Archive for September, 2014

Sep 30 2014

More Time to Bird and Blog!

Published by under Books & Events

Kate St. John (photo by David Hallewell)

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “This is the first day of the rest of your life.”   Well, that’s how I feel today, September 30, 2014.

Today I’m retiring after 39 years in computer science, 24.5 at WQED — a little bit early, but I do look younger than I am.

I’ve been dreaming of this day since the moment 18 years ago when I paused on the Glacier Ridge Trail in Butler County and thought, “I want to retire now.  How many more years must I work?” At that point I’d already worked 21 years and thought I had 22 to go.  Groan!  I wasn’t even halfway! Luckily my husband and I didn’t have to wait that long.

I say “retired” but I also view this as a career change from computer management to birds.  I’m not changing what I love to do, I’m just doing more of it including this blog.  The best part is that I don’t have to find an employer for my new career.  I’m my own boss.

So tomorrow I’m not going to sit at a desk.  I’ll be off to see what’s new in the great outdoors.

Ya hoo!

 

p.s. Don’t worry that by leaving WQED I’m leaving this blog behind.  No way!  Outside My Window is my own copyright, I own it, it goes where I go.   I’ve been happy to work at WQED.  I’m happy to keep hosting my blog at wqed.org.

 

(Thanks to Dave Hallewell (at WQED!) for the photo above. Click on his name to see his popular Flickr site that just hit 1 million views last week.)

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Sep 29 2014

Follow An Arctic Peregrine On Migration

Published by under Migration,Peregrines

Arctic peregrine, Island Girl (photo from the Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Since 2007 the Falcon Research Group’s Southern Cross Peregrine Project (SCPP) has satellite-tracked some of the longest migrating peregrines in the Western Hemisphere.  Tagged at their wintering grounds on the coast of Chile, these peregrines have shown amazing stamina as they travel back and forth from Chile’s coast to the tundra cliffs of northern Canada.

Over the years the project has tracked 13 birds but now only “Island Girl,” pictured above, has a working transmitter.  First tagged in 2009 she’s provided many years of data.

In the screenshot below SCPP mapped her 2009-2013 north and south migrations.  As you can see she changes her route a bit year to year and season to season.  Heading south (red) she prefers to fly the shortest route to Chile, often across the Gulf of Mexico.  On her way north (blue) she travels by land and arcs across central Canada.  Click on the screenshot to see Island Girl’s combined 5-year map and explore her routes.

5-year map of arctic peregrine -- Island Girl -- migration routes (map from Southern Cross Peregrine Project)

Winter comes early to the Arctic so Island Girl began her southward journey this month, leaving her Baffin Island home on September 17.  By the time she roosted last night she’d already traveled 1,478 miles and was spotted by satellite at Vandeleur, Ontario just west of Eugenia Lake.

Where will she go today?

Click here for Island Girl’s Tracking Page, then drill into a date on the right to see her latest location.  Zoom the map to see the data points or click here for detailed location maps.

Follow an arctic peregrine as she migrates over North America on her way to Chile.  Go, Island Girl!

 

(photo and map from the Falcon Research Group’s Southern Cross Peregrine Peregrine Project.  Click on the images to see the originals)

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Sep 28 2014

Stunningly Blue

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Purple honeycreeper, Trinidad (photo by Greg Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Though he’s called a purple honeycreeper this bird looks stunningly blue in photographs.

Since deep purple can be misinterpreted as blue by the camera lens I wonder … Is this bird purple in real life?  I’d have to visit northern South America or Trinidad to verify his color.  He doesn’t migrate.

Click on his scientific name — Cyanerpes caeruleus — for his range map.

 

(photo by Gregory “Greg” Smith via Flicker, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 27 2014

Beech Drops Up Close

Published by under Plants

Close-up of beech drops' flower (photo by  Kate St. John)

From a normal distance beech drops (Epifagus americana) look brown and dry.  (Click here to see.)

