If You Think Today is Hot …

Deep orange sky, hot sun (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

15 July 2024

Excessive heat from the western U.S. is now in the East and the next two days promise to be brutal.

Right now I’m in Tidewater Virginia where today’s high temperature will be 97°F and “feel like” 107°F. Just after dawn the turkey vultures warmed their wings in my sister’s backyard. I’m sure they know where and how to stay cool later today.

Turkey vultures wake up in Virginia before it’s hot (photo by Kate St. John)

We humans, however, are not always in control of our time and some humans are not as smart as turkey vultures so every newscast reminds us to be careful and stay cool.

Yes, today will be hot but tomorrow will be worse. There will be Extreme Heat even in the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Heat Risk map for 16 July 2024 zoomed in to Eastern U.S. (image from digital.weather.gov)

Fortunately Wednesday will bring relief. Watch the heat for 15-17July on these maps.

June Beetles in July

Green June beetle feasting on an offering of cataloupe (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 July 2024

Yesterday in my sister’s backyard in Tidewater Virginia we watched about a hundred green beetles flying rapidly in wide circles over the grass. They moved so fast that we couldn’t see their features but we could tell they were big, 1/2 to 1 inch long. None of us had ever seen this phenomenon before.

Green June beetle in flight (image from Wikimedia Commons)

I couldn’t identify the beetles until one landed in the grass and I saw it through binoculars. I did not record this video but this is what I saw.

embedded video by Nature’s Wild Things on YouTube

An online search found an August 2023 report from WDBJ in Roanoke VA “You may be seeing more shiny, green beetles this year.” It identified them as green June beetles (Cotinis nitida). They are harmless to humans.

Green June beetles are members of the scarab beetle family, same as the dung beetles of Africa, sacred in Ancient Egypt. Though these are called “June” beetles, July and August are the adults’ most active time. Males fly around seeking females. Females fly low over the grass looking for a place to lay eggs. So that’s what we were seeing.

When the eggs hatch the larvae tunnel underground and emerge at night to travel on their backs, waving their legs in the air. This sounds like odd and hazardous behavior.

Green June beetle larva that crawls on its back(photo by Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org)

North Carolina State Extension says the third instars “produce a secretion that binds soil particles together and enables them to form a protective case in which they overwinter in the soil.” The beetles pupate and emerge as adults in the summer.

Their dirt ball reminds me of the dung beetle. The photo shows one open with pupa inside.

Green June beetle pupae and egg case (photo by Jim Baker, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org)

Though we saw a lot of bugs yesterday it may not turn into many down the road. The grubs have many predators so North Carolina State Extension’s residential recommendation is: “If there is no indication of turf damage due to tunneling by the grubs, no action is really necessary.” 

Green June beetles occur in Pittsburgh, even in Schenley Park, though not often (click here and here to see two iNaturalist entires). I have never noticed their courtship behavior in Pittsburgh.

Their occurrence map indicates that green June beetles are much more common in Virginia.

Seen This Week

Sunset in Pittsburgh, 10 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

13 July 2024, Pittsburgh

Hot. Sultry. This week’s oppressive heat and humidity was curiously exhausting. Where have I experienced this weather before? Ah, yes. Florida in July. For the most part I stayed indoors so there’s not much “Seen This Week.”

On a brief foray around the Cathedral of Learning I did not find the peregrines but did see a beautiful flowerbed of black-eyed susans.

Flowers at Cathedral of Learning, 9 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The peregrines cope with the heat by perching in the shade. Carla looks sleepy an hour before sunset on 9 July.

Carla resting on the green perch, 9 July 2024, 7:25pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

I’m not looking forward to next week’s heat wave, though it won’t be as bad in Pittsburgh as further east.

We complain about staying indoors during winter but now we’re staying indoors in the summer, too.

On Milkweed

Longhorn milkweed beetles mating on milkweed, Frick Park, 2 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

12 July 2024

Last week Charity Kheshgi and I found bugs mating on milkweed that I had never noticed before.

The red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) is one of 14-17 species of longhorn milkweed beetles in U.S. and Canada. They are host-specific on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The females are even eating while mating.

Though they eat the plant they don’t like getting stuck in milkweed sap so they limit their exposure to it by purposely draining the veins.

