Jul 21 2016

TBT: How to Swat a Fly

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

House fly (photo by Alvesgasper from Wikimedia Commons)

House fly (photo by Alvesgasper from Wikimedia Commons)

It’s July and the house flies are getting more annoying.

My cat chases them around the house and when she fails I try to swat them — but they evade me.

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT) here’s a timely article on How to Swat a Fly.

How to Swat a Fly

 

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

One response so far

Jul 20 2016

Peregrines Don’t Mess Around

Terzo and Hope bow at the Cathedral of Learning nest, July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo and Hope bow at the Cathedral of Learning nest, July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Peregrines Don’t Mess Around.  This is true of many aspects of peregrines’ lives but here I’m referring to a new report about their sex lives.

Last weekend mentalfloss.com reported that DNA studies of peregrine breeding pairs and young in Chicago indicate that all the offspring have been born of the established pairs.  In other words, peregrines aren’t having extramarital affairs.  Peregrines don’t mess around.

The report also confirms that peregrines love their cliffs more than their mates:

“Even greater than their loyalty to each other was the falcons’ loyalty to their nesting sites. It makes sense; while a partner might die in a collision with a building or a power line, a safe nesting niche is forever.”

Read more at …

Given the Opportunity to Cheat on Their Mates, City Falcons Stay True

 

{Here’s another link to the same study in case the one above doesn’t work.}

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

 

p.s.  In case you missed it:  Yesterday July 19 at 1:45pm I saw all three peregrine family members at the Cathedral of Learning.  C1 flew in (squawking!) and landed at the 23rd floor northeast corner.  Terzo evaded her and hid in a nook at 32 east.  Hope flew in and landed on a 28th floor stone peak below Terzo.  Both parents were avoiding C1’s demands.  (No worries. This is normal behavior.)

p.p.s. Thanks to @PittPeregrines for alerting me to this article.

21 responses so far

Jul 19 2016

Lesser or Greater?

Lesser yellowlegs and Greater yellowlegs (photos by Bobby Greene)

Lesser yellowlegs and Greater yellowlegs (photos by Bobby Greene)

Robins and song sparrows are still nesting but shorebird migration has already begun.  Lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) have already arrived in western Pennsylvania and will be followed soon by their look-alike cousins, the greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca).

How do you identify these similar birds?

First, they’re different from other shorebirds.  Though their plumage may confuse you, these are tall long-billed birds with uniquely bright long yellow legs.  Both of them will wade and swim in deep water.  (The solitary sandpiper, also a Tringa, is shorter with greenish legs.)

And they’re different from each other.  If a lesser and greater yellowlegs are in the same pond they’re easy to distinguish by size — greater is bigger than lesser — but you’re not usually that lucky. Here are some additional clues:

Character Lesser Greater
Bills The bill is only as long as its head. Measure the underside from the chin. Bill is longer than its head front-to-back.
Call Tu …or… Tu-Tu (1 or 2 Tu’s) Tu-Tu-Tu (3 or 4 Tu’s in a row) This bird is noisy! Will give a single Tu over and over when agitated. The way to remember greater vs lesser: 3 Tus are greater than 1.
Listen
Body size Dainty, slender, weighs 2.8 oz Substantial, a bit bulky, weighs 6 oz
Behavior Dainty. Picks at surface or under water. Runs sometimes. When feeding appears angry, aggressive(*). Runs with long strides. Chases fish. Almost like a reddish egret but without the wing-dance steps.
Solo? Hangs out with other birds Tends to be solo or with other waders

(*) descriptions from Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion.

 

 

Using the information above can you tell who’s who in the video?  Behavior is a good clue even when there’s only one bird.

 

You’ll find these birds at wetlands, ponds, quiet rivers and lakes.

If you’re not sure who’s who you can always call them “yellowlegs.”

 

(photos by Robert “Bobby” Greene, Jr. video by Mark Vance on YouTube)

3 responses so far

Jul 18 2016

Bees and Electricity

Bumblebee on thistle with pollen grains (photo by Kate St. John)

Bumblebee on thistle with pollen grains (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s an amazing thing: The hairs on a bumblebee’s body tell it where the flowers are.  It’s done with electricity.

Flowers use scent, patterns, nectar and even ultraviolet colors to attract insect pollinators.  Each flower also has an electric field that says, “I’m here!”  Scientists thought that insects picked up this communication, but how?  A study published in PNAS last May explains that bumblebees sense the electric field with their body hairs.

Bees and flowers are oppositely charged.  Without even trying, bees build up a positive charge on their bodies as they fly.  Flowers are negatively charged and that makes their pollen stick to bees through static electricity.  But the electric field is more than just that static charge.

Positive and negative electric fields: bee and flower (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Positive and negative electric fields: bee and flower (image from Wikimedia Commons)

In the diagram above, imagine that the bee is red and the flower blue.  As a bumblebee approaches the flower, a frisson of excitement passes along its body as its hairs bend in response to the flower’s electric field.  The bee feels the approach. Its hairs are pointing to the flower!

We humans can barely imagine this because we’re not sensitive to electric fields.  As we walk on a carpet we don’t feel the doorknob’s electric field until we touch it and are shocked at the discharge.  The best we can do is see our hair stand up after we rub a balloon on our head.  Here’s Emma at Emma’s Science Blog to show us how:

image linked from Emma's Science Blog: Emma does an experiment with static electricity, April 2014

from Emma’s Science Blog: Emma does an experiment with static electricity, April 2014

 

Now that we know about this communication between bumblebees and flowers, scientists think that lots of hairy insects sense electric fields, too.

