Aug 21 2016

Butterfly With a Birthday Cake

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Butterfly with a birthday cake (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Butterfly with a birthday cake (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dana Nesiti (who usually takes photos of bald eagles) has been experimenting with insects.  This one caught my eye.

Is this butterfly celebrating its birthday with 16 candles?

Well, no.  The birthday cake is actually a black-eyed susan with stamens.

And the butterfly is a wild indigo duskywing.

 

Thanks to Dana Nesiti for the cool photo and butterfly identification.

(photo by Dana Nesiti)

3 responses so far

Aug 20 2016

Bird’s-Eye View

Published by under Plants

Orange jewelweed (photo by Kate St. John)

Orange jewelweed (photo by Kate St. John)

The color and shape of orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) are specially designed for hummingbird pollination.

“Hello, hummingbird,” says the flower. “Come on in!”

 

p.s. Curious about the design?  Click here to read more.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 19 2016

Follow The Sound And You Might Find …

This broad-winged hawk was hidden until the songbirds gave him away.

If you hear birds making a ruckus in late August and September, look for what’s upsetting them.  It might be a broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus) stopping by on migration.

 

p.s. Broad-winged hawks are forest dwellers, the same bulky shape as red-tailed hawks but smaller and not often seen near people.

(video by caroltlw on YouTube)

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Aug 18 2016

Backyard Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk on Solomon's deck (photo by Michael Solomon)

Red-tailed Hawk on Solomon’s deck (photo by Michael Solomon)

On Throw Back Thursday:

If there’s a bulky hawk in your backyard that ignores you like this, I bet I can identify it without ever seeing it.  In western Pennsylvania, I’m 90% sure it’s a juvenile red-tailed hawk.

Young red-tailed hawks are so focused that they tune us out.  Read about this backyard bird in the 2009 article:

Single-mindedness

3 responses so far

Aug 17 2016

Only A Month Ago

Published by under Peregrines

C1 on Heinz Chapel steeple, 14 July 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

C1 on Heinz Chapel steeple, 14 July 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

August has been boring for watching Pittsburgh’s peregrines outdoors.  It’s hot, the adults are molting and lethargic, and the youngsters have left town.  Even when female ownership changes at Pitt we never see it happen.

A month ago outdoor watching was more interesting.  On July 14 Lori Maggio photographed C1 perched on the Heinz Chapel steeple.

C1 on a gargoyle at Heinz Chapel steeple, 14 July 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

C1 on a gargoyle at Heinz Chapel steeple, 14 July 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

C1 at Heinz Chapel steeple, 14 July 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

C1 at Heinz Chapel steeple, 14 July 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Shortly thereafter C1 left town to begin life on her own.

Since then the best place to watch the peregrines has been on the nestcams:  Cathedral of Learning and Gulf.

 

(photos by Lori Maggio)

11 responses so far

Aug 16 2016

Inside The Lanterns

Published by under Plants

Flower and fruit of Ground cherry (photo by Kate St. John)

Flower and fruit of Ground cherry (photo by Kate St. John)

“What is this?”

That’s what I said to myself when I saw this plant at Moraine State Park in early August.  The leaves resemble tomato or green pepper leaves but the lantern seed pods were new to me.

It looks festive, doesn’t it?

Smooth ground cherry plant (photo by Kate St. John)

Ground cherry plant (photo by Kate St. John)

It reminds me of Chinese lanterns.

Newcomb’s Wildlfower Guide keys this out to Ground Cherry (Physalis) with a choice of three species.   The leaf shape is wrong for clammy ground cherry and the stems and leaves aren’t downy so it must be smooth ground cherry (P. subglabrata, now P. longifolia).

Well, maybe. There are a lot of native ground cherries in the Americas — 46 species in Mexico alone. The extent of maroon inside the flower may give a hint. Physalis longifolia var. subglabrata is as close as I can get.

Inside the dangling Ground cherry flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Inside the dangling Ground cherry flower (photo by Kate St. John)

What I do know is that when the paper lantern dries the fruit is edible, though everything else about the plant is poisonous including the paper husk.

