Jun 26 2016

Mostly Off The Grid

Published by under Books & Events

Beginning this afternoon (6/26/2016) through Thursday afternoon (6/30/2016) I’ll be hiking out of cellphone range during the day. I’ll still be posting daily articles on the blog, but I won’t be able to respond to your comments until I’m back “on the grid” in the evenings.

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Jun 26 2016

David Sibley Coming to Pittsburgh, July 14

Published by under Books & Events

David Sibley and his newest book (photo by Richard Pasley via Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures)

David Sibley and his newest book (photo by Richard Pasley via Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures)

If you’re a birder you’ve probably heard of David Sibley whose excellent field guides are illustrated with his own art work.  I’m particularly fond of his Sibley Guide to Birds, Sibley Guide to Trees, and the Sibley Birds app on my cellphone.  (Can you tell I’m addicted?)

We’ll get a chance to meet David Sibley when he comes to Pittsburgh for two events on July 14:  a dinner hosted by Audubon of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP) and his lecture at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

Attend only the dinner or both dinner+lecture by signing up at the ASWP website:

Member Banquet and an Evening with David Sibley, July 14 starting at 5 pm.  Click here to attend.

Dinner and the awards presentation will be held at St. Nicholas Church in Oakland and David Sibley will speak at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, right across the street. The event starts at 5 pm with dinner served at 5:30 pm. Tickets are $50 each and include a copy of Sibley’s newest book.

Attend only the lecture by signing up at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures:

Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh present David Sibley
Thursday, July 14, 2016, 7 pm at Carnegie Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15213

Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased online, over the phone at 412.622.8866, or at the door starting at 6 pm on the evening of the event. Tickets include a copy of David’s newest book The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America 2nd Edition.

Don’t miss it.


(photo of David Sibley by Richard Pasley and cover of Sibley’s latest book via Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures website)

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Jun 25 2016

Who’s In Charge Here?

Published by under Peregrines


Hope (black/green bands) at the nest, 24 June 2016

Yesterday there were new developments in the peregrine saga at the Cathedral of Learning.

I thought that the new female, Magnum, had claimed the site this week but…

Megan Briody is keeping a close watch on the falconcam and reports that Hope came back to the nest on Friday June 24 around 6:30pm. The snapshot above shows Hope’s black/green bands as she’s leaving. (Both Magnum and Terzo have black/red bands.)

Observers on the ground saw three peregrines flying near the Cathedral of Learning but could not tell if all three were adults — Terzo, Hope and Magnum — or if one was C1.

Meanwhile, C1 is doing just fine. She’s spending lots of time at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a few blocks away from the nest, where she’s taking her many meals. Terzo is making sure she’s well fed.

Apparently site ownership is still up for grabs between Hope and Magnum. It’s hard to tell who’s in charge here.


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

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Jun 24 2016

Sneaky Orchids

Most flowers offer food to attract pollinators.  Trumpet vine, for instance, provides nectar for hummingbirds who incidentally pick up pollen and transport it to the next flower.

But some orchids have no food to offer.  Instead they look and smell like sexy female insects so the males will attempt to mate with them.  In doing so the orchids’ pollen clumps (pollinia) become stuck to the male insects and are taken to the next flower.

Watch the video above from BBCWorldwide to see how it’s done.

Sneaky orchids!


Thanks to Bonnie Isaac, President of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania, for pointing out this cool video in the Society’s second quarter bulletin.

(video from BBCWorldwide on Youtube)

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Jun 23 2016

Magnum Claims The Cathedral

Published by under Peregrines

Now that the Pitt peregrine nest is empty, most of us aren’t watching the falconcam so I was surprised when Megan Briody posted this comment on my blog yesterday:

Kate, did you see that Terzo has a new “visitor” at the nest?  I saw her on the camera today (6/22) at 3:58 PM.  At first, I thought it was Terzo because she also has a black/red band, but the band numbers didn’t seem familiar so I checked the video archives later.  The bands are black/red, 62/H on her left leg and purple on her right leg.  Your peregrine history pdf says that this is Magnum from the Neville Island Bridge!  Later at 4:40 PM, Terzo was in the nest, he called her in, and they bowed and chirped at each other.   I went back farther in the archives, and she was on camera last night (6/21) at 18:58.  If you have any thoughts on this development, we’d love to hear them!  It seems strange that Terzo would be courting a new female so soon after C1 fledged, but after this year, I guess we should expect the unexpected!

