Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Jun 21 2017

Surprisingly Poisonous

Hooded pitohui (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Hooded pitohui (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that your fingers will go numb or burn if you handle this bird?  You’ll be lucky that’s all that happens.  This bird is poisonous!

Though it superficially resembles our orchard oriole the hooded pitohui (Pitohui dichrous) is an Old World oriole that lives on the islands of New Guinea. Its skin and feathers are poisonous to touch though not as deadly as the golden poison frog of South America shown below.  Both animals exude batrachotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin that kills by paralysis and cardiac arrest.  The frog is 50 times more poisonous than the bird.  He contains enough poison to kill 10 men!

Golden poison frog, Columbia (photo from Wikimdeia Commons)

Golden poison frog, Columbia (photo from Wikimdeia Commons)

These animals are poisonous because they eat poisonous insects and yet they don’t die!

Fascinated?

I learned this and more at The Power of Poison exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Power of Poison in the Natural World (exhibit banner from Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

Power of Poison in the Natural World (exhibit banner from Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

The exhibit explores our relationships with poison in nature including how we avoid it, work around it, use it to kill or use it to cure.  Throughout it all we are fascinated by its power.  Here are a few of the cool things you’ll see:

  • A terrarium with live golden poison frogs!  (Find out why these particular frogs are harmless.)
  • Foods we eat that are/were partly poisonous. How about cashews?
  • The real poisons behind famous literary scenes in Macbeth‘s witches’ brew, Alice in Wonderland‘s Mad Hatter, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.
  • What killed the Borgias’ enemies? Cleopatra? Ponce de Leon?
  • Poisons that cure cancer and treat high blood pressure.

In the end you’ll get to test your skills with solve-it-yourself poison mysteries.

Visit the Carnegie Museum’s The Power of Poison exhibit, now through September 4, and find out what’s surprisingly poisonous.

Make plans for your visit here.

 

p.s. By the way, poisons in nature aren’t that unusual.  We have poisonous blister beetles, jimsonweed and poison ivy in Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

(photo credits: bird and frog photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals.
‘Poisons in Nature’ banner from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
)

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Jun 18 2017

Today’s Outing at Nine Mile Run Trail

Published by under Books & Events

Some of the 27 participants in this morning's outing at Nine Mile Run Trail, 18 Jun 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Some of the 27 participants in this morning’s outing at Nine Mile Run Trail, 18 Jun 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

This morning was hot and sunny as 27(!) of us walked the south end of the Nine Mile Run Trail in Frick Park.

My outing description last Monday promised orchard orioles and hoped for willow flycatchers.  The orchard orioles cooperated but the willow flycatchers were missing.

However we saw 26 species and had good looks at indigo buntings, yellow warblers, cedar waxwings, red-tailed hawks and the ever-famous orchard orioles.

We also saw purple nodding thistles, clouded sulfur butterflies and the larval stage of brown marmorated sinkbugs, shown below.

Larvae of brown marmorated stink bugs, 18 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Larvae of brown marmorated stink bugs, 18 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Steve Valasek for posting our sightings in eBird.  Thank you, Steve, for keeping the list:
Duck Hollow
Jun 18, 2017, 8:26 AM
Traveling 0.36 miles, 118 minutes
All birds reported? Yes.
30 Canada Goose
6 Mallard
5 Turkey Vulture
2 Cooper’s Hawk – flyover
3 Red-tailed Hawk – flyover
7 Mourning Dove
3 Chimney Swift
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1 Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
2 Red-eyed Vireo
8 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
2 Carolina Wren
5 American Robin
1 Gray Catbird
2 Northern Mockingbird
1 Cedar Waxwing
5 Yellow Warbler
4 Song Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
3 Indigo Bunting
5 Red-winged Blackbird
5 Common Grackle
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
7 Orchard Oriole
1 Baltimore Oriole
3 American Goldfinch

Number of Taxa: 26

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jun 12 2017

Orchard Orioles, June 18, 8:30a

Published by under Books & Events

Orchard oriole, first year male (photo by Donna Foyle)

Orchard oriole, first year male (photo by Donna Foyle)

Have you ever seen an orchard oriole?  Did you know that first-summer males look completely different than full-adult males, and yet they are old enough to nest?

Join me on Sunday June 18, 8:30a – 10:30a, at Duck Hollow and Frick Park’s lower Nine Mile Run Trail to see nesting orchard orioles in this unique scrubland habitat in the City of Pittsburgh.

