This gorgeous tree with large violet flowers is blooming now in Allegheny County. It grows fast, provides shade, looks beautiful and smells sweet. What could go wrong?
The princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), also called empress tree or royal paulownia for Anna Pavlovna of Russia (1795-1865) is — or was — popular in ornamental gardens. It was first introduced to the U.S. from China in 1840 and planted in the eastern U.S. and Washington state.
Initially it was a gardener’s dream. It is easy to grow in full sun, thrives in many soil types including disturbed soil, is tolerant of drought and pollution and grows 15 feet per year. It also reproduces like crazy. One tree can produce 20 million winged seeds that are dispersed by wind and water.
Paulownia tomentosa’s ability to sprout prolifically from adventitious buds on stems and roots allows it to survive fire, cutting and even bulldozing in construction areas; making it difficult to remove from established areas.
This one was chopped down but it came back stronger than ever. Notice the huge leaves.
Eventually botanists and gardeners realized that P. tomentosa is invasive. This map of paulownia’s occurrence in the U.S. …
… nearly matches the map of its State Invasive listings. Maryland and Massachusetts have outlawed it.
Years ago I knew of only one princess tree in Pittsburgh, this one next to the Schenley Bridge near the corner of Frew Street and Schenley Drive.
Then a few years ago a volunteer sprouted in Schenley Park near the tufa bridge over Phipps Run. When it reached 20 feet it was cut down and its roots were dug up. However, this spring there are four paulownias near the tufa bridge. The genie is out of the bottle. Uh oh!
Six of us gathered at Schenley Park yesterday morning in perfect weather for a bird and nature walk. (The sixth is taking the picture.)
First on the agenda was a look through my scope at the Pitt peregrines. Though we were half a mile from the Cathedral of Learning we could see one adult babysitting and two fluffy heads looking out the front of the nestbox. This is where the chicks were standing as we watched.
Inside the park, a pair of red-tailed hawks is raising three chicks about the same age as the peregrines. We paused on our walk to watch them eat. Best views are from here.
Scroll through Charity Kheshgi’s Instagram photos to see our Best Birds including the blackpoll warbler pictured above.
Of the eleven peregrine sites we’re monitoring in Southwestern PA, we know the adults are bringing food to four nests and we’ve already seen chicks at three of them.
Look for the chicks at all four nests to begin to fly in the next three weeks.
Cathedral of Learning, Univ of Pittsburgh:
As of today the chicks are 26 days old and very active. On Thursday they started to grab food from Morela and take it away to eat, so yesterday Ecco brought prey for them to prepare and eat on their own. They couldn’t figure out what to do with it.
In this Day-in-a-Minute video you can see the prey item in the middle of the nestbox for a while. It’s a yellow-billed cuckoo. Morela fed it to them eventually.
I expect the Pitt nestlings to be on camera through the end of May, then walk off the nest in early June (off camera) and make their first flight a few days later. Watch the Cathedral of Learning nest on the National Aviary falconcam to see if I’m right.
Stay tuned for Fledge Watch fun in early June. Schedule to follow soon.
Eckert Street / McKees Rocks Bridge area, Ohio River:
When Jeff Cieslak last checked on the Eckert Street peregrines on 10 May, the male was bringing food to nest. Jeff’s been out of town since then so … though we know there are chicks in the nest no one has seen them yet. Stop by Eckert Street and see what’s up.
Westinghouse Bridge, Turtle Creek:
On 20 May Dana Nesiti saw a chick at the edge of the nest ledge. This one may be the same age as the Pitt peregrine chicks. Watch for them to fly in early June.
Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River:
The 3 young peregrines at the Tarentum Bridge are a week older than the Pitt nestlings and will fly before the end of May. Stop by soon if you want to see them! More information here.
At top, bird bander David Yeany holds a recently banded female red-winged blackbird at Frick Park on Migratory Bird Day, 14 May 2022.
On 17 May we looked for warblers along Nine Mile Run’s boardwalk and found many black walnut flowers fallen on the railing.
I would have brushed this one away until I saw an insect hiding on it. Do you see the juicy caterpillar, below? This is warbler food!
In Schenley Park a carpenter ant examined fading pawpaw flowers that smell like rotten meat, if they smell at all. No rotting meat here. She left.