Wow!  Good job, Megan!

Here’s a closeup of Magnum’s bands.:  Right leg = black/red 62/H.  Left leg has a purple band .

Magnum at the Cathedral of Learning (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Magnum’s bands seen at the Cathedral of Learning, 22 June 2016 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Indeed Magnum, hatched in Canton, Ohio in 2010, raised up to four nestlings per year at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge since 2013.  This spring site monitors reported two fledglings at the bridge but weren’t able to confirm the pair’s identity because the nest was moved out of sight.

We don’t know if Magnum nested, but we do know that Hope was challenged by two females: On April 8 by an immature unbanded female, and on April 23 by a banded adult female with black/red on her left leg and a purple band on her right leg.  Perhaps that adult was Magnum, waiting her chance take the Cathedral.

Was there a fight?  Not that we know of.  Many watchers are scanning the sky for a glimpse of C1 and none of them reported a fight.

Meanwhile Peter Bell’s @PittPeregrines video (above) indicates that Terzo and Magnum are already establishing their pair bond so that means Hope is gone.

Why did this happen now?  A prime nest site like the Cathedral of Learning can change hands at any time.

Fortunately Hope was able to keep the site while C1 was still in the nest and still primarily her responsibility.  At this point in C1’s life, her welfare is Terzo’s job.

So the peregrine drama continues.

Thank you, Megan Briody, for letting us know it happened!


(video by Peter Bell (@PittPeregrines) from the archives of the National Aviary falconcam at University of PPittsburgh)

67 responses so far

Jun 22 2016

Spots Under The Leaf

Published by under Plants

Sporogenesis under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

Sporogenesis under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

Ferns look simple.  They don’t have flowers so they must be boring, right?  Not!

Look under the leaves(*) in June and you’ll see spots, called sporangia, that are creating spores for the next generation.  Here’s another example.

Sporangia under fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

Sporangia under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

The spores are single haploid cells with only one set of chromosomes, just like the sperm and eggs of mammals. But the spores don’t “mate” with anything.  Instead the next generation grows directly from the spore.  It’s a small heart-shaped green thing called a prothallus and it’s also haploid.  The prothallus eventually produces sperm and eggs that unite in water to become the next generation, the leafy fronds.

The frond phase is diploid with two sets of chromosomes.  In time, the plant produces sporangia and the process repeats.

Because of this fern “parents” and “kids” look nothing like each other: prothallia, leaves, prothallia, leaves … on and on and on.

Confused? Here’s a video that explains it better than I can.


(*) Some ferns, such as sensitive fern, produce spores on parts of the plant that have no leaves. Others, such as hay-scented fern, don’t display their sporangia as openly as those pictured above.  Read more about ferns here.

(photos by Kate St. John, video posted by Gabe Fierro on YouTube)

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Jun 21 2016

The Bird Who Sings All Night

Northern mockingbird, singing with wing flash (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Northern mockingbird, singing and wing flashing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This month someone in my neighborhood complained he was kept awake at night by birds singing loudly in the dark.  Every song was different so he thought it was a variety of birds.  Who was making that racket?  It was only one northern mockingbird.

Mockingbirds are well known for nocturnal singing.  The majority of those who do it are lonely bachelors trying to attract a female.  They belt out their songs as loudly as possible in all directions and they prefer to do it at the most aggravating time for humans — midnight to 4:00am.  Studies have shown they sing more on moonlit nights and in well-lit areas.  Woe to city and suburban dwellers near street lights!

The video below, recorded at 2:00am, is understandably dark. The bird is exceptionally loud.

Over at my house there’s a mockingbird who’s definitely lonely!  Will he ever stop?

Birds of North America Online says:  “Typically, adults sing for approximately three fourths of the year (Feb through Aug, and late Sep to early Nov); occasionally sing during winter. … No nocturnal song occurs during the fall.”

