Monthly Archives: March 2011

News From Other Nests

Now that Pittsburgh’s on-camera peregrines are incubating eggs — and a little boring — you may have time to watch some other nests. 

Here’s news from just of few of the many on-camera peregrine nests on the Internet:

  • Rochester, New York’s Times Square Building is home to Beauty and Archer, pictured here.  Beauty, who hatched at the Cathedral of Learning in 2007, stays in Rochester all year long but Archer leaves for the winter so they’ve been getting reacquainted since his return on March 12.  Rochester (hometown of Kodak) has a great camera setup with five streaming cameras, blogs, forums and archives, all at Rfalconcam.  No eggs yet, but they’re expected soon!
  • Cleveland, Ohio’s Terminal Tower is home to SW (female) and Boomer.  SW hatched at Pittsburgh’s Gulf Tower in 1999 and is currently incubating four eggs.  The Cleveland Museum of Natural History hosts three cameras at the CMNH-Falconcam and a Forum with news and photos of peregrines in Ohio and around the world. 
  • The Rachel Carson Office Building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is home to a pair of peregrines who finished laying four eggs on March 18.  PA Falcon Cam provides video streaming at the nest from two cameras, plus a photo gallery and news.  One of the cameras is zoomed so close that you can see the peregrine breathing as it incubates.
  • Wilmington, Delaware has a pair of peregrines with five eggs at the Brandywine Building.  The female of this pair was born in Harrisburg, PA, the male was born in this nest box!  See daily updates and photos on the Wilmington Falcons blog and watch the streaming camera here.
  • The Peregrine Fund has a streaming camera at One Capital Center in Boise, Idaho which is best viewed using Internet Explorer (not Firefox!).  Idaho is two timezones behind us so their peregrines will still be awake while ours are sleeping.
  • The webcams in Canada aren’t live yet, but a selection of cameras can be found here at the Canadian Peregrine Foundation.
  • And finally, if you’re awake at 1:30am Eastern time, the sun is about to rise in England and you can watch the Derby Cathedral peregrines start their day.  Derby, UK is 5 hours ahead of us so these birds will be asleep long before our sunset.  Or maybe not… They’re famous for hunting at night(*).  No eggs yet, but they’re imminent.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get distracted from what you intended to do on your computer.  😉

(photo of Archer and Beauty from Rfalconcam in Rochester, New York)

(*) See the comments for a link to the blog+video of hunting at night …and… for links to even MORE falconcams.

Not A Good Sign

Despite the cold and potential for snow I keep looking for signs of spring. 

There’s not a lot out there.  I found small bittercress and coltsfoot blooming on south-facing slopes last Sunday and I found rosettes of these leaves, noticable because they had a purplish tinge all winter (photo at left) and now they’re turning green (photo at right).

This is Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) a biennial plant native to Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Whether it hitchhiked to North America or was intentionally imported as a culinary herb (it tastes like garlic) it hasn’t been here all that long.  It was first recorded on Long Island in the 1860s.

Since then garlic mustard has invaded the ecological niche occupied by our favorite spring plants.  It easily becomes the dominant plant of forest and floodplain because:  

  • It starts growing in the spring before our native plants dare show their heads. 
  • Its seeds are viable for five years.
  • It produces allelochemicals that suppress the good fungi our native plants rely on, and
  • Deer don’t eat it.  🙁

So though I’m usually happy to find green leaves in March, these are not a good sign.

For more information on garlic mustard and what you can do about it, click here.

(photo on left by Marcy Cunkelman, photo on right from Wikimedia Commons.)

The Other Half of the Equation

Last Thursday’s quiz showed a small tree with long yellow catkins.

Those were the male flowers, this is the female flower of the American hazelnut.

She’s boring and small because she doesn’t need to attract attention to collect pollen.  The male flowers produce so much pollen for windborne dispersal that your fingers become dusty yellow when you touch them.

Thanks to Marcy Cunkelman for tracking down the other half of the pollination equation.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

5 Eggs at Gulf Tower since Saturday!

Surprise!  There are five eggs at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest… and they’ve been there for two and a half days.

This evening Catherine posted a comment (here) that she thought she saw 5 eggs at the Gulf Tower nest on Saturday but was unable to capture a photo until tonight.  She included a photo link with her comment.  Aha!  Proof!

Spurred on by Catherine’s discovery I went through the motion detection snapshot archives to find the first evidence of five eggs.  Here they are on Saturday, March 26 at 12:32pm.  Dori and Louie have been so good about covering them that it took Catherine’s sharp eyes to point them out.

