Category Archives: Books & Events

Birdmania Is Coming To Pittsburgh

Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion For Birds by Bernd Brunner (book cover courtesy Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture Series)
Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion For Birds by Bernd Brunner (book cover courtesy Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture Series)

If you're as passionate about birds as I am you might be thinking bird mania is already here but this month we'll get the chance to learn of others enthralled by birds.

Bernd Brunner, author of Birdmania, will speak at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures on November 18 at 2pm.

His new book shows how our view of birds has changed over time -- from objects of worship, food sources, ornamentation, sport, and status symbols to beautiful creatures we watch in the wild. His stories of collectors, breeders, watchers, scientists and conservationists are illustrated with rare and stunning artwork inspired by (our!) obsession.

Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk says of the book, "An exquisitely beautiful book ... These stories about birds are ultimately reflections on the curious nature of humanity itself."

For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit New & Noted: Bernd Brunner at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

What: Bernd Brunner, author of Birdmania, at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures.  A book signing will follow the lecture. Tickets $5.
Where: Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15213.
When:  Saturday November 18, 2017 at 2pm.

Buy Birdmania on Amazon here.

 

(book cover, cropped, from Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures)

10th Anniversary!

Put on Your Party Hats, this blog is 10 Years Old!

Usually a crow provides bird-thday entertainment, but this year two Venezuelan troupials won the honor of singing "Happy Birthday To You."  This is definitely competitive singing!

Thanks to all of you, my readers,  who have kept me blogging about birds, nature and peregrine falcons since November 2007.  I couldn't have done it without your enthusiasm.

And thank you to all the great photographers who let me use their photos.  See who they are here.

Woo Hoo!  Happy Bird-thday!

 

p.s. Venezuelan troupials are the national bird of Venezuela and are in the Blackbird family (Icterid).

(photo credit: Click here to see the original photo of the crow on a spire by Ian Shane via Wikimedia Commons; party hat was added by Kate St. John)

We Are Nature

We Are Nature, Living in the Anthropocene entry sign, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that we humans are part of the natural world.  We think we are outside of Nature, instead we are intricately entwined. This special exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shows how we affect Nature and are affected by it.

We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene tells many stories of our impact on Earth by focusing on five areas: pollution, extinction, PostNatural (intentionally altered organisms), climate change, and habitat alteration.

Some of our effects are so common we forget they wouldn't exist without us.  Dogs, for example.  They're in the PostNatural category.

We also tinker with wild things like wolves.  The plaque below this animal says:

"A Trickle-Down Effect (Trophic Cascade): Humans eliminated gray wolves from Yellowstone National Park in the 1920s. In 1995, 31 gray wolves were reintroduced to the park from Canada; the wolf population is now considered stable. While some ranchers may not agree, the return of wolves to Yellowstone, coupled with other ecological factors, has had positive effects on biodiversity and the health of the park."

Human tinkering with the wolf population trickles down to the entire ecosystem, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)
Human tinkering with the wolf population trickles down to the entire ecosystem, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

But most of our effects occur when we aren't paying attention.

Acid rain is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity.  We had no idea this made a difference until we noticed that our downwind lakes were becoming acidic.  More than a water problem, acid rain makes land snails scarce and causes declines in ovenbird breeding success.  An exhibit of tiger snails says:

Tiger Snail + Acid Rain:  Acid rain from human pollution harms some of Pennsylvania's smallest animals: tiger snails.  ... Museum scientist Tim Pearce found that before 2000, the tiger snail was found in 53 Pennsylvania counties.  After 2000, that number was cut by more than half.

Tiger snails, We Are Nature, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tiger snails, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

There's one object in the room that's the perfect emblem of our aimless effect on earth -- a shopping cart coated in zebra mussels.

Shopping cart coated in zebra mussels, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, We Are Nature exhibit, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Shopping cart coated in zebra mussels, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The shopping cart says, "Humans were here."

  • Humans manufactured something not found in nature.
  • The cart ended up in one of the Great Lakes through human negligence (it rolled) or purpose (dumped).
  • As it lay submerged zebra mussels attached themselves to the cart.  Zebra mussels are an invasive species accidentally introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1980s.  They got there on the bottoms of boats.

Without humans, nothing about this object would exist.

See more amazing stories of our impact at We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  Click here for more information.

 

p.s. In the Post-Gazette I learned that this is the first exhibition about the Anthropocene in North America. (Go, Pittsburgh!) It will run for a year, include additional programming, and the museum plans to hire a curator of the Anthropocene in January.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Birds With Masks

Masked boobies, Howland Island (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Masked boobies, Howland Island (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Halloween, birds with masks are here to celebrate.

Masked boobies (Sula dactylatra) breed on tropical islands around the world except in the eastern Atlantic (near Africa).  In September Hurricane Jose blew an exhausted masked booby all the way to Cape Cod.  It was rescued but died.

Masked ducks (Nomonyx dominicus) are found at ponds and small lakes from Mexico to South America and in the Caribbean.  These elusive birds are sometimes in south Texas where I missed my chance to see one.

Masked duck, Nomonyx dominicus (phot from Wikimedia Commons)
Masked duck (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Laughing falcons (Herpetotheres cachinnans) wear a broken mask.  I heard them laugh in Costa Rica.

Laughing Falcon, Costa Rica (photo by Bert Dudley)
Laughing Falcon, Costa Rica (photo by Bert Dudley)

 

Male common yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) are easy to identify by their masks but the females and juveniles don't wear one.  The unmasked birds are so confusing.

