Monthly Archives: May 2018

Fly For Food

Three peregrines in one photo, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell))
Three peregrines in one photo, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell))

May 31, 2018:  includes 2 photos from yesterday’s update.

We were treated to quite an airshow yesterday at Fledge Watch.

Fledgling #1 made his first flight on May 29 and was flying so well on his second day out that we sometimes mistook him for an adult.  He circled the Cathedral of Learning many times and soared into the wind.  He also used many perches — the northwest roof merlon, a spot above the yellow lights, the Babcock Room roof and gutter.  He even joined his brother on the railing in hopes that food would arrive.  It didn’t.

Hope and Terzo circled, swooped and dove. They exchanged prey in mid-air.  They put on the best flight show we’ve seen for years but youngster #2 wouldn’t budge.  Hope even pulled food from the cache area and dangled it from her talons as she hovered over him.  He shouted and flapped his wings … and he stayed put.

The yellow circles below show their locations while this was going on:  #1 in the Babcock Room gutter (left), Hope hovering above, #2 on the railing.

Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

If you can’t imagine how #1 got into the gutter, here he is as he makes that decision.

Fledgling #1 on the Babcock Room roof, 30 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Fledgling #1 on the Babcock Room roof, 30 May 2018 (photo by John English)

By late afternoon one of them — probably #2 — was so tired that he slept on top of the nestbox.

Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Fifteen minutes later he was awake and ready for more.

Pitt peregrine youngster is ready to go, 30 May 2018 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pitt peregrine youngster is ready to go, 30 May 2018 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We’re in for rain and thunderstorms for the next four days.  Fledge Watch is over.

But life doesn’t stop for the Pitt peregrines.   #2 will fledge. The two juveniles will improve their flying skills. They’ll learn to hunt and by early July they’ll leave home.

Long life to both of them. (Don’t try anything dangerous near glass!)

 

(photos by Peter Bell (Pitt Peregrines on Facebook) and John English (Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook). see captions for details)

Pitt Peregrines: One Fledged, One To Go

Hope flies by her fledgling: "I'm looking at you" 29 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Hope flies by her fledgling: “I’m looking at you” 29 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

News from Tuesday May 29, 2018:

When I arrived at Fledge Watch I saw a peregrine on the parents’ favorite perch — a stone peak at 38SE on the Cathedral of Learning — but it wasn’t one of the parents. Through my scope I saw a dark brown juvenile. He’d made his first flight when we weren’t watching.  Of course.

Juvenile peregrine on 38SE stone peak at the Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)
Juvenile peregrine on 38SE stone peak at the Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

He was the only one visible for about an hour.  Then his brother appeared on the wall above the nest (on the “railing”).

Pitt peregrines: two juveniles near the nest -- one flown, one to go (photo by Peter Bell)
Pitt peregrines: two juveniles near the nest — one flown, one to go (photo by Peter Bell)

Meanwhile their parents, Hope and Terzo, put on a flight show, swooping together, circling the building, climbing and diving.  “Here’s how to fly!”

They flew close to their youngsters, “Come on out here!”  In Peter Bell’s photo at top, Hope looks at the fledgling as she flies by.  Below, he shouts and flaps like crazy when she approaches, but he stays put.

Young fledgling flaps his wings as his mother flies by (photo by Peter Bell)
Young fledgling flaps his wings as his mother flies by (photo by Peter Bell)

 

When we left at 1:30p, all four birds were still in their places: the parents in flight and the two youngsters as circled in John English’s photo below.

Two juvenile peregrines, one flew and one to go (photo by John English)
Two juvenile peregrines, one flew and one to go (photo by John English)

Michelle Kienholz stopped by after work and the birds’ positions hadn’t changed.

Perhaps the second juvenile will fly today. Stop by Schenley Plaza for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch today — May 30, 2018, 11:30a to 1:30p — weather permitting.  We won’t be there if it’s raining.

UPDATE, May 30, 2018, 2pm:  As of 2pm the youngster who fledged yesterday was flying well and perching in many places at the top of the building.  His brother was still on the railing and hadn’t flown despite great encouragement from his parents. In the photo below: #1 Fledgling lounges in the gutter of the Babcock Room roof, #2 is still on the railing and Hope flies overhead dangling food at them.  No one budged.

Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two juveniles and one parent peregrine at Pitt, 30 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

UPDATE, May 30, 2018, 5pm:  At 4:30pm one of the youngsters was so tired he took a nap on top of the nestbox.

Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pooped out young peregrine takes a nap on top of the nestbox, 30 May 2018, 4:30pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

(photos by Peter Bell (Pitt Peregrines on Facebook), except where noted as John English (Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook))

Information about the stone peaks. They are actually called merlons.  38SE is shorthand for 38th floor, southeast corner — which is a gross approximation since the corner points south.

The Sound of a Water Drop

water drop (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
A water drop (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A water drop sounds like this  …

… but that noise was made by a bird. (named at the end of the recording: XC148304 by Gary Stiles.)

It’s my favorite bird sound from Panama, made by a black-bellied wren (Pheugopedius fasciatoventris).

In his preferred habitat the wren is hard to see.  Mostly black and brown, his white throat looks like a splash of sunlight from below.

Black-bellied wren, Panama (photo by Fransceso Veronesi from Wikimedia Commons)
Black-bellied wren, Panama (photo by Fransceso Veronesi from Wikimedia Commons)

But he’s easy to hear. When he really gets going he doesn’t sound like a water drop at all.  This long melodious song (xeno-canto XC15653) was recorded by Don Jones on Semaphore Hill Road, the road to Canopy Tower.

 

The “water drop” is just a tiny snatch of song.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals. recordings downloaded from Xeno Canto; links provided to the originals)

Pitt Peregrines Are Ledge Walking

Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Yesterday the Pitt peregrine chicks reached the milestone we’ve been waiting for: They started to ledge walk.

When we arrived at Schenley Plaza on Sunday morning we found both chicks on the “railing” — the wall above the nest. The railing is an excellent place to exercise their wings and eventually take off on their first flight.

Yesterday’s focus was exercise or “wing-ercise.”

One chick exercises his wings while the other one watches with his head turned upside down (photo by Peter Bell)
One chick exercises his wings while the other one watches with his head turned upside down, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Wing exercises! 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Wing exercises! 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

The chicks like this location because they can see for miles and whine for food. Notice how their mouths are open in the photo at top.  They’re shouting.  We could hear them at Schenley Plaza!

Eventually their shouting paid off.  One of their parents delivered a meal (parent on left holding black bird) and the two chicks raced over to eat it.

Adult peregrine delivers a meal to two chicks at Pitt, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Adult peregrine delivers a meal to two chicks at Pitt, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Join us at Fledge Watch, today through Wednesday (except in rain/thunder).  Check the Events page for details and in case of cancellation.

Or come down to Schenley Plaza any time in the next couple of days and to see the young birds.  Here’s where to look.

 

(photos by Peter Bell, Pitt Peregrines Facebook page)

 

Yesterday in Schenley Park

Schenley Park outing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Park outing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

No it didn’t rain! Though the clouds lingered we had a great time in Schenley Park on Sunday morning.

The leaves obscured some of the birds but they were very active after Saturday night’s storms.  We chased scarlet tanager songs without seeing them, found one of the many wood thrushes we heard in the park and had good looks at these Best Birds:

A pair of eastern phoebes guarded their nest site at the Visitors’ Center. This one watched us walk into the park.

Eastern phoebe, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Eastern phoebe, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

We saw a pair of cedar waxwings beak-touching and courting.

Cedar waxwing pair touching beaks, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Cedar waxwing pair touching beaks, Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

And a male pileated woodpecker attracted our attention by constantly hammering on an enormous hollow tree. Peter Bell found him high up the slope. Best Bird for the outing and Life Bird for Peter!

Pileated woodpecker in Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Pileated woodpecker in Schenley Park, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

The complete checklist is here — 22 species.

 

(photo of participants by Kate St. John; bird photos by Peter Bell)

Mystery Whorl Of Leaves

Mystery whorl of heart-shaped leaves, 24 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Mystery whorl of heart-shaped leaves, 24 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

In late May and early June you may see a whorl of heart-shaped leaves in the woods and wonder what they are.

Look closely at my photo and you’ll see two whorls — 5 big leaves below and 4 smaller out-of-focus leaves further up the stem — then the stem arcs out of view.  What you can’t see are the tiny flowers. They’re visible on little stems in Dianne Machesney’s photo below.

Wild Yam (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Wild Yam (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The plant used to mystify me until I learned its identity.

Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) is a relative of the sweet potato.  We don’t eat its roots anymore but they came in handy during desperate times in the colonial period. I’ll bet they taste bad.

I like the plant because it’s pretty. I remember it as a mystery.

