In the winter of 2012 Pittsburghers noticed we had very few blue jays in our area. It was such a mystery that I posted an article in February asking folks to tell me if they’d seen any blue jays lately. Seven years later the responses are still coming in.
Most people respond when they don’t see any blue jays because they miss them. It turns out that blue jay frequency varies throughout the year and can drop locally when the habitat changes, especially if oaks are cut down. (Blue jays rely on acorns.)
Our blue jay count surges during spring and fall migration because a lot of them breed north of us. In Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) there’s also a mysterious mini-surge every year in mid February. What’s that about?
If you live in the City of Pittsburgh and visit our parks you’ll want to participate in this survey, available now through April 2019.
Pittsburgh has 165 parks sprinkled throughout our neighborhoods from small playgrounds to regional parks — Schenley, Frick, Riverview, Highland and the future Hays Woods. The City’s goal is to have well maintained parks within a 10-minute walk of every resident.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that infrastructure is crumbling in many of them. The park system gets big donations for capital improvements (bricks & mortar) but not for maintenance, so we have new buildings like the Frick Environmental Center but deteriorating playgrounds, landscape and trails. How do we fix that inequity and how much will it cost?
One week from today — February 15-18 — the Great Backyard Bird Count will take a real-time snapshot of birds around the world. You can help.
Since 1998 the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) has enlisted volunteers like us to count the birds we see for four days in mid-February. Last year our worldwide effort counted 6,459 species and nearly 29 million birds!
Register for an eBird or GBBC account if you don’t already have one. (GBBC uses eBird so you don’t need both.)
Count birds for at least 15 minutes during the four-day period. You can count in more than one place and longer than 15 mins if you wish. Keep track of the highest number of each species you see 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.
Hatched at the National Aviary on 12 January 2019, this Eurasian eagle owl chick is growing up fast. In the photo above he’s six days old.
His parents are education birds at the National Aviary and he(*) will be, too. To prepare him for this role he’s being hand-raised with lots of love and attention and began close encounters with a few Aviary visitors at the tender age of 17 days.
By the time he’s four weeks old he’ll look like this owlet — one of his siblings from 2013.
When he grows up he’ll look like his parents. By then he’ll be a very big bird.
Eurasian eagle owls (Bubo bubo) are virtually the world’s largest owl. Native to Europe and Asia, they can weigh up to 10 pounds with a wingspan more than six feet long. That’s 1.5 times larger than North America’s great horned owl. You can tell the difference between the two species — even in photographs — when they open their eyes. Adult Eurasian eagle owls have orange eyes. Great horned owls have yellow eyes.
Watch the owlet grow up at the National Aviary‘s Avian Care Center window or schedule a close encounter to meet him in person. Participants can touch the chick’s downy feathers, take photos, and interact with him under the supervision of National Aviary animal care experts. The number of encounters is limited and available for only a few weeks. Click here to sign up for an owlet encounter.
Tomorrow is the mid-point of winter, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s also Candelmas in the Christian church and Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
A very special groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, will make his prediction just after dawn tomorrow morning, 2 February around 7:20am. I don’t know if he’ll see his shadow and predict six more weeks of winter, but I do know it won’t feel so wintry tomorrow. We’ll be out of the deep freeze at last! A high of 41oF in Pittsburgh and 37oF in Punxsutawney.
The southern (or winter) solstice will occur in Pittsburgh this evening at 5:23pm. By then we’ll have lived through a very short day, 9 hours and 17 minutes of rainy gloomy overcast daylight.
If we were in Manchester, UK there would be even less daylight. Today they have rainy overcast skies too, but they also have fewer hours daylight, 7 hours 28 minutes. The flip side is that Manchester has more sunlight in June.
Scott Richards decided to compare both solstices in Manchester side by side. He filmed the entire day — sunrise to sunset — on June 21 and December 21, then sped up the film so we don’t have to watch for 20 hours. Instead it lasts six minutes.
I’ve started his video, above, near sunset on the winter solstice (right) side. If you watch for a minute you’ll see the moon rise in winter while the summer sun is still so high that it leaves the video frame.
There’s a dramatic difference in the amount of daylight from solstice to solstice. No wonder I feel sleepy in December.