Category Archives: Books & Events

Movie Event: A Birder’s Guide To Everything

On Tuesday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m, as part of their Science on Screen series, the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley will be showing A Birder’s Guide to Everything, a film about teens wanting to make birding history. The film is paired with an introduction by Dr. Brian Wargo, an educator and official Audubon Society counter at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch. He will be talking about the successful recovery of bald eagles and peregrine falcons from extirpation in our area.

What: Presentation + movie: Dr. Brian Wargo speaks about the recovery of bald eagles & peregrine falcons followed by the 2013 movie A Birder’s Guide to Everything, a comedy rated PG-13.

When: Tuesday 3 March 2020 at 7:30pm

Where: The Tull Family Theater, 418 Walnut Street, Sewickley PA 15143 (412.259.8542)

Here’s the trailer:

(screenshot from A Birder’s Guide to Everything)

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb 14-17

You can help birds on President’s Day Weekend by counting them.

After we learned last fall that 29% of North America’s birds have vanished since 1970, Cornell Lab of Ornithology provided us with 7 Simple ways to help birds. The Great Backyard Bird Count, 14-17 February 2020, is a fun way to do #7: “Watch Birds & Share What You See.”

Counting birds for science is one simple action that individuals can take to protect birds and the places where they live.

GBBC press release, 2020

It’s easy to participate. Everything you need to know is at including this slideshow that explains how to do it. It’s as easy at 1-2-3.

  1. Register for an eBird account if you don’t already have one. (GBBC uses eBird.)
  2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes during those four days. Yes, the minimum requirement is just 15 minutes of your time! You can count for longer than 15 minutes and in more than one place if you wish.
  3. Keep track of the highest number of each species with a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Use your computer or the eBird mobile app to submit your observations.

If you love to take photographs submit your best shots to the GBBC photo contest. Click here for contest information.

You can count birds anywhere —  in your backyard, in a park, at the shore, or on a hike.  Or stay indoors and count birds at your feeders.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count, 14-17 February 2020.

(2020 poster from

Celebrating Groundhogs

Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day 2018 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 February 2020

Today the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, predicted the weather for the next six weeks. He says we’ll have an early spring.

Groundhog Day is the mid-point of the celestial winter, a cross quarter day that marks the halfway point between solstice and equinox. According to Wikipedia, Celtic and Germanic tradition says that if the hedgehog sees his shadow today winter will last 6 more weeks. (It will anyway; today is 6 weeks before the equinox.) If he doesn’t see his shadow we’ll have an early spring. At dawn in Punxsutawney it was overcast with light snow — no shadow, early spring.

There aren’t any hedgehogs on this continent so immigrants substituted the groundhog (Marmota monax) for their annual tradition.

In the early days groundhogs didn’t hang out near people but they soon learned we have something they want. Food!

Groundhog eating dandelions near the parking lot at Université Laval, Quebec (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog eating handouts at York University, Toronto, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog offered peanut (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We also provide shelter, though unintentionally. Groundhogs use our buildings and concrete structures to make burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating.

Groundhog heads for burrow under a barn in Pennsylvania (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog emerges from its sidewalk burrow at Leslie Street Spit, Toronto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Groundhog at York University, Toronto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Groundhogs will emerge from their burrows this spring in Pittsburgh, probably later this month. I know they live in Greenfield (near my backyard!) and Andrew Mumma has seen them near Pitt. They’re something to look forward to.

Happy Groundhog Day!

p.s. You have to get up before dawn to watch Phil’s prediction live online at

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

Peregrine Success Story, Feb 4

In case you missed it at Wissahickon Nature Club last month, here’s another opportunity to learn about peregrine falcons in western Pennsylvania.

Join me on Tuesday, 4 February 2020 at the Todd Bird Club in Indiana County, PA where I’ll present Peregrine Falcons: An Environmental Success Story.

From their extinction in eastern North America in the 1960s, to their recent removal from the Endangered Species list in Pennsylvania, the peregrine falcon’s success story is an inspiration to us all.

When: Tuesday, 4 February 2020, 7:00+pm. Arrive by 7:00 to socialize. Refreshments are provided.

Where: Blue Spruce Lodge in Blue Spruce County Park, located just off Route 110 east of the town of Ernest, PA.

This meeting is free and open to the public.

(peregrine photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

Make It A Happy New Year

This mammal and the bird have a cooperative relationship. The red-billed oxpecker eats insects and ticks that it finds in the impala‘s fur. Both of them benefit.

