Jun 15 2017

Fireflies!

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Adult firefly (photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org)

Adult firefly (photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org)

Most of the year I forget they exist and then one evening in early June I’m surprised by joy.  The fireflies are back!  It doesn’t matter how old I get.  I’m always excited to see them.

I love their yellow-green lights, their hard-to-track flight paths, and the way they raise their wing covers and pause … just before they fly.

 

Did you know that their Photuris pensylvanica species is the Pennsylvania State Insect?  Read more in this vintage article from 2011:

The Lightning Bugs Are Back

 

(photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org; Video from Wikimedia Commons)

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Jun 14 2017

Nightshade in the Garden

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Bittersweet Nightshade (photo by Chuck Tague)

Bittersweet Nightshade (photo by Chuck Tague)

Last week Anne Marie Bosnyak sent me a photo, below, of a plant that popped up in her garden.

It has purple flowers and tomato-like fruit. It’s obviously growing in the wrong place.  Is it a weed?

Bittersweet nightshade out of place in the garden (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Bittersweet nightshade out of place in the garden (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Well, yes.

It’s bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a perennial from Eurasia that’s considered invasive in Pennsylvania.

Did you know it’s related to potatoes?  Don’t eat it!  Read on.

Not Tomatoes!

 

(flower photo by Chuck Tague, plant photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

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Jun 13 2017

The Rarest Warbler in North America

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Kirtland's warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) is one of the rarest songbirds in North America.  I have never seen one.  Today’s the day.

This morning nine friends and I are embarking on a Michigan Audubon Kirtland’s Warbler Tour to visit its breeding grounds near Grayling, Michigan.

The Kirtland’s warbler is a habitat specialist, breeding only in young jack pine forests and almost exclusively in this area of Michigan.  When the forest became fragmented and no longer burned to regenerate, the warblers’ population crashed in the 1960’s and early 70’s.  Listed as endangered, it recovered from a low of 400 individuals to an estimated 5,000 birds thanks to careful forest management and control of the brown-headed cowbird, a nest parasite.

Without human help the Kirtland’s warbler would be extinct by now.  The people of north central Michigan are understandably proud of their work to save the bird and happy to share their rare gem with visitors.  There’s a Kirtland’s roadside marker in Grayling and a monument to the warbler in Mio.  Read more about local efforts in this article from Michigan Live.

When not in Michigan, Kirtland’s warblers winter in the Bahamas, then migrate north through Florida and Ohio.  During migration solo birds are sometimes found in Ohio in early May.  This one, photographed by Brian Wulker, was in Stubbs Park near Dayton on 6 May 2016.

Kirtland's warbler (photo by Brian Wulker via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland’s warbler (photo by Brian Wulker via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Kirtland's warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker), Creative Commons license on Flickr)

Kirtland’s warbler, Montgomery County, Ohio, 6 May 2016 (photo by Brian Wulker), Creative Commons license on Flickr)

I can tell you there are plenty of insects for birds to eat in north central Michigan’s woods.  The mosquitoes are frightful!!

UPDATE: yes we saw the Kirtland’s warbler. It’s amazing how loud his voice is, even when he sings with his back to us.

 

(all photos by Brian Wulker on Flickr, Creative Commons license; click on the images to see the original)

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Jun 12 2017

Orchard Orioles, June 18, 8:30a

Published by under Books & Events

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)

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Jun 11 2017

Warblers This Spring

Published by under Songbirds

Prothonotary warbler, western pennsylvania, Spring 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Prothonotary warbler, western Pennsylvania, Spring 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Did you miss seeing some warblers this spring?  Would you like to see some of your favorites again?

Steve Gosser posted a blog of his best warbler photographs from the past few months.  Enjoy!

The Warblers!! Spring 2017

 

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Jun 10 2017

Hays Bald Eagles: H7 Will Fly Soon!

Now that Peregrine Season is over I finally have time to visit other nests.  Yesterday I stopped by the Hays Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and was happy to find Eaglestreamer (Wendy) on site.  She filled me in on all the latest news.

The bald eagle chick, H7, walked off the nest on June 2 and has been branching ever since.  In this June 4 video you can see both adults standing by while H7 does some wing exercises.  Like all bald eagle chicks H7 is dark brown and hard to see with wings closed.

Meanwhile the adults are very attentive but have changed their behavior in small ways that are similar to peregrine fledge-time.  For instance, they sometimes take more time to deliver food by flying past the juvenile with prey in their talons.

