Monthly Archives: February 2015

New Nest Box at Tarentum

Tarentum Bridge nestbox project, The Bucket Truck, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
The PennDOT Bucket dips down to the middle pier at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

If you saw the peregrine banding at the Tarentum Bridge last May, you'll remember the nest was in a dangerous place.  The entrance hole pointed down over open water and there were no perches nearby.  After banding the chicks the PA Game Commission placed them on the mid-river pier where they learned to fly in safety.  (Click here to see last year's site.)

Thinking ahead to this year, it's no wonder the Game Commission decided to place a nestbox on the bridge. Rob Protz, Marge Van Tassel and I braved 9oF to watch the installation yesterday morning.

Brrr!   Marge took our picture with one of the PennDOT crew.

PennDOT bridge worker + Rob Protz + Kate St. John (photo by Marge Van Tassel)
PennDOT bridge worker, Rob Protz and Kate St. John at Tarentum Boat Ramp, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Before the installation began we saw two peregrines!

Around 9:00am the female 69/Z, nicknamed Hope, flew from the bridge.  Rob Protz saw her land in a tree so we went over and Marge took her picture.  (This was one of the few times I've ever seen a peregrine perched in a tree.)  Within a half hour, Hope's mate came by for a courtship flight and the pair disappeared upriver.

Female peregrine, Hope, perched in a tree in Tarentum, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Marge Van Tassel)
Female peregrine, Hope, perched in a tree in Tarentum, 27 Feb 2015 (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

Meanwhile PennDOT District 11 blocked a lane of traffic on the bridge, set up the Bucket Truck, and delivered PA Game Commission biologist Tom Keller to the catwalk.  While he climbed down the ladder to the mid-river pier, Hope returned and noticed something was up. She watched the project from the upriver navigation light.

Female peregrine, Hope, watches the nestbox project from the upriver navigation light (photo by Marge Van Tassel)
Female peregrine, Hope, watches the nestbox project from the upriver navigation light (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

The Bucket delivered tools, gravel and the new nestbox to Tom.

Tom Keller guides the nestbox as it drops from The Bucket Truck (photo by Marge Van Tassel)
Tom Keller guides the nestbox as it drops from The Bucket Truck (photo by Marge Van Tassel)

While he cleared ice from the pier he was joined by another member of the PennDOT crew.

PGC's Tom Keller and  PennDOT worker installing nestbox on Tarentum Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)
PGC's Tom Keller and PennDOT worker install nestbox at the Tarentum Bridge (photo by Kate St. John)

They positioned the box with its back to the prevailing wind, drilled holes to anchor it, added a perch pole, and filled it with gravel.

Tarentum Bridge nestbox (photo by Tom Keller)
Tarentum Bridge nestbox (photo by Tom Keller, PA Game Commission)

Ta dah!

Tom Keller, PGC, and PennDOT worker District 11 next to new peregrine nestbox on the Tarentum Bridge (photo from Tom Keller)
Tom Keller and Steve from PennDOT with new peregrine nestbox at Tarentum Bridge (photo from Tom Keller)

Now we wait and see, and hope that "Hope" will use it this year.

 

(photos by Marge Van Tassel, Kate St. John and Tom Keller.  See captions for photo credits)

p.s. Steve, picture above on the bridge with Tom, is the one who built the box of cedar to PGC's specification.

Coming Soon: Spring Walks in Schenley Park

Northern magnolias blooming in Schenley Park, 18 Apr 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is coming next month and when it does, let's go outdoors!

From March through June I'm leading bird and nature walks once a month in Schenley Park.  Come out with me to see birds and blooms, trees and bees.

On each walk we'll travel at the speed of botany (slowly!) keeping our eyes and ears open for the latest flora and fauna.  Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes that aren't afraid of mud.  Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.  The walks will last two hours, but you can bow out early.

Here's the schedule:

As each date approaches I'll post a reminder on the blog -- or visit my Events page any time for directions and up-to-date information including cancellations and rain dates.

Hope to see you in Schenley Park.  I can hardly wait for Spring!

 

(photo of a northern magnolia blooming in Schenley Park by Kate St.John)

Ice Jam Season

Ice and gulls on the Monongahela River, 25 Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yesterday morning the river at Duck Hollow was so icy that the gulls could walk across it.

