Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Oct 02 2014

Penguins Episode 3: Growing Up

Published by under Books & Events

Emperor penguin chicks (photo courtesy of Frederique Olivier/©JDP)

Last night(*) in the second episode of Penguins: Spy in the Huddle we saw how vulnerable young penguin chicks can be.  Fortunately, the dangerous period doesn’t last long.  In this final episode they’ll grow up and become independent.  Whew!

Independence is forced on penguin chicks because they’re so hungry.  Both parents have to fish to keep up with their kids’ demands so the chicks are left largely alone.  Young emperors naturally huddle in a crèche but rockhopper teenagers have to be poked to join the group by the few non-breeding adults who watch nearby.

The crèches are safe places to learn from each other but everyone’s equally clueless.  How do we walk on ice?  What is this wet stuff (melted ice)?  My gosh, my down is falling out and I’m getting feathers!

The chicks learn to fight their attackers.  Their parents bring food.  Life is good.  And then…

Their parents don’t come back.  Amazingly this triggers a desire to walk to the ocean, a place they’ve never seen.  Everything is new but they figure it out and even get help from some unexpected allies.

By now we’re all convinced that penguins chicks are clumsy … until they jump in the ocean.  Oh my!  They fly underwater!  Faster and faster, the rockhoppers make beautiful bubble trails as they disappear in the distance.  Such joy!

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

 

(*) If you missed Episode 2 last night because of the Pirates’ wildcard game, WQED will rebroadcast it on Friday Oct 3 (tomorrow) at 4:00am. Perfect for a DVR.

(photo courtesy of Frederique Olivier/©JDP via PBS NATURE)

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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 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 18 2014

Next Week! Penguins: Spy In The Huddle

Published by under Books & Events

Emperor penguins with a spy in the Huddle, a PBS NATURE Special (photo courtesy of Frederique Olivier/©JDP)

That’s an odd-looking emperor penguin, coasting on his belly with a black square on his chest.  But he’s not a real penguin.  He’s a spy in the huddle!

Coming to PBS NATURE on Wednesday, September 24 is the first in a three-part series Penguins: Spy in the Huddle, a unique intimate look at three species of penguins.

The series follows emperor penguins in Antarctica, rockhopper penguins on the Falkland Islands, and Humboldt penguins in Peru’s Atacama Desert using more than 50 life-size animatronic spycams.  The cams are so well disguised that after a brief examination the penguins generally accept the robots as one of their own.

This technique gets awesome footage.  One cam even caused marital strife.

Like many birds, male penguins arrive first on the breeding grounds and wait for their ladies to arrive.  Emperors choose a new mate every year but rockhoppers mate for life so each male waits and calls for his lady.  If she’s late, she may have died.  What’s a guy to do?  He courts a new female.  One spycam got into big trouble when a lonely male made overtures just before his lady returned.  She was late and she was angry!

Watch “The Journey” on PBS next Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.

In the next two weeks I’ll also review “First Steps” and “Growing Up,” premiering on October 1 and October 8 respectively.

Thanks to our local penguin experts, The National Aviary, for underwriting this series.  Get an up-close and personal penguin fix at their Penguin Point exhibit in Pittsburgh.  Irrepressible, irresistible penguins!

 

(photo of courtesy of Frederique Olivier/©JDP via PBS NATURE)

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Sep 14 2014

International Rock Flipping, Without A Flip

International Rock Flipping Day logo (from Wanderin' Weeta)

Today is International Rock Flipping Day and I’m participating for the sixth time in this Blog Carnival event.

But the truth is I did not flip a rock.

This year I finally realized that I don’t like to flip rocks.  I don’t want to be surprised by what’s underneath and the surprise is increased by having to stand close enough to photograph the critters.

Before this dawned on me I flipped two carefully chosen benign-looking rocks.  Predictably, there was nothing but dirt under them.  (Whew!)  Even so I followed Rock Flipping Protocol and replaced the rocks as I found them.

Then I remembered Mainly Mongoose’s 2010 blog post in which she pondered the hazards of flipping rocks in the lowveld of northeastern South Africa, a location filled with poisonous snakes. Luckily she found a rock monitor (lizard) poised in a rock crevice.  No flipping required!

So I switched strategies and photographed the most interesting crevices in the rock walls at Schenley Park.  This yielded three spider webs: a many-round-holed web, a hammock, and a funnel.  The spiders were quick to hide as I approached.

Webs between the rocks, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Webs between the rocks, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Web between the rocks (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Hoping for more interesting creatures, I visited the groundhogs’ wall domain but no one was home until this little guy appeared, hidden behind the flowers.

