This morning at Duck Hollow it was raining often, and sometimes hard. I really did not expect anyone to show up for the outing I announced last Monday but I was there anyway as a good excuse to look at the river on a wet day.
Best Birds were a green-winged teal, five lesser scaup, two hooded mergansers and a small flock of white-throated sparrows.
What a difference a year makes. COVID-19 has not disappeared — in fact it is resurging slightly in Allegheny County and the eastern U.S. (click for today’s map) — but we’ve learned more about how it spreads and the relative safety of being outdoors. This spring I’m resuming my outings in local parks with the COVID safety rules below:
Everyone must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth.
We will social distance 6 feet as we walk.
If the number of participants makes social distancing difficult I will divide the group and ask for volunteer(s) to lead the other group(s). Six people per group seems right but the number depends on the trail we use.
That said …
Join me on my first bird and nature outing of 2021 at Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park on Sunday, 28 March 2021 — 8:30am to 10:00am.
We’ll see migrating ducks and early songbirds and hope to see an eastern phoebe and tree swallows. Fingers crossed!
Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth (COVID safety rules above). Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars, field guides and a scope for river watching if you have them.
Hope to see you there.
Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations.
Note: By participating in this event you are accepting full responsibility for your welfare.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click the caption to see the original)
The best part is that now we have hope. There are three vaccines and they are becoming more available.
Alaska leads the country in vaccine rollout. Pennsylvania hasn’t done so well. Though I am vaccine-eligible it was very hard to get one in Pittsburgh this winter. The logjam started to break up last month. I’m getting my 2nd Moderna shot on Friday!
If you’re fully vaccinated your life improves. According to the CDC:
If you’ve been fully vaccinated you can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask. You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (e.g. relatives) without masks(*), and if you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms(*).
The Hays bald eagles are having a Happy Valentine’s Day with their first egg of the season just 36 hours old. The female laid her first egg on Friday 12 February 2021 at approximately 5:55pm. Their happy event was on the CBS Local news, at Trib-Live, and captured on the streaming cam on YouTube.
The female usually lays her second egg three days after the first so watch the Hays Nest Eaglecam tomorrow, 15 February, for the arrival of another egg.
February’s weather is daunting and the pandemic keeps us stuck at home but there’s a fun project coming up next weekend. For four days — Friday February 12 through Monday February 15, 2021 — you can count birds at your feeders for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual citizen science project that tracks winter bird populations.
All you have to do is count birds for at least 15 minutes, note the highest number of each species, and record your count on eBird.
Native to Eurasia and North America, long-eared owls (Asio otus) are shy and secretive medium-sized birds that hunt open areas and roost in woodland edges and conifer stands.
In Pennsylvania they are present year-round and listed as Threatened, but are so elusive that it’s hard to keep track of them. The Game Commission plans to study Pennsylvania’s long-eared owls but needs preliminary data. They are asking birders for help.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is interested in learning more about long-eared owls in Pennsylvania, who are threatened and extremely vulnerable to disturbance [so] we’re asking birders to share their long-eared owl observations with us.
To protect the location of the birds, we are asking birders NOT to post their observations on eBird or other platforms at this time(*) but instead to send all observations–past or present–to Game Commission Wildlife Biologist, Patti Barber, at firstname.lastname@example.org with “LEOW Observations” in the subject line. Include date, location, number of owls and evidence of owls in the area (seen, heard, pellets, feathers, heard etc).
Pictures are welcome, however, please maintain enough distance so as to not disturb the birds. Long-eared owls often abandon roosts when disturbed. Please do not walk on private property without owner’s consent. Thank you, in advance, for your help.
— partially paraphrased: Pennsylvania Game Commission, 19 January 2021 via Instagram
So how do you find a long-eared owl? Find is the hardest part. Long-eared owls are more strictly nocturnal than other owls so you’ll have to find them at the roost where they are masters at hiding in plain sight. Here are a few examples.
Roosting in dense deciduous woods in Minnesota:
Roosting in a conifer stand in Illinois, 2011. This owl looks like a fat branch with ear tufts.
Owl eyeing the photographer but still hidden.
I’ve only seen a long-eared owl three times in my life with each sighting 10 years apart. My last was in Beaver County in 2015 so I’m not due to see another one until 2025. I wonder if my quest will be successful.
(photos and map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
(*) eBird reports: The Game Commission is working with eBird to develop a process to allow these observations to be entered while also protecting these sensitive locations.
Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count dawned bitter cold (13o F) and overcast on Saturday 26 December 2020. The weather was daunting, city roads were snow-covered, and birds were very hard to find. Though the official count isn’t in yet, there were notable exceptions less than three miles from my home — merlins, peregrines, 20K+ crows and a Baltimore oriole.
Morela, 12/26/2020, 7:33a (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Ecco arrives on the front perch
Morela and Ecco
Ecco calls as Morela leaves
CROWS: Counting crows is always a challenge despite our best laid plans. At dusk at the Allequippa Street Parking Garage, Claire Staples and Joe Fedor counted crows arriving from the north, west, and Allegheny Valley. At Schenley Park golf course I counted them flying in from the east. (The eastern group can’t been seen from Allequippa Street.)
It was so cold! The crows felt it too and used different flight paths than the day before. Erf! Even so, the three of us counted 20,000 to 24,000 crows.
Here’s what they looked like at Allequippa Street on 18 Dec 2020, photos by Mary Brush.
BALTIMORE ORIOLE (Icterus galbula): Most likely the rarest bird of the count was the Baltimore oriole at Izaguirre’s feeder in Oakland. Frank and Adrienne have been keeping him happy since he showed up on 20 December. In Frank’s photo below he’s slurping jam from the top of the suet cake. Yay!
In the typical absurdity of 2020, the weather on the day after the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count was partly sunny and 47oF.
The success of a Christmas Bird Count really depends on the weather. If the weather is good the birds are active and easy to find. In bad weather — heavy rain, snow, fog, high winds — birds are scarce.
Today is the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the circle shown below. At 8am it’s 14 degrees F with gusty winds, overcast skies and light snow showers. It feels like 2 degrees F. What birds will I find in my city neighborhood under these conditions? Not many I fear.
Seven years ago the 2013 Pittsburgh CBC had a Falcon Sweep at a single location. In one half hour there was a peregrine falcon (Dorothy), a merlin, and an American kestrel at Duck Hollow — all the possible Falco species — described in this 2013 article: Take Me To The River.
Today if I’m lucky in bad weather I’ll see a peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning and a merlin at dusk in Schenley Park. It would be a miracle if I saw a kestrel.
For old times sake, here’s a kestrel in June 2016 at an unusual city location.
More news later. Brrrr!
(photos by Michelle Kienholz and the National Aviary falconcam that used to be at Gulf Tower)
Miniature sleigh? Tiny reindeer? A human-sized Santa Claus needs a normal sleigh and full-sized reindeer to pull it. Just two reindeer take up a lot of space.
Imagine eight of these!
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), called caribou in North America, range in size from 5.3 to 7 feet long. Males weigh 350 – 400 lbs, females weigh 180 – 260 lbs. Both sexes have antlers though at different times of year.
These are not small animals. Eight full-sized reindeer and a full-sized sleigh would damage any house they landed on. Santa really needs tiny reindeer. Perhaps he went to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, to get them.
Like other island species the reindeer on Svalbard have evolved to a smaller size. If you need small reindeer they’re the smallest on Earth, only 50-60% the size of other caribou.
It’s safe for Santa to come tonight.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)