With temperatures as much as 33 degrees below normal, western Pennsylvania is swamped in ice and long overdue for a warm spell.  When the weather breaks, so will the ice.

In some places we've already seen some flooding.  On Tuesday February 24 The Weather Channel wrote:

In western Pennsylvania, flood warnings have been issued for Armstrong and Clarion counties due to an ice jam that is blocking the Allegheny River, creating a backflow of water into Parker, according to an AP report. The warning is in effect until 7 a.m. Thursday. State Route 268 has been flooded and at least two people have been rescued from the floodwaters in Parker.

In February 2009 I was hiking at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve when the ice broke and jammed in front of me.  Click here or on the gray-brown ice photo for my in-person (Throw Back Thursday) report.

Ice jam on Raccoon Creek (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John: Ice and gulls on the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 25 Feb 2015.  Ice on Raccoon Creek, 8 Feb 2009)

Peregrine Nesting Season is Almost Here!

Peregrine nestlings, two weeks old at the Gulf Tower, 7 May 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Though the Hays bald eagles are incubating eggs in their icy nest, Pittsburgh's peregrines are hanging back -- but that's about to change.

Peregrines in western Pennsylvania lay eggs from mid-March to early April.  In late February they make courtship flights together when the weather is good (when has it been good?!).  Then in early March they bow at the nest.

You can watch this up close on the National Aviary falconcams:

Drama is possible at any site in March. Younger peregrines arrive to challenge the older ones.  (Not only is Dorothy 16, but Louie at the Gulf Tower is 13 this year.)  Nevertheless by mid-May there will be bright-eyed nestlings on camera.

To get you in the mood for nesting season, click here or on the photo above for nesting highlights from last spring at the Gulf Tower.

Peregrine nesting season is almost here!

 

p.s.  Pittsburgh's six other peregrine sites can be monitored from the ground:

  • Tarentum Bridge: PGC and PennDOT will install a nest box this Friday 2/27 at 9:00am.  Come watch from the boat ramp under the bridge.  There were 2 chicks here last year.
  • Monaca-East Rochester Bridge: 4 chicks in 2014
  • Westinghouse Bridge: 2 chicks in 2014
  • Neville Island I-79 Bridge: 1 chick in 2014
  • McKees Rocks Bridge: Nest could not be found
  • Green Tree water tower:  No nest in 2014

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

p.p.s.  Right on schedule, guess who came to visit at the Cathedral of Learning nest this afternoon ... E2 calls, "Hey, Dorothy!"

E2 calls for Dorothy to come bow at the nest (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Pitt)

What’s In A Name?

James Bond (ornithologist) and screenshot from James Bond 007 Dr.No (images from Wikimedia Commons)

Question:  What do these two people have in common?  On the left, a real person. On the right, the symbol for a fictional one.

Answer:  They have the same name and there's a bird connection.

Birders, did you know...?

The person on the left is ornithologist James Bond.  Born in Philadelphia in 1900 he was the curator of ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the preeminent authority on birds of the Caribbean.  His definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies, was first published in 1936.  Updated over the years, it was the only field guide devoted to Caribbean birds until 1998.  Click here to read more about the real James Bond.

Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond 007 books, was an avid birder and writer who spent every January and February writing novels at his villa in Jamaica.  Of course he had a copy of James Bond's field guide to help him identify local birds.  When he needed a name for his 007 hero he chose James Bond because it was "brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon, and yet very masculine – just what I needed."

Fleming received James Bonds' permission to use his name and they later met in person.  Fleming also connected birds and Bond by placing many bird references in Dr. No  including a guano (bird poop) mine and a bird sanctuary for roseate spoonbills.  Click here to read about the 007 connection.

How did I find this out?  When I returned from my Caribbean trip last month, Tony Bledsoe told me about the two James Bonds.

 

Thanks to Wikipedia, the source of this information. Note the copyright information below:
* photo of James Bond the ornithologist in 1974 from Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see the original.
* Screenshot from the Dr. No trailer, James Bond 007, from Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see the original and its rights information

Across The Sahara

Eleanora falcon with satellite tracking backpack (photo by Pacual López/ SINC via Science Daily)

When you know a bird's winter and summer homes, can you guess the route it takes on migration?  Not necessarily.

