Category Archives: Books & Events

Winter Raptor Survey, Bus Tour Jan 31 & Feb 3

Bald eagle pair, Montour Preserve, 18 Jan 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)
Bald eagle pair, 18 Jan 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

Winter is a great time to see raptors.   Bald eagles are nesting, northern hawks and falcons are visiting for the winter, and they're all easy to see against the snow!

Lauri Shaffer found these birds near her home in Montour County, but Pittsburghers don't have to go that far.

Come see western Pennsylvania's winter raptors in the comfort of a tour bus with the National Aviary's Bob Mulvihill.  All ages and experience levels are welcome.

National Aviary Bus Tour: Winter Raptor Survey
When: Two tours: Wednesday, January 31 + Saturday, February 3.   9am-4pm.
Cost: $95 nonmembers; $85 members (includes lunch and pocket Raptor field guide)
To register: Audrey.Beichner@aviary.org or 412-258-9463

Join National Aviary Ornithologist, Bob Mulvihill, for a brand new winter adventure: the Hawk Migration Association’s annual raptor census. You’ll see up to ten different raptors including winter-only species like the Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Shrike. We’ll also visit Goddard State Park to see a Bald Eagle Nest!

I'm planning to join the tour on Wednesday January 31.  In addition to the bald eagle nest at Goddard State Park, here's what we hope to see:

Rough-legged hawks, below, only visit Pennsylvania in winter. They nest in the arctic.

Rough-legged hawk, January 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)
Rough-legged hawk, January 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

 

Northern harriers are hawks of open country with owl-like faces, the better to hear mice on the ground.  This one might have dinner beneath his feet.

Northern harrier, pouning in snow (photo by Lauri Shaffer)
Northern harrier, pouncing in snow (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

And did you know that one of our target birds, the northern shrike, is a predatory songbird? Here's a photo.

Sign up soon for the Raptor bus tour.  There's a lot to see in winter!

 

(photos by Lauri Shaffer)

p.s. I'm not promising a snowy owl but you never know -- we might get really lucky.  Becky Shott found this one last week.

Snowy owl in western PA, January 2018 (photo by Becky Shott)
Snowy owl in western PA, January 2018 (photo by Becky Shott)

First Bird of 2018

Blue jay in winter (photo by Cris Hamilton)
Blue jay in winter (photo by Cris Hamilton)

If you keep a list of the birds you see each year, yesterday gave you a First Bird of 2018.

Mine was a blue jay.

He received this honor because I decided not to count the birds I heard but did not see.  This ruled out the house sparrows cheeping in my neighbor's evergreen. I didn't even look for them.

Perhaps this was cheating. If I'd heard an owl I would have counted it.  However, I don't have to stretch the rules to pick a First Best Bird of 2018.

Yesterday afternoon I joined the Botanical Society of Western PA's annual New Year's Day Hike.  Twelve of us braved the 10o F weather at Irwin Road in North Park, led by Richard Nugent.  (He's the tall man in the brown coat.  I'm in the photo, too, but which one?)

Botanical Society New Years Day Hike, 2018 (photo by June Bernard)
Botanical Society New Years Day Hike, 2018 (photo by June Bernard)

We walked to the old homestead to see the Ozark witch hazel that we visit every year.   At the top of the hill was a small flock of birds eating wild grapes, multiflora rose hips and oriental bittersweet.  Among them was my First Best Bird of 2018 -- a hermit thrush.

Hermit thrush (photo by Chuck Tague)
Hermit thrush (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

What was your First Bird of 2018?  Do you have a Best one?

 

(photo credits: blue jay by Cris Hamilton, hike photo from June Bernard, hermit thrush by Chuck Tague)

The Upside Down Year in Review

An African Gray Parrot (pet) hanging upside down on an indoor clothesline (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
An African Gray Parrot (pet) hanging upside down on an indoor clothesline (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2017 was a crazy upside down year for birds and nature in the U.S.  including hurricanes, fires, a solar eclipse, climate change and more.  Outside My Window had some crazy moments, too.  Here's the blog year in review.

On 7 November Outside My Window celebrated its 10th anniversary. I've now written more than 3,700 posts and you've commented more than 17,100 times (not including comments on Facebook & Twitter).  And we're using different hardware to read the blog than we did back then. 10 years ago most of us used desktop computers.  Now we use Desk 46%, Mobile 40%, Tablet 14%.

The most popular posts of 2017 were prompted by peregrine and bald eagle drama.  Our tastes are a bit upside down:  Bad news is the most popular.

Hope picks up her first-hatching egg. Latr she kills and eats it (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Hope picks up her first-hatching egg. Later she kills and eats it (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

Other favorite articles (most Googled) answered the questions: What? How? Why?

 

Thank you again, dear readers, for another great year at Outside My Window.

