Apr 26 2015

Let’s Get Outdoors in May

Published by under Books & Events

Wissahickon/Botanical Society outing to Linn Runn State Park, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Botanical outing in Linn Run State Park, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s hard to believe May starts this week and with it a whole new schedule of outings.

Here’s a list from four of the many bird and nature clubs in western Pennsylvania: 16 opportunities in May, four on May 9 alone.

Everyone is welcome to participate. Click on the links for directions, meeting places, what to bring, and phone numbers for the leaders.

Date/Time Focus Location Leader & Link to more info
Sat. May 2, 10:00am Flowers Wolf Creek Narrows, Butler County Dianne Machesney, Wissahickon/BotSocWPA
Sun. May 3, 8:00am Birds Frick Park, Pittsburgh Jack & Sue Solomon, 3RBC
Sun. May 3, 7:30am Birds Buffalo Creek, Washington County Larry Helgerman, 3RBC
Thurs. May 7, 7:30am Birds Sewickley Heights Park, Allegheny County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Thurs. May 7, 10:00am Flowers Butler-Freeport Trail, Monroe Rd, Butler County Dianne Machesney, Wissahickon/BotSocWPA
3 Days: May 8, 9, 10 Birds Presque Isle Bird Festival, Erie County Presque Isle Audubon
Sat. May 9, 7:00am Birds Hotspots in Forest County David Yeaney, 3RBC
Sat. May 9, 8:30am Birds Harrison Hills Park, Allegheny County Steve Gosser and Mary Ann Thomas, 3RBC
Sat. May 9, 1:00pm Flowers Roaring Run, Armstrong County Loree Speedy, Wissahickon/BotSocWPA
Sun. May 10 (check website for time) Flowers Keystone State Park, Westmoreland County Mary Ann Pike, BotSocWPA
Sat. May 16, 9:00am Birds Bell Farm, Greene County Ralph K. Bell Bird Club, 3RBC
Sun. May 17, 8:00am Birds Harrison Hills Park, Allegheny County Jim Valimont, 3RBC
Fri. May 22, 7:30am Birds Sewickley Heights Park, Allegheny County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Fri. May 22, 10:00am Trees, Flowers Hartwood Acres, Allegheny County Marlow Madeoy, Wissahickon
Sat. May 23, 8:00am Birds Presque Isle State Park, Erie County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Sun. May 31, 8:30am Everything Schenley Park, Pittsburgh Kate St. John, Outside My Window

 

Don’t miss May’s excitement.  Let’s get outdoors!

 

(photo by Kate St. John from the Linn Run State Park outing on 19 April 2015)

p.s. Please excuse typos in the table.  Make sure to consult the website links for up-to-date information.  Call/email the leaders to make sure.

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Apr 25 2015

Look But Don’t Touch

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Oil beetle of some sort, 19 April 2015, Linn Run State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

This indigo-colored beetle looks beautiful but I was careful not to touch him last Sunday at Linn Run State Park.  It’s a good thing I didn’t … and here’s why.

At an inch and a half long this beetle was hard to miss. Thirteen of us watched him walk on the leaves.  Loree Speedy suggested he was a Blister Beetle.

Wissahickon‘s bug expert, Monica Miller, confirmed he’s one of the many species of Oil Beetles (Melos) in the Blister Beetle family (Meloidae).  His true identity requires a coleopterist’s help but her guess is Meloe impressus.  (I like the idea that “This Meloe impressed us.”)

Blister Beetles earned their name because they excrete a poisonous chemical from their leg joints, cantharidin, that causes blisters on our skin.

Yes, he’s an amazing color, has short wing covers, knobby antennae.

Blister beetle, Grove Run Trail, Linn Run State Park, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Just look. Don’t touch.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 24 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine dozing high on the Westinghouse Bridge, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrine dozing high on the Westinghouse Bridge, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Identifying this peregrine falcon at the Westinghouse Bridge is a lot harder than we thought.

Thanks to Dana Nesiti’s many fine photographs, we were fairly sure in mid-April that the Black/Green bands were 66/C.  If so, it meant Surprise! the female “Storm” from Canton, Ohio had re-won her old nest site.