This really is March Madness. 

Pitt: 5, Gulf: 5.

(photo from the National Aviary webcam at the Gulf Tower)

Now Blooming: Snow Trillium

Despite the cold snap, here’s a happy sign of spring.

Yesterday the Botanical Society of Western PA hiked in the southeastern corner of Allegheny County and found snow trillium in bloom. 

Snow trillum (Trillium nivale) is a small plant only 2-4″ tall that is so hardy it will even bloom in snow.  It’s quite rare throughout its range and is considered vulnerable in Pennsylvania because it requires undisturbed habitat.  Logging and mining threaten its existence.

This data sheet about snow trillium indicates it only occurs in our corner of the state. 

We are lucky to have it.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

Swallow Tails

In March the cliff swallows come back to San Juan Capistrano and the swallow-tailed kites come back to Florida.

Swallow-tailed kites are graceful, strikingly beautiful, black and white raptors with long swallow tails who kite on the wind.

I have only seen one twice because I usually visit Florida when the kites are wintering in South America.

Read about their return to Florida on Chuck Tague’s March 8th blog.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

A Spot of Warmth

Yow!  It’s cold this morning!  18oF!  Even so, there’s a spot of warmth in the woods.

Though it looks weird and smells bad, this plant is exciting to find because it’s one of the first to flower in the Spring.

This is eastern skunk cabbage, a wetland plant that’s found in northeastern Asia (Siberia to Japan) and northeastern North America (Quebec to Minnesota to the mountains of North Carolina).  

Skunk cabbage has many names but most of them refer to its smell, a fetid odor that’s sure to offend if you break or tear the plant. Foetid is even in its scientific name:  Symplocarpus foetidus.  It smells awful to us but it’s attractive to scavenging insects who pollinate the plant and possibly seek it out for warmth.


Yes, skunk cabbage’s other claim to fame is that it generates its own heat, a talent called thermogenesis.  The skunk cabbage spadix (the flower spike inside this purple spathe) can maintain a 60oF temperature while the outdoor temperature is 5oF.  Scientists have theorized that the warmth attracts insects to come inside out of the cold.

Look for skunk cabbage now and remember where you find it.  In late spring the flower disappears and in its place will be huge, bright green leaves that look so different that the plant is almost unrecognizable!

(photo by Sue Sweeney from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

Hearing Birdsong

Spring is here and the birds are singing.  It’s time to get our ears in tune to identify birds by song.

Did you know that even with excellent hearing there are some bird sounds we cannot hear?

Our ears are tuned to the sounds important to humans — our own voices, babies crying, the noises of danger — but our sense of hearing doesn’t pick up everything.

Animals are the same way.  Some birds make noises higher in scale than we can hear but it’s well within their own hearing range.  Golden-crowned kinglets and Blackburnian warblers are famous for singing high-pitched songs that sound fainter as they rise in pitch.  Some people can’t hear the high notes at all.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, whales sing below our range though sometimes we can feel their sounds as vibrations when they’re loud enough.

So what is our normal hearing range?  It’s different from person to person and the range narrows as we age.  Young people hear the widest spectrum.  Older adults lose hearing at the top of their range.

You can experiment with what you’re able to hear at this University of Kentucky Engineering webpage.  Read the instructions, then scroll down for a selection of recordings of different tones.  Each recording repeats the tone at a particular Hz level.  The recordings start loudly and become softer as they continue.

I discovered that my hearing range is 100 Hz up to 9000 Hz but at the far ends of the spectrum (100 and 9,000) I can only hear the tone when it’s very loud.  It disappears as it gets softer.

That may explain why I think golden-crowned kinglets sound fainter as they rise in pitch.  I’ll bet they’re singing with the same loudness the whole time but as they rise in pitch they approach the upper end of my hearing range.

The strangest part of the hearing test was when I clicked on the 60Hz and 10,000Hz recordings and heard nothing!   Those sounds are out there but I’ll never know.(*)

Try it yourself.

(photo of a Marsh Wren singing, by Chuck Tague)

(*) p.s. See the comments for information on the quality of sound from computer speakers vs. headphones.
UPDATE,  Nov 28,2012: I tried this test again with better computer speakers and discovered I can hear 12,000 Hz, but it is so high that apart from the hearing test I would mistake it for ringing in my ears and not a noise produced in the wild.