First Feeding, April 22

  • Hope sees Terzo bringing food

While we wait to find out if another peregrine chick has hatched overnight at the Cathedral of Learning …

This year’s first chick was fed yesterday afternoon, but his mother’s back blocked the streaming camera so you probably couldn’t see it. Here’s a slideshow from the National Aviary’s snapshot camera.

p.s. The snapshot camera is at this link. It shows the current still photo.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

First Egg Hatches at Pitt

First nestling at Cathedral of Learning, 2019 (screenshot from the National Aviary falcon cam)

Hooray! The first egg hatched at the Cathedral of Learning this morning, April 22, at about 9:32a. (And his mother, Hope, did not harm him!)

HAPPY UPDATE, 22 APRIL 2019, 4:30pm:

The first chick hatched successfully and was not harmed. The slideshow below shows the hatchling and his parents on Monday 22 April 2019 from 9:32 to 9:42 am. Here’s a summary of the action:

  • Terzo (father bird) is on the nest at the moment the chick is first visible at 9:32am
  • Hope (mother bird) arrives at 9:38:07 to trade places with Terzo.
  • Hope carries the chick away from the scrape at 9:38:45. She does not harm it. She carries it back to the nest. (This was the only dangerous moment.)
  • Hope prepares to brood the chick at 9:41:56. We can see that the chick is fine.
  • Hope settles on the nest at 9:42:35. The coast is clear for this chick.
  • Terzo looks at the first Pitt peregrine hatchling, 22 April 2019, 9:32am

When Terzo arrives to trade places with Hope at 12:45pm, we can see the chick standing up, white and fluffy, in the slideshow below.

  • Hope sleeps while brooding the chick and incubating the eggs, 22 April 2019, 12:42:53

The first chick hatched without incident. We know from three years’ experience that Hope only kills a chick when it first hatches. Once she begins to brood it, the chick is safe.

There are four more eggs to go, so keep in mind …

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

I’ll keep you posted.

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

Palm Warblers In Yellow Or Brown

Palm warbler, yellow subspecies, on migration in eastern Pennsylvania (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

Palm warblers (Setophaga palmarum) come in two colors — yellow and brown — and both are seen in Pennsylvania during migration, but we rarely see them together. They follow different paths and have different destinations.

Lauri Shaffer ( found a yellow palm warbler at Montour Preserve in eastern PA in early April, above. Bobby Greene photographed a brown one on migration in Ohio a few years ago, below.

Palm warbler, western subspecies, on migration in Ohio (photo by Bobby Greene)

The colors indicate the two subspecies — yellow and western (brown) — that breed in different places, cross over on migration, and overlap their range in winter. The typical range maps don’t tell the story.

Palm warbler range map (from Wikimedia Commons)

Birds of North America Online gives the details, paraphrased below:

Two subspecies of the Palm Warbler exist, easily identified in the field. [They] inhabit separate breeding grounds but overlap on their wintering grounds. The Western Palm Warbler (S. p. palmarum) nests roughly west of Ottawa, Ontario and winters along the southeastern coast of the U.S. and the West Indies. The Yellow Palm Warbler (S. p. hypochrysea) nests east of Ottawa and winters primarily along the Gulf Coast.

paraphrased from Birds of North America Online

For the quickest way to their breeding grounds “yellow” crosses to the Atlantic Flyway in the spring (green arrow going east) while “western” crosses to the Mississippi-Ohio watershed (green arrow going northwest). Their breeding grounds divide at the pink line. On the map it would look like this.

Two subspecies of palm warbler cross over on migration (range map from Wikimedia Commons, annotated by Kate St. John)

If you’re in the Florida Keys in February you’ll see both of them, as Chuck Tague did when he made this slide.

But don’t expect to see them both in Pittsburgh. Ours are the western palm warbler. It’s a rare day when we find a yellow one.

Read more about palm warbler subspecies in Chuck Tague’s blog: Palm Tree Warblers.

(credits: Yellow palm warbler by Lauri Shaffer, Brown palm warbler by Robert Greene, Jr. Range maps from Wikimedia Commons, annotated by Kate St. John. Brown and yellow comparison by Chuck Tague)

Yesterday At Schenley Park

Five of us went birding in Schenley Park on Saturday morning April 20. The weather was great! Blue sky and puffy clouds.

Our Best Birds were a yellow-rumped warbler and two ruby-crowned kinglets chasing each other and raising their red crowns. First-of-Year Birds were fun, too: Wood thrushes, house wrens, and a spotted sandpiper. We saw 29 species: ebird checklist S55174092.

Schenley Park has few wildflowers because there are so many deer. We saw three in broad daylight on Saturday (same location as this March 27 photo). I’ve seen a herd of 21 in the past month. The flowers don’t stand a chance.

Herd of deer in Schenley Park, distant photo, 27 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fortunately the deer leave the trout lilies alone. Perhaps these plants are poisonous.

Trout lilies blooming in Schenley Park, 18 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaf Out is coming. The red oaks have very tiny leaves.

In case you’re curious, bird migration has picked up in the past two weeks. Here are the First-of-Year Birds I’ve seen in Schenley Park from April 10 to April 20, 2019.

  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis (4/10)
  • Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor (4/10)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula (4/11)
  • Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus (4/11)
  • Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius (4/12)
  • Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis (4/17)
  • Broad-winged Hawk – Buteo platypterus (4/18)
  • Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum (4/18)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata (4/19)
  • Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius (4/20)
  • House Wren – Troglodytes aedon (4/20)
  • Wood Thrush – Hylocichla mustelina (4/20)

p.s. For information on future outings, see the Events page.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Now Blooming

Bluets at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 April 2019

Wildflowers are blooming, elms are setting seed, and some early trees are leafing out. Here’s a sampling of buds and blooms this week in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Tuesday our group found many flowers opening including bluets (above) and early saxifrage (below). Our complete list is at the end.

