Mar 19 2017

Gull Point Is Now An Island

Published by under Musings & News

There’s a birding hotspot at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania that attracts some of the rarest birds in the state.  It also attracts intrepid birders willing to make the one and a half mile hike from the parking lot … until now.

Gull Point is the eastern tip of a feather-shaped sand spit that arcs out to create Erie harbor.  The tip is closed from April 1 to November 30 to protect wildlife from human intrusion.  Now it’s even more protected.  On March 10 Gull Point became an island.

Jerry McWilliams reported it on PABIRDS:

Date: Fri Mar 10 2017 9:39 pm

Hello Birders and Gull Point hikers.

With the high winds the last 24 hours or so, it has finally happened. Lake Erie cut a channel through Gull Point Trail to Thompson Bay about half way out to Gull Point on Presque Isle S.P., PA. Gull Point is now an island. The breach is about 30 to 40 feet across, and for now it is only about six inches deep. The lake level is predicted to continue rising into June or July, so the channel is likely to deepen especially following storms. Even after crossing the channel you still can’t access Gull Point Trail since the trail is washed away for the next 100 or so feet before it begins again. Because the honeysuckle and bayberry is so thick it is impossible to try to walk through to reach Gull Point Trail, so you need to walk along the brushline. Hip boots will be required for now to make it to the trail.

The sand always moves at Presque Isle but this breach was hastened by our exceptionally warm winter.  Normally, ice on the lake prevents high waves during winter storms but there’s no ice this month so the waves crashed in.  Who knew!

The trail looked like this a year ago …

Mary and Sarah walk the Gulf Point Trail (photo by Kate St. John)

Mary and Sarah walk the Gulf Point Trail, April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

… but knee boots are not enough now!

Park management will assess the situation after the winter storms subside.

It’s humanly possible to reconnect Gull Point to the peninsula if you have enough money. But the sand will keep moving and it will breach again.  Nature wins the battle every time.

 

Read more here at GoErie.com.

(map of Presque Isle State Park’s Gull Point embedded from Google Maps, plus a marked up screenshot of the same Google map)

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Mar 18 2017

See You At Duck Hollow Tomorrow, March 19

Published by under Books & Events

Red-breasted merganser hen at Duck Hollow, March 2017 (photo by Tom Moeller)

Red-breasted merganser hen at Duck Hollow, March 2017 (photo by Tom Moeller)

Oh my!  I should have posted this last Monday.  (It’s been a busy week.)

Just a reminder that I’ll be leading an outing at Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park tomorrow. Hope to see you there.

Sunday March 19, 2017 — 8:30am – 10:30am

Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park Bird and Nature Walk

Meet at Duck Hollow parking lot at the end of Old Browns Hill Road. We hope to see migrating waterfowl on the river and and walk the beginning of nearby lower Nine Mile Run Trail at the south end of Frick Park. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars, scopes (for river watching), and field guides if you have them.

(photo of a red-breasted merganser at Duck Hollow, March 2017, by Tom Moeller)

 

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Mar 17 2017

Why Is She Shouting? and Other News

Hope shouts at Terzo, 2:20pm 15 Mar 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope shouts at Terzo, 2:20pm 15 Mar 2017 (screenshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Ever since the female peregrine at Pitt laid her first egg on March 15 lots of people have been watching her on camera. The first question on everyone’s mind has been, “Why is she shouting?!?”

Indeed, Hope spent a lot of time shouting at the top of her lungs on Wednesday.  Here’s just a tiny dose of her voice.

She’s always been a vocal bird but this is over the top.  People can hear her inside the Cathedral of Learning and as far away as O’Hara Street behind Soldiers and Sailors Hall.  Peter Bell @PittPeregrines said, “She’s so loud you can hear her over all the traffic!”

So why is she shouting?

I don’t know but I can tell you what was happening off camera.

Before Hope began shouting, she and her mate Terzo were communicating softly over the egg and bowing in courtship.  (Note!  This behavior is a happy thing. It is not fighting.)

After he bowed, Terzo flew up to a perch above the camera about six feet away from the egg.  Hope looked right at him and began shouting.  When he flew away she shut up and sat down on the egg.  When he came back she resumed shouting.

Peregrine shouting, also called wailing, means “I want [____] to change.”  None of us speak ‘peregrine’ so we don’t know what’s in that blank.