But we weren’t sure.

On April 18 John English, Dana Nesiti, and Maury Burgwin made another visit to the Westinghouse Bridge armed with cameras.  Using Dana’s new photos of the bands we were ready to declare this bird is 68/C, a female named Blaze hatched at the Bohn Building in Cleveland in 2005.  However, Anne Marie Bosnyak’s online investigation found that Blaze died in a territorial battle in Michigan in 2008.  This bird cannot be Blaze.  The bands aren’t 68/C. (See the comments on who she was probably fighting!)

So who is this bird?

We know that the 50-60/C series is a large band normally used on female peregrines so this bird is female … right?

Maybe not.  PGC’s peregrine coordinator, Art McMorris, suggests the bands could be 58/C, a male named Mike hatched at the Mendota Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2004.  Sometimes a male receives the large-size band on banding day.

The peregrines’ behavior at the Westinghouse Bridge says that incubation started on Easter Sunday April 5 so it makes sense that the male would be standing guard now (or sleeping) while the female incubates.  The female could still be Hecla (Black/Red 68/H).

The plot thickens.  We need more evidence.

As John English said on Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page, it’s “Curiouser and curiouser … Westinghouse Bridge continues to confound and really needs more than just three observers.”

 

(photo by Dana Nesiti)

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Apr 23 2015

Doing the Bumblebee Dance

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Bumblebee on white clover in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bumblebee on white clover in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Throw Back Thursday (TBT), click here to read about doing the bumblebee dance in this article from 2008.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Apr 22 2015

Reminder: April 26 Outing in Schenley Park

Published by under Books & Events

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday April 26, 8:30am in Schenley Park. Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

Dress for the weather (cold). Bring binoculars if you have them.

Click here for more information and for updates if the walk is canceled for bad weather.

We will certainly see purple deadnettle.

 

(photo of purple deadnettle by Kate St. John)

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Apr 22 2015

A Symbiotic Relationship

Boxelder blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

Boxelder blooming, 17 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Warbler migration is ramping up and we’re already craning our necks to see them.  Up to now it’s been easy to find birds in the leafless trees but that’s about to change.

In Schenley Park the box elders burst into flower and leaf last week (above), the Norway maples opened last weekend, and the oaks and hickories are blooming now.

Here’s a red oak twig on April 19 just before the buds burst.  Who knew they could grow so long!

Red oak buds about to burst, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Red oak bud about to burst, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Inevitably the warblers gravitate to the leafy trees where they’re hard to find, prompting the common complaint, “The leaves are hiding the birds.  I wish the leaves weren’t there!”

But if the leaves weren’t there, the birds wouldn’t be either.

Insects time their egg-hatch and larval growth to take advantage of leaf out.  These tentworms appeared in Schenley Park when the choke cherries opened their leaves.

Tentworms on a choke cherry branch, 18 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tentworms on a choke cherry tree, 18 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Leaf out brings insects.  Insects bring warblers.  It’s a symbiotic relationship between birds and trees.

Blackpoll warbler gleaning insects from a boxelder (photo by Chuck Tague)

Blackpoll warbler in a boxelder, eating a caterpillar (photo by Chuck Tague)

The trees are probably happier than we are to see the warblers arrive.

 

(tree photos by Kate St. John.  Blackpoll warbler by Chuck Tague)

 

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Apr 21 2015

Forewarned Is Forearmed

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Clothes and dryer: The clothes dryer kills ticks (photo by Kate St. John)

After-hike defense: Dry your clothes before washing them. (photo by Kate St. John)

Yes, it’s time to get outdoors but remember there are dangers out there.

Not bears and mountain lions.  I’m talking about deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis).  They transmit Lyme disease and it can ruin your life for a very long time.

Tick season never ends but it’s really dangerous in the spring and early summer.  Most Lyme disease is transmitted in May through July when the deer ticks’ tiny poppy-seed-sized nymphs are active and we’re active too.  We don’t notice the nymph, or we forget — or don’t know — the basics of protection against Lyme disease.

