Archive for April, 2017

Apr 30 2017

This Morning in Schenley Park

Schenley Park bird walk group, 30 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park outing, 30 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning there were 36 of us ready to go birding in Schenley Park at 8am.  We searched for birds in the Bartlett area and part of Lower and Falloon Trails, then walked the golf course edge for a view of the treetops along Serpentine Road.

The birds were quiet at first but became more active when the sun broke through the clouds.  Best Birds of the day were rose-breasted grosbeaks, the first-of-year ovenbird and a green heron at the lake.  I wish we’d seen the blue-winged warbler (heard singing) but we did see a peregrine falcon flying around the Cathedral of Learning.

I promised we’d end at 10am but a dozen people wanted to continue so we split up at 9:45a.  (Thank you, Marcus, for guiding folks back to Bartlett Street.)  So I have two lists of the birds we saw.  Let me know if I missed something.

Before 9:45m. Birds Seen and Heard, 8am-9:45am, 0.8 miles (until turn around). Click here for eBird checklist.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
Ovenbird (first of year)
Blue-winged Warbler (heard by several of us, seen by Michelle)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch

After 945am: Additional Species Seen and Heard, 9:45am-11:30am, 2.17 miles, via Panther Hollow Lake (Click here for the eBird list of additional birds)

Green Heron (first of year)
Osprey (2 flew over at Bartlett at the end of the walk)
Red-tailed Hawk (adult at Occupied Nest)
Chimney Swift
Hairy Woodpecker
Peregrine Falcon (flying and perched at Cathedral of Learning)
Eastern Phoebe
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Wood Thrush
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler (first of year)
Black-throated Green Warbler

Thanks, everyone, for coming out.  It was a great birding day!

When I got home I heard a white-eyed vireo singing in my neighborhood.  🙂

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

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Apr 30 2017

The Theories Are Worse Than The Furies

Hope sheltering three nestlings, 29 April 2017, 11:55a (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope sheltering three nestlings, 29 April 2017, 11:56a (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

So far so good.  The three nestlings at the Cathedral of Learning are all well fed and growing. Every day we gain more confidence that they’ll thrive.

Meanwhile we’re still puzzled why their mother, Hope, killed and ate the first-hatching chick as well as two of her four chicks last year.  We don’t know the answer but we have many theories.  It reminds me of a famous quote from Flannery O’Connor in Habit of Being (p. 502):

“The Theories are worse than the Furies.”

So who are the Furies?

According to Wikipedia, the Erinyes [also called the Furies] are ancient Greek goddesses from the underworld. They hear complaints brought by mortals against the insolence of the young to the aged, of children to parents, of hosts to guests, and of householders or city councils to suppliants.  They punish those crimes by hounding the culprits relentlessly and hitting them with brass-studded scourges.  Their victims die in torment.

Their most famous gig was to torment Orestes for killing his mother Clytemnestra who had an affair and killed his father Agamemnon. Orestes avenged his father’s murder but created a really big mess (read more here).  John Singer Sargent’s painting of Orestes Pursued by the Furies shows how awful the Furies can be.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies by John Singer Sargent (reproduction from Wikimedia Commons)

Orestes Pursued by the Furies by John Singer Sargent (reproduction from Wikimedia Commons)

The Theories can be relentless, too.

We have lots of theories about Hope but no data to confirm or disprove them. (Hope eats the evidence.) The only thing we know is that she has repeated the behavior two years in a row and it’s so abnormal that we can find only a handful of similar incidents in all the history of peregrine nest monitoring.

We don’t have an answer but we can make ourselves crazy.

The Theories are worse than the Furies!

 

(photo of Hope and chicks from the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh. Reproduction of John Singer Sargent’s “Orestes Pursued by the Furies” from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Apr 29 2017

The Catbirds Are Back In Town!

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)

Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)

Years ago Chuck Tague taught me that gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) are a special signal during spring migration.

