Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Oct 02 2013

RADical Day — Free Admission to the National Aviary – Oct 6

Published by under Books & Events

Regional Asset District Logo

RADical Days, an annual event now in its 12th year, is sponsored by the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) and its funded assets to thank the public for the sales tax funds that support the region’s parks, libraries, sports and civic facilities and programs, and arts and culture organizations.

Visit the National Aviary on October 6th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. for no cost to all!

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Sep 28 2013

Duck Watching Downtown

Published by under Books & Events

Two ducks on the Allegheny River, mallard and giant rubber ducky (photo by Kate St. John)

Last night I went duck watching in Downtown Pittsburgh.

It’s easy to identify the large duck. Look closely and you’ll see he has company, a mallard in the foreground.

Rubber ducky is huge!  Here he’s about to go under the Ft. Duquesne Bridge.

Giant rubber ducky about to go under the Ft. Duquesne Bridge, Pittsburgh, 27 Sep 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Read more about the rubber duck and see photos and videos of his debut at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, KDKA and Pittsburgh Magazine.

See him for yourself on the Allegheny River near the Point.  He’ll be watching Downtown until (approximately) October 20.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 25 2013

Giant Duck This Friday!

Published by under Books & Events

Florentijn Hofman's Giant Rubber Duck in Syndey Harbor (photo courtesy of Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck Project)

Reminder:   Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck opens the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s International Festival of Firsts this Friday September 27 at 5:30pm.  Be at the Roberto Clemente Bridge (6th Street) to welcome him.

He’ll be here through October 20.

The ultimate in bird watching.  ;)

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Sep 03 2013

Giant Bird Coming To Pittsburgh

Published by under Books & Events

Florentijn Hofman's Giant Rubber Duck in Syndey Harbor (photo courtesy of Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Duck Project)

Pittsburgh bird watchers!  In case you haven’t heard, the largest duck on the planet is migrating to our three rivers on September 27.

Last seen in Hong Kong Harbor, Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck is making his very first visit to the United States and has chosen to land in Pittsburgh thanks to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s International Festival of Firsts.

Rumor has it he will begin his U.S. voyage on the Ohio River near the West End Bridge, swimming upstream to roost on the Allegheny River near the Roberto Clemente Bridge (a.k.a. the Sixth Street Bridge) — but check here at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website for last minute details.

As you can imagine his movements are constrained by his height, reputed to be 50 feet tall.  (There is some disagreement on this.  Some media outlets say he’s only 40 feet tall.  We’ll have to ask the American Ornithologists’ Union for a ruling on this.)

Don’t miss this opportunity to add this species to your Life List!

September 27 in Pittsburgh.  Be there!


(photo of the Rubber Duck in Hong Kong harbor courtesy of Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck Project. Click on the duck to watch a video of him in Hong Kong)

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Sep 02 2013

Resident or Migratory?

Flock of Canada geese on pond in Ottawa, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Normally we don’t pay much attention to the immigration status of Canada geese but it’s going to be an important distinction in Pennsylvania when early Canada goose hunting season opens today.

It seems hard to believe but the subspecies Branta canadensis maxima (Giant Canada Goose) was nearly extinct in 1900 due to overhunting and habitat change.  Many states conducted reintroduction programs to help the geese along.  Here in Pennsylvania the birds so did well that there are nearly 280,000 resident maxima Canada geese, almost double the management goal of 150,000.

How do you determine the citizenship status of a Canada goose?   By time of year and location.  Only Pennsylvania residents are here in September.  Migratory geese won’t be leaving Canada until the lakes begin to freeze in October and even then the South James Bay population visits the northwest corner of the state (Lake Erie to Pymatuning) and the Atlantic population stays well east of the Appalachians and south of I-80.  In most of Pennsylvania, Canada geese are residents.

Why don’t our resident geese migrate?

Geese travel in family groups which collect at staging areas to join larger flocks.  The young geese learn the migratory paths from their parents.  If their parents don’t migrate the whole family stays put.  The reintroduced geese had no one to teach them to migrate so they and their descendants live here year round.

The resident geese know our habits and will gather in the no-hunt zones this month.  You may see more of them on our city rivers and in county parks in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, remember that fall is here and with it comes hunting season.  Wear blaze orange, especially if you visit State Gamelands where it’s required even if you’re not hunting.