Very soon — any day now — H7 will fly for the first time.  Eagle fans are on the trail every day, awaiting that exciting moment.  Stop by and join them. Click here for directions.

Observers at the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area, 9 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Observers at the Hays Bald Eagle Viewing Area, 9 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

If you can’t make it to the trail, here are some ways to enjoy eagle watching from afar.

Exciting days ahead!

 

(video by Eaglestreamer on YouTube, photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 09 2017

We Can Fly!

Published by under Peregrines

Pitt fledgling, male 09/AP, 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Pitt fledgling, male 09/AP, 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

All three Pitt peregrines were airborne yesterday morning (June 8) and flying so well that they’re hard to keep track of.

By day’s end they had visited several floors of the Cathedral of Learning (CL), Heinz Chapel roof and steeple, and Alumni Hall.  Meanwhile their parents, Hope and Terzo, flew from place to place delivering food and watching the youngsters.

We could see one or two peregrines using a scope from Schenley Plaza Fledge Watch but Peter Bell got the best views by walking on the lawn near Heinz Chapel.  Great closeups!

Here’s a video of one youngster on Heinz Chapel roof.

 

She and her sibling then perched on the Chapel’s ornate posts. Can you find two juvenile peregrines in Peter’s photo?

Two fledglings perched on Heinz Chapel's ornate roof (photo by Peter Bell)

Two fledglings perched on Heinz Chapel’s ornate roof (photo by Peter Bell)

 

… and then to the steeple.

Fledgling on Heinz Chapel steeple, 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Juvenile peregrine on Heinz Chapel steeple, 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

… and then to Alumni Hall’s roof.

Fledgling on Alumni Hall roof, 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Fledgling on Alumni Hall roof, 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

 

Hope paused after delivering food to the Forbes Ave side of the Cathedral of Learning.

Hope (69/Z), 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Hope (69/Z), 8 Jun 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

She and the youngster both had food on their beaks.  This is the juvenile male, 09/AP.

Juvenile male peregrine, 09/AP, after his meal (photo by Peter Bell)

Juvenile male peregrine, 09/AP, after his meal (photo by Peter Bell)

 

The peregrines are hard to see from Schenley Plaza so PITT PEREGRINE FLEDGE WATCH IS OVER.

You might find a few of us wandering on campus with binoculars. We can’t get enough of the best Pitt Peregrine Season we’ve had since 2012. All three are airborne. Hooray!

 

(photos and video by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines on Facebook)

Best Since 2012:  This is the first time in five years that we’ve had more than one juvenile peregrine at Pitt.  In 2012 Dorothy and E2 had 3 youngsters, only 1 in 2013, none in 2014, one in 2015. Hope and Terzo had only one fledgling last year, 2016.

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Jun 08 2017

Two Flew At Pitt

Published by under Peregrines

Pitt fledgling in flight, 7 June 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Pitt fledgling in flight, 7 June 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

At Tuesday’s Fledge Watch we were very tired of waiting for the Pitt peregrines to fledge and someone joked, “They always fly when you’re not here, Kate.  Don’t come to Schenley Plaza tomorrow.”

It worked.  I didn’t hold a Fledge Watch on Wednesday June 7 and two of the three youngsters flew for the first time.

Kim Getz, who works at Pitt, was the first to notice.  Just after lunchtime she saw lots of flying around the top of the Cathedral of Learning so she walked around the building and found two fledglings.

I alerted Peter Bell (Pitt Peregrines on Facebook) who sent me updates when he found them.  Here are Peter’s photos of two fledglings flying and perching.

Pitt fledgling flies around the Cathedral of Learning, 7 June 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

Pitt fledgling flies around the Cathedral of Learning, 7 June 2017 (photo by Peter Bell)

This one landed with talons outstretched.  Grab that building!

Almost there! Reaching to grab the perch (photo by Peter Bell)

Almost there! Closeup of reaching to grab the perch (photo by Peter Bell)

The second fledgling perched near the northeast corner of the 30th floor.  You can’t see this bird from any window.

Pitt fledgling on a merlon, 30NE (photo by Peter Bell)

Pitt fledgling on a merlon, 30NE (photo by Peter Bell)

Now that we had some action I went down to Schenley Plaza at 3:45p and stayed for an hour.

The third chick hadn’t flown yet — and still hadn’t as of 4:45p — but her parents really wanted her to.  Hope carried food past her in the air as if to say, “If you fly you’ll get to eat.”  Hope eventually gave up and dropped off the snack.