Mystery flower of the week was a non-native with thin basal leaves found blooming in the woods in Frick Park. How did star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum sp.), a native of southern Europe and southern Africa, get into the woods? Is it invading?
Thanks to Dave Brooke’s observations and photos we know there are three peregrine falcon chicks at the Tarentum Bridge nestbox and they probably hatched on 9 March 2022. Go see them soon! They will fly before the end of May.
In yesterday’s photo, above, they are 30 days old. In the 11 May photo below they are 23 days.
Based on their age, we expect them to walk out of the box onto the pier this weekend. If any are male they’ll make their first flight as early as a week from today, Friday 27 May. Females tend to fledge four days later, maybe as early as Tuesday 31 May.
If you’ve been putting off a visit don’t wait any longer. The next 10 days will be the best time to see the peregrines. Visit the Tarentum boat launch or the sidewalk on 1st Avenue for the best view. Click here for a map.
See into the nestbox, circled below, by standing on 1st Avenue.
Trees with stacks of white flowers are drawing our attention this week in Pittsburgh. Perhaps you’re wondering “What tree is this? “
Horsechestnuts (Aesculushippocastanum) originated in Greece but have been planted around the world for their beautiful flowers. When fertilized the flowers become the familiar shiny buckeyes I played with as a child.
In Pittsburgh we call the tree a “buckeye” though it is just one of many buckeyes (Aesculus) in our area including natives of North America: yellow, Ohio, and bottlebrush.
A close look at horsechestnut flowers reveals that some have yellow centers, others red.
Bees see and are attracted to yellow, not red, so when a horsechestnut flower is fertilized it turns red. The flowers are …
Are there red flowers on the tree? Come back in early fall to collect the buckeyes.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Many of us are familiar with horsetail (Equisetum) because it looks so unusual. Its hollow stems are ridged and jointed and grow in dense clumps as much as three feet tall. None of the stems have apparent leaves but some have a knob on top, a stobilus, that produces spores for reproduction.
Equisetum is so weird because, as Wikipedia explains, it “is a living fossil, the only living genus of the entire subclass Equisetidae, which for over 100 million years was much more diverse and dominated the under-story of late Paleozoic forests. Some equisetids were large trees reaching to 30 m (98 ft) tall.”
251.9 million years ago the Permian–Triassic extinction event wiped out all the Equisetidae except for Equisetum which is now 359 million years old, older than the dinosaurs.
The hybrid grows stobilus knobs that make spores, but the spores are sterile. And yet the plant persists.
Equisetum species have two methods of reproduction: sexually via spores and asexually by spreading rhizomes in clonal colonies. The hybrid can only spread asexually but that’s enough to keep it thriving in limited locations.
The CDC explains that “the most important sounds we hear every day are in the 250 to 6,000 Hertz range.” Fortunately for those with presbycusis, frequencies above the “important” range are the first to go.
In my 40’s I learned to identify birds by ear but my skill has come undone in recent years because some birds, especially warblers, sing above 6,000 Hz. I would not have noticed it except that I go birding with people who hear well and can identify birds by song. They point out birds I cannot hear.
This spring I’ve watched a few warblers open their mouths, vibrate their throats, and say nothing! Can you hear them? Turn up your speakers and test your hearing.
Cape May Warbler, 8250 Hertz: In this 2-second recording the Cape May Warbler (photo at top) sings a single high-pitched trill.
Blackpoll warbler song, 8,000 Hertz:
The blackpoll sings loudly 4 times in the audio below — at the beginning (3 seconds), end (46 seconds) and at 17 and 31 seconds into the recording. If you don’t hear anything really loud you are not hearing the blackpoll.
Black-and-white warbler, 5500 – 6750 Hertz:
In this recording the black-and-white warbler sings four notes in quick succession. The loudest parts of his song are at two frequencies: 5500 and 6750. I can hear this warbler if there’s not a lot of background noise. Otherwise no.
Fortunately Cornell Lab has produced a bird identification tool that also functions as a “bird hearing” aid. Download Merlin to your cellphone and use the Sound ID feature. Your phone will hear the birds that you cannot!
p.s. By now my ears have told you my age. How old are your ears? Check out this video which also explains why so many people have age-related hearing loss.