Here are the basics with great help from the TickEncounter website at the University of Rhode Island.

  1. Know the enemy.  Click here for details.
    Chart of black-legged tick life stages (image from Wikimedia Commons)
  2. Avoid the enemy. Click here for more.
    1. Wear light-colored long pants, long sleeves and a collar.
    2. Tuck your shirt in.
    3. Walk in the center of the trail. Before you walk off trail, tuck your pants into your socks and keep them that way.  Did you know ticks lurk in leaf litter, too?
    4. Pre-treat your clothing and shoes with permethrin (TickEncounter says this substitutes for (a) and (c) and works better than DEET!)
    5. Protect your yard and your pets with tips found here.
  3. Do a daily tick check.  Yes, daily!  You might have missed one yesterday.  Here’s how to check.
  4. When you take off your hiking clothes, immediately dry them for 10 minutes in a hot dryer.  Really.  This kills ticks.
  5. If you find a tick remove it correctly (here’s how) and save it for testing.  Send it here and they’ll tell you if it carries Lyme disease.

I thought I knew about deer ticks but I learned valuable new information at the TickEncounter Resource Center.  Visit their website here.

Forewarned is forearmed.

 

(photo of clothes and dryer by Kate St. John.  tick chart from the Center for Disease Control via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the chart to see the original)

Even with permethrin, don’t bushwhack through Bush honeysuckle or Japanese barberry.

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Apr 20 2015

Looking For An Old Man’s Beard

Northern Parula (photo by Steve Gosser)

Northern Parula (photo by Steve Gosser)

Northern parula warblers (Setophaga americana) will be migrating through western Pennsylvania in the next few weeks.  They’re on their way to northern breeding grounds, but plenty of them nest south of Pennsylvania.  Why don’t they nest here, too?

My guess is that they used to.

Northern parulas are very versatile about climate.  Their range map shows they breed from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada but there’s a gap in the Rust Belt states, New Jersey, and New England that divides their northern and southern populations.

Breeding parulas are hard to find in western Pennsylvania because they’re picky about nesting material.  They look for a site near water with Old Man’s Beard (Usnea lichen) or Spanish moss where they hollow out a cup in the hanging mass and line it with soft fibers. (On rare occasions they choose other hanging material such as flood debris in trees.)

Shown below at left is old man’s beard lichen (Usnea species), at right is Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).  Both are epiphytes that grow on other plants but they aren’t parasitic. They get their nutrition from the air.

Old Man's Beard lichen and Spanish moss (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Old Man’s Beard lichen and Spanish moss (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Spanish moss is a southern plant whose northern limit is in coastal Virginia. Usnea grows in North American and European forests where the air is clean. But Old Man’s Beard has been missing from western Pennsylvania for more than a century, killed by our air pollution.  Though Pittsburgh’s air isn’t as bad as it used to be, it’s still too polluted for a plant that lives on air.  Without Old Man’s Beard, the northern parula passes us by.

So, yes, northern parulas probably used to nest here … and they might come back.  Pennsylvania’s forests have regrown since deforestation a century ago, and the air in the mountains is clean enough for lichens.  Breeding northern parulas have increased in the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains and on the high plateau.

When our air is clean enough for Old Man’s Beard we’ll have northern parulas, too.

 

(photo of northern parula by Steve Gosser. Photos of Old Man’s Beard lichen and Spanish moss from Wikimedia Commons. Click on these links to see the original Wikimedia photos)

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Apr 19 2015

Now Blooming

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Sessile trillium, Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Toadshade (Trillium sessile), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

As I mentioned yesterday, spring wildflowers are now blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Here’s a sample of what Dianne Machesney, Donna Foyle, and I found in our outdoor travels last week.  Check the captions for the flower names, locations and dates.

