Category Archives: Weather & Sky

Woodcocks and Peepers

  • Sunset at North Park's Upper Field, 16 March 2022, 7:32pm

20 March 2022

Last Wednesday evening, 16 March, eight of us waited at dusk near the Viewing Platform in North Park’s Upper Field for the woodcocks’ sky dance to begin.

The sun set at 7:27pm, the sky flamed and dimmed. It was barely glowing twenty minutes later when we heard the first “peent.”

On dry Spring nights male American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) gather in shrubby fields to mate with females who intend to nest there. Within the hour after sunset or in the hour before sunrise, they let the ladies know they’re available by stomping around in the dark calling “peent, peent, peent.” After some peenting each male flings himself into the sky climbing hundreds of feet before circling back down. While ascending his wings make a twittering sound, while descending his wings chirp. You can tell what he’s doing by listening in the dark. He lands where he started and does it again.

American woodcock (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Listen to a complete cycle of peenting + whistling and chirping wings.

American woodcock display, Fauquier County, Virginia from Xeno Canto

On Wednesday the moon was almost full and the woodcocks were very active. We heard at least six of them!

Waxing moon over Upper Field, North Park, 16 March 2022, 8:01p (photo by Kate St. John)

The spring peepers at Eagles Nest parking area were active, too.

Spring peeper calling in the Ozarks (photo by Justin Meissen via Wikimedia Commons)
Spring peeper calling in the Ozarks (photo by Justin Meissen via Wikimedia Commons)
Spring peepers at North Park, 16 March 2022 (recorded by Kate St. John)

Woodcocks will continue their sky dance in April and early May but if you want two audio treats at once, go out in March by the light of the moon.

(sunset and moon photos + sound of spring peepers by Kate St. John. Woodcock and peeper photos from Wikimedia Commons. Woodcock audio from Xeno Canto)

Equinox Tomorrow

Sun’s rays at the Equinox (diagram from Wikimedia Commons)

19 March 2022

Tomorrow, 20 March, the Northern Hemisphere will celebrate a happy milestone when the Spring Equinox occurs at 11:33am EDT. Astronomers can pinpoint the exact date and time because it’s the moment when the center of the visible Sun shines directly above the Equator.

This sundial in Ecuador at GPS 00.000, -78.103 shows the sun’s shadow falling on the equator during the equinox. Mark the shadow at your own home and see the sun return to this position on the Autumnal Equinox on 23 September.

In Pittsburgh we are gaining almost 3 minutes of daylight per day, in this week surrounding the equinox.

Happy Spring!

(diagram and photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Spring Forward

Morela sleeps in the snow, 12 March 2022, 5:12am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

12 March 2022

After yesterday’s sunny Spring weather we are waking up to snow this morning. Fortunately Pittsburgh missed the heavy snow and blizzard conditions to our east.

Last night Morela slept in the open at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest. You can tell that her feathers provide excellent insulation because several inches of snow did not melt right next to her body.

Morela sleeping as it snows, 12 March 2022, 5:09am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

As of 6am we had 2.5 to 4.7 inches in Oakland depending on location. The snow will stop falling by 10am, just in time for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Snow in Oakland: 2.5″ on the roof, 5″ in a sheltered spot on the ground, 12 Mar 2022, 5:55am (photos by Kate St. John)

Despite this snowy setback spring is coming and we will Spring Forward tonight. Don’t forget to set your manual clocks ahead one hour.

I expect to feel groggy for a few days while my body adjusts to Daylight Saving Time. 🙁

(photos by Kate St. John and from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Snow Helps Ticks Survive The Winter

Snow cover in Schenley Park, 4 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

8 March 2022

Pennsylvania has the highest rate of Lyme disease in the U.S. (CDC, 2019) so in early March the approach of tick season is always in the back of my mind. This winter we had some spates of bitter cold and some long runs of snow cover. Did winter suppress the ticks?

