Six of us gathered at Schenley Park yesterday morning in perfect weather for a bird and nature walk. (The sixth is taking the picture.)
First on the agenda was a look through my scope at the Pitt peregrines. Though we were half a mile from the Cathedral of Learning we could see one adult babysitting and two fluffy heads looking out the front of the nestbox. This is where the chicks were standing as we watched.
Inside the park, a pair of red-tailed hawks is raising three chicks about the same age as the peregrines. We paused on our walk to watch them eat. Best views are from here.
Scroll through Charity Kheshgi’s Instagram photos to see our Best Birds including the blackpoll warbler pictured above.
Trees with stacks of white flowers are drawing our attention this week in Pittsburgh. Perhaps you’re wondering “What tree is this? “
Horsechestnuts (Aesculushippocastanum) originated in Greece but have been planted around the world for their beautiful flowers. When fertilized the flowers become the familiar shiny buckeyes I played with as a child.
In Pittsburgh we call the tree a “buckeye” though it is just one of many buckeyes (Aesculus) in our area including natives of North America: yellow, Ohio, and bottlebrush.
A close look at horsechestnut flowers reveals that some have yellow centers, others red.
Bees see and are attracted to yellow, not red, so when a horsechestnut flower is fertilized it turns red. The flowers are …
Are there red flowers on the tree? Come back in early fall to collect the buckeyes.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
My post on the rare bird alert drew in other birders and photographers, including Charity Kheshgi whose photos are shown here. Rare birds usually visit for only 24 hours so everyone had to act fast.
Why is this bird rare?
The Golden-winged Warbler is a sharply declining songbird that lives in shrubby, young forest habitats in the Great Lakes and Appalachian Mountains regions. They have one of the smallest populations of any songbird not on the Endangered Species List and are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. An estimated 400,000 breeding adults remain—a drop of 66% since the 1960s. In the Appalachian Mountains the situation is even worse: the regional population has fallen by 98%. We’ve learned that the main reasons for the decline include habitat loss on the breeding and wintering grounds (Central and northern South America) and hybridization with the closely related Blue-winged Warbler.
Because of their precipitous decline, golden-winged warblers have been well studied for at least a decade. Seven years ago, scientists tracking this tiny bird in Tennessee discovered that it sensed the approach of violent storms and fled the tornadoes one day ahead. Read the amazing story of how golden-winged warblers flew 400 miles to the Gulf of Mexico to avoid the storms … and then came back.
Thirteen of us came out for a walk in Schenley Park on Sunday morning and were thrilled to hear a wood thrush singing near the Visitors Center. The bird was hard to spot in the treetops but CJ Showers got a photo of him from below.
Two First of Year species had just returned: yellow warbler and gray catbird. Male red-winged blackbirds claimed territory and chased females at Panther Hollow Lake, while two spotted sandpipers sidestepped bullfrogs among the reeds.
The red-tailed hawk family on the bridge appears to have babies in the nest, though we could not see them.
And a surprise awaited us around the bend.
Sara Showers saw the profile of this fledgling eastern screech owl perched at eye level on a hackberry branch. Though he wasn’t hidden he was doing his best to look like part of the tree until we gawked at him. That made him raise his ear tufts and look at us through slit eyes.
Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA, Apr 24, 2022 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM. 30 species Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 4 Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 2 Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) 2 Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) 1 — Flyover Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2 Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) 1 — fledgling! Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 1 Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1 Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) 1 Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 4 Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) 1 Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 7 American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 3 Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Corthylio calendula) 10 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) 1 Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 2 Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 1 First of year Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) 2 American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 20 House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 4 American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 2 Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 9 Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 8 Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) 3 Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 2 Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) 1 First of year Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) 8 Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 6
If you attended the outing and would like me to share the list to you, please leave a comment to tell me so.
(photos by Charity Kheshgi and CJ Showers)
UPDATE 25 APRIL 2022: On Monday morning I took the same walk as on Sunday and found that bird activity was more subdued. Many of the birds we saw on Sunday must have left on Sunday night’s strong south wind, including all but one of the ruby-crowned kinglets. However, I found an eastern screech-owl nest near where we saw the fledgling on Sunday. His sibling was looking out of the hole! (It’s a lousy cellphone photo but you get the idea.)
Trees and wildflowers are blooming. New birds come to Pittsburgh on every south wind. I expect gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) will back in time for this outing. Will we hear one? Will we see him before he hides? I hope so.
Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars.
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.
Hope to see you there.
p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11a.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click the caption to see the original)
This week the elms, maples, ornamental cherries and northern magnolias began to bloom in Pittsburgh. Their flowers have not yet reached their peak and that’s a good thing. Tomorrow night the low will be 19 degrees F and will devastate the tender petals.
Above, an ornamental cherry shows off its delicate pink-white blossoms in the sun on Thursday 24 March. Below, a northern magnolia flower peeks out of its winter coat in Schenley Park on Tuesday 22 March.