Monthly Archives: August 2017

How Do You Know It’s A Moth?

Antennae of an Agreeable Tiger Moth (photo by Chuck Tague)
Antennae of an Agreeable Tiger Moth (photo by Chuck Tague)

What's the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

The best clue is their antennae.

Moths have feather-like antennae with many branches.  Butterflies have smooth antennae with a knob at the end.

The feathery antennae above are on an Agreeable Tiger Moth photographed by Chuck Tague.  Yes, the moth is agreeing to have his picture taken and yes, that's really his name!  Agreeable Tiger Moth (Spilosoma congrua).

The knobs on the antenna below are on a Pearl Cresent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos).

Pearlcresent butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)
Pearlcresent butterfly (photo by Kate St. John)

 

For more differences between moths and butterflies see this vintage article from August 2010:  How Do You Know It's a Moth

 

(photo of Agreeable Tiger Moth by Chuck Tague. photo of Pearl Crescent Butterfly by Kate St. John)

Pitt Peregrines’ Granddaughter in Ontario

Thanks to Kathy Majich, I learned last month that a Pitt peregrine granddaughter is nesting in Ontario, Canada.

Dorothy and Erie were the first peregrine falcon pair at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning(*).  Their 2003 brood was especially successful because three of those four chicks went on to nest elsewhere.  One of them, Belle, nested at the University of Toledo until 2014.

During the 2014 nesting season, Belle was challenged by an intruder yet she successfully raised two chicks despite her injuries.  After the chicks were banded and fledged, Belle disappeared and the intruder took over.  Belle's mate, Allen, coached the youngsters to independence.

This year we're happy to discover that one of those chicks, Dr. Jane, was identified this spring in St. Marys, Ontario raising her own two chicks with her mate Cosmo.

(click on "View larger" so see Pittsburgh on the map.)

 

So Dorothy and Erie's legacy continues with a granddaughter and great-grands in Ontario.

Click on the image above to read about "Dr. Jane" at the Canadian Peregrine Foundation's Facebook page.  Click here to read about the peregrine family in St. Mary's Stratford Beacon Herald.

 

(photo linked from Canadian Peregrine Foundation Facebook page. Map showing St. Mary's, Ontario linked from Google maps)

(*) Note: Dorothy hatched in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1999 and was present at the Cathedral of Learning from 2001 through 2015.  Erie hatched in Columbus, Ohio in 1998 and was present at Pitt from 2001 through 2007. Erie was followed by E2.

 

Green Eggs On Nettle

Green eggs on stinging nettle leaves (photo by Kate St.John)
Green eggs on stinging nettle leaves (photo by Kate St.John)

Today, a quiz.

I found green eggs on stinging nettle on August 9 at Wolf Creek Narrows, Butler County, PA.

Are they eggs or something else?

And who laid them?

Post a comment with your answer.

I'll reveal their identity later today.

 

THE ANSWER:  29 August, 3:15pm
This was a tricky quiz because the structures really do look like eggs. I thought they were butterfly eggs but they are too smooth. The likely butterflies lay very wrinkled eggs.  For instance, click here to see the eggs of the small tortoiseshell butterfly.

Mary Ann Pike correctly identified the green "eggs" as nettle galls of (probably) Dasineura investita.  The galls are the plant's defenses against the larvae inside them.  The larvae are from midges so tiny that I can't find photographs of the adult insects though these three photos may give you an idea.

Caterpillars of the Sordid Hypena moth (Hypena sordidula) eat these galls.  Click here to see it.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Today’s Outing at Schenley Park

Schenley Park outing, 27 August 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Park outing, 27 August 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning's outing at Schenley Park was great for birds!

Though we saw only 26 species, plus a silent Empidonax flycatcher, we had good looks at some birds we don't see every day including wood thrushes and a young Baltimore oriole.

Best Bird was a male pileated woodpecker, the first bird of the day.  😉

Best Insect -- the one that got me excited -- were some tiny flatid planthoppers, gray with blueish spots. To my untrained eye they looked like this, Metcalfa pruinosa, an insect native to North America.

Citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa), photo from Wikimedia Commons
Citrus flatid planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa), photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Click here for today's eBird checklist, also listed below.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)
Empidonax species (Empidonax sp.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

 

(group photo by Kate St. John. Insect photo from Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)

Ironweed Up Close

Ironweed, closeup of one flower (photo by Kate St. John)
Ironweed, closeup of one flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Ironweed is one of my favorite August flowers but it's hard for me to photograph.  Its purple color doesn't ring true on my digital camera (too blue!) and the plant is so tall that I've never been able to replicate Chuck Tague's quintessential view of it, below.

Tall Ironweed (photo by Chuck Tague)
Tall Ironweed (photo by Chuck Tague)

In August ironweed is truly impressive.  At seven to ten feet tall it's topped by a corymb (flat-topped cluster) of 30 to 50 deep purple flowers made up of 5-lipped florets. Dark red stems support long, alternate, lance-shaped leaves that are rough to the touch.

