look at him stand on the bucket edge before he disappeared inside!  Yow!

PGC Wildlife Biologist Tom Keller disappears into the peregrines' nest hole, Banding Day Tarentum, 22 May 2014 (photo by John English)

PGC Wildlife Biologist Tom Keller disappears into the peregrines' nest hole, Banding Day Tarentum, 22 May 2014 (photo by John English)

Tom retrieved the chicks and the bucket swung up to the sidewalk to weigh and band them.  The crowd joined to watch.

Tom Keller, left, and Dan Brauning, right, band peregrine chicks at Tarentum Bridge, 22 May 2014 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

Tom Keller and Dan Brauning band a peregrine chick at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

Each chick received two bands: US Fish & Wildlife on the right leg, color band on the left leg.  Here, Dan Brauning crimps the silver USFW band.

USFW band on Tarentum peregrine chick (photo by Sean Dicer)

USFW band on Tarentum peregrine chick (photo by Sean Dicer)


Dan estimated the chicks were 35 days old yesterday -- only four to nine days away from first flight.  Rather then put them back in the nest hole, exposed over open water, Dan wet them down (to keep them from trying to fly right away) and placed them on the mid-river bridge pier where there's a good "runway" for take off.

Stop by the Tarentum Bridge soon to watch these young peregrines.  They'll be making their first flight some time between Memorial Day and the end of the month.

Peregrine chick banded at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Sean Dicer)

Peregrine chick banded at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Sean Dicer)

Let the fun begin!


(Thanks to photographers Sean Dicer, Mike Fialkovich and John English for generously lending their photos)

(*) The adult peregrines are Hope (black/green 69/Z) and an unidentified male.

p.s. Click here for Mary Ann Thomas' report at Alle-Kiski TRIBlive

10 responses so far

May 22 2014

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch: May 31, June 1

Published by under Peregrines

Location of Flag Plaza (via John Enlgish on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page) I don't know about you but without a successful nest at Pitt this spring I'm starved for a Fledge Watch at Schenley Plaza.  It's always been a great time to get together and indulge our passion for peregrines.

With that in mind, Pittsburgh Falconut John English and I are going to hold a Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza on Saturday May 31 and Sunday June 1.

My "guess-timate" is that the Gulf Tower chicks will fledge between May 29 and June 3 with the most exciting activity on Sunday June 1.

Where: Flag Plaza (Boy Scouts building), 1275 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219
When:  Saturday May 31 & Sunday June 1, noon to 4:00pm, weather permitting.

John or I (or both of us) will be on site during those times -- though not if it's raining or stormy.

Come for as little or as long as you'd like.  Bring binoculars if you have them.

Hope to see you there!

Please leave a comment below if you plan to come.

(map from John English via Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page)

3 responses so far

May 22 2014

Peregrine News: Monaca and Westinghouse

Published by under Peregrines

Monaca East Rochester Bridge, 2012(photo by PGC WCO Steve Leiendecker)

Monaca East Rochester Bridge:

With thunderstorms predicted yesterday (they never happened) the peregrine bandings at Tarentum and McKees Rocks Bridges were postponed.   Instead, the PA Game Commission's Dan Brauning and Tom Keller went to the Ohio River in Beaver County to the Monaca East Rochester Bridge pictured above.

Last year this peregrine pair nested on the huge inaccessible Monaca-to-Beaver railroad bridge.  No one could tell if the nest was successful. This year they appeared to have come home so Dan and Tom investigated.  Dan wrote on May 21:

Tom Keller, I, and a team from PennDOT accessed the bridge this morning, and found 4 healthy chicks, 1 male and 3 females. The birds are about 18 days old today.

The adult female is an extraordinarily aggressive bird, hitting every one of us during our visit under the bridge.  She is the same female as was previously observed there -- 75/Y, from Harrisburg.  If you know Tom, ask him about his new scar.  The male never came close.

Local observers that could be on the lookout for fledging in about 25 days would be appreciated.  The nest is far out over water, about 3 bays out from the pier on the Monaca side of the river.  The young should be able to get onto the catwalk, and therefore have good prospects for developing strongly before fledging.

Here's a photo of this amazingly aggressive mother peregrine, 75/Y, taken on banding day in 2012 by Game Commission WCO Steve Leiendecker before she attacked him.  She never gives up.
Female peregrine at Monaca-East-Rochester Bridge, 2012 (photo by Steve Leiendecker)

If you're in the Monaca area, start monitoring this bridge on June 11 for fledging activity (that's four days ahead of "25 days").


Westinghouse Bridge:

Westinghouse Bridge with PennDOT bucket truck about to look for peregrines' nest (photo by John English)
Tuesday afternoon, after the Gulf Tower banding, Dan and Tom went to the Westinghouse Bridge where a peregrine pair has been active for several years.

Using the bucket truck they looked for signs of a nest under the bridge while John English took photos from below.

PGC & PennDOT look for the peregrines' nest at the Westinghouse Bridge, 20 May 2014 (photo by John English)

The male was present but no female came out to "kak" and attack.

