May 01 2016

Let’s Get Outdoors in May

Golden ragwort (photo by Kate St. John)

Golden ragwort (photo by Kate St. John)

Oh my!  It’s May!

Last month I listed outings for the last week of April and included May 1.  Here’s a big list for the month of May.

Everyone is welcome to participate in these outings. Click on the links for directions, meeting places, what to bring, and phone numbers for the leaders.

2016: Date/Time Focus Location Leader & Link to more info
Sun. May 1, 8:00am All Day! Birds & Flowers Enlow Fork Extravaganza, Washington/Greene Counties Wheeling Creek Watershed Conservancy / BotSocWPA / Ralph Bell Bird Club
Wed. May 4, 8:00am Birds Linbrook Woodlands, Allegheny County Karyn Delaney & Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Fri. May 6, 7:30am Birds Sewickley Park, Allegheny County Sheree Daugherty,  3RBC / Fern Hollow Nature Center
Sat. May 7, 10:00am Flowers Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, Beaver County Dianne Machesney, BotSocWPA
Sat. May 14, 7:30am Birds Barking Slopes, Allegheny County Todd Hooe, 3RBC Outing is limited to 12 people. See 3RBC link to reserve.
Sat. May 14, 10:00am – 3:00pm Flowers Mountain Maryland Native Plant Festival, New Germany State Park, Garrett County, MD see BotSocWPA website for info
Sat. May 14, 1:00pm Flowers Oil Creek State Park, Venango County Robert Coxe, BotSocWPA
Sun. May 15, time to be announced Flowers Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Allegheny County BotSocWPA
Sun. May 15, 8:00am Birds Barking Slopes, Allegheny County Todd Hooe, 3RBC Outing is limited to 12 people. See 3RBC link to reserve.
Sat. May 21, 8:00am Birds Harrison Hills, Allegheny County Jim Valimont, 3RBC
Sat. May 21, 8:00am Birds Presque Isle State Park, Erie County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Sat. May 21, 10:00am Flowers Moraine State Park, Butler County see BotSocWPA website
Sun. May 22, 8:00am Birds Frick Park, Pittsburgh Aidan Place, 3RBC
Sun. May 22, 8:30am Birds & Flowers Schenley Park, Pittsburgh Kate St. John, Outside My Window

 

Don’t miss May’s excitement.

Let’s get outdoors!

 

(photo of golden ragwort by Kate St. John)

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Apr 30 2016

Bewildering Birth And Death

Terzo arrives at 3:02pm as Hope shelters the first chick and two eggs (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo arrives at 3:02pm; Hope shelters Chick#1 and two eggs (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday morning we were excited that the first peregrine egg hatched at Pitt and looked forward to a second hatching later in the day.

At around 2:15pm the second egg hatched. Hope manipulated it, killed it, and fed it to the first chick.

This is not normal peregrine behavior.

Viewers were shocked and bewildered.  Many of you had questions but I was out of cell range for most of the day, unaware that it happened.

I have never seen this behavior before and don’t know why it occurred.  Here’s what we do know: Peregrines’ lives are very different from ours. Using our human yardstick to understand them — anthropomorphizing — really leads us astray.

I asked Art McMorris, the PA Game Commission’s Peregrine Coordinator, who viewed the archived footage and said the chick was alive but might not have been normal.  In all his years of dealing with peregrines, Art has never seen this before either.

Hope’s behavior was so unusual that there is no information on it.  Many of you speculated about it and asked “Is this why she did it?”  In almost every case my answer is “I don’t know.”

A line from The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot comes to mind: “But there was no information, and so we continued.”   The rest of the poem applies, too.

And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different …
— excerpt from The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot

 

We are learning a lot this year about unusual peregrine behavior.

And a reminder: If watching the nestcam upsets you, turn it off. Give yourself a rest. I do.

 

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

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Apr 29 2016

First Peregrine Egg Hatched at Pitt!

Terzo and Hope with their first nestling of 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo and Hope with their first nestling of 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Happy news at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest.  The first chick has hatched!    Welcome to the world, “C1.”

This morning at 6:18 am Hope was restless and pulled one of the eggs away from the other three.  In this photo you can see that the egg is cracked.  The chick was about to hatch.

Hope pulls the about-to-hatch egg away from the other three (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope pulls the about-to-hatch egg away from the other three (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Soon Hope moved the egg back to the clutch …

Hope moves hatching egg back to the clutch (photo from National Aviary falconcamat Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope moves hatching egg back to the clutch (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

… and at 6:42am she called to Terzo, “Come see what’s happening.”

Hope calls to Terzo after first chick hatches (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope calls to Terzo after first chick hatches (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo arrived at 6:55am (top photo) to see the chick nestled in the half shell.

Hope left to have breakfast and Terzo settled on the chick and eggs to keep them warm.

