Archive for the 'Songbirds' Category

May 01 2016

Let’s Get Outdoors in May

Golden ragwort (photo by Kate St. John)

Golden ragwort (photo by Kate St. John)

Oh my!  It’s May!

Last month I listed outings for the last week of April and included May 1.  Here’s a big list for the month of May.

Everyone is welcome to participate in these outings. Click on the links for directions, meeting places, what to bring, and phone numbers for the leaders.

2016: Date/Time Focus Location Leader & Link to more info
Sun. May 1, 8:00am All Day! Birds & Flowers Enlow Fork Extravaganza, Washington/Greene Counties Wheeling Creek Watershed Conservancy / BotSocWPA / Ralph Bell Bird Club
Wed. May 4, 8:00am Birds Linbrook Woodlands, Allegheny County Karyn Delaney & Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Fri. May 6, 7:30am Birds Sewickley Park, Allegheny County Sheree Daugherty,  3RBC / Fern Hollow Nature Center
Sat. May 7, 10:00am Flowers Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, Beaver County Dianne Machesney, BotSocWPA
Sat. May 14, 7:30am Birds Barking Slopes, Allegheny County Todd Hooe, 3RBC Outing is limited to 12 people. See 3RBC link to reserve.
Sat. May 14, 10:00am – 3:00pm Flowers Mountain Maryland Native Plant Festival, New Germany State Park, Garrett County, MD see BotSocWPA website for info
Sat. May 14, 1:00pm Flowers Oil Creek State Park, Venango County Robert Coxe, BotSocWPA
Sun. May 15, time to be announced Flowers Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Allegheny County BotSocWPA
Sun. May 15, 8:00am Birds Barking Slopes, Allegheny County Todd Hooe, 3RBC Outing is limited to 12 people. See 3RBC link to reserve.
Sat. May 21, 8:00am Birds Harrison Hills, Allegheny County Jim Valimont, 3RBC
Sat. May 21, 8:00am Birds Presque Isle State Park, Erie County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Sat. May 21, 10:00am Flowers Moraine State Park, Butler County see BotSocWPA website
Sun. May 22, 8:00am Birds Frick Park, Pittsburgh Aidan Place, 3RBC
Sun. May 22, 8:30am Birds & Flowers Schenley Park, Pittsburgh Kate St. John, Outside My Window

 

Don’t miss May’s excitement.

Let’s get outdoors!

 

(photo of golden ragwort by Kate St. John)

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Apr 26 2016

Did You Know That I Sing?

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

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)

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Apr 19 2016

Let’s Get Outdoors: April 23 to May 1

Great chickweed, Braddock's Trail Park, 18 Apr 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Great chickweed, Braddock’s Trail Park, 18 Apr 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Flowers are blooming everywhere and trees will soon leaf out.  Don’t miss your chance to get outdoors while the weather’s fine.

Join me for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park this Sunday, April 24, 8:30am – 10:30am. Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center.  Click here for information and updates.

Or join one of these many outings — April 23 through May 1.

Everyone is welcome to participate. Click on the links for directions, meeting places, what to bring, and phone numbers for the leaders.

2016: Date/Time Focus Location Leader & Link to more info
Sat. Apr 23, 9:30am Birds & Potluck lunch Raccoon Creek State Park, Beaver County Ryan Tomazin, 3RBC / Brooks Bird Club
Sat. Apr 23, 10:00am Flowers Boyce-Mayview, Upper St. Clair, Allegheny County Judy Stark, BotSocWPA
Sat. Apr 23, 2:00pm Flowers Brady’s Run Park, Beaver County Peggy Gorrell & Loree Speedy, BotSocWPA
Sun. Apr 24, 7:30am Birds Buffalo Creek IBA-80, Washington County Larry Helgerman, 3RBC
Sun. Apr 24, 8:30am Birds & Flowers Schenley Park, Pittsburgh Kate St. John, Outside My Window
Sun. Apr 24, 8:30am Birds Frick Park, Pittsburgh Jack & Sue Solomon, 3RBC
Fri. Apr 29, 7:30am Birds Sewickley Park, Allegheny County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC / Fern Hollow Nature Center
Sat. Apr 30, 10:00am Flowers Powdermill Nature Reserve, Westmoreland County Martha Oliver, BotSocWPA
Sun. May 1, 8:00am All Day! Birds & Flowers Enlow Fork Extravaganza, Washington/Greene Counties Wheeling Creek Watershed Conservancy / BotSocWPA / Ralph Bell Bird Club

 

Don’t miss April flowers. Let’s get outdoors!

 

p.s. The flower shown above is a member of the Pink family called star chickweed or great chickweed (Stellaria pubera).  It looks unremarkable until you get close.  🙂

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Apr 14 2016

The Don’t Walk Robin

American robin nesting on the Don't Walk sign (photo by Kate St. John)

American robin nesting on the Don’t Walk sign (photo by Kate St. John)

On Throw Back Thursday:

American robins have already begun to nest this month.  Back in April 2009 I noticed that one had chosen an unusual nest site on South Craig Street.

Can you see the bird incubating in front of the “Don’t Walk” sign?

Read more about her in this article called:  Don’t Walk!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Apr 02 2016

New Arrivals This Week

Brown creeper (photo by Steve Gosser)

Brown creeper (photo by Steve Gosser)

The flowers are ahead of schedule and so are some migratory birds.  This week in Schenley Park I found four new arrivals.