(photo of Canada geese in Ottawa, Ontario from Wikimedia Commons.  These geese are migratory.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Aug 29 2013

Earthflight Begins Sept. 4

Published by under Books & Events

Snow geese migrate through Monument Valley, Utah (photo courtesy of John Downer Productions, PBS Nature, WNET)

Next month the six-part BBC series Earthflight will come to PBS Nature starting September 4.

The series by John Downer Productions follows birds in flight on six continents using camera techniques and close ups reminiscent of the 2001 film Winged Migration.

I previewed the “North America” segment and like Earthflight better, not only because the camera technology has improved and miniaturized, but because Downer’s producers let the birds lead us to natural phenomena from the birds’ perspective.  Brown pelicans over Baja California show us the amazing water dance of “devil” stingrays.  Great egrets in South Carolina reveal where dolphins purposely beach themselves to herd fish.

The series took four years to produce, in part because key birds in the film were imprinted from birth on humans and raised to be comfortable with cameras, ultralights and microlights.  John Downer himself became an accidental “mother” to a duck whose egg he was delivering to a cameraman. The egg hatched in transit and the duckling immediately assumed Downer was its mother. She followed him everywhere for almost a year.  “It was a total commitment,” Downer said, “but one that rewarded me with one of the best moments of my life as it flew alongside me in a parascender.”

The episodes are packed with birds and wonders:

  • North America, Sept 4, stars snow geese, bald eagles, brown pelicans, whales and the “devil” rays.
  • Africa, Sept 11, follows vultures, cape gannets, flamingos and the great migrations of wildebeest and sardines (chaos in the ocean; a sky full of diving gannets).
  • Europe, Sept 18, features white storks, cranes, sand martins (watch them drink and bathe while flying), and — bonus for Peregrine Fans — 20 million starlings trying to out-fly the peregrines in Rome.
  • South America, Sept 25, follows condors, swifts, hummingbirds and scarlet macaws.  See the Nazca lines with the birds.
  • Asia and Australia, Oct 2, stars demoiselle cranes, bar-headed geese (at 27,000 feet over the Himalayas), pigeons, rainbow lorikeets and Japanese cranes dancing in the snow.
  • Flying High, Oct 9, shows how the series was made, the birds who starred in the show, and unexpected mishaps including the time when the camera crew lost snow geese (temporarily) in Brooklyn, NY.

Watch Earthflight on PBS Nature beginning September 4 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(photo courtesy of John Downer Productions, PBS Nature, WNET)

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Aug 12 2013

The Warbler Guide

Published by under Books & Events

The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle (cover image from Princeton University Press)

If you keep up with birding news you know that The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle came out this spring.  My review is a few months late but it’s just in time for the season when we’re really going to need this book — Confusing Fall Warblers!

My interior debate upon opening any new field guide is:  Should I jump right in or read it first?    The first quarter of the book is not to be missed.  It provides excellent tips on how to use the book, What to Notice On A Warbler, How to Listen to Warbler Songs and how to read sonograms.

But during Confusing Fall Warbler season you might have to jump right in.  Use the Quick Finders.

Try the East Fall Quickfinder on pages 110-111.  Use a Post-It note to bookmark the page edge so you can jump here quickly.  Pick the closest bird you see but don’t worry about making a wrong guess. When you get to the species account you’ll find similar Comparison Species and ample descriptions to point you to the right bird.

If you already have a guess, flip to the species accounts and — Hooray! — they’re in alphabetical order by common name, not in the confusing ever-changing taxonomic order.

The accounts are rich with easy to find tips.  I’ve already learned from the Diagnostic Field Mark ✔ that’s “always sufficient for a confident ID.”   Did you know you can always ID a drab confusing Blackburnian by the pale braces on its back and dark olive cheek patch that’s pointed at back and bottom?  Now I know.

The end of the book is full of treasures too with a Quiz and Review, right-sized photos of Warblers in Flight and a table of Habitats and Behaviors.

Added bonus:  Download the audio guide of warbler sounds including chip calls.  You’ll need them during fall migration.

Confusing fall warblers are arriving soon so be prepared with The Warbler Guide.  Click here or the image above to learn more and buy it from Princeton University Press.

