All posts by Kate St. John

Schenley Park Outing: April 29, 8:00am

Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)
Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)

Spring is here. Let’s get outdoors!

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, April 29, 8a – 10a.  (Note the early start! 8:00am)

Meet me at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center for this joint outing with the Three Rivers Birding Club.

New birds come to town every day in late April so there will be plenty to see. Have you seen your first-of-year gray catbird yet?  I expect to find one on this outing.  (Catbirds, don’t let me down!)

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes.  Don’t forget your binoculars!

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.

Hope to see you there!

 

(photo of a gray catbird by Chuck Tague)

Good News You May Have Missed

Hermit thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)
Hermit thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)

After a turbulent week for Pittsburgh’s peregrines, here’s some good news you may have missed.

Spring migration is bringing new birds to Pittsburgh almost every day.

Wednesday’s new arrival (for me) was a hermit thrush at Bird Park in Mt. Lebanon, illustrated by Steve Gosser’s photo above.

On Thursday morning birders discovered that huge flocks of migrating buffleheads, scaup, horned grebes and Bonaparte’s gulls had landed on Pittsburgh’s rivers Wednesday night.  This phenomenon, called a “fallout,” was a one day wonder.  Most of the birds left that evening.

And songbirds that arrived last weekend are still here.  Check out more good news in Tuesday’s article: New Birds In Town.

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

Happy Friday

We’re taking a break from peregrine drama with the cutest owls on the planet.

This video of young burrowing owls was sent as a Thank You from Cornell Lab of Ornithology to its contributors in 2016.

Enjoy!  And happy Friday!

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

p.s. In case you’re not familiar with Cornell Lab … they’re a unit of Cornell University that works to advance the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds.  We, and the birds, have all benefited from their work.

You’ve probably used at least one of their online tools or participated in their programs:  All About Birds website, eBird, the Merlin ID app, online bird ID classes (new class this month on Warbler ID!), nestcams & feeder cams, Great Backyard Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch,  … to name a few.

Read more about Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s workJoin them here.

Two Chicks!

Hope and two chicks, 6:34am 19 April 2018
Hope and two chicks, 6:34am 19 April 2018

Thursday April 19, 2018 at 7:30am.

Yes, there’s an exclamation point in the title!  The suspense is over.  Out of four hatched eggs, Hope killed two chicks and spared two.  (Click here for Hope’s history of killing her young.)

The 4th egg:

Last night at 11:15pm Hope pulled an eggshell from the nest beneath her.  We knew the 4th egg had hatched but no one could see if the chick was OK.  Hope gave us a hint last night when she stepped aside at 3am and revealed two chicks (below).

Hope and 2 chicks at 3am, 19 April 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope and 2 chicks at 3am, 19 April 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

We saw them clearly when Terzo brought food at dawn. At top, Hope leaves to get the food. And here Terzo arrives to brood them while she’s gone. (Typically the mother peregrine eats a little, then brings the rest back to feed the babies.)

Terzo arrives to brood 2 chicks, 19 April 2018, 6:37a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo arrives to brood 2 chicks, 19 April 2018, 6:37a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Every year after hatching is over, Hope becomes a good mother.  She fledged 1 youngster in 2016 and 3 in 2017.

So the coast is clear. Whew!

A word about naming the chicks:

At Pittsburgh’s on-camera sites we use a naming scheme similar to that used at bald eagle nests: a letter for the location plus the hatch number.  The Cathedral of Learning is “C” and last year’s chicks were C6 to C8 so this year’s chicks are C9 and C10.

 

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

Waiting For The Coast To Clear

Terzo watches as Hope feeds the chick, 17 April 2018, 4:56pm (photo from National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Terzo watches as Hope feeds the chick, 17 April 2018, 4:56pm (photo from National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Wednesday April 18, 2018, 7:40am:

Yesterday was hatch day at the Cathedral of Learning nest but it was not a happy day.  As the female peregrine Hope has done in the past, she killed and ate some of her young as they hatched.  The status right now is:

  • April 17, 8:10am: As the first egg began to hatch, Hope picked up the chick, killed and ate it. Her back was to the camera.
  • April 17, 9:07am: As the second egg began to hatch, Hope opened the egg, killed and ate the chick in full camera view.
  • April 17, 1:35pm: Terzo was on the eggs. Hope arrived and chirped for him to leave.  She opened the 3rd egg, picked up the chick and carried it, but did not kill it.  Hope eventually brooded the chick and the remaining egg.
  • April 17, 4:55pm:  Early evening: Terzo brought food. Hope fed the chick.
  • April 18, 6:20am:  Nest exchange at dawn. Terzo arrives with food. Hope feeds the chick. Then Terzo broods. 1 egg remains.
One chick, one egg, 18 April 2018, 6:21am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
One chick, one egg, 18 April 2018, 6:21am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Hope looks at Terzo with egg and chick, 18 April 2018, 6:28am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope looks at Terzo with egg and chick, 18 April 2018, 6:28am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Why does Hope kill and eat her young?

