All posts by Kate St. John

Seen This Week

Sunrise on the last day of Excessive Heat Warning in Pittsburgh, 22 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 June 2024

Most of us didn’t see much of the outdoors this week. It was just too hot. Fortunately today is the last day of Pittsburgh’s Excessive Heat Warning. Tomorrow we’ll have rain, thunderstorms and wind, though it will reach 90°F. Certainly hot. Not “Excessive.”

Yesterday while it was 93°F, one of the Pitt peregrine youngsters (“Blue”) tried to beat the heat by resting in the shade at the front of the nest. She opened her wings and gular fluttered (like panting) to cool herself off.

Blue is “panting” at the nest, 21 June 2024, 5:15pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Two days earlier her father, Ecco, was sunbathing at noon! The sun’s heat kills feather lice and forces the live bugs off the bird’s back to places where it’s easier to preen them away. After roasting a bit, Ecco spent time preening in the shade.

Ecco sunbathing, 20 June 2024, 12:09pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Some day soon (I hope!) it will be pleasant enough to take a walk in the sun as I did on 12 June at Aspinwall Riverfront Park. Every time I go there I look for peregrines but have not found any.

Common mullein at Aspinwall Riverfront Park, 12 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Coopers Hawk Cooling His Heels

Cooper’s hawk standing in running water, Pittsburgh, 18 June 2024 (photo by Alan Juffs)

21 June 2024

On Tuesday afternoon when it was 94°F, a Cooper’s hawk stepped into a stream of running water on a street in Squirrel Hill. When blue jays and robins raised the alarm, “Hawk! Hawk!” Alan Juffs took these pictures.

Birds are feeling the heat this week because they wear down coats all year long, but special circulation in their legs makes chilling their feet an excellent way to cool off. The National Zoo explains:

Wading birds, such as flamingos and ibises {and this Cooper’s hawk}, have long, thin, featherless legs that make it easy to release heat from their bodies. When the blood circulates up and down their legs, heat dissipates through their skin. This natural method of thermoregulation gets a boost when the birds’ feet are submerged in cool water.

National Zoo: How Do Birds Handle the Heat? July 28, 2023

For a quick minute the Coopers hawk cooled his heels.

Cooper’s hawk cooling his feet, Pittsburgh, 18 June 2024 (photo by Alan Juffs)

His respite was cut short when the robins and jays drove him away.

Fortunately today is the last full day of Pittsburgh’s Excessive Heat Warning. The warning ends tomorrow, Saturday 22 June, at 8:00pm. Sunday will be better. Whew!

(credits are in the captions)

See No Weevil?

One of many yellow poplar weevils outside my window, 19 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 June 2024

Do you have these odd looking bugs on your windows? On your porch furniture? On your car? I had not seen yellow poplar weevils (Odontopus calceatus) for several years when John English posted a photo of one on Facebook yesterday. There were none over here in Oakland and I could honestly say, “See no weevil.”

Hah! Six hours later my windows hosted 24 of them. Welcome to weevil mating season.

Yellow poplar weevils are harmless to humans. Up close — very close — they’re kind of cute.

Closeup of yellow poplar weevil on my window, 19 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some people think they’re ticks. How can you be sure they aren’t? Weevils have three things that ticks don’t have: 6 legs, a long snout, and wings. Ticks can’t fly.

Yellow poplar weevil is not a tick (photo by Kate St. John)
Yellow poplar weevil is not a tick (photo and markup by Kate St. John)

Learn more in this vintage article and amaze your friends.

p.s. You might hear these called “billbugs” but yellow poplar weevils (Odontopus calceatus) are not the same as billbugs (Sphenophorus genus), though both are “snout beetles” (Curculionidae family).

Peregrine Update, 19 June

Hello, Blue! in front of the snapshot camera on 17 June, 5:28pm

19 June 2024

It’s been eleven days since my last regional peregrine update. Here are just a few of the sites. More to come in the days ahead.

Cathedral of Learning, Univ of Pittsburgh:

The juvies have made a lot of progress since 11 June when Liz Adams took this photo of one of shouting from the 32nd/33rd floor parapet. Such a lazy bird! On its belly demanding room service! It eventually flew away toward Carnegie Museum.

Juvie peregrine shouting from the parapet, 11 June 2024 (photo by Liz Adams)

This week both juvies harassed a crow at Bayard and Bellefield and chased their parents around the top of the Cathedral of Learning. By the time I snapped this photo they were out of the frame.

