All posts by Kate St. John

Test Your Hearing

Cape May warbler at Magee Marsh (photo by Chuck Tague)

17 May 2022

Did you know that age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, affects 1 out of 3 of people by age 65 and half of us by age 75?

The CDC explains that “the most important sounds we hear every day are in the 250 to 6,000 Hertz range.” Fortunately for those with presbycusis, frequencies above the “important” range are the first to go.

In my 40’s I learned to identify birds by ear but my skill has come undone in recent years because some birds, especially warblers, sing above 6,000 Hz. I would not have noticed it except that I go birding with people who hear well and can identify birds by song. They point out birds I cannot hear.

This spring I’ve watched a few warblers open their mouths, vibrate their throats, and say nothing! Can you hear them? Turn up your speakers and test your hearing.

Cape May Warbler, 8250 Hertz: In this 2-second recording the Cape May Warbler (photo at top) sings a single high-pitched trill.

Blackpoll warbler song, 8,000 Hertz:

Blackpoll warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

The blackpoll sings loudly 4 times in the audio below — at the beginning (3 seconds), end (46 seconds) and at 17 and 31 seconds into the recording. If you don’t hear anything really loud you are not hearing the blackpoll.

Black-and-white warbler, 5500 – 6750 Hertz:

Black-and-white warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

In this recording the black-and-white warbler sings four notes in quick succession. The loudest parts of his song are at two frequencies: 5500 and 6750. I can hear this warbler if there’s not a lot of background noise. Otherwise no.

Fortunately Cornell Lab has produced a bird identification tool that also functions as a “bird hearing” aid. Download Merlin to your cellphone and use the Sound ID feature. Your phone will hear the birds that you cannot!

p.s. By now my ears have told you my age. How old are your ears? Check out this video which also explains why so many people have age-related hearing loss.

(photos by Chuck Tague)

Schenley Park Outing, May 22, 8:30am

Purple deadnettle, Schenley Park, 6 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 May 2022

Join me on Sunday 22 May, 8:30am to 10:30am, for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

UPDATE Sunday 22 May 2022 at 6am: Perfect weather this morning! See you soon.

Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive (40.4383304,-79.9464765). We’ll see flowers, late migrants, and nesting birds.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring water, a hat, binoculars — and field guides if you have them.

We’re sure to see purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) at top, and golden alexanders (Zizia aurea), below, in bloom.

Golden alexanders, Schenley Park, 24 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hope to see you there.

p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11:00a.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Downtown Peregrines Embroiled in Peyton Place

Dori near the Third Ave nest, 24 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

15 May 2022

This year Dori, the resident female peregrine in Downtown Pittsburgh, is 16 years old — quite elderly for a wild peregrine falcon. Nonetheless, on 17 April I confirmed incubation at her nest when I spotted a peregrine inside the Third Avenue nest site.

Peregrine incubating at Third Avenue nest, Downtown Pittsburgh, 17 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

A week later I confirmed that this bird is Dori when I found her perched on Third Avenue on 24 April and read her bands through my scope (Black/green M/93). Darn it! she obscured the code just before I snapped this photo.

Dori revealed her bands but not in this photo, 24 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Why was Dori off the nest? Was Terzo incubating while I was there (unseen in the nest)? Or was Terzo not helping at all, similar to his behavior with Morela in 2020?

I got a hint when Steve Mortimer emailed me on 26 April.

Yesterday [25 April 2022], at about noon, I had the windows open. I live in the former Alcoa building in the corner closest to the William Penn Hotel. I kept hearing a bird chirping. It seemed right outside my window. After scanning for a bit I noticed the peregrine on the box gutter of the William Penn Hotel. That wasn’t the caliber of bird I expected from that noise. … This happened over and over again until around 5:30 PM when I spotted a new falcon. Perched higher up on the building. Smaller, sleeker, much more elegant looking. … My noisy neighbor continued in her spot. … She was still there when it was very dark and there was just enough light to barely make her out. I could hear her in the morning through the windows … she took off around 9:30 AM. Moments later I noticed a bird soaring around in the distance. Then two. Then one again. Then none. She hasn’t returned since.