Catbirds spend the winter in Florida, Cuba and Central America, then return in the spring after the first tantalizing migrants (the blue-gray gnatcatchers and Louisiana waterthrushes) but before the big push of warblers, thrushes and tanagers.

Because they’re the leading edge of the best part of migration, Chuck always announced his first gray catbird of the year.  I’ll carry on his tradition.

Yesterday was the day!  On 28 April I saw my first gray catbirds of 2017 at Enlow Fork in Greene County and at home in the City of Pittsburgh.

This year the catbirds did not arrive alone. At Enlow Fork we also saw rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, wood thrushes, northern parulas, American redstarts, common yellowthroats and more.

I’m still waiting for an indigo bunting.  Maybe today … 🙂

 

p.s.  Many of us learned a lot from Chuck Tague who passed away last June.  This coming Thursday, May 4 at 7:30pm the Wissahickon Nature Club will hold an All Members Night A Tribute to Chuck Tague.  Bring up to 12 slides or digital photos to share.  Click here and scroll down for location and meeting information.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Apr 28 2017

Hidden in Plain Sight

Woodcock mother and chicks at Magee Marsh, Ohio, May 2013 (photo by Charlie Hickey)

Woodcock mother and chicks at Magee Marsh, Ohio, 6 May 2013 (photo by Charlie Hickey)

We had so much peregrine news this week that Throw Back Thursday is a day late.  Today, at last, I can talk about a different bird.

Male American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) returned to Pennsylvania in late February or March and immediately set up their courtship “stomping” grounds.  At dusk they’d strut and peent, then launch into the air with whistling wings to claim territory and attract a mate.

By the end of April dancing time is nearly over because the females are nesting and their eggs will hatch soon. When they hatch, the chicks will be as well hidden as the eggs.

At Magee Marsh, Ohio in May 2013 this woodcock family was hidden in plain sight.  I couldn’t see them no matter how hard I tried!  Click the link below to read more.

Woodcock Family

 

(photo by Charlie Hickey)

p.s. I’ll be hiking out of cell range for most of today (28 April 2017) so I won’t be able to respond to your comments for at least six hours.  The peregrines had better behave while I’m gone!

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Apr 27 2017

Three Nestlings At Pitt

Hope prepares to feed 3 nestlings at the Cathedral of Learning, 27 Apr 2017, 8:06a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope prepares to feed 3 nestlings at the Cathedral of Learning, 27 Apr 2017, 8:06a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday at sunset there were two chicks and one egg at the Cathedral of Learning nest.  This morning there are three chicks.

Last night Deane posted a comment, “I missed the action prior, but Hope is eating the final eggshell. 21:10.”

The motion detection snapshots show Hope manipulating and eating an eggshell at 9:04pm but the photos are too dark to see if she ate the chick as well.  We had to wait for daylight to find out.

Hope manipulates the 4th egg, 26 April 2017, 9:04p (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope manipulates the 4th egg, 26 April 2017, 9:04p (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Hope manipulates empty eggshell of 4th egg, 26 April 2017, 9:07p (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope holds the empty shell egg #4, 26 April 2017, 9:07p (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

This morning at 8am Terzo delivered a woodpecker for breakfast.  As Hope prepared to feed the chicks, we could see three tiny heads.

Hope prepares to feed 3 nestlings at the Cathedral of Learning, 27 Apr 2017, 7:56a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope prepares to feed 3 nestlings at the Cathedral of Learning, 27 Apr 2017, 7:56a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

Last year Hope’s infanticide activity was confined to the hatching process.  Perhaps we can watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam now without dread.

 

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

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Apr 26 2017

On The Matter Of Names

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine family at the Gulf Tower, 25 April 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Peregrine family at the Gulf Tower, 25 April 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

>–> This morning’s status at the Cathedral of Learning nest is in the text below.

Wondering about names for Pittsburgh’s peregrine nestlings?  They already have them.