You keep me going every day!

 

p.s. Don't miss Google's 2017 Year in Review.  Inspiring.

(parrot photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Peregrine and hawk photos from National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, Katie Cunningham, and Kim Steininger)

Join a Christmas Bird Count

Bird watchers at the Refuge (photo by George Gentry/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Bird watchers at the Refuge (photo by George Gentry/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Christmas is coming.  Let's count birds!

Every year Christmas Bird Counts are conducted in the Americas from December 14 through January 5.  The counts take place in 15-mile diameter circles where birders count every bird they see during the 24-hour period.  (We count owls at night.)

It's easy to participate.  Choose a location and date that suits you on this map at audubon.org.  Then get in touch with the Count coordinator ahead of time to make sure you aren't double-counting someone else's territory.  If you live within a count circle you can count birds at your feeder -- but contact the coordinator in advance.

In southwestern Pennsylvania, there are 13 Count circles as shown on this screen shot from the audubon.org map.

Map of Christmas Bird Count Circles near Pittsburgh, PA (from Bob Mulvihill at the National Aviary)
Map of Christmas Bird Count Circles near Pittsburgh, PA (from Bob Mulvihill at the National Aviary)

The Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count, code PAPI above, includes Downtown Pittsburgh and parts of our three rivers.  It's always held on the 1st Saturday after Christmas -- December 30 this year (2017) -- and has so many participants that compiler Brian Shema coordinates the coordinators.  Click here on the ASWP website for information on who to call.

Map of Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (PAPI) from audubon.org
Map of Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (PAPI) from audubon.org

Visit National Audubon's Join the Christmas Bird Count for counts outside our area or consult the table below for the 13 circles nearby.

As you can see there are still some gaps in the data as of today (11/26/2017).  I'll update the table as information becomes available so check back later if your favorite location has no date yet.

Count NameCodeCounty (general area)DateCoordinatorContact Info
BeaverPABVBeaverSat Dec 16Rick Masonricharddmason AT gmail.com (724)847-0909
Buffalo CreekPABKWashingtonSun Dec 17Larry Helgermanbobolink1989 AT gmail.com
Buffalo Creek ValleyPABCButler, ArmstrongSat Dec 16George Reeseg.reese@gaiconsultants.com, 724-353-9649
Bushy RunPABRWestmorelandSun Dec 31Dick Byersotusasio AT lhtot.com 724-593-3543
ButlerPABUButler, Lawrence, MercerSat Dec 16Glenn Koppel
Mary A Koeneke
kestrel22 AT hotmail.com 703-203-3362
macatilly AT icloud.com 703-203-6337
ClarksvillePACLGreeneSat Dec 23Terry Daytontdayton AT windstream.net 724-998-7099
ImperialPAIMAllegheny, Washington?Bob Mulvihillrobert.mulvihill AT aviary.org
IndianaPAINIndianaTue Dec 26Roger & Marg Higbee724-354-3493
412-309-3538
bcoriole AT windstream.net
rvhigbee AT windstream.net
PittsburghPAPIAlleghenySat Dec 30Brian Shema, ASWPhttp://www.aswp.org/pages/christmas-bird-count
bshema AT aswp.org
Pittsburgh South HillsPASHAlleghenySat Dec 16Gigi Gerbenbirdersx5 AT gmail.com
RectorPARTWestmorelandSun Dec 17Matt Webbwebbm AT carnegiemnh.org 412-622-5591
RyersonPARYGreeneSat Dec 16Marjorie Howardbirdwatcher108 AT comcast.net 724-852-3155
South ButlerPASTButlerSat Jan 6, 2018 (1 day after the official Count ends)Chris Kubiakckubiak@aswp.org 412-963-6100
WashingtonPAWSWashingtonSat Dec 16Thomas Contrerastcontreras AT washjeff.edu 724-223-6118 (or 724-413-2310)

 

(photo by George Gentry/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; click on the image to see the original; map of Western PA Christmas Bird Count circles posted by Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary; map of the Pittsburgh Christmas Count circle from audubon.org)

W. E. Clyde Todd Award, Dec 7

Cover of Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania Bulletin, Winter 2017-2018
Cover of Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania Bulletin, Winter 2017-2018

Early this month I was surprised and delighted to receive a letter from Jim Bonner at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania that said,

"It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected as the 2017 Audubon Society of Western PA W. E. Clyde Todd Award winner.  This award was established in 1971 and is presented to an individual in recognition of outstanding effort to further the cause of conservation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

What an honor. Wow!

Awards will be presented on Members' Night, Thursday Dec. 7, 2017 at 6:30pm at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, 614 Dorseyville Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15238-1618.

The evening will begin with cocktails and light hors d'oeuvres.  After the awards presentation, Patty DeMarco will give a talk about her new book, Pathways to our Sustainable Future: A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh.

