All posts by Kate St. John

Wailing In The Dark And Rain

Morela listens as a peregrine wails in the dark, 8 Apr 2020, 4:03a (snapshot from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

8 April 2020:

This morning it was raining when I woke up at 4am and saw this snapshot of Morela wide awake and hunched over the scrape. What was she doing?

I pulled the 4am video and found out she was listening intently and sometimes ee-chupping to a peregrine wailing in the dark.

Ee-chupping is a greeting to a potential or current mate. Wailing means “I want [unknown something] to change.” Morela was speaking to a male peregrine and a male peregrine was wailing. We don’t know who was wailing and we don’t know why.

At this point I doubt there will be a peregrine egg at the Cathedral of Learning this year though Morela has been trying. This short video from Sunday 5 April 2020 at 6am shows her pulsing her vent. It looks as if her plumbing is stopped up.

We are left with more questions than answers.

  • Who was wailing and why?
  • Is Morela egg bound? Is she feeling ill?
  • Is Terzo still at the Cathedral of Learning or did the other male peregrine take over?
  • What will happen next with Terzo, Morela and whoever else might be at the Cathedral of Learning?

The answer to every question is: We don’t know.

I certainly don’t know.

Watch the National Aviary falconcam at the Univ of Pittsburgh to see what happens next.

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

How Early Is Spring In Your Neighborhood?

Bloodroot blooming at Duck Hollow, 4 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

7 April 2020

If you live in the southern or eastern U.S., spring leaf out has come 10 to 20 days early this year. The anomalies are evident in dark red on yesterday’s National Phenology Network map (USANPN).

Spring is at least 10 days early in Pittsburgh. I’ve noticed yellow buckeye trees (Aesculus flava) on the south-facing slopes are in full leaf, …

Yellow buckeye in full leaf, Schenley Park, 4 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

… choke cherries and crabapples are in full bloom, …

… and the willows glow with pale green leaves in Schenley Park.

Pale green willow trees in Schenley Park, 5 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Interestingly, a few places in the Midwest and south central Great Plains have a slightly delayed spring (blue on the map). It all depends on where you live.

Spring Leaf Index as of 6 Apr 2020 (animation from USA National Phenology Network)

How early is spring in your neighborhood?

(photos by Kate St. John, maps from USA National Phenology Network)

How Do Parrots Speak Like Humans?

Screenshot of Petra about to say “Like, Subscribe” (from the video embedded below)

One of my favorite YouTube stars is Petra the African grey parrot who is so smart that she carries on conversations. Here she asks Google a question.

African greys are the smartest birds but they’re not the only parrots that can mimic humans voices. How do parrots speak like humans when they don’t have the same equipment we have, such as lips and teeth, to form words? The video below shows how.

p.s. I’m sure you noticed that the parrot-speaking video ended abruptly when a woman began to talk. She’s going to promote the WIX website tool but it looks as if she’s going to talk about parrots. She doesn’t. It’s very confusing! So here’s her promo and her link to WIX.

(screenshot from Petra Grey video. To watch the videos on YouTube, click on the word YouTube at bottom right after the video begins)

Like Angels

Bridled common murre in flight (photo by Andreas Trepte, via Wikimedia Commons)

The beautiful Twitter video below from @Finnmarkbirding has happy news from the Varanger Peninsula in Finnmark county, Norway.

This week guillemots (we call them common murres, Uria aalge) and puffins (Fratercula arctica) are returning to Hornøya bird cliff in Vardø, Norway.

In slow motion they look like angels.

(photo by Andreas Trepte, via Wikimedia Commons; embedded Tweet by @Finnmarkbirding)

p.s. Common murres in the Norwegian Arctic often have “bridled” eye marks, shown above, and are called bridled guillemots.

A Few Spring Pictures From Duck Hollow

Lesser celandine in bloom (an invasive), Duck Hollow, 3 Apr 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are a few bright photos taken at Duck Hollow yesterday, 3 April 2020, some by John English, some by myself. Yes, we were there at the same time. Yes, we stayed 6 feet apart!

Above, lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) blankets the Monongahela shore with bright yellow flowers. They are beautiful but very invasive. Note this photo from Fox Chapel.

Ducks! a pair of buffleheads snoozing, 3 April 2020 (photo by John English)
Hairy bittercress is getting tall (photo by John English)

These “true bugs” called boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittata) were abundant near the railroad tracks. They are especially fond of mating on the rails.

Boxelder bug at Duck Hollow, 3 April 2020 (photo by John English)

Trees are in bloom all around Pittsburgh.

Flowering tree in the Duck Hollow neighborhood, 3 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today promises to be another fine day. Remember: Don’t travel far (Stay At Home) and maintain physical distance outdoors (6 feet+).

(photos by John English and Kate St. John)

New Peregrine Pair at Westinghouse Bridge

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 1 April 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

3 April 2020:

Peregrine news is sparse this year because we are (and should be!) staying close to home to stop the spread of COVID-19. Fortunately Dana Nesiti is monitoring the Westinghouse Bridge where he photographs the peregrines despite very poor lighting.

On 1 April Dana confirmed there’s a new pair at Westinghouse — an unbanded male and a banded female — when he captured clear images of the female’s bands.

Banded female peregrine, black/blue 48/N, at Westinghouse Bridge, 1 Apr 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The female peregrine, Black/Blue 48/N, hatched in 2016 at the Tower Building in South Bend, Indiana. She was first photographed in the Pittsburgh area at the Hulton Bridge by Gina Gilmore in January 2019 and may have nested at the 62nd Street Bridge in 2019. She was seen at 62nd Street in August and October but not in late 2019. Now we know where she is.

