Archive for September, 2017

Sep 25 2017

Waiting For News … Again

Whimbrel (photo by Arturo Mann from Wikimedia Commons) This is not Hope.

Whimbrel (photo by Arturo Mann from Wikimedia Commons) This bird is not Hope.

News from the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, is horrific now that two Category 5 hurricanes have passed through the islands in just two weeks.  Homes, infrastructure and habitat are all destroyed. Our hearts and help go out to everyone affected by these storms.

Images of the widespread damage also have made me wonder:  Did birds survive these hurricanes?

Early this month one particular bird, a whimbrel named Hope, survived Hurricane Irma on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Did she survive Hurricane Maria?  We don't know yet.

North American whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) that breed in the tundra of northwest Canada make long migrations to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.  To understand their migration The Center for Conservation Biology fitted a few of them with satellite transmitters when the birds made migration stopovers on Virginia's eastern shore.  One bird, nicknamed Hope, was tracked for three years beginning in 2009. Her transmitter was removed after it broke in 2012 but she still wears two colorful leg tags. Every year she returns in late August to St. Croix.

After Hurricane Irma I was encouraged on September 13 when The Center for Conservation Biology sent news that Hope had survived Irma.  The map below provides perspective on this miracle.

St. Thomas and St.John (purple pin markers) took a direct hit from Irma.  Hope spends the fall and winter on St. Croix (blue pin) at Great Pond (yellow star).  She was fortunate that Irma passed more than 45 miles north of her location.  St. Thomas and St. John were so devastated by Irma that survivors were evacuated to Puerto Rico and St. Croix.  (Click here to see a video of Hurricane Irma damage on the U.S. Virgin Islands, posted by the U.S. Navy.)

Then on the night of September 19 Hurricane Maria blew through the islands, passing only 10 miles south of St. Croix.  Hurricane force winds scraped the island for 7.5 hours before slamming Puerto Rico.  The southwestern corner of St. Croix was hardest hit.

As with Hurricane Irma it will take a while to find out what happened.

And I wonder: Did Hope make it through Maria, too?

We're waiting for news ... again.

Read more about Hope surviving Hurricane Irma -- and see photos of her -- in this article at The Center for Conservation Biology.

 

(photo of a whimbrel (this is not a photo of Hope) by Arturo Mann via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

p.s. For more news of the Virgin Islands see the Virgin Islands Daily News.

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Sep 24 2017

This Morning in Schenley Park: 5 Warblers

Published by under Books & Events

Participants at the Schenley Park outing on Sept 24 (photo by Kate St. John)

Participants at the Schenley Park outing on Sept 24 (photo by Kate St. John)

Even though we saw only 21 species in Schenley Park this morning it was a better than average day with five warbler species.  Of course they were all Best Birds.

We also witnessed some interesting woodpecker behavior.  Five northern flickers perched near each other on a telephone pole and two of them challenged each other with "wikka wikka wikka."

Click here for our eBird checklist or peruse the list below.  Notice that we saw NO CROWS.  That'll change soon. 😉

Canada Goose
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Song Sparrow
House Finch

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

 

 

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Sep 24 2017

Leaves Turned White

Published by under Plants

Wingstem leaves turning white. Why? (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem leaves turning white. Why? (photo by Kate St. John)

In July and August I noticed something I'd never seen before along the trails of western Pennsylvania -- scattered instances of leaves turning white.

The leaves had been green but now their tips or even whole branches were white. The plant below had advanced to the stage where some of the stems were completely white.

Leaves in distress: top is white, 31 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves in distress: top is white, 31 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The condition is called chlorosis and it means the plant is not producing enough chlorophyll to look green.  Since chlorophyll uses sunlight to make food for the plant, it's a sign the plant is in distress.  But why?

Causes of chlorosis are wide-ranging.  Here's the list from Wikipedia, with my [notes] added:

  • a specific mineral deficiency in the soil, such as iron, magnesium or zinc
  • deficient nitrogen and/or proteins
  • a soil pH at which minerals become unavailable for absorption by the roots
  • poor drainage (waterlogged roots)  [Not likely in this case.]
  • damaged and/or compacted roots  [Not likely in this case.]
  • pesticides and particularly herbicides may cause chlorosis, both to target weeds and occasionally to the crop being treated.  [Not likely in this case due to location.]
  • exposure to sulphur dioxide [Possible in Pittsburgh but not likely in this case.]
  • ozone injury to sensitive plants [Not likely in this case.]
  • presence of any number of bacterial pathogens, for instance Pseudomonas syringae pv. tagetis that causes complete chlorosis on Asteraceae.

Interestingly, the plants I photographed are in the Aster Family (Asteraceae) and one of them has complete chlorosis.

Was the 2017 growing season especially bad for the bacteria mentioned above?  Or does chlorosis happen every year and I've just not noticed?

