Monthly Archives: April 2011

Looking For Cars


Early this month I spent six days in Nevada and never saw a roadrunner.  It was the one disappointment of my trip.

To compensate, Steve Valasek sent me photos of the roadrunners near his home in New Mexico. 

What does a roadrunner do before he crosses the road?  He looks for cars.  😉
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(photo by Steve Valasek. Click on the photo to see his roadrunner series.)

Now Blooming: Blue-eyed Mary


On Tuesday I mentioned that Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) is blooming at Cedar Creek Park, but I didn't show you what it looks like.

Here it is, with two pink flowers as rare as four-leaf clovers.

Blue-eyed Mary is typically blue and white but there are places where you can find pink ones.   Dianne Machesney photographed these at Braddocks Trail Park in North Huntingdon Township where she says about 10% of the flowers are pink.

This weekend I'm going to Enlow Fork where 99% them are blue.

UPDATE:  Sunday May 1 is the annual Enlow Fork Wildflower Walk, sponsored by the Wheeling Creek Watershed Association.  (Enlow Fork's full name is "Enlow Fork of Wheeling Creek.")  Click here for more information about the event.  I was there Friday and yes, the Blue-eyed Mary are carpeting the ground!

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

If Only We Could See

Cabbage white butterfly reflects UV light (photo by Nathan Morehouse in Science Magazine)

Did you know that butterflies use ultraviolet colors to communicate with each other?

Cabbage white butterflies look white to us but their wing structures reflect ultraviolet light in a range of colors they can see.

In the image above, the left side of the cabbage white looks normal to us, but the right side is closer to reality.  We're missing a lot of beauty because we can't see ultraviolet wavelengths.

Female cabbage whites have structures on the ventral side (underside) of their wings that reflect particular ultraviolet colors that attract the males to initiate mating.

With her wings folded, a female cabbage white signals "come hither."  If she doesn't like him she opens her wings to display the less reflective dorsal (back) side, effectively shutting off the attraction signal.

The males are reflective too, in a way that's attractive to the ladies.

There's a downside, though.  Birds that eat butterflies can see ultraviolet light so those signals can attract more than just a mate.

(Image by Nathan Morehouse linked from the Science Magazine article. Click on the image to see the original.)

First Egg Hatched at Gulf Tower


This morning at 6:33am Dori had her back to the camera when I saw her pick up an empty eggshell.  The eggshell meant the first chick had hatched but it took a while for Dori to turn around and show us the baby bird. 

Here it is, the first hatchling at Gulf Tower this year.

Last night Dori seemed so anxious for this egg to hatch that when Louie brought food for her, she held morsels in her beak and "ee-chupped" at the chicks inside their eggs.  "Come out and eat."

Jennie Barker captured the "feeding" in a video hotspot on the WildEarth webcam site.   To watch it, click here for instructions.

Or click on Dori's picture to watch the live falconcam at Gulf.

UPDATE 4/27, 10:32am:  Egg #2 just hatched.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Now Blooming: Virginia Bluebells


On Sunday I took a walk at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, famous for its spring wildflowers. 

The Cedar Creek valley was gorgeous.  The eastern hillside was carpeted in white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), the valley was coated in Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) and the western hill was a deep shade of blue, colored by Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) pictured here.

This is the week to see spring wildflowers in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Don't miss them!

(photo by Chuck Tague)

Don’t Move!


For days now we've been focused on birds who eat birds (peregrines, for instance) without thinking much about the lives of the birds who become dinner. 

Fortunately for them, small birds have several defense mechanisms for avoiding birds of prey.  To avoid a peregrine in the city, they stay low.  To avoid other hawks they say in thick cover.  When there's no cover handy they freeze in position, hoping the predator won't notice them.

Here's a pair of downy woodpeckers at Marcy Cunkelman's house, frozen on her porch railing to avoid being seen by a passing hawk. 

Don't move! 

The hawk didn't see them.  It worked.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)