I wonder if the house fly sees me with his hairs as well as his eyes as I approach to swat him.

 

Read more about bumblebees and electricity here at mashable.com.

(bumblebee photo by Kate St. John. electric field diagram from Wikimedia Commons.  Emma with balloon linked from Emma’s Science Blog. Click on the field and balloon to see the original images)

p.s. Thanks to Michelle Kienholz for alerting me to this story.

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Jul 17 2016

Practice Makes Perfect

Eastern screech-owl, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio,11 May 2016 (photo snapped by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John's cellphone)

Eastern screech-owl, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio,11 May 2016 (photo snapped by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John’s cellphone)

Back in May I saw an eastern screech-owl snoozing in a nestbox at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio. His photo, above, is on my cellphone but I can’t take credit for its beauty.

I have all the tools to create this photo — a bird scope and a cellphone — but I don’t have the skill yet.  I watched bird guide Carlos Bethancourt set my cellphone on the scope (without a scope adapter), manipulate the screen, and take three beautiful pictures.

Carlos made it look easy but I can’t get my cellphone to behave. My two best attempts at photographing a robins’ nest look like this.

Closeup of baby robins in a nest, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of baby robins in a nest, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

One baby robin, partially obscured by leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

Baby robin in a nest partially obscured by leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I need a lot more practice to make it perfect.

 

(owl photo by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John’s cellphone, robins’ photos by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

Jul 16 2016

C1 Stops By For a Visit

Published by under Peregrines

C1 stops by the Cathedral of Learning nest for a visit, 15 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 stops by the Cathedral of Learning nest for a visit, 15 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This month Hope and Terzo stop by the Cathedral of Learning nest nearly every day to bow with each other but yesterday C1 showed up.  Megan Briody reported on July 15:

I heard C1 screaming off camera today around 2:27 PM, and not long after she started, Terzo flew into the nestbox. He must have been trying to hide from her! After he left at 2:41, C1 came into the nest and stayed until 2:48! She looks different without her baby fluff!

Yes, her parents are trying to avoid her but C1 is persistent.  Eventually she’ll get the hint that it’s time for her to leave town and begin her own adventures.

 

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

18 responses so far

Jul 16 2016

Striped Wintergreen in the Woods

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Striped wintergreen, 2 July 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen, 2 July 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen’s leaves can be found at any time of year but the plant only blooms from June to August.

The flowers hang like a chandelier from three branches on the main stem. Each flower resembles a lamp: five up swept white petals, paired anthers, and a bulbous green pistil (shown above).

You can tell the difference between striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) and its close relative Pipsissewa because wintergreen leaves are pointed, whorled and distinctly striped on the midrib.

Striped wintergreen (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen is endangered in Canada, Illinois and Maine and exploitably vulnerable in New York.  I found this one in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 15 2016

Old Home Week for the Downtown Peregrines

Dori and Louie bow at the Gulf Tower nest, 14 July 2016, 3:48pm (photo from the national Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori and Louie bow at the Gulf Tower nest, 14 July 2016, 3:48pm (photo from the national Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Yesterday (July 14) was Old Home Week for the Downtown peregrines as they toured all the places they’ve nested since Dori arrived in Pittsburgh six years ago.

Around 7:30am Lori Maggio saw “an adult peregrine, Dori I assume, preening on the 3rd Ave nest ledge. Then she entered the nest.”  The photo below from last May gives you an idea of what Lori saw. The peregrines nested here in 2012, 2013 and this year, 2016.

adult peregrine at entrance to Third Ave nest in May 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Adult peregrine at entrance to Third Ave nest in May 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

At 10:55am Dori and Louie visited their 2015 nest at the old Macy’s Annex.  Matt Digiacomo, who captured these photos, says the area is under renovation.  The door is open on the balcony behind Dori so she’s not likely to nest here.  Perhaps she was curious.

Dori visiting her 2015 nest site at the former Macy's Annex, 14 Jul 2016 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

Dori visiting her 2015 nest site at the former Macy’s Annex, 14 Jul 2016 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

And perhaps Louie was curious, too.  While Dori checked out Macy’s, he perched at his usual overlook on the Union Trust Building.  I’m sure he’s glad the Union Trust scaffolding is gone.

Louie at his usual perch on the Union Trust Building, 14 July 2016 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

Louie at his usual perch on the Union Trust Building, 14 July 2016 (photo by Matt Digiacomo)

 

Finally at 3:48pm the pair rounded out their tour with a bowing visit to the Gulf Tower, at top.  Dori nested here in 2010, 2011 and 2014.

All of Dori’s predecessors — and Dori herself — used the Gulf Tower continuously from 1991-2011.  It’s a mystery why she’s so nomadic.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower, Lori Maggio and Matthew Digiacomo)

 

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Jul 15 2016

Watch the Young Hays Eagles Fly

Published by under Birds of Prey

The Hays bald eagle cam has been boring since the juveniles fledged but visitors to the nearby bike trail can sometimes catch a glimpse of the family.

Last weekend Mat Williams captured this video of the juveniles testing out their flying skills.  Enjoy!

 

(YouTube video by Mat Williams @boelsa)

7 responses so far

Jul 14 2016

The Pink Invader

Published by under Plants

Crown Vetch (photo by Christopher Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

Crown Vetch (photo by Christopher Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Crown vetch (Securigera varia) is blooming along roadsides now and everywhere else it can gain a foothold.

If you’ve ever had it in your garden, you know how easily it takes over and how hard it is to eradicate.  

Read more here about the nasty qualities of this pretty pink invader:

Pink Invader

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