(cover image of The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, published by Princeton University Press)


p.s. Click here for downloadable versions of the Warbler Quick Finders.

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Aug 04 2013

Bird Story Wins Top Prize

Published by under Books & Events

Willie meeting Hannah, from Willie and Hannah by Haruka Doi

These bird illustrations by a seven year old are so beautiful that I had to share them with you. No wonder this book won first prize.

WQED’s Education Department holds a Writers Contest every year for children in grades kindergarten through three.  After the judges pick local winners, our first place winners in each grade advance to the national PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest.  This year two WQED kids won at the national level.  First place honors went to a gorgeous story about birds.

Second grader Haruka Doi, age 7 of Pittsburgh, submitted her story Willie and Hannah about an abandoned baby woodpecker who’s helped by a red-tailed hawk.  Her story is unusual.  Her pictures took my breath away.

Haruka painstakingly constructed each illustration as a mosaic of colored paper scraps that create realistic portrayals of the birds. Above, Willie the woodpecker meets Hannah the red-tail for the first time.  Below, Willie is in his nest hole.  These photos can’t do the pictures justice. They are so intricate you want to touch them.

Willie by Haruka Doi

To see what I mean, click here to see the book and hear Haruka read her story.

At such a young age Haruka is already familiar with the birds, their postures and attitudes. Besides being an author and artist, she may be a birder, too. 

Here she accepts her award in Pittsburgh.

Haruka D accepts her award at the 2013 Writers' Contest (photo courtesy of WQED)

Congratulations, Haruka!

Her birds are winners.


(photos courtesy of WQED)

p.s. Russell native, Cricket Branstrom, won national third place among first-graders for her story, Little Possom’s Adventure.  Click here to see and hear her story.

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Jul 15 2013

Birds Here And Gone, July 21

Published by under Books & Events

The Lost Bird Project, Greak Auk at Fogo Island (photo courtesy of The Lost Bird Project)

This Sunday, July 21, WQED will feature three programs with the theme of Birds Here and Gone.

  • 4:00pm, Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air is an old favorite with stunning close-up footage of these tiny flying jewels.  See my review here.
  • 5:00pm, Bird Tales will air for the first time on WQED.  I reviewed it for the original air date in January but we were unable to broadcast it then.  See my review here.
  • 6:00pm, The Lost Bird Project.  Don’t miss this show!

The Lost Bird Project begins slowly, introducing us to sculptor Todd McGrain and his passion for memorializing five extinct birds.

Inspired by the book Hope Is The Thing With Feathers by Christopher Cokinos, McGrain realizes that the birds were driven to extinction by human actions and now other animals are on that same trajectory. Meanwhile we’ve forgotten how this happened.  How can we understand what we’ve lost and mitigate the future?  He decides to memorialize the birds.

McGrain approaches his mission with humor and poignancy.  With his brother-in-law Andy Stern he visits each site where the last bird died, negotiates to place the sculpture, gets to know the local people.

Like the locals we don’t understand it at first.  How will this work?  Why is it important?

As the show continues all of us “get it.”

The heath hen, similar to the prairie chicken, was hunted until all had died on mainland North America.  The last population remained at Martha’s Vineyard where hunting was prohibited, a heath was preserved, and habitat was improved but the heath hen continued to decline.  In 1929 the last heath hen called for a mate.  His species normally called near the ground but his calls went unanswered.  He flew to the top of a tree.  He called and called but no one came.  He was alone.  He died in 1932.

McGain’s sculpture of the great auk, last alive in 1844, gazes out at the North Atlantic from Fogo Island, Newfoundland.   This is what we lost.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can do better.

Click here to see the trailer and learn more about The Lost Bird Project.

Don’t miss three bird shows this Sunday, July 21 on WQED.  Birds, here and gone.


(photo courtesy of The Lost Bird Project)

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Jul 08 2013

Farm Market at Phipps on Wednesdays

Sign for Farmers Market at Phipps (photo by Kate St. John)

If you’re near Schenley Park or passing through as I do, stop by the Farmers’ Market on the lawn at Phipps Conservatory, Wednesdays at 2:30pm to 6:30pm, for fresh organic and naturally grown food.  Click here for more information.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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