Aug 28 2016

A Close Look at Wingstem

Published by under Plants

Wingstem flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

From a distance the flower head on wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) looks like a pin cushion or a sea urchin dog-ball.

Close up you can see that each “spike” is a small flower with a pistil that splits in two curls at the top.

Wingstem flowers, closer and sharper (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem flowers, closer and sharper (photo by Kate St. John)

How fancy!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Aug 27 2016

Slender Ladies’ Tresses

Published by under Plants

Slender ladies tresses at Marcy Cunkelman's (photo by Kate St. John)

Slender ladies tresses at Marcy Cunkelman’s (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s an orchid that’s blooming now in western Pennsylvania.

Slender ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes lacera) grow in open habitats in eastern North America.  They’re found in both natural and disturbed areas.

Marcy Cunkelman was mowing when she saw two of these flowers growing among the grass.  Wow!  She stopped the mower and protected them with stakes and bright pink ribbon.

Dianne Machesney’s photo below shows that the entire plant isn’t very large and could easily be overlooked in the grass.

Slender ladies' tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Slender ladies’ tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Without the pink ribbon it really blends in.

 

(photos by Kate St.John and Dianne Machesney)

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Aug 27 2016

Hope Is Visiting Tarentum

Published by under Peregrines

Hope at Tarentum, 26 Aug 2016 (photo by Rob Protz)

Hope at Tarentum, 26 Aug 2016 (photo by Rob Protz)

August is a good time for peregrines to wander.

Yesterday evening Rob Protz found Hope hanging out at the Tarentum Bridge, her former nest site from 2010 to 2015 before she came to the Cathedral of Learning.

Earlier in the day Karen Lang and I looked for Pitt’s peregrines with no success. Now we know why.

Rob’s sighting explains where Hope was. I wonder where Terzo goes when he’s not at Pitt …

 

(photo by Rob Protz)

p.s. And after I published this, Dori visited the Gulf Tower at 7:30am.

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 27 Aug 2016, 7:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 27 Aug 2016, 7:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

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Aug 26 2016

Meanwhile Downtown

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine at the gargoyle, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Peregrine (probably Dori) on the gargoyle at Lawrence Hall, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

While we watch the Cathedral of Learning falconcam for female challengers, the Downtown peregrines have been seen on camera, too.

Lori Maggio, Ann Hohn, and the Gulf Tower falconcam provide these photos of Dori and Louie’s whereabouts, July 29 through August 23.

Peregrine taking off from the gargoyle, 29 Jul 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Winged gargoyle? It’s a peregrine! 29 Jul 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Peregrine on the shield at Wood Street Commons, 1 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

On the shield at Wood Street Commons, 1 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Dori says "hi" at the Gulf Tower, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Ann Hohn)

Dori says “hi” at the Gulf Tower, 9 Aug 2016 (photo by Ann Hohn)

Ann’s photo, above, at the Gulf Tower was taken on the same day as the top photo at Third Avenue.  These sites are only four blocks apart.

 

Peregrine at the Times Building, 15 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Dori at the Times Building, 15 Aug 2016 (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

Dori gazes at her domain, Gulf Tower, 20 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori gazes at her domain, Gulf Tower, 20 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

 

Louie visits the Gulf Tower nest at 8:45pm, 23 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Louie visits the Gulf Tower nest at 8:45pm, 23 Aug 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

 

(photo credits are in the captions)

 

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Aug 25 2016

Reminder: Schenley Park Walk, Aug 28

Published by under Books & Events

Asian lady beetles mating, 23 August 2015, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)Just a reminder: I’m leading a bird and nature walk at Schenley Park this Sunday, August 28, 8:30am – 10:30am.

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center to see birds, late summer flowers, bugs and hummingbirds.

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

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

 

(photo by Kate St. John of Asian lady beetles mating, August 2015 at Schenley Park)

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Aug 25 2016

On Their Way to Veracruz

Published by under Migration

Pair of Prothonotary Warblers courting (photo by Kim Steininger)

Pair of Prothonotary Warblers courting (photo by Kim Steininger)

On Throw Back Thursday:

It’s still summer but North America’s warblers are already on migration to their winter homes.

Beginning in August, prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea) spend three months in transit. Read more about where they go and how they spend their time in this article from August 2009.

Leaving Now for Veracruz

 

(photo by Kim Steininger)

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Aug 24 2016

Which One of You Is Least?

Two "peeps" (photo by Mike Baird, Morro Bay, CA via Wikimedia Commons)

Two “peeps” (photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons)

Which one of you is a least sandpiper?  That’s the question I ask all the “peeps” when I see them in the field.

