Milkweed seeds have to get cold before they’ll germinate (cold stratification) so late fall is the best time to plant them outdoors. Take a walk and gather some milkweed pods. (Leave some behind for nature!) Remove the floss and plant the seeds.
Separating the floss from the seeds can be time consuming if you don’t know these tips.
When the pods are about to burst you can pop them open, grab the bundle tightly and push the seeds off with your thumb.
However, many pods have already burst in southwestern Pennsylvania so you’ll want to use a “mechanical” method to separate the floss.
For small batches, shake the fluff+seeds with coins in a paper bag or a food storage container.
Enormous batches call for enormous solutions, as demonstrated by Monarch Watch. Yow!
Since I’m not a gardener I have no advice about planting milkweed but here’s an excellent article that tells you everything you need to know: How to Germinate and Grow Milkweed Seeds by American Meadows.
UPDATE: Several people have recommended planting Swamp Milkweed instead of Common Milkweed because it’s a much easier plant. See Claire’s comment below.
p.s. The floss is beautiful but annoying when it flies around indoors. If it gets away from you, it will give you more to do this weekend. 😉
By now all the leaves have fallen in the Pittsburgh area. Or have they? There are still a few trees with bright yellow leaves in Schenley Park — Norway maples.
As their name implies Norway maples (Acer platanoides) were imported from Europe where their native range extends further north than Pittsburgh. Our short November days are the same length as those they experience in October back home. The sun will be up for 9 hours and 39 minutes today, 24 November, in western Pennsylvania. That’s the day length on 21 October in Oslo, Norway.
Right now our native trees are bare or retain just a few yellow leaves at the very top (tuliptrees) or dried brown leaves overall (oaks and beeches).
Because non-native plants are out of synch with our seasons late November is the best time of year to see them in the landscape.
The trees with leaves are aliens!
Fun fact: Pittsburgh’s latitude is very far south of Scandinavia. Did you know we are on the same latitude as Madrid, Spain?
Quiz: What North American city is nearly the same latitude as London, England? The answer is surprising.
West Nile Virus arrived in North America more than 20 years ago and spread across the continent in just five years, killing native raptors and songbirds in its wake. When it struck Pittsburgh’s bird community in 2002 it was fairly common to find dead crows. That was a long time ago and I don’t see dead crows anymore so I thought birds were now able to survive the virus. Instead a 2015 study found that West Nile Virus is still wiping out birds in North America. It affects each species differently.
Some such as wild turkeys, chickens and house sparrows had a die-off when the virus arrived and then recovered with apparent immunity. Others never developed that resilience. The virus ravages their bodies so quickly that they die without reproducing.
The birds in the slideshow above are some of WNV’s most devastated victims. Every year their populations decline in a downward spiral. Greater sage-grouse and yellow-billed magpies have such restricted ranges that WNV may push them to extinction. This explains why I haven’t seen so many warbling vireos, purple finches and American goldfinches as I did a decade ago.
In 2016 the PA Game Commission studied the plight of the ruffed grouse and found that birds never exposed to WNV had only a 10% survival rate. This 9-minute video tells the whole story.
At dawn on Thursday morning, 19 November, sunrise lit the clouds after a clear, cold night. Ice had started to form on Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow Lake. It was 6 degrees below normal on the day before.
Two days earlier we had our first daytime snow in the city.
By Friday 20 November the temperature was 17 degrees above normal(*).
No more ice.
(photos and video by Kate St. John)
(*) The normal average on 20 November is 41 degrees F in Pittsburgh.
Terzo, 20 Oct 2020 (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo before dawn. Ecco appears later. 22 Oct 2020
Morela and *Ecco*, 22 Oct 2020, Same day as Terzo.
Morela bows to Terzo, 24 Oct 2020
Morela and Terzo, 27 Oct 2020
Terzo and Morela, 28 Oct 2020
Terzo, 30 Oct 2020
Terzo looks through the hole in the roof, 6 Nov 2020
Morela bows to Terzo, 7 Nov 2020
*Ecco* and Morela, 9 Nov 2020
Morela and Terzo, 16 Nov 2020
Morela and Terzo, 17 Nov 2020
Morela and Terzo, 18 Nov 2020
Morela and Terzo, 19 Nov 2020
21 November 2020
Now that I live in Oakland I see the Pitt peregrines when I walk around the neighborhood. Morela is a regular, of course. Last week Terzo appeared almost every evening at 4:30pm, circling the Cathedral of Learning and zooming up to a high perch. It’s a joy to see him.
