Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Jan 01 2015

First Bird Of The Year

Published by under Books & Events

Rock pigeon (photo by Chuck Tague)

For those who list birds, January 1 starts a fresh new list for the new year.  What bird will be the first of 2015?

If you live in the suburbs or countryside yours may be a songbird at the feeder — a cardinal, a chickadee, a dark-eyed junco — but where I live in the city the most likely first bird is a European import: a house sparrow, a starling, a pigeon.

Sometimes I make the list better by not looking outside until I think there’s a “good” bird outdoors.  This usually requires a little cheating in which I ignore the hordes of foreigners to pick out the one native bird and call it my first.

Birding by ear is more successful at finding natives.  Pigeons don’t coo on early January mornings, starlings are silent at dawn, and house sparrows are late risers.  This method can give me a First Bird of song sparrow or Carolina wren but the most likely is American crow, cawing as they fly over my neighborhood on their way from the roost.

Today I shouldn’t cheat. I’ll just see what I come up with.

What’s your First Bird of 2015?


(photo by Chuck Tague)

13 responses so far

Dec 31 2014

Not Found In Nature

Published by under Books & Events

Accidental abstract (photo by Kate St. John)

This flock isn’t found in nature. Are they angels? Ghosts? New Year’s Eve revelers?

No. I took this nighttime photo of the City of Pittsburgh from my attic window. I thought I was holding the camera steady but the light-tracks show I wasn’t.

Perhaps a tripod would have made it boring.


(photo by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Dec 25 2014

Merry Christmas

Published by under Books & Events

Christmas decorations at Phipps Conservatory (photo by Kate St. John)


(Christmas decorations at Phipps Conservatory.  Photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Phipps is closed today but opens again tomorrow with more of the Winter Light Garden and Flower Show through January 11.

2 responses so far

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)

One response so far

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.

4 responses so far

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)

2 responses so far

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.)

9 responses so far

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)

2 responses so far

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.)

30 responses so far

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)


One response so far

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