Sep 20 2016

Reminder: Schenley Park Walk, Sep 25

Published by under Books & Events

Asters (photo by Kate St. John)Just a reminder: I’m leading a bird and nature walk at Schenley Park this Sunday, September 25, 8:30am – 10:30am.

Meet at the Westinghouse Memorial Fountain. Then, depending on the mud, we’ll walk the Falloon Trail or the Serpentine Road keeping our eyes open for fall migrants. We’ll watch for flowers, too,.

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

Note: This is Pittsburgh’s Great Race Day and the course follows Forbes Avenue, so approach the park from the south.

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation. So far the weather forecast looks great!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Sep 19 2016

Bathing On A Leaf

Published by under Bird Behavior

Here’s a bird bathing technique I had never seen before … until yesterday.

Sunday morning Jack and Sue Solomon led a Three Rivers Birding Club outing at Frick Park. We all hoped to see warblers but the birds were sparse and badly backlit in the treetops.

A passing shower halfway through the walk was just what we needed.  When the rain paused, a few birds were at eye level.  One of them was a Kentucky warbler who drew our attention by bathing on top of sumac leaves.

The hummingbird in this video is doing the same thing.  Watch at the 00:37 mark when he uses a leaf like a bathtub.  Who knew!

p.s.  Click here to see what a Kentucky warbler looks like.

 

(video by RM Videos on YouTube)

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Sep 18 2016

Scenes From Acadia

Published by under Travel

Jordan Pond, September 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Jordan Pond, September 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Though my husband and I have visited Acadia National Park every September since 1983 (including this month) I see that I’ve never shared my photos at Outside My Window.  Here’s a selection from the last two years showing the park’s stunning beauty.

Founded in 1916, Acadia National Park now includes land on several islands and one peninsula.  These photos were taken during hikes and walks on Mount Desert Island, the largest land mass of the park.

The area was carved by glaciers and contains many lakes.  Jordan Pond, above, is the size of a lake and extremely photogenic.

Eagle Lake from the south shore, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eagle Lake from the south shore, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The Bubbles at Jordan Pond, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The Bubbles at Jordan Pond, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

There are scenic views from the mountaintop hiking trails but humidity usually dampens my photos.

Somes Sound from Flying Mountain, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Somes Sound from Flying Mountain, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Looking southeast from Cadillac Mountain south trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Looking southeast from Cadillac Mountain south trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Northeast Harbor (the town we stay in) is tucked between two mountains.  It was named for its safe anchorage during Nor’easter storms.

Northeast Harbor, tucked in a nook of the mountains, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Northeast Harbor, tucked in a nook of the mountains, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

A short walk from this view is the Asticou Azalea Garden.

At Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Asticou’s sand garden mimics islands and the sea. The large rocks are islands; the sand ripples are waves. It’s a very peaceful place.

The Sand Garden at Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The Sand Garden at Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Much of Acadia’s Mount Desert acreage was donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  Though he made his money in oil, he did not want cars on the island so he built scenic carriage paths, especially near his home in Seal Harbor.  The bridges along these carriage paths are beautiful in their own right.  This one crosses Jordan Stream on land recently donated by David Rockefeller that’s open to hiking and horses.

Cobblestone bridge carries a carriage path over Jordan Stream, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cobblestone bridge carries a carriage path over Jordan Stream, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

The underside of the cobblestone bridge -- even more cobblestones! (photo by Kate St.John)

The underside of the cobblestone bridge … even more cobblestones. Amazing workmanship! (photo by Kate St.John)

Acadia’s hiking trails are designed for scenic beauty.  Strewn with pine needles, this trail passes between two rock outcrops.

The trail goes to the light, a gap in the rocks, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The trail goes to the light, a gap in the rocks, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The Ship Harbor Trail treads pink granite at the coast.

Pink granite coast on the Ship Harbor Trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pink granite coast on the Ship Harbor Trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

French explorer Champlain named the island of barren mountains “Isle des Monts Desert” (Mount Desert Island). Sargent and Cadillac shoulder above the rest, easily visible from the sea.

The deserted mountains of Mount Desert Island: Sargent and Cadillac as seen from Seawall, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The deserted mountains of Mount Desert Island: Sargent and Cadillac as seen from Seawall, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Every year as we leave the island we say to the mountains, “See you next year.”

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

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Sep 17 2016

Honeybee Knickers

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Honeybee with pollen bags on his legs (photo by Kate St. John)

Honeybee with pollen bags on his legs (photo by Kate St. John)

Honey bees are busy right now collecting nectar and pollen to get them through the winter.  They carry nectar to the hive by swallowing it.  They carry the pollen in sacs on their legs.

According to Wikipedia, the bee’s pollen basket or corbicula is “a polished cavity surrounded by a fringe of hairs.”  Each bee grooms the pollen off her body and stores it in her pollen baskets. Here’s how:

A honey bee moistens its forelegs with its protruding tongue and brushes the pollen that has collected on its head, body and forward appendages to the hind legs. The pollen is transferred to the pollen comb on the hind legs and then combed, pressed, compacted, and transferred to the corbicula on the outside surface of the tibia of the hind legs.

This honeybee’s pollen basket is so big that it looks like she’s wearing orange knickers.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. for my British readers:  The word “knickers” in the U.S. is short for “knickerbockers,” the baggy trousers tight at the knee formerly worn by golfers.

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Sep 16 2016

Cheeps Like A Bird

Published by under Mammals,Vocalizations

The birds aren’t singing and many aren’t even making contact calls but you’ll still hear something in the forest that sounds like a bird.

Listen to the video above as a chipmunk makes chirpy calls that resemble a northern cardinal — except that they’re too fast and “sweet.”