Chipmunk in a rock crevice, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Not as good as a rock monitor but a chipmunk is a nice surprise.

Happy, International Rock Flipping Day.  Go out and flip a rock if you dare!  Remember to put it back the way you found it.

 

p.s. Heather Mingo At the Edge of the Ordinary posted links to 2014′s hearty crew of international rock-flippers.  Click here for the round-up and links to the flipper results on Flickr and Facebook, too.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 08 2014

2,400

Published by under Books & Events

Mädchen mit Schiefertafel by Albert Anker (reproduction in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This morning my blog dashboard says I’ve published 2,400 articles.  Such a lot of writing!

In honor of that feat — and because I’m on vacation — I’m taking a one-day break and directing you to two vintage posts you’ll find of interest:

  • What’s that vine that blankets Pittsburgh’s hillsides and overgrows our parks?  It has a pretty porcelain berry.
  • How do some birders know in advance that there will be good birds on a September morning?  We watch fall migration on radar.

 

(Mädchen mit Schiefertafel (Girl With Blackboard) by Albert Anker, in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Sep 02 2014

Help Migrating Songbirds

Published by under Books & Events

Wood thrush rescued Downtown, 28 April 2014 (photo by Matt Webb)

Migrating songbirds need your help in the Pittsburgh area.

Last spring while traveling north, this wood thrush found himself in a hall of mirrors … and he hit one … a window in Downtown Pittsburgh.  Fortunately his stunned body was found by a BirdSafe Pittsburgh volunteer who kept him safe and quiet until he recovered.  In this photo he was about to be released at Allegheny Cemetery by Matt Webb.

Fall migration is underway and nighttime migrants are again lured to our city lights and vulnerable to window kills. Each year up to 1 billion birds die by hitting windows in the U.S.  BirdSafe Pittsburgh is ramping up to rescue ours. They need your help.

Across North America BirdSafe projects mobilize volunteers to walk city routes at dawn, looking for stunned or dead birds.  Stunned birds are rescued. All birds are counted.  Last spring the Pittsburgh project confirmed what other cities know:  that wood thrushes and ovenbirds are the most vulnerable to window kills.

This fall the focus will still be on Downtown but program coordinator Matt Webb says you can create your own route near your home or office if you wish.  48% of collisions happen on residential structures so it’s just as important to collect data in a residential area. Contact Matt at birdsafepgh@gmail.com or call (412)53-AVIAN if you want to explore this option.

Better yet, learn what to do and get some hands on experience at the kick-off walk this Sunday, September 7 at 6:00am at PPG Plaza.  Click here for directions and PPG parking garage information or use on-street parking for free until 8:00am.

For more information, contact Matt Webb at birdsafepgh@gmail.com or (412)53-AVIAN.

 

(photo of rescued wood thrush by Matt Web)

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Aug 29 2014

From Billions To None, Sept 7 on WQED

Published by under Books & Events

Digital painting of the extinct Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius by Tim Hough via Wikimedia Commons
 

Monday, September 1, marks an important day in history.  On that day 100 years ago the passenger pigeon went extinct.  To commemorate the event WQED will broadcast From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction on Sunday September 7 at 3:00pm.

As told by Joel Greenberg, author of The Feathered River Across the Sky, the story is compelling, powerful, and heartbreaking.

At the height of its population there were 3-5 billion passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) in North America, roughly equivalent to the number of birds that overwinter in the United States every year.

Their extinction was shocking in its swiftness. In Wisconsin it took only 28 years — from the largest communal nesting ever recorded, 136 million birds in 1871, to the last wild bird shot dead in 1899.

Humans caused the extinction. Aided by new technology (trains and telegraphs) and in the absence of hunting laws, there was uncontrolled killing at the communal nesting grounds.  By the late 1870′s there were signs of great decline.  Advocates pleaded for hunting controls but across the U.S. businessmen who traded the birds as meat and legislators successfully argued against protection.

History repeats itself today.  The documentary describes how cod nearly went extinct when fishing technology improved and how cod fishing was banned, yet after 20 years the population has not rebounded.  Today, sharks and one out of eight bird species are in trouble.

But the program also gives us hope.  When we stopped killing whales and sandhill cranes, they rebounded.  We banned DDT and brought back bald eagles and peregrine falcons.  If we put forth the effort we can choose to preserve.

Watch From Billions to None on Sunday September 7 at 3:00pm on WQED.  Then stay tuned for a related program at 4:00pm, The Lost Bird Project (reviewed here).