If you know more about this condition in the wild, please leave a comment.  I'm really curious!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

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Sep 23 2017

Variety of Goldenrods

Published by under Plants

Goldenrod at Mount Dessert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Goldenrod at Mount Dessert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Any trip outdoors this month will find a lot of goldenrods in North America.  Here are just a few of the species I've photographed over the years.  All of them are different.

Can I tell you their names? No. Goldenrods are notoriously hard to identify.

Above, a beautiful bushy goldenrod at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Below, the classic goldenrod shape in Pittsburgh: a tall plant with narrow alternate leaves and a tassel of yellow flowers on top.  To identify it I'd need more information than the photo provides.  For instance:  Do the leaves have two or three prominent veins?  Are they toothed or entire?  Is the main stem smooth or downy or both?

Tall goldenrod with a tassel on top (photo by Kate St. John)

Tall goldenrod with a tassel on top (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In the photo below: An unusual goldenrod shape photographed in Pittsburgh. The plant reaches out horizontally with flowers perched in clusters on top of the stem. The leaves are long and narrow.  Perhaps it's blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod.

Perhaps this is blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod (photo by Kate St.John)

Perhaps this is blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod (photo by Kate St.John)

 

This one is a stand-up spike of yellow flowers with egg-shaped alternate leaves, found in Pittsburgh.

A goldenrod at Cedar Creek in 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

A compact, upright goldenrod at Cedar Creek Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Is this goldenrod the same species as the tall tassel above?  I don't know.

A tall and bushy goldenrod, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

A tall and bushy goldenrod, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I've never seen white goldenrods in Pittsburgh. This spike of white flowers was photographed at Acadia National Park in Maine.

White goldenrod in Maine (photo by Kate St.John)

White goldenrod in Maine (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And finally, a ball-shaped flower cluster with long leaves, growing in a granite crack at Acadia National Park.

Goldenrod in a rock, Acdia National Park, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Goldenrod in a rock, Acdia National Park, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

So much variety.  So many goldenrods.  And often so hard to identify.

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

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Sep 22 2017

A Lesson On The Equinox

Published by under Weather & Sky

Today is the first day of autumn ... but what does that really mean?

Watch as Dr. Laura Danly of the Griffith Observatory explains the Autumnal Equinox in only seven minutes.

Bonus!  Find out why Polaris won't always be our North Star and when that will happen.

 

(video by Alvetica on YouTube)

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Sep 21 2017

The Connecticut Warbler’s Amazing Migration

Published by under Migration

Connecticut warbler in western PA, September 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Connecticut warbler in western PA, September 2013 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Connecticut warblers are rarely seen on migration and it's not just because they skulk in dense underbrush.  A study published last May in Ecology shows they have a very unusual migration route.

McKinnon, Arturo and Love attached geolocators to 29 male Connecticut warblers in Manitoba in 2015, then recaptured four of them the following spring when they returned to breed.  The data from the geolocators shows the four birds followed similar routes to their wintering grounds in South America.

After flying east to the Atlantic coast with stopovers along the way each bird launched out over the open ocean and flew two days non-stop to the Greater Antilles, probably Haiti. After refueling in the Caribbean they flew again over the ocean to South America and the Amazon basin.

To give you an idea of this feat I drew a very rough map based on my reading of the study.  This map is not the real thing!  Click on the image to see one of the actual maps or here for all four.

Very rough drawing of the warblers' route by Kate St. John. CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to see the real maps.

My own rough drawing of the warblers' route. CLICK on this IMAGE to see the real maps.

With two long flights over open water, no wonder we don't see many Connecticut warblers in migration.

If you're really lucky you might see one this month in Pennsylvania.  Otherwise you'll have to wait until next year.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser .  map adapted from satellite image of the world at Wikimedia Commons)

p.s. Additional information about the study is here at Bird Watchers' Daily.

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Sep 20 2017

Webs in the Trees

In the spring we saw tents in the trees.  Now we see webs. Though similar in concept, the structures aren't made by the same species.

The springtime tent, located in the crotch of a tree, is made by eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) who emerge from their tent to eat young leaves as they unfurl.  The webs, located on the branches, are made by fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea) who hide in the web and eat leaves that will fall off in a month or two.

Since late summer female moths have been laying egg masses on deciduous trees.

Fall webworm moth (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Fall webworm moth (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After a week the eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars who build a web to completely enclose themselves and their food.  As they eat, they build the web larger to enclose more leaves.

Fall webworms avoid coming out of the web until they're ready to pupate. Then they hide their cocoons under flaps of bark to overwinter and emerge next year.

Though the webs look ugly they don't harm the trees because the leaves will drop soon anyway.

See webworms in action in the video above from The Capitol Naturalist in D.C.  Read more in this vintage article from 2011:  Coming Soon To A Tree Near You

 

(photo of fall webworm moth from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 19 2017

Traveling Together?