Eleonora's falcon (Falco eleonorae) spends the summer on islands in the Mediterranean and winters at Madagascar.  How does it travel from Europe to that big island east of Africa?  For decades ornithologists assumed it followed the coast -- the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The assumption makes sense because in Europe Eleonora's falcons eat small birds that they capture in the air over the sea.  Of course this falcon would take a water route ... until a 2009 tracking study proved it wrong.

From 2007 to 2009, researchers from the Universities of Valencia and Alicante satellite tagged and tracked 16 Eleanora falcons on the Balearic and Columbretes Islands off the coast of Spain.  The data showed the falcons indeed spent the winter on Madagascar but they didn't take the long, dog-leg coastal route to get there.

If you draw a straight line from the western Mediterranean to Madagascar it crosses 6,000 miles (more than 9,500 km) of the African continent.  That's what the falcons did.  Flying both day and night they even crossed the Sahara.

Perhaps they were eating insects as they flew.  That's what they do in Madagascar.

Read more here at EurekAlert.

 

(photo of satellite tagged Eleonor'as falcon by Pacual López/ SINC via EurekAlert)

 

It’s a Hard Life

Hays bald eagle on nest in snowstorm, 18 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays eaglecam)

"It's a hard life" certainly describes the first few nesting days of the Hays bald eagle pair.

Above, on February 18 Mother Eagle waits out a snowstorm while incubating the egg she laid the day before.

Below, it's -4 degrees at the nest on Friday morning, February 20.  The sun is shining so it has already "warmed up" from a low of -7.  (*temperatures are from the Allegheny County airport less than 3 miles away)

A very cold morning at the Hays bald eagle nest, 20 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

Later that day, at 4:40pm, she laid her second egg.  It was 11oF at the time.  Click here or on the picture for video of her second egg.

Pittsburgh Hays female bald eagle, 2nd egg on 2/20 at 4:40pm (screenshot from PixController)

Then yesterday, Saturday February 21, it snowed several inches and ...

Hays bale eagle in snow on nest, 21 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

... then turned into rain .. and then freezing drizzle.  Below she sleeps in the icy nest before dawn this morning (February 22).

Bald eagle in icy nest, 22 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays bald eaglecam)

 

Our warm indoor lives are soft compared to this!

Click here to watch the real-time eaglecam.

 

(screenshots from the Hays bald eaglecam presented by Pix Controller and Audubon of Western PA)

Incoming!

Most of us were asleep at 4:50am on Tuesday morning when a 500-pound space rock hurtled into Earth's atmosphere.  It was on its way to Pittsburgh.

Fortunately the meteor's aim was off a bit -- just enough to miss all the populated areas and disintegrate east of Kittanning.

Considering its early morning arrival we wouldn't know about it if a few people hadn't been awake.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing and hearing it on the American Meteor Society (AMS) website and NASA's camera at Allegheny Observatory recorded its arrival in the video above.

Using eyewitness reports AMS generated a map of its trajectory.  Scroll down to see what it was aiming for.  Yikes!

We were lucky.  In an uncanny space-time coincidence a very big meteor whooshed over Russia two years and two days before the Kittanning event.  It weighed 10,000 tons(*) and injured over 1,000 people.  February 15, 2013 in Russia.  February 17, 2015 in Pittsburgh.

...What is it about February?

I wish I had seen it.  I was awake but I wasn't paying attention.

 

(YouTube video of the February 17 fireball from NASA's Marshall Center)

(*) that's 40,000 times heavier than the meteor at Kittanning.

TBT: Cold Feet

Mourning Dove in winter (photo by Marcy Cunklelman)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT)

Unlike many birds, mourning doves are prone to frostbitten toes.  Can they do anything to avoid it?

Last Sunday morning when it was 2o F, two mourning doves flew in to stand on the dry patch in my heated bird bath.  They were warming their feet!

This morning it is zero degrees Fahrenheit so I expect they'll be back.

Here's why they need to warm their toes in an article from January 2010:  Cold Feet.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)