Meet at Duck Hollow parking lot at the end of Old Browns Hill Road. We’ll briefly scan the river then walk through the meadow habitat of lower Nine Mile Run Trail, watching for orchard orioles and willow flycatchers.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. It’s Fathers’ Day; bring your dad.

Meanwhile, click here to see the three plumages of orchard orioles (Icterus spurius): adult male, first-summer male and female.

 

A Note About Thunderstorms:  I’ll lead the outing rain or shine, but not in thunderstorms.  It’s too early to rely on next Sunday’s forecast so check the Events Page before you come in case I’ve had to cancel because of lightning.

 

(photo by Donna Foyle)

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May 29 2017

Two Fledge Watches: Gulf and Pitt

Three young peregrines at the Gulf Tower, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Three young peregrines at the Gulf Tower, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Two Fledge Watch locations this week!

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch continues May 29 and 30:

Even though you don’t always see them on camera the three young peregrines at the Gulf Tower haven’t flown yet.  There are still two more days of Gulf Tower Fledge Watch:

  • Today, May 29 Memorial Day, 11:30a – 1:30p at the Flag Plaza parking lot.  Plenty of free parking!
  • May 30, 11:30a-1:30p at the sidewalk leading up to the Pennsylvanian railroad station.

 

Meanwhile across town …

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is scheduled for June 2-6:

Three peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Three peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning, 29 May 2017 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

The peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning are losing their down and turning brown so it’s time to plan for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

Meet me and/or John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts at the Schenley Plaza tent, Friday June 2 through Tuesday June 6, 11:30a – 1:30p.

Click here for a Google map of Schenley Plaza.

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Plaza tent

As always, check the Events page for last minute updates.  Fledge Watch will be canceled if it’s raining.

What a busy week!  It’s convenient that the two nests hatched a week apart.

 

(peregrine photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Gulf Tower and Cathedral of Learning. Schenley Plaza tent photo by Kate St. John)

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May 28 2017

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch Update, May 26 & 27

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)

Gulf Tower, location of nest as seen from Flag Plaza (photo by John English)

Yes!  Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza today, Sunday May 28, 11:30a to 1:30p.

Yesterday, Saturday May 27, I stuck to my plan but I missed some fun.

It rained in the morning so I didn’t plan to hold a Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza.  However, the rain stopped by noon so John English, John Bauman and Anne Marie Bosnyak went over to see what was up.  Here are John English’s pictures.

At top is the view of the Gulf Tower with the nest area circled in yellow.  It’s very easy to see the peregrines with binoculars.  John took these photos through his scope.

Below, one peregrine chick perches on the pillar near the nest.  You can see the falconcam from Flag Plaza.

One young peregrine perched on the pillar at the Gulf Tower nest (photo by John English)

One young peregrine perched on the pillar at the Gulf Tower nest (photo by John English)

 

Louie, circled top left, and Dori, circled at right, watch over the “kids” at the nest (yellow square) as fledging time approaches.  They’re waiting for the next step:

When a chick flies for the first time one of the parents, usually the male, follows the chick to its landing place and makes sure it’s safe.  If all is well, the parent brings food to the chick at its new perch.  To us humans it looks like food is the reward for a job well done.

Both peregrine parents watch the 'kids' as fledging time approaches (photo by John English)

Both peregrine parents watch the ‘kids’ as fledging time approaches (photo by John English)

 

My reluctance to vary Saturday’s Watch schedule was due to my experience on Friday May 26.

The weather forecast said the rain would end around 11am but it was still pouring at 11:15a so I posted to Twitter and Facebook that I wouldn’t be Downtown until noon.  Unfortunately, Margaret was already on her way and wondered where I was when she arrived at 11:30a.  She sat out the rain under the railroad station portico, out of sight of the sidewalk were I set up my scope at noon.

After the drizzle stopped, Janine and Barb stopped over from the Federal Building around 1pm.  We were thrilled to see Louie hunting close by as he dove on two mourning doves near the Federated Investors building.  The doves escaped.  Whoosh!

Margaret found us at 1:15pm.  It started to rain hard at 1:30pmso Fledge Watch ended.

Fortunately, the weather looks good today and tomorrow so I’ll be at Flag Plaza both days, 11:30a to 1:30p.