Published by under Migration

Blackpoll warbler, Sept 2012 (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Blackpoll warbler, Sept 2012 (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

As warblers migrate through Pennsylvania we find them feeding together in mixed flocks during the day.  Does that mean they were traveling together overnight?  Maybe not.  Warblers often have very different breeding and wintering destinations, making it hard to coordinate their trips.

Here are two extreme examples. Blackpoll and pine warblers look similar but you can't find two more different migration strategies. Their breeding and wintering grounds are as far apart as it gets.

The blackpoll warbler, above, is a long distance champion who travels 7,000 miles from his breeding grounds in North America's boreal spruce and fir forests to wintering grounds in South America.  To shorten the trip some of them fly non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean for 88 hours to reach South America's shore.

The pine warbler, below, never travels that far. His breeding and winter ranges are completely contained within North America from southern Canada to Florida and he's found year-round in the southern U.S.  Pine warblers breed in parts of Pennsylvania.

Pine warbler in April (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Pine warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

The maps below -- blackpoll (left), pine warbler (right) -- tell the story in three colors: Yellow is breeding range, Blue is wintering range, Green is year-round.

Range maps for Blackpoll and Pine warblers (maps from Wikimedia Commons) Colors: yellow=breeding, blue=wintering, green=year-round

Range maps for blackpoll and pine warblers (maps from Wikimedia Commons). Colors are: yellow=breeding, blue=wintering, green=year-round

 

As you can see, blackpolls leapfrog over the pine warbler's range.

Though I saw blackpoll and pine warblers in a mixed flock in Perry County last weekend, they probably weren't traveling together.

 

(photo of blackpoll warbler by Marcy Cunkelman; pine warbler by Anthony Bruno; maps from Wikimedia Commons: blackpoll and pine)

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Sep 18 2017

Schenley Park Outing: September 24, 8:30am

Published by under Books & Events

Monarch butterfly on goldenrod (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Monarch butterfly on goldenrod (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Let's get outdoors!

Join me on a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday September 24, 2017 -- 8:30am - 10:30am.

Meet me at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

We'll visit Phipps Run and Panther Hollow Lake, looking for fall flowers and migrating birds.  I'm sure we'll see goldenrod though I won't know what species it is. (Goldenrods are hard to identify!)  Perhaps we'll see migrating monarch butterflies because the weather has been so warm.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit the Events page in case there are changes or cancellations.  The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning (unlikely this Sunday but you never know).

NOTE!  The Great Race will run on Forbes and Fifth Avenue this Sunday. Approach Schenley Park from the Boulevard of the Allies and you'll avoid the detours.  Here's the road closure list and timing.

 

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Sep 18 2017

Rainbow Wonders

Published by under Weather & Sky

Double rainbow in my neighborhood at dusk, 14 Sept 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Double rainbow in my neighborhood at dusk, 14 Sept 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Thursday evening my husband and I were treated to a gorgeous double rainbow with parallel color bands under the main arc.  What are these wonders and what causes them?

First, some fascinating basics: Rainbows are caused by light hitting water droplets and being reflected, refracted and dispersed by them:

We saw the rainbow at dusk while the sun peeked below rain clouds and were surprised we could see the entire arc. Only those located at the geometric center of the rainbow, the antisolar point, can see it end to end.

Rainbow panomara (photo by Rick St. John)

Rainbow panomara (photo by Rick St. John)

Have you ever noticed that the sky under the rainbow is brighter than the sky outside it?  True!  Click here for an explanation (fourth paragraph).

And then there's the fancy stuff: the double rainbow and the extra bands under the arc.  To illustrate them I'll use this photo from Alaska that shows all of the features at the same time. Click on the image to open a high definition version in a new window and see them up close.

Double rainbow and supernumerary rainbows on the inside of the primary arc, Alaska (photo by Eric Rolph via Wikimedia Commons)

Double rainbow and supernumerary rainbows on the inside of the primary arc, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska (photo by Eric Rolph via Wikimedia Commons)

Double rainbows happen when light bounces twice inside the raindrops before it exits.  The light goes inside, reflects off the back wall, reflects off the front wall, and then exits.  Double rainbows are parallel to the main rainbow, are not as bright, and their colors are reversed -- red-to-violet instead of violet-to-red.  I never noticed that. I'll have to watch for it next time.

The faint color bands just under the main rainbow arc are called supernumerary rainbows.  Wikipedia says they cannot be explained using classical geometric optics but they occur when the water droplets are less than 1 mm in diameter.  Fancy rainbows are complicated!

And finally, the end of the rainbow. From our vantage point it was in front of that tree on the horizon.

End of the rainbow in my neighborhood, 14 Sept 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

End of the rainbow in my neighborhood, 14 Sept 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Irish legend has it that leprechauns hid their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. I wonder whose house was there.

Rainbows move away as you approach.  There's no way to know.

 

(photos of neighborhood rainbow by Rick & Kate St. John. Alaskan rainbow by Eric Rolph via Wikimedia Commons)

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