Category Archives: Books & Events

Big Moves Yesterday, Banding Today

Peregrine chicks at Cathedral of Learning nest, 28 days old, 20 May 2024 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

21 May 2024

Yesterday was a big day for the Pitt peregrine chicks. The smaller chick made two new moves: He jumped up on the green perch and he snatched prey from his mother. Today will be even bigger. It’s Banding Day! The event is closed to the public (the room has a very strict occupancy limit!) but you’ll see the start and end on the falconcam.

Big Moves Yesterday: Green perch & Food snatch

Both big moves are shown in this video of snapshots.

video from the National Aviary snaphot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh

Here’s a closer look at the snatching episode as seen on the streaming cam: Carla was about to kill and pluck a chimney swift when the male chick snatched it. Chaos ensued! When Carla couldn’t retrieve it she shouted to Ecco while the other chick begged loudly.

Male peregrine steals incoming prey from Carla. Everyone shouts, 20 May 2024, 17:21 (video from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Banding Day Today:

You’ll know when Lead Bander Patti Barber of the Pennsylvania Game Commission goes out on the ledge to retrieve the chicks because you’ll hear Carla and Ecco shouting and the youngsters will huddle at the back of the box.

When the chicks are brought indoors they will receive health checks and leg bands and be returned to the nest in less than half an hour.

Stay tuned later today for banding photos and an update on the event.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ .of Pittsburgh)

Yesterday at Schenley Park, 5/18

Female red-winged blackbird scans the sky while collecting nesting material, Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

19 May 2024

The pouring rain ended yesterday morning just in time for our walk in Schenley Park.

Outing at Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

From midnight until 8am 1.16 inches of rain fell. All the streams were rushing and Panther Hollow Lake was muddy and full. It looked as if the lake had risen 8-12 inches since I saw it the day before.

Among the cattails we found busy red-winged blackbirds including a female gathering nesting material who scanned the sky for predators (at top). The last time I saw red-wings building nests was in mid April. Was this a second nesting? Or had high water flooded nests that now were being rebuilt?

Female red-winged blackbird collecting nesting material, Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Why was the female blackbird scanning the sky? She probably saw a red-tailed hawk shuttling food to three youngsters in their nest on the bridge.

3 youngsters in red-tailed hawk nest, Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

All told we saw 27 species of birds plus one doe, five bucks and an active beehive.

I’m so glad it stopped raining!

Our checklist is here https://ebird.org/checklist/S175534213 and listed below.

Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
May 18, 2024 8:30 AM – 10:45 AM, 27 species

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 5
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1 Perched on snag
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 4 3 youngsters in nest
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 3 Adult perched on nest rail, 2 young on falconcam
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) 2
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) 1
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 4
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 8
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 3
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 4 House wrens usually nest at PH Lake in the streetlight hoods. Singing wren near the streetlight went into the hood.
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 3
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 4
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) 1 Heard
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 30
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 6
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 4
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 3
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) 4
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 8 (PHLake very high after lot of rain. Perhaps flooded RWBL nests)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) 1
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 2
Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina) 2
Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) 1 Heard

Have You Seen Any Nighthawks?

Common nighthawk, Tower Grove Park, Oct 2020 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

16 May 2024

When I was a kid in the 1960s common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) were so common that they attracted my notice and inspired my love for birds. In the late 1970s many flew above my neighborhood on summer nights, hawking moths over the Magee Field ballpark lights. In the 1990s their population began a steep decline and by the late 2000s I noticed it in my neighborhood. This year I haven’t seen a nighthawk yet. Their decline has gotten worse in the last 20 years.

Nighthawks are nightjars and they are all in trouble including whip-poor-wills and chuck-wills-widow.

How many nighthawks are left? Where are they now?

You can help answer these questions by participating in the 2024 Nightjar Survey conducted by the Center for Conservation Biology(*).

The survey window for the entire continental US opened yesterday, running from 15 May to 30 May.

Nightjar Survey Locations during 15 May — 30 May Window

Interestingly you only have to count nighthawks by the light of the moon because they call more often when the moon is shining. The next full moon is 23 May, right in the middle of the survey period.

Rainbow around the nearly full moon, North Park, Pittsburgh, 16 March 2022, 8:01pm

Check out the survey instructions PDF here or on their website at nightjars.org. (*)Update on 18 May: The nightjars.org website is temporarily unreachable.

Read more about the decline of nighthawks in this vintage article from 2009.

p.s. I participated in the nightjar survey with Michelle Kienholz in 2018. The maximum number we counted at any one stop was only two.

See survey results from all years here.