Banded female peregrine, black/blue 48/N, at Westinghouse Bridge, 1 Apr 2020 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Her unbanded mate is shown in two photos below. He’s the one that flies off after mating.

Unbanded male flies off after mating, Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)
Unbanded male lands after mating, Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Both birds are new to the site. The previous pair was a banded male (“George” from Cobb Island VA in 2006) and an unbanded female nicknamed “Rose.”

Since Dana saw both peregrines away from the scrape this week, we know that incubation had not yet begun at Westinghouse.

Thank you, Dana, for your excellent detective work!

p.s. Follow Dana’s bald eagle photos on Facebook at Eagles of Hays PA.

(photos by Dana Nesiti)

Signs of Spring: Flowers & Leaves

Purple deadnettle in Schenley Park, 1 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 April 2020

Spring keeps coming to Pittsburgh in fits and starts. In the last week we’ve gone from +22 F degrees above normal (29 March) to -3 F degrees below normal (31 March) and yet the flowers and leaves keep coming.

To illustrate I took two photos of the same sedge in Schenley Park. The buds on 27 March burst open two days later in 77 degree heat.

Sedge buds, Schenley Park, 27 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sedge blooming, Schenley Park, 29 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves are starting to pop, too. Yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) have their first leaves …

… and these reddish, toothed, compound leaves are opening on shrubs along West Circuit Road in Schenley Park. It’s a cultivated alien I can’t identify.

Compound leaf of cultivated shrub in Schenley Park, 31 Mar 2020 (not sure what it is; photo by Kate St. John)

There are also flowers in the trees: Northern magnolia, crabapple buds, blooming (invasive) Callery pear, and flowering cherry.

Northern magnolia, Schenley Park, 27 Mar 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Crabapple buds, Schenley Park, 31 Mar 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Callery pear in bloom, Pittsburgh, 31 Mar 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Flowering cherry, Pittsburgh, 1 Apr 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

I am so grateful that Schenley Park is still open.

Please keep physical distance in the parks or our parks will close as have those in other parts of Pennsylvania!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Wildlife Returns While Humans Stay Indoors

Limpkin on patio railing in Boca Raton, FL (sent by Natalie Mitchell, 31 Mar 2020)

As we shelter indoors, wildlife is reclaiming our neighborhoods faster than we thought possible. Limpkins in Florida, deer in Pittsburgh, and wild boars in Italy!

Limpkins in Florida:

Now that human activity has slowed in Boca Raton, my sister-in-law says that limpkins have moved into the neighborhoods and are shouting all night to attract mates and establish territories. If you’ve never heard a limpkin you’d think it’s a human in distress and you might call 911. Ooops! It’s a bird. Limpkins are a thrill to birders but annoying if you’re trying to sleep. Here’s what one looks and sounds like from 2012. You can hear other limpkins in the distance.

Deer in Pittsburgh:

Deer are getting bolder and coming out during the day now that Pittsburghers are not outdoors. Yesterday, 31 March, Donna Foyle found a family group right next to a front porch in Brentwood.

On 25 March KDKA reported deer on Pitt’s campus in a photo and article.

Wild boars in Italy:

Wild boars can be dangerous but they usually avoid humans. This mama and youngsters were filmed strolling through Bergamo, Italy, posted to Twitter on 30 March 2020.

Have you seen any interesting wildlife in town lately? Leave a comment to let me know.

(limpkin photo sent to me by Natalie Mitchell on 31 Mar 2020, deer in Brentwood via cellphone from Donna Foyle)

Two Mates, No Eggs

Unbanded male with Morela, 31 Mar 2020, 8:31a

1 April 2020

Two mates, no eggs. No fooling!

The last day of March was another confusing day at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. Morela courted with two mates — Terzo and the unbanded male — yet she still has not laid an egg, though she looked as if she was ready to do it the day before.

Yesterday’s Day In A Minute video shows 12 hours of the revolving door, 7a-7p, in only a minute. It sure looks busy!

Thanks to all of you who’ve reported nest activity, we have a partial picture of what’s going on. I’m sure we’ve missed something.

  • 6:43a Terzo before dawn (Kate St. John)
  • 8:25a Unbanded male (Pa Gal)
  • 10:46a Terzo (Kate St. John)
  • 11:47a Unbanded male (J)
  • 12:30p seen from Schenley Park: male peregrine on lightning rod of CL while Morela at nest (Kate St. John)
  • 2:10p Terzo (Pa Gal & Mary Ann Pike)
  • 2:23p – 2:53p Terzo alone (Mary Ann Pike, Pa Gal, Luann Walz, John English)
  • 3:56p Terzo (Pa Gal)
Terzo with Morela, 31 Mar 2020, 3:55p

At this point the males have reached a stalemate. They chase each other but neither one wins.

I can’t even predict what will happen next. Keep watching the National Aviary falconcam and let me know what you see.

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

Please Cooperate Or Parks Will Close Too!

The parks have been our solace in these troubled times but EVERYONE must obey the COVID-19 rules or Pittsburgh’s parks will close as they have in other cities.

A message from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, 31 March 2020:

Pittsburgh, it’s in our hands to keep the parks open. We have to follow the guidelines set by the City of Pittsburgh, our national government, and the CDC. 

Be safe in #PittsburghParks – practice physical distancing (6-8 feet) – wash your hands before and after a park visit – avoid surfaces: benches, railings, fences, exercise equipment – playgrounds are closed – no contact sportsno playdates in parks for kids – no pavilions – park facilities and amenities will be closed – no restrooms, water fountains, etc. – if you are experiencing symptoms stay home!