Monthly Archives: April 2012

Three at Breakfast, One Egg To Go

This morning at the Cathedral of Learning three hungry peregrine chicks begged Dorothy for breakfast.  At least one was so hungry that he started begging while she was still brooding them.

At dawn E2 announced breakfast off camera.  When Dorothy got up to receive it, I could see the fourth egg still unhatched.

Hatching can take 72 hours from first pip, which was visible yesterday morning.  So we wait.

Meanwhile the new chicks are perfecting their begging skills.  When they slow down Dorothy encourages them by “chupping.”

“Eat!” she says, and they raise their heads again and open their beaks.

So cute!

Watch them on live streaming video here.

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

Three Eggs Hatched Today at Pitt

Friday, April 27 was a big day at the Pitt peregrine nest.  Three of Dorothy and E2’s four eggs hatched!

6:37am:  First egg hatched.

4:33pm:  Dorothy removes an empty shell, the hint that another chick has hatched.

4:36pm:  E2 arrives to see his new babies.  When Dorothy leaves the nest, we see three chicks.  Two of them are still pink and damp.  Here’s a marked up photo showing where they are.


And here are all three on an unmarked photo.  It looks like more than one egg remains but the old shells are fooling us.

There’s just one more egg to go.


(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh. Click on this link to watch live video from the nest)

First Peregrine Egg Hatched at Pitt!

Here’s the first baby picture of Dorothy and E2’s first hatchling of 2012.  The chick is still pink and damp from the egg.


I was able to capture this second photo before Dorothy began to brood (cover the chick to keep it warm).  Notice that another egg has a pip.  Second chick is coming soon.

Happy birthday, baby bird!  27 April 2012, 6:39am.


Later, 7:13am:  A first look at the chick’s face.  He’s already becoming fluffy white.


Later, 8:05am:   E2 comes to meet the first baby.


Dorothy and E2 confer:  Should E2 go find food yet?   (Yes.)


A good view of the chick as E2 leaves.  The “egg” against the back wall is the chick’s empty shell, pushed aside.

Click the photo credit link below to watch live video from the nest!

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

Hearing Individual Songs

I’m getting my ears in tune for the wave of birdsong that’s migrating through Pennsylvania, now through the end of May.

It’s hard to do.  Not only is my song memory a little rusty but the birds all sing at once.  Their overlapping sounds can be confusing and there’s often a problem with background noise.  In parts of Schenley Park the traffic roar from the Parkway East is a real auditory challenge, even for birds.

How do birds pick out the individual songs of their own species amidst the cacophony?

They’re able to do it, just like we are, using a technique called the Cocktail Party Effect — the ability to hear one voice in a noisy environment.

In 2010 scientists tested auditory nerve cells in zebra finches as the birds listened to various sounds, including their own species’ song.  The tests were conducted in both quiet and noisy environments.  In both situations the neurons in the birds’ brains lit up in a special way when they heard their own song.  Like we do, birds have neurons tuned to filter out background noise.

Because birds’ auditory structures are similar to ours, scientists hope this finding will help develop better hearing aids and voice recognition systems.

Meanwhile I’m hoping that, with practice, birdsong will light up my brain in that special way too.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

News of Dori and Louie

For those of you anxious for news of our Downtown peregrines, I am now able to tell you this …

With a handful of clues and sheer luck I found Dori and Louie’s nest site last month on a Downtown building.  This month Beth Fife of the PA Game Commission confirmed they are nesting in an inaccessible spot, so inaccessible that if the young hatch successfully they cannot be banded.

Beth says all is well.  Of course, there’s no camera and it is way too late to install one.   Dori and Louie’s eggs will hatch around the same time as those at Pitt.

Why am I not telling you where they are?

As I said in an earlier post, 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.   Dori and Louie were already disturbed away from their original nest.  To give them peace at this site, Beth has told me not to reveal the location.

Eventually I will be able tell you the whole story with full credit to those who helped.  For now, the nest location is a secret.

Meanwhile, Ann Hohn at Make-A-Wish says that Louie comes back to visit the Gulf Tower occasionally and that his forehead is white this spring.  She thinks he had a scratch or injury that became a bald spot.

And so, this photo I posted in early March is probably Dori.

(photo by Dan Costa)


This flower never cares if it rains or snows because it never opens.

Toadshade or Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) has a stalkless flower of three, small, dark red petals that always remain in the closed position.

