Archive for June, 2015

Jun 30 2015

Bald Bird Season

Published by under Songbirds

Bald northern cardinal, June 2015 (photo by Matt Webb)

Bald northern cardinal, June 2015 (photo by Matt Webb)

It’s that time of year again when some birds go bald.  Don’t worry. They won’t stay that way.

Bird bander Matt Webb explained why this happens when he posted his photo of a bald northern cardinal on Facebook:

“The loss of [head] feathers is due to feather mites. They are able to deal with the mites on the rest of their body, but end up breaking their feathers off their heads when they scratch at the mites. They will re-grow the feathers this fall. It’s actually a pretty common and normal occurrence with Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, and seems to be prevalent at this time of year.”

Two weeks ago I saw a bald blue jay near Schenley Plaza.  He didn’t want me to take his picture so I had to keep my distance.  In this photo he almost looks normal …

Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

… but when he turns his head he’s bald with an Elizabethan ruff around his neck.  😉

Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

When birds are bald you can see that …

  • Their ears are holes below their eyes, though usually covered by feathers. Our ears are holes too, partly covered by a flap of skin.
  • Their eyes are large compared to the size of their heads.
  • The northern cardinal’s skin and the roots of his feathers are black.
  • The blue jay’s skin is dark but the roots of his feathers are not.

 

Have you seen any bald birds lately?

(Vultures don’t count! They’re always bald.)

 

(photo of bald northern cardinal photo by Matt Webb, photos of bald blue jay by Kate St. John)

8 responses so far

Jun 29 2015

Walks in Schenley Park: Yesterday + July through October

Participants in Sunday's walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St.John)

Group photo: Sunday’s walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite the cold, gray, and drizzle 12 people came out to walk in Schenley Park yesterday morning.

Our best birds were a Baltimore oriole with a fledgling, northern rough-winged swallows, a scarlet tanager, gray catbirds and a rose-breasted grosbeak.

We also observed that deer tried to eat the Black Cohosh flowers and rejected them (they smell bad), Bottlebrush Buckeye is in full bloom near Panther Hollow Lake, and a rose-breasted grosbeak jumped up to eat Pale Touch-me-not seeds.

Yesterday’s walk was the last one on the schedule but many of you asked for more so I’m pleased to announce 4 more monthly walks — late July through late October — that will take us up to winter.  (Most are the last Sunday of the month, but not in August.)

  • Sunday, July 26:  Meet at Bartlett Shelter. Let’s look at the park from a different angle and see what’s blooming in the meadow.
  • Sunday, August 23:  Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center.  What’s changed at the lake since June? Late summer flowers and a hint of fall.
  • Sunday September 27:  Meet at Bartlett Shelter.  It’s Great Race Day so we’ll avoid road closures and spend time at the quiet end of the park.
  • Sunday, October 25: Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center for the last walk before winter sets in.  Will the crows be back yet?

As always, the walks are 8:30am to 10:30am.  Dress for the weather, wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring binoculars if you have them.

Click here for more information and updates if a walk is canceled for bad weather.

See you then!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

Jun 29 2015

She Took Off His Head

Published by under Peregrines

Storm attacks the banders, 22 June 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Storm attacks the banders, 22 June 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

A week ago two peregrine nestlings were banded at the Westinghouse Bridge.  This coming weekend we’ll hold a Fledge Watch. That’s how fast they mature and fly.

Banding Day, June 22, was the most excitement Pittsburgh Falconuts had seen for a very long time.  The mother peregrine, Storm, put on quite a show when the PA Game Commission’s Dan Brauning came to town to band her babies.

The only way to reach the nest was by using PennDOT’s bucket truck but that didn’t make it easy.  Storm lived up to her name by frequently attacking the three men in the bucket, screaming at them the entire time.

Storm hits a man in the bucket truck (photo by Thomas Moeller)

Storm hits a man in the bucket truck (photo by Thomas Moeller)

She was full of tricky maneuvers and soon made a direct hit on somebody’s helmet.  We gasped as it fell 240 feet to the ground.   My heavens, she knocked off his head!   Whew… not really.

