Category Archives: Books & Events

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.

Audubon Day, Dec 6

Visit the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library for the 9th annual Audubon Day on Friday 6 December 2019. Events include:

10:00 – 11:00
Hillman library, Ground Floor, Room G-49
Meaning, metaphor and the words that birds have given us. Presentation by Dr. Karen Park, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh

11:00 – 12:00
Hillman library, Ground Floor, Room G-49
Live Bird Meet-and-Greet presented by the National Aviary. Whooo? will the Aviary bring to the meeting? Come and find out.

9:00 – 4:00
Hillman Library, Ground Floor, Room G-20
Original Prints from John James Audubon’s Birds of America on display.

Check out the event at the University Library System’s Facebook page.

12 Years Of Blogging

12 Years of blogging (photo by Kate St. John)

Twelve years! Can you believe it?

Twelve years ago today on 9 November 2007 I posted my first entry at Outside My Window. After more than a decade the blog has …

Most people tune in for the peregrine nesting season but there was a big surprise this year. The most popular article by far was my 25 February prediction of 17-year cicadas in May: Let Me Be The First To Tell You. With over 6,400 readers it was a two-day wonder.

This 12th anniversary is an opportunity to thank you, dear reader, for your enthusiasm, comments, suggestions and “shares.”   Thank you for sticking with me. You inspire me to keep going every day.

Thank you, also, to the many excellent photographers who’ve allowed me to use their photos and videos, to Wikimedia Commons for their vast store of Creative Commons media, and to YouTube and Twitter videos that allow embedding on my blog. Without photos and videos my blog would be just a pile of words.

Happy Bird-thday Blog!

(photo by Kate St. John, annotated)

No Turns

Kaufmann’s Clock, Downtown Pittsburgh, 2019 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Tonight we’ll turn the clocks back one hour to Standard Time.

Much as I like Daylight Saving Time I’m no fan of changing the clocks. The change disturbs our sleep patterns, increases accidents and heart attacks just after Spring Forward, and increases depression after Fall Back.

Most places on earth don’t participate in this controversial event. It’s not even universal in countries that observe it. Arizona, Hawaii and the U.S. island territories remain on Standard Time year round. The European Union may end their Daylight Saving requirement in 2021.

I wish we’d stop turning the clocks back and forth. The sign in the photo above, behind the Kaufmann’s Clock in Downtown Pittsburgh, seems to agree.

No Turns.

p.s. The Kaufmann’s Clock at Fifth & Smithfield is a well known meeting place with a long history. My favorite story is the time in 1983 when Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Michelle Madoff challenged Council President Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale to meet her under the clock and make good on his promise to kiss her “you-know-what” after a tax she proposed raised more than the $20 he believed possible. Michelle waited under the clock with a stuffed donkey (a.k.a. ass) for him to kiss. Jeep never showed up.

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

Today at Duck Hollow

Outing at Duck Hollow, 29 Oct 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning was chilly as seven of us met for a bird walk at Duck Hollow and Lower Nine Mile Run. At first the birds were few and far between but the sun warmed the hillsides and the birds came out.

We saw and heard 17 species plus an unidentified accipiter (sharp-shinned or Coopers hawk). “Best Bird” was a ruby-crowned kinglet who happened to be singing. See our checklist here:

Our walk included some surprising plants and insects as well.

The Pittsburgh region is not strong on lichens (our air is too bad) but we found a clump of branches with a very thick covering of moss and/or lichen. We were impressed.

Lichens and moss coat dead branches along the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail (photo by Claire Staples)

A grasshopper made an appearance, probably too cold to move.

At Lower Nine Mile Run (photo by Claire Staples)

And we opened the dried bladder from a bladdernut tree.

Bladdernuts opened (photo by Claire Staples)

Some furry pea-pods gave me pause. I remembered the yellow flowers that grew there in August, pictured below, but not the plant’s name.

Wild senna in August along the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s wild senna (Senna hebecarpa). See the pea pods in this gallery of flowers + pea pods at

By the end of our walk the day had warmed to the mid 60s F.

Smiles all around.

(photos by Kate St. John & Claire Staples as indicated in the captions)