So we wear earplugs to bed and pray that the mockingbird finds a mate.  Or we’ll have to wait until August.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original. Mockingbird audio by SevereTStormFan on YouTube)

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Jun 20 2016

Today Is Astronomical

Published by under Weather & Sky

Sunrise at the summer solstice, Stonehenge 2005 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge, 2005 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Today is astronomical.  It’s been 68 years since we’ve seen one like it.

Full moon at the sea (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Full moon over the sea (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The last time the summer solstice occurred on the same day as the full moon was in 1948.

By the time you read this the moon will have done its job, having reached maximum fullness at 7:05am in Pittsburgh.  It had already set by then (6:13am) so we didn’t see it.

The summer solstice is yet to come — 11.5 hours after the moon’s event — at 6:34pm.

The moment when the sun stands still is such a big deal that they’re celebrating it with a four-day solstice festival at Stonehenge, pictured above.  But they won’t be able to see the sun during its special moment.  It’ll be almost midnight at Stonehenge, 11:34 pm.

Read more about this astronomical event at the Old Farmer’s Almanac.


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

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Jun 20 2016

Yesterday’s Walk at Schenley Park

Our Schenley Park outing, 19 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our Schenley Park outing, 19 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday morning 15 of us took a walk on the Lower Trail in Schenley Park.  Highlights include …

  • Two ephemerals:
    • Inky cap mushrooms that dissolve into ink the same day they appear. Click here to see what they look like.  Thanks to Adam Haritan of Learn Your Land for identifying them.
    • Ohio spiderwort flowers that last only a day before they wilt:

Ohio Spiderwort, 14 June 2014 (photo by )

  • Sights and sounds of birds including a busy flock of common grackles, a young wood thrush perched on a log and singing rose-breasted grosbeaks and acadian flycatchers.
  • The bug-eat-bug world of aphids sucking juice out of tall flower stems while ladybugs and harvestmen (daddy longlegs) pursued them.
  • And two deer, one with a big rack in velvet.

Thanks to all for coming.  My next outing will be on July 31 at Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park.


(photo by Kate St. John)

9 responses so far

Jun 19 2016

Remembering Chuck Tague

Published by under Musings & News

Chuck Tague, 2008 (photo by Bill Parker)

Chuck Tague (photo by Bill Parker, 2008)

June 19, 2016:

Yesterday morning on The Allegheny Front Chuck Tague taught us about bluets in a rebroadcast of his article Field of Innocence, recorded in September 2001.   Hours later I learned that Chuck had died the night before from complications of a heart attack he suffered on May 11.  He was 71.

Chuck was an avid nature observer, writer, photographer and inspiring teacher. He touched thousands of lives with his love of nature and sense of wonder.  His enthusiasm for the outdoors was infectious.

I first met Chuck Tague more than 20 years ago when I attended his birding classes at the Rachel Carson Institute.  His welcoming spirit changed my life.  I spent more time birding, attended outings, joined the Wissahickon Nature Club and assisted him on the Raccoon Christmas Bird Count.  We became friends and I traveled with Chuck and his wife Joan to Presque Isle and Magee Marsh for spring migration and visited them in Florida where they made their home in 2010.

Chuck’s website and Facebook page are always educational and his outings were pure fun.  He never limited our curiosity as we examined birds, plants, insects, everything!  We always learned something new.

Chuck was an excellent photographer and generous with his time and knowledge.  When I began writing this blog he graciously offered his photos.  He was always available to answer questions and we collaborated on projects like the Phenology series which we mirrored on his website and mine.  This blog would not have been possible without him.

Many of my friends today are people I met on Chuck’s outings.  All of us are grieving.  It’s hard to believe he’s gone, though he lives on in all of us.  His own words in yesterday’s broadcast inspire us as we remember him:

“I picked up the dried bluet stem and examined the tear-shaped seed capsule. There was the life affirming assurance I was seeking. Life will continue. Bluets will return to the field.”

I need to go find some bluets.


Click here to listen to Field of Innocence.  Read Chuck’s biography here.

(photo of Chuck Tague in 2008 by Bill Parker.  Sadly, both Chuck and Bill are gone.)


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