We don’t know.  This is such a rare occurrence that there’s no guidance from similar peregrine nests — they just don’t do this.  Meanwhile every idea we come up with is a guess.  I prefer not to wade into the guessing.

Unusual behaviors:

Yes, Hope kills and eats her chicks but there are two unusual habits that accompany it:

  • Hope opens the egg.  The hatching rule for all birds is this: Chicks must open the eggs themselves. At other peregrine falconcams notice that the mother watches but does not touch the shell until the chick has forced open the two halves.  Later the mother eats the shell (which is normal). Raptors beaks are sharp and could damage the chick. Normal mother raptors do not use their beaks on the eggs.
  • Hope picks up and carries the chick.  Normal peregrines don’t pick up their hatchlings. When a chick is outside the scrape (nest bowl) the mother uses the underside of her closed beak to pull the chick back to her.  Hope uses her closed beak to arrange the eggs but she breaks that rule when they hatch.

 

Why doesn’t Terzo stay at the nest and prevent this from happening?

The rule at peregrine nests is that the mother bird is totally in charge.  The father bird defers to her.

A corollary is that the mother bird is always present and in charge at hatching time.  She calls all the shots, including timing of the first feeding.

The father bird may communicate that he wants something to be different but it’s her decision.  When Hope tells Terzo, “It’s my turn to be on the nest!” he has to leave.  When he tells her “An egg is hatching” she takes over.  This is the way of the peregrine.

What next?

We don’t know what Hope will do with the last egg so these warnings still apply.

A Caution to Viewers:

Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

A Caution to Commenters:

If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.  So… If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.

Bad News Again

Hope eats her first-hatching chick, 17 April 2018, 8:11a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Hope eats her first-hatching chick, 17 April 2018, 8:11a (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Bad news.

This morning the eggs began to hatch at the Cathedral of Learning but as the first one opened its egg the mother peregrine, Hope, killed and ate the chick.  Fortunately she had her back turned while she ate.

There were four eggs when the day began. It remains to be seen how many will survive.

Hope does this every year so I here’s my recommendation:

A Caution to Viewers:

Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.


Update: At approximately 9:00am Hope killed and ate chick#2.
Update: At 1:35pm Hope manipulated 3rd egg. Chick #3 hatched. She is brooding it with 4th egg.  (This report is 3rd hand; I was not watching.)

A Caution to Commenters:

Though this situation resembles reality TV in which viewers can vote someone on or off the island, it is not a “voting” situation.  If commenters become worked up and demand/request action in emails or phone calls to “those in charge” it will end the show.  Literally.  It will shut down the camera.  That’s what happened when commenters went over the top at the Woods Hole Osprey-cam.

Normally I do not edit readers’ comments but this situation is not normal.  If you post a comment that could inflame others, I will edit it or delete it.

Though I am not watching Hope closely (I don’t want see her kill her young), I do want the camera to stay up.

 

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

New Birds In Town

Louisiana waterthrush (photo by Anthony Bruno)
Louisiana waterthrush (photo by Anthony Bruno)

April 17, 2018: Despite this morning’s snow …

Last weekend’s warm weather and south winds brought migrating birds to western Pennsylvania.

Here are some of the new arrivals, illustrated in photos by Tony Bruno, Steve Gosser and Don Weiss. My descriptions include the locations where I saw the birds last weekend in case you’d like to look for them.

Louisiana waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) at top: Found along clean, rushing streams. This bird bobs his tail even when standing still. Walks the water’s edge. Perches just above eye level when he sings. At Cedar Creek Park and Walker Park.

Yellow-throated warbler (Setophaga dominica) below: Found near creeks and often in sycamores. Walks on the trunk and large branches, often quite high. At Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve and Walker Park.

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)
Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

Pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) below: Slow-moving warbler who favors pines but can be found in any tree on migration. Walks on the trunk and large branches. At Snead’s.

Pine warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)
Pine warbler (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) below: An active warbler with a tiny dark vest and yellow rump. Flits among smaller branches.  Seen at Walker Park, but found nearly everywhere during migration.  This bright-colored bird is male. The females are brown where this one is black.

