Category Archives: Musings & News

Wildlife Returns While Humans Stay Indoors

Limpkin on patio railing in Boca Raton, FL (sent by Natalie Mitchell, 31 Mar 2020)

As we shelter indoors, wildlife is reclaiming our neighborhoods faster than we thought possible. Limpkins in Florida, deer in Pittsburgh, and wild boars in Italy!

Limpkins in Florida:

Now that human activity has slowed in Boca Raton, my sister-in-law says that limpkins have moved into the neighborhoods and are shouting all night to attract mates and establish territories. If you’ve never heard a limpkin you’d think it’s a human in distress and you might call 911. Ooops! It’s a bird. Limpkins are a thrill to birders but annoying if you’re trying to sleep. Here’s what one looks and sounds like from 2012. You can hear other limpkins in the distance.

Deer in Pittsburgh:

Deer are getting bolder and coming out during the day now that Pittsburghers are not outdoors. Yesterday, 31 March, Donna Foyle found a family group right next to a front porch in Brentwood.

On 25 March KDKA reported deer on Pitt’s campus in a photo and article.

Wild boars in Italy:

Wild boars can be dangerous but they usually avoid humans. This mama and youngsters were filmed strolling through Bergamo, Italy, posted to Twitter on 30 March 2020.

Have you seen any interesting wildlife in town lately? Leave a comment to let me know.

(limpkin photo sent to me by Natalie Mitchell on 31 Mar 2020, deer in Brentwood via cellphone from Donna Foyle)

Please Cooperate Or Parks Will Close Too!

The parks have been our solace in these troubled times but EVERYONE must obey the COVID-19 rules or Pittsburgh’s parks will close as they have in other cities.

A message from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, 31 March 2020:

Pittsburgh, it’s in our hands to keep the parks open. We have to follow the guidelines set by the City of Pittsburgh, our national government, and the CDC. 

Be safe in #PittsburghParks – practice physical distancing (6-8 feet) – wash your hands before and after a park visit – avoid surfaces: benches, railings, fences, exercise equipment – playgrounds are closed – no contact sportsno playdates in parks for kids – no pavilions – park facilities and amenities will be closed – no restrooms, water fountains, etc. – if you are experiencing symptoms stay home!

Perpetual Sunday

Schenley Park’s Bob O’Connor Golf Course is empty now (photo by Kate St. John)

Sunday, 29 March 2020:

I don’t know about you but I am really confused about what day it is. Because of the COVID-19 shutdown there’s no traffic anywhere, few cars are on the street, parking lots are empty and few pedestrians venture out before midday unless the weather is exceptionally good. Every day feels like Sunday.

Pittsburgh’s Strip District, the home of restaurants, international food markets and boutique retailers is normally packed before dawn on Saturday mornings. Yesterday Dave DiCello filmed the emptiness and posted on Twitter.

Happily, Sunday is my traditional day for hiking and birding so I’ve been outdoors every day to see migration ramping up including these Best Birds seen yesterday, 28 March 2020, on a Saturday that felt like Sunday: One Bonaparte’s gull and six female red-breasted mergansers at Duck Hollow, plus eight(!) fox sparrows at Schenley Park.

By the way these photos by Cris Hamilton, Bob Kroeger and Steve Gosser are not the individual birds I saw. See the captions for their locations.

Bonaparte’s gull in Seattle (photo by Cris Hamilton, 2018)
Red-breasted merganser at Cape Cod (photo by Bob Kroeger, 2019)
Fox sparrow, Sewickley Heights Park (photo by Steve Gosser, 22 March 2020)

(photos by Kate St. John, Cris Hamilton, Bob Kroeger, Steve Gosser)

Relieve Stress Outdoors

Birding at Presque Isle State Park, a safe social distance (photo by Ramona Sahni)

During this stressful time of COVID-19, there’s a way to get some relief. Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature lowers our stress levels and boosts our mental health.

Gardening, watching birds, walking and hiking are good ways to feel happier. We can easily maintain a safe social distance while birding. We can also connect with nature by watching our bird feeders.

Birding at Duck Hollow, a safe social distance (photo by Kate St. John)
Birds at Marcy's feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Connect with nature by watching your bird feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

The City of Pittsburgh is blessed with five large parks that provide a welcome release from stress — Schenley, Frick, Highland, Riverview and Emerald View.