By 7:27am Terzo showed the chick completely out of the shell.  Notice the two halves of empty shell.

Terzo with first chick and eggshell, 29 April 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo with first chick and eggshell, 29 April 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

Welcome to the world, “C1”!    We hope we’ll see more “C’s” hatching soon.  (See this blog post about nestling names.)

 

UPDATE AT 4:00PM: I’m sorry that I’ve been out of cell range for the past 5 hours. At around 2:15pm the second egg hatched, Hope killed it and fed it to the first chick. I have never seen this behavior before and do not know enough yet to speculate on why this happened. I’ll publish more news when I have it.

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

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Apr 28 2016

The Catbird’s Coverts

Gray Catbird (photo by Alan Vernon from Wikimedia)

Gray Catbird (photo by Alan Vernon from Wikimedia)

This week gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) came back to Pittsburgh from their winter homes in Central America.

I saw my first one in Schenley Park on Tuesday (April 26) and now I hear them every day, singing from the coverts in my neighborhood.  Here’s what they sound like:

“Covert” means “thicket” but it’s also an ornithological term for feathers that cover the base of the main flight or tail feathers.

Gray catbirds have rust-colored undertail coverts.  Read about them in this 2010 bird anatomy lesson: Undertail Coverts.

 

(photo by Alan Vernon in Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Apr 27 2016

Don’t Play It Again, Sam

Black and white warbler, singing (photo by Chuck Tague)

Black and white warbler, singing (photo by Chuck Tague)

Spring migration is ramping up. Every day there are new birds to see and hear in western Pennsylvania.

What if you hear a really good bird and can’t see it?  Should you playback its song on your smartphone to lure it in? Please restrain yourself. Here’s why.

Although birders debate the use of playback, the Code of Birding Ethics is clear:

To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.

Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area.    —  American Birding Association Code of Ethics

In other words, our first priority should be the birds’ welfare.

Song playback is like this to a bird:  Imagine you’re at home having dinner and someone knocks on your front door.  You drop what you’re doing and go answer it.  There’s no one there, yet you keep hearing them knock over and over again.  Of course this is upsetting.  (People stop “answering the door” much sooner than birds do.)

David Sibley, whose app makes playback very easy, compares the proper use of playback to fishing.  The most successful technique barely plays the song at all.  Read how to do it here.

I once witnessed a clear example of what we should never do.

Prothonotary warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Prothonotary warbler, singing (photo by Chuck Tague)

In May 2010 I was thrilled to see a beautiful male prothonotary warbler at Magee Marsh boardwalk in Oak Harbor, Ohio.  The bird was there all day, every day.  He was on territory.  He had a nest hole.

One afternoon I stopped for my second view of the warbler and I saw a photographer set his iPod on the boardwalk railing. Then I heard the prothonotary sing four times.  Several birders looked around. It took us a while to realize the song came from the iPod.

The crowd at the boardwalk was huge and there were many iPods and smartphones in that crowd.  How many times that day! that weekend!  that week!  was the prothonotary warbler challenged on his own territory by a recorded song?

I wish I’d been brave enough to speak to that photographer. I regret it to this day.

Don’t play it again, Sam!

 

(photos by Chuck Tague)

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Apr 26 2016

Did You Know That I Sing?

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

Now every morning we awake to birdsong.  All the singers are male, right?  Well … not really.

When I took a class on birdsong years ago I learned that female birds don’t sing. This information came from centuries of bird observations made in Europe and North America. Charles Darwin even used it to describe how song evolved in male birds to attract mates and compete for territory.

But in 2014 that “fact” was turned upside down.  71% of female songbirds do sing.  It’s just that most of them are tropical species.  No one had studied birdsong worldwide until a team lead by Karan Odom of University of Maryland, Baltimore County published their findings in Nature Communications in March 2014.

It’s true that almost all the singing birds in North America are male, but there are some exceptions.

Did you know that female northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) sing and they’re just as good at it as the males?

I was reminded of this last week when a female flew into a tree just over my head and sang a long sustained vibrato even faster than this:

Cardinal couples countersing to synchronize their pair bond.  Yesterday in Schenley Park I saw a female sing a phrase several times, then her mate matched it.

So when you hear a cardinal singing, take the time to find the singer.  It may be a lady!

 

p.s. Female rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) and black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus) sing, too.  They’re in the Cardinal Family.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Apr 25 2016

Small Falcons Found Downtown

Male American kestrel (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Male American kestrel (photo by Cris Hamilton)

We’re still searching for the peregrines who nest in Downtown Pittsburgh.  They left the Gulf Tower in March and we know they’re nesting … but where?  Two weeks ago I posted this blog asking folks to… Look for Perching Peregrines.

Last Wednesday Diane P. left a comment saying she’d found a pair of falcons nesting in the facade of a building on Fifth Avenue across from Chatham Center.  Within a few hours I was Downtown checking the area for peregrines.