Two Outings in One Week: May 15th & 18th

Ovenbird in Nick Liadis’ hand at banding in Hays Woods, 7 Sept 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 May 2024

May Is The Month For Birds! Join me on two outings in the next two weeks.

Wed. 15 May, 8:00 to 10:30am: Hays Woods Bird Banding

Next week be one of only 5 visitors to Nick Liadis’ BirdLab banding station in Hays Woods. We may be very lucky. Last year Nick banded a Conneticutt warbler at Hays in May!

Here’s everything you need to know to join me on Wed 15 May at 8:00 am.

  • First come first served! Reserve your place by leaving a comment on the blog form below. I’ll confirm via email.
  • Bird Lab is a non-profit supported by donations and grants. There is a suggested donation of $25/person. Donate online at BirdLab’s GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-us-to-conserve-birds
  • The banding station is in the heart of Hays Woods so it takes 20 minutes to walk to it. We’ll meet at the Hays Woods Agnew Trailhead at 8am.
  • Nick bands birds six days a week unless it’s raining or windy. There is no rain date so hope for good weather!

Read here about our experience last October.

Learn more about Bird Lab at http://birdlab.org/

Sat. 18 May, 8:30 to 10:30am: Outing in Schenley Park

Birding in Schenley Park, 19 May 2019 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Spring migration is really hopping so don’t miss an opportunity to get outdoors.

This month’s Schenley outing is on Saturday 18 May to avoid a conflict with the Komen More Than Pink Walk on Sunday.

Meet me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center (40.4383304,-79.9464765) on Saturday 18 May for a bird and nature walk, 8:30am to 10:30am. We’ll be there during the maximum weekend of the Second and Third Waves of warbler migration. If the weather is right we’ll see a lot of birds!

As always, dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

If the birding is good we’ll have the option to continue until 11:00a.

Starting Tomorrow: The Biggest Week for Birds

American restart singing (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 May 2024

Last weekend the headline in the Toledo Blade read:   Biggest Week  80,000 Birders Return on Friday. The Biggest Week in American Birding begins tomorrow at Maumee Bay Lodge in northwestern Ohio, drawing birders from around the world to see millions of migrating birds, especially warblers.

Normally I would be one of those 80,000 people but this year I didn’t have time for a trip next week so I’m here at Magee Marsh right now, 30 April to 3 May. As your advance scout I can tell you that the situation is different in the week before the Biggest one.

  • There were surprisingly few people here on Tuesday and Wednesday, 30 Apr and 1 May. There were few on the boardwalk, even fewer at Maumee Bay Lodge. That changed on Thursday 2 May when there were five times more people on the boardwalk. (The crowd began.)
  • Vendors for the festival started arriving on Wednesday.
  • Other than yellow-rumped and palm, there aren’t many warblers. Though the weather has been quite warm, overnight winds have been from the north, blowing off the lake. I’ve seen a small variety of warblers but only single birds and it takes effort to find them.
  • I miss the benefits of birding in a crowd. To find really good birds, I look for a crowd with their binoculars up and they help find the bird.
  • With so few birds (relative to the Biggest Week), a ruby-crowned kinglet drew a lot of attention.
  • This year: Only a short loop of the Maumee Bay Lodge Nature Center boardwalk is open. The majority is closed due to storm damage in June 2023 (shown here).

So the best time to see warblers in northwestern Ohio really is during the Biggest Week.

Biggest Week in American Birding logo, 2024

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh migration is ahead of schedule and has been quite good. I haven’t seen any of the birds shown in the logo above in Ohio this week, but I’ve already seen the orange ones in southwestern PA — an American redstart and a Blackburnian warbler.

If I want to see the other two species — the Kirtland’s and mourning warblers — the best place will be northwestern Ohio during the Biggest Week.

(credits are in the captions)

Birding with Heather and Boaz, Talk Pittsbugh

Screenshot from CBS’s Talk Pittsburgh video published 29 April 2024

30 April 2024

On TV!

In mid-April I had the opportunity to guide KDKA’s Talk Pittsburgh hosts Heather Abraham and Boaz Frankel on a birding trip to Frick Park. We had a great time watching birds and talking about their behavior.

Our adventure aired yesterday afternoon. See it here on the Talk Pittsburgh website or embedded below.

video embedded from CBS Pittsburgh on YouTube

It’s time for Spray Your Clothes Day

It’s Spray Your Clothes Day (photo by Kate St. John)

11 April 2024

There’s a danger outdoors in Pennsylvania’s suburbs, parks and woods. The first step to protect yourself is to spray your clothes in early spring.

The Danger:

When a black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) sucks your blood it can transmit a parasite that causes Lyme disease, an illness that can ruin your life for a very long time. Black-legged ticks are especially dangerous in May and June when the tiny nymphs, only as big as a poppy seed, are questing for a blood meal.