Storm knocks off a man's helmet as the bucket approaches her nest, 22 June 2015 (photo by Thomas Moeller)

Storm knocks off a helmet as the bucket approaches her nest, 22 June 2015 (photo by Thomas Moeller)

The closer the bucket came, the harder she pushed.

PGC's Dan Brauning holds out his hand as Storm attacks (photo by Dana Nesiti)

PGC’s Dan Brauning holds out his hand to fend off Storm as she attacks (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dan Brauning gave her something to hit — his hand.

Storm, the hand, the broom. Yikes! (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Storm, the hand, the broom. Yikes! (photo by Dana Nesiti)

She screamed non-stop for half an hour until the banding was done and the men climbed back into the bucket.  With her quiet at last on the catwalk railing, Dan Brauning took a moment to congratulate her.

Dan Brauning has a heart-to-heart talk with Storm (photo by Thomas Moeller)

After the chicks are banded, Dan Brauning has a heart-to-heart talk with Storm (photo by Thomas Moeller)

As the bucket left the scene, Dan held up two fingers.  V for victory?  No, he means “2 chicks in the nest.”   1 male, 1 female.

Victory over peregrine? No, he means there are two chicks (photo by Thomas Moeller)

Two chicks (photo by Thomas Moeller)

Applause, applause!  And we all went home.

Stay tuned for the Westinghouse Bridge Fledge Watch schedule this coming Fourth of July weekend.   –> I don’t have dates and times yet because Westinghouse site monitor John English broke a rib last Friday.  Oh no!  Get well soon, John!

UPDATE July 2, 2015:
Fledge Watch has been canceled because Norfolk Southern Railroad doesn’t want us under the bridge. That area is their property.

 

(photos by Thomas J. Moeller and Dana Nesiti)

18 responses so far

Jun 28 2015

Deep Purple

Published by under Plants

Clemantis at Phipps Outdoor Garden (photo by Kate St. John)

Clemantis at Phipps Outdoor Garden (photo by Kate St. John)

I don’t usually write about cultivated flowers but these caught my eye at Phipps Conservatory’s Outdoor Garden.

A Google Image search matched my photo to Clematis jackmanii, a cultivar introduced in 1862 by George Jackman.  Phipps Conservatory was built in 1893 so the plant and the building would be close contemporaries.

The vine is thick with 5-7″ deep purple flowers.

Clemantis vine at Phipps Outdoor Garden (photo by Kate St. John)

Clemantis vine at Phipps Outdoor Garden (photo by Kate St. John)

It also has these unusual swirling structures.    Do you know what they are?

Clemantis vine at Phipps Outdoor Garden (photo by Kate St. John)

Clemantis vine at Phipps Outdoor Garden (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. If I’ve misidentified the vine, please let me know!

7 responses so far

Jun 27 2015

Red Admiral

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Red admiral butterfly in England (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Red admiral butterfly photographed in England (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Guess what I found sipping nectar last Sunday …

With my head so full of birds I couldn’t remember this butterfly’s name so I took a lot of bad cellphone photos (below) and looked it up when I got home.

Red admiral on bottlebrush butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)

Red admiral on bottlebrush butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)

This striking black butterfly is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), native to Central and North America, Europe, Northern Africa and Asia.  That’s why the beautiful photo above is from England.

The species is not winter-hardy so most of North America must be recolonized each spring by southern migrants, says butterfliesandmoths.org.   Monarchs aren’t the only butterflies who make long journeys.  Red Admirals migrate from South Texas and I’ve seen them fly north over Lake Erie to Canada.

The generation that migrates looks brown where this one is black so they don’t stand out as much.  Their underside is not as pretty either but provides camouflage (click here to see).

We don’t often see Red Admirals in flower gardens because they prefer to eat tree sap, fermenting fruit and bird droppings(!).   The females look for nettles where they lay their eggs on the tops of the leaves.  The caterpillars eat nettles to survive.

Take that, you stinging nettles!

