Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Feb 12 2016

The Largest Dinosaur Ever Found! PBS, Feb. 17

Perhaps you heard on the news last month that “the largest animal ever to walk the earth invaded New York City’s American Museum of Natural History.”

He’s the largest dinosaur ever … but how big is that? Where was he found? And how was he reconstructed?

Find out next Wednesday when PBS NATURE premiers Raising the Dinosaur Giant with host David Attenborough:

A few years ago in the Argentinean desert, a shepherd was searching for one of his lost sheep when he spotted the tip of a gigantic fossil bone sticking out of a rock. When the news reached paleontologists at the MEF Museum in Trelew, Argentina, they set up camp at the discovery site to examine it and look for more bones. By the end of the dig, they had uncovered more than 200 other huge bones from seven dinosaurs, all belonging to a new species of giant plant-eating titanosaur whose name will be announced soon.

The giant was 121 feet long, weighed 77 tons, died 101.6 million years ago, and was still growing when he died!

Visit the dig and follow the forensic research.  See 3D animations and the skeleton’s reconstruction. See how these creatures compare to our largest land animals today.  The videos (above and below) show the enormous thigh bone and examine a baby dinosaur inside the egg.


Don’t miss Raising the Dinosaur Giant on PBS, Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 8:00pm (ET).


(YouTube videos from PBS NATURE)

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Feb 07 2016

Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12-15

Published by under Books & Events

Birds at Marcy's feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

How many birds can you count? (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Are you ready to count birds?  Next weekend is the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count: Friday through Monday, February 12 to 15.

It’s easy to participate in this citizen science project.  Just watch your feeders or go out birding.  Don’t forget to …

  1. Register here.
  2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes, keeping track of the highest count per species, the time you spent counting, and your location.
  3. Enter your counts via the GBBC website or eBird. (The Great Backyard Bird Count uses eBird and tags your entry as part of the weekend count.)

Download the instructions on the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count or read more here.

Have fun!


p.s.  Photographers, submit your photos to the GBBC Photo Contest to win one of these prizes.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Feb 01 2016

Get Ready For Groundhog Day!

Published by under Books & Events,Mammals

Get ready for Groundhog Day!

Tomorrow is the mid-point of winter, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.  February 2 is also the day when a very special rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges from his den to predict the weather for the next six weeks.

Phil never makes his prediction in isolation.  His day in the sun (or shade) spawns a huge celebration in Punxsutawney, PA.  Preview the excitement in his eight minute promo video above.

If you don’t like winter, then hope for an overcast sky so that Phil has a day in the shade.  Here’s why.



(video from Punxsutawney Phil on YouTube)

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Jan 08 2016

Natural Born Hustlers: PBS NATURE

Are humans the only species that fools others to survive, find food, and mate?  Not at all!

This month PBS NATURE premieres a new three-part series, Natural Born Hustlers, airing on PBS on Wednesdays, January 13, 20 and 27 at 8:00pm (ET) (check local listings).

Episode One, Staying Alive, focuses on survival techniques:  camouflage, dominance tricks, audio mimics and playing dead.  Early on I was amazed to learn how zebras’ stripes create an optical illusion.  You have to see them in motion to believe it!

Other fascinating finds are the amazing skin-morphing camouflage of cuttlefish, the lizard that walks like a stinky beetle, and the white-faced capuchin monkeys who calculate whether they’re needed in battle.  “More capuchins are killed by their own kind than by predators,” says the episode.  What an unfortunate trait to have in common with humans.

The video excerpt above gives you a good idea of animals’ ingenuity.  California ground squirrels use their enemy’s scent as protective camouflage.  Their arch enemy is the rattlesnake, so if you hate to look at snakes this video will make you flinch.

And fair warning to those afraid of snakes:  Staying Alive has quite a few snakes in it including a match-up in North Carolina of a harmless species that mimics the coral snake.  The bonus is that you can identify birds by song on the audio track.


(Natural Born Hustlers trailer from PBS NATURE)

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Jan 03 2016

eBird Mobile

Published by under Books & Events

eBird Mobile for Android (photo by Kate St. John)

If you’ve made a New Year’s Resolution to log more bird sightings in eBird, here’s the tool for you. And it’s FREE.  All you need is a smartphone.

Fair warning:  I’m about to “talk techie” so if you don’t have a smartphone or you don’t use eBird you might want to tune out right now.  😉


Back in 2012, the BirdLog app allowed iPhone and Android users to enter checklists on our smartphones and seamlessly upload them into our eBird accounts.  Cornell Lab was so impressed with BirdLog that in 2014 they made an agreement with its owner, David Bell, to take over development and maintenance, renaming it eBird Mobile.  The iOS version launched in June. The Android version launched in December. The old BirdLog app is now retired.

