Archive for June, 2011

Jun 11 2011

Not in Your Field Guide

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park


This flower stumped me for years.

It’s everywhere along the trails in Schenley and Frick Parks but I could not key it out in my Newcomb’s Guide – and for good reason.  It’s not in the book!

Last weekend I learned that this is goutweed, ground-elder or bishop-weed (Aegopodium podagraria), a Eurasian plant in the carrot family that’s gone wild.  It is so successful that it’s now ranked as invasive in six states.  Pennsylvania is one of them.

I’m embarassed to say it’s in my front garden but I didn’t plant it there.  It spread from my neighbor’s garden next door.

When it arrived I thought it was pretty.  Little did I know that nurseries advise – or ought to advise - that this plant should be kept isolated.

In Schenley Park its leaves are solid green as in this photograph but in my garden the leaves are variegated.  That pretty trait is lost when it goes wild.

And wild it is!  The plant forms dense, deeply-rooted patches whose removal is back-breaking work.

Since I don’t have the time to do that right now I am hoping a miracle will keep it at bay for another month until I begin the task.

I wonder if that would be waiting too long….?

(Thanks to Chuck Tague for this photo and for identifying it for me)

3 responses so far

Jun 10 2011

Other Birds Are Learning Too


Peregrine falcon chicks and baby robins aren’t the only ones learning how to fly right now. 

This year’s “baby” red-tailed hawks are learning too.   They’re the same size as their parents but they’re clumsy fliers and often have trouble landing.

Even when they fly well enough to follow their parents they don’t know how to hunt.  In this they have a lot in common with the young peregrines at Pitt. 

How to get a meal?  Ask mom and dad!   Make sure they know you’re hungry!  Make sure they notice you!

The juveniles of both species spread and wave their wings to attract their parents’ attention.    ”Look at me!  I’m starving!”

And they whine a lot!  Young red-tails and peregrines are both so loud that people often think they’re hurt.  On Tuesday at Pitt the whining of just one peregrine chick on a 32nd floor ledge of the Cathedral of Learning was so loud I could hear it a quarter of a mile away on Craig Street!

Immature red-tails easily attract human attention even when they can hunt on their own.  One summer I saw a young red-tail whining while he was hunting.  He perched on a fence and whined at a mouse in the grass while he waited for the opportunity to pounce on it.  The mouse escaped, of course.

Don’t be surprised if you see and hear young red-tailed hawks in the next month or two.  Neil Gerjouy found this one waving his wings in Point Breeze last summer. 

(photo by Neil Gerjuoy)

2 responses so far

Jun 09 2011

Quick Peregrine News

Published by under Peregrines


Some brief peregrine news from Pitt and Gulf.

The young peregrines at Pitt are now flying well enough to chase their parents when food arrives.  They’re beginning to try aerial food exchanges, the first step toward learning to hunt.  They’re also visiting other buildings.  Today I saw them at Heinz Chapel and Webster Hall.  I’m sure they’ll visit the steeples at St. Paul’s Cathedral soon.  At lunchtime Karen Lang saw five peregrines flying at the same time, likely four juveniles and one adult.

The juveniles at Gulf Tower are branching out too.  Sharon Leadbitter saw two of them eating on the Koppers Building roof.  Folks in the Oliver Building may soon have a young peregrine or two perched on their window sills.

The hot weather makes birds less active.  As you can see from Barb Becker’s Gulf Tower picture, the juvies nap when it’s hot.  Peregrines can cool off faster if their legs are cool so this one is drooping his leg in the shade.  Because he’s young, he doesn’t care how silly he looks.

(photo of a Gulf Tower juvenile peregrine by Barb Becker)

8 responses so far

Jun 09 2011

Red Eyes

Published by under Quiz

Black-crowned Night-heron (photo by Brian Herman)
Black-crowned night-herons are usually active at night but they’re so busy during the breeding season you might find one awake when the light is good.  Then you can see his colors.

Isn’t his red eye awesome! 

Other birds have red eyes too.  The red-eyed vireo is obvious — it’s in his name — but the rest require some research. 

How many red-eyed birds can you name? 

Leave a comment with your answer.

p.s.  Here’s a question for the experts (I don’t know the answer):  Why do they have red eyes?

(photo by Brian Herman)

11 responses so far

Jun 08 2011

I Am Green

Published by under Songbirds


Surrounded by green, the warbling vireo is gray.

He has no bold face pattern, no wing bars, no striking color on his breast but his name, vireo, means “I am green.”  

Vireo comes from the Latin word for green: virens.   The other eastern members of this genus have olive-green backs.

Do you think the warbling vireo is dull?  Not when he sings. 

Unlike the greenish vireos this one has a peppy song with a complex rhythmic structure and continuously changing set of figure patterns.(*)   He sings themes and variations all around his territory, even from the nest.

Birders have tried to describe his song with mnemonics.  The classic descriptions are: “If I sees you, I will seize you, and I’ll squeeze you till you squirt!” or “Iggley, pigelly, wigelly, pig.”

But I think of it as:  “If I see her I will squeeze her, I will squeeze her ’til she squeaks!”