I didn’t know its tiny flowers are purple and white with yellow pistils … until I took this photograph.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Sep 26 2014

Storing Food

 

Fall’s here now. Winter’s coming.  Birds who stay through the winter are already using their best survival strategies.

Blue jays bury acorns, nuthatches hide seeds in bark crevices, but the real champion of food storage is a bird who doesn’t live in Pennsylvania.

Check out this Cornell Lab video from southern California.  I think California is a warm place where a bird couldn’t possibly need a large pantry but acorn woodpeckers never stop.

 

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube)

p.s. Check the comments for the real reason why this California woodpecker stores so much food.  Thanks to Janet Campagna for her on-the-spot report.

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Sep 25 2014

Penguins Episode 2: First Steps

Published by under Books & Events

Rockhopper penguin tries to adopt eggcam (photo courtesy of Philip Dalton/©JDP)

If you saw Penguins: Spy in the Huddle last night you know that Episode Two will air next Wednesday on PBS NATURE.  I had the opportunity to preview it. Here’s the scoop.

“First Steps” is full of happiness, fights and danger.

Happiness when the eggs hatch and adorable chicks emerge.  So cute!

Fights when emperors and rockhoppers without chicks gang up on parent birds and forcably try to adopt their “kids.” Fights ensue. The chicks run away.  Who knew that penguins could be kidnappers?!

Danger when…  Well, danger is everywhere for baby birds.  Will there be enough food?  Will the chicks get separated from their parents?  Will any predators be successful?  Usually the birds triumph but sometimes it ends badly.  A touching scene among the emperors reminds us that mothers’ grief is universal.

The cleverly disguised spycams play an unexpected part.  Penguins and predators are both interested in the eggcams.  The penguins try to adopt them.  The predators try to eat them.  This produces very close looks at penguin belly feathers and far, tumbling views of the colonies.

Watch episode two “First Steps” of Penguins: Spy in the Huddle on PBS next Wednesday, October 1 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.

Again, many thanks to The National Aviary for underwriting this series.  Their African penguins just completed their annual “catastrophic molt” and are looking good just in time for Pittsburgh Penguins hockey season.  ;)

 

(photo courtesy of Philip Dalton/©JDP via PBS NATURE)

 

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Sep 24 2014

Local And Vocal

Carolina chickadee (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Chickadees don’t migrate(*) but they’re a big help when you’re looking for migrating songbirds in late September.

Waves of warblers are still passing through Pennsylvania but they’re usually silent and hidden by leaves so you probably won’t see them … unless you listen for chickadees.

Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are vocal experts on the local scene.  They know the best places to find food and where the predators lurk.  And they’re such chatterboxes!  Visiting migrants clue into chickadee locations and often stay with them in mixed flocks.

At this time of year don’t ignore the local, vocal birds.  They may have visitors with them.

 

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

(* Well, I’ve since heard that some chickadees do go places … but others stay behind.)

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Sep 23 2014

Orange Or Yellow?

Published by under Migration

Orange-crowned warbler (photo by Dan Arndt)

Orange-crowned warbler (photo by Dan Arndt)

In good light with a clear view these two warblers don’t look alike.

Female yellow warbler (photo by Dan Arndt)

Female yellow warbler (photo by Dan Arndt)

But in poor light and partially hidden by leaves a fast-moving yellowish fall warbler without wing bars can be … confusing.

Last Sunday one of these birds had me stumped.  Without a camera to take its picture, how could I find out what it was?

Using a technique I learned from Chuck Tague, I wrote down what I saw as if I was going to draw the bird.

“Long, all-yellowish warbler with blank face, round head, blunt beak, no wing bars, no stripes.”  (Wish I’d seen the tail and leg colors.)

With this note and several field guides I was able to figure it out at home.

“No wing bars, no stripes” narrowed the field considerably.

By “all-yellowish” I meant pale yellow from throat to undertail with drabber, darker yellow on back, wings, head.  The light made the bird look very drab.  Lots of book-searching finally pointed to two possibilities:  an orange-crowned warbler or a female yellow warbler.  Range maps indicate both can occur now in western Pennsylvania so I had two viable candidates.

