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)
Daisy fleabane blooming in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
You’ve probably seen these small, thin-petaled “daisies” just about everywhere.
Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is a native plant with a long blooming period — May to October — so you’ll see these flowers for months to come.
Click here to read about fleabane’s daily exercise program (I’m not kidding!) at The Bane of Fleas.
(photo by Kate St. John)
Our Schenley Park outing, 19 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yesterday morning 15 of us took a walk on the Lower Trail in Schenley Park. Highlights include …
- Two ephemerals:
- Inky cap mushrooms that dissolve into ink the same day they appear. Click here to see what they look like. Thanks to Adam Haritan of Learn Your Land for identifying them.
- Ohio spiderwort flowers that last only a day before they wilt:
- Sights and sounds of birds including a busy flock of common grackles, a young wood thrush perched on a log and singing rose-breasted grosbeaks and acadian flycatchers.
- The bug-eat-bug world of aphids sucking juice out of tall flower stems while ladybugs and harvestmen (daddy longlegs) pursued them.
- And two deer, one with a big rack in velvet.
Thanks to all for coming. My next outing will be on July 31 at Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park.
(photo by Kate St. John)
Groundhog family in the wall on the Lower Trail, Schenley Park, 13 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
On Monday at Schenley Park’s Lower Trail I heard some rustling and turned to see a mother and baby groundhog peering at me from their underground home.
They’re probably descended from the family that lived in this wall in 2012. The habitat has changed (DPW sprayed the wall with defoliant last August, oh no!) but the groundhogs remain. Here’s the family I saw in May 2012.
Perhaps we’ll see them tomorrow during my Schenley Park outing. Hope to see you there. Click here for more information.
(photo by Kate St.John)
Northern flicker nestling, calling in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday June 19, 8:30am at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road. I’m sure we’ll see nesting and baby birds. Click here for more information.
Those who attended my Schenley Park outing on April 24 may remember we found a northern flicker calling from a nest hole above the Visitors Center steps. He was trying to attract a mate to his deluxe nest site under a big shelf mushroom.
Last Friday I found proof that he succeeded. I heard a flicker calling from the same area and it was his son!
Look under the shelf mushroom in these photos. He matches the tree trunk but you can see a dark mustache on his face.
Northern flicker nestling in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Looking forward to seeing you on June 19. Visit the Events page before you come … in case the walk is cancelled for bad weather.
(photos by Kate St. John)
Schenley Park outing near the Westinghouse Fountain, 22 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yesterday morning, twelve of us braved the foggy chill to look for birds near the Westinghouse Fountain at Schenley Park.
My original plan was to walk on the Steve Falloon Trail but it was a sea of mud after so much rain. Instead we walked along the Serpentine Road with a good view of the treetops.
The birds weren’t particularly active so we were happy to see these Best Birds: blackpoll warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, an eastern wood-pewee, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles. We also saw a half-completed Baltimore oriole nest hanging from a branch high above the road.
At the end of the walk we stopped near the Schenley Park Visitors Center and on Flagstaff Hill to see two peregrine falcons (flying and perched at the Cathedral of Learning), a red-tailed hawk, and a Coopers hawk.
Thanks, everyone, for coming out on a gray day.
(photo by Kate St.John)
Spotted sandpiper in breeding plumage (photo by Bobby Greene)
Today is International Migratory Bird Day in the U.S. and Canada.
Though birds migrate during many months of the year their biggest push in North America is in early May. That’s why we celebrate their arrival and promote their conservation on this second Saturday.
In May migrating birds pass overhead at night and stop to eat in unlikely places where they don’t intend to stay. Yesterday I saw a spotted sandpiper (pictured above) at Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow Lake. Shorebirds and wading birds are rare visitors to the lake because the concrete edge provides no food. The sandpiper paused for a snack at the cat-tails and creek outflow … and then he was on his way to breed at a stream bank, lake or river.
Lake Erie’s southern shore is a great place to find migratory birds this month. Last week I went birding from Erie, Pennsylvania to Maumee Bay, Ohio. Here are two of my favorite species seen at Magee Marsh, Ohio — one very large species and one small.
American white pelicans flying over Chase Lake NWR, North Dakota (photo from US Fish & Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)
Canada Warbler (photo by Cris Hamilton)
American white pelicans and Canada warblers don’t breed at Magee Marsh but they’re there this month.
Don’t miss the migration on International Migratory Bird Day. Get outdoors in May!
(photo credits: Spotted sandpiper by Bobby Greene,
American white pelicans by US Fish & Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons.
Canada warbler by Cris Hamilton)
Gray Catbird (photo by Alan Vernon from Wikimedia)
This week gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) came back to Pittsburgh from their winter homes in Central America.
I saw my first one in Schenley Park on Tuesday (April 26) and now I hear them every day, singing from the coverts in my neighborhood. Here’s what they sound like:
“Covert” means “thicket” but it’s also an ornithological term for feathers that cover the base of the main flight or tail feathers.
Gray catbirds have rust-colored undertail coverts. Read about them in this 2010 bird anatomy lesson: Undertail Coverts.
(photo by Alan Vernon in Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)
Now every morning we awake to birdsong. All the singers are male, right? Well … not really.
When I took a class on birdsong years ago I learned that female birds don’t sing. This information came from centuries of bird observations made in Europe and North America. Charles Darwin even used it to describe how song evolved in male birds to attract mates and compete for territory.
But in 2014 that “fact” was turned upside down. 71% of female songbirds do sing. It’s just that most of them are tropical species. No one had studied birdsong worldwide until a team lead by Karan Odom of University of Maryland, Baltimore County published their findings in Nature Communications in March 2014.
It’s true that almost all the singing birds in North America are male, but there are some exceptions.
Did you know that female northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) sing and they’re just as good at it as the males?
I was reminded of this last week when a female flew into a tree just over my head and sang a long sustained vibrato even faster than this:
Cardinal couples countersing to synchronize their pair bond. Yesterday in Schenley Park I saw a female sing a phrase several times, then her mate matched it.
So when you hear a cardinal singing, take the time to find the singer. It may be a lady!
p.s. Female rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) and black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus) sing, too. They’re in the Cardinal Family.
(photo by Steve Gosser)
Outing in Schenley Park, 24 April 2016 (photo by Nancy Hart)
The weather was sunny yesterday morning as 19 of us explored Schenley Park.
The City is warmer than the surrounding countryside so most of Schenley’s wildflowers are past their peak. However spring migration brought a whole new set of birds to the park. The juncoes are gone. Yellow-rumped warblers are here.
We didn’t count a lot of individual birds but we saw and heard some really good ones. Best Birds were three First of Year species: a green heron, the sound of a wood thrush that we couldn’t find, and a rose-breasted grosbeak.
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo by Chuck Tague)
The grosbeak is early but Schenley’s oaks are ready for him(*). They’re already flowering and leafing out ahead of schedule.
Northern rough-winged swallows courted over the lake and a northern flicker called from a superb nest hole with a shelf-mushroom roof. (I still don’t know what the flicker’s panting-in-hole dance meant.)
A few of us prolonged the tour with a view of the red-tailed hawks’ nest on Flagstaff Hill. Here‘s a complete list of birds seen/heard via eBird.
My next Schenley Park outing will be Sunday May 22. Hope to see you then.
(outing photo by Nancy Hart; rose-breasted grosbeak by Chuck Tague))
(*) Rose-breasted grosbeaks move north as the oaks bloom. Yesterday’s bird passed a lot of leafless territory to stop in the City’s heat island.