I began to wonder if he was the only male peregrine at Pitt but a look at five weeks of snapshots indicates Ecco has been present, too. I’ve put their appearances in the slideshow above.
The calendar shows that Terzo is more frequent: Terzo = blue, Ecco = green. Amazingly, both of them were present on 22 October 2020.
When COVID-19 surged in Allegheny County in late June I wrote about the coronavirus as one very, very difficult forest fire. That surge ended and summer was good. We were able to eat together outdoors. We became complacent. Yet the fire still smouldered waiting to erupt. And now it has.
“There is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding, broad community spread across the country reaching most counties, with no evidence of improvement, but rather deterioration. Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for COVID and non-COVID emergencies.”
Allegheny County saw a record-setting surge in the last 5 days and is now under a stay-at-home advisory. If we can’t turn the tide in Pennsylvania we’re in danger of running out of ICU beds all at the same time.
Clouds are not holding in heat. They are emitting it!
Clouds absorb heat during the day just as the earth does. When the temperature falls clouds emit heat in all directions including downward to us below. Their warmth can be just enough to keep us above freezing.
On a clear night there is nothing to warm us so we have frost in the morning.
Did you know you can avoid frost on your windshield if you park beneath a tree on clear, near-freezing nights? The tree is emitting heat, too. No frost in the morning.
Either it is very cold in this picture or the car was not parked under a tree.
It didn’t rain much last July but when it did I noticed something puzzling on the Pitt peregrine falconcam(*). The nest was getting wet where it ought to be dry. Was the roof leaking?
A week ago the problem became acute when it rained hard all day on 11 November. By the end of the day pieces of brown debris were on the nest surface, probably from the roof. Now the rain really gets in!
If you look closely at falconcam still photos you can see papery pieces of roof hanging from above, erosion in the right corner where the rain drips, and debris from the roof on the nest surface.
Though we can’t see the roof from either camera, a snapshot of the awning gives us a hint of the roof’s condition. The red circle shows a place that lost its waterproof coating, exposing the under layer. The awning is deteriorating too, though more slowly.
The nestbox was built and installed in late 2007 (or early January 2008) after the Cathedral of Learning was spray-washed. I believe the box and walls are made of solid plastic but the roof and awning appear to be a composite material that has been weathering for 13 years.
This fall we’ll arrange for repairs so the nestbox is in good condition for the 2021 nesting season. Like maintaining a very small home, repairs are inevitable.
(*) Streaming of the Pitt peregrine falconcam is seasonal. It ended for the year on 31 July 2020.
When thousands of crows come to town for the winter what do they find to eat?
Every morning they wake up in the city and spread out during the day to find food near and far. Some travel 10-20 miles to glean from fields and landfills. Others raid dumpsters, prowl parking lots, or poke holes in garbage bags waiting for neighborhood collection.
Up to 65% of an urban crow’s diet is made up of human food and we sure make a lot of it available. Nothing is faster than fast food, especially fries.
Some crows like to dunk their fries.
They are not daunted by paper bags. In this video by Quiscalus a flock of fish crows fights over a bag of fries until the herring gulls take over. I’ve seen this happen in Virginia Beach.
On my way to meet friends at Moraine State Park last Friday, I stopped to check a few coves for tundra swans. My first stop was better for bird behavior than for waterfowl. As I drove away a ruffed grouse chased my car!
Naturally when I saw a grouse in my rearview mirror, flying after my car, I parked and got out to look. By then he was perched in a tree, strutting and turning his head in an apparent territorial display. I took his picture with my cellphone. He was further away than he appears.
Was he tame? Was he habituated to humans and cars? Was he stocked by the PA Game Commission?
At my next stop I told Linda Crosky and Dave Brooke about my experience. They later went to find the grouse and Dave took photos of his Life Bird (at top).
Dave also did some research and found out that, no, the PA Game Commission probably doesn’t stock them at Moraine but yes, grouse sometimes act this way. Birds like this are few and far between. They are not tame. They are hyper-territorial.
This spring PA Game Commission Ruffed Grouse Biologist Lisa Williams made a video of her visit with a so-called tame grouse. He tried to take a bite out of her.
If “tame” ruffed grouse were the size of T. Rex we’d all be dead.
p.s. Want to see more? Click here for a 2017 video of a “tame” grouse approaching two men in Pennsylvania.
(photo at top by Dave Brooke; second photo by Kate St. John)