“Long” and “round head” can be deceiving because a squat, no-neck warbler might stretch out its neck to see me but together they lean toward yellow warbler.

“Blank face” is an excellent hint, not just a patternless face but actually flat looking.  The orange-crowned warbler has tiny white accents above and below its eyes that give its face topography even if you don’t see the accents.  Yellow warblers are known for their plain blank faces.

“Blunt beak” describes the yellow warbler’s stout bill rather than the orange-crowned’s sharply pointed bill.

So what did I see? Most likely a yellow warbler.

Oh well.  An orange-crowned would have been nice.

The key is:  Write everything down.  Pretend you’re going to draw the bird when you get home.

 

(photos by Dan Arndt, Creative Commons license on Flickr.  Click on the images to see the originals.  Dan lives in Calgary and writes for two blogs: Birds Calgary and Bird Canada.)

p.s.  I used the The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle to figure this out.  It’s excellent for deciphering confusing fall warblers.

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Sep 22 2014

Highest Hawks

Kettle of hawks, Kittatinny Ridge, PA (photo by Meredith Lombard)

Every dot is a hawk.  Can you count them?  Better yet, can you identify them?

Pennsylvania’s hawk watches see their highest daily counts this month.  On a busy day the sky looks like the photo above, taken by Meredith Lombard at Kittatinny Ridge in September 2011.

Experts can tell you these are broad-winged hawks — except perhaps that white one — but you can accurately guess the species if you know the month and location of the photo.  Broad-winged hawks pass through our state in record numbers in mid September.

Up close they look like this.  Not so blurry.  Actually a bit colorful.

Broad-winged hawk on migration in Pennsylvania (photo by Meredith Lombard)

Why are there so many of them?  Broad-wings are woodland hawks.  What’s the most common and widest-ranging habitat north of here?  Woods.

By the third week in September the bulk of broad-wings has passed by.  The Allegheny Front Hawk Watch had its highest daily total of 1,880 birds on September 14.  Hawk Mountain saw 975 on September 15 and Waggoner’s Gap saw 1,333 hawks on September 16.  None of the sites have seen higher counts since but never fear, great birds are still on the way.  The Allegheny Front will make up for quantity with quality when the golden eagles come through in November.

Where are the broad-wings now?  More than 80 hawk watch sites report in daily at Hawkcount.org where you can find a snapshot of the totals on the home page (scroll down).  Drill into the sites with the highest counts and you’re likely to find the broad-wings.

Last week’s winner was…

Detroit River Hawk Watch in Brownstone, Michigan where there were incredible numbers:  39,720 on September 18, 53,055 on September 17 and 68,655 on September 16 (68,193 broad-wings!).  The site is flat (no mountain, no cliff) but southbound hawks have to cross the Detroit River somewhere and this is it.

Check out the counts at Corpus Christi, Texas.  Some of the broad-wings are already there.

 

(photos by Meredith Lombard)

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Sep 21 2014

Not Confusing

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Hooded warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

September and May are the two best months to find warblers in Pennsylvania, but in the fall many are confusing.  Adult males, like this hooded warbler, are not.

Confusing Fall Warblers got their name from four scary pages in the Peterson Field Guide to Birds where immatures and a few females are lined up to show their differences.  Hah!  They all look the same.

But I’ve learned a trick to overcome the problem.  The more you watch non-confusing adults the easier it is to identify their confusing “kids.”

Within each species the birds have the same body-shapes, feeding habits, perching styles and favorite locations (on the ground vs. thickets vs. treetops).  Often, the confusing birds have colors and markings that hint at their non-confusing cohorts.  Sometimes there’s one indelible clue — like the square of white on the female black-throated blue’s wing that matches the male’s.

Get some practice seeing adult male warblers on Steve Gosser’s new Warbler Page where he displays beautiful photos of Pennsylvania’s best.

Not confusing!

 

(photo by Steve Gosser, September 2014)

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