Sesslie trillium is usually found in clumps because the plants sprout from rhizomes.  Its true leaves are papery coverings on the rhizomes.  What we call “leaves” are actually three bracts.  Sometimes they are mottled with dark spots as in the photo at this link.

Those in the know say Sessile trillium smells foul to attract its fly and beetle pollinators.

I have never approached close enough to smell it, but I wonder…  Do toads wait in the shade beneath sessile trillium to nab an unsuspecting fly?  Is that why it’s called toadshade?

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

Difficult Weather

Yesterday morning the weather forecast for the eastern U.S. looked like a train wreck with severe thunderstorms, flash floods, heavy snow and freezing rain.

These events were listed as “possible” because the approaching storms were so complicated.  The depth of snow in Pittsburgh depended on the timing of two frontal systems approaching the east coast from different directions.  Would they collide and merge their forces over western Pennsylvania?  Would the coastal front stay to the east and not affect Pittsburgh?  Would the systems cause a single large storm or a prolonged one-two punch?  And where?

The National Weather Service uses many weather modeling systems to make their predictions, primarily NAM (North American Mesoscale Forecast) and GFS (Global Forecast System).  Both NAM and GFS run four times a day.  Meteorologists then analyze the results and make the forecast.  When the models agree it’s easy.  When they don’t it’s mighty hard.

Yesterday the forecast discussion for Pittsburgh said:  “Even at this close proximity to the onset of this system, subtle differences in model solutions make for a very difficult forecast.”   Then they predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow for the Pittsburgh area. Twenty-four hours later the snowfall prediction hasn’t changed but its timing has.

I feel their pain.  Because I’m in charge of computers and phones at WQED, I’m often asked to predict how a computer or phone system will behave under different conditions in the future.  Sometimes the answer is easy and sometimes… Well, suffice it say I’m glad my predictions aren’t broadcast on TV and radio news.

Meanwhile we await the results.  Rain is falling now.  It will be interesting to see how well the models predicted this one.

(weather forecast map, Sunday 22 April 2012, by the National Weather Service. Click on the image to see the current forecast map.)

Cream Violet

Here’s a beautiful flower you can find in the wild.  It goes by many names — Pale Violet, Cream Violet or Striped Cream Violet — but it has only one scientific name:  Viola striata.

Dianne Machesney found it blooming at Buck Run last weekend.


If you live in Pennsylvania go look for it early today.  The weather will soon become awful.   I heard the word “snow” for tomorrow!   🙁

(photo by Dianne Machesney)


p.s. Fill your bird feeders!  The birds will need extra energy to wait out the storm.

Help Monitor Herons

If you know of a heron rookery in Pennsylvania, the Game Commission needs your help.

From now through the end of May the Game Commission is conducting a survey of heron nesting colonies in the state to keep tabs on the birds and make sure they are doing well.

Want to help?  Here are the birds to look for.  Click on the links to see their pictures.

  • Great blue herons nest high in trees near water.  You’ll often find their large stick nests in sycamores, as shown above.  They are fairly secure and abundant in Pennsylvania so they are monitored in five year intervals rather than annually.  Their presence is an indication of high quality habitat.
  • Black-crowned night herons are the most widespread heron in the world but they’re on Pennsylvania’s state endangered list because their population has declined here in recent decades.  Like great blue herons they nest in trees near water but are more willing to nest near humans.
  • Yellow-crowned night-herons are rarer in Pennsylvania than their black-crowned cousins because our state is at the northern edge of their range.  They too are on the state endangered species list.  Their nesting colonies are found only along PA’s lower Susquehanna River.

If you know of a heron colony or happen upon one, you can help by monitoring and reporting what you see.  The complete instructions are at this link.  Here’s a summary:

  • Don’t approach the nests!  Stay 100 yards away (that’s the length of a football field).
  • Use your binoculars to monitor the nests.  If you disturb the colony it defeats the purpose of the survey.
  • Take notes:
    • Where is the colony located?
    • What is the habitat like?
    • Are the trees alive or dead?
    • Count the nests.  How many are there?  How many are active?
    • Note activity at the nests:  Adults standing on the nests?  Adults delivering food? Chicks poking their heads up?
    • Are there any threats to the colony?  Predators? Human encroachment?
  • Fill out this form and send your observations to
  • Don’t assume someone else has reported the colony.  You may be the only one to send in the data!

To get involved, read more about the Heron Survey here.

Hot tip:  Start looking now before the trees fully leaf out!

(photo of a great blue heron nesting colony by Tim Vechter)