Category Archives: Books & Events

Guineafowl At Work

Guineafowl at Aqualand Farm, Australia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Labor Day let’s talk about working birds.

Guineafowl (Numididae) were domesticated for food but they work for us in other ways as well: They eat ticks and they’re great watchdogs.

When it comes to ticks, guineafowl perform a valuable service by reducing our exposure to Lyme disease. In the video below, a small flock is on tick patrol at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, New York.

Their watchdog skills are important too, especially if a fox tries to get into the hen house. Guineafowl are quick to raise the alarm. They’re loud and they’re not shy about it.

But sometimes their idea of danger is not the same as ours. See the video below.

Guineafowl are so loud that it’s best to keep them where people don’t mind the noise.

Today’s Walk in Schenley Park

Schenley Park outing, 25 August 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 August 2019:

This morning in Schenley Park we got the hint that summer will come to an end. It was cold enough for long sleeves!

The birds also indicated that the seasons are changing. Some were clearly on the move to their wintering grounds.

Best Birds were four species that I knew were passing through:

  • A female belted kingfisher and …
  • … an immature great-blue heron at Panther Hollow lake (neither breed there).
  • Two blue-gray gnatcatchers that were very hard to see.
  • Three ruby-throated hummingbirds sipping at orange jewelweed and chasing each away from the flowers.

Our complete checklist of 29 species is at this link

p.s. It feels like I’ve missed something. If you were there and see an omission, let me know.

Schenley Park Outing, Aug 25, 8:30a

Orange jewelweed, “touch-me-not” (photo by Kate St. John)

Late summer flowers are blooming, bugs are buzzing, and the first migrating birds are on the move.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, 25 August 2019, 8:30a – 10:30a. Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road joins Schenley Drive. 

I know we’ll hear True Bugs and see lots of summer flowers. We might even catch a glimpse of a ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at orange jewelweed.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. If it’s hot be sure to bring water, sunscreen and a hat.

Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations. The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning.

Hope to see you there!

(photo by Kate St. John)

Today in Schenley Park, July 28

Schenley Park outing, 28 July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning 11 of us met at the start of the Bridle Trail in Schenley Park. Though it wasn’t a very bird-y day we did see a scarlet tanager before we started down the trail. We also saw cup plant, oxeye or false sunflowers, and wild bergamot along the way.

Best Bird was a chipping sparrow, energetically gathering bugs to feed his fledgling. We watched him knock planthoppers out of a maple tree, then flutter down as they fell and chase them on the ground. The planthoppers hopped to escape but he was faster than they were, stacking them in his beak. As soon as he’d delivered them to the youngster he was off again to find more.

Best mammals were a 5-point white-tailed buck in velvet and twin fawns (with spots) nearby. They didn’t care that 11 people were watching them. Here’s a photo of (probably) the same buck two months ago. He has the same odd antler configuration.

5-point buck in Schenley Park, 28 May 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

As I said, it wasn’t very bird-y; we saw only 17 species. Our list is at this link on eBird and below:

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)
Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

p.s. I can’t remember. Did we see a turkey vulture? If so the count was 18.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Bridle Trail, July 28, 8:30a

American hophornbeam fruit at Schenley Park Bridle Trail (photo by Kate St. John)

Join me on Sunday, July 28 at 8:30am for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

On this month’s outing we’ll visit a trail I’ve never shown you before. Meet me at the start of the Bridle Trail, so named because it was built in the late 1880s as a riding path for horses. We’ll make a clockwise circle for 1.6 miles.

Bridle Trail loop in Schenley Park (map saved at GMap Pedometer)

The gravel trail is a gentle downhill with rock outcrops, a view of the Monongahela River, two stone bridges, and some cool birds and plants. American hophornbeam winged fruits, shown above, are seen along the way.

Dress for the weather (probably hot!). Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water, a sunhat, binoculars and field guides if you have them.

p.s. What goes downhill must come up the woodland staircase to the Oval.

(photo by Kate St. John, map created using Gmap Pedometer)

Happy Fourth Of July 2019

Juvenile eagles H9 and H10 at Hays Woods, 30 June 2019 (photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

News from Hays Woods in Pittsburgh, PA:

This week the young bald eagles, H9 and H10, turned 100 days old. Dana Nesiti captured their antics on Sunday June 30 in the photo above and a slow motion video below.

