Category Archives: Books & Events

Birds and Women at Work

Falconer with gyrfalcon at Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

6 September 2021

On Labor Day, let’s take a look at birds of prey working with women.

Falconry in Europe evolved from a sport of the nobility to a career accessible to the middle classes. Though considered a man’s sport, aristocratic women in medieval and early-modern Europe took part in large numbers and became renowned for their falconry skills, often better than men. When falconry declined in the 18th century far fewer women were involved, making this 1880 portrait of Die Falknerin (The Falconer) and the following 1881 illustration of the same woman in Die Gartenlaube unusual in its rarity. Who is this falconer holding a Eurasian kestrel in a land that speaks German?

Die Falknerin, portrait by Hans Makart, 1880

Nowadays women falconers work at raptor centers, aviaries and bird abatement services that use falcons and hawks to move nuisance birds.

At top, a woman falconer works with a gyrfalcon at the Salzburg Regional Falconry Centre at Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria where they hold daily flight demonstrations with various birds of prey. The falconers live at the castle so they can better take care of the birds.

Below, Sabrina Fox flies a Harris hawk in Portland, Oregon in 2018 to move the winter crow flock out of the city center.

Sabrina Fox, falconer, Portland, OR, 2018 (screenshot from Urban Falconry in Portland, Oregon by OPB)

In Idaho, women at the World Birds of Prey Center in Boise fly a peregrine falcon and a harpy eagle in a flight show.

Falconer with peregrine falcon, World Center for Birds of Prey, Idaho, 2011 (photo by Jitze Couperus via Flickr Creative Commons license)
Falconer with harpy eagle at World Center for Birds of Prey, Idaho, 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And in Pittsburgh, women falconers work with birds at the National Aviary. In 2011 Cathy Schlott displayed a lanner falcon at an event at WQED.

Cathy Schlott of the National Aviary holds a lanner falcon, Horace, on the glove, 2011 (photo by Sharon Leadbitter)

Learn more about the history of women in falconry and their current contributions in this abstract of the Women and Sustainable Hunting Conference at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, July 2016.

Visit the National Aviary to see birds and women at work.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, screenshot from OPB video, Jitze Couperus via Flickr Creative Commons license, Sharon Leadbitter; click on the captions to see the originals)

Today in Schenley Park, Aug 29

Schenley Park outing, 29 August 2021 (photos by Kate St. John)

29 August 2021

This morning’s outing in Schenley Park was very well attended — 28 people! — so I had to paste two photos together to get (almost) everyone in.

The weather was clammy-hot and the birds were not active but bugs were easy to find. Can you see the green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris) in this picture?

Green stink bug, Schenley Park, 29 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

We also saw cocklebur as promised and an unusual invasive, yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), which is cultivated in Eurasia for its edible tubers eaten as snack food or made into a sweet milk-like beverage.

Yellow nutsedge, Schenley Park at Panther Hollow Lake, 29 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our Best Bird was a lucky find. As we stood next to Panther Hollow Lake a peregrine falcon zoomed overhead, went into a stoop, and disappeared beyond Phipps Conservatory on his way to the Cathedral of Learning.

We worked for every bird on this checklist at https://ebird.org/checklist/S93900051

Schenley Park–Panther Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Aug 29, 2021 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, 1.5 mile(s), 19 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  30    part of the larger flock on Phipps lawn
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2    1 adult, 1 immature circling as we ended the walk
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)  2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  4
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  1    Flyover went into a stoop beyond Phipps roof
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  6
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  2
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  1    Heard
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  1
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  2
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  3
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  2
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  5
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  4

The next walk, scheduled for 26 September at Bartlett Shelter, should be cooler. Whew!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing: August 29, 8:30am

Common cocklebur, Schenley Park, 20 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 August 2021

In late August summer flowers are blooming, bugs are singing, and warblers are on the move.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, August 29, 2021, 8:30a – 10:30a. (If the birding is great we may linger until 11a.)