Click here for more information or download the ASWP Winter 2017 Bulletin here.

 

(photo: cover of the ASWP Winter 2017 Bulletin)

Birdmania Is Coming To Pittsburgh

Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion For Birds by Bernd Brunner (book cover courtesy Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture Series)
Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion For Birds by Bernd Brunner (book cover courtesy Pittsburgh Arts & Lecture Series)

If you're as passionate about birds as I am you might be thinking bird mania is already here but this month we'll get the chance to learn of others enthralled by birds.

Bernd Brunner, author of Birdmania, will speak at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures on November 18 at 2pm.

His new book shows how our view of birds has changed over time -- from objects of worship, food sources, ornamentation, sport, and status symbols to beautiful creatures we watch in the wild. His stories of collectors, breeders, watchers, scientists and conservationists are illustrated with rare and stunning artwork inspired by (our!) obsession.

Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk says of the book, "An exquisitely beautiful book ... These stories about birds are ultimately reflections on the curious nature of humanity itself."

For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit New & Noted: Bernd Brunner at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

What: Bernd Brunner, author of Birdmania, at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures.  A book signing will follow the lecture. Tickets $5.
Where: Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15213.
When:  Saturday November 18, 2017 at 2pm.

Buy Birdmania on Amazon here.

 

(book cover, cropped, from Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures)

10th Anniversary!

Put on Your Party Hats, this blog is 10 Years Old!

Usually a crow provides bird-thday entertainment, but this year two Venezuelan troupials won the honor of singing "Happy Birthday To You."  This is definitely competitive singing!

Thanks to all of you, my readers,  who have kept me blogging about birds, nature and peregrine falcons since November 2007.  I couldn't have done it without your enthusiasm.

And thank you to all the great photographers who let me use their photos.  See who they are here.

Woo Hoo!  Happy Bird-thday!

 

p.s. Venezuelan troupials are the national bird of Venezuela and are in the Blackbird family (Icterid).

(photo credit: Click here to see the original photo of the crow on a spire by Ian Shane via Wikimedia Commons; party hat was added by Kate St. John)

We Are Nature

We Are Nature, Living in the Anthropocene entry sign, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that we humans are part of the natural world.  We think we are outside of Nature, instead we are intricately entwined. This special exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shows how we affect Nature and are affected by it.

We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene tells many stories of our impact on Earth by focusing on five areas: pollution, extinction, PostNatural (intentionally altered organisms), climate change, and habitat alteration.

Some of our effects are so common we forget they wouldn't exist without us.  Dogs, for example.  They're in the PostNatural category.

We also tinker with wild things like wolves.  The plaque below this animal says:

"A Trickle-Down Effect (Trophic Cascade): Humans eliminated gray wolves from Yellowstone National Park in the 1920s. In 1995, 31 gray wolves were reintroduced to the park from Canada; the wolf population is now considered stable. While some ranchers may not agree, the return of wolves to Yellowstone, coupled with other ecological factors, has had positive effects on biodiversity and the health of the park."

Human tinkering with the wolf population trickles down to the entire ecosystem, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)
Human tinkering with the wolf population trickles down to the entire ecosystem, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

But most of our effects occur when we aren't paying attention.

Acid rain is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity.  We had no idea this made a difference until we noticed that our downwind lakes were becoming acidic.  More than a water problem, acid rain makes land snails scarce and causes declines in ovenbird breeding success.  An exhibit of tiger snails says:

Tiger Snail + Acid Rain:  Acid rain from human pollution harms some of Pennsylvania's smallest animals: tiger snails.  ... Museum scientist Tim Pearce found that before 2000, the tiger snail was found in 53 Pennsylvania counties.  After 2000, that number was cut by more than half.

Tiger snails, We Are Nature, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tiger snails, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

There's one object in the room that's the perfect emblem of our aimless effect on earth -- a shopping cart coated in zebra mussels.

Shopping cart coated in zebra mussels, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, We Are Nature exhibit, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Shopping cart coated in zebra mussels, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nov 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The shopping cart says, "Humans were here."

  • Humans manufactured something not found in nature.
  • The cart ended up in one of the Great Lakes through human negligence (it rolled) or purpose (dumped).
  • As it lay submerged zebra mussels attached themselves to the cart.  Zebra mussels are an invasive species accidentally introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1980s.  They got there on the bottoms of boats.

Without humans, nothing about this object would exist.

See more amazing stories of our impact at We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  Click here for more information.

 

p.s. In the Post-Gazette I learned that this is the first exhibition about the Anthropocene in North America. (Go, Pittsburgh!) It will run for a year, include additional programming, and the museum plans to hire a curator of the Anthropocene in January.

(photos by Kate St. John)