 

(photos by John English, Pittsburgh Falconuts)

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May 26 2017

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch: The Forecast

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!

It doesn’t look good for Gulf Tower Fledge Watch this weekend.  As of this writing I have altered the schedule.

Today, Friday May 26:  yes, I’ll make the attempt AFTER NOON.  See you downtown at 1100 Liberty Avenue after the rain stops.  (It’s pouring now.)  Click here for directions.

Saturday May 27:  no

Rain and thunder forecast, May 26-27, Pittsburgh (mage from weather.gov)

Pittsburgh rain and thunder forecast, 26-27 May 2017 (image as of 26 May from weather.gov with relevant times framed in orange)

 

Sunday, May 28: yes.  The forecast has changed for the better. See you at Flag Plaza.

Monday, May 29, Memorial Day: yes. See you at Flag Plaza.

 

 

(screenshots of the Hourly Weather Forecast for Pittsburgh, PA from weather.gov as of 8am 26 May 2017)

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May 21 2017

Today’s Outing in Schenley Park

Published by under Books & Events

Schenley park outing, 21 May 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Schenley park outing, 21 May 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Fifteen of us had a great time in Schenley Park this morning.  We saw 33 species of birds including nesting Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes.  The two youngest members of our group found frogs, turtles and an enormous goldfish in the lake.  Wow!

We started off with a distant look at a peregrine falcon perched at the Cathedral of Learning.  My guess is that we saw Hope watching over the chicks.  If you were viewing the falconcam you wouldn’t have seen her but she was quite close.

Best Birds were scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes, plus a first-of-year Acadian flycatcher.  Here’s the complete checklist on eBird.

I was worried that storms would cancel the outing but we had bright sunny weather.  As I write this, dark clouds are moving in.  Now it can rain.  🙂

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 20 2017

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, May 26-30

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Three young peregrines are growing at the Gulf Tower and will fledge before you know it.  It’s time for Fledge Watch, May 26-30, 2017.

This year the Downtown watch will be a purely social occasion.  The Gulf Tower is so tall that we don’t have to worry that the young birds will land in the street.  Instead we’ll have a falcon fans get-together and an opportunity to educate the public about peregrines.

With that in mind, on weekdays I’ll be at The Pennsylvanian entry — 1100 Liberty Avenue — where folks can stop by during lunch hour.  On Memorial Day weekend John English and I will be up at Flag Plaza where there’s plenty of free parking and a good view of the Gulf Tower.

Here are the details.

When & Where on Business Days:

Fri May 26 and Tues May 30
11:30am to 1:30pm
On the sidewalk at The Pennsylvanian RR station area, 1100 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. See arrow below.

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch on weekdays (screenshot from Google maps with pin)

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch on weekdays (screenshot Google maps with pin)

The Pennsylvanian, 1100 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh,PA (photo from oncarrot.com)

Gulf Tower Fledge Watch on weekdays at The Pennsylvanian, 1100 Liberty Ave (photo from oncarrot.com)

 

When & Where on Memorial Day Weekend

Sat May 27, Sun May 28, Mon May 29
11:30am to 1:30pm.  Hours may be extended. Check back as the weekend approaches!
At Flag Plaza (Boy Scouts building), 1275 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Location of Flag Plaza (via John English on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page)

Location of Flag Plaza (via John English on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page)

 

Come for as little or as long as you’d like. Bring binoculars if you have them.

Hope to see you there!

p.s.  CHECK HERE or on the EVENTS PAGE for SCHEDULE UPDATES.
Fledge Watch is a fair weather event. It will be canceled if it’s raining or storming.

 

(photo credits:  Fledge Watchers by Kate St. John. The Pennsylvanian from oncarrot.com, Location of Flag Plaza via John English on Pittsburgh Faclonuts Facebook page)

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May 18 2017

Schenley Park Outing, May 21, 8:30a

Published by under Books & Events

Buttercups blooming in May (photo by Kate St. John)

Buttercups blooming in May (photo by Kate St. John)

Join me on Sunday May 21 at 8:30am for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive for this 8:30am to 10:30am walk. We’ll see flowers and late migrating birds.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

NOTE ABOUT THUNDERSTORMS!  As of this writing there’s a 60% chance of thunderstorms on Sunday.  Weather forecasts can change so check back at this blog post or on the Events Page before you come to the outing in case I’ve had to cancel because of lightning.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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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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