Visit Dana’s Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page for more news, photos and videos of the Hays bald eagles.

Happy Fourth of July!

By the way, Pennsylvania now has so many bald eagle nests that the PA Game Commission can’t count them without your help. See Mary Ann Thomas’ TribLive article here.

(photo and video by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook)

Today at Duck Hollow

Eight birders at Duck Hollow, 30 June 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning 11 of us met for a bird walk at Duck Hollow and the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail.

The Monongahela was running high with only a few mallards and lots of plastic trash floating down the river, the result of an inch of rain in only 25 minutes on Thursday evening, June 27. The downpour affected the new bridge construction, too, at Nine Mile Run.

When I walked the area on Thursday morning I saw the workers laying Jersey barriers in a row and draping them with white plastic. The downpours breached the solid dirt bank in three places and knocked over four Jersey barriers. Powerful stuff!

It was hot and sunny, so we stayed in the shade. So did our Best Bird, an indigo bunting, who looked almost black in the shadows. Since his feathers merely reflect the color blue the shadows affect how he looks. Read more about his blueness here.

We saw and heard 27 species plus a small flock of unidentified blackbirds. Our complete checklist is here on eBird.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Duck Hollow Outing, Sunday June 30

Chicory with a busy emerald green bug on it (photo by Kate St. John)

Yikes! Short notice… I should have told you about this on Monday but I was flying back from Alaska that day.

Join me this Sunday for a bird and nature walk at Duck Hollow and the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail on June 30, 2019 from 8:30am to 10:30am.

Meet at Duck Hollow parking lot at the end of Old Browns Hill Road.

We’ll see fledgling birds and their busy parents, midsummer flowers and fascinating insects like this chicory flower and metallic-green bug.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars, field guides and a scope for river watching if you have them. It’s going to be HOT so bring water, sunscreen and a hat.

Reminder: Check the Events page before you come in case this outing is canceled for thunder or heavy downpours.

Hope to see you there.

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch starts Jun 7

Fledge watchers Downtown at Third Ave, 7 June 2016 (photo by John English)
Fledge watchers Downtown at Third Ave, 7 June 2016 (photo by John English)

Downtown Pittsburgh Fledge Watch begins Friday June 7, noon to 1pm.

The four peregrine nestlings on Third Avenue will fly soon and may need our help. I’ll be Downtown at lunchtime on three weekdays beginning this Friday June 7. Stop by and join me.

What: Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch is a drop-in event to watch the young Downtown peregrines, educate the public about peregrines, and alert the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 if a fledgling needs to be rescued from the ground. Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.

Where: 3rd Avenue between Wood and Smithfield in Downtown Pittsburgh, approximately at 341 Third Ave, which is parking lot. Click the link for a map.
When: On weekdays, Fri June 7, noon-1p. Mon-Tues June 10-11, 11a-1p.
Who: I’ll be there with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group.
Notes: There is no official Fledge Watch on June 8-9 weekend but John and/or I may be there. On-street parking is free on Sundays. (Some streets will be closed on Sunday 9 June for the Pride Parade.)

Keep in mind that Fledge Watch is weather dependent. It will be canceled for rain or thunder.

Do you need a reminder of the PA Game Commission phone number? Click on the flyer below to download one for yourself.

Click here to download the flyer

They Walked Off The Nest

  • Pitt peregrine chicks waiting for breakfast, 29 May 2019, 6:03:58

This morning at 6:18am both of the Pitt peregrine chicks walked off the nest and out of camera view. They’re now officially ledge walking.

The slideshow above covers 13 minutes of activity, just long enough to show them bouncing around, whining at their parents (not in sight), and disappearing from camera view.

I visited Schenley Plaza at 10:45am and found both of them on the nest rail watching the world go by. Here’s Peter Bell’s picture from last year, 27 May 2018, that shows what they look like today (if I could take a picture).

Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)
Two youngsters on the railing, 27 May 2018 (photo by Peter Bell)

Now that they’re off camera the best way to see them is from Schenley Plaza. Stay tuned for a (possible) revision to the Fledge Watch schedule. Maybe Friday. Not Thursday because it’s going to storm.

(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ. of Pittsburgh)