Male peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge (photo by John English)

Surprisingly, she was still incubating three eggs.  This is a late nest, perhaps a renesting after a territorial fight between males.  The female is still Hecla (68/H) from Ohio's Ironton-Russleton Bridge 2009, resident since 2012.

If you're in the vicinity of East Pittsburgh/North Versailles, please check under this bridge for peregrine activity.  There's no way we'll know if the nest is successful without some watchful eyes below.


(Monaca photos from May 2012 by WCO Steve Leiendecker, PA Game Commission. Westinghouse photos by John English)

4 responses so far

May 21 2014

Fledge Watch Coming Soon!

Published by under Peregrines

Gulf Tower peregrine chick on Banding Day, 20 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today the three oldest Gulf Tower peregrine chicks are 31 days old.  Click on the photo above for a slideshow of yesterday's banding event and you'll see that a few of the five chicks are brown while at least one is quite downy.  They grow up fast!

I've tracked Pittsburgh peregrine fledge dates for many years and if my records are any indication the Gulf Tower chicks will fledge at 39 to 44 days.  That's next Thursday, May 29 through Tuesday, June 3.   I could be wrong. They might be earlier or later...

Pittsburgh Falconut John English and I will organize a Gulf Tower Fledge Watch for next week -- dates and times to be announced.  Here's the view John had from Flag Plaza during yesterday's banding.  (Notice Dori flying in to attack the banders!)  As at the Cathedral of Learning we'll have a good long view to see all the action.

Dori flies in to attack the banders at Gulf Tower (view from Flag Plaza by John English)

Check back here or on Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page for Gulf Tower Fledge Watch dates and times.  Coming soon!

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Click here for KDKA's news of the Banding Event.

18 responses so far

May 20 2014

Two Males, One Female and Two …?

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine chick from the Gulf Tower nest, Banding Day, 20 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today's peregrine banding at the Gulf Tower was a happy return to Pittsburgh's first nest site. Peregrines nested there continuously from 1991 to 2011 but left it in 2012 and 2013 while workmen were installing the new lighting scheme on the roof.

After two years on a short building Dori and Louie came back to the 37th floor and so did Dan Brauning, PA Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Chief, and Tom Keller, PGC biologist.  Dori remembered the routine and was on guard as soon as Gulf Tower Maintenance popped open the access window.  She's seen this before!

Dori waits to defend her chicks against the banders (photo by Kate St. John)

Dan and Tom carefully went out on the ledge.  Not only is it a sheer drop to the street but Dori and Louie attacked while the men very gently collected the chicks.

Dori strafes Tom Keller (photo by Kate St. John)

Indoors all five chicks passed their physical exam with flying colors but it was hard to sex them by weight. At 28-30 days old there was one obvious female, two males, and two others on the weight borderline between male and female designation. Dan gave them female bands and listed them as "unknown." We'll certainly find out what sex they are when they nest.

Three Gulf Tower chicks after banding (photo by Kate St. John)

The "kids" were back in the nest in no time, had a quick snack and fell asleep.  The excitement was so much for them that they slept for several hours ... like babies.  🙂


I'll be putting my best photos into a slideshow soon.  Watch this space for more!


(photos by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

May 20 2014

Best Bird

Published by under Songbirds

Worm-eating warbler near Sarah Furnace Rd, 18 May 2014 (photo by Shawn Collins)

Last Sunday I hiked  the Armstrong Trail at Sarah Furnace Road because I wanted to see a worm-eating warbler.

I'd seen them twice before -- once at Enlow Fork, Pennsylvania and once at Magee Marsh, Ohio -- but every time I've tried for them at Sarah Furnace where they're known to nest I've struck out.  I hear them but never see them.

Sunday was slated to turn out the same way.  I walked to the old, closed railroad tunnel at the south end of the trail and I didn't even hear one.  Perhaps I'd arrived too late in the day.  Perhaps they weren't around.  I couldn't tell but I was disappointed and hungry so I sat down -- out of sight of the spooky tunnel -- and ate my lunch.  Here's what I mean about spooky.  I was all alone.

Abandoned railroad tunnel, Armstrong Trail, Brady's Bend (photo by Kate St. John)


By 1:00pm I decided it was time to go.  With no particular object in mind I walked back to the tunnel once more.  I stood around for a bit and then I heard *him* singing near me.  A worm-eating warbler!  Eventually he flew out and acrobatically foraged in the dead leaves.  He was easy to see.  Best bird!

Meanwhile, back at the Sarah Furnace parking lot, Shawn Collins had arrived to look for a worm-eating warbler, too.  He recognized my car (it has this bumper sticker) but I was nowhere to be found.  However, there was a worm-eating warbler near my car.  He took its picture, above.

I walked a mile to find a warbler.  He found one near my car.  So now we know there are two.

The Best Birds are in the parking lot.   😉


(photo of worm-eating warbler by Shawn Collins, photo of abandoned railroad tunnel by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

May 19 2014

In For A Surprise

Published by under Peregrines

Gulf Tower peregrine chicks, 17 May 2014 (photo from the National Avairy falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Pittsburgh's peregrine falcon chicks are in for a surprise this week (and next).  Dan Brauning and Tom Keller are coming to town.

