All posts by Kate St. John

A Bee Backs Out

Last weekend in Virginia Beach I saw a bit of black at the tip of a tightly closed yellow flower.

The flower was making a buzzing sound. What next?

As I watched a bumblebee backed out.  In the last photo you can see that she was in the flower upside down.

 

p.s. Do you know what flower this is?  Is it False Foxglove? It was growing in sandy soil by the Long Creek Trail at First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Peregrine Update, June 22

Peregrine chick at Humane Animal Rescue, 15 May 2018 (screenshot from Humane Animal Rescue Facebook page)
Peregrine chick at Humane Animal Rescue, 15 May 2018 (screenshot from Humane Animal Rescue Facebook page)

22 June 2018:

Yesterday was a big day for peregrine falcon news.  There are updates from four sites.

Downtown Pittsburgh’s peregrines: formerly at Third Avenue

On Wednesday the PA Game Commission Southwest Region issued a press release on the status of the Downtown peregrine chicks that were removed from their nest on 8 May (pictured above on 15 May).  I have not seen the press release so my source for this news is John Hayes’ 21 June 2018 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:  Displaced Pittsburgh peregrine falcon chicks resettle in new home in northcentral PA.

Though two of the chicks passed away I am happy to learn that the remaining two were fostered in a wild peregrine nest on a cliff in north central Pennsylvania.

Fostering is much better than hacking.  In hacking, the chicks have no parents to learn from.  In fostering, the chicks are placed in a family with chicks of similar age.  The family accepts the newcomers and the parents feed and teach everyone.

Please read John Hayes’ article for all the details.

UPDATE, 11am:  I received the PGC Press Release (click here to read the entire release).  Here’s my favorite quote from it:

“The Pennsylvania Game Commission on May 31 transported the chicks from a wildlife rehabilitation facility to the nest, where both adult and young peregrines had been seen. It quickly was apparent the adults at the nest accepted the new chicks as their own. The chicks were seen at the nest the next day, with chicks that had hatched in the nest and their parents.”

 

Elizabeth Bridge, Monongahela River, Allegheny County

Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)
Adult peregrine perched on the Elizabeth Bridge, 3 June 2018 (photo by John English)

Unfortunately, the Elizabeth Bridge nest site is dangerous for peregrine fledglings. This year we’ve learned that they land on the roadway on first flight.  One fledgling was found dead on 5 June, the other was found injured on 3 June and taken to Wildlife Works rehab center.

Yesterday we heard good news of the surviving juvenile, embedded below from Wildlife Works, Inc Facebook page.  (Click here for a full-length photo.)

During the week of  10 June observers checked the bridge often for signs of continued nest activity — especially looking for food deliveries — but there were none.  The parents remain at the bridge. PennDOT has resumed construction work on the entire bridge.

 

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, Allegheny-Westmoreland Counties

Young peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 18 June 2018 (photo by Steve Gosser)
Young peregrines at Tarentum Bridge, 18 June 2018 (photo by Steve Gosser)

By now at least one of the three juveniles has fledged.  Rob Protz reported this activity on 20 June 2018:

Tarentum: Fledge watch Wed. evening (between the raindrops).

The smaller juvenile was not seen. The two larger juveniles were present, mostly on top of the nestbox, though one did wander down to the downriver end of the railing early on after 6 PM. There was one visit by an adult – probably a food drop – but since it was mostly behind the box, it wasn’t very visible. One juvie did jump down and stay behind the box for a while at that point.

Visit the Tarentum Bridge soon to see the young peregrines.

 

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Terzo and Hope court on Midsummer Day, 21 June 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Terzo and Hope court on Midsummer Day, 21 June 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On Midsummer morning, Hope and Terzo made a quick visit to the nestbox and bowed to each other. Though they will not nest again this year bowing strengthens their pair bond.

 

(photo credits:
screenshot of Downtown peregrine chicks 15 May 2018 from Humane Animal Rescue,
peregrine at Elizabeth Bridge by John English,
injured juvenile peregrine from Elizabeth Bridge embedded from Wildlife Works Facebook page,
juvenile peregrines at Tarentum Bridge by Steve Gosser
Terzo and Hope at Cathedral of Learning from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh
)

Nests Over Water

Green heron, Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)
Green heron, Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)

Why does this bird have his crest raised?