The fruit looks like a tiny tomato.  (click here to see.)  Its close relative, P. philadelphica, is cultivated for tomatillos.

Perhaps I’ll go back this fall to see the tomatoes inside the lanterns.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

Aug 15 2016

Found A Big Cat

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Caterpillar of the Promethea moth, twig held by Ramona Sahni (photo by Kate St. John)

Caterpillar of the Promethea moth, twig held by Ramona Sahni (photo by Kate St. John)

On August 6 at Jennings Prairie we found a big green “cat” with a yellow face.  Ramona Sahni held the twig while I took the caterpillar’s picture.

Dianne Machesney later identified it as the larva of a Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea).  He’s named for Prometheus, a Titan in Greek mythology who was a clever trickster and benefactor of mankind.

Nowadays “Promethean” means “boldly creative, defiantly original” — and because he was a Titan, “big.”  The adult male and female moths show off these qualities.

Male Promethea moth (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Male Promethea moth (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Female Promethea moth (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Female Promethea moth (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

It’s amazing that they look so different.

Big, bold, defiantly original.  No wonder these moths are Promethean.  😉

 

(caterpillar photo by Kate St. John. Moth photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

One response so far

Aug 14 2016

Update Your Scorecard

Magnum at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 12 August 2016, 5:15pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Magnum at the Cathedral of Learning nest, 12 August 2016, 5:15pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Get ready to update your scorecard.  There have been two! changes in female peregrine ownership at the Cathedral of Learning so far this weekend.

Friday evening “NR” saw a black/red banded female at the nest and posted a comment that Magnum was back on August 12 at 5:15pm — that’s 17:15 time code on the camera.  The photo above clearly shows Magnum’s bands.

Then Saturday night, August 13 at 6:52pm, members of Pittsburgh Falconuts saw Hope on camera calling loudly.  Terzo was nearby but he waited almost four minutes to join her.  Though her black/green bands are hard to read here, we know it’s Hope based on multiple snapshots.  She visited the nest again alone in the 8 o’clock hour.

Hope returns to the nest, 13 August 2016 at 6:52 pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope returns to the nest, 13 August 2016 at 6:52 pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

So here’s the state of play at the Cathedral of Learning pre-dawn on August 14.  I’m writing this before they wake up and change things again!

  • 30 Nov 2015: Hope arrives at the Cathedral of Learning
  • 8 April 2016 (same day):  Hope retains site after unbanded immature female visits the nest.
  • 23 April 2016 (same day): Hope retains site after a banded adult female (black/red) visits the nest.
  • 22 June 2016:  Magnum (black/red 62/H) claims the Cathedral of Learning.
  • 24 June 2016: Hope regains the site.
  • 2 August 2016: Unbanded young female claims the Cathedral of Learning.
  • 6 August 2016: Hope regains the site.
  • 12 August 2016:  Magnum (black/red 62/H) claims the Cathedral of Learning.
  • 13 August 2016: Hope regains the site.

As of this writing I have no idea where Magnum is but she knows her way around.  She’s been to the Cathedral of Learning before, possibly on April 23 and certainly on June 22.  Her home base has been the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, to which she returned after her last visit.

I don’t know how long Hope will stay this time.  Don’t even ask!

As I said on August 6, no humans ever see how these turnovers occur.  As far as I can tell no peregrines get hurt.

Thank you to NR and to all of you who check the Cathedral of Learning falconcam for peregrine activity.  Without your help we’d never know how interesting this summer has been.

 

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

14 responses so far

Aug 13 2016

Why It Feels SO HOT Outside

Published by under Weather & Sky

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.  But its not the relative humidity.(*)

As a raw number, relative humidity doesn’t tell you anything.  The video above shows how the same amount of water produces different relative humidities depending on air temperature.

For example, early yesterday morning in my backyard it was 80 degrees with relative humidity 79%.  Last Tuesday it was 66 degrees with relative humidity 83%.

So didn’t yesterday’s 79% humidity feel better than 83% last Tuesday?  No!  Yesterday’s 80 degrees held a lot more water.

Dewpoint (the temperature at which the air is so saturated that it rains or produces dew) is the helpful number that tells us that.  If you know the temperature and relative humidity you can calculate the dewpoint here.