— email from Steve Mortimer, 26 April 2022

The unbanded female Steve photographed is bowing to another peregrine. Who?

Unbanded female peregrine chirps and bows on ledge of Omni William Penn Hotel, 25 April 2022 (pht)

Steve did not see a second peregrine (male) until much later and only from a distance, labeled “Newcomer” in his diagram.

Noisy peregrine and (male) “Newcomer” locations on 25 April 2022 (photo and diagram by Steve Mortimer)

Two weeks passed with no news.

Then on 11 May, Amanda Linn tweeted (@amandolin_) about two peregrines outside her window at BNY Mellon. An unbanded female …

New unbanded female perched at BNY Mellon, Downtown Pittsburgh, 11 May 2022 (photo by Amanda Linn)

and a banded male. It’s Terzo, the resident male in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Terzo perched at BNY Mellon, 11 May 2022 (photo by Amanda Linn)

Here’s a closeup of his bands.

Just like humans, peregrines can see when another of their species is not in tiptop shape. Both Terzo and the unbanded female know that Dori is elderly and, as we know from Dorothy at Pitt in 2015, elderly female peregrines can lay eggs but few are viable and any chicks that hatch have disabilities.

Terzo seems to have changed loyalties. The new female is waiting in the wings. The Downtown peregrines are embroiled in Peyton Place.

(photos by Kate St. John, Steve Mortimer and Amanda Linn @amandolin_)

Best In Song

14 May 2022

Wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are back in Schenley Park after their winter sojourn in Central America.

Yesterday this one used his beautiful voice to claim a nesting territory near the Bartlett tufa bridge. Click here or on the screenshot below to hear him sing.

Of all the birds he wins “Best In Song.”

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, video by Kate St. John)

Go Birding Tomorrow on Global Big Day

eBird: Global Big Day 2022 (logo from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Tomorrow, 14 May 2022, we’ll celebrate World Migratory Bird Day by counting birds on one of the biggest migration days of the year.

Like the Christmas Bird Count, Global Big Day is an opportunity to go birding and share the birds you find with eBird. Unlike the Christmas Count it happens on a single day each year, and it can be hectic because birds are on the move and there are so many of them!

Participating is easy—you can even be part of Global Big Day from home. If you can spare 5 or 10 minutes, report your bird observations to eBird online or with our free eBird Mobile app. If you have more time, submit several checklists of birds throughout the day. Your observations help us better understand global bird populations through products like these animated abundance maps brought to you by eBird Science.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Global Big Day 2022

To join the fun, watch birds anywhere on 14 May and record your sightings in eBird.

Indigo bunting, 5 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Or join me and Charity Kheshgi at 7:00am at Frick Park as we co-lead a walk on behalf of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Sign up here.

Don’t miss Global Big Day tomorrow. It’s time to get outdoors.

(screenshot from eBird.org, indigo bunting photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Peregrines Can Hide Their Nests Until…

Dori with chicks at Macy’s ledge nest, 20 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

12 May 2022

During courtship peregrine falcons are very conspicuous but after they lay eggs the pair becomes secretive. For more than a month, even at known nest sites, they are so quiet they seem to have disappeared. In this way they hide their nests from would be predators, including humans. The secret ends after the eggs hatch.

Peregrine chicks require many food deliveries so the parents come and go frequently and are eventually detected. Then, as the chicks mature their voices do, too, until they become so loud they are hard to ignore.

Seven years ago the Downtown peregrines chose a new nest site that was hidden from everyone except those who shared one office in the Frick Building. The nest was unremarkable until the chicks hatched.

On Throw Back Thursday, here’s a look at the how the Downtown peregrines were found in 2015. They used the Macy’s site only once.

