Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Dec 03 2016

Christmas Bird Counts near Pittsburgh

Published by under Books & Events

Scanning the field for birds (photo by Gary Peeples www.fws.gov/asheville/ via Wikimedia Commons)

Scanning the field for birds (photo by Gary Peeples www.fws.gov/asheville/ via Wikimedia Commons)

 

‘Tis the season to count birds.

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual year-end tradition of tallying birds, now in its 117th year.  Each count is a 7-mile radius circle manned by volunteers who count the birds they see in a single 24-hour period.

There are 14 counts planned for the Pittsburgh area between now and early January.  See the table below for the list and click here for a map of the local count circles compiled by Bob Mulvihill at the National Aviary.

It’s easy to participate and no experience is necessary!  You can count at your own feeders or go out in the field, paired with another birder.

Call the compiler ahead of time to let him know you’re coming, especially if the count will be held over the holidays.  The Pittsburgh Count on December 31 has so many participants that each section has its own compiler.  Click here for the sections and contacts.

I’ll be counting in the Pittsburgh circle.

I hope to see you in the field.

UPDATE on 12/5/2016!  The Imperial CBC is on Sunday 12/18/2016, not on 12/28.  The table below has been corrected.


2016 Christmas Bird Counts in the Pittsburgh Area

Date County CBC Name Compiler Contact Info
Sat. 12/17/2016 Beaver Beaver Rick Mason 724-847-0909
richarddmason@gmail.com
12/17 Butler,
Lawrence,
Mercer
Butler Glenn Koppel
Mary A Koeneke
703-203-3362
kestrel22@hotmail.com
703-203-6337
macatilly@icloud.com
12/17 Butler,
Armstrong
Buffalo Creek Valley George Reese 724-353-9649
g.reese@gaiconsultants.com
12/17 Allegheny,
Washington
Pittsburgh South Hills Nancy Page 412-221-4795
12/17 Greene Ryerson Marjorie Howard 724-852-3155
birdwatcher108@comcast.net
12/17 Washington Washington Tom Contreras 724-223-6118
tcontreras@washjeff.edu
Sun. 12/18/2016 Allegheny,
Washington
Imperial Bob Mulvihill robert.mulvihill@gmail.com
12/18 Greene Clarksville Terry Dayton 724-627-9665
tdayton@windstream.net
12/18 Washington Buffalo Creek Larry Helgerman 412-508-0321
bobolink1989@gmail.com
Mon. 12/26/2016 Indiana Indiana Roger & Margaret Higbee 724-354-3493
bcoriole@windstream.net
Wed. 12/28/2016 Westmoreland Bushy Run Dick Byers 724-593-3543
otusasio@lhtot.com
Sat. 12/31/2016 Allegheny Pittsburgh Brian Shema 412-963-6100
bshema@aswp.org
There are compilers for each section of the circle. Click here for details.
Mon. 1/2/2017 Westmoreland Rector Matt Webb 412-622-5591
webbm@carnegiemnh.org
Sat. 1/7/2017 Butler South Butler Chris Kubiak 412-963-6100
ckubiak@aswp.org

 

Read more about the Christmas Bird Count here at audubon.org.

(photo by Gary Peeples www.fws.gov/asheville/ via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 06 2016

Nine Years!

Published by under Books & Events

Enfant écrivant by Henriette Brown (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Enfant écrivant by Henriette Brown (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Tomorrow Outside My Window will be nine years old.

On anniversaries I like to look back at the past year’s high points.  There were quite a few.

  • Three posts, written in prior years, continue as perennial favorites.  Search engines must be sending folks to these articles when they ask questions such as:
    • Have You Seen Any Blue Jays Lately? written on 26 Feb 2012 has attracted 165 answers.
    • Glow In The Dark from 8 October 2011 answers the question: What is that glowing green color in the wood? 94 comments.
    • Falcon or Hawk? from 19 April 2011 tells the difference between red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons, a useful thing to know.  65 people have commented.

Spring 2016:  Drama at the Pitt peregrine nest kept thousands of you glued to your seats, checking in frequently, and commenting on the latest twists and turns.  The new female peregrine, Hope, surprised us several times.

Since 2007 I’ve written 3,265 articles and you’ve commented 15,246 times.

