Egg laying season is coming up soon at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest where Ecco and Carla are courting frequently.
Yesterday they held three long courting sessions that included bowing, ee-chupping, and nest preparation. The ee-chup call sounds different for male and female peregrines. Ecco’s voice is squeaky while Carla’s voice is rough and slightly lower in pitch. She’s the one that makes the “huh” sound. You can hear the difference in this 6-minute video. More information on what they are up to is described below.
After bowing, Ecco left the nest so Carla could make preparations on her own. To limber up she stretched her right wing and leg.
To “build” the nest, Carla put her chest against one edge of it and kicked the gravel out with her feet. The nest itself is a bowl in the gravel, called a scrape, for holding eggs so they don’t roll off the cliff. Peregrines don’t use sticks to build their nests.
After digging Carla puttered around on the gravel surface, swallowing small pieces of gravel to aid digestion. Birds add gravel to their gizzards to grind the food. Learn more about How Birds Chew at the link.
And when she was done Carla flew away.
A few weeks from now, after Carla lays her next-to-last egg, she’ll stay at the nest to incubate.
We had stopped to drink sundowners and watch the sun set in the wide valley of the Dete Vlei.
After sunset, we returned to camp for dinner in the open air dining room.
The sun had set two hours ago. It was quite dark. And there were lions outside. Roaring.
“Who wants to find the lions?” said Sam.
Caution flags went off in my brain but others raised their hands so I tamped down my doubts with the thought, “When will you ever get this opportunity again? Never. So go!”
We piled into the safari vehicle and zoomed down the dirt track. Sam was on the radio with James, a Khulu guide who had gone out ahead of us to find the lions. Suddenly an elephant loomed in the dark, blocking the road. We slowed and it stepped into the bush.
Then another elephant, then three, then four.
Surprised by crazy humans pelting through the dark the elephants appeared to be telling each other, “Hey! that truck is coming down the track. You’re in my way! Move into the bush!” It struck me as funny and I couldn’t stop laughing.
The elephants melted into the bush, then James radioed that he had found the lions, one male and two females. We turned around and headed toward them.
By the time we arrived the male had moved off but we found both females squinting in the bright search light. My photo shows how far away the first one was.
Fellow traveler Frank Koch got better pictures than I did. Here are both females.
What an unforgettable experience!
Grateful thanks to our guide Sam Mushandu, to James (guide at Khulu Bush Camp) who knows the habits of lions, Khulu Bush Camp itself for a wonderful stay, and Road Scholar for arranging the tour. And thank you to Frank Koch for his photos of our night safari.
p.s. In case you’re wondering what a lion looks like when it roars, here’s a video from Brookfield Zoo. Keep in mind that both males and females roar so all three may have been speaking that night in the bush, 24 January 2024.
How does this spring compare to “normal”? After a slow start to spring in Florida and parts of the Southern Great Plains, spring is spreading more quickly now across the country. Albuquerque, NM is a week early, St. Louis, MO is 2 weeks early, and parts of Washington, D.C. are 22 days early compared to a long-term average of 1991-2020.
One week ago today, on 23 Feb 2024, the most famous owl in New York City hit a window on West 89th Street and died.
Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) escaped his enclosure at the Central Park Zoo more than a year ago after a vandal damaged it on 2 Feb 2023. The zoo tried to recapture him and worried that he would starve or be hit by a car. Instead Flaco thrived on his own and became a symbol of freedom to many New Yorkers.
He endeared himself to apartment dwellers by sometimes visiting their highrise windows or perching on their fire escapes.
Sadly a window was Flaco’s undoing. Flaco’s biggest fan, David Lei (@davidlei), reported:
As you may have already seen, Flaco the Eurasian eagle-owl has passed away. I am sad beyond words. Flaco defied the odds and made quite a life for himself in the city over the past year. Along the way he came to mean so much to so many, including me. ??? pic.twitter.com/gJnby3TtvB
The month of March is traditionally the best month for tapping maples to collect sap for maple syrup. The sap runs best with daytime temperatures above freezing and nights below freezing. When the days are too hot the sap becomes bitter. When the nights don’t freeze the sap stops running and the season is over.
This winter we’ve had yo-yo weather in the Northeast and Great Lakes states. You can see it in the forecast highs this week from Tuesday 27 Feb through Sat 2 March. The cold front coming through today will result in two nights below freezing. Then temperatures will rise again into the 60s. You can see the new blob of hot weather approaching from the Great Plains on Saturday 2 March.
Maple sugar farmers have had to adjust by starting the season whenever the sap runs — in Pennsylvania that might mean January — and pausing the season when the temperature goes up too high in hopes it will drop again.