Black-legged tick (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the fall black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) burrow under leaf litter and hope for the best. Bitter cold doesn’t kill them if they can hide from it.

This month I learned from Keystone Trails Association that: “All the snow keeping our grounds covered throughout the cold winter months has only helped the tick population. Snow coverage acts as a giant quilt or insulator to keep the ticks warm under the leaf litter.”

Snow helps ticks survive the winter and we had a lot of it this year.

This month the ground is warming and black-legged ticks are getting active. All they need is unfrozen ground and an air temperature of 37°F to start moving out of the leaf litter. This spells danger for hikers, birders and especially for gardeners who handle all that leaf litter.

Before you go outdoors, take time to protect yourself as described in this vintage blog: Today is Spray Your Clothes Day. Did you find a tick on your body? Get it tested for Lyme disease at PA Tick Research Lab (https://www.ticklab.org/)

Spring is coming but so are the ticks. Be prepared.

Snowdrops, 2 March 2022 (Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John and black-legged tick from Wikimedia Commons)

Seen This Week

Sunrise on 3 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

5 March 2022

This week in Pittsburgh the weeping willows turned yellow for spring and male red-winged blackbirds came back to the marshes. At Homewood Cemetery the two combined when a red-winged blackbird called from a large willow. He’s the black dot at 9 or 10 o’clock (on the dial) in my photo.

Yellow willow tree + red-winged blackbird, Homewood Cemetery, 2 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

The red-wings didn’t look so spiffy three weeks ago at Frick Park’s feeders, below. Now they are sharply black and red.

Red-winged blackbirds, 9 Feb (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Over at Schenley Park the moss is greening up on the tufa bridges and purple “weed” leaves are looking hairy.

Tufa bridge has moss and purple basal leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

A closer look reveals the hairs may be tiny rootlets. Last summer I knew the name of this “weed” but I don’t remember it now. (Best guess via Stephen Tirone is hawkweed)

Are these tiny roots growing from the leaves? (photo by Kate St. John)

At Carnegie Mellon’s campus cultivated witch-hazel is blooming in yellow and red. Our native witch-hazel is all yellow and blooms in November. These plants have yellow petals and red centers.

Cultivated witch-hazel blooming, 2 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

They are probably Chinese or Japanese witch-hazel, both of which bloom in February and March.

Cultivated witch-hazel blooming, 2 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

I haven’t see an American woodcock (Scolopax minor) yet but Adrian Fenton reported three at North Park on 3 March. The woodcocks are back in New York City, too. This one danced at Bryant Park. Woo hoo!

Today the temperature will reach 68 degrees F. It’s time to get outdoors!

(photos by Kate St. John & Charity Kheshgi)

Last Of The Ice?

Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park is flooded on 25 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

1 March 2022

Last Thursday 24 February it rained more than an inch overnight in Pittsburgh. By Friday morning Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park had flooded its surrounding trails and the remaining ice floated on muddy water.

Ephemeral streams became cascading waterfalls.

Meanwhile the water rose and fell at Cedar Creek in Westmoreland County where Donna Foyle found cat ice left behind.

On Saturday I thought we were done with ice but a drive on Sunday found gleaming hillsides of ice-coated trees like this one along Route 422, photographed by Karyn Delaney. I had no idea there had been freezing rain north of Pittsburgh.

@john_kucko took a video of the ice on his walk in Stoneboro, PA.

Have we seen the last of the ice? Wait and see.

(photos by Kate St. John, Donna Foyle, Karyn Delaney; videos by Kate St. John and @john_kucko)

Meteoric Memories

Trace of Chelyabinsk meteor, 15 Feb 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

15 February 2022

Nine years ago today a meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia with 26 to 33 times the power of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima even though it was 18.5 miles above the Earth.

The explosion left a hole in the local zinc plant …

Damaged roof of zinc plant in wake of Chelyabinsk meteor, 15 Feb 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

.. and broken windows everywhere. Many people were injured by shattered glass because they had rushed to windows to see it.

