Monthly Archives: March 2012

Downtown Pittsburgh Falcon Watch

Sharon Leadbitter is organizing a peregrine falcon watch Downtown on Sunday, April 1 at noon.  Meet her on the top level of the First Avenue T Station parking garage.

She writes:  “Tomorrow (Sunday) I will be at the First Avenue garage on the top floor in case anyone would care to join me.  Cons – you have to pay to park.  Pros – great view of river, jail and most of the other buildings in the siting area, there’s a bathroom on the 3rd floor as well.  So come on down and join me.  Bring sunscreen, a chair, something to drink and good conversation.  I’ll be waiting for you …… (with homemade cookies as well)”

Blooming Early: Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is a rare evergreen plant that usually blooms in April in our area.  This year it’s blooming early, just like everything else.

Both of the plant’s first names — trailing and epigaea — refer to its woody, hairy stems that trail on the earth in a dense mat.  The leaves are oval and leathery, smooth on top and hairy below.

The plant is unremarkable until it blooms.  The flowers are tubular, 5-lobed, pink or white, and usually in clusters at the branch tips.  They’re quite fragrant with a spicy smell.

I’ve seen trailing arbutus on Arbutus Trail at Bear Run Nature Reserve.  Dianne Machesney photographed them last week at North Park.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

Webcam Round-up, March 2012

Dorothy and E2 have been incubating their eggs since March 25. Except for moments like this when they trade incubation duty, watching the falconcam can be pretty boring so you might want to keep several nestcams open at the same time to keep the action fresh.

Many of you have sent links to the other webcams you’re watching.  Here are just a few of the webcams viewing active nests right now.  Some are in different time zones so you’ll get to watch the sun rise and set across the continent.


This is just the tip of the iceberg!  There are more webcams than I can ever list and new ones announced every day as nesting season begins for more species.

Do you have a favorite webcam I didn’t list here?  Share it by posting a comment with the link.

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

Sycamore Snow

Here in the city of Pittsburgh we dodged the frost bullet on Tuesday morning.  The temperature fell to 28o but the air was so dry that no frost formed.

Our flowering trees were untouched and by yesterday morning the petals were falling and the seed balls on the London plane trees were on the verge of disintegrating (shown above).

As I walked to work a gust of wind sent the petals and seeds into the air.  The petals fell fast and drifted into the gutters but the plane tree (“sycamore”) seeds on their tiny parachutes floated like snowflakes.  It was beautiful … and impossible to photograph.

On a warm sunny morning we had sycamore snow.

(photo by Jebulon on Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

They’re Here Somewhere

View of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington tower (photo by Shane Cooper)
View of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington radio tower (photo by Shane Cooper)

Pittsburgh’s downtown peregrines have not courted at the Gulf Tower nest since March 1.  Even then they were largely absent in January and February when they should have been visiting the site more often.

What happened?

Peregrines are extremely faithful to successful nest sites but they will leave if they feel the location is no longer safe for raising their young.  In a city, humans walking above them, construction on the floors above or near their nest, or faces peering at them from indoors will send them away.

Construction had been going on at the Gulf Tower until quite recently.  Perhaps that’s why the peregrines are missing, though we will never know.

We do know Dori and Louie have not left Pittsburgh.  One of them flew past the Gulf Tower yesterday and they’ve been seen on the Monongahela River side of town.

For peregrines, biology rules in March.  In our area there’s a three week window when they typically begin laying eggs:  March 10 to April 2.  By April 2 the first clutch has begun.

So where are Dori and Louie now?

Downtown is their territory.  They’re here somewhere.

(photo by Shane Cooper.  Click on the photo to see the original.)


Eye Ring

Here’s a very small bird with a very large eye ring.

Native to Australia and New Zealand, he’s a migratory bird called a silvereye.   He’s only the size of a kinglet.

Right now the silvereyes are gathering in flocks because winter is coming to the southern hemisphere.  They’ll fly north to warmer climates eating fruit along the way.

Here’s a video of them eating kiwi at a backyard feeder.  (I’ll bet the bird that’s flapping its wings and cheeping is a fledgling.  What do you think?)

The eye ring is amazing…

Look me in the eye, he seems to say.


(This photo by JJ Harrison was Picture of the Day on Wikimedia Commons 23 March 2009.  Click on the photo to see the original)


Yesterday I hiked at Barking Slopes to see what was blooming after 11 days of June-like weather.

So many flowers had opened that the ground was carpeted with them. Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis), Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) and Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) were all at their peak.

So were Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above) that normally blooms in late March and Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum, below) that normally blooms in late April.

It was an odd juxtaposition of two flowers that never bloom at the same time.

Tonight we’ll have a killing frost. The March flowers may be able to cope but I doubt the April flowers will survive.

(photos by Kate St. John)

More Eggs To Come

It’s an hour before dawn and Dorothy is sleeping on the perch in front of her nest.  (See her at the left edge of the photo.)

The fact that she isn’t incubating her eggs indicates she will lay at least one more, possibly two.

Peregrines don’t begin incubation until their clutch is nearly complete.

So we’ll have a couple more days of egg-watching …  and then she’ll begin The Big Sit.

Update, March 25, 10:00am:
Looks like Dorothy and E2 have begun incubation. One more egg? Two?

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