Monthly Archives: April 2009

Here They Come! or What to Look For in Early May

Prairie Warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)The beginning of May is a birder’s paradise in eastern North America.

Spring migration was exciting at the end of April but it runs full force when the trees leaf out in early May.

What had been a trickle of warblers turns into a torrent.  First-of-year sightings (“I saw my first hummingbird”) give way to contests for the number of species seen in a single day (“I saw 75.” “Well, I saw 102.”).

Pittsburgh birders move with the birds.  In early May we hug the southern shore of Lake Erie, watching migrants as they pause to eat and regain energy before crossing the lake to Canada.  The lake is a barrier so they aggregate in a few hot spots – especially Magee Marsh and Presque Isle State Park.

There is so much to see!  Birds migrating and nesting, new butterflies and moths, more wildflowers blooming.  Chuck Tague made a list of what to expect.  I tried to summarize below, but it’s hard to be brief about May.

  • The trees leaf out.  Pollen counts are up.  Gesundheit!
  • Birds, birds and more birds!
    • My favorite reds, oranges and blues: scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, indigo bunting, cerulean warblers.
    • Every thrush is a favorite: Swainsons thrush, wood thrush, veery and hermit thrush.  The gray-cheeked thrush comes last, later in May.
    • Warblers and vireos galore!  My favorite ovenbirds, redstarts, Blackburnians, Canadas, black-throated blues and prothonotary warblers.  Prairie warblers (pictured here), bay-breasted and chestnut-sided warblers.  Vireos of many kinds: red-eyed, white-eyed, blue-headed, yellow-throated and warbling.  So many yellow warblers they become boring.  (Imagine being bored by a warbler!)
  • Nesting everywhere.  The first robins fledge, the killdeer hatch, blue-gray gnatcatchers lay eggs.  Too many to list.
  • Baby bunnies and mammals
  • Moths and butterflies
  • More flowers…

But in early May I only have eyes for birds.

(Prairie Warbler photo by Chuck Tague)

4 nestlings at Pitt, looks like 2 at Gulf Tower

Dorothy feeds four chicks, 28 Apr 2009 (photo from the National Aviary webcam)

If you read the comments on my last peregrine blog entry you’ll see that Lauren & MJED were ahead of me this morning and saw Dorothy feeding four chicks.  All four eggs have hatched.  Yay!

When I got to work I pulled the motion detection photos from the webcam and found out two things:  The last chick hatched at almost exactly 8:00pm last night, and this morning’s breakfast was a Baltimore oriole.

Meanwhile, many of you commented that you’ve seen two chicks at Gulf Tower.  I haven’t been able to see two yet and sure would like to confirm it.  Tasha has fooled me every step of the way this year.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Two chicks at Gulf tower (photo from National Aviary webcam)
And…. confirmation that there are 2 chicks at Gulf Tower!  Donna Memom captured the photo this morning.

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh, PA)

Oak Flowers

Rose-breasted grosbeak eating flowers (photo by Chuck Tague)
Rose-breasted grosbeak eating flowers (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Friday evening my husband said, “My eyes are itching.  Something new must have bloomed.”

I was stumped.  I don’t know what he’s allergic to and I had no idea what was blooming.  I don’t have pollen allergies any more (they mysteriously disappeared when I was in my 30s) so I can’t even cue on my own reactions to figure out the cause.

However, a bird gave me the hint two days ago when I saw my “first of year” rose-breasted grosbeaks in Schenley Park.  They were munching oak flowers.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks are quite fond of oaks and don’t return until the oak flowers bloom.

In fact, many birds time their journey north to coincide with the blooming of their favorite trees.  I learned this from Chuck Tague years ago and was reminded of it by his blog on Leaf Out.

So now I have an answer.  My husband is probably allergic to oak pollen.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

3 nestlings at Pitt, only 1 at Gulf Tower

Dorothy feeds three nestlings at Pitt (photo from National Aviary webcam)

Here’s a “baby picture” from the University of Pittsburgh peregrine falcon nest this morning:  three little birds calling for food.