Thanks to our friends at the National Aviary for underwriting both programs.

 

p.s. Click here to see the trailer From Billions to None on Vimeo.

(digital painting of the extinct Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius by Tim Hough via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

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Aug 04 2014

Taking Flight in Pittsburgh

Published by under Books & Events

Green-winged macaw at the National Aviary (photo courtesy of the National Aviary)

I was sitting outdoors on Friday afternoon when a green-winged macaw flew over my head, then a scarlet and three hyacinth macaws. They circled over West Park, showing off their stunning colors and long streaming tails then landed nearby so I could see them up close.  What a thrill!

Ever since I saw Parrot Confidential on WQED I’ve wanted to see large parrots fly free.  My dream came true at the Taking Flight show at the National Aviary on Friday.

Twice a day during the summer the macaws join their bird colleagues in the rose garden to show off what birds do best.  They fly!

Parrots aren’t the only stars.  There are so many birds in the show that I can’t name them all, but I can tell you that the eagle owl’s “stealth mode” was truly impressive when Dumbledore narrowly cleared the rose garden wall and flew low over our heads.

The macaws are my favorites and they clearly had fun. They flew above the trees and then all three hyacinths landed on the perch for their reward.  With their clown-like faces they hammed it up for the cameras, then flew back to their indoor home.

Hyacinth macaws at the Taking Flight show at the National Aviary (photo by Kate St. John)

Later inside the Aviary I saw the macaws at their usual perches, preening and napping.  Mission accomplished, they were taking a break before the next excitement.  Very cool!

Summer will be over soon so don’t miss your chance to see these awesome birds in flight.  Taking Flight runs daily at the National Aviary at 11:00am and 2:00pm — weather permitting — through Labor Day, September 1.

Click here for information and directions.

 

(green-winged macaw photo courtesy of the National Aviary. Hyacinth macaws by Kate St. John)

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Jul 21 2014

Bird Banding At Marcy’s

Hey! says this female northern cardinal on banding day (photo by Kate St. John)

Yo! says this wet northern cardinal.  She was about to be banded at Marcy Cunkelman’s last Saturday.

After a week of gorgeous weather July 19 brought all day rain.  At 7:00am Bob Mulvihill (lead bander), Matt Webb, Amy Feinstein and Becca Ralston were all set up for the National Aviary’s Neighborhood Nestwatch bird banding.  Here they are in a photo from Marcy. It was only drizzling at that point.

Banding Day at Marcy Cunkelman's, 19 July 2014, Amy, Matt, Bob, Becca (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

I arrived around 7:30am and soon there were 14 of us under the shelters.  The birds were wet, we were wet, but we were all well fed at Marcy’s delicious buffet.   During downpours we closed the nets and watched the weather radar on our cellphones.

The target species were eight classic backyard birds — robin, cardinal, mockingbird, catbird, chickadee, song sparrow, Carolina wren, house wren — but Marcy’s yard had many more than that.

Highlights included this immature male northern cardinal. He’s being given something to bite so he’ll stop complaining.  This is safe to do with immature cardinals because they don’t have the gripping power of adults.  His bite is a tight pinch but not painful — I know from experience.  Look closely at the top of his beak and you’ll see a bulge on his upper mandible.  That’s avian pox, a common contagious ailment among birds. (Humans are not at risk.)  Bob said it looked like his pox was healing and would fall off.

Immature male northern cardinal is distracted by biting someone's finger (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Our Best Bird!   This beautiful male scarlet tanager was a big surprise because the nets were set up by the bird feeders and scarlet tanagers aren’t “feeder” birds.  They normally stay high in the trees eating fruit but the rain brought him lower, trying to stay dry.  (He was soaked just like we were.)  He was probably caught when he tried for the fruit on Marcy’s viburnum shrubs near the feeders.

Best bird -- scarlet tanager -- Banding Day at Marcy's, 19 July 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Red-eyed vireos were caught for similar reasons.  Here are two males showing off their red eyes.

Two male red-eyed vireos (photo by Kate St. John)

Becca stroked the birds to keep them calm.  This red-eyed vireo responded by bending over backwards.  Who knew they could do this!

The red-eyed vireo has a flexible neck (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Here Marcy holds a red-eyed vireo just before she releases it.  We were all as wet as the birds but happy to be with them.

Marcy Cunkelman, ready to release a banded red-eyed vireo, 19 July 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The tally for the day was 67 birds.  It was a great day for bird lovers despite the rain.

Thanks to all!

 

(Banders’ photo by Marcy Cunkelman.  All other photos by Kate St John)

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