Yellow-rumped warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)
Yellow-rumped warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) below:  Not a warbler but can be confused due to its similar size. Very hyperactive. Flits and hovers among small branches.  You’ll find this bird nearly everywhere on migration.  By the way, ruby-crowned kinglets stay all winter in eastern Pennsylvania.

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)
Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Swallows and chimney swifts:  If you’re desperate to see swallows and swifts in the spring, stop by a sewage treatment plant.  The nutrient rich outflow spawns flying insects that these birds eat on the wing. I saw my first tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) along Route 65 near the McKees Rocks Bridge, just downstream from Alcosan.

Tree swallow (photo by Don Weiss)
Tree swallow (photo by Don Weiss)

 

Winter wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) below:  “Winter” is passing through. Petite with striped flanks and a tiny cocked tail.  Look for him poking for insects among fallen logs and rocky outcrops.  Nests north of Pittsburgh and in the Laurel Highlands.  Seen at Schenley Park, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve and Walker Park.

Winter wren (photo by Steve Gosser)
Winter wren (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

If it hadn’t turned cold, it would be a good week to get outdoors.

 

(photos by Tony Bruno, Steve Gosser and Don Weiss)

Flowers and the Smell of Coal

Bloodroot open in full sun, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bloodroot open in full sun, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

A group of us went to Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County last Wednesday, April 11, to look for birds and blooms.  Our highlights were six Louisiana waterthrushes and the largest spread of snow trillium we’d ever seen.

The morning was cold and cloudy so the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was still closed when we arrived. By the time we left it was fully open (above).

Bloodroot in the chilly morning, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bloodroot in the chilly morning, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

We were surprised to find snow trillium (Trillium nivale) at its peak in mid April.  This flower usually blooms in February or March but cold weather must have held it back. So many blooms!

Snow trillium at its peak, 11 April 2018, Cedar Creek Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Snow trillium at its peak, 11 April 2018, Cedar Creek Park (photo by Kate St. John)

While we lingered near the snow trillium I noticed the smell of burning coal.  The site is far from any source so I wondered where the smell came from.

Later I learned that there are many abandoned coal mines in Rostraver Township and there’s a history of abandoned mine and waste pile fires.

Did I smell an old mine fire still burning?  Has a new fire just begun?  Do any of you know the answer?

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Blooming News:  I visited Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve on Friday April 13 where I found the flowers far behind Core Arboretum and even behind Cedar Creek.  Yes, spring has been slow to come — and it’s trying to leave again.  This phenology map from NPN shows our delayed spring in blue.

First leaf Anomaly, 14 April 2018 from usanpn.org
First leaf Anomaly, 14 April 2018 from usanpn.org

 

False Alarm

Terzo on a hot day with four eggs and no pips, 14 April 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Terzo on a hot day with four eggs and no pips, 14 April 2018, 2:48pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Update on Sunday April 15, before dawn:

Well, my calculations for hatch date were wrong.  The peregrine eggs at the Cathedral of Learning didn’t hatch on April 13 or 14.

They didn’t even pip.

By the end of the day yesterday (April 14) no one could confirm the pip reported on the 13th.

I guess it was a false alarm. However, the eggs will hatch soon.

More news later.

 

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

Hatching Has Begun … Maybe

Four eggs at Pitt peregrine nest, 13 April 2018, 18:00 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)
Four eggs at Pitt peregrine nest, 13 April 2018, 18:00 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)

Note the “Caution” at the end of this article.

Yesterday, 13 April 2018, sharp observers saw the first pip in an egg at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest.  I still haven’t seen it, but I’m told it’s in this picture.

This day-in-a-minute video (12 hours in 1 minute) shows that Hope and Terzo were especially active yesterday, partly due to the unusually hot weather.  It was 80 degrees in the shade and hotter at the nest so it was safe to leave the eggs for a bit.

I don’t recommend watching these eggs hatch on camera.  In past years Hope has killed and eaten one or more chicks as they hatch (read more here), so …

Caution! Don’t watch the eggs hatch at the Cathedral of Learning if it upsets you to see a mother kill her young.

It will be safe to watch after hatching is done. Meanwhile, I’ll keep you posted.

 

UPDATE on SATURDAY APRIL 15, 4:00pm:  I still can’t see a pip — and neither does Pitt Peregrines on Facebook.  As of this writing there is still no hatching.  We’ll just have to wait…

(photos and video from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)