This red-tailed hawk is not consuming the lump near his mouth. He’s casting a pellet of indigestible bones, fur and feathers that came up from his gizzard. Pellets are a normal by-product of digestion in birds of prey. If you find one, it can tell you what the bird was eating.
We always find pellets during annual maintenance at the Pitt peregrine nestbox including these three found during our 9 January visit (paperclip for scale). The pellets can be many months old.
A closeup shows feathers and bones (no fur*) but is not very enlightening due to the pellet’s age. Fortunately I stored the pellets in a ziploc bag. After they thawed a small fly appeared inside the bag, hatched from eggs laid on the pellet in much warmer weather. Ewww!
Peregrine pellets are slightly longer than a paperclip. Some birds make much larger pellets.
On a hike at Audubon Greenway Conservation Area last Wednesday we found a surprisingly large pellet containing fur, bones and a big tooth. It was so large that we wondered if a bird could produce it. I didn’t pick it up but it looked as though it could span my palm.
However, the native red squirrels are stabilizing in Scotland, in part because European pine martens (Martes martes) are increasing and they selectively prey on gray squirrels.
The European pine marten is pretty cute, too.
p.s. Gray (grey) squirrels are invasive in the UK but a 2016 study found that their populations are genetically distinct from their neighbors and they didn’t invade new places on their own. Humans spread them!
One of the worst offenders at spreading grey squirrels was the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell. Russell was involved in many successful animal conservation projects, but released and gifted many grey squirrels around the UK from his home at Woburn Park.
Russell also released populations [of grey squirrels] in Regent’s Park, likely creating the London epidemic of greys.
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), quoted above, was a writer, philosopher, forester and conservationist. In the early 1900s he participated in a project to eradicate wolves from the American West. Back then it was thought that the absence of wolves would be great for our range cattle but no one considered what would happen to the landscape without the apex predator. Thirty years later Leopold wrote about it in A Sand County Almanac. We see the same results in Pennsylvania and in Pittsburgh’s parks today.
In the absence of hunters (wolves) the deer proliferated.
Deer still ate what they always ate, but the higher population consumed so much more.
The deer’s favorite food plants disappeared first; all new growth was consumed. The deer covered more ground and ate less favored plants.
After a couple of decades with constant browsing and so many plants missing, the landscape cannot regrow itself. The range failed within 20-30 years.
It’s not the rocks that are afraid of deer. It’s the forest that fears for its life because deer are its predators.
When the deer population is in balance with the habitat, the forest is fine. When the population is too high the forest shows signs of distress on its way toward failure including browse lines and small bonsai-like trees, as seen in Schenley Park below.
Amazingly, it all started with the decision to remove an apex predator. We humans are the reason why there are too many deer and, so far, we haven’t had the will to reduce their population to a sustainable level.
In the meantime the forest is afraid for its life.
(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons)
NOAA weather satellites don’t see the wind either but they can see the clouds moving in three layers.
High level clouds (cirrus) at 23,000 to 46,000 feet
Mid level clouds at a level of 10,000 to 23,000 feet
Low level clouds are below 10,000 feet
In their animations of satellite images we can almost see the wind but not its speed.
For instance, in this GOES East animation from last Thursday 12 January 2023 we can see the Atmospheric River pumping into California and a low pressure system moving up the Ohio Valley.
NOAA’s computers use the animated maps to calculate wind speed and direction. The result, called Derived Motion Winds, plots the wind height, direction and speed on a map.
Here’s the same timelapse with Derived Motion Winds. Notice that the layers often don’t move in the same direction or at the same speed. You’ve felt this in an airplane as a “bump” when the plane rises or descends between conflicting layers.
You can “see” the wind anywhere in the Americas by choosing a satellite to view (list on the left) at the NOAA GOES Imagery Satellite Maps. Click on Derived Motion Winds if available.
To view the current GOES East satellite, pictured above, visit these links:
Pittsburgh’s skies were oppressively gray on Saturday with thick Lake Effect Clouds but the forecast promised the clouds would break in early afternoon so I planned a walk in Schenley Park for 2:30pm. Hah!