(photo by Kate St. John on 20 May 2015)

Wild Parrots in the Backyard

King parrot and crimson rosella perch on a fence (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

11 May 2022

Imagine having wild parrots visit your bird feeder.

Australia is home to 56 parrot species including the Australian king-parrot (Alisterus scapularis) and the crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans) of eastern and southeastern Australia. Though they nest in the woods they often visit urban parks and backyards.

Sometimes they scuffle over rights to the feeder, as captured by this feedercam. (The constant loud hooting in the video is a wonga pigeon.)

Occasionally an individual learns how to be hand-fed like a black-capped chickadee.

How cool it would be to have wild parrots in the backyard!

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

This is The Week for Warblers

  • Hooded warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

10 May 2022

In your backyard, in a local park, or at hotspots on Lake Erie’s southern shore, this is the week to see beautiful warblers on migration in eastern North America. They fly overnight and fuel up during the day, flitting among new leaves on the hunt for insects. Here are just a few of the gems to look for, in photos by Steve Gosser.

Get outdoors. This is the week!

(photos by Steve Gosser)

Pretty Invasive

Viburnum plicatum beginning to bloom, Frick Park, 3 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 May 2022

In early April in Frick Park I noticed many woody saplings leafing out ahead of all the other plants. They were everywhere sporting dark green pleated leaves while the rest of the woods were brown. They looked invasive. I took a picture.

One of many V. plicatum volunteers leafing out, Frick Park, 13 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

In early May the older ones started to bloom. Viburnum. But which one?

Viburnum plicatum beginning to bloom, Frick Park, 3 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Viburnums are hard to identify so I asked my friends from the Botanical Society of Western PA, Mark Bowers and Loree Speedy, who identified it as Japanese snowball (Vibrunum plicatum) and remembered it from a survey in Frick Park a few years ago.

When Frick Park was established in 1919 its grand entry was landscaped with beautiful plants from around the world, available from catalogs such as this one from 1910 showing Viburnum plicatum var Tomentosum.

V. Plicatum var. tomentosum in Mount Hope Nurseries catalog, 1910 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The plant looks good in the catalog and even better in person. For over 100 years it’s been thriving and spreading in the park.

It is now listed as invasive in Pennsylvania, certainly in Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties.

Japanese snowball (Viburnum plicatum) invasive map from invasiveplantatlas.org

Pretty, but invasive.

Read more about invasive vs. native viburnums in this article from Maryland Invasive Species Council: Choose Your Viburnums With Care.

(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Seen Last Week

An abundance of the plant formerly known as squaw root, Schenley Park, 5 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

8 May 2022

The first week of May was full of new flowers, leaves, birds and insects. Here are just a few of many sightings.

The ground in Schenley Park is dotted with abundant clusters of cream colored leafless flowers poking up like corn cobs beneath the oaks. Conopholis americana is a parasite on oak roots so we never see the plant itself, only the flowers. Fortunately it doesn’t harm the trees.

Formerly known as squaw root, Conopholis americana has many alternate common names. The accepted name now is “American cancer-root” but that sounds scary and can be misleading. I prefer “bear corn” because it looks like a corn cob and bears do eat it.

While the bear cone bloomed below them, the oaks flowered and leafed out above. This drew in migrating birds to eat the insects that hatch among the leaves.

Red oak flowers and new leaves, Schenley Park, 5 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

May’s tiny green caterpillars are too small for me to photograph but here’s what they look like in June, munching on an oak leaf. This is warbler food!

Caterpillar on oak leaf, June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

At mid level in Schenley Park the pawpaws (Asimina triloba) opened their bell-like flowers.

Pawpaw in bloom, Schenley Park, 5 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

And Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) bloomed in Frick Park.

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Frick Park, 2 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some new leaves are not benign. Poison ivy is leafing out. Beware! Learn how to ID it at Poison-ivy.org.

Poison ivy leafing out, Frick Park, 2 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)