Download eBird Mobile, tell it your eBird login and password and you’re ready to go.


eBird Mobile is easy to use.  To enter a new checklist, click the big green Start button.

Choose a location:  This is so convenient in the field!  Your phone knows where it is so “Choose From Map” or “Choose a Nearby Hotspot” and it’s right there.  Below, I chose a nearby hotspot: Duck Hollow.

eBird Mobile: Choose a nearby hotspot

Date and time conveniently default to Now or you can change them.

Start entering species: Scroll down the list of likely suspects or do a quick lookup by typing part of the name or the 4-letter species code in the “# species name/code” blank at left.

Start entering species

Enter the number of birds seen or click the “Present” box to make an X.    Below, I didn’t feel like counting mallards and ring-billed gulls on Tuesday at Duck Hollow.  (Yeah, I know I should count them but … )

Species counts

Click Review and Submit (bottom right) to get this screen for entering the last bits of data.

eBird last bits of data before submit

Click Submit at the bottom right and it uploads the checklist into eBird.  If you’re not in cell tower range, it’ll upload later.

You’re done!  And the app is back to the big green start button.

But if you’re like me you forgot something and want to make a change.  Just click on My Checklists (under the Start button) and your eBird lists come up right away.

Fix that checklist you just uploaded

I find eBird Mobile easier to use than browser based eBird at my desk computer.

Try it and see.

Want to know more?  Read here about eBird Mobile.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jan 01 2016

Happy 2016!

Published by under Books & Events

Festive lights at Phipps Conservatory (photo by Kate St. John)


On the first of January many birders start a new Year List of the birds they’ve seen.  I’m not that organized but I can tell you that my last bird of 2015 was a rock pigeon (63 of them in my neighborhood) and my first birds this year were American crows leaving the roost before dawn.

May the new year be full of birds and the beauty of nature.   Health and happiness to all.

Happy 2016!


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Dec 29 2015

It’s Time To Pick Up The Pieces

Greenfield Bridge as seen from the air, 24 December 2015 (photo from Pat Hassett)

Greenfield Bridge as seen from the air, 24 December 2015 (photo from Pat Hassett)

I don’t usually write about bridges, but there was big excitement only 1,200 feet from my house yesterday when contractors blew up the Greenfield Bridge.  As you can see from the photo above, it connected my neighborhood to Schenley Park (right of photo) over the Parkway East I-376.  I haven’t been able to walk into this part of Schenley since the bridge closed on October 17.

Even if you don’t live in Pittsburgh, the implosion made national news so you probably saw videos on TV.  Here are some photos of the event, a bit of the birds’ perspective, and links to my favorite implosion videos.

Above, a birds-eye view of the bridge on Christmas Eve.  Below, the bridge is wrapped, charged and waiting on Monday morning, December 28.

The Greenfield Bridge, just before it blows (photo by Geoff Campbell)

The Greenfield Bridge, just before it blows (photo by Geoff Campbell)

The implosion required a lot of warning, coordination, street blocking and police patrols.  The map below shows the exclusion zone.

Folks could stay home if their house was inside the circle but they had to stay inside and away from windows.  If you live that close to something this exciting, you either left home to watch nearby or you saw the best view of all on TV.

Map of the Exclusion Zone around the implosion (distributed by City of Pittsburgh)

Map of the Exclusion Zone around the implosion (distributed by City of Pittsburgh)

My house is outside the circle but I watched from one of the red roads closed to traffic. Those roads have good views but were open only to pedestrians to prevent gawkers’ cars from causing traffic and parking problems.  It was fun watching with the neighbors.  We were all in a party mood.

Starting an hour+ before the blast an infrared sensing helicopter circled overhead to make sure no one was outdoors within the exclusion zone.  One guy snuck into the woods and had to be rousted out.  We never saw him but he delayed the blast 20 minutes.

Back in October the neighborhood held a party and raffled off a chance to push the plunger and blow up the bridge.  Sally Scheidlmeier, pictured below, won that honor.  Here she is with the plunger (“Let’s Do It”) and the plunger’s victim in the distance, only minutes before the blast.  She pushed the plunger …

Sally Scheidlmeier just before she pushed down the plunger to blow up the bridge (photo by Geoff Campbell)

Sally Scheidlmeier just before she pushed down the plunger to blow up the bridge (photo by Geoff Campbell)

… and then …

Thar she blows! (photo from Pat Hassett)

Thar she blows! (photo from Pat Hassett)

Here’s my favorite video of the blast from the Post-Gazette.  Watch for the guy in the hard hat and orange-yellow vest who runs into the picture and down the road.  That’s a man who loves his job!