Common yellowthroat (photo by Steve Gosser)
Common yellowthroat (photo by Steve Gosser)

In late October cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) are still here in Pittsburgh though in smaller numbers.  Their faces are ready for the masquerade ball.

Cedar waxwing (photo by Cris Hamilton)
Cedar waxwing (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Can you think of other masked birds?

Happy Halloween!

 

(photo credits: Masked boobies and masked duck from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals. Laughing falcon by Bert Dudley. Common yellowthroat by Steve Gosser. Cedar waxwing by Cris Hamilton.)

Don’t Miss! H is for Hawk: A New Chapter

Helen Macdonald with goshawk (photo ©Mike Birkhead Associates)
Helen Macdonald with young goshawk (photo ©Mike Birkhead Associates)

If you love raptors don't miss H is for Hawk: A New Chapter premiering Wednesday November 1 on PBS NATURE.

The program follows Helen Macdonald, author of the award-winning book H is for Hawk, as she decides that now's the time to train a new goshawk. But this will be different.

Ten years earlier while mourning her father's death she acquired and trained a goshawk named Mabel. Goshawks are so difficult to work with that most falconers do not take them on.  The book tells of Macdonald's journey through grief and healing as she bonds with her fierce, inspiring hawk.

Mabel died before the book was finished and Macdonald thought she'd never have a goshawk again, but now things have changed. "After a big bereavement you fall apart and have to remake yourself," she says. "The person in the book isn't really me anymore."  Indeed this chapter is a journey of joy.

Beautiful and evocative, we thrill with Macdonald as she watches goshawks nesting in the wild and cheer as she and her new goshawk, Lupin, grow and bond.

Don't miss H is for Hawk: A New Chapter  on Wednesday November 1 at 8pm ET on PBS. Check your local listing. In Pittsburgh it's on WQED.

Click here for the video preview.

 

(photo ©Mike Birkhead Associates)

A New Look Coming For The Blog

Screenshot of new theme

After a decade of blogging it's time to redecorate Outside My Window.  Tomorrow morning, October 21, I'll change my blog's design by switching the WordPress Theme.

Switching the "theme" is like painting the walls a new color, installing new carpet and rearranging the furniture.  All the furniture will be the same.  It's not a radical change so you might not notice when it's done.

Why am I bothering?

Screen formats have changed since I started writing in 2007.  They are many screen sizes now, from wide desktops to tablets to cellphones, but my old design doesn't scale well.  The new theme flexibly resizes for all.  After I've made the change, compare my blog on your PC and cellphone simultaneously and you'll see subtle differences.

Also I've grown tired of the same old look.  The new theme is a different shade of white and there are seven new banner photos to display at random.  Two of the photos are my own, the other five are beautiful birds, thanks to Dan Arndt, Peter Bell, Chad+Chris Saladin, Chuck Tague (thank you, Joan), and Marge Van Tassel.

The screenshot above is a preview.

Soon the blog will have a new look.

 

(screenshot of the new design theme with banner photo of Dorothy by Peter Bell)

Upcoming Events

Staghorn sumac in early November 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)
Staghorn sumac in early November 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Even though we're heading for winter the calendar is filling up with lots of bird events, so many that I'll list just four: three of mine and one at the National Aviary.

Sunday October 29, 8:30-10:30a
Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park Bird Walk

Meet me at the Duck Hollow parking lot at the end of Old Browns Hill Road. We'll see migrating waterfowl on the river and walk the beginning of the nearby Lower Nine Mile Run Trail. Bring binoculars and scopes (for river watching) if you have them.  Check my Events page for updates or cancellations.

 

Thursday November 2, 6:00pm
Biophilia at Phipps: "Finding Pittsburgh's Winter Birds"

We often think there are no birds here in winter but that's far from the case in the city. On November 2 I'll give a short presentation at Phipps' Biophilia about Pittsburgh's winter birds and where to find them. Click here for more information.

Two male Northern Cardinals in winter (photo by Steve Gosser)
Two male Northern Cardinals in winter (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Saturday-Sunday November 4-5, 10a - 5p, National Aviary Event
Opening Soirée, Friday November 3
Wings and Wildlife Art Show at the National Aviary.

The Wings & Wildlife Art Show is the National Aviary's annual juried show highlighting wildlife artists from across the region. Artists will be exhibiting and selling their art throughout the National Aviary during the first weekend of November. It's a great time to visit the Aviary's birds and buy a treat for yourself or gifts for the holidays. Click here for more information.

Wings and Wildlife Art Show 2017, National Aviary

 

Friday November 17, 10a
Audubon Day at Hillman Library: The Story of Peregrine Falcons at Pitt: The Dynasty Continues.

Why do peregrine falcons nest at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning? Where did they come from and where do they go? Come to the University of Pittsburgh's annual Audubon Day at Hillman Library where I'll tell the story of Pitt's peregrine falcons. Watch my Events page for more details including a link to Pitt's Audubon Day activities.

Peregrine falcon, Dorothy, defends her territory, May 25, 2004 (photo by Jack Rowley)
Peregrine falcon, Dorothy, defends her territory, May 25, 2004 (photo by Jack Rowley)

 

 

(photo credits: staghorn sumac by Kate St. John, northern cardinals in winter by Steve Gosser, peregrine falcon at Pitt by Jack Rowley)