Thank you, my readers, for 9 years together at Outside My Window.

You keep me going every day!

 

(painting of Enfant écrivant (A Girl Writing) by Henriette Brown, c. 1860-1880 from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

p.s. The bird in the painting is a European goldfinch.

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Oct 31 2016

What’s This Thing About Pumpkins?

Published by under Books & Events

Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin with witch hat (photo by Evan Swigart from Wikimedia Commons)

Jack-o-Lantern (photo by Evan Swigart via Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the year pumpkins are hard to find but on Halloween they’re everywhere.  Why do we carve them and why are they called jack-o-lanterns?

The answers combine swamp gas, a holy day and a New World squash.

Swamp gas:  At night in the peat bogs there’s an ephemeral light caused by the oxidation of swamp gases phosphine, diphosphane, and methane.  Called will-o’-the-wisp (William of the Wisp) or jack-o’-lantern (Jack of the Lantern) it was thought to be the light of a trickster who lured people to follow him into the swamp. The flickering light would go out and those following would be lost.

A Holy Day:  In the 9th century the Roman Church moved All Saints’ Day (also called All Hallows’ Day) to November 1 as the day to remember and pray for the dead.  This happens to coincide with the Celtic holiday of Samhain (sunset October 31 to sunset November 1) a harvest festival with visits from the souls of the dead and propitiation of malevolent ghosts and spirits.

Samhain celebrations included costumes and pranks. At night the pranksters carried lanterns carved from turnips called jack-o’-lanterns, named for the spooky lights in the swamp.  Here’s a turnip jack-o’-lantern.  Scary looking!

Cornish Jack-o-lantern carved in a turnip (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cornish Jack-o-lantern carved in a turnip (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Since All Hallows’ Day celebrates the dead at the same time as Samhain, Samhain traditions became part of All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow’een).

A New World squash:  Europeans brought Halloween traditions to North America where they found a New World squash, the pumpkin, that’s easier to carve and light than a turnip.  Ta dah!  The pumpkin became a jack-o’-lantern.

Back in the peat bogs, will-o’-the-wisp is rarely seen anymore.  Wikipedia says that may be because the swamps were drained.  My hunch is that light pollution also makes will-o’-the-wisp too hard to see.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the original)

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Oct 28 2016

Three Owls Triple The Fun

Kate St. John holding a banded northern saw-whet owl, 26 Oct 2016 (photo by Doug Cunzolo)

Kate St. John holding a just-banded northern saw-whet owl, 26 Oct 2016 (photo by Doug Cunzolo)

If you’ve never seen a northern saw-whet owl, now’s the time to visit Pittsburgh’s Project Owlnet!

Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary has been banding them at Sewickley Heights Park since 2013.  Three years of statistics indicate that the best nights for northern saw-whets are dark evenings with a north wind in late October so I went out there last Wednesday, October 26.

Bob sets up the mist nets and “toot” speakers at dusk. Placed near the nets, the speakers play the owls’ own tooting sound to attract them. Helpers and spectators wait at the picnic tables for the periodic net checks.

I arrived late — at 10:00pm — and heard that I’d just missed an owl.  Oh no!  Would there be more?

At 10:15 the banding helpers came back with TWO owls.  There’s one in the white bag in Bob’s hand.

Bob Mulvihill at the owlbanding picnic table. There's a northern saw-whet in the white bag (photo by Donna Foyle)

Bob Mulvihill at the owl banding picnic table. There’s a northern saw-whet in the white bag (photo by Donna Foyle)

The owls are very calm in the hand. Notice the feathers on her eyelids.  (All the owls are female.)

Bob examines a northern saw-whet owl prior to banding (photo by Kate St. John)

Bob examines a northern saw-whet owl prior to banding (photo by Kate St. John)

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Northern saw-whet owl being examined before banding (photo by Donna Foyle)

Northern saw-whet owl being examined before banding (photo by Donna Foyle)

These talons are needle sharp for catching mice.

Northern saw-whet leg and talons. Those talons are needle sharp! (photo by Donna Foyle)

Northern saw-whet leg and talons. (photo by Donna Foyle)

Receiving her band…

Bob Mulvihill applies a band to a northern saw-whet owl's leg (photo by Kathy Miller)

Bob Mulvihill applies a band to a northern saw-whet owl’s leg (photo by Kathy Miller)

Bob spreads the bird’s wing to examine the color of her feathers.  The combination of newer and older feathers indicates her age.

