Archive for April, 2014

Apr 30 2014

April Showers Bring…

Published by under Phenology,Plants,Trees

Great chickweed (photo by Kate St. John)

While it feels like it’s been raining forever, last weekend’s weather was sunny and so were the flowers. Here’s a selection I found at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve and Friendship Hill National Historic Site on Saturday and Sunday.

Above, a very close look at Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), also called Star Chickweed.  The flower is only 1/2″ across and it has only five petals but they’re so deeply cleft that they look like ten.

Below, inch-long Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve.  I love how they change color as they open.

Virginia Bluebells (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Toad Trillium or Toadshade (Trillium sessile) is rarely seen from this angle because the plant is only four inches tall.  (I got muddy taking this picture.)  The dark, closed petals look boring from above but graceful from the side.  Perhaps they open like this so the pollen can disperse more easily.  It’s dusting the leaf at front left.
Sessile trillium (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Today’s April showers will bring May flowers. It’s hard to believe that May begins tomorrow.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

Apr 29 2014

Build And Sink

Franklin's gull (photo by Daniel Arndt)

As unusual as the gull that nests in trees, this one builds a floating nest.

Here in North America, Franklin’s gulls are prairie birds.  They spend the winter on the Pacific coast of South America, then migrate in Spring to the prairie marshes of Canada, Montana and the Dakotas where they look for shallow lakes to nest colonially.  Every year they assess the water depth and vegetation density when they arrive.  Droughts or floods force them to choose different marshes than they used the year before.

Like other marsh birds, Franklin’s gulls have learned that land-based nests are in danger of predation so they build floating nests out of bulrushes, cattails or phragmites.  To keep the nests from drifting they anchor them to underwater reeds.

Unfortunately the submerged material decays and the nest sinks so the pair and their oldest chicks add more nest material every day to raise the surface.

If you have to work this hard to keep your nest from disappearing you eventually find time-saving shortcuts.  Picking new bulrushes takes a long time, seven times longer than stealing your neighbor’s nesting material (someone actually timed this).  Naturally a lot of stealing occurs.

Build and sink, build and sink, the floating nest requires daily upkeep and annoys the neighbors.

 

(photo by Dan Arndt who writes for two blogs in Canada:  Bird Canada and Birds Calgary. Click on either blog link to see more of his work.  You’ll also see that they still have snow in Calgary right now. Yow!)

One response so far

Apr 28 2014

The Trees Take On Color

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Redbuds in bud, 18 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week Pittsburgh’s trees took on color and shape after a long brown winter.

A week ago the redbud trees had closed pink buds that made their branches look magenta from a distance.

Now the flowers are open and the trees are lighter pink.
Redbud flowers open, late April 2013 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

Meanwhile the hillsides have changed from uniform winter brown to individual, spring-green trees as seen from Downtown on Saturday.
Spring green trees in Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The earliest colors are usually pale green flowers.

If you haven’t been paying attention, your nose knows the trees are blooming.  Welcome to pollen season.

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Apr 27 2014

Leaves In The Shape Of…

Published by under Plants

Halberd Leaved Violet (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Dianne Machesney found this Halberd-leaved Violet blooming at the Cucumber Falls Trail in Ohiopyle State Park last week.

A halberd is a long pole with a battle ax; the ax always has a hook on the back end.  It was a popular weapon in the 14th and 15th centuries.

What do you think?  Is this a “halberd” leaf?

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

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Apr 26 2014

Bluejay For Breakfast

Published by under Peregrines

Dori shelters her 5 chicks, 26 Apr 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

This morning when I looked at the Gulf Tower falconcam a color at the front of the nest caught my eye.

Notice the long blue feathers.  The peregrine nestlings had blue jay for breakfast.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

2 responses so far

Apr 25 2014

Smart Black Birds On Camera

Raven on nest at Wellesley College (screenshot from Wellesley College ravencam)

Tired of being outdone by celebrity bald eagles and peregrine falcons, ravens have decided to get into the act.

Last October a pair of common ravens chose Wellesley College as the smart place to be.  Over the winter they scoped out the campus and evaluated future nest sites.  By March it was evident they’d made a wise choice when they built their nest on a high fire escape at the Science Center.  Their platform is enclosed by glass on three sides so they have great views and less wind.

They also have electricity, an Internet connection and night lights — perfect for a webcam — so Pauline and Henry are now celebrities.

Named for the founders of Wellesley College, Pauline and Henry’s choice probably shocked the local raven population.  “What were you thinking!? Humans are unpredictably dangerous!  We never nest that close to them.”  But their unique choice has given them shelter while we get a window on their world.

Pauline laid two eggs in March, one hatched in early April, and now their nestling is growing every day.  Unlike peregrine falcon chicks, raven babies are not cute, fluffy and white.  Instead they’re born naked and awkward with a very large mouth.  When the parents come to the nest “the mouth” opens to show off its red interior.  In the weeks ahead the mouth will stay red but the body will transform into a feathered juvenile raven, one of the smartest birds on earth.