At the Gulf Tower it looks like only one of the five eggs produced a chick.  We’ll continue to look for another egg to hatch but that may be all for this year. 

Last year Tasha2 hatched only two out of five eggs, probably due to her age.  We don’t know when she was born – she was unbanded when she arrived in 1998 – but she is at least 13 years old, not young for a peregrine.  Dr. Todd Katzner of the National Aviary remarked that senescence is common in raptors.  It’s not unexpected that they become less productive over the years.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Breakfast is served

Dorothy and E2 prepare to feed their new nestlings (photo from National Aviary webcam)

Yesterday morning was a big day at the University of Pittsburgh peregrine nest.  Two chicks had hatched overnight, a third was hammering his way out of the shell, Mom (Dorothy) was watching, and all of them were hungry.  Dad (E2) had his work cut for him.  He had to bring home enough for four!

It was a good morning for hunting.  The south wind had brought new migrants to Schenley Park, including a group of noisy blue jays.  One of them became breakfast.

E2 called as he arrived with food.  Dorothy and baby called back.  With so many mouths to feed, he had no time to pluck and prepare a fillet.  Instead he brought it right away.  Dorothy took it from him for about a minute while he got acquainted with his new babies.  Then she returned and fed three new nestlings.

How do I know this?  I was birding in Schenley Park at the time – I saw the blue jays – and Traci Darin was up early watching the webcam.  She captured the action in snapshots and sent me the images which I made into the slideshow below.

(Note that the slideshow loops, the action repeats.)

(All photos from the National Aviary webcam at the University of Pittsburgh peregrine falcon nest)

Peregrine eggs hatched overnight at Pitt

New peregrine chicks at Univ of Pittsburgh nest (photo from National Aviary webcam)

At least two of Dorothy and E2’s four eggs have hatched at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning.

I checked the webcam just before dawn (that’s why this picture is dark) and saw three eggshell pieces.  Then Dorothy moved and I could see one, maybe two, chicks. 

The Big Sit is over.  Now the fun begins!

And in case you didn’t see it, the Saturday Post-Gazette covered Tasha & Louie’s first hatch in: “First falcon of spring hatches atop Gulf Tower

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Signs of Spring: the first leaves

Norway Maple leaves have just opened (photo by Kate St. John)

After a very warm day yesterday – 82 degrees! – leaves are popping open in the city of Pittsburgh.

The new leaves pictured here are on a Norway maple in my yard.  Norway maples are invasive and can out-compete native trees.  This one is a “volunteer” that grew on its own, seeded from a tree that was cut down two houses away to make room for a deck.

If I was a purist I should cut down my invasive “volunteer” but I’m grateful for all the trees in my neighborhood – there are so few of them – so it stays.

(photo by Kate St. John… not a good picture but it’s all I can do with my cell phone.)

False Alarm

No eggs have hatched at Gulf Tower peregrine nest (photo from National Aviary webcam)

By yesterday afternoon, observers watching the Gulf Tower webcam wondered if any eggs had actually hatched.  Twice they’d seen Tasha and Louie trade places and each time they saw all eggs, no chicks.  The situation got so confusing that I put off making another announcement.  It was too embarrassing to keep changing the news.

Somewhere in the back of my mind was a voice that said, “There’s another way tell if the eggs have hatched besides watching for white fluff on the camera.”  Duh!  We can use the old-fashioned bird watching technique.  If there are babies at the nest, the parents feed them.  We’ve seen none of that activity.

As I sat down to write this message I checked the webcam.  There was just enough light to see Louie standing in front of Tasha, probably asking if the eggs had hatched overnight.  She stood up to show him but his body blocked the camera view.  After he left I got lucky.  Tasha left too and I was able to capture this picture. 

No babies yet.  Louie didn’t bring food.  Tasha didn’t feed chicks. 

And so we wait.

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh)

p.s.  Tasha has one white feather on her left wing.  You’ll see it when she faces left.