Bob spreads the owl's wing to examine the color of the wing feathers and determine its age (photo by Kathy Miller)

Bob examines the owl’s wing (photo by Kathy Miller)

Northern saw-whets like to be scratched on the head. They close their eyes when you do it.

Northern saw-whet owl in the hand (photo by Donna Foyle)

Northern saw-whet owl in the hand (photo by Donna Foyle)

After the birds are banded, we get to see them up close.  So soft!

Kate St. John pets a northern saw-whet owl (photo by Barb Griffith)

Kate St. John pets a northern saw-whet owl (photo by Barb Griffith)

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Donna Foyle pets the owl (photo courtesy Donna Foyle)

Donna Foyle pets the owl (photo courtesy Donna Foyle)

Two owls at once!

Two! northern saw-whet owls (photo by Donna Foyle)

Two! northern saw-whet owls (photo by Donna Foyle)

A close look …

Up close with a northern saw-whet owl (photo by Donna Foyle)

Up close with a northern saw-whet owl (photo by Donna Foyle)

Up close with a northern saw-whet owl (photo by Kate St. John)

Up close with a northern saw-whet owl (photo by Kate St. John)

Happy owl with closed eyes (photo by Kate St.John)

Happy owl, closed eyes (photo by Kate St.John)

Three owls are triple the fun!

Northern saw-whet owl at banding, 26 Oct 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Northern saw-whet owl at banding, 26 Oct 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

 

Want to see these owls up close?

Project Owlnet continues on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, sunset to midnight, through December 3.  Be sure to check the details here before you go.  Weather is a factor!

 

(photos by Doug Cunzolo, Donna Foyle, Kathy Miller, Barb Griffith and Kate St. John)

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Oct 27 2016

Witches Coming Up

Black witch moth on an adult's hand (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Black witch moth on an adult’s hand in Brazil (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Halloween’s coming so it’s time for witchy things.  Here’s one that’s new to me.

The black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) is a very large owlnet moth that ranges from the southern U.S. to South America.  Its common name comes from folklore that considers it a harbinger of death.

No, these moths don’t kill you.  However, Wikipedia says there’s a joke in Mexico that if the moth flies over your head you’ll go bald. 😉

What other things in Nature have a Witch in their name?  Here’s my list from 2011.  Can you think of more?

Witchy Things

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Oct 16 2016

This Morning’s Outing in Schenley Park

Participants in Schenley Park outing on 16 October 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Participants in Schenley Park outing on 16 October 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning it was jacket weather with lots of dew (wet shoes!) as 14 of us gathered at the Bartlett Shelter in Schenley Park.

We found plenty of birds — at least in terms of individuals.  Not only were there many blue jays and robins but midway through the walk several hundred common grackles showed up to snatch the bread cubes scattered beneath the oaks near Bartlett Shelter.

A low-swooping red-tailed hawk kept the chipmunks and jays on their toes and a flock of cedar waxwings stopped in to eat porcelain berries.

Best Bird: Blackpoll warbler.   Fall blackpoll and bay-breasted warblers have many of the same field marks — warbler size, thin warbler beak, wing bars, yellow wash on throat, faint eyeline, olive back with subtle stripes, faint stripes on chest — but blackpolls have orange feet and sometimes orange legs, too.  This one was immature with black legs and and orange feet. Click here and scroll down to see an immature blackpoll up close.

Best mammal: We saw a very plump raccoon climb a tall tree and finally insert itself into a hollow space at the top.  “Insert” is a good description.  The raccoon was so plump that it took a while for him to ooze into the crack and disappear.  Perhaps he exhaled to make himself thin.

Here’s the complete list of birds.  (You’ll notice that I didn’t count most of them — too hard to both to count and lead.)

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

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Oct 16 2016

Birding, Botany and Outdoor Fun

Published by under Books & Events

Indian cucumber in October (photo by Kate St. John)

Indian cucumber in October (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s a great time to get outdoors before the weather changes.  Here are just a few of the many things to do — including indoor and outdoor fun.