(video of a red milkweed beetle cutting milkweed vein to reduce/stop latex pressure before feeding beyond the cut, embedded from Wikimedia Commons)

Other expected milkweed insects have not made an appearance yet. I have seen neither large nor small milkweed bugs. I usually find them on milkweed pods but the plants are only in the leaf growth and flowering stage right now.

Large and small milkweed bugs (photos by Kate St. John and John English)

Meanwhile, friends who grow milkweed to attract monarch butterflies are concerned that they have not seen any monarchs yet. Was last week too early? Steve Gosser photographed this one in July 2014.

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed, July 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Have you seen monarch butterflies this month in southwestern PA?

If so, leave a comment to let me know.

Coyotes Among Us

Coyote on the lawn, Illinois (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

11 July 2024

Coyotes live in Allegheny County and in the City of Pittsburgh. In fact I saw my first one in the city limits 21 years ago. But coyotes keep a low profile so people are often surprised when they see one and think they’ve newly arrived.

Six years ago I recorded a piece about urban coyotes for the Allegheny Front; this week they rebroadcast it. I’d forgotten I’d said such helpful things. Have a listen.

p.s. Everything I said in this piece is still true today except for the timing (“last year” refers to 2017) and my neighborhood (Back then I lived in Greenfield; now I live in Oakland).

Their “Kids” Will Return to the Wild

Female and male parents, Sihek (Guam kingfishers) at the National Aviary (photos by Mike Faix)

10 July 2024

Endemic to Guam, where their indigenous name is “Sihek,” the Guam kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus) has been extinct in the wild for almost 40 years. Though they nest in trees they were no match for the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) which was accidentally introduced from its native range into Guam in 1946. Thanks to the Sihek Recovery Program the offspring of this pair at the National Aviary will be among the first to return to the wild.

Since their near extinction in the 1980s the Guam kingfisher has existed only in captivity with fewer than 200 individuals on Earth in 2017. The captive breeding program is increasing their population.

Guam kingfisher chick on his journey to Palmyra Atoll (photo by Jessica LaHurd via the National Aviary)

Yesterday two Guam kingfisher chicks hatched at the National Aviary began their journey back to the wild.

When the youngsters are ready for release they won’t be returning to Guam. Unfortunately the brown tree snake is such a successful predator that it overran the island in only 30 years and caused the extinction of 12 native bird species.

Brown tree snake in Guam (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Guam these snakes are so pervasive and so good at hiding that there is a real possibility they could hitchhike on outbound equipment and invade other islands. USDA has trained sniffer dogs to check everything for snakes before it leaves Guam including cargo and the airplane landing gear!

USDA sniffer dog on his way to detect brown tree snakes on outbound plane (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
USDA Sniffer dog checking outbound landing gear and cargo for brown tree snakes in Guam (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Guam is still infested with snakes so where will the young birds go?

When they’re ready to live in the wild they will be released at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, one thousand miles south of Hawaii and equidistant from New Zealand and the continental US. The refuge is mostly water with only 4.6 square miles of land. Research scientists spend short stints onsite but no one lives there permanently. Guam and Palmyra Atoll are marked on the map below.

screenshot of Google map locating Guam and Palmyra Atoll
Aerial view of Palmyra Atoll (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The birds will be truly wild.

Follow their journey on the National Aviary’s Facebook page. Read about the National Aviary’s Guam kingfisher recovery program here:

Peregrine News in Early July

Adult peregrine at Monaca-East Rochester Bridge, 8 July 2024 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

9 July 2024

July is usually a boring month for peregrines in Pittsburgh. It’s hot. Nest duties are over. The adults are molting. But this week there are two bits of news.

Monaca-East Rochester Bridge:

On Monday morning, 8 July, Jeff Cieslak checked for peregrines along the Ohio River and stopped by the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge. He usually looks on the Monaca (south) side but yesterday he checked East Rochester (north) as well. There he found two fledglings and one adult, pictured here.

Juvie peregrine flying in, shouting, at the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge, 8 July 2024 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)
Juvie peregrine landing at the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge, 8 July 2024 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

The Monaca fledglings appear to be about 4-5 weeks younger than those at Pitt, putting their hatch date in late May and egg laying in mid-to-late April. Such a late nest makes me wonder if the first nest failed or if there was upheaval at this site with a change of partners that took until April to settle down. We’ll never know.

Cathedral of Learning: What was she looking at?