When humans cooperate we benefit, too, and there’s a surprising outcome. Cooperation makes each of us happy and forges trust. When we refuse to work together we become angry and sad.

Sometimes it takes effort to cooperate but it’s worth it. Everyone benefits and it improves our mood.

So my hope for 2020 is that we all — myself included — …

Act kindly. Think kindly. Work together.

Make it a happy new year.

p.s. Did you know that humans are instinctively quicker to cooperate than compete? If we go with our first impulse we’ll do better! Read more here.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Oh, Christmas Tree

If you have a live Christmas tree, it’s probably one of sixteen species of fir, spruce, pine, cypress or cedar. Many people prefer firs for their soft needles, but firs dry out quickly and drop their needles fast. One year our tree dropped its needles before Christmas!

One species, the Scots or Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), doesn’t lose its needles even when it’s completely dry. I’ve seen Scotch pines put out for trash collection in January that looked as if they were freshly cut. There’s a down side though, as described at The Spruce:

You’ll want to wear gloves when decorating a Scotch pine since its needles can be sharp as pins!

The 10 Best Christmas Trees You Can Buy — The Spruce

If the tree was sheared closely there’s no room to insert your hand or an ornament. Ouch, Christmas tree!

However Scotch pines have this advantage, and so do other live trees: If you feed birds in your backyard, place your old Christmas tree near the feeders to provide winter cover for birds.

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

Christmas Bird Counts Coming Soon

Birding at Duck Hollow (photo by Kate St. John)

‘Tis the season to count birds.

Audubon’s 120th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is about to begin. Every year from December 14 through January 5 volunteers count the birds they see in a single 24-hour period within 15-mile diameter “count” circles.

It’s easy to participate. No experience is necessary.  Count at your feeders or in the field. Count on your own or in a group.

Choose a location and date that suits you from the map at  Click on the bird icon inside the circle for a description and contact information, then contact the Count Coordinator to let them know you’re counting. The Coordinator makes sure you don’t double-count someone else’s territory and helps you join a group if you wish.

17 counts are planned in southwestern Pennsylvania, listed in the table at the end.

I’ll be counting in the Pittsburgh circle on Saturday, December 28. It has so many participants that each section has its own compiler.  Click here on the ASWP website for the sections and contacts.

(map from

Visit Audubon’s website for the complete list and map at “Join the Christmas Bird Count.”

I hope to see you in the field!

Table of 2019 Christmas Bird Counts near Pittsburgh

Count NameCounty (general area)DateCoordinatorContact Info
BeaverBeaverSat Dec 21Rick 724-847-0909
Buffalo CreekWashingtonSun Dec 15Larry 412-508-0321
Buffalo Creek ValleyButler, ArmstrongSat Dec 14George, 724-353-9649
Bushy RunWestmorelandSun Dec 29Dick 724-593-3543
ButlerButler, Lawrence, MercerSat Dec 14Glenn Koppel & Mary Alice
ClarionClarionSat Jan 4Debbie 724-526-5693
ClarksvilleGreeneSat Dec 28Terry 724-627-9665
Grove CityButler, Mercer, Lawrence, VenangoSat Dec 21Brendyn 724-496-4856
Sun Jan 5Bob
IndianaIndianaThu Dec 26Roger & Marg Higbee724-354-3493
OhiopyleFayette, SomersetSat Jan 4Matt Juskowich412-999-0394
PittsburghAlleghenySat Dec 28Brian Shema, ASWP Christmas Bird Count
South Hills
AlleghenySat Dec 14Nancy Page412-221-4795
RectorWestmorelandSun Dec 15Annie 724-593-7521
RyersonGreeneFri Dec 20Marjorie 724-852-3155
South ButlerButlerSat Jan 4Chris 412-963-6100
WashingtonWashingtonSun Dec 15Thomas 724-223-6118

(photo by Kate St. John, maps from

Peregrines: A Hopeful Story, Dec 12

Peregrines are a great environmental success story, from their extinction in eastern North America in the 1960s, to their recent removal from the Endangered Species list in Pennsylvania.

Join me on Thursday, 12 December 2019 at the Wissahickon Nature Club where I’ll present the history and habits of peregrine falcons in western Pennsylvania. 

When: Thursday, 12 December 2019, 7:30pm. Doors open at 7:00pm. Come early to chat and eat Christmas cookies at our annual cookie exchange.

Where: Wissahickon Nature Club at the Fern Hollow Nature Center, 1901 Glen Mitchell Road, Sewickley, PA 15143-8856

This meeting is free and open to the public.