 

In Other News:

Hope was silent on Thursday March 16 because she was busy chasing off an unbanded female intruder.  The intruder visited the nest twice and even bowed with Terzo at 12:24pm.

In the video below you can hear Terzo and the visitor chirping for 30 seconds before Terzo jumps into the nest.  Look carefully at the female and you’ll see she resembles a bird who visited three times last year: April 8, August 2 and November 14.

 

Will this be a quiet nesting season at the Cathedral of Learning?  No.

Watch the nest on the National Aviary falconcam at the University of Pittsburgh … and be ready to press the mute button.

 

p.s. Here’s information on what happens when intruders show up: Peregrine Fidelity to Their Mates, Fighting.

p.p.s  Three eggs at the Pitt nest as of Monday morning, March 20.

(screenshot and videos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh streamed by Wildearth.tv)

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Mar 16 2017

The Third Eyelid

Published by under Bird Anatomy

Great horned owl blinking its thrid eyelid (photo by Chuck Tague)

Great horned owl blinking its thrid eyelid (photo by Chuck Tague)

Did you know that birds have three eyelids?

Did you know they can see through the third eyelid, at least a little, because it’s transparent or translucent?

Read more about this fascinating and useful part of bird anatomy in this vintage article from 2010:

Anatomy: Nictitating Membrane

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Mar 15 2017

First Peregrine Egg at Pitt

Published by under Peregrines

Hope appreas to be looking at her first egg of 2017 (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope looking at her first egg of 2017, 15 Mar 6:35am (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Early this morning it looked like Hope has laid her first egg of 2017 this morning around 6:30am.  We waited for her to stand up … just to be sure.

How did I guess that she had an egg?  Because she’s lying flat on the scrape to keep it warm on this 14oF morning!

Hope is keeping something warm in the nest ... the first egg, 15 Mar 2017 (photo from the Naitonal Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope is keeping something warm in the nest … the first egg, 15 Mar 2017 (photo from the Naitonal Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Click here to watch her on the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh.

 

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

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Mar 15 2017

The Cardinal’s Song

Published by under Vocalizations

Even though the weather’s extra cold this week, northern cardinals are singing for Spring.

Learn about their song and the amazing way they produce it in this three-minute video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

 

(video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology YouTube channel)

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Mar 14 2017

Nesting in a Snow Storm

Peregrine incubating in a snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the DEP Falcon Cam)

Peregrine incubating eggs during snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the DEP Falcon Cam)

One of Pennsylvania’s peregrine falcon families has a big challenge today.  They’re incubating three eggs in Harrisburg where the “Nor’easter” will bring 9 to 13 inches of snow and blustery winds until 10pm tonight.

Their nest is on a ledge of the Rachel Carson Building where four cameras provide live streams of their activity. Two snapshots taken before dawn show there was already a lot of snow at 6am.   Below, a view from the closeup camera.

Peregrine incubating in a snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the DEP Falcon Cam)

Peregrine incubating in a snow storm, Harrisburg, PA, 14 Mar 2017, 6:00am (snapshot from the PA Falcon Cam)

The situation looks awful to us but it’s all in a day’s work for peregrine falcons.  Here’s why:

  • Snow is a normal challenge during the nesting season.  Peregrines lay eggs in late winter so that their young will hatch when food is plentiful during spring migration. There are many stories of successful peregrine nests after blizzards in the Snow Belt. Ask folks from Cleveland, Ohio and Rochester, New York about their peregrines!
  • Feathers provide excellent insulation.  These birds are wearing down “coats” underneath their smooth body feathers.  Notice the unmelted snow on the female’s back.  This is good!
  • The brood patch (bare skin on their bellies) keeps the eggs quite warm.

During a brief respite in the snowfall, the female peregrine stood up at 6:25am.  You can see that her body has kept the nest free of snow.  Don’t worry, she was back on those eggs within 30 seconds!

The peregrines' nest has been kept warm, 14 Mar 2017, 6:25am (photo from the DEP Falcon Cam in Harriburg, PA)

The peregrines’ nest has been kept warm, 14 Mar 2017, 6:25am (photo from the PA Falcon Cam in Harriburg, PA)

Click any one of the photos above to go directly to the Live PA Falcon Cam or click here for the complete website.

Meanwhile, here in Pittsburgh we have no snow at all.