This news article from Minnesota shows what their maple farmers are dealing with.
Yes, it’s still February but this winter has been so warm that it’s already time to look for shrimp in the woods.
Last year Adam Haritan at Learn Your Land taught us about fairy shrimp in vernal pools. If you missed his 7-minute video, view it right now to find out what these tiny creatures look like and where to find them.
Amazingly there are 313 species of fairy shrimp (Ansotraca) around the world. Some live in brine water, some live in freshwater. The Eubranchipus genus which Adam mentioned contains 16 species including this female in Poland. You can see the eggs inside her at the root of her tail.
Are you ready to go look for fairy shrimp? Find an isolated ephemeral pool in the woods and look for tiny movement in the water. Here’s a photo to set your size expectations. There’s one at the tip of the fingernail.
Look for vernal pools in the days ahead. In addition to fairy shrimp you’ll find wood frogs and spring peepers. Don’t delay. The end of March may be too late.
During the Ice Age, the Pleistocene 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago, there was a lake 600 feet deep in Death Valley where Badwater Basin stands today. Named Lake Manly(*) by geologists, it disappeared 10,000 years ago.
Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level so any water that reaches it can only evaporate yet the evaporation rate is so high that the basin is a salt pan. Occasionally — decades apart — there’s enough rain to make a shallow lake.
In the past six months California has had two unusual rain events. On 20 August 2023 Hurricane Hilary dumped 2.2 inches and caused Lake Manly to re-form in place. (The deluge also closed the Death Valley National Park for two months.) Amazingly the lake persisted through the winter.
And then the Atmospheric River event of 4-7 February dumped 1.5 more inches of rain. Lake Manly grew to a depth of 1 to 2 feet so in mid-February the National Park Service opened it to kayaking.
The last time the lake formed, in 2005, it lasted only about a week. This time NPS estimates it’ll be gone — or at least too shallow for kayaks — by April.
So if you want to kayak in Death Valley, get out there now before Badwater Basin returns to normal.
From now until the middle of April peregrine falcons in southwestern Pennsylvania are courting and claiming territory, perching prominently, and performing conspicuous aerial displays. As soon as they start incubating eggs they’ll become very secretive so if you want to see a peregrine or record breeding activity for the new Breeding Bird Atlas 2024-2029, this is a great time to do it.
Look for peregrines in the next 6 weeks.
The red and blue pin drops, 1 Dec 2023 — 24 Feb 2024, on the eBird map below confirm that the best places to look are near tall buildings or bridges. There are also a few surprising locations such as Mammoth Lake Park in Westmoreland County.
11 peregrine territories have pairs present since January. Here’s the simpler map.
Of those 11 sites, five raised young last year and two more have a long history of nesting (7 boldface names below). The new and promising sites are boldface in the Notes column.
Peregrine Sites to Watch!
Looking for some excitement? Want to add Peregrine Falcon to the PA Breeding Bird Atlas? Check out these “hopefuls” for 2024.
Sewickley Bridge over the Ohio River. This site also has pairs but no confirmation of nesting yet.
Monaca bridges over the Ohio River: RR Bridge or Rt51 Bridge. We know there are peregrines here but it’s hard to confirm breeding. Let this be a challenge to you!
Rt 422 Graff Bridge over the Allegheny River, Kittanning. We know there are peregrines here too, but with few observers we often don’t confirm breeding. Allegheny Valley People, let this be a challenge to you!
And … if you miss finding a peregrine in person you can usually count on a peregrine on camera at the Cathedral of Learning. Today they courted at dawn.
Keep your eyes peeled. Yes, there are peregrines out there!
Please leave a comment if you’ve see anything. I always want to know!
Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny at Marianne Atkinson’s house when she noticed bees at her bird feeder and sent me this message:
I am concerned about several honey bees. It is 48° and sunny on Feb. 23, 2024 at 3:15 P.M. The bees are crawling on the sunflower chips that are in this little window feeder and on my steps and platform feeder. The sunflower chips are dry. There is no water in them for the bees to drink or nectar.
Why are they doing this? Are they okay?
Years ago I learned from beekeeper friends that early spring is a hungry time for honeybees. The warmth wakes them up in the hive, they go looking for food, but there are no flowers yet. Beekeepers provide extra food in the hive at this time of year but honeybees in the wild must go exploring.
Howard Russell at Michigan State University Extension provided this explanation:
Honey bees take advantage of any food source after a long, cold winter, including bird feeders. …
The bees collect the pollen-sized seed dust particles and yeast that are found in the cracked corn and other seeds we set out for our little feathered friends for which, I’m sure, the bees are extremely grateful. The bees will move on to their preferred food sources as spring flowers begin to appear.