At Pittsburgh’s on-camera sites we use a naming scheme similar to that used at bald eagle nests: a letter for the location plus the hatch number.  The Cathedral of Learning is “C,” the Gulf Tower/Downtown is “G.”

Nestling names at the Cathedral of Learning were C1 through C4 last year.  Only C1 survived.  This year the numbers are C5 through C8.  Their status this morning is:

  • C5 is gone. Hope killed and ate it on 24 April.
  • C6 hatched in the early hours of 25 April.
  • C7 hatched late on 25 April.
  • The last egg, C8, is still unhatched as of now (26 April 2017, 7am).

The two chicks at the Cathedral of Learning, C6 and C7, were fed this morning at 6:25am shortly after this snapshot.

Two nestlings at Pitt, (C6, C7),26 April, 6:15am (photo from the Naritonal Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Two nestlings at Cathedral of Learning, 26 April, 6:15am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

At the Gulf Tower we’ve just begun naming this year so the three chicks are G1 through G3.

Good luck figuring out who is who!

Peregrine chicks look alike for several weeks because the entire clutch hatched within 24-48 hours. Only as the chicks approach fledging do the females become noticeably larger that the males. (Adult males are 1/3 smaller than females.  That’s why males are called tiercels.)

For more information on naming, see this Peregrine FAQ:  How do peregrines get their names?

Reminder!  A Caution to Viewers of the Cathedral of Learning falconcam:

Do not watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.  The Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh has a beautiful peregrine family on camera.  Please watch the Gulf Tower falconcam to learn about normal peregrine behavior!

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning)

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Apr 25 2017

One Killed, One Spared

Hope picks up her first-hatching egg. Latr she kills and eats it (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope picks up her first-hatching egg, 24 Apr 2017, 6:15pm. Later she kills and eats it (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

I recently cautioned viewers about watching the Cathedral of Learning falconcam because the female peregrine killed and ate some of her young last year as they hatched.  I didn’t know if she would repeat this behavior. Last evening she did.

The first sign that Hope would kill the hatchling was around 6:15pm when she picked up and carried the hatching egg (above).  Carrying is not normal.  Half an hour later she killed and ate the chick and its eggshell.

Hope and her behavior were new to us last year.  We didn’t know if she killed and ate some of her young because she was under many stresses:  a new home at the Cathedral of Learning + loss of her mate + finding a new mate + other females challenging her while she was incubating the eggs.

This year none of those stresses apply.  None of them.  And yet Hope killed and ate her first hatchling last evening.

Last year one chick survived.  This morning it appears that Hope has spared the second chick.

Hope with her second chick, 25 April 2017, 6:14am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope with her second chick, 25 April 2017, 6:14am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Here’s a snapshot showing there are no longer four eggs/chicks.  Now there are only three.

Only 3: 1 chick, 2 eggs, 25 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Only 3: 1 chick, 2 eggs, 25 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

But the chicks and eggs aren’t safe yet.  The remaining two eggs might succumb and last year when a second chick hatched successfully, it died within a week.  It failed to thrive.  Some speculated that Hope starved it.

We don’t know why Hope does this but we now know it’s not a one-time event.  She may have done this all her adult life but there was no camera at her former nest site, the Tarentum Bridge, where she fledged 0-to-2 young per year.

What’s next?

A Caution to Viewers:

Again, do not watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.  The Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh has a beautiful peregrine family with three chicks.  Please watch the Gulf Tower falconcam to learn about normal peregrine behavior!

A Caution to Commenters:

Though this situation resembles reality TV in which viewers can vote someone on or off the island, it is not a “voting” situation.  If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.

Normally I do not edit readers’ comments but this situation is not normal.  If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

Though I am not watching Hope closely (I don’t want see her kill her young), I do want the camera to stay up.

 

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

P.S. on the subject of names:  At the Cathedral of Learning we use “C + Hatch Number” as the naming scheme for chicks.  Last year had 4 chicks (C1 through C4) but only C1 survived.  This year C5 was eaten, C6 is the now live chick.  I will write more about names in the days ahead.

