Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Dec 24 2014

TBT: Partridge in a Pear Tree

Published by under Books & Events

Red-legged partridge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

TBT: “Throw Back Thursday” (on Wednesday this week).

What species is the partridge in the pear tree?

Click here to find out in a blog article from Christmas Eve 2010.


(photo form Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Dec 21 2014

Winter Solstice

Sunset at frozen Pudasjärvi lake, Finland (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s going to be a dark day in Pudasjärvi, Finland, where this photo was taken.  Within the next 12 hours, the sun will reach its southern solstice(*).

Pudasjärvi is so far north (at 65° 22′ 39″ N, 26° 55′ 04″ E) that during the winter solstice the sun is up only 3 hours and 30 minutes, rising at 10:27am and setting at 1:58pm.  At high noon it will be only 1.5 degrees above the horizon — barely risen — and to make matters worse the moon is New so it won’t provide any light at all.

The day will be brighter here in Pittsburgh with 9 hours and 17 minutes of sunlight — as soon as the heavy clouds open up and allow the sun to shine.

Starting tomorrow the days will get longer.

Things will get better. I promise!


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

(*) The solstice is at 6:03pm Eastern Standard Time, 1:03am Eastern European Time.

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Nov 16 2014

This Friday: Audubon Day at Pitt

Published by under Books & Events

Passenger Pigeon plate by John J Audubon, courtesy University of Pittsburgh Hillman Library

This Friday November 21 visit Pitt’s Hillman Library for their Annual Audubon Day, 9:00am to 4:45pm.

This year the event commemorates the passenger pigeon and showcases Audubon’s 1824 passenger pigeon plate, believed to be the only bird he painted in Pittsburgh.  Visit Room 363 to see this and more than 24 prints from John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

At 10:00am, in the Amy E. Knapp Room, don’t miss Chris Kubiak’s presentation on the the causes and consequences of the passenger pigeon’s extinction and the controversial effort to revive it through cloning.

Audubon Day is free and open to the public.  Call 412–648-8199 or click on the image above for more information.


(photo of John James Audubon’s passenger pigeons, courtesy University of Pittsburgh.  Click on the image to see the news release)

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Nov 09 2014

My, How Time Does Fly!

Published by under Books & Events

Bird blog's 7th Birthday Cake (graphic by Joan Guerin)

Seven years ago today I published my first-ever blog post.  Who knew I’d still be writing Outside My Window seven years later and enjoying every minute of it? My, how time does fly!

You, dear reader, are the reason I keep going.  Your interest and enthusiasm encourage me every day.

How much have I written, how much have you commented?  Every year I look at the numbers.

  • Number of posts since Outside My Window began: 2,461
  • Total number of comments on the blog (not including Facebook & Twitter which probably double this total): 10,354   Wow!  Thank you! I love to hear from you.
  • Most prolific topic: Peregrine falcons, of course.  523 entries
  • Top viewed post in the past year:  By far the winner in this category is an article from 2012: Peregrine Versus Bald Eagle: Guess Who Won.  On June 23, 2014 this article was linked in a Reddit conversation about Rufus the Hawk of Wimbledon fame.  More than 6,660 people clicked through to see Peter Bell’s excellent photos of Dorothy attacking a bald eagle over Schenley Plaza.  It was an amazing one-day spike at  Outside My Window accounted for more than 77% of the entire site’s traffic.  The referral came from “steve626.”  Thank you, Steve Valasek!
  • Highest number of comments on a post this year came from your congratulations on my retirement on September 30: More Time to Bird and Blog.  I’ve been retired more than a month and am thoroughly enjoying myself. Busier than when I worked!
  • Thanks to blogging I was most amazed to learn: Satellites can measure groundwater and the Armillaria fungus is the world’s largest living organism.  These two lessons were doubly impressive because their news hit me twice. The satellites reported that the American West has a lot less groundwater than we thought and I felt dumb when I didn’t realize that Armillaria was what killed this tree.

I enjoy writing and am grateful for your comments, suggestions, and “shares” on social media.  I’m also grateful for the many photographers who contribute photos and videos to this site.  Without their photos I’d just be a pile of words.

Thank you, everyone. My, how time does fly!


(bird-thday graphic by Joan Guerin: The rook is watching a flock of pigeons.)

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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


(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


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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