Monthly Archives: May 2016

Peregrine Watchers Needed Downtown!

Peregrine chick at entrance to the nest, Downtown Pittsburgh, May 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)
Peregrine chick at entrance to the nest, Downtown Pittsburgh, May 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Can you spare five minutes to look at the back of a building in Downtown Pittsburgh?

This year's peregrine nest is 12 stories high so it's likely that a few of the chicks will land on the street on their first flight just as they did last year.  I'd like to schedule a Fledge Watch but I don't know the age and number of chicks because no one's ever seen them. That's where you come in.

A couple of days before young peregrines fly they appear at the nest opening, as shown with a red arrow above.

It only takes five minutes to stop by the Third Avenue sidewalk at the edge of the Carlyle parking lot and look up at the nest opening.  Is there a juvenile there?  If so, leave a comment on this blog.  And take a picture.

 

Look for brown-and-cream-colored birds at the opening like those in this closeup from last year's nest.  (The one on the left is old enough to fly immediately.)

Two remaining peregrine nestlins at Downtown Pittsburgh nest, 11 June 2015 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)
Two of 2015's Downtown peregrine chicks, 11 June 2015 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

If they've already flown, check the area nearby. They might need your help.

In the first 24 hours of flight, young peregrines lack the wing strength to take off from the ground.  If they land on the street they just stand there and may be hit by vehicles.  If you see a peregrine on the ground call the PA Game Commission (PGC) at 724-238-9523.  If you can safely do so, carefully corral and guard the bird until PGC arrives.

There's no need to linger.  All it takes is five minutes.

 

(photo of 3rd Avenue site by Kate St. John. photo of peregrine chicks by Matt Digiacomo)

p.s. Here's what the Downtown peregrine parents look like.

Meet Me At The Tent, June 9-14

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

Next week the Cathedral of Learning peregrine chick, C1, will fly for the first time.  Meet me at the Schenley Plaza tent June 9 - 12 for the Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

This Watch is 98% fun and only 2% rescue.  The nest site is so high that only one fledgling out of 43 has ever been rescued from the ground.(*)

Stop by the tent and join the fun.  Watch C1 walk on the ledges and exercise her wings.  See her parents, Hope and Terzo, show off with some really cool flight demonstrations.   Learn about peregrines and swap stories including news of Pitt peregrine alumni and the Downtown peregrines.

Here’s the schedule, weather permitting.   The Watch will be cancelled for bad weather, so check my Events page for updates.  NOTE THE CHANGES MADE BELOW!

  • Tuesday, June 7, Noon to 2:00pm. Tuesday CANCELLED. I'll be at Downtown Fledge Watch because those youngsters are fledging now and need observers in case of rescue.
  • Wednesday, June 8, Noon to 2:00pm. Wednesday CANCELLED. Again, I'll be at Downtown Fledge Watch because those youngsters need observers in case of rescue.
  • Thursday, June 9, 8:30 to 9:30am + Noon to 2:00pm. Only a midday watch today.  Will C1 be ledge walking today? If so she'll be easy to see from Schenley Plaza.
  • Friday, June 10, 8:30 to 9:30am + Noon to 2:00pm. Only a midday watch today.
  • Saturday, June 11, 9:00 to 11:00am + Noon to 3:00pm.  I'll be covering the morning Watch.  John English will cover noon to 3:00pm.
  • Sunday, June 12, 11:00am to 1:00pm.  Perhaps C1 will fledge today ... or tomorrow.
  • Monday, June 13, noon to 2:00pm.  Check the Events page for updates to this schedule.

Plan on joining me at the Schenley Plaza tent for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

For more information, here's a video from 2009 Fledge Watch and a Peregrine FAQ that describes what you’ll see on camera as the young peregrine leaves the nest.

 

(photo of the Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John)

(*) The one rescued fledgling (in 2015) was developmentally disabled and had defective wingsC1 is very healthy.

Poppy Day

Red poppies (photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons)
Red poppies (photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons)

It's Poppy Day.

When I was a child, we wore a red paper flower on a wire stem on Memorial Day. They were offered by Veterans of Foreign Wars to passersby for a donation to help veterans. The paper flowers symbolize the Remembrance Poppy from World War I.

Poppies became a veterans' symbol thanks to the tireless efforts of Moina Michael, "The Poppy Lady," who was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.  McCrae wrote the poem for a friend who died at the Second Battle of Ypres in Flanders (Belgium) in 1915.  After the battles, poppies bloomed among the graves.

At first her idea did not catch on, but in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) adopted the poppy as their official memorial flower.  That year they distributed paper poppies made in France but in 1924 they brought the program stateside to the first Buddy Poppy factory, located in Pittsburgh and manned by disabled veterans.

Ninety years later the Buddy Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans at VA Hospitals across the country and Buddy Poppy fund drives focus on Memorial and Veterans Days.   (Watch a video about the VFW Buddy Poppy program here.)

That's why I think of poppies today.

 

(photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. Did you know that growing poppies used to be illegal in the U.S.?  The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 was repealed in October 1970 but the law remains ambiguous.