 

 

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Apr 24 2017

Reminder: Schenley Park Outing, April 30, 8am

Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)

Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, April 30, 8a – 10a.  (Note the early start! 8:00am)

Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road for this joint outing with the Three Rivers Birding Club.

New birds come to town every day at the end of April so there will be plenty to see.  Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes.  Don’t forget your binoculars!

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.

 

p.s. I’ve already seen a Baltimore oriole in the park.  🙂

(Baltimore oriole photo by Steve Gosser)

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Apr 24 2017

Three Chicks at Gulf, A Pip at Pitt

Louie, Dori and three chicks, 23 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Louie, Dori and three chicks, 23 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Yesterday we had good brief views of the three peregrine nestlings at the Gulf Tower.  By now we’re certain that the last two eggs won’t hatch.

The fourth egg pipped on Friday April 21 but the chick did not live to emerge from its shell. Dori tried to help it along, as seen in this videomark, but that was not enough.

You can see the crack in egg #4 in this pre-dawn photo from April 23 as Dori and Louie examine the egg.

Dori and Louie look at the incomplete hatch of egg #4, 23 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Louie and Dori look at the incomplete hatch of egg #4, 23 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

When the adults allow a look, the crack is obvious in daylight.

Cracked egg #4 is obvious in this photo, 23 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Cracked egg #4 is obvious as Louie settles over the chicks, 23 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Eventually Dori and Louie will move both unhatched eggs away from the chicks.

 

Meanwhile at Pitt, when I first published this article I couldn’t see any pips in the eggs during the 7:09am nest exchange.  But …

Four eggs at Pitt, 24 April 2017, 7:09am (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Cathedral of Learning)

Four eggs at Pitt, 24 April 2017, 7:09am (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Cathedral of Learning)

Some viewers caught a quick glimpse at a pip at 7:25am.  And at 8:10am Shannon Platt captured this photo of Terzo turning the eggs.  Hatching has begun.

Terzo turns the eggs, revealing a pip, 24 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo turns the eggs, revealing a pip, 24 Apr 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

As I said before, we don’t know if Hope will kill some of her young when they hatch — as she did last year — but keep this Caution in mind:  Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see that behavior.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning)

 

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Apr 23 2017

Not A Bumblebee

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Carpenter bee (photo by Chuck Tague)

Carpenter bee (photo by Chuck Tague)

Have you seen bumblebees hovering and dancing near a wooden structure lately?  They look like bumblebees but they’re not.  They’re carpenter bees.

Carpenter bees are easy to identify once you know this trait:  They have shiny black abdomens, noticeable in flight.

Carpenter bee in flight.Notice the shiny abdomen (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Carpenter bee in flight. Notice the shiny abdomen (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s a side-by-side comparison (not to scale) — carpenter bee on the left, bumblebee on the right.  Notice the shiny abdomen on the carpenter bee and hairy abdomen on the bumblebee.

Carpenter bee vs bumblebee (photos by Chuck Tague)

Carpenter bee vs bumblebee (photos by Chuck Tague)

Bumblebees build their nests in the ground.  Carpenter bees, as their name implies, build their nests in wood. In April you’ll see them face wooden structures, hovering and zooming.

If you see carpenter bees near your house should you worry?  I don’t.

Carpenter bees don’t eat the wood and they are barely social.  A few females may nest together but that’s the extent of it.  Their nests are not large colonies and they don’t have a queen.  The entire older generation dies off just before the new young fly so there’s little overlap.

A few carpenter bees have nested somewhere at the front of my 110-year-old house every April for at least a decade.  They never become an “infestation.”

Carpenter bees have a long foraging season and are good pollinators. All flying insects are suffering declines, especially honeybees and bumblebees, so we need every pollinator we can get.

I leave the carpenter bees unharmed and watch with wonder.

 

(photos of stationary bees by Chuck Tague. photo of flying carpenter bee from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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