Apr 18 2014

Let Them Eat Eggs

This week’s weather was like a yo-yo — summer last weekend, winter mid-week, spring today.  The cold was annoying to us but potentially fatal to purple martins who migrated from Brazil and arrived in western Pennsylvania 2-3 weeks ago.

Purple martins feed exclusively on flying insects but when temperatures stay below 50F or it’s extremely windy, constantly raining, or dense fog, insects don’t fly.  After more than two days of this, purple martins weaken and starve.

Members of the Purple Martin Conservation Association remember the awful purple martin die-off when Hurricane Agnes lingered over western Pennsylvania in August 1972.  It took more than 30 years for purple martins to come back to our area.

In the past purple martin landlords felt helpless as they watched their colonies weaken and die. In the 1990′s Ed Donath trained his martins to eat non-traditional food but that required training time during good weather.  Then during a cold spell in April 2000 Ken Kostka and Andy Troyer figured out an emergency feeding strategy:  toss live crickets in the air.  At first the purple martins idly watched the airborne objects. Then they recognized the crickets as insects and made the connection “flying+insects”=food.  The martins feasted and the colony was saved.

The home video above by Larry Melcher shows how it’s done.  After the martins have learned to recognize the crickets as food, the bugs can be placed on a high tray on the colony and the martins will eat them even though they’re not flying.

Landlords have experimented with other foods.  Years ago Bird Man Mel in Missouri tossed live mealworms so his colony now recognizes mealworms as food and will eat them from the front porch trays (click here for his video).

On Wednesday birders Dick Nugent and Debbie Kalbfleisch visited a purple martin colony in Butler County where the landlord was feeding his colony scrambled eggs!  Here’s a video with the scrambled egg recipe.

Purple martin landlords love their birds.  They start feeding crickets, then let them eat eggs.

(videos from YouTube)

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Apr 17 2014

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

Published by under Books & Events

Grandma Gatewood's Walk (book cover image from Chicago Review Press)
This book is so good I could not put it down.

It’s the story of a woman, alone, in 1955, at age 67, who walked the entire Appalachian Trail.  She was the first woman to do so alone and only the seventh person to thru-hike the 2,050 miles from Mt. Oglethorpe*, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine.  She went on to become the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) two and then three times.

Grandma Gatewood did not have hiking boots, a backpack or a tent.  She carried a blanket and a shower curtain in a drawstring bag and wore sneakers because her bunions were so bad.  But she loved being outdoors and possessed grit, determination, and a “Don’t Stop” attitude that she passed on to her eleven children.**

When asked why she hiked so far she often said, “Because I thought it would be a lark” and “I like the peacefulness in the woods” and “After the hard life I’ve lived this trail isn’t so bad.”  Author Ben Montgomery reveals for the first time how hard Emma Gatewood’s life really was: married 34 years to an abusive husband, sometimes broke because of his debts, granted a divorce in 1941 because of his abuse.  Yes, the woods are peaceful and the trail isn’t so bad.

Grandma Gatewood’s walk made the Appalachian Trail famous and probably saved it from extinction by disrepair and development.  By now millions have hiked parts of it (myself included) and more than 14,000 have thru-hiked its 2,000+ miles.  Most thru-hikers have heard of Grandma Gatewood and when times get tough they say to themselves, “If she could do it, I can too.”

Emma Rowena Gatewood showed us that what you do with your life matters.  And it’s never too late to start!

 

(book cover of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.  Click on the photo to read more and buy the book at Chicago Review Press or buy it here at Amazon.)

*The Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus was moved to Springer Mountain, Georgia in 1958.

**Many of us in Pittsburgh were inspired by one of Grandma Gatewood’s children, Esther Gatewood Allen, who passed away in June 2011 before this book was written.

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Apr 16 2014

Is It My Turn?

Published by under Peregrines

Louie asks, "Is it my turn?" (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh)

This week at the Gulf Tower, peregrine parents Dori and Louie are in the home stretch of The Big Sit with their five eggs due to hatch between April 19 and 21.  Meanwhile they trade off incubation duty, though not always willingly.

April 7 was a typical “Day In the Life of Incubating Peregrines.”  Click on the photo (or here) to watch the slideshow.