This morning at 7:25am Karen Lang saw two fledglings perched high on the Student Union side of the Cathedral of Learning.  I plan to go to Schenley Plaza this afternoon to see what’s up.

Stop by Schenley Plaza for PITT PEREGRINE FLEDGE WATCH today, June 8, at 3:30PM.

 

(photos by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines on Facebook)

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Jun 07 2017

In The Scrubby Fields

Published by under Songbirds

Yellow-breasted chat, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Yellow-breasted chat, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Last week I got tired of seeing the same woodland birds so I drove north to the scrubby fields of Clarion County.  Thanks to Tony Bruno’s photos I can show you what I saw.

Pennsylvania doesn’t have grasslands like the prairie states but we do have former strip mines planted in grass to recover the land.  As soon as shrubs gain a foothold our grasslands turn into scrubby fields.

Piney Tract and the Curllsville Strips are two great places in Clarion County for grassland and scrub birds.  Here’s my own photo of “the bowl” at Piney Tract, State Gameland 330.  Tony was at Curllsville.

Piney Tract, Clarion County, 1 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Piney Tract, Clarion County, 1 June 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

What can you see in habitat like this?

Yellow-breasted chats (Icteria virens), shown at top, are very fond of the thickets.  Easier to hear than they are to see, Tony was lucky to see this chat at Curllsville.  Click here for a sample of their loud song.

Henslow’s sparrows (Ammodramus henslowii) love wide open spaces where the shrubs are stunted.  They perch on twigs so small that I tend to overlook the birds so I find them by tracking their songs.  It’s amazing how far this simple “fish lips” noise can carry.

Henslow's sparrow, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Henslow’s sparrow, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

Northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) nest on the ground in the scrubby fields.  The brown-colored female is camouflaged at the nest while her gray-colored mate harasses everyone in the area.  A male harrier shouted at me at Piney Tract. Tony encountered this one at Curllsville.

Male northern harrier, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Male northern harrier, June 2017 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

I also heard three prairie warblers (Setophaga discolor) singing from the shrubs at Piney Tract, but I could not find them.  Here’s what I would have seen if I’d waited longer. This is what I heard.

Prairie warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Prairie warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

Now’s a good time to visit the scrubby fields while the birds are singing.  Click these links for directions to Piney Tract and the Curllsville Strips.

 

(scenery photo of Piney Tract by Kate St.John; all bird photos by Anthony Bruno)

p.s.  Why are there strip mines in Clarion County?  There are three coal seams that tilt downward from north to south under western Pennsylvania. The seams touch the surface along the lacy yellow edges on this DCNR map.  Clarion County is so lacy it’s hard to find it under the word “MAIN”.

Map of coal seams in Pennsylvania (from PA DCNR)

Map of coal seams in Pennsylvania (from PA DCNR, 1999)

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Jun 06 2017

Flap & Fledge News, Jun 6

Published by under Peregrines

Fledgling peregrine calls to her parents, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Fledgling peregrine calls to her parents, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Listen for whining and watch the parents.  That’s how you’ll find peregrine falcon youngsters after they’ve fledged.

Lori Maggio has been tracking the Gulf Tower peregrines using those two clues and shared these photos from June 1 through 5.

Above, a youngster calls to her parents from a corner of the Federated Building.  Here’s where the two birds were.

Two peregrines on the Federated Building: adult on left, juvenile on right, 2 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Two peregrines on the Federated Building: adult on left, juvenile on right, 2 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Look in unlikely places and you’ll find an adult peregrine perched inside the C of the UPMC sign on the US Steel Building.

Adult peregrine watches from the "C" in the UPMC sign, 1 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Adult peregrine watches from the “C” in the UPMC sign, 1 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

The fledgling was on a ledge below.

Peregrine fledgling on US Steel Building, 1 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine fledgling on US Steel Building, 1 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

And yesterday, a fledgling spent several hours on a 19th floor windowsill at the Gulf Tower.  The lucky folks in that office had a nice close look at a peregrine.

Peregrine fledgling on the 19th floor windowsill at Gulf Tower,5 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine fledgling on the 19th floor windowsill at Gulf Tower,5 Jun 2017 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

PITT PEREGRINE FLEDGE WATCH:  The weather looks acceptable today, Tuesday 6 June 2017, so I’ll be at Schenley Plaza from 11:30a to 1:30p.

No additional Fledge Watch days are scheduled but stay tuned, especially on Facebook and Twitter, in case I decide to go to the Plaza (maybe Friday Jun 9).

 

(photos by Lori Maggio)

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