In early October, warm days and cool clear nights are the perfect combination for dew on the grass. One of these nights the temperature of the grass will drop below freezing and the dew will form as frost.
These feeders are located in Manitouwadge, Ontario, Canada, a small town 430 miles northeast of Duluth, Minnesota. It’s already cold there with temperatures well below freezing every night (21o to 27o F or -6o to -3o C).
Tune in to Ontario FeederWatch for a preview of birds we hope to see in the northern U.S. this winter.
Winter birding can be boring in Pittsburgh but not this year. The finches are coming!
According to Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast, we’re going to see a lot of northern finches this winter because the “cone, alder and birch seed crops are poor to low in most of Ontario and the Northeast.” These irruptive birds usually stay in Canada all year but move south, east and west in autumn when there’s not enough to eat. Here are a few of the “treats” in store for us in western Pennsylvania.
Above, common redpolls (Acanthis flammea) are a goldfinch-sized birds with rosy chests, rosy caps, and black faces. When they first arrive it takes them a while to notice bird feeders but when they do they cause a mob scene. Look carefully in the flock for a very similar white-chested bird, the rare hoary redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni).
Purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus) are northern visitors that resemble our familiar house finches but male purple finches are “purple” as if they were dipped head first in berry juice. Even their flank stripes are rosy, not brown. Here’s a guide for telling the difference between Purple and House finches.
Two irruptive non-finch species have already arrived as indicators of good birds to come.
Birds that eat insects leave Pennsylvania for the winter but the omnivores, like this house sparrow, stay behind. Food won’t be a problem but it’s going to get cold so the house sparrows get ready in advance.
A study by Lowther and Cink in 1992 found that house sparrows (Passer domesticus) prepare for winter by molting into heavier plumage. Plumage weight increased 70% between August and September alone. Summer weight is 0.9 grams; winter weight is 1.5 grams.
In September the house sparrows put on their winter coats.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. This article was inspired by page 153 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill, 3rd edition.) )
Twenty years ago our fall foliage reached its peak around October 15 but today — only one day before the 15th — the leaves have only begun to change. We had the same situation last year as shown in my photo taken at Moraine State Park on 15 October 2017.
Delayed timing makes it hard to know when fall color will reach its peak but the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry (DCNR) is here to help. Check out their Fall Foliage Guide complete with an interactive map and weekly reports. The October 11-17, 2018 forecast map is shown below (yellow means “approaching best color”). Click here or on the caption to see the full report.
Don’t worry if you haven’t gone “leaf peeping” yet in western Pennsylvania. You still have time to see fall colors this month.
Last Sunday, October 7, it felt like summer when Steve Tirone and I went looking for Armillaria in Schenley Park. We didn’t find any honey mushrooms but Steve found an amazing insect along the Beacon-Bartlett meadow trail.
This praying mantis (possibly Tenodera sinensis) was not alone. When we paused to take photographs, we saw another mantis perched nearby and a third one flew away from us. Gigantic flying bug!
Fall is mating time for praying mantises. The adults will die but their egg masses will survive the winter. Here’s what the egg sac looks like. Don’t take one home until you’ve read these Praying Mantis Egg Sac instructions. They will hatch in your house!
Last weekend was a busy time for praying mantises, hanging out in Schenley Park.
The Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia closely monitors Virginia’s peregrine falcons — so closely, in fact, that they identify individual nesting birds. CCB may not know the origin of every adult peregrine (some arrive unbanded) but their goal is to know who’s who at every site.
Now that the 2018 nesting season is over, CCB analyzed their identification data and discovered an anomaly in Virginia. Not only did they see the highest turnover rate of any year to date, but three times as many female peregrines were replaced as males.
The female peregrine pictured above, Hope (black/green 69/Z), hatched at Hopewell, Virginia in 2008. She now nests at the Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, far away from her Virginia birthplace. She chose a territory where female survival is higher than where she was born.