 

(excellent photo of a red admiral butterfly in England by Zorba the Greek via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original.
Poor quality photo of red admiral on bottlebrush buckeye by Kate St. John
)

2 responses so far

Jun 26 2015

Not Exactly Squirrel Proof

Published by under Bird Behavior,Mammals

Red-bellied woodpecker and chipmunk at squirrel-proof bird feeder (photo by Jonathan Nadle)

Red-bellied woodpecker and chipmunk dining at a squirrel proof feeder (photo by Jonathan Nadle)

Jonathan Nadle’s neighbor has a squirrel proof bird feeder but it doesn’t keep out all the squirrels.

A small member of the Sciuridae (squirrel) family squeezes though the mesh and helps himself to seeds.

A lot of birds won’t visit while the chipmunk’s there — did you know chipmunks eat bird eggs? — but the red-bellied woodpecker has nothing to fear. His long sharp bill is a formidable weapon.

Red-bellied woodpecker and chipmunk coexist at the squirrel-proof bird feeder (photo by Jonathan Nadle)

(photo by Jonathan Nadle)

“Squirrel proof” might not work for chipmunks but at least it keeps out Pennsylvania’s largest member of the squirrel family –> groundhogs.

 

(photos by Jonathan Nadle)

p.s. Gray squirrels are in the Sciurinae (tree-based) subfamily. Groundhogs and chipmunks are both in the Xerinae (ground-based) subfamily and members of the Marmotini tribe (marmots!).

2 responses so far

Jun 25 2015

Location Disclosed

Published by under Peregrines

Pitt peregrine chick at Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center, 25 June 2015 (photo from ARL Wildlife Facebook)

Pitt peregrine chick at Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center, 25 June 2015 (photo from ARL Wildlife Facebook)

The Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center posted this on their Facebook page at 2:30pm today, June 25.

This morning, the PA Game Commission brought a Peregrine Falcon fledgling from its nest(*) in Oakland to our Wildlife Center for care. We have admitted it for medical evaluation, which will occur over the next several days. The bird does not have appropriate flight feathers and may have some neurological issues. It will remain under our care until decisions can be made in the bird’s best interest.

The Animal Rescue League will provide further updates on the falcon’s medical condition and the future treatment plan once this is determined.

If you would like to donate to help support the care of the falcon, please do so by visiting our website at www.animalrescue.org/donate and type “Falcon” in the notes section.

 

The bold emphasis above is my own but it’s true:  If you want to help Silver, donate to the ARL Wildlife Center.  They are a non-profit organization and do really good work!

And, please, no visits or calls.  The Wildlife Center will provide updates as they have news.

 

p.s. * Slight correction to the text above: Silver was not brought literally “from the nest” but from his landing place near Hillman Library in Oakland.  Here’s what happened.

(photo from Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center Facebook page.  Click here to visit ARL Wildlife on the web)

UPDATE, 26 JUNE 2015 from Animal Rescue League Wildlife Center:

“Peregrine Update: The Peregrine Falcon we received yesterday is settling in at our Wildlife Center. Upon initial exam, the bird was found to be dehydrated and thin. There are missing flight feathers, but new feather growth is apparent. In addition, one of the bird’s feet is noticeably weaker than the other. The bird has an appointment with a specialty vet on Tuesday & we will pass along any information that is discovered at that time. To be clear, our hope & goal is to rehabilitate the falcon so that it may eventually be returned to the wild. Long term goals, treatments, and plans will be developing as our Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators work alongside the Veterinarian.”

 

 

36 responses so far

Jun 25 2015

Two Events: June 25th, 28th

Published by under Books & Events

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Thursday June 25 (today), noon to 2:00pm, Schenley Plaza tent:  2015 Pitt Peregrine Season Wrap Up.  If it’s not thundering, I’ll be at the Schenley Plaza tent, noon to 2:00pm to chat about peregrines and maybe see Dorothy & E2 fly by.   (In case you missed it, their fledgling “Silver” went to ground again yesterday afternoon and is on his way to rehab. Click here for the news.)

Epilogue, watercolor on Cowley's veiny calfskin vellum by Wendy Brockman, 2014, 27 × 23", © 2014 Wendy   Brockman, All rights reserved.  Courtesy Hunt Library.

Epilogue, watercolor on Cowley’s veiny calfskin vellum by Wendy Brockman, 2014, 27 × 23″, © 2014 Wendy Brockman, All rights reserved. Courtesy Hunt Library.