This month I’ve been using the tips I wrote in Shorebird Practice on August 12 to find the answers. Here’s how:

  • Which small shorebirds are possible here and now? In western Pennsylvania in August the likely suspects are least sandpipers, semipalmated sandpipers, and at sandy shores, sanderlings.  At muddy locations you might encounter the relatively rare Baird’s sandpiper.  He’s longer-winged than the other three.
  • Are you at a sandy beach?  If not, rule out sanderlings.  If yes, examine behavior and size. Sanderlings walk on sand, they chase the waves, and they’re noticeably bigger than least and semipalmated.  Sanderlings also look whiter than the other two.
  • Size: Least and semipalmated are smaller than all the other species.
  • Legs:  If you can see colors and the birds legs aren’t muddy you’ve hit the jackpot.  Least sandpipers are the only peeps with yellow or greenish legs.   If you cannot see leg color then …
  • Posture while feeding:  Imagine a person knee-bending (least) versus extended out to reach something (semipalmated).
    • Least sandpipers crouch with bent legs and peck near their toes.  They look hunched.
    • Semipalmated sandpipers reach out with their bills to find food. They look stretched out and their tails may be cocked higher.
    • (Western and semipalmated postures are similar. Fortunately, there are no westerns here and now.)
  • Bills:  All are black.
    • Least sandpiper bills taper to a fine point with slight droop at the tip.
    • Semipalmated bills are shorter and straight, sometimes slightly blunt at the tip.
  • Micro-habitat: According to Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion:  “Any lone peep in marginal habitat is likely to be a Least (baked mud or tight watery leads flanked by rank tiny puddles).”  They say that leasts like edges.

So which one of the birds above is a least sandpiper?  It’s a trick question.  Both are.  And yet they’re standing up to their bellies in water to confound the “leasts liked edges” statement.  Notice their yellow legs.

 

p.s. Here are two extensive resources on identifying peeps:  ABA’s in-depth identification of peeps and Peep identification at The Nutty Birder website.

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

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Aug 23 2016

Balm For A Horse?

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Horse balm in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse balm in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a tall woodland plant that’s easy to overlook because its flowers aren’t big and beautiful.

Horse balm (Collinsonia canadensis) is a perennial mint that grows 1.75 to 5 feet tall in deep woods.  Even in the middle of its blooming cycle it looks ragged with flowers in every stage of development from bud to bloom, from fade to seed.

Closeup of horse balm flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of horse balm flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

At very close range the flowers are fancy tubes with lips and protruding stamens (click here to see). You’ll also notice that the plant smells like cheap lemon scent, giving it the alternate name cintronella horse balm.

The name “balm” comes from its medicinal properties described at eNature: “Tea can be brewed from the leaves, and the rhizome was formerly used as a diuretic, tonic, and astringent.”

But why is it horse balm?

I haven’t found horses mentioned anywhere in the literature about this plant.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Aug 22 2016

Babies, It’s Hot Outside

Screenshot from Science video about zebra finch nest songs (Click on the image to see the video)

Screenshot from Science Magazine video on zebra finch nest songs (Click on the image to see the video)

Bird news from last week, in case you missed it …

Many birds talk to their eggs and there’s evidence that the eggs hear and respond.  For instance, superb fairywrens sing to their eggs and before they hatch the babies sing back!

Now scientists at Deakin University in Australia have discovered that in zebra finches what the eggs hear and how they respond is even more amazing than we knew.

In the last days of incubation, zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) sing a special song to their eggs but only when it’s hot outside — greater than 26 degrees C (78.8 degrees F).

The eggs hear the song and it changes their lives.

After they hatch, babies who heard the “hot call” grow more slowly than those who didn’t.  Not only are the “hot call” babies smaller as adults but they’re more successful breeders in a hot climate.  Surprisingly, this effect extends into later generations.

Small bodies cope better with heat than large ones, so signalling for a smaller size is a great adaptation for a warming climate.

But how does the zebra finch song bring about this result?

Click here to watch the video and read about this amazing feat.

 

(screenshot from Science Magazine video about zebra finch vocalization. Click on the screenshot to see the video)

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Aug 21 2016

Butterfly With a Birthday Cake

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Butterfly with a birthday cake (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Butterfly with a birthday cake (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dana Nesiti (who usually takes photos of bald eagles) has been experimenting with insects.  This one caught my eye.

Is this butterfly celebrating its birthday with 16 candles?

Well, no.  The birthday cake is actually a black-eyed susan with stamens.

And the butterfly is a wild indigo duskywing.

 

Thanks to Dana Nesiti for the cool photo and butterfly identification.

(photo by Dana Nesiti)

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