Carla on camera, 7 July 2024, 5:58pm (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On Sunday 7 July Carla visited the nest from 5:08p to 7:36pm. In that 90 minute period she was very alert when jumped she up to the snapshot camera. I wonder what she was looking at.

p.s. You’ll notice Carla’s feathers aren’t particularly smooth. She’s molting.

Yesterday at Duck Hollow: A Powdered Dancer

Powdered dancer damselfly, Duck Hollow, 7 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 July 2024

Eight of us gathered yesterday morning, 7 July, to look for birds at Duck Hollow. Alas, I forgot to take a group photo.

It was hot.

We stuck to the shade and saw two fly-by ospreys and a host of juvenile songbirds. We also saw a Best Insect — the powdered dancer (Argia moesta) damselfly pictured above — and a Best Mammal sighting of two juvenile muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) swimming in Nine Mile Run creek.

We learned about the immature plumage of northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) when several perched on a wire and one turned its back. Through binoculars you can identify immature birds by their reddish-brown wing bars. Click here to see.

Juvenile northern rough-winged swallow, Duck Hollow, 7 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We also saw two juvenile northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) — a first for me.

Juvenile northern mockingbird, Duck Hollow, 7 July 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

In 90 minutes we tallied 23 species. It was hot and getting hotter so we went home.

Duck Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Jul 7, 2024 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM
23 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 30 — Youngsters w adults. Adults flightless.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 6
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 1
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 15
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) 1
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 1
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) 2
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 3
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 6
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 14 — At least 3 immatures
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 3
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) 4 — Two juvenile birds
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 12
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 6
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 3
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) 1
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 5
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 4

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S185899887

Thanks to Charity Kheshgi for the photos.

Unusual Visitor at Harrison Hills Park

7 July 2024

Yesterday morning Mike Fialkovich found a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron at Harrison Hills County Park. The bird was easy to find in a shallow creek by the Creekside Trail head at Overlook parking lot. By the end of the day 11 eBirders had stopped by to see this unusual visitor. Here’s the bird at dusk.

Yellow-crowned night herons (Nyctanassa violacea) specialize in eating crabs and crayfish, especially at night. They are usually found in salt marshes, forested wetlands, swamps and on coastal islands but they’re not worried about people and will show up on lawns in Florida.

As you can see from their range map, their stronghold is in Central and South America where they live year round. From there this southern visitor is expanding north.

Yellow-crowned night heron range map embedded from All About Birds

Adults explore out of range in the spring.

Yellow-crowned night heron, Cuba (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Juveniles wander widely, especially in August and September. It seems too early for a youngster to wander up the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys as far as Harrison Hills but yellow-crowned night herons retain juvenile plumage for three years so this bird might not be as young as we think.

And he’s not the first unusual visitor. This yellow-crowned visited in Duquesne in August 2019 and stayed for a week. Maybe this year’s bird will stick around for a while.

Yellow-crowned night heron in Duquesne, PA, 18 Aug 2019 (photo by Amy Henrici)

Seen This Week

Germander in bloom, Duck Hollow, 4 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 July 2024

Flowers, insects and birds were active this week though the end of the week was so humid that it felt like the tropics. Here’s a trail of photos from Duck Hollow, Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Schenley Park and my own neighborhood.

Don’t forget to check out the two photos at the end: A mystery match-the-leaves moth or butterfly and some amazing bird behavior.

Deptford pink, Duck Hollow, 4 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Chickory in bloom, Aspinwall Riverfront Park, 2 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

With false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) at their peak in Schenley Park, the red aphids are out in full force.

Aphids on false sunflower, Schenley Park, 5 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wineberry is already forming fruits.

Wineberry, fruit forming, Schenley Park, 5 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

I found a moth or butterfly that I could not identify at Duck Hollow. It was impossible to get close for a photo so this is the best I could do. Perched on Japanese knotweed. Can you tell me what it is?

What species is this insect? Duck Hollow, 4 July 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

And here’s some bird behavior I’ve never seen before: Two red-tailed hawks are perched on the hoist rope of this enormous crane on O’Hara Street near Thackeray on 29 June. This crane spends five days a week moving back and forth. I’m amazed that they decided to test it on a Saturday. Can you see them? If not, click here for a marked-up photo.

p.s. The dewpoint was 70°F yesterday. This link explains why that feels so hot.

p.p.s. See Karen’s comment below in which she identifies it as a Bad-wing moth (Dyspteris abortivaria). So my next question is, Why is it called a bad wing? –> And see J’s comment with the answer!