Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Feb 13 2014

Great Backyard Bird Count Starts Tomorrow

Published by under Books & Events,Quiz

American goldfinches at the feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Fill your feeders and get ready for the bird count you can do in your pajamas.

For four days — tomorrow February 14 through Monday February 17 — you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from the comfort of your home.  All you need to do is count birds for at least 15 minutes, keep track of the highest number of each species you see, and record your count on eBird (instructions here).  If you take pictures, submit them to the GBBC Photo Contest.

Join with others across the continent in this weekend science project.  Your data will show trends in winter bird populations across North America as you can see in these statistics from prior years.

Don’t want to stay indoors?  You can count birds anywhere or join others at one of these local events. (Scroll down for the many events in Pennsylvania.)  Here’s how to participate no matter where you choose to count.

Meanwhile, you can practice counting with this photo by Marcy Cunkelman.  What species and how many birds are in the picture?


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Jan 27 2014

Schenley Park Oak Wilt Meeting, Feb 3

Back in July I mentioned that there’s oak wilt in Schenley Park.  In the weeks ahead those trees will come down.
Councilman Corey O’Connor is holding an informational meeting about the project on Monday February 3, 6:00pm – 7:30pm at the Jewish Community Center, Levinson Hall B.  (The main entrance is at 5738 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.)

See Councilman O’Connor’s flyer below for more information.

Schenley Park Oak Wilt meeting, 3 Feb 2014, 6:00pm

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Jan 23 2014

Winter Birds On WQED

Published by under Books & Events

me (photo by Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)One week from today on January 30 at 7:30pm, WQED’s Pittsburgh 360 will air a segment on winter birds by Doug Oster.

Several Pittsburgh birders are in the show including Bob Mulvihill of the National Aviary, Jim Hausman of Jefferson Hills and yours truly, Kate St. John.

If you miss the premiere next Thursday click here for dates and times of five opportunities to watch on TV plus a link to the online video, available after the show airs next Thursday.

See me in my purple coat.  ;)

(photo by Andy Starnes/Post-Gazette)

7 responses so far

Jan 06 2014

Help Study Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl in flight (photo by Kim Steininger)

Are you curious about the snowy owls visiting us this winter?  Would you like to know who the owls are and where they’re going?  So would a team of scientists.  They’re going to find out and you can help.

This winter’s snowy owl irruption is so huge that by December ornithologists and wildlife managers realized they had a golden opportunity to find the answers to many questions:  How old are the owls? What sex are they? Have they been exposed to toxins?  Where are they going?

Thus was born Project SNOWstorm, a collaboration of 18 scientists and 13 organizations.  The project tags snowy owls, collects data on their age, sex, and blood toxins (if any), and maps their movements via satellite.  The project also collects location-specific photos of snowy owls from anyone who wants to help.

So far Project SNOWstorm has tagged two owls, one at Buena Vista, Wisconsin, the other at Assateague, Maryland.  As soon as each owl was released his tag began transmitting at regular intervals.  Their location data is continuously collected, then mapped to make a picture of the owls’ movements.

With only two tagged owls we can already see two different approaches.  “Buena Vista” never moves far from his favorite winter territory (click here for his late December  map).  “Assateague,” on the other hand, loves to wander and has visited three states in only two weeks!  (Click here for Assateague’s map).

You can help Project SNOWstorm in two ways.  If you take pictures of snowy owls this winter, you can submit them to the project to add to their database.

Better yet, help buy more transmitters and tag more owls by making a tax deductible contribution to Project SNOWstorm via the Indiegogo website.

Click here to see a video about Project SNOWstorm and contribute via Indiegogo.


(photo by Kim Steininger)

5 responses so far

Jan 01 2014

Thoughts For A New Year

Published by under Books & Events

Kate St. John with Florida Scrub-Jays (photo by Chuck Tague)

Have you ever heard your own words and learned something new from them?

I’d forgotten about an interview I did five years ago on The Allegheny Front until I stumbled upon it last week while writing about the Lower Buffalo Christmas Bird Count.