From Duquesne University’s campus I saw a small bird of prey perched high on Chatham Center but the light was so poor that I couldn’t identify it.  On Fifth Avenue I found this hole in the 1904 building.

The perfect hole for kestrels, 1904 building (photo by Kate St. John)

Kestrel hole, 1904 building (photo by Kate St. John)

The next morning I stopped by Chatham Center plaza and saw the bird in better light on the same perch.  It’s a small falcon, an American kestrel (Falco sparverius).

By luck Diane was out on the plaza, too, so we chatted about her discovery.  Suddenly we heard a kestrel calling and both adults swooped into the nest.  Then we heard the sounds of baby birds being fed.  It’s a family!

Diane was so good at finding these small falcons that I hope she finds the big ones, too.  (And I do hope the peregrines leave the kestrels alone!)

Remember to keep looking for perching peregrines when you’re Downtown.

 

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Apr 25 2016

Sunday’s Outing in Schenley Park

Outing in Schenley Park, 24 April 2016 (photo by Nancy Hart)

Outing in Schenley Park, 24 April 2016 (photo by Nancy Hart)

The weather was sunny yesterday morning as 19 of us explored Schenley Park.

The City is warmer than the surrounding countryside so most of Schenley’s wildflowers are past their peak.  However spring migration brought a whole new set of birds to the park.  The juncoes are gone. Yellow-rumped warblers are here.

We didn’t count a lot of individual birds but we saw and heard some really good ones.  Best Birds were three First of Year species:  a green heron, the sound of a wood thrush that we couldn’t find, and a rose-breasted grosbeak.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo by Chuck Tague)

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo by Chuck Tague)

The grosbeak is early but Schenley’s oaks are ready for him(*).  They’re already flowering and leafing out ahead of schedule.

Northern rough-winged swallows courted over the lake and a northern flicker called from a superb nest hole with a shelf-mushroom roof.  (I still don’t know what the flicker’s panting-in-hole dance meant.)

A few of us prolonged the tour with a view of the red-tailed hawks’ nest on Flagstaff Hill.  Here‘s a complete list of birds seen/heard via eBird.

My next Schenley Park outing will be Sunday May 22.  Hope to see you then.

 

(outing photo by Nancy Hart; rose-breasted grosbeak by Chuck Tague))

(*) Rose-breasted grosbeaks move north as the oaks bloom.  Yesterday’s bird passed a lot of leafless territory to stop in the City’s heat island.

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Apr 24 2016

Female Intruder, Briefly on 23 Apr 2016

Adult female intruder visits Pitt peregrine nest, 23 April 2016, 4:04pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Adult female intruder visits Pitt peregrine nest, 23 April 2016, 4:04pm. Terzo backs away. (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday afternoon — Saturday April 23 — an adult female intruder visited the Pitt peregrines’ nest while Terzo was incubating the eggs at 4:00pm.

Terzo took one look at her and left (above).

The mystery lady stayed for less than a minute but managed to show the color of her bands: pinkish USFW band (right leg) and Black/Red on her left leg.

Adult female intruder, 23 April 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Adult female intruder, 23 April 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Obviously she’s a different bird than the one that visited April 8th.  That one was an unbanded juvenile.  This one is an adult and has bands that may be from Ohio.

But it doesn’t matter who she is as long as she doesn’t stay.  Hope chased her away and was back at the nest at 6:20pm looking just fine.

It all happened so quickly that we wouldn’t have noticed if Janet Luzell hadn’t mentioned it in a comment on my blog.

Thank you, Janet, for your sharp eyes!

 

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

p.s. I am rarely in Facebook so if you want to reach me the quickest way is to leave a comment on my blog.  Every comment sends me an email.

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Apr 24 2016

Report Nesting Ospreys

Two Osprey chicks call for food (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Two Osprey chicks call for food (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Did you know that ospreys suffered through the DDT pesticide crash and recovery just like bald eagles and peregrine falcons?

Ospreys are doing much better now than they did in 1986 when there was only one nest in Pennsylvania — but how much better are they doing?  That’s where you come in.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission monitors this State Threatened species and they need to know where ospreys nest, especially in the western part of the state.

This PGC map shows the known nesting sites in 2015.  Look at the gaps!   For instance, is it possible that no ospreys nest in Armstrong County, home to the Allegheny River and Crooked Creek Lake?  I’ll bet they nest in the county but PGC doesn’t know about them.

 

Help the PA Game Commission fill in the map by reporting nesting ospreys.  Download the  Osprey Nest Survey Form (PDF) along with the Nest Observation Protocol (PDF). Submit your completed survey forms to osprey@pa.gov.

And please don’t assume someone else will report a local nest.  It’s up to you!

For more information, read this eBird blog post by Doug Gross.

 

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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