Cathedral of Learning, 16 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

They’ve learned how to hunt at this point but it’s a lot harder than wheedling food from their parents. On Monday they figured out that Ecco hides from them at the nest so they both invaded. Ecco shouted and left immediately. See the slideshow of their antics.

Juvenile Pitt peregrines invade the nest, 17 June 2024 (photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Downtown Pittsburgh:

On Monday morning 10 June PGC’s Patti Barber emailed that a Downtown juvie had been rescued from the ground and placed up high again. This Monday, 17 June, Matthew DiGiacomo heard a juvie peregrine calling overhead and posted this photo of it on Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page.

Juvie peregrine over Downtown Pittsburgh (photo by Matthew Digiacomo via Pittsburgh Falconuts on Facebook)

First, I heard the distinctive call. Didn’t take long to spot it soaring above the Forbes Avenue Garage.

Matthew Digiacomo posted to Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page, 17 June 2024

East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh: No photos available but Adam Knoerzer wrote yesterday, 18 June:

In E Liberty now — the young one was definitely flapping wings yesterday and exercising, and I can’t see a thing in the nest today. The female is perched much lower than usual today on the eastern face, and I wonder if perhaps the young one tried to fledge and is somewhere on a low roof.

The female is in a decidedly unusual spot for her — and she has some prey in her clutches but isn’t eating it. I did briefly hear vocalizing, but it wasn’t very long or intense.

I guess it’s possible that the chick is lying flat due to the heat or something, but yesterday it was pretty easy to see it anywhere due to its size.

— email from Adam Knoerzer, 18 June 2024, 6pm

West End Bridge, Ohio River: On 13 June Jeff Cieslak photographed a solo peregrine at the West End Bridge. It is banded Black/Green and appears to be “xC/20”. (The “x” means I can’t read that letter. Jeff digitally flipped the band rightside up.) Did I read the band correctly? Do any of you know this bird?

Banded peregrine at West End Bridge, 13 June 2024 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Rt 40 Bridge, West Brownsville, Monongahela River:

On 1 June five birders visited the Rt 40 Bridge to watch the peregrine family of four. When Fred Kachmarik visited on the 9th and 15th of June the two youngsters were doing well.

There is a 60% mortality rate among peregrines in their first year of life so the loss of a chick is, unfortunately, an expected outcome.

Too Hot To Handle!

18 June 2024

When a heat dome persisted over the Central US. last August my reaction was “At least it isn’t happening here.” Well, now it is.

U.S. Day 3-7 Hazards Outlook for 20-24 June 2024 from NOAA Weather Prediction Center

A high pressure system that was overheating the Southwest moved in on Monday and put a cap over us that’s circulating hot air and trapping heat at the surface.

Diagram of a heat dome from Wikimedia Commons by NWS/NOAA

Meanwhile there are very few clouds to block the sun. It just keeps getting hotter and hotter. Climate Central says the metro areas of Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City, and Boston are experiencing:

  • Record high temperatures from 94°F to 99°F
  • High humidity that makes it feels hotter when heat index values reach 105°F
  • Nighttime temperatures never cool below the 70-76°F range.

Pittsburgh’s forecast is all orange.

Heat advisory forecast for 18-21 June 2024 (screenshot from NWS Pittsburgh)

Meanwhile all of us are under stress, especially plants, animals, outdoor workers, people without air conditioning and homeless people.

In addition to all the physical changes, heat makes us irritable, even angry.

Last evening severe thunderstorms knocked out power to more than 100,000 electric customers in southwestern PA. I’m fortunate to have both electricity and air conditioning so I’m staying indoors.

I can hardly wait for it to end.

p.s. US weather maps never show Canada. Did the heat just cease at the border? Nope. It’s hot in Canada, too!

American Kestrels Ready to Fledge

Screenshot from the Live Kestrelcam at CornellBirdCams

17 June 2024

Are you going through Falconcam withdrawal? Don’t despair. Four falcons in Wisconsin are still on camera and nearly ready to fledge.

Click on the image above or this link at Instagram for a brief video of American kestrel nestlings (Falco sparverius), the smallest falcon in North America.

See them Live on the Wisconsin Kestrel Cam below … WOW! That was fast! All of them fledged within a day of this article and the Live Stream is closed for the year. The kestrels say, “See you next year!”

How Do You Know a Pigeon is Nesting in Your Chimney?

Rock pigeons watch from the chimney edge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

16 June 2024

Rock pigeons nest on cliffs in the wild, or on high buildings and bridges in feral settings. They will even nest inside chimneys if the chimney has a ledge. Years ago I had no idea this was possible until I heard cooing in the living room and finally took time to investigate.