In the four and a half minute interview I found some useful resolutions for the New Year:

“Go outdoors, look around, look up.  [Outdoors you’ll] get a view of things that are bigger than yourself. …  I find it very calming to see that life goes on despite whatever is going on in my head. Nature is still rolling.”

Click on the photo above to listen.


(photo by Chuck Tague, audio by The Allegheny Front)

4 responses so far

Dec 31 2013

A Big Thank You

Published by under Books & Events

Chuck Tague, Charlie Hickey, Steve Gosser, Dianne Maceshney, Marcy Cunkelman avatar, Shawn Collins (photos from the photographers)

On this, the last day of 2013, I’m sending a big thank you to the photographers who allow me to use their photos on my blog.

You’ve seen my own photographs in this space but none of them match the work of others, especially the six who contributed the most this year.  From left to right, starting at top:

  • Chuck Tague of Volusia County, Florida is the founder and interpretive naturalist at the Nature Observer News.  Formerly of Pittsburgh, Chuck was one of my first and best teachers on observing nature.  Many of us miss his infectious curiosity and enthusiasm but we know he doesn’t miss our cold, gray winters!
  • Charlie Hickey of Berks County, PA is retired and travels widely photographing birds, plants and other cool stuff outdoors.  I met Charlie online through PABIRDS because he shared a photo.  His Flickr site is rich with information on his subjects including their scientific names (click ‘more’ at each Flickr photo).  I’m adding Charlie’s exotic places to my Bucket List.
  • Steve Gosser of Westmoreland County, PA works for an insurance company but spends all his free time photographing birds.  His beautiful photos have been published in the newspapers, including the Valley Dispatch and Tribune Review, and shown in several galleries. Watch his website or Facebook page for announcements.
  • Dianne Machesney of Allegheny County, PA is an amateur botanist, certified Master Gardener, and treasurer of the Wissahickon Nature Club where she and I met.  Now that she and her husband Bob are retired they spend more time outdoors in search of birds, butterflies and plants.  Dianne’s photos always teach me something new.
  • Marcy Cunkelman of Indiana County, PA is Editor of the The Keystone Gardener magazine, a masterful gardener, monarch butterfly “tagger” and educator.  She often invites fellow photographers to spend the day in her beautiful garden, designed for butterflies and birds. Marcy’s not shy about taking pictures but she’s shy about being in them, so I’ve had to use of one her butterfly photos as her portrait.
  • Shawn Collins of Crawford County, PA has a ‘day job’ but spends all his free time photographing birds.  His work has been published in the Edinboro newspaper at  I met Shawn online when he shared a photo on PABIRDS, then met him in person on an outing he led at Pymatuning. His photos on Facebook and Flickr have convinced me that Erie and Crawford Counties are the Shangri La of Pennsylvania birds.

These folks are only the tip of the iceberg.  So many photographers have contributed their work that there’s not room to list them all.  (See the Photographers page!)  I also owe a debt of gratitude to those who publish their work using the Creative Commons license for all to share.

So here’s a BIG THANK YOU to all the photographers who’ve given me permission to use their work.  This blog would not be possible without you.

(composite photo from each of the photographers’ websites or Facebook pages)


p.s. I didn’t tell the photographers in advance that I needed their portraits so I had to glean photos from their websites or Facebook.  After publication, Marcy Cunkelman sent this photo of herself.
Marcy Cunkelman

6 responses so far

Dec 28 2013

Bird Count News

Published by under Books & Events

Birders at Burgh Castle (photo by Glen Scott, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Today there are two local Christmas Bird Counts:  Pittsburgh and the proposed circle at Imperial.

I want to count in both circles — especially since the Imperial CBC may find a snowy owl near the airport — but I’ve opted for Pittsburgh’s because I’ve counted on the same route in my neighborhood for 13 years.  I would hate to miss the history of it.