My closest park is Schenley where I’m following the progress of spring.

Be Safe and Keep Others Safe in the parks from COVID-19:

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy offers these safety tips for park users. I circled the 6-feet physical distance message which is difficult when the parks become crowded! Plan accordingly.

Check the CitiParks website or Facebook page for updates on the City of Pittsburgh parks.

p.s. Here’s the Parks Physical Distancing list typed out so you can search for it later.

  • If you are exhibiting symptoms, don’t use the parks! (*)
  • Wash your hands before and after using the parks.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from other persons at all times.
  • Many restrooms and facilities are closed so be prepared (hint, hint).
  • Don’t touch handrails or playground equipment (By the way, the playgrounds are closed until further notice).
  • (And need I say this?!?) No play dates, no group games, etc. If an activity involves getting close to each other, don’t do it.

(*) Sorry to end on a down note but if you have symptoms, you and your household are contagious. Isolate yourself & quarantine your household for 14 days. Here’s what to do.

We Need A Laugh

27 March 2020:

Yesterday the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. exceeded the number in China. Those who became infected and contagious(!) 10 days ago are now feeling sick. Now more than ever we must stay at home and wait it out. It’s a very stressful time.

We need a laugh. Parrots are here to help.

p.s. If you have a pet bird you have lots of time right now to work with him on new tricks. 🙂

(video from Just Aww on YouTube)

Frozen In Place

Downy woodpecker looks frozen in place (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Have you ever seen birds freeze in place when a hawk shows up?

Have ever you seen a squirrel become motionless in the presence of danger?

Squirrel “who thinks I won’t notice him if he holds really still” (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Animals know that if they don’t move, the predator won’t see them and they’ll survive. The ones that keep moving become lunch for the hawk.

Doctors, public health officials, and governments know that if humans freeze in place — before we know anyone who’s sick — more of us will survive COVID-19. They see the hawk before we do.

This 8-minute science video shows why closures and quarantines save lives. It’s not scary. Here’s what we learn: The number of new cases matters, not the total count.

And here’s some happy news: This week China turned the corner. The rate of new cases is dropping every day in China and they’ve started to relax restrictions.

Yes, there is light at the end of this tunnel but we must be patient, stay apart for a long time, and wait it out.

p.s. Most of us don’t know how to wash our hands. (I didn’t!) Lather for 20 seconds. Here’s how:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; videos from PBS and Google)

Social Distancing!

Saffron finches display the proper social distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Around the world the COVID-19 emergency is forcing rapid changes to human society. In Pennsylvania nearly everything is closed; crowds of any kind are prohibited. If we go out at all, we must stay away from others and maintain a safe social distance (six feet). We cannot afford to spread this illness. The number of infections blows up like a bomb.

Birds don’t need to care about the disease — they won’t catch it — but these photos can illustrate social distancing.

Above, two saffron finches display a proper distance.

Below, the pigeons are WRONG! The group is small but they’re too close.

Small crowd of pigeons is too close (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The flock below is spawning a local epidemic. This crowd is NOT ALLOWED. It’s a petri dish of infection waiting to explode in 9-10 days.

Grackles on the wires: Too close and too many (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In case you don’t believe this is necessary, here’s a message for us from Italy, sent on 15 March 2020. They know what happens if you don’t stay away from each other BEFORE the need is apparent. On 15 March: “It is believed that the US, England and France are 9-10 days behind Italy in COVID-19 progression.”

9-10 days is next week, 24 or 25 March 2020. That’s why things are closed!

It’s like living in a war zone, but there is hope. Italians are singing from their balconies to keep their spirits up and the Chinese are sending encouragement.

Stay strong. Stay well. Stay apart. Stay home.

This too shall pass.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, videos from YouTube; click the captions or YouTube links to see the originals)

p.s. Birding alone in the woods is a safe social distance, but don’t count on finding a bathroom!

p.s. Here’s the latest coronavirus case map, US and world, from The Washington Post. Don’t get complacent about the numbers. Cases in New York state increased 70% in one day — Monday to Tuesday.