Perhaps someone came too close to his nest.

Green herons (Butorides virescens) are shy waders in swampy thickets, preferring to fish in the shadows and nest alone.  Because of their secretive nature it’s always surprising to find a nest.

When green herons return to Pennsylvania in the spring they’re already paired up for nesting.  The male chooses the location, usually in a small tree over water, giving preference to last year’s site if it was successful.  He starts to build the nest but as soon as his lady gets the hint his job is to bring the sticks as she places them.  Then she lays 4-5 eggs.

Green heron nesting in Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)
Green heron nesting in Florida, March 2018 (photo by Bob Kroeger)

With this dual building effort it’s amazing that the structure is sometimes so thin that you can see the eggs through it from below.

That is, if you can find the nest.  Green herons don’t want you to.  They fly away loudly if you come too close.  Typically they sound like this (Xeno Canto 147343 by Paul Marvin at Viera Wetlands, FL)

… but if they’re really annoyed they are much louder (Xeno Canto 145806 by Paul Marvin at Viera Wetlands, FL)

Right now most of Pennsylvania’s green herons have young in the nest and the parents are busy bringing food.  At 16-17 days old the chicks will climb out of the nest — or swim if they have to.  They’ll fly at 21-22 days old.

Stay alert for the sight and sound green herons.  You might find a nest over water.

Bob Kroeger found these herons in Florida.

 

(photos by Bob Kroeger of South Dennis, MA. Bob photographs birds for fun and shares them on Facebook. Here’s his business website.)

Schenley Park Outing: June 24, 8:30am

Fleabane blooming in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Fleabane blooming in Schenley Park, 10 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Summer arrived before the solstice.  It’s time to get outdoors!

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, June 24, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road. We’ll look in the meadow for birds and flowers, then explore the woodland trails.  I’m sure we’ll see daisy fleabane. It’s blooming now.

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.

Hope to see you there!

Hacking Young Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)
Peregrine hack box at New River Gorge National River (photo in public domain from NPS, annotated by Kate St. John)

Many of you have asked about the status of Dori and Louie’s peregrine chicks, taken from their Downtown Pittsburgh nest on 8 May 2018.  I have no news of the chicks, but I do know the PA Game Commission planned to hack them at an undisclosed location.  Based on the chicks’ age, I think this would have happened in early June.

What is peregrine hacking?

Hacking is a falconry term for the process of introducing captive chicks without parents to independent free flight. The Peregrine Recovery Program used this method to restore peregrines to the wild after they went extinct east of the Mississippi. Every wild peregrine in the eastern U.S. is descended from one or more hacked birds.

The Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia has four decades of experience in hacking peregrines.  Please read their excellent description of hacking, complete with photos from their program.

This brief description, partly drawn from ccbbirds.org, includes National Park Service photos from the Shenandoahs and New River Gorge.

A hack box, above, is prepared and placed on the cliff.  It has:

  • Grill-work on the cliff side so the chicks can see the sky and valley,
  • A door that opens on a safe ledge for wing exercising,
  • A chute for delivering food to the chicks.

Young peregrines are placed in the box after banding and before they are old enough to fly.  The box is kept closed at first for the chicks’ protection from great horned owls and other predators.

Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology)
Peregrine chick being placed in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)
Peregrine chicks in hack box (photo by NPS via Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

The chicks are fed using the chute. (They don’t see humans feeding them.)

Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)
Using the chute to feed the chicks (photo from National Park Service, New River Gorge)

When they are old enough to ledge walk, the door is left open so they can walk out and exercise their wings.  They are still fed using the chute.

Eventually the chicks fly and learn to hunt. Food is delivered to the hack box until they are self sufficient.

Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)
Young peregrines flying before they disperse from the hack site (photo from National Park Service)

When the fledglings are self sufficient they fly away (disperse).

We know they disperse far.  Three hacked birds from the Center for Conservation Biology program have come to Pittsburgh to nest.

 

(photos by the National Park Service from the New River Gorge National River hacking program and via the Center for Conservation Biology website)

 

Let’s Go, Kids

  • Uh oh! We've been seen.