Shattered windows in the wake of the Chelyabinsk meteor, 15 Feb 2013 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The meteor’s streak was captured by a dashcam in this Wikimedia movie.

Remember this meteor? Take a look back and learn more in this vintage article. (Don’t miss the Russian joke about it at the end.)

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

Two Views Of The Sky

Blue sky with a skim of clouds, 9 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

12 February 2022

This week’s mostly sunny days brought interesting clouds and sunrises.

On Wednesday 9 February a skim of clouds, above, feathered across deep blue in tiny lines and ripples. Then part of the cloud turned into an Olympic fist raised in victory. Ta dah!

The skim of clouds makes a fist, 9 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Thursday 10 February the sunrise glowed deep red then turned a brilliant yellow just ten minutes later.

Sunrise, 10 Feb 2022, 7:16:05 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sunrise, 10 Feb 2022, 7:26:59 (photo by Kate St. John)

Check out Dave DiCello’s view of this sunrise at https://twitter.com/DaveDiCello/status/1492481129877749761.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Astronomical Fireworks: Giant Black Holes May Collide Soon

Two black holes (black) orbit each other within a supermassive black hole (orange gases) (illustration by Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC) embedded from NASA)

7 February 2022

What happens when two massive black holes collide and merge? A team of astronomers says we’re about to find out, in as soon as 100 days in early/mid May.

In the center of a galaxy 1.2 billion light-years from Earth, astronomers say they have seen signs that two giant black holes, with a combined mass of hundreds of millions of Suns, are gearing up for a cataclysmic merger as soon as 100 days from now. The event, if it happens, would be momentous for astronomy, offering a glimpse of a long-predicted, but never witnessed mechanism for black hole growth. It might also unleash an explosion of light across the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as a surge of gravitational waves and ghostly particles called neutrinos that could reveal intimate details of the collision.

Science Magazine: Crash of the Titans

Black holes are locations in the universe with such extremely strong gravity that nothing — not even light — can escape from them. Anything that comes within a black hole’s “event horizon,” its point of no return, is consumed, never to re-emerge.

Inevitably black holes approach each other, simulated by NASA in 2018.

In 2016 Cornell University simulated what happens when they merge.

Scientists theorized that the merger would generate such powerful gravitational waves that nearby material would radiate light. This light was first seen by astronomers at Caltech’s Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in 2019, illustrated above.

If recent calculations are correct, an even better opportunity is on its way: Two giant black holes are about to crash. It’s the first time we humans know where to look when it happens so astronomers are getting ready to watch.

Hold onto your hats! When giant black holes collide will we hear the crash?

Read more at Science Magazine: Crash of the Titans.

(photo from CalTech/R Hurt (IPAC) embedded from NASA, videos embedded from NASA and Cornell University)

Seen This Week

Snow and ice melting at Frick Park, 1 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

5 February 2022

This week began with temperatures in the single digits so it was amazing that we had a record rainfall on Thursday. Not snow, rain.

By Tuesday afternoon, 1 February, the high temperature was 48 degrees and everything was melting at Frick Park, above.

However, Wednesday’s red sunrise on Groundhog Day presaged the upcoming winter storm. “Red sky at morn, sailors forewarn.”

Sunrise in Pittsburgh on Groundhog Day, 2 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Birds knew bad weather was coming and frantically fueled up. This hungry red-tailed hawk momentarily perched at Carnegie Museum parking lot for a better look at potential prey while the blue jays shouted “Watch out!”

Red-tailed hawk at Carnegie Museum parking lot, 2 Feb 2002 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Thursday the storm moved in. It rained and rained — 1.02 inches — matching the previous record rainfall set in 1939. We were fortunate not to have freezing rain in the city.

By Friday snow covered everything again except this new creek flowing into Westinghouse fountain at Schenley Park.

And in case you missed it …

… the most amazing event happened on Monday 31 January. Click the link for pictures, videos and the reason why the Flying Squirrel Hill Bus is in the air.

(photos by Kate St. John)