Down in The Run (the neighborhood in the valley on the left side of the exclusion zone), Trinidad Regaspi took a video with her cellphone.  Do you see that bird-like dot to the right of the telephone pole?  It’s one of four wild turkeys that flew across the valley to escape the noise.  They sure had a story for their friends last night!

Four wild turkeys escape the blasts (screenshot from video by Trinidad Regaspi's Facebook video)

Four wild turkeys escape the blasts (screenshot from video by Trinidad Regaspi’s Facebook video)

… and then the bridge was gone.

The Bridge is gone! (photo by Geoff Campbell)

The Bridge is gone! (photo by Geoff Campbell)

It didn’t take long before the contractors were down on the Parkway picking up the pieces.  Six pillars on the Schenley side didn’t fall during the blast but they came down shortly after I took this photo at noon.  Alas, I missed it.

Six pillars still stand, but not for long, noon on 28 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Six leaning pillars still stand on the Schenley side, but not for long. At noon on 28 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At road level there’s a lot of debris.

Picking up the pieces (photo from Pat Hassett)

Picking up the pieces in the rain (photo from Pat Hassett)

The contractors are out there picking up the pieces all day and all night (we can hear them).  They have to work fast because they only have permission to keep the interstate closed for 5 days after the blast.

I-376 is slated to reopen on January 1 at 6:00am.  The new bridge will take 18+ months to build.

Read more and see additional videos here at the Post-Gazette.


(photos from Pat Hassett, Geoff Campbell, Trinidad Regaspi and Kate St. John)

UPDATE DECEMBER 31, 2015:  The cleanup finished ahead of schedule!  The Parkway East opened INBOUND today at 2:00pm.  OUTBOUND will reopen between 10:00pm and midnight because of another project down the road at the Birmingham Bridge.

Parkway East is all cleaned up after the Greenfield Bridge blast, 31 Dec 2015, 8:30am (photo by Pat Hassett)

Parkway East is all cleaned up, 31 Dec 2015, 8:30am (photo by Pat Hassett)

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Dec 25 2015

Merry Christmas

Published by under Books & Events

Christmas Star Dahlia (photo by Paul Staniszewski)

Christmas Star Dahlia (photo by Paul Staniszewski)


Merry Christmas, everyone!


This beautiful Christmas Star Dahlia from Paul Staniszewski reminds me that there are gorgeous flowers and light displays at Phipps Conservatory’s annual Winter Flower Show and Light Garden, open tomorrow through Sunday January 10.

Do they have this dahlia?  I’ll have to go and see …


(photo by Paul Staniszewski)

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Dec 17 2015

Christmas Bird Counts, Pittsburgh

Published by under Books & Events

Wild turkeys in snow. How many? (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Wild turkeys in snow. How many? (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

This weekend kicks off 12 Christmas Bird Counts in the Pittsburgh area, half of them this Saturday, December 19.

Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) are an annual opportunity to tally birds in the Western Hemisphere.  Each count is a 7-mile radius circle manned by volunteers who count the birds they see in a single 24-hour period.

Anyone can join the fun.  Count in the field with other participants or watch at your backyard feeder.  Just contact the count circle coordinator and he or she will handle the rest.

Bob Mulvihill gathered Pittsburgh area CBC information at this helpful link on the National Aviary website.  Download the flyer that includes contacts and a map.

Here’s a quick list to whet your appetite.

  • Saturday Dec 19
    • Pittsburgh South Hills
    • Buffalo Creek Valley (Butler County, Sarver area)
    • Washington
    • Clarksville (eastern Greene County)
    • Butler (Moraine State Park area)
    • Beaver
  • Sunday Dec 20
    • Lower Buffalo Creek (Washington County, Taylorstown)
  • Saturday Dec 26
    • Pittsburgh (includes City of Pittsburgh and north)
  • Sunday Dec 27
    • Imperial
    • Bushy Run State Park
  • Saturday Jan 2
    • Ryerson (southwestern Greene County)
    • South Butler (Evans City, Cranberry Twp area)

And to give you some practice, count the wild turkeys in the photo above.

Count carefully.

How many do you see?


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Dec 01 2015

National Aviary Vulture On The Tonight Show!

In case you missed it …

On November 11 a black vulture from the National Aviary made her debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  Chris Packham introduced Jimmy to two hyenas and then at the 2:00 minute mark …

Woo hoo!


(YouTube video from The Tonight Show)

p.s. Congratulations to the vulture (I forget her name) who’s famous in the daily Flight Shows at the National Aviary and to all the people who made her debut possible.

p.p.s  I’m not so sure Jimmy Fallon likes vultures.  What do you think?

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