Last week in Schenley Park I heard unusual mewing sounds above me.  Three raccoon kits were whining as their mother assessed whether I was dangerous. She saw me before I saw her family.

Eventually Mama decided her kits should move up the tree for safety’s sake.  “Let’s go, kids!”

After they were safely (almost) hidden she looked down to see if I was gone.  That tiny tail in the last photo is one of her kits.

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

Pleated Leaves

False hellebore leaves, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
False hellebore leaves, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

In the spring I often see large pleated leaves in the same damp places where skunk cabbage grows. For years I didn’t know what they were and I was lazy.  I couldn’t see any flowers and I wouldn’t wade into the swamp to key it out with my Newcomb’s Guide.

This week Dianne Machesney put me straight. This is false hellebore (Veratrum viride).

False hellebore is blooming this month and now I know why I never saw the flowers from a distance.  They’re completely green!  Six hairy green tepals (petal-sepals) and six stamens with yellow anthers.

Flowers of false hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Flowers of false hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The leaves spiral up the stem. The entire plant, up to six feet tall, resembles hellebore so it’s called false hellebore.

False hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
False hellebore, 9 June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Like all plants in the Veratrum genus viride is highly poisonous.  Deer leave it alone but cattle are sometimes fooled.

Amazingly, some Native American tribes used it as an initiation test. Like Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, candidates to be the next leader would ingest false hellebore. According to Wikipedia, the one to start vomiting last would become the new leader.  (Ick!)

Look for false hellebore’s flowers from May to July. After it blooms, the leaves fade.

 

(photos by Dianne Machesney)

Tarentum Peregrines: The Week To Watch

June 15, 2018:

The Tarentum peregrine family is already fun to watch. Now the excitement is ramping up.

Back on June 5, Gerry Devinney captured this video of the adult peregrines escorting an osprey away from their nest.  On June 8 Mary Ann Thomas wrote about them here: Tarentum Peregrines Defend Their Nesting Success.

Last Tuesday evening, June 12, the first nestling ventured out of the nestbox to ledge walk and exercise his wings.

We don’t know the chicks’ exact ages but they’re somewhere between 32-36 days old today. Young peregrines fledge at 38-45 days old.  These birds will fly soon, maybe within a week!

Visit the Tarentum boat launch to watch the youngsters get ready to fly.  Click here for a map.

UPDATE, June 15, 6:10pm:  Rob Protz reports that there are three (3!) young peregrines out of the nestbox this evening.

 

(video by Gerry Devinney)

Two Goat’s Beards

Goatsbead blooming, Frick Park Nine Mile Run Trail, 1 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Goatsbead blooming, Frick Park Nine Mile Run Trail, 1 June 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are two flowers that couldn’t be more different but they have the same common name: Goat’s Beard.

The Goat’s Beard flower above is Tragopogon dubius, introduced from Eurasia and named for its huge fluffy seed head.  It loves full sun and thrives in poor, disturbed soil so I often see it in former waste places planted with wildflower seed mix.  The flower above was at Lower Nine Mile Run on June 1.

The Goat’s Beard below, Aruncus dioicus, is a native of North America named for its fluffy male flowers. Four to six feet tall, it requires moist rich soil so I usually find it in the forest where a splash of sun breaks through.  Dianne Machesney found this one last week.

Goatsbeard, June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) blooming, June 2018 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The flower in her photo doesn’t look very fluffy.  Here’s a possible explanation.

Aruncus dioicus is dioecius — some plants are male, others female.  The male flowers are the showy ones. This showy flower from Wikimedia Commons may be male.

Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), June 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), June 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons

Be careful if you tell a butterfly enthusiast that you’ve found Goat’s Beard.  The yellow-flowered Eurasian species is nothing to get excited about but Aruncus dioicus is the host plant for the rare Dusky Azure butterfly (Celastrina nigra).

Two “Goat’s Beards.”  Perhaps even more.

 

(photo credits:
yellow Goat’s Beard flower by Kate St. John
white Goat’s Beard flower by Dianne Machesney
fluffy white Goat’s Beard flower from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original
)