In the half-light of 7:00am Dori awakes to a call from Louie.  He incubates until she returns at 10:00, but when he wants to take over at 1:20pm and again at 2:10pm, she says No.  After the second denial she watches him circle above.  Was he annoyed?  It’s not until 3:20pm that she finally relinquishes her place.

“Is it my turn?” asks Louie.  As the chicks get close to hatching Dori will be saying “No” more often.

The Gulfcam is zoomed in close so you can watch for pips in the eggs.  See them here.

 

(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

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Apr 15 2014

It Was Fun While It Lasted

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Bloodroot blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

During the past three days we had a burst of blooms in Pittsburgh.  Between Saturday morning’s foggy low and Sunday’s high of 82F the landscape transformed from incipient buds to gorgeous flowers.  (Today will be different, but more on that later.)

On Saturday I found bloodroot at its peak at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County (above) as well as spring beauties…
Spring beauties (photo by Kate St. John)

trout lilies…
Trout Lily at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

and hepatica.
Hepatica blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

This morning the temperature is dropping fast.  It was 65oF at 5:00am and has already fallen to 47oF as I write.

Tomorrow’s prediction: 21oF at dawn. This will surely ruin the flowers.

It was fun while it lasted.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 14 2014

Dorothy’s Daughters

Published by under Peregrines

Beauty, Rochester NY, April 2014 (photo from RFalconcam)

A horrific peregrine falcon fight in Ohio last Friday reminded me that life isn’t always rosy for Dorothy’s daughters.

In the thirteen years she’s nested at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, Dorothy has fledged 42 young.  Eleven chose nest sites where observers were able to identify them. Six of those are Dorothy’s daughters.  Here are their stories.

Beauty, pictured above, hatched in 2007 and flew north to Rochester, New York.  There she nests on the Times Square Building with DotCa.  For two years her life was like Peyton Place with a territorial fight and DotCa’s philandering.  This spring is considerably calmer and she’s already laid three eggs.  Follow her news and live video at RFalconcam.

 

Belle, hatched in 2003, flew west to the bell tower at the University of Toledo, Ohio.  Now 11 years old she was in a life-threatening territorial fight on Friday that scattered her four eggs and left her with injuries around her eyes.  Belle returned to incubate but as you can see below, she’s not in good condition.  Her mate, Allen, collected their four eggs and is incubating more often and providing more food.  We hope the intruder is gone and Belle recovers soon.  See photos of the fight and follow news of Belle and Allen at the Toledo Peregrine Project Facebook page.
Belle with injuries from fight, Univ of Toledo bell tower, 11 April 2014 (photo from Univ.Toledo falconcam)

 

Belle’s same-year sibling, Hathor also flew west where she nests at the Macomb County Building in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Barb Baldinger checked the nest last week and counted four eggs. Here’s Barb’s photo of Hathor and her mate Nick in March. Their nest is not on camera but you can follow their news on the Peregrine Falcons Southeast Michigan Facebook page.
Hathor at Macomb County Courthouse (photo by Barb Baldinger)

 

Maddy, Class of 2004, nests at the I-480 Bridge at Valley View near Cleveland, Ohio. It’s a tough site to monitor but Chad+Chris Saladin observe at the bridge when they get a chance. Here’s one of their photos of Maddy at home in 2011.
Maddy flies past her home, the I-480 bridge near Cleveland (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

 

Yellow, Class of 2009, has nested at the Killen Power Station in Wrightsville, Ohio since 2011 but has not been confirmed yet this year (and there are no photos of her).

 

And finally Blue, Class of 2011, tried to nest at the Green Tree water tower in 2013. The nesting attempt was discovered during a construction project and, though the project was delayed, the nest failed. Identified by Shannon Thompson who took her photo above, Blue and her mate are gone this year, replaced by a completely new pair.  Perhaps we’ll hear of her somewhere else some day.
Female peregrine at Green Tree water tower (photo by Shannon Thompson)

 

Six daughters, six different lives.

 

(photo credits:
Beauty in Rochester, New York, photo from RFalconcam
Belle, injured in Toledo, Ohio, photo from Univ of Toledo falconcam via Toledo Peregrine Project
Hathor and Nick at Mt. Clemens, Michigan, photo by Barb Baldinger
Maddy, I-480 Bridge, photo by Chad+Chris Saladin
Blue, Green Tree water tower, photo by Shannon Thompson
)

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Apr 13 2014

Flowering Trees

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Red maple flowers, 10 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is getting a boost on this warm and sunny weekend but we still don’t have blooming cherry trees, dogwoods or hawthorns.  If you look closely, though, you’ll see one native tree has small red flowers.