 

(snapshots from the PA Falcon Cam in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

p.s. Why are the time stamps different on the Harrisburg cameras? The wide-angle PA Falcon Cam is on Eastern Standard Time (EST); the closeup camera is on Daylight Saving Time (EDT).

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Mar 13 2017

Of Llamas and Possums

Published by under Mammals,Migration

Llama on Machu Picchu, Opossum in western Canada (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Llama on Machu Picchu, Virginia opossum in western Canada (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

What do llamas and opossums have in common?

Their ancestors swapped continents during the Great American Interchange.  They now live a world away from their country of origin.

The “Great American Interchange” sounds like a flea market or a swap meet but it’s actually the movement of species between North and South America when the two continents joined at Panama three million years ago.

Before the interchange our continent had members of the camel family; South America did not.  The camelids walked south and thrived on their new continent in the wild as guanacos and vicuñas and domesticated as llamas and alpacas.  In the meantime camels went extinct here in North America.  So there are wild camels in Peru but we have none.

Other animals made the journey, too. Here are just a few of the northern species that became successful in South America: camelids, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, deer, wild horses, peccaries, otters, raccoons, wolves, cougars, American sparrows (Emberizidae), trogons and condors.  Click here for the complete list.

Initially the interchange was symmetrical with the same number of species going north and south but the result was lopsided.  More northern species survived their move to South America than did southern species transplanted to the north.  This was due in part to the difficult trek northward (deserts en route), our less hospitable climate (winter!) and the long isolation of South American fauna.

Opossums were one of the few success stories.  We had no marsupials in North America until the Virginia opossum’s ancestors made the journey and thrived on our continent.  Many of their relatives still live in South America.

So what did we get when South American animals walked north?  Not as much as you’d think: opossums, armadillos, porcupines, cougars, parrots, hummingbirds, tanagers, and tyrant flycatchers.  Click here for the complete northbound list.

Cougars (Puma concolor) are on both lists because they were originally from North America and walked into South America. After they went extinct in North America the southern ones walked north to repopulate our continent.

We humans were part of the Great American Interchange, too.  Our species’ movement around the globe was made possible by continental land bridges.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons: llama at Machu Picchu, Virginia opossum in western Canada. Click on each link to see the original.)

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Mar 12 2017

Good? Morning

Published by under Musings & News

exhausted (from clipart-library.com)

Exhausted! (from clipart-library.com)

Are you feeling exhausted this morning?

Well, it’s going to last about three days.

Last night we turned our clocks forward for Daylight Saving Time (DST).  I’m no fan of changing the clocks and complain about it in the fall but, in fact, the worst physical effects occur in the spring.

Just like plants and animals we have internal clocks that cue on daylight, so artificially “moving” sunrise and sunset and losing an hour of sleep messes up our circadian rhythm.  Studies have shown there are at least three bad effects:  There’s an increase in heart attacks during the first three days of Daylight Saving Time.  There are more road accidents on the first Monday (tomorrow).  And many people have sleep problems until their circadian clocks reset.

Everyone is grouchy, even the kids.

What would it be like if we didn’t change the clocks?  Arizona(*) and Hawaii stay on Standard Time and they aren’t suffering this morning … except for one thing.  They’re annoyed by the time zone difference.  Arizona’s clock is now three hours later than Pennsylvania’s, not two.

Don’t worry. We’ll all feel better by Friday.  Meanwhile ….

Yawwwn!  😮

 

(clipart from clipart-library.com. Click on the image to see the original)

(*) The Navajo Nation within Arizona does use Daylight Saving Time.

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Mar 11 2017

Coltsfoot Bloomed Last Wednesday

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

In another landmark of spring I found coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park last Wednesday, March 8.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an early-blooming Eurasian plant whose flower resembles a dandelion except that it blooms when it has no leaves. The leaves, which are shaped like a colt’s footprint, come out after the flower is gone.

This morning it’s 14oF so the flowers are closed tight against the cold.  Coltsfoot will survive but I’m not so sure about my daffodils.

Looking back, I’m wistful.  It was only three days ago that the temperature was 60oF and these hazelnut catkins blew in the wind along Schenley Park’s Lower Trail.

Catkins blow in the wind along Schenley Park's Lower Trail, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Catkins blow in the wind along Schenley Park’s Lower Trail, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

(The logs in the photo are an old ash, killed by emerald ash borer.)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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