Brown creepers (Certhia americana) spend the winter in the central and southern U.S. so they know about our warm weather and can decide to migrate early.  I saw several brown creepers and heard their high pitched, squeaky song along the Bridle Trail on Thursday.

 

Two very tiny birds, smaller than chickadees, arrived on Tuesday. It’s unusual to see them together.

Golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa), at left below, have a winter range similar to the brown creeper’s and usually migrate through before their ruby-crowned cousins show up.  I found both birds on March 29 when I heard the ruby-crowned kinglet singing “Stay away!” as the golden-crowned chased him.  I’ve never seen these two species fighting!

Golden-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Golden-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) spend the winter in the southern U.S. and even in eastern Pennsylvania but they’re a big deal here.  An appearance on March 29 is two weeks earlier than I expect them.

Here’s the ruby’s song and, at the end, the “chack” he makes when annoyed.

 

On Tuesday I heard a lone chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) along the Bridle Trail but couldn’t find him for two days.  He was hanging out with a flock of dark-eyed juncoes.  Bob Machesney says that in the North Hills the dark-eyed juncoes are gone before the chipping sparrows arrive.  This solo bird isn’t playing by the rules. 😉

Chipping sparrow in May (photo by Steve Gosser)

Chipping sparrow in May (photo by Steve Gosser)

Here’s the chipping sparrow’s song:

 

Watch for the first three birds in the days ahead.  Only the chipping sparrow will stay to nest in Schenley Park.

 

(all photos by Steve Gosser)

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Mar 05 2016

Grackle Day

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Common grackle in his dominance pose (photo by Shawn Collins)

Common grackle in a dominance pose (photo by Shawn Collins)

Because I’ve kept track of their spring arrival March 5 is Grackle Day at my house. It’s the day that the first common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) usually arrive in my neighborhood in the spring.

I hear them before I see them: “Skrinnnnk, Krinnnnk”  “Djuk Djuk.”  Listen to this audio clip and you’ll know what I mean.

The video below shows the males puffing up and calling to display their dominance.  The grackle whose beak points the highest is the one who wins.  😉

This year a few ambitious grackles passed through early.  I heard and saw a single common grackle on February 5 and two on March 1.  I’m waiting for more today.

Are there grackles in your neighborhood yet?

 

(photo by Shawn Collins, audio link from Xeno Canto, video by The Critter Window on YouTube)

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Mar 03 2016

Found A Brainy Bird

Florida scrub-jay on Joan's hat (photo by Chuck Tague)

Florida scrub-jay on Joan Tague’s hat (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last week in Florida with Chuck and Joan Tague we found these brainy birds on Merritt Island.  On a similar trip in 2009 a jay was so bold that he perched right next to a replica of himself — a Florida scrub-jay pin on Joan’s hat.

Read how the Florida scrub-jay got so smart in this Throw Back article from February 2009:  Speaking of Brainy Birds.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Feb 23 2016

I Can Count Him

Published by under Songbirds

Spot-breasted oriole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spot-breasted oriole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here on the east coast of Florida I’m looking for a Life Bird.  I’ve been to this part of the country so often that I’ve seen all the easy ones, but there’s a bird in Broward County that fits the bill.

Spot-breasted orioles (Icterus pectoralis) are native to Mexico and Central America but were introduced to the Miami area in the 1940’s.  Since then they’ve raised families, spread out a bit and become so established that they’re “count-able” according to American Birding Association rules.  I found out they’re at Markham Park in Broward County where I heard that a western spindalis was hanging out with them in January.

The western spindalis is gone (alas! not reported since January 31) but the spot-breasted orioles are still there so I’m going to seek them out.

If I see one, I can count him.

 

(*) “Countable”: When a new species is introduced to North America it can’t be counted as a wild bird on ABA Life Lists until the ABA determines that it’s become established on its own.  Of course I have my own list of exceptions that count for me but aren’t official.  Click here for the ABA rules and here for the ABA checklist.

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

p.s. Alas! Bad luck. I didn’t find the spot-breasted orioles even though two were seen on Sunday.

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Feb 18 2016

Bird Watching Indoors

House sparrow (photo by Chuck Tague)

House sparrow (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last weekend was so cold that I watched outdoor birds while I sat indoors.  But sometimes the wild birds and I are both in the building!

Back in February 2009 I saw birds in the grocery store. Click here to read more.

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Dec 15 2015

Robins In December

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

American Robin (photo by Chuck Tague)

American Robin (photo by Chuck Tague)

The phrase “The First Robin of Spring” is misleading. We think it means that robins leave for the winter.  Not so in Pittsburgh.  We always have robins in December.

American robins (Turdus migratorius) are very versatile birds. They change their diet for the season, eating invertebrates in summer and fruit in winter.  They take advantage of invasive species, especially earthworms and bush honeysuckle.  They move quickly to places where we’ve changed the landscape, adopting our farms and suburbs.  And they’re flexible on migration.

Studies have shown that American robins migrate an average of 300-750 miles but that average doesn’t tell the whole story.  Some flocks head directly south, arriving in Florida by early December.  Others take their time, pausing when they find abundant food along the way.  Still others stay home or travel less than 60 miles from their breeding grounds especially in the last two decades as the climate warms.

Every December, huge flocks of robins feed and roost in Allegheny County.  In 2008 Scott Kinsey discovered 100,000 of them roosting in Carnegie.  The flocks stay through the month and are counted on the Christmas Bird Counts.  Then, when the fruit is gone, the ground freezes, or there’s snow cover the robins move on.

In Pittsburgh they normally don’t leave until January.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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