By 3pm the clouds were still thick and gray and the revised forecast predicted they would break up in the 4 o’clock hour. Of course! We were about to get 15-30 minutes of full sun immediately followed by sunset at 5:15pm, a classic Gleam At Sunset. I timed my walk to arrive at Schenley’s golf course by 4:45pm.
My photos show what happened: the classic gleam, an unexpected sun pillar, and a beautiful red sky at sunset.
The clouds begin to break up, 4:41pm
The classic Gleam at Sunset, 4:56pm
Full sun at 5:00pm
Sun Pillar, 5:07pm
... sun is gone
If you’ve never heard of Lake Effect Clouds and the Gleam At Sunset, find out more in last month’s article:
Pitt peregrines Morela and Ecco stay at the Cathedral of Learning year round but have not been active at their nest in this month’s gloomy weather. Next month real courtship will begin and so will the National Aviary’s Live Falconcam. It’s hard to believe the first egg of the year is only two months away.
To get in the mood for the 2023 nesting season here’s a slideshow of last year’s successful nest, a recap of highlights, and the Top 4 videos from the National Aviary falconcams.
Morela in snow at the nest, 8 Jan 2022
Ecco and Morela bow, 10 Feb 2022
Morela with first egg of 2022, 18 March (snapshot from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Morela and Ecco with 4 eggs before dawn, 26 March 2022
Morela with 5 eggs, 31 March 2022
Incubation continues. Ecco arrives to relieve Morela, 16 April 2022
Hatch Day! 3 chicks at once, 26 April 2022
3 chicks, 2 eggs, 1 May 2022
4th chick hatched. Weak & on its back, 3 May 2022
3 chicks, 1 egg, 4th chick gone
3 chicks growing. Rainy day, 6 May 2022
Dark feathers showing among the fluff, 21 May 2022
Banding Day, 26 May 2022: Morela strafes the nest zone
Banding Day, 26 May 2022: Pitt peregrine chick
Banding Day, 26 May 2022: applying a band
After the banding, lunch arrives
Ooops! Chick about to fall in the gully, 28 May 2022
Silver calls for food, 31 May 2022
3 chicks ledge walking, 1 adult watching on the right
Sliver Girl flies up, 6 June 2022
Yellow Girl visits the nest, 2 July 2022
Ecco sleeping; the molt begins, 9 July 2022
Hot! Morela sunbathes, 10 July 2022
2 Peregrines at Cathedral of Learning 38th floor ledge, 17 Nov 2022
Morela in snow. 20 Dec 2022
Pitt Peregrine Highlights, 2022
The year began quietly with a bit of snow.
Ecco and Morela courted in February and March. Morela laid 5 eggs:
First egg: 3/18/2022, 08:31am
Second egg: 3/20/2022, 20:09 = 2.5 days later
Third egg: 3/23/2022, 04:40 = 2.4 days later … began incubation
Fourth egg: 3/26/2022, 06:32 = 3.1 days later
Fifth egg: 3/30/2022, 19:08 = 4.5 days later
Hatch Day: 3 of the 5 eggs hatched on 26 April. The 4th hatched on 3 May. The 5th never hatched.
The fourth chick hatched late and was weak from the start. It died on 7 May, four days after hatching.
The remaining chicks grew up into fully feathered juveniles through the end of May.
The chicks were banded on 26 May by Patti Barber of the PA Game Commission. This was the first time Morela and Ecco ever witnessed a banding. Morela was fierce (at top)!
The sunrise was gorgeous and cold last Wednesday when a group of us decided to walk at Jennings in Butler County. We saw few birds but there were ice heaves, buttress roots on an elm, and the seeds of old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii).
When old man’s beard is in bloom it’s called virgin’s bower, transforming it from a young woman to an old man in a matter of months.
My friends who live north of the city have not seen many dark-eyed juncos at their feeders this winter, but juncos are definitely present at the Frick Park Environmental Education Center. Charity Kheshgi posted photos of our recent trip to Frick.