When Will The Bonnies Arrive?

Bonaparte’s gulls, Palo Alto Baylands, Dec 2012 (photo by Elka Lange via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Some years spring migration is early. Some years it’s late. March is the time for ducks, blackbirds, phoebes, and gulls. I’m waiting for Bonaparte’s gulls (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) to arrive.

Bonaparte’s gulls pass through Pittsburgh from late March through April. Seven years ago I wrote about their sudden appearance on 21 March 2012 on the Ohio River and at North Park.

Read about their arrival — and their unusual nest location — in this vintage article: Bonnies On The Move.

When will the “bonnies” arrive? It’s time to check the rivers. 🙂

(photo by Elka Lange on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Oh My! 5 Eggs at Pitt

21 March 2019

Surprise! This morning at 6:08am Hope, the female peregrine at Pitt, laid a fifth egg.

We didn’t expect it but Hope certainly knew it was coming. This may — or may not — change our hatch date estimate. Only Hope knows the answer to that.

Will she lay six? I doubt it but you never know.

Watch the Pitt peregrines on the National Aviary falconcam at the Cathedral of Learning.

p.s. Thank you, Sara Showers, for alerting me about the 5th egg.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Is It Spring Yet?

Honeysuckle leaves in the City of Pittsburgh, 16 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 March 2019

Today is the astronomical First Day of Spring when the sun crosses the celestial equator at 5:58pm EDT. But is it Spring yet? It depends on where you live.

The USA National Phenology Network tracks spring across the continental U.S. based on first leaf out conditions for honeysuckle (Lonerica) and first bloom conditions for lilacs (Syringa vulgaris). The plants are non-native, and honeysuckle is invasive, but they make good indicators because they’re early responders to springtime warmth.

Monday’s animated Spring Leaf Index (18 March 2019) shows that leaf out was ahead of schedule through late February but fell behind in northern Virginia, the southern Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest when cold weather hit in early March.

Spring Leaf Index as of 18 March 2019 (animation from USA NPN)

According to the model, spring hasn’t reached Pittsburgh yet but I’m conducting my own Leaf Out Survey in my neighborhood. I took the honeysuckle photos below on 11 March and 16 March 2019. Both were cold days after a spurt of exceptionally warm weather. The tiny leaves on the right show the effect of 77 degrees F on March 14!

Honeysuckle leaf out, City of Pittsburgh, 11 March and 16 March 2019 (photos by Kate St. John)

Do you have leaves in your neighborhood yet? Is spring on time?

Follow spring’s progress at the USA National Phenology Network. For blooming times click here for the latest Spring Bloom map.

(animated map from the USA National Phenology Network. photos by Kate St. John)

Hays Bald Eagle Nest Watch

Bald eagle at the Hays nest, 18 Mar 2019 (screenshot via ASWP Hays eaglecam)

Tuesday, 19 March 2019:

Today is the 35th day since the first egg was laid at the Hays bald eagle nest in 2019. Bald eagle eggs — on average — hatch 35 days after they were laid, so the first egg may hatch today.

Or maybe not. Hatching time varies for bald eagles from 34 to 41 days. Just like baby due dates, the hatch date is rarely spot on.

However, if you haven’t been watching the eaglecam now’s a good time to start.

(screenshot from ASWP’s Hays Eaglecam)

Fourth Peregrine Egg At Pitt

Hope lays her fourth egg of 2019 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Hope, the female peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning laid her fourth egg this evening, Monday March 18, at 6:21pm. It was hard to get a snapshot of the eggs because she quickly resumed incubation … except for about 20 seconds when Egg #4 was still drying next to her.

Very brief view of the 4th egg alone

Then she stood up for a moment and we can see four eggs.

Look quickly! There are four eggs, 18 March 2019, 6:33pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

And she covered them.

Hope and Terzo will now incubate for approximately 34 days. Hatching may occur as early as Easter Day, April 21. I’ll post the annual warning not to watch the hatch on/about April 14.

p.s. For those who are new to watching Hope, she has a bad habit of killing & eating some of her chicks as they hatch. This is a very rare behavior. It is not normal. We don’t know why she does it.

(photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Identifying Bird Song: You Know More Than You Think

Eastern phoebe, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Eastern phoebe, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

After months of silence, spring is coming and the birds are singing again. It’s the best time of year to practice identifying birds by song.

No matter your skill level there’s always more to learn. If you’re an expert, it’s time to practice songs heard only once a year during spring migration. (Cape May warbler!)

If you’re new to bird song you probably think, “It’s so hard to learn bird song. I don’t know anything!”

Here are two hot tips to help birders at any level.

Tip #1: You’ll learn the song better if you see the bird singing. We humans are visual learners. Look for the unknown singer and watch him sing.

The eastern phoebe pictured above looks plain but he’s easy to identify by song because he says his name: FEE bee! FEE bee! The author of the video below went looking for the bird to watch him sing. It’s a bit seasick-making 😉

Tip #2: Keep at it! You already know some bird songs. Just build from there, one bird at a time.

Here are three birds most people can identify. I bet you can, too.

Bird #1 (Xeno Canto 454252, recorded in Norfolk County, MA by Will Sweet)

Bird #2 (Xeno Canto 421264, recorded in Tompkins County, NY by Gabriel Leite)

Bird #3 (Xeno Canto 399153, recorded in Harrison Hills Park, Allegheny County, PA by Aidan Place) This recording is faint so you may have to turn up the sound … and hear it raining.

You already know more than you think.

(photo of eastern phoebe by Peter Bell. Xeno Canto recordings identified and linked in the captions above)

Hays Woods Public Feedback Meeting, April 3

Hays Woods is a 660 acre forest in the City of Pittsburgh (image courtesy Friends of Hays Woods)

If you care about Pittsburgh’s city parks or you’re interested in the Hays bald eagles you’ll want to attend the upcoming Hays Woods Task Force Public Feedback Meeting on Wednesday April 3 at Holy Angels Parish.

Hays Woods is a forested 600 acre tract in the City of Pittsburgh that’s so large and so remote that most people don’t know it’s there. Its forest, meadows, wetlands and streams are surrounded by steep wooded slopes that are home to the Hays bald eagles.

Most people have never set foot in Hays Woods because it’s been private property for so long. In 2016, with an eye to making it a city park, Mayor Bill Peduto worked with the URA to purchase it from Pittsburgh Development Group II. He then appointed co-chairs Former Mayor Tom Murphy and Councilman Corey O’Connor to form the Hays Woods Task Force to make recommendations on the site’s future.

A scene from Hays Woods (photo from Western PA Conservancy’s Environmental Assessment)

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at 6:30pm at Holy Angels Parish, 408 Baldwin Road, Pittsburgh PA 15234 the Hays Woods Task Force will present its draft recommendations and ask for public feedback.

As a member of the Task Force I can tell you that we’re very enthusiastic about Hays Woods and look forward to all of it becoming a low impact park.

Come find out about Hays Woods and the Task Force recommendations. Learn about the timeline as it moves from URA ownership to City public access to a full-fledged public park. Give us feedback on Hays Woods’ future.

For more information see:

(photo credits: Forest in the City courtesy Friends of Hays Woods, Bald eagle at Hays by Dana Nesiti Eagles of Hays PA, Hays woodland photograph by Western PA Conservancy, flyer from the Hays Woods Task Force)

It’s Time For Ducks and Robins

Ruddy duck (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

If you like to watch the seasons change take some time to go birding this weekend. Ducks, robins and blackbirds are on the move.

Last Tuesday at Moraine State Park, my friends and I saw 16 species of waterfowl including tundra swans, three kinds of mergansers, a rare red-throated loon, and ruddy ducks like the one pictured above. (Notice his breeding plumage, blue bill.)

Migrating species change as you travel east. Last Tuesday at Yellow Creek State Park — only 70 miles east — there were 855 canvasbacks! We didn’t see any at Moraine.

Meanwhile American robins are arriving in good numbers. They sing at dawn in my neighborhood even though they haven’t reached their destination. Pretty soon they’ll be singing in the dark, too.

American robin in March (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

Watch for red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and killdeer. They’ve just arrived in Pittsburgh.

(photos by Lauri Shaffer, Birdingpictures.com)