Early saxifrage at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

The trail at Racoon Wildflower Reserve was littered with the tips of sugar maple branches, chiseled off by squirrels. These Acer saccharum buds are opening to reveal new flowers.

Sugar maple bud opening at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile in the City where it’s warmer …

This spruce in Shadyside was flowering, too. The pink buds will become cones.

American elms (Ulmus americana) have already set seed. You can tell this is an American (not slippery) elm because the samaras are deeply notched.

American elm samaras from Schenley Park, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

In Schenley Park, invasive Norway maples (Acer platanoides) are leafing out.

Norway maple leaf-out in Schenley Park, 17 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spend time outdoors this weekend and see what’s blooming near you.

Here’s are list of flowers seen at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Tuesday 16 April 2019, in no particular order. Many flowers were only beginning to open. By now they’ll be in full bloom.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Easter Lilies Are Poisonous To Cats

Easter lily (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A flower that’s poisonous to one particular mammal …

If you have a cat, keep this plant far away from him. Easter lilies are extremely poisonous to cats.

Cat montage (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Native to Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) are popular flowers at this time of year. Unfortunately every part of the plant is poisonous to cats: the flowers, the leaves, the stem, even the pollen.

Easter lilies are so poisonous to cats that if the pollen touches her and she grooms it away, it will poison her. The result is severe kidney failure.

The poisoning occurs quickly. Signs are evident within 6-12 hours of exposure. There is no antidote but immediate veterinary attention will improve the cat’s chance to live.

The Pet Poison Helpline recommends:

If your cat is seen consuming any part of a lily, bring your cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for medical care.

Pet Poison Helpline — Lilies Poisonous to cats

Do you have a dog? No worries. Easter lilies are not poisonous to dogs. This message only applies to cats.

Read more about cats at the Pet Poison Helpline. Read about dogs and lilies here.

p.s. Members of the Lilium genus are favorite foods for deer. I have not seen deer eating Easter lilies but I bet they love them.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Red Admirals’ Mass Migration

Red admiral butterfly in April in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Monarch butterflies are famous for migrating long distances from North America to Mexico but they’re not the only butterfly that travels far. Red admirals migrate, too.

Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta) occur in Europe, Asia and North America. Though the European population can hibernate, red admirals on this continent migrate south to places where their favorite host plant — stinging nettle — grows throughout the winter. In eastern North American they spend the winter in south Texas.

Over the winter a new generation of red admirals matures to fly north and repopulate the continent. We usually don’t notice them but in the spring of 2012 hot weather came so fast that red admirals passed through Presque Isle State Park in a couple of days on mass migration.

On Throw Back Thursday read about the amazing number of red admirals in 2012 in this vintage blog: Mass Migration.

Why don’t we see them migrating more often? Perhaps they’re traveling high above our heads. According to Wikipedia: “During migration, the red admiral flies at high altitudes where high-speed winds carry the butterfly, requiring less energy.” Oh my!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Caution For Hatch Day 2019

APRIL 24, 2017: Hope picked up her first pipped egg. Later she killed and ate it. (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
APRIL 24, 2017: Hope picked up her first pipped egg. Later she killed and ate it. (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


The peregrine eggs at the Cathedral of Learning nest are due to hatch next week, but here’s a word of caution:  You won’t want to watch.

My calculation says that hatch day for Hope and Terzo’s eggs will be next week, some time between Monday April 22 through Thursday April 25, 2019.

However, it won’t be a happy event. Hope has a habit of opening some of the eggs with her sharp beak, killing and then eating some of her chicks.  Her behavior is abnormal and upsets nearly everyone who sees it. She has done it every year.

In 2016 Hope killed and ate two chicks before they could emerge from their eggs.  In 2017 she killed one. In 2018 she killed two.

We don’t know why she does it but my word to the wise is this:

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

p.s. After hatching is over Hope is a good mother, caring for her chicks and guarding them against danger. From 2016 through 2018 she fledged six youngsters from the Cathedral of Learning.

(snapshot from 24 April 2017 from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Late April: What’s Next?

Great horned owl with yawning nestling, April 2019 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Spring is popping in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here’s what to look for in late April.

  • Branching! Great horned owlets are growing up fast. At the earliest nests owlets will walk on nearby branches before the leaves come out. Dana Nesiti photographed this yawning owlet in early April.
  • Nest building: Songbirds are building nests especially American robins, song sparrows and Carolina wrens. House sparrows flutter by with cellophane for their nests.
  • Migration: Blackbirds and tree swallows are here. Gray catbirds are coming soon. Also Louisiana waterthrush, yellow-throated warbler, hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue-headed vireo, brown thrasher, blue-gray gnatcatcher, pine warbler, northern parula, chimney swift, barn swallow and house wren. See them on an outing with the Three Rivers Birding Club.
  • Trees: Flowering trees include redbud, downy serviceberry, cherry and more. “Leaf out” comes in early May.
  • Wildflowers: Violets, large-flowered trillium, trout lilies, Virginia bluebells and much more. Get outdoors with the Botanical Society of Western PA or Wissahickon Nature Club. Visit Enlow Fork on the last Sunday in April for the Enlow Fork Extravaganza starting at 8:00am.
  • Butterflies: Spring azures, cabbage whites, eastern commas, orange sulphurs, red admirals.
  • Turkey season: Be careful if you hear a turkey calling; it might be a hunter. Spring Gobbler hunting season runs from the last Saturday in April through all of May. Junior hunters get a one-day early start on the next-to-last Saturday (April 20).

In late April, spring is happening fast. Don’t miss it!

(photo by Dana Nesiti)