 

(photos by Kate St. John and Dianne Machesney)

Brief News From Pitt Fledge Watch

Pitt peregrines, juvenile and Terzo at the bulwark, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines, juvenile and Terzo (yellow circles) in the vicinity of the nest, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

There wasn’t a lot of activity yesterday at Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

Our most exciting moment was when Terzo landed on the bulwark above the nest and a juvenile hopped up to perch in one of the keyholes.  Circled in yellow in John English’s photo above, the juvenile is on the left, Terzo is on top of the wall.

Here’s a closeup of the juvenile in keyhole#2 — very brown.

Pitt peregrines: Juvenile in keyhole#2, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines: Juvenile in keyhole#2, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

And here’s Terzo.

Pitt peregrines: Terzo on the bulwark, watching the "kids" below, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrines: Terzo on the bulwark, watching the “kids” below, 25 May 2018 (photo by John English)

The downy white feathers on the wall are probably fluff from a prey-plucking episode near Terzo’s perch.

You can see that the “gully” is quite long in the top photo. The juvenile in the keyhole walked from the area near Terzo (keyhole#5) to the spot where he’s perched (keyhole#2).  The young have a lot of space to move around.

Based on their (lack of) activity on Friday, I think the chicks will wait a couple of days before they fly.

 

(photos by John English)

UPDATE on May 26, 2018, 9:30am:  Both youngsters were back on the nest!  Now that they know how to get up and down they’ll try both places.

Both youngsters are back in the Pitt nest, 26 May 2018, 9:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Both youngsters are back in the Pitt nest, 26 May 2018, 9:30am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Ravens Tumble!

I love ravens, not only because they’re really smart but because they’re great acrobatic fliers.  They show off to impress each other.

Ravens live a long time — 30 to 40 years — and don’t breed until they’re 2-4 years old.  In their first few years they hang out in flocks, get to know other ravens, and choose a mate for life.

Part of getting to know each other includes playing in the sky.  When they’ve chosen a mate they make courtship flights together — swooping and diving, soaring with wingtips touching, locking toes and tumbling in the sky.

Have you ever seen ravens tumble?    It’s rare to see in western Pennsylvania because we don’t have big flocks of ravens but they’re easy to find in winter in California.

Watch this superbly edited video by Haynes Brooke, filmed at Griffith Park in Hollywood, California.  Go Full Screen in HD for an even better effect.

Ravens tumble!

 

(video by Haynes Brooke on YouTube)

p.s.  Read more about ravens in love in this February 2017 blog from the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, Colorado: Romance is in the Air for Ravens.

Pitt Fledge Watch: They Are Male

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, 2013
Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, 2013 (photo by John English)

It’s been hard to schedule this year’s Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch because I can’t guess when the chicks will fledge. Their first flight depends on their sex — males fledge earlier than females — and now I’ve learned that this year’s chicks are male.

Here’s the Pitt Fledge Watch schedule, then I’ll tell you about the male/female thing.

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch Schedule, 2018

When:  Friday, May 25 through Wednesday May 30, 11:30a – 1:30p. (Sun. May 27 is 11a-1p) Click here for the calendar.
Where: At the Schenley Plaza tent. Click here for a Google map.  Parking is free on Sundays.
Who:   Join me and/or John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts to watch peregrines and swap stories.
Except …  We will not be there in rain or thunder.  Also, Fledge Watch will end when they’re flying and hard to track.  (Example: If they fly on Tuesday we won’t be there on Wednesday.)

! Check the Events page for updates before you come to Schenley Plaza !

Why the two “female” chicks are male:
Pitt peregrine chick on Banding Day, 11 May 2018 (photo by John English)
Pitt peregrine chick on Banding Day, 11 May 2018 (photo by John English)

Are they male?  Yes.  Here’s why.

Among peregrine falcons, females are always larger than males.  At banding age the weight of peregrine chicks indicates their sex. The rough rule of thumb is:  Under 700 grams is male, greater or equal to 700 grams is female.

On Banding Day May 11 at the Cathedral of Learning, the Pitt chicks’ weights were borderline.  In that case, chicks are given the larger (“female”) bands so that the rings won’t bind if they turn out to be female.

As time passed and we saw them mature on camera Dan Brauning and Art McMorris emailed me with a revision.  Both chicks are male.

It doesn’t matter that they have larger “female” bands.  These chicks are listed as male in PA Game Commission records.

 

(photos by John English)