Listen to him here.

His song is so fancy he doesn’t need to be green.

(photo by Kim Steininger)

4 responses so far

Jun 07 2011

Don’t Breathe

Published by under Weather & Sky

As if you have a choice!

Hot, sunny weather today and tomorrow will cook up a nasty brew of ground-level ozone in the Pittsburgh area.  PA DEP has cautioned that both days will be at the orange level:  unhealthy for sensitive groups. 

Ozone (O3) is an unstable gas that’s bad at ground level because it’s toxic but good in the stratosphere because it protects us from ultraviolet light.  It’s formed when UV light acts on oxygen (O2) and other constituents to create the three-atom structure shown above. 

If you have breathing problems, stay indoors. 

Funny how the chemical structure of ozone looks like it’s saying “Oh No!”

(ozone chemical structure from Wikimedia Commons)

p.s. For up-to-date information on U.S. air quality, visit the Air Now website.

p.p.s.  Today’s thunderstorms are keeping the air cleaner than expected.  Whew!

5 responses so far

Jun 07 2011

Where to Look at Gulf Tower

Published by under Peregrines


If you’re wondering where the peregrine family lives at the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh, Sharon Leadbitter sent some helpful photos.

Sharon spent several hours on the top level of the Greyhound Bus station on Sunday afternoon waiting for some action from the Gulf Tower peregrines.  It was hot, the sun was in her face, and peregrines were not particularly active. 

It was about as exciting as waiting for water to boil, but it was a good opportunity to show the birds’ location. 

Her first photo shows the general area to watch.

Her second is a close-up showing two birds, the falconcam on the right and the nestbox on the left.  Who knew that a bird can stand between the box and the edge!

During the day the juveniles leave the camera view but as recently as yesterday evening four of the five came home for dinner. 

Apparently the “water boils” at dusk. 

(building photos by Sharon Leadbitter, peregrine family photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

9 responses so far

Jun 06 2011

Gulf Peregrines Flying Too

Published by under Peregrines

The Gulf Tower chicks are learning to fly, too. 

This morning Barb Becker saw this female fledgling outside her window at Make-A-Wish. 

She was really squawking but according to Barb, “Dori’s flying nearby, no doubt saying “Here’s how you do it!””

.

(photo by Barb Becker)

5 responses so far

Jun 06 2011

Close Ups

Published by under Peregrines


Now that the Pitt peregrine chicks have fledged the best place to watch them is on campus.

On Saturday I arrived early for Fledge Watch and walked around the Cathedral of Learning looking for fledglings.  I found three: one on the nestrail who hadn’t flown yet, one on the northeast ledge of the 32nd floor, and “First Fledge” flying here and there (he’s getting good at this). 

Where was the fourth?  In an hour we found out.

At 11:00am E2 plucked prey on Heinz Chapel steeple, then swooped low over its roof and down the opposite side.  Big hint!  There’s a juvenile peregrine over there.  Peter, Denise, Anne Marie and I walked over to see. 

By the time we got there a wedding party was leaving the chapel so we skirted the crowd and followed the sound of angry robins. 

Peter found the juvie on the roof’s “nestrail” on the Fifth Ave side.  The juvie begged for food and spread her wings while her father circled above with prey but would not land.

E2 didn’t like her location but she was OK, in a safe place, though still harassed by robins. 

Through binoculars she looked quite close.  Peter was able to identify her from his photos:  72/AE with yellow tape on her USFW band.   

The other three chicks were staying up high on the Cathedral of Learning so this was probably our globe trotter from Friday evening.  “Globe Girl”, “Yellow Girl”, she was making a name for herself.

After many close looks at Yellow Girl three of us went back to the tent.  Peter stayed and got great pictures, especially when E2 finally gave in and brought her lunch then left with a great sweep of his wings.

Yellow Girl mantled over her meal.  Food at last!  In the photo above she looks especially thankful.

Ironically, it’s a robin.

p.s. Click on her photo to see Peter’s slideshow. Wow!  Great close-ups!

(photos by Peter Bell)

19 responses so far

Jun 05 2011

Now Blooming: Blue-eyed Grass

Published by under Plants


This is not a peregrine.  ;)

Today I’m taking a break from peregrines to look at flowers and other birds.  I won’t be holding Fledge Watch at Pitt but John English and Sharon Leadbitter will be downtown at two sites watching the peregrines at Gulf.  Click on their names for time and location.

Here’s a flower I found blooming at Moraine State Park last weekend. 

Blue-eyed Grass is in the Iris family, the Sisyrinchium genus.  There are at least five species — Stout, Eastern, White, Slender and Common Blue-eyed Grass – but they are similar and I didn’t have a field guide with me so I don’t know which one I saw.

I like the name though.  I take it apart to make sense of it.  The flower is “Blue,” it has a yellow “eye,” and the leaves look like “grass.”

The flower is 0.5-0.75″ wide. The stem is 12-18″ tall.

You’ll find it blooming in May and June in moist meadows, marshes and at the edges of woods.

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

4 responses so far

« Prev - Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