  • Toadshade or Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) is found in rich woods.  The dark red flower holds the petals shut.  In my photo there are two Virginia spring beauties that hadn’t opened on that cloudy day.
  • Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is also found in rich woods.  The flowers are small with faint pink details.  They don’t open until the sun comes out.
  • Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is an invasive import that does well in rich damp woods.  I’ve seen it in Schenley and Boyce-Mayview Parks. Dianne saw it at Enlow Fork.
  • Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) is another import, a non-invasive garden plant that’s escaped to the wild.  I’ve seen it planted in Schenley Park.  Dianne photographed it at Enlow Fork.
  • Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is an import that doesn’t care where it grows.  You’ll find it everywhere once you start to look.  Up close its flowers are intricate.  From a distance the leaves have a purplish cast.
  • Horsetail (Equisetum) is a “living fossil” plant, the last species of a class of plants that dominated the dinosaurs’ forest.  Some were as big as trees. Today they are coal.  Visit the dinosaur exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to see what they looked like.

 

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Horsetail (Equisetum), Youghiogheny Rail Trail near Buena Vista, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Horsetail flower spikes (Equisetum), Youghiogheny Rail Trail, Buena Vista, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Donna Foyle)

 

(photos by Kate St. John, Dianne Machesney, and Donna Foyle)

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Apr 18 2015

Let’s Get Outdoors!

Published by under Books & Events

Bloodroot in bloom, Wingfield Pines, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Wingfield Pines, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015, photo by Kate St. John

It’s Spring and there’s a lot to see.  Every day new songbirds arrive and new wildflowers bloom.  There are plenty of opportunities to join others and see the sights in western Pennsylvania (see the outings table below).  Here’s what I found last Wednesday …

At the Allegheny Land Trust’s Wingfield Pines I didn’t expect to see wildflowers because the site has been plowed so many times, but on the hillside I found a patch of bloodroot in full bloom!  Above, a closeup of the flowers.  Below, just a section of the huge patch.  Notice how the leaves curl around the stems.  The sunshine encouraged the flowers to open but made them hard to see and photograph on the forest floor.

Bloodroot in bloom, Wingfield Pines, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring wildflowers are ephemeral so don’t wait or you’ll miss them entirely. Several of the bloodroot flowers had already lost their petals and gone to seed.
Bloodroot lost its petals, Wingfield Pines, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Here’s a list of April 19-30 outings for three of the many bird and nature clubs in western Pennsylvania: Wissahickon Nature Club (Wissahickon), Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania (BotSocWPa), and Three Rivers Birding Club (3RBC) … and my own outing on April 26.

Everyone is welcome to join these outings.  Click on the links for directions, meeting places, what to bring, and phone numbers for the leaders.

Date/Time Focus Location Leader & Link to more info
Sunday, April 19, 1:00pm & 2:00pm Birds Frick Park, Pittsburgh Jack & Sue Solomon, 3RBC
Sunday, April 19, 1:00pm Wildflowers Linn Run State Park, Rector, Westmoreland County Loree Speedy, Wissahickon / BotSocWPA
Saturday, April 25, 9:00am Birds Woodcock Lake & Pymatuning, Crawford County Shawn Collins, 3RBC
Saturday, April 25, 9:00am or 10am?(*) Flowers Indian Creek Wildflower Walk, Fayette County Lisa Smith, Wissahickon/BotSocWPA NOTE(*): Wissa & BotSoc sites disagree on start time.
Saturday, April 25, 9:30am Everything! Raccoon Creek State Park, Beaver County Ryan Tomazin, Brooks Bird Club & 3RBC
Sunday, April 26, 8:00am, 10am, All Day Everything! Enlow Fork Extravaganza at the Enlow Fork of Wheeling Creek, border of Washington & Greene Counties Wheeling Creek Watershed Conservancy, Wissa/BotSoc/3RBC
Sunday, April 26, 8:30am Everything! Schenley Park, Pittsburgh Kate St. John, Outside My Window
Wednesday, April 29, 8:00am Birds Knob Hill Community Park, Wexford, Allegheny County Karyn Delaney, 3RBC
Thursday April 30, 10:00am Everything! Raccoon Creek State Park Wildflower Reserve, Beaver County Dianne and Bob Machesney, Wissahickon / BotSocWPA

 

Let’s get outdoors!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Please excuse typos in the table.  Make sure to consult the website links for up-to-date information!  Call/email the leaders to make sure.

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