Apr 19 2017

We Have a Pip at the Gulf Tower

Dori at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest showing an egg with a pip (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

Dori at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest showing an egg with a pip (photo from the National Aviary falconcam)

At 7:17am this morning, 19 April 2017, Dori turned the eggs at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest and revealed a pip in one of them.

Watch for Dori and Louie’s eggs to hatch in the next 24 to 48 hours at the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower.

 

(snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

p.s. Don’t confuse this mother peregrine at the Gulf Tower with Hope at the Cathedral of Learning nest.  Dori is an excellent mother and has never killed her young. Hope, the female peregrine at Pitt, killed and ate two of her chicks last year.

p.p.s. First hatch at 9:08a (approximately).

32 responses so far

Apr 18 2017

A Busy Week For Trees

Sugar maple flowers, 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Sugar maple flowers (wind pollinated), 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Are you sneezing yet?

It’s a busy week for trees in southwestern Pennsylvania as they open flowers and unfurl new leaves.

Redbud flowers fully open, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Redbud flowers fully open (insect pollinated), 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In Schenley Park the trees are flowering everywhere, from insect pollinated redbuds (pink above) to wind pollinated sugar maples (yellow at top) and hophornbeams (below).

Hophornbeam catkins, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hophornbeam catkins (wind pollinated) 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Last weekend it was so dry that pollen coated my car and made my throat and eyes itch … and this was before the oaks had bloomed!  (Pollen note: Both oaks and pines are wind pollinated. Southwestern PA has an oak-hickory forest with few pines.)

Other busy trees include the bursting buds of hawthorns and hickories.  …

Hawthorn buds bursting, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hawthorn buds bursting, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bitternut hickory bud is opening, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bitternut hickory bud is opening, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and new leaves on Ohio buckeyes.

Ohio buckeye shows off its leaves, 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Ohio buckeye shows off its leaves, 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The city is a heat island so Schenley Park’s trees are ahead of the surrounding area.  Our red oak buds burst yesterday so you can expect several busy weeks ahead for trees in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Are you sneezing yet?

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 17 2017

Soon The Swifts

Published by under Migration

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

What’s on tap in migration this week?

Some of Birdcast’s 14-21 April predictions are already here and one of my favorites is still to come.

Chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) are due this week.  We’re likely to hear their chittering sound before we see them hawking insects overhead.  Though they look like cigars with wings (above) they’re actually related to hummingbirds!  In the western U.S. watch for the similar Vaux’s swift (Chaetura vauxi).

Two of this week’s predicted migrants were in Schenley Park yesterday.

A blue headed vireo (Vireo solitarius) sang his slurred, sweet song next to Bartlett Playground (click here to hear).  Bobby Greene’s photo shows off this vireo’s blue-gray head, white spectacles, and the yellow-green wash on his flanks that makes him hard to see among new leaves.

Blue-headed vireo (photo by Bobby Greene)

Blue-headed vireo (photo by Bobby Greene)

 

A house wren (Troglodytes aedon) was back at the nest boxes near the golf course’s 14th hole, claiming every one of them.  Though boring to look at, his bubbly song is always loud and clear.

House wren (photo by Chuck Tague)

House wren (photo by Chuck Tague)

Warbler season is here with yellow-rumped warblers back in town and one or two sightings of black-throated green, prairie, yellow, black-and-white and a common yellowthroat in our area.

When will the first northern parula (Setophaga americana) arrive?

Soon.

 

p.s. Click here for all the Birdcast reports.

(photo credits:  chimney swifts by Jeff Davis, blue-headed vireo by Robert Greene, Jr., house wren by Chuck Tague)

2 responses so far

Apr 16 2017

To see the cherry hung with snow

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Blooming cherry trees, Paris (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Blooming cherry trees, Paris (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spend time today to see spring’s beauty. A reminder from A. E. Housman.

 

Loveliest of trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

A. E. Housman

 

(poem: The Loveliest of Trees by A. E. Housman (1859-1936), #II  from “A Shropshire Lad
photo: from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

3 responses so far

Apr 15 2017

The “Raptor Row” Ride, April 29

Hays bald eagle carrying nesting material, March 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Hays bald eagle carrying nesting material, March 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Watch raptors on your bike!

On 29 April 2017, the Steel Valley Trail Council (SVTC) and Three Rivers Birding Club (3RBC) will hold a bicycle ride along “Raptor Row” of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail.  It’s a celebration of the raptors who nested along the Monongahela River last spring.

