Category Archives: Books & Events

Count Turkeys In August

Wild turkey with juveniles (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Wild turkey with juveniles (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Silent songbirds and hot weather make birding less interesting in August.  Here's a project to get you going in Pennsylvania:  It's time to count wild turkeys.

Every August the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducts a wild turkey survey to determine breeding success.  Everyone from biologists to birders can help.  Two factors add interest to the count:

  1. Juvenile turkeys, called poults, are only half grown so you can tell (and count) the difference between adults and this year's young.
  2. You'll also get practice identifying adult males versus females. (You can ignore the adult/juvenile tail-clue because juveniles are just plain small in August.)

How to sex and age wild turkeys by sight (screenshot of PGC poster)
How to sex and age wild turkeys by sight (screenshot of PGC poster)

 

The guidelines for the survey are pretty simple:

  • Record turkey sightings during the month of August.
  • Count "big birds" (adults) and "little birds" (poults).
  • Record the sex of all adults.  Here's the full size poster that describes the difference between males and females.
  • For adult females, separate the count "with young" and "without."
  • Note where you see the birds. When you submit your observations (online here or download the app), click on the embedded map and the form will automatically fill in the location details.
  • Submit a separate report for each flock of turkeys observed, including those without poults, and lone turkeys.
  • Try NOT to report the SAME flock MULTIPLE times. Duplicate flocks bias the results.

Download the app to use in the field or click here for the Turkey Survey form.

 

Thanks to Mary Ann Pike for passing along this news.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

p.s. Did you know you can sex turkeys by the shape of their droppings?  Learn more at PGC's Turkey Biology FAQ page.

Get Ready For The Solar Eclipse, Aug 21

Map of the Total Solar Eclipse on 21 August 2017 (image from NASA)
Map of the Total Solar Eclipse on 21 August 2017 (image from eclipse2017.nasa.gov)

By now I'm sure you've heard ...

Two weeks from today on 21 August 2017 there will be a total eclipse of the sun across the United States.  The moon will pass between Earth and Sun, casting its shadow on our continent.

In a narrow band 70 miles wide, from Oregon to South Carolina, the sun will disappear completely for about two minutes. Folks eager to witness the total eclipse have made plans to visit sites in its path including Nashville, TN and Charleston, SC.

Pittsburgh will see only a partial eclipse but there will be plenty to watch. The moon will move across the sun from 1:10p to 3:55p with maximum coverage resembling the crescent below at 2:35p.  Don't watch without special glasses and, for your scope and camera, special filters!  See below.

Mockup of partial eclipse at maximum as it will be seen in Pittsburgh on21 Aug 2017 (image from Wikimedia Commons)
Mockup of partial eclipse at maximum as it will be seen in Pittsburgh on 21 Aug 2017 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Where to watch the eclipse in Pittsburgh, 21 August 2017 ... some of the many locations.

  • On your computer: See the entire eclipse from coast to coast on NASA's Eclipse Live Stream. The shadow begins in Oregon at 9:04a PDT (12:04p in Pittsburgh) with totality from 10:16a PDT (1:16p here) to 2:48p in South Carolina.  You don't need filters to watch online.
  • At Carnegie Science Center: The weather won't matter at Carnegie Science Center. Outdoors, watch through special solar observation equipment.  Indoors at Buhl Planetarium. Click here for info & directions.
  • Sidewalk Astronomy: Weather permitting 1:30p to 3:00p outside the Staghorn Garden Cafe, 517 Greenfield Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15207.   John English will set up his scope to project the sun's image on the wall so you can watch its shadow without looking at it.
  • In your own backyard:  Prepare in advance! Read Eclipse2017: Who, What, Where, When and How and get ...

Special solar eclipse glasses, filters or pinhole viewers to watch the solar eclipse.

Don't risk going blind or damaging your camera or scope by viewing the eclipse without protection! Click here for NASA's list of safe viewing methods including solar eclipse glasses, pinhole viewers and filters for your equipment + how to use them.

Solar eclipse glasses are inexpensive (only a couple of dollars) at the Carnegie Science Center Gift Shop or online but only buy from reputable vendors listed at American Astronomy Society! Sunglasses and fake glasses won't protect you.

Here's an example of the real thing from B&H Photo Video on the reputable vendor list.

Lunt solar eclipse viewing glasses from B&H Photo
Lunt solar eclipse viewing glasses from B&H Photo

I hope it isn't cloudy on Monday August 21!

 

(photo credits: Click on the images to see the originals. Globe from eclipse2017.nasa.gov. Partial eclipse image from Wikimedia Commons. Lunt solar eclipse glasses from B&H Photo Video)

Today’s Outing at Schenley Park

Participants in the Schenley Park outing, 30 July 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)
Participants in the Schenley Park outing, 30 July 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

This morning 15 of us met at the Westinghouse Memorial pond for a walk along the Falloon Trail and Serpentine Road in Schenley Park.

For the most part birds were hard to find.  Though we knew they were in the woods, they weren't singing and the leaves were dense and dark.  Ultimately we recorded 19 species.  Complete checklist is here.

Best Birds:

  1. A male indigo bunting sang at golf course Hole #14 in the meadow next to the fairway.
  2. In the same location we found a Mystery Sparrow: mostly clear chest just a little stripey, very orange legs and a pink-orange bill.  Tom Moeller took a photo and zoomed it in.  Field sparrow.
  3. Our last bird was a small flycatcher hunting for bugs and not singing at all.  I wondered if it was an Empidonax. No. Eastern wood-pewee.  We heard other pewees and saw one begging from a singing adult.
  4. There were more American robins (22+) than species (19). Oy!

Best mammal: Fox squirrel in a tree.

Best flower: Joe-pye weed, a perennial in the sunflower family.

Best tree:  Northern catalpa or the Toby Tree (the Pittsburgh name for it).  Though I grew up in Pittsburgh I had never heard the name. Kimberly Thomas Googled it and found Chuck Tague's blog Tobies: The Cigar Tree.

Best butterfly:  Three Monarchs and the very common Eastern Tailed Blue which Tom Moeller identified for us.

Question:  Is the black oak in the red oak group or the white oak group.

Answer: The black oak is a red oak.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. The bronze statue in the photo represents a young man looking up to George Westinghouse.

Schenley Park Outing: July 30, 8:30a

Pickerel weed, Schenley Park, July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pickerel weed, Schenley Park, July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Join me on a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park next Sunday, July 30, 8:30am to 10:30am.

Meet at the Westinghouse Memorial pond and we’ll walk Serpentine Drive or the nearby Falloon Trail keeping our eyes open for birds, plants and animals.  The memorial pond is especially pretty in July with pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) in bloom.

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

Before you come, visit my Events page in case there are changes or cancellations.  Note: The outing will be canceled if there's lightning!

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

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
)

Today’s Outing at Nine Mile Run Trail

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)

Orchard Orioles, June 18, 8:30a

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)

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)

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)

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)