You've probably seen ironweed from the highway as it's the only tall flower left standing in cow pastures.  Its stem is so tough that cows refuse to eat it, thus the ironweed name.  On foot you'll find it in ditches, moist meadows and along stream banks.

In Pennsylvania there are two native species -- tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) and New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) -- distinguished by their bracts and florets per flower:

  • Tall ironweed (gigantea) has blunt or short-pointed bracts and 13-30 florets.
  • New York ironweed (noveboracensis) has long thread-tipped bracts and more than 30 florets per flower.

When you're up close with ironweed you can count its florets.  My photo from Frick Park shows less than 30 so this would be tall ironweed.

Or maybe not!  Tall and New York ironweeds hybridize.

Tall ironweed is listed as endangered in New York state and invasive in Kentucky.  I wonder why.

 

(photo credits: close up by Kate St. John, corymb by Chuck Tague)

*A corymb is a flat-topped cluster.  An umbel is shaped like an umbrella, rounded on top.

Looking Back At The Eclipse

Eclipse viewing in Pittsburgh near Staghorn Cafe, 21 August 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Eclipse viewing in Pittsburgh near Staghorn Cafe, 21 August 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

A small crowd convened last Monday to view the solar eclipse outside the Staghorn Cafe. Though Pittsburgh wasn't in the path of totality we were still amazed by the shape of the moon moving across the sun.

Here are some photos from the event.  The captions tell the story.

John English set up his scope to project the sun's image (photo by Tom Moeller)
John English set up his scope to project the sun's image (photo by Nancy Moeller)

 

Crowd at Staghorn Cafe for the eclipse (photo by Tom Moeller)
A crowd gathered at Staghorn Cafe in Greenfield (photo by Tom Moeller)

 

The sun was so bright that Doug Cunzolo used an umbrella to shade the projection (photo by Tom Moeller)
The sun was so bright that Doug Cunzolo had to use an umbrella to shade the projection (photo by Nancy Moeller)

 

After moving the projection pallet into the shade, Doug Cunzolo adjusts the scope (photo by Kate St.John)
After moving the pallet into the shade, Doug adjusted the scope (photo by Kate St.John)

 

With our backs to the sun, we take pictures of the eclipse projection (photo by Tom Moeller)
With our backs to the sun, we took pictures of the eclipse projection (photo by Tom Moeller)

 

During the best part of the eclipse I forgot to take pictures of the crowd. Many of us wore solar eclipse glasses.  It would have been a cool photo but you'll just have to imagine what we looked like.  😉

 

Satisfied group! The moon is moving away from the sun and we;ve stopped watching (photo by Tom Moeller)
Satisfied group! After the darkest part of the eclipse, we stopped watching (photo by Tom Moeller)

 

See the comments for reports on bird activity during the eclipse.

(photos by Kate St. John and Tom and Nancy Moeller. See the captions for photo credits)

Fat in Winter, Thin in Summer

Northern cardinals in May and February (photos by Cris Hamilton)
Northern cardinals in May and February (photos by Cris Hamilton)

Why do birds look fat in winter and thin in the summer?  Have they lost weight?

No.  They're trying to stay cool.

Underneath their smooth outer feathers birds wear down coats all year long.  The down keeps them especially warm when they fluff it out to hold more heat next to the skin.  This fluffing makes them look fat on cold winter days.

When it's hot, they can't take off their down coats so they force hot air out of the down by compressing their outer feathers.  This makes them look thin.

The cardinal on the left, above, is not the thinnest one I've ever seen.  Cris Hamilton took his picture in May when the temperature was pleasant.  He'll look considerably thinner this month.

It's just another way that birds cope with heat.

 

p.s. We think of down as white but on a northern cardinal it's black.  Click here to see a northern cardinal's body feather, called a semi-plume, black at the root and red at the tip.

(photos by Cris Hamilton)

A Trumpet For Hummingbirds

Trumpet creeper with an insect inside (photo by Kate St. John)
Trumpet creeper with an insect inside (photo by Kate St. John)

Though we haven't had many hummingbirds this year, Pittsburgh's trumpet creeper is waiting to attract them.

Trumpet vine or trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a woody vine native to eastern North America.  It's so well adapted to the forest edge that it aggressively climbs up to 35 feet to reach the sun.

Its beauty and scent are attractive to gardeners but it requires ruthless pruning.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says, "To keep it in check, plant it near concrete or an area that you can mow; mowing down the suckers will discourage them."

The flower is specially shaped for pollination by ruby-throated hummingbirds, the only hummingbird in this plant's native range.  The tubes are large and the anthers held high. The insect above is too small to pollinate it.

Learn more in this video by the Capital Naturalist.

 

As a trumpet for hummingbirds, it's probably so fragrant because ruby-throats like its scent.  Remember: we learned this month that birds can smell.

 

(photo by Kate St. John; video by The Capital Naturalist on YouTube)