Travel up and down river from Hays to Duquesne or McKeesport to see bald eagles, a great-horned owl (ARL will have a live owl on site), red-tailed hawks, ospreys and kestrels.

When:  Saturday, April 29
Where: Waterfront Town Center, 270 Bridge Street behind Starbucks.
What:  A bicycle ride on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail from Hays to Duquesne (13.5-mile round trip) or to McKeesport (this 18-mile round trip includes kestrels).  Three Rivers Birding Club members will be stationed at the raptor nest sites, many with scopes for close viewing of nests and any raptors that may be present.
How:  Costs are at the link below. VIP option has a bird guide ride with you!  If you don’t have a bike you can rent one on site from Waterfront Bike Rentals.

Click here for details and more about the raptors:

Raptor Row Ride

One response so far

Apr 14 2017

Fewer Mild Weather Days

Published by under Weather & Sky

Mild weather during the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C., 2006 (photo by Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons)

Mild weather during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., 2006 (photo by Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, the mild days of spring!  You know the days I’m talking about, the ones that are perfect for birding, gardening, picnics and outdoor weddings.  The not-too-hot, not-too-cold, not-too-wet weather that makes you happy to be outdoors.

Unfortunately Pittsburgh will have fewer of them in the future. That’s what scientists from NOAA and Princeton University found out when they studied how the warming climate will affect our pleasant weather.

The loss has begun already though you may not have noticed it. For the last 35 years (1980-2015) earth’s climate has been converting 1 nice day per year into something unpleasant, mostly in Brazil, Africa and the Middle East.

By the end of the century the change will affect us.  The world will lose 10 mild days out of 74 but the loss won’t be evenly distributed.  The tropics will lose even more mild days while Canada, Maine and the Rockies can look forward to a pleasant future.

Here’s what our future looks like on the map.  Notice how the eastern U.S. is light orange indicating a net loss.

Change in Number of Mild Weather Days by 2090 (map from Van der Wiel/ NOAA/ Princeton)

Map showing the change in the annual number of mild days across the globe comparing 1986-2005 to 2081-2100. Areas of blue have increased in mild days. Areas of brown see a decline. (Van der Wiel/ NOAA/ Princeton)

That map shows the annual change but in fact it will vary by season.  For instance, Pittsburgh will gain some mild days in the fall (maybe 15) but lose more than that in the summer (25 to 50).  June-to-August will be hot!

Changes in the number of mild weather days by season by 2090 (map from Van der Wiel/ NOAA/ Princeton)

Changes in the number of mild weather days by season for 2090 (maps from Van der Wiel/ NOAA/ Princeton)

The full report includes details on mild weather in major cities at: Shifting patterns of mild weather in response to projected radiative forcing.

Now, more than ever, mild weather is a gift.  Enjoy it while you can.

 

(photo by Andrew Bossi via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original.
Climate map screenshots from Shifting patterns of mild weather in response to projected radiative forcing
)

(*) “Mild weather” is defined as temperatures between 64 and 86 °F, only a trace of rain (less than 0.04 inches) and low humidity (a dewpoint below 68 °F).

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Apr 13 2017

Hatch Watch At The Gulf Tower

Dori and five chicks, 23 April 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori and five chicks, 23 April 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

The National Aviary has zoomed the Gulf Tower falconcam because this weekend — or early next week — the peregrine eggs at the Gulf Tower will start to hatch.  It’s time for Hatch Watch!

Peregrine falcons delay the start of incubation until the female has laid her next-to-last egg, then incubation lasts about 32 days plus or minus a day or two.  In this way, nearly all the eggs hatch within 24 hours.  (The last egg hatches a day or two later.)  The trick for us humans is figuring out when incubation actually begins.

This year we thought Dori finished laying eggs on March 15, when she had four, but she surprised us with a fifth egg before dawn on March 17.  Her next-to-last egg was on March 15 so my guess is that incubation began around March 16.  That means Day 32 is on April 17.

Here’s another way to calculate it.  When Dori laid five eggs in 2014, the number of days from first egg to hatch was 41 days.  This year her first egg was on March 8.  41 days later is April 18.

But I don’t really know.

If you’re a member of the Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page you’ve seen that John English predicted Hatch Date as April 15 or 16 plus or minus two days.  My guess is April 17 or 18.   Maybe you have a guess, too.  Only Dori and Louie know for sure.