Chipmunks make sounds we don’t expect from such a small body.  Lang Elliott recorded three of them:  “chip”, “tock” and squeak.  Click here to hear.

Want to know what they mean? Jim McCormac explains them in Deciphering the language of chipmunks.

You’ll get a lot of practice with these sounds in the weeks ahead.  The chipmunks are in overdrive and very vocal, storing up food for the winter.

 

(video by PAphotofun on YouTube. Chipmunk audio by Lang Elliott via Wildlife of Connecticut website)

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Sep 15 2016

Asters or What to Look For Outdoors

Published by under Phenology

Calico asters (photo by Kate St. John)

Calico asters (photo by Kate St. John)

We’re halfway through September and it’s starting to feel like fall.  Broad-winged hawks are migrating through Pennsylvania and some of you haven’t seen a hummingbird for a while.

What can we expect to see outdoors in the next six weeks?

On Throw Back Thursday, here’s a list of what’s coming up …

Asters or What to look for in September/October

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Sep 14 2016

Spread Your Wings

Published by under Bird Behavior

Two double-crested cormorants drying their wings (photo by Steve Gosser)

Two double-crested cormorants drying their wings (photo by Steve Gosser)

Yesterday’s blog about double-crested cormorants reminded me there other birds that spread their wings to dry, not fly.  Some of them aren’t even wet when they do it.

Cormorants’ feathers are wettable but a layer near the skin stays dry so they don’t get very cold.  This allows them to live in the North Atlantic and the Aleutians (see species list below) where they sometimes “dry” their wings in fog or rain.

Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) aren’t so lucky.  When they go swimming they get soaked and have to get out of the water to warm up.  This limits their distribution to warm climate zones.

Anhinga sunning at Ding Darling NWR, Florida (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Anhinga sunning at Ding Darling NWR, Florida (photo by Dick Daniels from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) are often dry when they spread their wings because they’re doing it to warm up.  Overnight their body temperature drops so a good sunning is welcome in the morning.

Turkey vulture sunning at Bluff, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey vulture sunning at Bluff, Utah (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So there’s more than one reason to spread your wings.  Read more about it here.

 

(photo of double-crested cormorants by Steve Gosser. Anhinga and turkey vulture photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the Wikimedia images to see the originals.)

Cormorant species list:  In North America the genus Phalacrocorax (“sea raven”) has six members, though one is rare.

 

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Sep 13 2016

Wettable Feathers

For a bird that eats fish for a living, what possible advantage could there be in having feathers that get waterlogged?

Water beads up on the plumage of ducks and loons but the feathers of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) are “wettable” so they spend more than half their day out of the water loafing, preening and spreading their wings to dry as shown in the video above(*).

This wettability is not caused by a lack of oil on their feathers.  Instead it’s the feathers’ structure that allows them to get wet.

Combined with their solid, heavy bones, wettable feathers make cormorants less buoyant so it’s easier to stay underwater and hunt for fish.

The proof is in the eating.  Ta dah!  He caught a large catfish.

Double-crested cormorantwith catfish, Everglades National Park (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Double-crested cormorant with fish, Everglades National Park (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Watch for double-crested cormorant numbers to build in western Pennsylvania this fall as they migrate south for the winter.

 

p.s. *Note: The bird in the video has a white feather or debris on top of his beak. It’s not a field mark.

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, photo by R. Cammauf, National Park Service, via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

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Sep 12 2016

Chestnut-Sided Is Yellow Capped

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Chestnut-sided warbler, Spring and Fall (photos by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

Chestnut-sided warbler, Spring and Fall (photos by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

Finally!  Last night’s north wind generated intense bird migration from the northeastern U.S. to Texas.  Here’s the 10:30pm EDT radar mosaic.  Wow!

A good night for migration in the eastern U.S. (radar mosaic from NWS, 11 Sep 2016, 22:28 EDT)

A good night for migration in the eastern U.S. (radar mosaic from NWS, 11 Sep 2016, 22:28 EDT)

This morning we’ll find lots of new arrivals from Pittsburgh to the Gulf Coast. Among them will be chestnut-sided warblers that no longer live up to their name.

In the spring (at left above) both sexes of the chestnut-sided warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) have brownish red “chestnut” sides with a black eye line and malar stripes.  Their undersides are clear white from throat to tail and they have wing bars, yellow wing patches, a yellow cap, and something we rarely notice — yellow backs with black stripes.

In the fall their black accents are gone and most are missing the chestnut sides. Instead they have white eye rings!  The right hand photo shows this amazing transformation.

Fall chestnut-sided warblers retain their clear white throats and bellies, yellow wing bars, and their distinguishing characteristic — the yellow on top of their heads.  The color is muted now to yellow-green and extends to the nape and back.

What happened to the chestnut sides?  Adult males have a hint of chestnut, shown in the right hand photo, but the females and juveniles are missing it.  And just to make you crazy, fall bay-breasted warblers have chestnut sides and yellowish heads — but no eye ring.

So don’t expect to find a chestnut-sided warbler today.  Watch for the yellowish cap.

 

(chestnut-sided warbler comparison photos by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the original photos in spring and fall)

 

 

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Sep 11 2016

Unusual Trees

Published by under Travel,Trees

Tree trunk bowed and bare (photo by Kate St. John)

Tree trunk, bowed and bare (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week I found some odd trees in Acadia National Park.

Above, a dead tree is bowed over in a perfect C, probably knocked over in its youth by wind, ice or another tree.

Below, the swirls on this cedar look like drapery.

Pattern of growth on cedar trunk (photo by Kate St. John)

Swirled pattern of growth on cedar trunk (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Evergreens usually lose their lower branches as they grow but the branches on this tree grew stout and curled up.  I can’t even imagine what caused this.

Odd branching on a pine, Mount Desert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Odd branches, Mount Desert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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