Hamsterkauf in Pittsburgh

Hamster stuffing his cheeks with dandelion leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 March 2020:

Yesterday was an eventful day for coronavirus preparedness in the U.S. Officials declared national, state and local emergencies, events were canceled everywhere, and public venues including schools closed through at least the end of March. U.S. testing capacity is woefully behind but there’s hope now that a coronavirus relief bill is moving quickly through the Capitol.

Meanwhile, anxious people are panic hoarding. By mid-week there was a sudden rush on toilet paper and bottled water as if preparing for a hurricane.

The Germans have an apt word for this: Hamsterkauf = “hamster” hoards in its cheeks (hamstern) + “buy” (kaufen). The hoarding hamster above is totally stuffing his cheeks despite the overabundance of dandelion leaves.

I haven’t been to the grocery store for a few days so I asked my friends what hamsterkauf looks like in Pittsburgh.

On Thursday 12 March at 5:30p John English reported, “Stopped at the Greenfield Giant Eagle for food. Toilet paper shelves are wiped clean. Paper towels were also flying off the shelves. Bottled water was limited to 4 cases per person. (I guess people never heard of water filters.)”

On Thursday 12 March at 7pm, Terry Wiezorek photographed the frozen food section at the North Hills Trader Joe’s.

“People be crazy”, 12 March 2020, 7p (photo by Terry Wiezorek)

On Friday 13 March at 2:30p, Sue Bodziach saw this in the Cranberry Walmart toilet paper aisle.

(photo by Sue Wargo Bodziach)

And on Friday 13 March at 4p, Shannon Platt found little to buy in the toilet paper aisle at Target on McKnight Road.

(photo by Shannon Platt)

Hoarding. Hoarding. Hamsterkauf.

Hamster with stuffed cheeks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s calm down.

Read more in these two articles: When will hamsterkauf become an English word? and Hamsterkauf: Germans and Austrians are panic buying due to coronavirus.

(photos of hamsters from Wikimedia Commons, store photos by Terry Wiezorek, Sue Bodziach and Shannon Platt)

Which Stork Brings Babies?

For a week the blog has been All Peregrines All The Time. It’s time now for something completely different.

When I wrote about the Marabou stork (below) in A Face That’s Hard To Love, Nan asked, “Why would something so ugly be associated with delivering babies?”

Marabou stork closeup (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Well, the ugly Marabou stork is not the baby-delivery bird.

There are 20 members in the stork family, only one of which is famous in the baby fable. Can you guess which one it is from this list of five? Leave a comment with your answer.

1. Wood stork (Mycteria americana) is found year round in South America, Central America and Florida.

Wood stork (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. African openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus) is native to Sub-Saharan Africa.

African openbill (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) from Africa is closely related to the black-necked stork of Asia and Australia.

Saddle-billed stork in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4. White stork (Ciconia ciconia) is found in Europe, Africa and Asia.

White storks at their nest (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5. Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) is native to Central and South America. Sometimes it visits Texas. (Yoga fans, notice that this stork is doing the Tree Pose.)

Jabiru (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Can you guess which stork “brings babies”? If you’re stumped or you’d like to know more, find the answer in this vintage article:

What’s Beyond Flamingos?

American flamingos and horned grebes (photos from Wikimedia Commons and Steve Gosser)

A couple of weeks ago we learned the amazing fact that grebes are the flamingo’s closest relatives. The next related bird, beyond flamingos, is amazing too. The sandgrouse (Pteroclidae) looks like a pigeon!

Chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, female and male (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Sandgrouse (Pteroclidae) are seed-eating birds native to Africa and Asia that are famous for carrying water in their specialized belly feathers. The male sandgrouse flies as much as 18 miles from his nest to a watering hole where he soaks his belly in water.  He then flies back to the nest where his young squeeze his belly feathers to get a drink.

The sandgrouse is nothing like a flamingo or grebe but he’s descended from the same extinct ancestor that spawned flamingos, grebes, sandgrouse, mesites and doves. The pink circle around the number 95 in the phylogenomic supertree shows where the birds diversified. (“95” is that ancestor.)

Phylogenomic supertree of birds from oldest to newest (image by Rebecca T Kimball et al, MDPI, July 2019)

Who’s related to the sandgrouse? An extinct ancestor at “85” in the supertree spawned sandgrouse, mesites and doves (Columbidae).

This is the sandgrouse’s city kin. He’s also related to flamingos. 🙂

Feral rock pigeon (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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