Oct 16, Tonight:  Full Moon Hike, two locations: Boyce Park and Harrison Hills Park, 8-10p.  Free.  Hike by the light of the moon, led by Allegheny County Park Rangers.  Click here for more information.

Oct 22: Acorn Harvesting and Processing Class, at North Park, 1:00p-4:30p.  Cost=$45.  Learn about acorns and how to make acorn flour. Registration + fee required:  Acorn Harvesting And Processing Class & Autumn Foraging Walk

Oct 12 – Dec 3Project Owlnet banding northern saw-whet owls, at Sewickley Heights Park, Wed,Fri,Sat; Oct 12 to Dec 3, sunset to midnight.  Free.  Be sure to read the details here.  Weather is a factor!

Oct 27:  The Great Texas Birding Trail, Rio Grande Valley presented by Jeffrey Hall, at Wissahickon Nature Club, 7:30p.  Free.  The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas teems with unique birds.  Program here.  Location here.  Arrive early to share coffee and snacks.

Oct 30: Annual Outing and Picnic of Three Rivers Birding Club, Moraine State Park, 8:00am. Free. Bring a lunch.  Late October is a good time to see ducks and sparrows.  Details here.

Nov 4-6: Wings and Wildlife Art Show, at National Aviary.  Cost=Aviary Admission; free to members. 34 wildlife artists from five states exhibiting and selling their art. Click here for more information.

Nov 5:  Joint Outing of Three Rivers Birding Club and Todd Bird Club, at Yellow Creek State Park, 8:00a.  Free.  Yellow Creek’s large lake attracts waterbirds and occasional rarities. Details here.

Nov 5-6: Hawk Mountain Outing with PSO (Penna. Society of Ornithology), at Hawk Mountain, Kempton, PA.  Free. Watch hawks migrating at one of the best sites in eastern North America.  Details here.

Nov 10:  Gardens Around the Globe presented by Judy Stark, at Wissahickon Nature Club, 7:30p.  Free. Special features of five gardens: Longwood (PA), Stan Hywet (OH), VanDusen (Vancouver,BC), National Botanic Garden (HI) and Powerscourt (Ireland). Program here.  Location here.  Arrive early to share coffee and snacks.

Nov 18-19, Sign Up Now: Pennsylvania Botany Symposium, at Penn Stater Conference Center, State College, PA. Registration required + cost starts at $100.  Brings together amateurs, academics, and those interested in the natural world to share our work and celebrate our botanical heritage. All invited speakers are experts with reputations for being engaging and entertaining. Click here for pricing and registration.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 10 2016

Reminder: Schenley Park Outing, Oct 16

Published by under Books & Events

Maple leaves turning red, Schenley Park, 5 Oct 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)Just a reminder that I’ll be leading this year’s final Schenley Park Bird and Nature Walk on Sunday October 16, 8:30a to 10:30a.

Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road.

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

Fall colors have just begun and sparrows are migrating.  We’ll see resident birds and lots of chipmunks.

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.

(photo by Kate St. John)

 

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Sep 26 2016

Reminder: Clean Air Is For The Birds, Sept 30

Published by under Books & Events

Clean Air is For The Birds Just a reminder that this coming Friday is GASP’s Night at the Aviary, September 30, 6-9 pm.

As part of the festivities I’ll present a short talk on “Clean Air is for the Birds … and People Too.”

It’s a fundraiser so tickets are $50 to $65.  Click here for more information.

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Sep 25 2016

Schenley Park Outing Today, Sept 25

Published by under Books & Events

Participants at Schenley Park outing, 25 Sept 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Participants at Schenley Park outing, 25 Sept 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

The weather was great this morning — cool and sunny — as 16 of us explored Schenley Park.

We started at the Westinghouse Fountain, checked the Phipps Run valley behind it and walked part of the Steve Falloon Trail but there were almost no birds except for woodpeckers and blue jays.

I extended the walk to the golf course road where we added mourning doves, Carolina chickadees and an eastern phoebe (Best Bird).  Then to the Bartlett Shelter area where we added American goldfinches, common grackles and European starlings.  Here’s the bird checklist.

I was surprised by the abundance of mushrooms, especially Chicken-of-the-woods.

If we’d been out there counting chipmunks we’d have had a fantastic day.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. All the thrushes were at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.

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