A Closer Look At Yarrow

Yarrow in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)
Yarrow in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Clusters of white flowers are blooming in fields and open forests in western Pennsylvania.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial in the Aster family, native to the northern hemisphere.  The genus name, Achillea, refers to the Greek hero who reportedly used yarrow to treat his soldiers' wounds.  The species name, millefolium, means "a thousand leaves." Look closely at the tiny feather-like leaves and you'll see they're arranged in a spiral on the stem.

Yarrow's flowers deserve a closer look, too.  The central disk is a cluster of tiny flowers and the petals (rays) are individual flowers with nectar openings where the ray connects to the flower head.

In North America we have both native and introduced species and they hybridize so it's hard to tell who's who.

Watch for yarrow blooming this month and into June.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Roll Out The Green Carpet

C1 flaps her wings near the green carpet that's detached from the front perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
C1 flaps her wings near the green carpet that detached from the front perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Last night viewers noticed a new feature on the nestbox gravel that they'd never seen before.  It's a patch of fake grass carpet that used to be glued to the front perch.

At 9:49pm the carpet began to roll off the perch while Hope was standing on it.

The fake grass carpet starts to roll off the perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
The fake grass carpet starts to roll off the perch (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

She pulled it away.  (Good job!)

Hope moves the green carpet out of the way (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope moves the green carpet out of the way (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The green carpet has been on that perch for nine years.  It was only a matter of time before the backing crumbled from sunlight (UV) exposure.  Yesterday it loosened up when Dan Brauning had to stand on the nestbox to convince Hope to stop attacking the back of his head.  That was just enough to make the glue spots fail.

Peregrine chick C1 cowers in the back of the nestbox while Dan Brauning stands on the green perch to fend off her mother's attacks (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Peregrine chick C1 cowers in the back of the nestbox while Dan Brauning stands on the green perch to fend off her mother's attacks (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

So now there's a patch of green carpet and a reddish circle floating around in the nestbox. You can see the backing still stuck to spots on the railing.

This fall when the nesting season is over we'll remove the fallen carpet and that annoying red circle (people mistake it for an egg) and install new green carpet on the perch to make a soft place to stand.

How long will C1 have to live with that carpet?  I predict she'll be out of the nest permanently by June 11.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

She’s a Healthy Girl!

A closeup of female peregrine chick C1 from the Cathedral of Learning nest (photo by Peter Bell)
A closeup of female peregrine chick C1 from the Cathedral of Learning nest 2016 (photo by Peter Bell)

It's taken me a while to publish this because I couldn't take any photos at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine banding this morning. Thanks to Peter Bell, Kim Getz and John English for lending theirs.

At today's banding we learned, first and foremost, that C1 is a healthy female and Hope and Terzo are devoted parents.

Even before the PA Game Commission's Dan Brauning retrieved the chick, Hope guarded her baby and didn't give up until C1 was indoors. Then she stayed at the nest kakking while Terzo provided backup support.

Kim's (silent) video below shows the perspective from the ground about halfway through: Terzo flying back and forth, Hope leaving the nest to attack the humans when C1 was returned, then perched on the bulwark after they're gone.

 

Here's why I didn't take any pictures: Dan Brauning asked me to hold C1 while he applied the bands.  (You can see I was concentrating very hard!)

Dan Brauning explains the banding procedure while Kate St. John holds the chick, C1 (photo by John English)
Dan Brauning explains the banding procedure while Kate St. John holds peregrine chick, C1 (photo by John English)

Dan weighed C1 (900 grams), checked for trichomoniasis (none!) and feather pests (almost none).  He dusted under her wings with anti-parasite powder and applied her bands.  Here she is with her new jewelry.

Peregrine chick, C1, with her new color bands, Black/green, 06/BR (photo by Peter Bell)
Peregrine chick, C1, with her new bands, Black/green, 06/BR (photo by Peter Bell)

Then Dan braved Hope's wrath to return C1 to the nest.

Hope attacks the banders on Banding Day at the Cathedral of Learning, 2016 (photo by Peter Bell)
Female peregrine, Hope, attacks the banders on Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

Female peregrine falcon, Hope shouts at the banders! Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)
Hope shouts at the banders, Banding Day 2016, Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

What a privilege to hold the chick and see her parents protecting her!

 

It's a shame this will be the only peregrine banding in western Pennsylvania this year. Here's why:

 

Why weren't more peregrines banded in Penna. this year?

 

Peregrines are endangered in Pennsylvania so the PA Game Commission (PGC) normally visits every known nest site and attempts to band the chicks -- that's 9 locations in western Pennsylvania.  But this year severe budget cuts and layoffs forced PGC to band at only one site in the western half of the state -- the Cathedral of Learning.

Why does PGC have a budget crisis?  They don't rely on state tax dollars. They're self-supporting through hunting license fees, timber sales, mineral extraction, and a federal excise tax on ammunition. But state law forbids them to raise the license fees that comprise 40% of their revenue. There hasn't been an increase since the 1990's.

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can help.