We used to own a house built in 1907 with two brick chimneys. After we replaced the furnace, the main chimney went completely unused. There was no exhaust from the furnace and no smoke from a fireplace so I ignored chimney maintenance. I didn’t realize that my negligence left the chimney open to new tenants.

Gosh, I was naive. A brick fell down the chimney but it only happened once and I procrastinated until I forgot about it. (The missing brick probably created a ledge.) One spring I heard starling voices coming down the chimney, but I heard them only twice and I forgot about it. Then one year I heard cooing in the chimney. It happened often enough that I could not ignore it. I went outside to look at the chimney. What was going on?

As I watched from the street, a pigeon landed on the chimney and disappeared. Hmmm! When it reappeared the pigeon flew to some brush, picked up a twig, flew back to the chimney and disappeared. The chimney had no cap. He was building a nest!

Rock pigeon nests are very bare bones, mostly substrate with a few twigs and dried grasses. The male gathers material while she stays at the nest and coos when he brings new bits and pieces. I was hearing them build the nest.

video embedded from RikR on YouTube

I quickly hired a critter control company who removed the pigeon nest and capped the chimney. The cap was a simple wire mesh like this one. Problem solved! (This is not a photo of my old house but the cap is similar.)

Chimney cap on a building on Craig Street (photo by Kate St. John)

So now you know. When you hear pigeons cooing in the chimney they are setting up housekeeping. It’s never safe to assume they aren’t nesting. Rock pigeons breed all year long if there is adequate food on hand.

p.s. Have you ever seen a baby pigeon? They don’t look like their parents.

Rock pigeon nestlings, Day One and approximately Day Six (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Seen On Laurel Mountain

Canada warbler, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

15 June 2024

During spring warbler migration I try to see as many species as possible as they pass through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Unfortunately, I missed some of my favorites this year, most notably the Canada warbler (Cardellina canadensis), so Charity Kheshgi and I went to Laurel Mountain last Sunday to find them on their breeding grounds.

The air was filled with veery (Catharus fuscescens) songs when we arrived at Laurel Summit State Park.

We thought we’d be able to see at least one of the two Canada warblers we heard singing along Spruce Bog Trail, but not. However, we got lucky on the Picnic Trail when the bird pictured above and below approached us making his warning call.

Canada warbler, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Here’s an example of what he sounded like:

There was plentiful shade in the forest, but that made the birds harder to see. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) is nicely lit but still in the dark.

Ovenbird, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We found other delights on the mountain. A tiger swallowtail butterfly sipped nectar from pitcher plant flowers at Spruce Bog.

Tiger swallowtail at pitcher plant flowers, Spruce Bog, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pennsylvania’s state flower, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), was in bloom.

Mountain laurel in bloom, Laurel Summit State Park, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

This trillium gone to seed showed well in dappled sunlight.

Trillium gone to seed, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

We heard more birds than we could see, ultimately tallying 24 species in our checklist here.

Close Encounters With Puffins

Puffin carrying fish to its nest burrow, June 2021, Skomer Island, Wales (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 June 2024

Six years ago when I traveled to Newfoundland to see Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) we watched from a boat as puffins flew over us, dove next to us, and landed near their burrows at Witless Bay. I knew they were not large birds but I was not close enough to judge their size.

Carl Bovis filmed one at Skomer Island, Wales where there are over 42,000 nesting pairs from April to July: “To cheer everyone up, here’s a little Puffin going for a little walk.”

(embedded video by Carl Bovis on YouTube)

Imagine a puffin at your feet …

… or even closer.

embedded from RM Videos on YouTube

I wish I knew where this RM Video it was filmed!

Next on the Agenda: Molting

Canada goose molting in late June (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

13 June 2024

As soon as the breeding season is over adult birds molt to change out their old feathers. During this period many birds look ragged. We’ll see a few bald cardinals and blue jays who’ve molted all their head feathers at once. Peregrines will seem lazy while they molt in July and August. Canada geese won’t be able to fly.

This week at Duck Hollow I noticed that Canada geese are already molting. Their white rumps are showing, which indicates they’ve lost all their flight feathers.

Not-molting vs. molting appearance in Canada geese (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

At the end of this month Pitt’s peregrines will be molting too. We might see a peregrine feather on the falconcam.

Peregrine falcon tail feather (photo from Shutterstock in 2013)

Learn more about molting in this vintage article.