Back on December 15 the Allegheny Front radio show covered the Lower Buffalo Christmas Bird Count in Washington County Pennsylvania, organized every year by Larry Helgerman.  Click here to see and hear the news from Lower Buffalo’s count.  Congratulations, Larry!


(birders at Burgh Castle, Norfolk, UK. photo by Glenn Scott, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

p.s. If you get an out-of-synch double-audio effect at the link above, click the pause button on one of the two audio feeds.  The two feeds start automatically and are sometimes out of synch.

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Dec 27 2013

Pittsburgh Eaglecam!

Thanks to Bill Powers of Pix Controller and the PA Game Commission the first bald eagle nestcam in Pennsylvania is right here in Pittsburgh!

Installed one week ago, it’s already capturing the activities of the Hays bald eagle pair at their nest above the Monongahela River.

As you can see, installing the camera involved some scary tree climbing by Derek Spitler of the PA Game Commission.  (The nest is in the center of the photo.)  Click on the TribLive screenshot below to read Mary Ann Thomas’ report and see close-ups and video of the installation.
Screenshot of the eaglecam from TribLive video

Pittsburgh’s eaglecam has already captured the pair at their nest.  The video at top was taken on Christmas Day and there are videos of the pair together on December 23 and one eagle in snow on December 26 (yesterday!).

Though the site is within the city limits it is quite remote.  There is no electricity and no Internet connection so the camera must run on solar power and transmit using the cell network.  Right now Bill Powers is working out the kinks — too little battery power to run all night and thin data bandwidth from Sprint — but he has to fix all of it within the next two weeks before his access to the site is cut off.

Bald eagles abandon nest sites with too much human disturbance so the PA Game Commission has allowed PixController to visit the camera only until January 15.  All other access is off limits.  Don’t even dream of going there yourself!  The area is posted and you’ll be fined $1,000 to $10,000.

Trib Total Media will stream the live feed on its website beginning in February.  Meanwhile you can see new video clips and watch the eagles online at PixController’s eaglecam site. If the camera is not streaming, rest assured that Bill is working on it.


(Pittsburgh bald eagle nestcam video by PixController. Screenshot of camera installation from TribLive.)

p.s. While you wait for activity in Pittsburgh, watch eagle chicks on camera in Ft. Myers, Florida!  The first eaglet hatched on Christmas Eve, the second on Christmas Day. Watch them on the Southwest Florida Eaglecam.

8 responses so far

Dec 25 2013

Merry Christmas

Snow on Pyracantha (photo by Bob Muller, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

The colors of a Merry Christmas…

Pyracantha after a rare snowfall in Nags Head, North Carolina, February 2006 by Bob Muller.


(photo by Bob Muller (bobxnc), Creative Commons license via Flickr)

2 responses so far

Dec 24 2013

Norwegian Gifts

Published by under Books & Events,Trees

Norway spruces (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When you see a tall evergreen with drooping branches in eastern North America, chances are it’s a Norway spruce.

Native to Europe, Picea abies is cultivated widely for landscaping and is now naturalized from Connecticut to Michigan.  Elsewhere the trees must be planted but they do quite well, tolerating more heat and humidity than other conifers.

Norway spruces are easy to identify because their drooping branches resemble the fringed sleeves on a cowboy jacket and their cones are long and thin with papery scales.

Norway spruce cones (photo by Randi Hausken, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

In Germany this species became the first Christmas tree.  In fact, it’s the tree that adorns New York’s Rockefeller Center, London’s Trafalgar Square, Edinburgh’s town square and Washington DC’s Union Square right now.

Every year since 1947 the City of Oslo has given a Norway spruce as a Christmas tree to those four cities in gratitude for U.S. and U.K. help during World War II.

Here’s Rockefeller Center’s tree on the 40th anniversary, Christmas Eve 1987.

Christmas tree,Rockefeller Center, 1987, gift of Oslo, Norway (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Click on the city names above to read about these beautiful Norwegian gifts.


(photos of spruce and Christmas tree from Wikimedia Commons. photo of cones by Randi Hausken, Creative Commons license on Flickr. Click on the images to see their originals)

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