Sunday, June 28,  1:00pm to 4:00pm, CMU’s Hunt Library, 5th floor:   Annual Open House showcases Elements, an exhibit inspired by birds’ nests.  At 1:30–2:30 p.m Patrick McShea from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History will present “Nest structures of North American birds and the materials used in their creation.” The event is free and open to the public.  Read a review of the exhibit here. Click here for Hunt Library information.  (p.s. Pat’s talks are always interesting. Don’t miss it.)

 

(photo of Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John. image of Epilogue © 2014 Wendy Brockman, courtesy Hunt Library)

3 responses so far

Jun 24 2015

On His Way To Rehab

Published by under Peregrines

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect, 21 June 2015, 8:41am — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This afternoon the Pitt peregrine chick flew for the second time and landed, unscathed, on the patio at Hillman Library.  Though Fledge Watchers were on the scene from noon to 2:30pm we missed him again, though we did see his parents.

Silver’s second flight was another straight down drop from the nest location, a vertical distance of 400 feet.  In the 14 years I’ve monitored this nest, we have never had a fledgling land on the ground on his first flight, let alone his second.

This unusual performance was puzzling to the PA Game Commission so they took a very close look at the bird.  Silver wasn’t injured by his two trips but his right wing has a feather-growth defect that explains why he can’t fly.  Officer Puhala called me to say he had recovered the bird at Hillman Library. The defect is sending the fledgling to rehab.

I looked for motion detection snapshots of the feather defect and was surprised it was so obvious.  It was there before he took his first flight.  We just never noticed. (All of the photos are from early morning June 21 before Silver left the nest.)

As you can see, his right wing is missing most of its secondaries, one of his primaries is flipped, and his upper wing coverts are short or missing.  Simply put, Silver’s wings are lopsided.  Of course he goes straight to the ground.

In this condition he cannot learn to hunt and would not survive his first year in the wild.  If it’s not a permanent defect — if he actually has the proper feather follicles — then he must go through a complete molt (a year from now) before he can begin to fly.  After the molt he will have to be taught to hunt before he can be released.  If his feather defect is permanent, he will become an education bird.  In any case, he’ll be in rehab for quite a while.

Below are more photos from before he ever attempted to fly.

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feathering defect, 21 June, 8:41am — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feathering defect — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect -- before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pitt peregrine chick, right wing feather defect — before first flight (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

In late May we knew he was a special needs bird.  Now he’ll get the special attention he needs.

 

p.s. At this time we do not know what caused the defect.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at the University of Pittsburgh)

79 responses so far

Jun 24 2015

Wet Weather Brings …

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At the end of May I lamented that my backyard was dry and cracked while 27 counties in Pennsylvania were under a Drought Watch.

Conditions have changed significantly.

From a May rain deficit of 1.23 inches, Pittsburgh now has a surplus of 2.00″ in the first 23 days of June. (Normal in Pittsburgh is 3.95″ for May and 3.30″ to the 23rd of June.)  Yes it’s wet!

Around western Pennsylvania it’s wet elsewhere, too.  New Castle got 2.32″ in yesterday’s storms alone!  Johnstown is 6.5″ above normal for the month (300% of normal) and Dubois stands at 1.85″ above normal for June 23.

The wet weather has caused flash floods, flooded basements and another more subtle problem:  fungus.

On Monday I noticed that the tulip trees in Schenley Park and at Phipps’s outdoor garden have brown curled leaves at the top.  Worried that we had another forest pest on our hands I emailed this photo to Phil Gruszka, my favorite tree expert at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  He says its anthracnose.

Anthacnose is a group of fungi that infect shade trees, usually browning their leaves but sometimes infecting their twigs, bark and fruit.  Each tree species has its own specific fungus pest.  The one that infects tulip trees attacks the leaves.

In large stands of trees there’s no practical treatment for anthracnose.  Though it may weaken the trees it doesn’t kill them outright and they get a respite if the weather changes.  The fungi go away when it’s dry.

When will it be dry?  … Do we dare ask that question?

 

p.s. Libby in New Castle, Marianne in Dubois area, and Marcy in Indiana County, how’s the weather out there?

(photo by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

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