Dan Brauning, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Wildlife Diversity Chief, and PGC wildlife biologist Tom Keller will visit six of Pittsburgh's eight peregrine nest sites to band the chicks.  At each site they'll walk and reach into dangerous high places, collect the chicks, weigh and band them and return them to the nest.

You're welcome to observe from nearby. Bring binoculars and a camera and you might get a good snapshot of the adults' bands.  At the bridge sites it's the only way we find out who's nesting there.

Tuesday, May 20:

  • Gulf Tower, 9:00am:  Watch the webcam just after 9:00am and you'll see the "kids" cluster at the back of the nestbox while their parents scream, swoop and attack.  The banding won't last long so tune in early or meet Pittsburgh Falconut John English before 9:00am at Flag Plaza, 1275 Bedford Avenue, where there's an eye-level view of the Gulf Tower nest area.
  • Westinghouse Bridge, 12:30pm:  For the banders this will be a two step process: walk the catwalk to find the nest then use the snooper crane to access it.  Meet John English at noon at Wendy's on Route 30 in North Versailles and he'll guide you to a viewing spot below the bridge.  He'll be wearing his peregrine ballcap and binoculars so you can't miss him.

UPDATE!! Predicted thunderstorms have rescheduled the Wednesday and Thursday bandings. They will be on ...

SCHEDULE CHANGE: Wednesday, May 21:

  • Monaca/East Rochester Bridge, 9:00am. We're not sure if the peregrines chose this bridge or the large railroad bridge this spring. If they chose Monaca/East Rochester, it will become clear right after 9:00am when they raise a fuss. If so, viewing may be good from the community ballpark on the Monaca side.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: Thursday, May 22:

  • Tarentum Bridge, 8:30am.  Meet Rob Protz at the Tarentum public boat launch under the bridge.  If you're coming from Route 28, take the First Avenue exit from the bridge ramp and it'll put you right there.  Expect a small crowd with cameras and binoculars.  You can't miss it.
  • McKees Rocks Bridge, after the Tarentum banding.  This one is hard to view because the bridge is huge and the banders aren't sure where the nest is.  There are no viewing plans (that I know of) because we won't know where to stand until the nest is found.

Wednesday, May 28:

  • Glenfield-Neville Island I-79 Bridge over the Ohio River, 9:00am.  Meet at the west end of the Fairfield Inn and Suites parking lot on Grand Avenue on Neville Island. This is the end of the bridge where the nest is located. See the comments below for more information from Anne Marie Bosnyak.

What about the nests at Pitt's Cathedral of Learning and the Green Tree water tower?

  • Cathedral of Learning:  As we know from watching the webcam, Dorothy and E2 have only one egg and they've never incubated.  Some time this week the Game Commission will collect the egg and test it for fertility, etc.  Don't be surprised when it's gone.
  • At the Green Tree water tower the pair is present but has never incubated so there's no reason to visit the site this year.

If you take photos at one of the bandings, let me know and I'll post them with news.  Leave a comment to alert me.


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

10 responses so far

May 18 2014

Weather’s Wardrobe Challenge

Published by under Weather & Sky

What to wear. Weather's wardrobe challenge, May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather has been so up-and-down lately that it's hard to dress for birding. At home my winter clothes are piled in stacks, waiting to be washed after I pulled out summer shirts for last week's 87 degrees.

Now the summer clothes are in stacks and I've yanked sweaters out of the winter pile.  It's 42 degrees this morning and will be 37 at dawn tomorrow.

What to wear for outdoor activities this month?  It's a wardrobe challenge.


p.s.  It's more than a wardrobe challenge for swallows, purple martins, chimney swifts and nighthawks.  It can be life-threatening.  These species eat flying insects which don't fly when it's cold.  Fortunately the next two days will be sunny with highs of 62 and 71 so the insects will be flying later in the day.  If you missed it, read here about purple martin landlords providing supplemental feedings in cold weather.

(photo by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

May 17 2014

Rain, Rain, Here To Stay

Published by under Weather & Sky

Rain in Ukraine (photo by Pridatko Oleksandr via Creative Commons license Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday afternoon it rained like this for about an hour.  Additional rain fell all day giving us 1.10 inches, a new record for May 15 in Pittsburgh.

The rain messed up rush hour and now the Ohio River is close to flood stage, but this is minor compared to the April 29-30 rain event in Pensacola, Florida when they received an amazing 10-15 inches in 9 hours, a total of 22 to 26 inches for the period.

Precipitation in Pittsburgh feels abnormal this spring.  Aren't we wetter than usual this year?  No.  The rain gauge is less than 1/2 inch above normal since January 1.  The real difference is that the rain falls all at once.

We'll have to get used to frequent heavy downpours, a hallmark of climate change in the northeastern U.S.  Click here to read more.


(photo of rain in Ukraine by Pridatko Oleksandr via Creative Commons license Wikimedia Commons)

2 responses so far

« Prev - Next »