Smartly clothed in black, Pauline and Henry are happy to share their lives with you on camera.  Click here or on the screenshot above to watch them online.

 

(screenshot from the Wellesley College ravencam)

p.s. When ravens blink their nictitating membranes, their eyes look white.  Very cool!

4 responses so far

Apr 24 2014

Five Grandbabies

Published by under Peregrines

Dori and five chicks, 23 April 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Some of you feel bad for Dorothy at the Cathedral of Learning because she has only one non-viable egg this year but consider this:  She has five peregrine grandbabies a few miles away at the Gulf Tower.

Can you count five pink beaks in the photo above?  They’re all there.

Dori and Louie’s fifth and final egg hatched yesterday in the 10 o’clock hour.  Since Louie is Dorothy’s son (by her first mate, Erie) those five nestlings are Dorothy’s grandkids.  Louie himself hatched in 2002, the very first year Dorothy fledged young, and is the only one of his hatch year known to nest.*

 

The Gulfcam video archives are spotty so I’ve made a slideshow of yesterday’s highlights.  Click on the photo to watch…

  • 8:20am:  The chick inside the final egg has made great progress pecking around the “equator.”
  • 9:34am:  Off camera Louie calls as he arrives with food. Dori replies, steps away and returns to feed 4 chicks.  Chick #5 has not officially hatched yet.
  • 10:54am: Chick #5 is damp and propped in front when Louie comes to feed them.  He looks up at the building.  Perhaps he heard a sound inside.
  • 10:56am: After only two minutes Dori returns to take over the feeding.  Bye, Louie.
  • 13:40 (1:40pm to 1:57pm): Louie broods the nestlings for nearly 20 minutes.  Notice how he fills less of the camera frame than Dori does.
  • 16:16 (4:16pm):  Dori offers this prey item again because they didn’t finish it last time.  Eat up, kids!
  • 19:28 (7:28pm to 7:39pm):  Last feeding of the day. Sunset is only a half hour away.  After they’ve eaten Louie stops by to say goodnight, bending over the chicks to watch them sleep.

Click here to watch the “grandkids” on the Gulfcam.

 

(snapshots from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

* Yesterday Ann Hohn at Make-A-Wish read Louie’s bands, so both Dori and Louie are confirmed at the nest this year.

9 responses so far

Apr 23 2014

How Parrots Name Themselves

Published by under Bird Behavior

In case you missed this featured video at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Did you know that baby parrots name themselves and that parrots call each other by name? This 2011 video from Cornell Lab is fascinating!

 

Peregrine Fans, there are two connections to your favorite bird.

  • Did you know that peregrines are closely related to parrots and not to hawks?  Click here to learn more.
  • And on the subject of names, how do peregrines get them?  Here’s the story.

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

2 responses so far

Apr 22 2014

Schenley Oak Wilt Status

Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

Schenley Park clearcut to stop oak wilt (photo by Kate St. John)

The scene is ugly but it’s therapeutic.

These trees at Prospect Drive in Schenley Park were removed because they were infected with oak wilt.  The eradication project was scheduled for February but didn’t get rolling until early April.

Last Friday it was partly complete.  The oaks were gone but their stumps remained.  These stumps will be removed, too, so the disease cannot spread.

Clearcut to remove oak wiltat Prospect Circle, Schenley Park, 18 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

How old were the oaks?  The rings on one of them tallied 87 years.

It takes more than a lifetime to grow a tree and less than a day to chop it down.  Alas, these oaks would still be here if they had not become victims of highly infectious oak wilt fungus.

When the ground is ready and the time of year is right volunteers and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will plant new trees.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

UPDATE 2 June 2014: Click here for the most recent update.

4 responses so far

Apr 21 2014

Hatch Day Happenings

Published by under Peregrines

Louie and Dori bow near their three new chicks, 20 April 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Yesterday during a 12 hour period three of five eggs hatched at the Gulf Tower in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Mother peregrine, Dori, was so protective that the nestlings did not get their first feeding until 6:15pm.  Above, Louie and Dori bow near the three nestlings.  The first feeding is about to begin.

Click on the photo above to watch a slideshow of yesterday’s highlights.  The nestlings are at the very cutest stage right now.

  • First hatchling with a pipped egg
  • Second wet hatchling at 1:47pm
  • Third wet hatchling at 2:39pm
  • Dori feeds the chicks 6:21pm to 6:31pm
  • Louie tries to feed them but they are too full and sleepy.  Only one raises his head.
  • Within five minutes, Dori returns.  She tries to feed them again.
  • Dori watches them sleep for a moment (with her back to us) then settles on them to brood.

Watch the falconcam to see when the other eggs hatch.

 

(photos from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)

p.s.  The nest will be hard to see for about an hour after sunrise because the sun reflects off the dirty camera cover.  Don’t despair. The view clears.

4 responses so far

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