Watch the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower for pips in the eggs.  Here’s more information on what to look for:

Question: Hatching

 

(snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam in 2014 at the Gulf Tower)

4 responses so far

Apr 12 2017

White Lace Among Bare Trees

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Downy serviceberry, a.k.a. shadbush, barking Slopes, 9 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Downy serviceberry or shadbush, Barking Slopes, 9 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The ground has thawed, the shad are running, and across the hillsides there’s white lace among bare trees.

Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is one of the first wild trees to bloom in eastern North America.  At 30 feet tall with smooth gray bark, it opens its curly white flowers in early spring.  The tree stands out against the gray backdrop of the hills in April but we don’t notice it in summer. The birds do, though, because its reddish-purple berries are a favorite food.

Serviceberries have a wealth of common names.  On the eastern seaboard they bloom when a special fish, the American shad (Alosa sapidissima), swims upstream to spawn.  In that region it’s called a shadbush.

Shadbush at the Allegheny River, also called Downy serviceberry, 9 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Shadbush at the Allegheny River (where there are no shad), 9 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

In Appalachia the serviceberries bloom when the ground has thawed enough to bury the dead and hold a funeral service.  Where the word service is pronounced “sarvis,” it’s called a sarvisberry.

Though they’re members of the Rose family and have perfect flowers (containing both male and female parts) serviceberries can reproduce asexually and they hybridize freely, crossing and back crossing until it takes an expert to identify them.  Even then there are disagreements.  David Sibley’s Guide to Trees points out that the number of species has ranged from 3 to 25; pegged at 16 when the book was published.  Downy serviceberry is one of them.

In Schenley Park I was able to reach a low branch and photograph the flowers.  This specimen is a cultivated variety, recently planted, so I can’t identify it for sure.

Serviceberry closeup, Schenley Park, 10 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Serviceberry’s “perfect” flowers, Schenley Park, 10 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

But it can show you why one species has the downy name.

Downy serviceberry refers to the soft hairs on the back of its young leaves.  The hairs disappear as the leaves get older.

Do you think this cultivated leaf is downy?

Serviceberry flowers and new leaves, closeup at Schenley Park, 10 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Serviceberry flowers and new leaves at Schenley Park, 10 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Maybe so.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Apr 11 2017

Special Equipment For Warming Eggs

Dori rolls the eggs just before she resumes incubation (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Dori rolls the eggs before she resumes incubation (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

To become baby birds, eggs must be warmed to around 98.6 °F and remain at that temperature while the embryos develop.  Adult birds that incubate(*) have special equipment to accomplish this:  bare skin on the belly called a brood patch.

We don’t usually see the brood patch because surrounding feathers close over it to keep the adult warm.  When a bird comes back to its nest to incubate, it opens its belly feathers to lay its bare skin against the eggs.  You may have seen peregrines open their belly feathers by standing over the eggs and rocking side to side.

Click on the link below to see an American kestrel’s brood patch and learn about this important part of bird anatomy.

Anatomy: Brood Patch

(*) p.s. In eagles and peregrines, both sexes incubate so both have brood patches but this isn’t the case with all birds.  In many duck species, only the female incubates so the males don’t have brood patches.

 

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

6 responses so far

Apr 10 2017

Hello Ruby, Goodbye Juncos

Published by under Migration

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Spring migration is heating up!  Here’s what Birdcast says we can expect this week (7-14 April) in western Pennsylvania.

Watch for arriving ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula), blue-gray gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea), and many kinds of swallows.

Ruby-crowned kinglets (above) are tiny hyperactive birds with a song that sounds like a carolina wren + winter wren tossed with a chatterbox.  Click here to hear.

The blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) is another tiny hyperactive bird who’s often heard before he’s seen because of his unique “bizzy” sound.  Listen for this call and watch for the small bird pictured below.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher (photo by Steve Gosser)

Blue-gray gnatcatcher (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Northern rough-winged, tree, and barn swallows are all on the move.   Click on their photos for identification tips and the calls of these species.  Northern rough-winged swallows are easiest to identify by sound because they make a spitting noise.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (photo by Chuck Tague)

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

Tree Swallows gather for migration (photo by Chuck Tague)

Tree Swallows on migration (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

Barn swallow, Ontario, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Barn swallow, Ontario, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Meanwhile, you may not have noticed that dark-eyed junco migration has peaked and they’re on their way out.

Goodbye, juncos!

 

(photo credits:
Ruby-crowned kinglet and blue-gray gnatcatcher by Steve Gosser
Northern rough-winged and tree swallows by Chuck Tague
Barn swallow from Wikimedia Commons
)

3 responses so far

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