Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Sep 08 2014


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 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 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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Jun 02 2014

On WQED-TV Thursday June 5, 9:30pm

Published by under Books & Events

Kate St. John, March 2014 (photo by Thomas Moeller)Earthflight finale (screenshot from PBS Nature, Eartflight)

It’s fund raising season and WQED has some special pledge shows coming up.

This Thursday June 5 at 9:30pm we’ll rebroadcast Earthflight’s Season 1 Finale, a look behind the scenes at the making of the series that flew with the birds.  How did the cameras follow them so closely?  Watch and see.

I’ll be on TV during the pledge breaks, talking about birds and our special relationships with them.

Tune in early at 8:00pm to see Rick Sebak’s new special: A History of Pittsburgh in 17 Objects.

He’ll be a hard act to follow! 😉

(photo of Kate St. John by Tom Moeller, screenshot of Earthflight Season 1 Finale from PBS NATURE)


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May 30 2014

Reminder: Gulf Fledge Watch This Weekend

Third peregrine chick about to take off, 6:30am May 30 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Join us at Flag Plaza above Downtown Pittsburgh to watch the Gulf Tower peregrines fledge.  We’ve added an hour this evening because we know that 3 of them have already fledged.  (The one that’s flapping took off just after this snapshot!)

  • TODAY May 30, 7:00pm-8:00pm.
  • Saturday May 31, noon to 4:00pm
  • Sunday June 1, noon to 4:00pm.

Click here for more information and directions.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

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May 23 2014

Emerald View BioBlitz, June 6-7

Published by under Books & Events

Emerald View Bio Blitz (logo modified from Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation)Come One, Come All!   Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy are teaming up on Friday and Saturday June 6-7 for a BioBlitz in Pittsburgh’s newest regional park: Emerald View.

What? A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event where teams of volunteer scientists, nature observers, families and community members find and identify as many species of plants, animals, insects, fungi and organisms as possible.

Where?  Located on Mount Washington, Emerald View Park forms a ring of trails through some of the City’s most scenic green space.  BioBlitz headquarters are at Olympia Park’s entrance, Virginia Ave. & Hallock Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15211.   Click here for a map of the entire park.

When?  Friday Owl Calling Hike, 6-9pm.   Saturday Bird Count, 6-10 am.  Saturday BioBlitz Main Event, including plant & animal inventory, nature games, crafts, hikes, 10am-2pm.  Click here for more information.

Help Wanted!  All hands on deck!  Sign up online here, or call Kathryn Hunninen at 412-481-3220 x200, or email her at

I’ll be “BioBlitz birding” on Saturday morning.

Hope to see you there!

(logo, with “BioBlitz” added, from Mt. Washington CDC website)

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May 07 2014

Reminder: BirdSafe, Monday May 12

Wood thrush rescued Downtown, 28 April 2014 (photo by Matt Webb) Join BirdSafe Pittsburgh volunteers this coming Monday May 12 at 5:30am at PPG Plaza.  Learn how to rescue injured migratory birds and tally those killed in Downtown Pittsburgh’s hall of mirrors.

Contact Matt Webb at (412)53-AVIAN (412-532-8426) or for more information.   Click here to read more.

p.s. In just 3 days last week volunteers found and rescued wood thrushes, an ovenbird, a Kentucky Warbler, and a magnolia warbler.  Every bird counts!

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May 01 2014

Be A BirdSafe Volunteer

Published by under Books & Events

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

Spring migration is really heating up.  Every night the south wind brings new birds to town and with it the danger they’ll be injured or killed in Downtown Pittsburgh’s hall of mirrors.   How many birds are hurt?  This is the year to find out.

For six weeks BirdSafe Pittsburgh is discovering if and where migrating birds are injured Downtown.  I learned at the kickoff meeting that accidents don’t usually happen at the tops of skyscrapers.  Instead, most birds strike windows near street level when they become disoriented or confused by window reflections.

To assess the situation BirdSafe volunteers walk one of these eleven routes at dawn, looking for stunned or dead birds.  Stunned birds are rescued. All birds are counted.
BirdSafe Pittsburgh monitor routes (map from Matt Webb)

Participants have been pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and busy Downtown is at sunrise.  Terry Wiezorek didn’t find any hurt birds last week in the Cultural District when migration was slow, but she did find helpful maintenance people who will keep a lookout and let her know.   This week Monday’s increased migration tallied two dead birds and this rescued wood thrush that Matt Webb released at Allegheny Cemetery.  As Matt says, “One bird saved makes it all worth it!”

BirdSafe Pittsburgh needs more volunteers during this busy time.

Want to sample the project before you commit?  Meet the group at PPG Plaza on Monday mornings (next meeting: May 12) at 5:30am and walk a route with a BirdSafe volunteer.  It won’t cost you anything because on-street parking is FREE Downtown until 8:00am.

Contact Matt Webb at (412)53-AVIAN (412-532-8426) or for more information.  He’d love to hear from you!


p.s. A big thank you to Terry for providing supplies for volunteers!

(BirdSafe Pittsburgh route map and rescued wood thrush photo by Matt Webb)

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