The National Weather Service in Chicago made a chart to describe how we feel at various dewpoints.  I’ve marked it in red to show my own heat-averse opinion.  (Click on the screenshot to see their dewpoint video that includes this chart.)

How dewpoints feel (chart from NWS Chicago video, altered to show how it feels to me)

How dewpoints feel (chart from NWS Chicago video, altered to show how it feels to me)

So here’s what was really going on this week and why it felt so hot yesterday even though the temperature never reached 90 degrees.  Notice that the relative humidity was at its lowest yesterday afternoon.

Date/Time Temperature Relative Humidity Dewpoint Comfort Range
Tuesday Aug 9, 7am 66oF

83%

61oF Rather humid, almost comfortable
Friday Aug 12, 7am 80oF

79%

72oF

Oppressive
Friday Aug 12 afternoon, 2pm 88oF

59%

72oF

Oppressive

 

Find out the dewpoint before you go outdoors and you’ll know whether you want to brave it!

 

(*) p.s. See the comments!

(video from Richard Clements on YouTube. screenshot from NWS Chicago video. Click on the screenshot to see the video)

10 responses so far

Aug 12 2016

Shorebird Practice

A photographer and shorebirds at the Mingan Archipelago, Quebec (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A photographer and shorebirds at the Mingan Archipelago, Quebec (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

It’s shorebird time and many of us are confused. In southwestern Pennsylvania we only see these birds on migration and a lot of them look alike.

I’m not good at shorebirds but I want to be better.  What to do? Practice!  Here are some tips I’m using this month, written down so I don’t forget.  Maybe they’ll help you, too.

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Prepare in advance.
  2. Take your time.
  3. For some brown/gray shorebirds, 3 field marks are all you need:
    1. Size compared to other birds,
    2. Beak shape, size and color,
    3. Leg length (relative to body) and color.

Still stumped? You’ll have to read …

THE WHOLE LIST:

Prepare in advance:

  • Choose a birding location with lots of shorebirds so you can compare sizes, shapes and behavior.
  • Before you go, narrow your choices to what’s possible at that location at that time of year. Make a list. Highlight the common ones.  Bookmarks help.
  • Take field guides(*), a scope(+), a sun hat, and maybe a chair.  These birds stay put. So will you.

Methods in the field:

  • Take your time!  Study their behavior.  Quick impressions don’t work.
  • Pick one bird to identify.  Learn it well then move on.
  • Don’t focus on plumage yet unless the bird has really striking colors or patterns.  (Plumage is the least useful field mark on difficult shorebirds.)
  • Size: Compare to other shorebirds.  (ex: smaller than a killdeer?)
  • Silhouette:
    • Beak shape: Long or short? Straight or Curved up or down? Convex (bulged) or thin?  Sharp tip or blunt?
    • Legs: Long or short relative to the body?
    • Neck: Long? Short? “No-neck”?
    • Head: Big or little? Round or long?
    • Body: Chunky? Thin? Stubby? Long?
  • Color of beak and legs.  (Sometimes size, beak and legs are all you need)
  • Behavior:
    • Stands tall or always crouched?
    • In a tight flock or solo?
    • Does it stand in water? Or does it stay at the edge, hating to get its feet wet?
    • Does it peck daintily? Grab and go? Move its bill like a sewing machine needle?
    • Does it chase waves?  (field mark of a sanderling)
  • Now look at plumage (adults + juveniles this month).  Does it match your guess?
  • Can’t make up your mind? Repeat the process.

 

If all else fails, hope for a peregrine or merlin to stir them up. Some species are impossible until they open their wings (willets, black-bellied plovers).  And it’s always nice to see a falcon.

 

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

p.s. Did I miss anything?  Do you have a tip for shorebird practice?  Please post it in a comment.

Footnotes:  Here are some great guides to use at home or while sitting in the field. These books are big and heavy.
(*) For plumage and field marks: The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition.
(*) For detailed behavior of each species (No pictures): Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion

(+) Scope: If you have a really good camera it can out-perform a scope. Photos show the details frozen in time.

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