Nymph highlighted on Chart of black-legged tick life stages (image from cdc.gov via Wikimedia Commons)

If you don’t think you’ll see a tick in Pittsburgh’s suburbs, city parks and your own garden, think again. Deer don’t carry Lyme disease but they do carry ticks — a lot of ticks — and deer are everywhere.

Deer on Forbes Ave, Squirrel Hill, 7 Nov 2023 (photo courtesy Mardi Isler)

Are there deer in your backyard? There are also ticks.

The Prevention:

By spraying your clothes with permethrin you repel ticks and lower your likelihood of a tick bite. Spray your clothes outdoors in early April on a dry windless day so the spray doesn’t touch your skin. (Read the directions on the bottle.)

Here’s all you need to know about Spray Your Clothes Day activities and how to prevent Lyme disease.

Schenley Park Outing on April 14, 8:30am

Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Frick Park, 6 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 April 2024

Surprise! Instead of an outing on the last Sunday of the month, let’s go birding next weekend. Join me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center for a bird & nature walk on Sunday 14 April, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers migrate through Allegheny County in April so mid-month is the best time to find one in Schenley. Charity Kheshgi and I saw this one at Frick.

We’ll also see trees in bud, in bloom, and with tiny leaves. Ten years ago the redbuds had not opened yet. Will they be blooming next Sunday?

Redbuds in bud, Schenley Park, 18 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

April showers won’t stop us. This event will be held rain or shine, but not in downpours or thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of cancellation.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars.

Hope to see you there.

p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11:00am.

p.p.s. Don’t expect a big show of spring wildflowers like we used to see several years ago. Pittsburgh’s overabundant deer have eaten everything except the toxic flowers.

(credits are in the captions)

Duck Hollow Outing, 24 March 8:30a

Belted kingfisher, Feb 2022 (photo by Mick Thompson via Flickr Creative Commons license)

18 March 2024

Birdblog outings resume this month with my first outing next Sunday at Duck Hollow.

Sunday 24 March 2024 — 8:30am – 10:30am

Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park

Meet at Duck Hollow parking lot at the end of Old Browns Hill Road. We’ll check the river for migrating waterfowl and walk the beginning of lower Nine Mile Run Trail watching for birds and the many signs of Spring.

Duck Hollow can be excellent or just ho-hum. In early November we saw purple finches and a red-shouldered hawk. Yesterday in a five minute stop at 8am I found a large flock of gadwall and six lesser scaup.

What will it be next Sunday? I’m counting on a kingfisher.

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

Hope to see you there!

Sunday’s weather looks good so far but always check the Events Page before you come in case of cancellation.

(photo by Mick Thompson via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Seed Swap! March 2

Common milkweed seeds tumbling out of the pod, Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 February 2024

March is right around the corner and gardening season is almost here. Are you itching to get started? Do you want to try new seeds in your garden? Do you have seeds to share with others? Then you won’t want to miss the 12th Annual Seed Swap at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Saturday 2 March, 10am – 2pm.

What: 12th Annual Seed Swap: A Celebration of Seeds
Where: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, at 4400 Forbes Ave in Oakland.
When: Saturday, March 2 | 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Event Partners: Phipps Conservatory, Grow Pittsburgh and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Virgin’s bower a.k.a. Old man’s beard. Gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

Now in its 12th year, the Seed Swap is an annual collaboration between Phipps Conservatory, Grow Pittsburgh and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Phipps Conservatory’s website describes the event:

Bring your untreated, non-GMO seeds to share or just pick up seeds donated by local gardeners, farmers and seed companies! Any guest bringing seeds will be eligible to enter a raffle of fun gifts from Phipps and Grow Pittsburgh.

Event Features:

  • Free seeds
    • A new batch of seeds will be released every hour, on the hour!
  • “Ask a master gardener” table
  • Workshops on seed starting, seed saving, and organic gardening 
  • Creative activities for children and teens
  • Historic items on display and conversation with Rare Books Specialist
  • Raffle eligibility for attendees who bring seeds to swap

Show up any time but keep in mind that new seeds will be released every hour on the hour!

The Seed Swap is free. Registration is encouraged but not required. Click here to Register.

photo embedded from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Seed Swap registration page

p.s. Here’s another helpful tip from Phipps’ website: “Interested in purchasing seed? We’ve compiled a list of seed vendors for your reference. Check out Phipps’ Smart Seed Shopping web resource for more information!

(photos of seeds by Kate St. John, 2018 photo of Seed Swap by Nick Shapiro courtesy Grow Pittsburgh)