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Help Find Long-Eared Owls in PA

Long-eared owl in California (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

24 January 2021

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.

Range map of long-eared owl (from Wikimedia Commons)

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 patbarber@pa.gov 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:

Long-eared owl comouflaged in Minnesota (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Roosting in a conifer stand in Illinois, 2011. This owl looks like a fat branch with ear tufts.

Long-eared owl resembles a branch, Carlyle Lake, IL, 2011 (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

Owl eyeing the photographer but still hidden.

Long-eared owl looks at the photographer, Illinois, 2011 (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren)

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.

Merlins, Peregrines, Crows and an Oriole

Merlin at Homewood Cemetery, 26 Dec 2020 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

28 December 2020

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.

MERLINS (Falco columbarius): As of this writing 5 merlins were seen in the count circle on 26 December. Michelle Kienholz’s merlin at Homewood Cemetery (above) was typical of those seen at dusk, always perched high on a snag. Frank Izaguirre reported two at Calvary Cemetery and Mike Fialkovich saw two at Schenley Park golf course. I was at the golf course at dusk, counting crows, so I kept an eye on one of Mike’s merlins. It didn’t leave its perch until 20 minutes after sunset.

PEREGRINES (Falco peregrinus): So far, four peregrine falcons were seen in the count circle. By sheer luck I saw 3 of them.

On Saturday morning I was gazing out the dining room window when I saw two male peregrines fly by chasing each other. Yard Birds! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Terzo-and-Ecco chase. Ecco and Morela bowed at the nest at 7:33a (slideshow below). I also saw Morela at the Cathedral of Learning gazing in the direction the males flew.

  • Morela, 12/26/2020, 7:33a (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

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.

Crows near the Petersen Center, 18 Dec 2020 (photo by Mary Brush)
Crows near the Petersen Center, 18 Dec 2020 (photo 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!

Baltimore oriole at Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count, 26 Dec 2020 (photo by Frank Izaguirre)

In the typical absurdity of 2020, the weather on the day after the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count was partly sunny and 47oF.

As least we saw more than a few good birds.

(photos by Michelle Kienholz, Mary Brush and Frank Izaguirre)

Remembering A Falcon Sweep

Dorothy bathing at Duck Hollow during the 2013 Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (photo by Michelle Kienholz, 28 Dec 2013)

26 December 2020

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.

Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count circle (map from audubon.org)

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.

Merlin bathing in the Mon River, 28 Dec 2013 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

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.

American kestrel at the Gulf Tower peregrine nest on 9 June 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

More news later. Brrrr!

(photos by Michelle Kienholz and the National Aviary falconcam that used to be at Gulf Tower)

Eight Tiny Reindeer?

Santa Claus at Christmas Parade, Toronto, Ontario, 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

… out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter …

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.”

excerpt from The Night Before Christmas, 1823 in The Troy Sentinel

24 December 2020

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.

Santa in sleigh pulled by two reindeer, 2007, Torquay, UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine eight of these!

Reindeer to take part in Christmas festivities, Yate, UK 2004 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Reindeer in Norway (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Problem solved.

Christmas lights, Etobicoke, Ontario (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

It’s safe for Santa to come tonight.

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

Start Counting! Christmas Bird Counts Coming Soon

3 December 2020

Cold weather has chased us indoors and we’re stir crazy because of the pandemic but we can still have fun in the next four+ weeks. Join Audubon’s 121st annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) Monday 14 December 2020 through Tuesday 5 January 2021.(*)

During the CBC, volunteers count birds in more than 2,500 count circles in the North America. Each count has a 15-mile diameter circle, a single scheduled day, and a count coordinator who keeps track of volunteers, areas covered, and data received.

It’s easy to participate. No experience is necessary.  Spend a day counting birds at your feeder or in the field.

Choose a location and date that suits you from the national map at audubon.org or from the list of Pittsburgh area Christmas Bird Counts at Audubon Society of Western PA. Contact the Count Coordinator(s) to let them know you’re counting. They’ll make sure you don’t double-count someone else’s territory and will let you know the COVID-19 rules.

I’ll be counting in the Pittsburgh circle on Saturday, December 26. There are so many participants that it’s divided into 12 sections. Click here for the sections and contacts.

Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count circle (map from audubon.org)

Wear a mask, get outdoors and have fun. Start counting!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, maps from audubon.org; click on the captions to see the originals)

It’s Deer Season

Dumpster deer at the Bigelow Boulevard construction site, 22 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

28 November 2020

Today is the first day of Deer Season in Pennsylvania. Specifically it’s the start of antlered deer regular firearms (rifle) hunting season which runs from 28 November to 12 December and includes Pennsylvania’s first ever Sunday rifle deer hunt on 29 November. Click here for season details; they depend on location.

