With COVID-19 raging around the world, we humans feel a little less invincible that we did a few months ago. Despite our own fragility there’s a tiny creature, less than 1mm long, that has survived all five mass extinctions. The tardigrade or water bear is practically indestructible.
Tardigrades have a second nickname — moss piglets — because moss and lichen are their favored habitat. Tardigrades don’t care how cold it is. They live in glacier mice and …
… a lot of harsh locations as shown in the video below.
For such a tiny shorebird, male piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) have an elaborate courtship dance. The best part of it — the “tattoo” — was tweeted last Friday by the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program.
You might hear about fancy mating dances done by birds in the tropics. Piping Plovers have one too! Goose stepping (tattooing) is a courtship dance done by the male right before copulation. The female rejects or accepts this dance! ? Video by Plover Lovers pic.twitter.com/0zyKH54fgW
— Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program (@ontarioplovers) July 3, 2020
There was plenty to see this week in Schenley Park even though the weather was hot.
My best visit was on Thursday morning when my friend Andrea convinced me to come out at 7:30a. I’ve been missing a lot by sitting at my computer until 9am. Best Bird: Louisiana waterthrush! Waterthrushes don’t breed in the park but they stop by in transit before and after breeding.
Best flowers this week include the bright yellow flower (above) near the Westinghouse fountain, a cultivated variety of St. Johnswort (Hypericum).
Teasel (Dipsacus), an invasive alien, has not bloomed yet but the flower buds are visible between the spikes.
Municipal 4th of July fireworks celebrations are canceled in Pennsylvania because of COVID-19 but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any explosions. Amateurs have been setting them off in neighborhoods and fields ever since the weather turned warm. Complaints are blossoming as fireworks “escape to the wild.”
The city ballpark in my Pittsburgh neighborhood has always been a magnet for amateur fireworks activity so we’ve learned to cope. Some call the police (who can’t do anything if the fireworks are legal). Meanwhile we wait for the noise to go away. The birds wait, too.
This spring the unresolved rivalry between two male peregrines — Terzo and Ecco — at the Cathedral of Learning made for a disappointing nesting season but generated a lot of speculation. Now that we know more about the Downtown peregrines we can lay one bit of speculation to rest.
Back on 15 March when Terzo and Ecco’s rivalry was spinning like a revolving door, I was surprised to see the Downtown female peregrine Dori appear on camera at Pitt. At the time I couldn’t help wondering, “Is the unbanded male Dori’s new mate who is shopping in Oakland because he doesn’t like the Downtown site?” … This led to speculation that Ecco was two-timing between the two nests. No, he is not.
Ecco has not been two-timing between Pitt and Downtown because (1) he’s not Dori’s mate and (2) he would have been way too busy Downtown to visit Morela at certain critical times.
Meanwhile at Pitt, Ecco spent a busy day courting Morela multiple times on 25 June.
Even if we didn’t know Dori’s real mate, this timing indicates Ecco has nothing to do with the Downtown nest.
So, Ecco isn’t two-timing. Frankly he’s having trouble being a successful one-timer.
My apologies for sending us all down this speculative rabbit hole. I should have brushed off Dori’s visit as curiosity on her part. I’ve seen other females visit the Pitt nest during turbulent times. Magnum visited twice in 2016 during Hope’s first turbulent year.
As much as I know peregrines I never learn that they’re surprising.
(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh and Lori Maggio)
If like me you owned a field guide at the turn of the century you remember that loons were the first bird in the book. Ornithologists placed them there because they thought loons were the oldest evolved bird in North America but DNA sequencing changed all that. In 2020 loons are near the middle of the tree and they have unexpected relatives.
In this July 2019 phylogenetic supertree I’ve circled loons and their relatives in blue. Notice that they aren’t related to ducks at all. Ducks are related to chickens.
Here’s a closer look at the blue section showing that loons (Gaviiformes) stand alone after they split from a common ancestor of penguins, tubenoses, storks, cormorants and pelicans.
Because of the COVID-19 shutdown there have been few eyes on the street in Downtown Pittsburgh so I was grateful when Point Park University police called me on Friday afternoon, 26 June 2020, with news of the Third Avenue peregrine nest. Unfortunately they had found a dead peregrine falcon fledgling. The good news is there are youngsters Downtown and they’re learning to fly. Maybe there are more. On Sunday morning 28 June Lori Maggio went Downtown to find out.
At 9:30am Lori texted me to report a youngster whining on the nest ledge and an adult watching from a gargoyle on Lawrence Hall.
The youngster was watching this adult who has a silver right leg band (color band is hidden from this view). This is not Dori. Her right leg band is pink. In addition, this bird doesn’t look like Dori and its plumage looks male to me — sharply contrasting head, tail, wings and pale back. If I’m right, the Downtown male is banded.
As Lori watched, the youngster exercised her wings and made some practice flights along the ledge.
At 2pm I joined Lori at Third Avenue and we walked around looking for peregrines. There was still one juvenile at the nest ledge plus an adult on top of Oxford Center.
Interestingly, the adult intently watched a spot we could not see in the vicinity of Forbes and Cherry Way, staring at it for at least half an hour before flying away. This sort of intense watching is usually a sign that the parent peregrine is watching a juvenile. If so, there were at least three young at the Downtown nest this year.
This morning Lori is at Third Avenue again, observing one adult plus the youngster on the nest ledge. I hope she can get a photo of the color band!