Shown above are the male flowers on a red maple.  The sepals and petals are only half as long as the stamens that stick out to catch the wind or tap the backs of bees. The flowers are a favorite with bees but red maples are so versatile they can be pollinated by both insects and wind.

Individual red maple trees can have all male, all female, or both sexes of flowers.  The female flowers have no “fuzz” because they have no stamens (of course).

Look closely to see the tiny flowers.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Apr 12 2014

Holding His Own

Three healthy eaglets at Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest, 11 April 2014 (phot ofrom the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam)

If you’ve been worried about the survival of Eaglet#3 at the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest, you can ease your fears a bit.  Today the eaglets are 15, 13 and 10 days old.

On April 3 I described how competition among bald eagle siblings can cause the smallest eaglet to starve if food is scarce.   The good news is that the older they get, the better their chances for survival.

So far so good.  Eaglet #3 is active and growing and he’s getting fed.  Food is abundant. He’s holding his own.

The food supply is one more indication that Pittsburgh is a great place to raise a family.  But we knew that.  :)

 

(snapshot from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam.  Click on the image to watch the live stream)

Update:  Hmmmm. At 9:25am the three eaglets were very hungry and there was nothing to eat yet.  Eaglet#1 took a whack at Eaglet#3 who crouched with his face down to avoid attention.   Hmmmm. We shall see…

Eaglet#3 crouches to avoid another hit from Eaglet#1 (snapshot from the Pittsburgh Hays eaglecam)

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Apr 11 2014

Ruddy Bubbles

Ruddy ducks are migrating through Pennsylvania right now but we’re not going to see the most interesting part of their lives because they reserve it for their breeding grounds in the prairie potholes of North America.

Unlike most ducks, ruddies don’t court while they’re away from home nor do they molt into breeding plumage before they begin migration.  Instead they save their efforts for the big splash on the breeding grounds.  At that point the males will be a deep ruddy color and their bills will be sky blue.  They show off this beauty in an exaggerated bubble display.

Cornell’s Birds of North America describes the display like this (paraphrased):  “The male holds his head, tail and two rows of head feathers (“horns”) erect.  His inflates his neck and begins beating his bill slowly at first against his neck, forcing air out of the feathers.  This causes bubbles to appear in the water.  His beating intensifies toward the end of the display with a concomitant movement of his tail over his back and his head slightly forward over the water.  And then he utters a low belching sound.”

Who knew that male ruddy ducks bubble and burp?  I’m going to have to go West to see it.

(video from YouTube)

http://slatermuseum.blogspot.com/2010/11/ruddy-ducks-are-odd-ducks.html

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Apr 10 2014

Reminder! BirdSafe This Sunday at Noon

Published by under Books & Events

Song sparrow dead, Golden-crowed kinglet stunned by collisions (photos by Kate St. John and Shawn Collins)Become a BirdSafe Pittsburgh volunteer this Sunday. Meet at the National Aviary, 100 Arch Street, on Sunday April 13, noon-to-2:00pm to learn what to do.

Questions?  Email Matt Webb at birdsafepgh@gmail.com

Click here for more information.

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Apr 10 2014

Speaking Of Red-Rimmed Eyes…

Published by under Water and Shore

Horned grebe (photo by Shawn Collins)

I mentioned last month that ring-billed gulls in breeding plumage have red rimmed eyesHorned grebes go a step further.  Their eyes are not only red-rimmed but the eyes themselves are red with a red line from eye to bill. They look like they’ve been on a binge.

Shawn Collins photographed this horned grebe in March when it was partway into breeding plumage.

When they’re finished molting they’re even more colorful but it’s harder to see their eyes.

Three horned grebes in breeding plumage (photo by Shawn Collins)

Last Sunday there were lots of horned grebes at Moraine State Park and they continue this week on regional lakes and rivers, migrating to their breeding grounds in Canada.

Look at their heads.  Yes, they have “horns.”

 

(photos by Shawn Collins)

p.s. Horned grebes (Podiceps auritus) also breed in Europe and Asia where their English name is “Slavonian grebe.”

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