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road joins Schenley Drive (40.4383304,-79.9464765).  I hope to see migrating songbirds and at least one confusing fall warbler.

I know we’ll see this native weed, common cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium), growing in a disturbed area next to Panther Hollow Lake. Notice the big leaves and spotted stem. Did you know it has separate male & female flowers on the same plant? This location used to be overrun with mugwort but since it was torn up last spring it now has cocklebur. At least it’s native.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit my Events page 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’s Outing at Frick Park, July 25

Outing in Frick Park, 25 July 2021 (photp by Kate St. John)

25 July 2021

Nine of us gathered this morning at the Nine Mile Trail parking lot to walk Frick Park’s Boardwalk and the upper Nine Mile Run valley. At the beginning it was very cloudy but it didn’t rain.

The birds were quiet. Many have stopped singing for the year and gray skies made the rest of them subdued. Nonetheless we saw northern rough-winged swallows feeding young in flight and heard the warning calls of wood thrushes, robins and tufted titmice in a spot where a barred owl often roosts. Alas, we never found the owl.

It’s hard to pick a Best Bird but easy to pick the worst smell. We had to walk (as far away as possible!) past a decomposing deer near Commercial Street. Where are the turkey vultures when you need them? We didn’t see any today. Our list has 24 species.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  2
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)  4
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  3
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)  1
Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)  1
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)  1    Heard
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)  7    Pair chasing and harassing a blue jay
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  1
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  2
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  10
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)  10
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  7
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  5
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  1
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  4
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  20
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  2
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  4
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  5
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  2
Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)  2
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  10
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)  1

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S92277306

Thanks to all who came out. Next outing is slated for 29 August.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Frick Park Outing, Sun. July 25, 8:30a

Chicory at Frick Park, 20 July 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 July 2021

Schenley Park is closed 23-25 July for the Vintage Grand Prix. This outing will be at Frick Park at Commercial Street. Park at Nine Mile Run Trail parking.

Summer flowers are blooming and songbirds are wrapping up the breeding season.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Frick Park on Sunday, July 25, 2021, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Meet at the Nine Mile Run Trail Parking lot to walk Frick Park’s boardwalk and Nine Mile Run loop.  

We’ll see chicory (Cichorium intybus), flash flood effects and goldfinches.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit my Events page in case of changes or cancellations. The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning or heavy rain.

Hope to see you there!

p.s. If you read this blog on Tuesday you saw me promise that we would see moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria). That was before I walked the planned route and found out that moth mullien has gone to seed. Here’s what it looks like right now at Frick Park’s Commercial Street entrance. Interesting, but not pretty.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Today’s Outing at Duck Hollow, June 27

Duck Hollow outing, 27 June 2021(photo by Kate St. John)

Eighteen+ people turned out this morning for a walk at Duck Hollow and Lower Nine Mile Run.

Since the weather was getting hot we walked the sunny part first on the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail. Highlights were many red-winged blackbirds and common grackles, a pair of nesting northern mockingbirds, a female orchard oriole carrying food to her nest, and two male indigo buntings. Near the river we found a family of red-bellied woodpeckers feeding young.

At the river we looked for a belted kingfisher (no luck) and found four killdeer. Molting Canada geese cruised the river because they’re in their flightless period. Mallards were molting, too, in eclipse plumage.

As I was getting into my car an osprey hovered over the mouth of Nine Mile Run. Alas, I was the only participant to see it. This photo is not the same osprey but it gives you an idea why I picked him as my own Best Bird of the day.

Osprey hovering to look for fish (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

See our list of birds on eBird here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S90886968.

(outing photo by Kate St. John, osprey hovering photo from Wikimedia Commons )

Duck Hollow Outing, Sunday June 27

Water willow at Duck Hollow, 21 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 June 2021

Join me this Sunday for a bird and nature walk at Duck Hollow and the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail on 27 June 2021, 8:30am to 10:30am.