The Pennsylvania State House and Senate must pass a law -- SB 1166 -- to allow the Game Commission to raise the license fees.  Contact your State Senator and State Representative (find them here) and urge them to support "SB 1166."

Click here for a letter about the budget crisis and information on what you can do.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

Today Is Banding Day

C1 pants in the heat as Hope perches in the sun (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
C1 pants in the heat as Hope perches in the sun (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The peregrine family at the Cathedral of Learning is in for some excitement today. Hope and Terzo's chick, C1, will be banded this morning.

Just after 10:00am Dan Brauning of the Pennsylvania Game Commission will venture out on the Cathedral of Learning ledge.  Don't be shocked when you hear the peregrines "kakking" and the chick disappears for a while.  The falconcams will continue to run while the chick is absent.

C1 will receive a health check and some new "jewelry" and will be returned to the nest very quickly.  A side benefit is that we'll learn whether he's a “she” or a “he.”

Watch my blog for photos of the event later today.

 

p.s. It's exceptionally warm here in Pittsburgh this week.  As shown in the photo above, you'll see C1 panting and holding his wings open to stay cool.

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

Note: I don’t announce the banding in advance because the event is not open to the public. The room is too small to allow for uninvited guests.

 

TBT: A Lesson Learned

Budgie in the budgie trap before I let her go (photo by Kate St. John)
Budgie in the "budgie trap" before I let her go (photo by Kate St. John)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Seven years ago a budgerigar frequented my backyard bird feeder with a flock of juvenile house sparrows.  I could tell she wouldn't last long in the wild because she was not wise about predators. One of my blog readers offered to adopt the budgie if I could catch her, so I put a bird cage in the backyard and waited to see if she would go inside.

She did.  And I learned a valuable lesson about freedom which is with me to this day.  Click here for A Lesson Learned.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Pigeons and Bicycles Test The Air

Screenshot from Pigeon Air Patrol website: pigeonairpatrol.com
Screenshot from Pigeon Air Patrol website: pigeonairpatrol.com

The air's going to be bad in Pittsburgh today -- Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups orange flag -- so don't take baby out for a stroll this afternoon. How can we know exactly where it's safe to breathe?  Birds and bicycles test the air.

 

Birds: London, England, March 2016:

Pigeons have been used for breeding, racing and message-carrying.  This spring in London the Pigeon Air Patrol tested the air -- quite literally.

In March three members of a flock of racing pigeons were outfitted with air quality monitors and GPS.  Then the flock was released from various points in the city to record -- and tweet -- air quality data on their way.  People could see what they were breathing in real time.

This is of interest in London because they have a history of bad air with darkness at noon and killer smog (1952).  But the air's OK now, right?  Well, that's not what the pigeons found.

Typical air monitors sample fixed locations but the pigeons flew through hotspots of bad air.  Who knew that a particular street corner was a bad place to breathe?  The pigeons did.

Check the Plume Labs website to see what's happening in the air in London and around the world right now.  (Scroll down to see the map.) If you have breathing problems there are quite a few places you should never visit.

 

Bicycles: Pittsburgh, PA, ongoing:

Two thirds of the year Pittsburgh's air quality is in the "moderately polluted" range which doesn't sound like much but constitutes a health risk in the long term.  Today our air will be worse --> Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.

Air Now forecast for Pittsburgh, PA, 25 May 2016 (screenshot from AirNow.gov)
Air Now forecast for Pittsburgh, PA, 25 May 2016 (screenshot from AirNow.gov)

The regional map doesn't tell the whole story.  Some places have better air than others so the Group Against Smog and Pollution enlisted bicycles to help.  In this ongoing project, volunteers carry monitors on their bicycles and collect air quality data as they ride.  GASP then maps the data on a street by street basis.

See Pittsburgh's air quality here on GASP's street-by-street map, or here at Plume Labs.

When it comes to breathing, we need all the help we can get.

 

p.s. Do you ride a bike in Pittsburgh? Do you want to help map air quality? Click here.

(screenshots from Pigeon Air Patrol website and from Air Now)

Growing Feathers

Peregrine chick C1 with father Terzo, 19 days since hatch, 18 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary faloncam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Peregrine chick C1 with father Terzo, 19 days since hatch, 18 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary faloncam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

After a big growth spurt the peregrine falcon chick at the Cathedral of Learning is now developing feathers. Here's a five-day time lapse comparison.

In the first photo on 18 May 2016 above, C1 has grown facial feathers that now define his face.  He stands like a small white Buddha while he waits for his father to feed him -- 19 days after hatching.

Below on 23 May 2016, you can see pin feathers emerging at C1's wing tips and and tail -- 24 days after hatching.

Mother peregrine, Hope, feeds chick, C1, 23 May 2016, 24 days after hatching (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
C1 with mother Hope 23 May 2016, 24 days after hatching (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

C1 is very demanding.  Terzo got an earful yesterday.

C1 shouts at his father Terzo (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
C1 shouts at his father Terzo (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

(photos from the National Aviary faloncam at Univ of Pittsburgh)