Be sure to wear blaze orange in the woods and fields every day of the week.

Wear Orange sign (PA Game Commission), Blaze Orange Vest available on Amazon

In the City of Pittsburgh our huge and growing deer population has no predators. Hunting is prohibited and the deer know it.

Buck in velvet at Allegheny Cemetery, July 2015 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The only thing city deer are afraid of are dogs off-leash.

Deer cross the road in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Last weekend I found a target-practice deer taking refuge in the city. Poking his head out of a pink dumpster on Bigelow Boulevard, he knew he was safe near the Cathedral of Learning (at top).

Stay safe out there.

(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons, PA Game Commission and Amazon. Click on the captions to see the originals)

Counting to Thirteen

Crows flying over Soldiers and Sailors Hall, 24 Oct 2020. 13 in the circle (photo by Kate St. John)

9 November 2020

For the past three months I’ve been trying to count Pittsburgh’s crows but it’s incredibly hard to do. Last night I tried again as they flew from a staging area in Shadyside to a roost somewhere west of Bellefield Avenue. After 20 minutes I suddenly realized I’d missed a steady stream flying in from the Allegheny Valley. How many thousands had I missed? Aaarrg!

My sister-in-law suggested I use photos to count them so here are four photos with 13 crows circled in each one.

Crows roosting near Heinz Chapel, 1 Dec 2017. 13 in the circle (photo by Kate St. John)
Crows flying past Chevron Hall, 24 Oct 2020. 13 in the circle (photo by Kate St. John)
Crows flying at sunset over Wilkins Ave. 13 in the circle (photo by Joanne Tyzenhouse)

Why 13?

Today is Outside My Window‘s 13th anniversary. Since my first blog post on 9 November 2007 I’ve written nearly 5,000 articles, uploaded more than 10,600 photos, and moderated more than 20,000 comments.

In its 13th year the blog has …

Thanks to all of you, my readers, who have kept me blogging about birds, nature and peregrine falcons.  Your enthusiasm keeps me going. And a big thank you to all the great photographers who let me use their photos.  See who they are here.

Woo Hoo!  Happy 13th!

p.s. This is my blog’s birthday (my own is in May). And on the subject of birthdays, this Friday the 13th is King Friday the XII’s birthday. Happy 13th!

(sunset photo by Joanne Tyzenhouse, remaining photos by Kate St. John)

What’s Wrong This Time?

Analog alarm clock (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So what’s wrong this time?

Hourglass (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Digital clock (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Xiaomi smartwatch (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Well, for one thing, all these clocks are backwards.

I’m not a fan of Daylight Saving Time “spring forward and fall back.” Our bodies cue on light levels, just like everything else in nature, so our brains won’t jog an hour just because we change the clocks. Ask your dog what he thinks about Fall Back. It takes us humans as much as a week to adjust.

However, unless you live in Arizona(*) or Hawaii where they don’t participate in Daylight Saving Time, tonight’s the night to turn the clocks backward to Standard Time.

The official moment to make the change is at 2:00am on 1 November 2020 — which at that moment becomes 1:00am. Who wants to get up at 2am for the official moment? Not I!

p.s. Any recent gadget that’s on a network, including your cellphone, will make the change automatically.

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

(*) Janet Campagna points out in the comment below that the Navajo Nation (sovereign inside Arizona) does observe Daylight Saving Time.

The Largest Jack O’ Lantern

Jack O’ Lanterns face off (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

30 October 2020

Halloween is almost here. Who has the largest jack o’ lantern?

Two pumpkins in Jersey would like to win the honor. They’re nearly as wide as a picnic table.

They would lose to this 905.5 pound pumpkin from Ohio. Even if scooped out it would break the picnic table.

No squash can match the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden when dressed for Halloween. At 360 feet in diameter it’s wider than a football field, the largest jack o’ lantern in the world.

Ericsson Globe arena in Halloween costume, Stockholm, Sweden, 2014 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

However, the universe wins the prize for size. The Jack O’ Lantern nebula is a cosmic cloud of radiation and particles emitted by a huge star 15-20 times heavier than our sun. This 2019 animation from NASA/JPL-Caltech shows why it’s called The Jack O’ Lantern.

PIA23403-Jack-o'-lanternNebula

Jack O’ Lantern nebula animation from NASA/JPL-Caltech via Wikimedia Commons

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

p.s. Betty Rowland reports there’s a 1,179 pound pumpkin in Aspinwall raising money for Project Bundle Up. Here are her photos.

1,179 pound jack o’ lantern in Aspinwall, PA, 30 Oct 2020 (photo by Betty Rowland)
1,179 pound jack o’ lantern in Aspinwall, PA, 30 Oct 2020 (photo by Betty Rowland)