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

We’ll see water willow, nodding thistle, red-winged blackbirds and northern rough-winged swallows.

Nodding Thistle at Duck Hollow, 21 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars, field guides and a scope for river watching if you have them.

This event will be held rain or shine but not in a downpour or thunder. At this point scattered thunderstorms are predicted for Sunday but forecasts often change. Check the Events page before you come in case this outing is canceled for thunder or heavy downpours.

Hope to see you there.

The Falconer + #BlackBirdersWeek

Falconer Rodney Stotts (screenshot from The Falconer trailer)

29 May 2021

After the global success of its inaugural year, #BlackBirdersWeek returns Sunday, May 30 through Saturday, June 5, 2021. This year’s event will showcase the many unique ways Black people connect in the outdoors. The lineup includes nationwide birding events, live streamed panel discussions, and daily interactive themes. In partnership with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Collective, US Fish Wildlife Service, Tucson Audubon Society, and more, #BlackBirdersWeek2021 is taking flight!

— #BlackBirdersWeek announcement on twitter

Each day has a theme. Check out the 2021 schedule at BlackAFinSTEM’s website.

My favorite part of the week will be Tuesday night, June 1 at 8pm ET, when PBS broadcasts The Falconer, a film about Rodney Stotts one of the few black falconers in the United States.

Rodney Stotts teaches about raptors (screenshot from The Falconer)

Six years ago, April 2015, Stotts was featured in this video by The GW Hatchet, an independent student newspaper serving George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Don’t miss his story at 2:36 in the video. It’s an inspiration for #BlackBirdersWeek.

Meet Rodney Stotts an hour before the show in a live Q&A Webinar: #BirdsEyeView-Falconry with Rodney Stotts on Tuesday June 1 at 7p ET. Sign up here.

Stay in touch on social media at #BlackBirdersWeek.

p.s. If you miss the initial broadcast, WQED Pittsburgh will rebroadcast The Falconer on June 02, 2021 at 12:00 AM and at 8:00 AM.

(screenshots from The Falconer; schedule from #BlackBirdersWeek)

Fledge Watch + a BioBlitz, Jun 2,4,6

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

26 May 2021

Now that COVID restrictions have eased outdoors(*) join me for fun activities at Schenley Plaza and Schenley Park on June 2, 4 and 6.

  • Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, midday June 2, 4, 6
  • Phipps Bio-Blitz, Sunday June 6 (Registration required)

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 2, 4, 6. 11:30a-1:00p

Did you know that the Cathedral of Learning is such as safe nesting site that we never have to rescue a young peregrine from the street? That means that Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is pure fun. Drop-in when you can, no need to stay the whole time. Swap peregrine stories, learn about peregrines and watch the Pitt youngsters learn to fly. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Check the Events page before you come in case of weather cancellation.

Where: Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above.
When: Wed Jun 2, Fri Jun 4 and Sun Jun 6, 11:30a-1:00p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder. Check here before you come.
Parking: Parking is free on Sunday. Otherwise you must use the pay stations on the street at Schenley Plaza. Garage parking is available at Carnegie Museum, entrance on Forbes Ave at Craig St.
(*) Face masks: Wear a face mask if you want to or need to. CDC guidance on 27 April 2021 says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a face mask outdoors; un-vaccinated people can go maskless outdoors if they are alone or with household members.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 6, 8:30a – 10:30a

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with Cathedral of Learning in the distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday June 6, Phipps BioBlitz will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers for a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. See and learn about birds, plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, mollusks and more. As part of the BioBlitz I will lead a bird walk 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free but registration is required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.

How to join the walk: Participation is limited. Registration is required. Sign up here.
Where: Starting from Phipps’ front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk.
When: Sunday June 6, 8:30a-10:30a
Parking: Free on Sundays!
(*) Face masks: Will follow Phipps rules. Bring a mask and be prepared to wear it. See details here.
Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

(photo credits: Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John, Phipps Conservatory from Wikimedia Commons)