Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

Apr 02 2015

Learn About Nests on PBS NATURE, April 8

Just in time for nesting season PBS NATURE premieres their three-part series Animal Homes.  Episode 1 on April 8th is devoted to Nests.

Using time lapse photography, infrared light and tiny HD cameras, the producers got up close and personal during all the stages of nest building.  The Anna’s hummingbird above is just a taste of the beautiful footage and intimate looks at the birds.

Each nest is custom made.  The wonder is that strong, resilient, and intricate nests are woven out of grass and twigs using only a beak.  And some build with mud, sticks or merely leaves:

  • Red ovenbirds (rufous hornero) of South America build an oven-shaped nest entirely of mud with an amazing internal baffle that forces them to squeeze in sideways.  Watch what they do when the cowbirds come.
  • A male osprey attracts a mate while he builds a 400-pound nest from scratch, stick by enormous stick!
  • Male Australian brush turkeys build compost heaps of leaves where multiple females deposit their eggs, as many as 50 eggs per heap.  It doesn’t matter whose kids they are.  The “kids” are self sufficient when they hatch.
  • Chalk-browed mockingbirds battle shiny cowbirds at the nest and sometimes win.

And if you bird by ear, don’t just “watch” the show.  Listen, too!  There’s a message in the soundtrack, the song of a familiar North American bird whose name is a nod to the name of the program.  I thought its voice was misplaced in the South American footage until I read on Wikipedia that “It occurs from Canada to southernmost South America and is thus the most widely distributed bird in the Americas.”

Very cool, PBS NATURE!  I learn something new every day.

Watch Animal Homes: Nests on PBS NATURE, April 8 at 8:00pm EDT.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(video from PBS NATURE)

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Mar 29 2015

This Morning in Schenley Park

Participants in the Schenley Park Walk, 29 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ready for a walk in Schenley Park, 29 March 2015: Diane, Jen, Rachel, Missy, Jen, Hayley, Julia, Rosie (photo by Kate St. John)

Nine of us braved the cold this morning at the Bartlett Shelter in Schenley Park.  We didn’t see anything blooming in 20F degrees but it was sunny and the birds were active.

We saw three Best Birds:  a fox sparrow sunning himself by the stream, a golden-crowned kinglet flitting in the treetops, and a male pileated woodpecker hammering a dead branch (unusual for Schenley).  I checked my records for the fox sparrow. He’s the earliest I’ve seen in Schenley Park.  They always arrive alone — usually April 4 to 9.

Here are the birds we saw and heard:
* Red-bellied Woodpeckers
* Downy Woodpeckers
* Northern Flicker (heard, not seen)
* Pileated Woodpecker, unusual in Schenley Park
* Blue Jays, abundant and loud
* American Crow, flyover
* Carolina Chickadees
* Tufted Titmice
* White-breasted Nuthatches
* Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1
* European Starlings
* Fox Sparrow, 1 by the stream
* Song Sparrows, singing
* Dark-eyed Juncoes, singing
* Northern Cardinals, singing
* Common Grackles
* House Finches

I’m so glad we went out this morning!  If I hadn’t promised to be there I would have missed that fox sparrow.  :)


The next outing will be Sunday April 26, 8:30am.  Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center (near Phipps).  Check here for details as the date approaches.

(photo of the outing group, 29 March 2015 !If I misspelled your name, please let me know in a Comment)


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Mar 23 2015

Reminder: March 29 Outing at Schenley Park

Coltsfoot blooming (photo from Wikipedia under GNU Free License) Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday March 29, 8:30am in Schenley Park.  Meet at Bartlett Shelter.
(Note that Schenley Drive is closed until 9:00am for CMU Buggy Race practice.)

Click here for more information and for updates if the walk is canceled for bad weather.

Maybe we’ll see coltsfoot.


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



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Mar 20 2015

Peregrine Quest! March 22, 1pm, Downtown

Empty Gulf Tower nest, 19 March 2015 (photo from National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

The empty nest at the Gulf Tower, Downtown Pittsburgh

They’ve done it again!  The Downtown peregrines have been absent from the Gulf Tower since March 10 … yet they have been seen Downtown.

Apparently they are planning to nest somewhere else … but where?  Let’s find out.

Join Pittsburgh Falconuts on our quest to find the Downtown peregrines.  We’ll meet on Sunday March 22 at 1:00pm at the Dunkin’ Donuts at 28 Market Square and fan out from there.

If you can’t make it, wish us luck.  We’ll need it!


Thanks to John English of the Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page for organizing this quest.

(photo of the empty Gulf Tower nest from the National Avairy falconcam)


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Mar 13 2015

On The Radio: Bird Files

Turkey Vulture at Shavers Creek (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

If you’ve been following the Allegheny Front on WESA radio, you’ve heard their Bird Files series twice a month.

This week I joined as a contributor with a piece about Nature’s clean-up crew — turkey vultures!

Tune in to the Allegheny Front on WESA 90.5 FM tomorrow morning, Saturday March 14, at 7:30am.

Or read and listen here –>  Turkey Vulture Has Cast Iron Stomach


(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Feb 27 2015

Coming Soon: Spring Walks in Schenley Park

Northern magnolias blooming in Schenley Park, 18 Apr 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is coming next month and when it does, let’s go outdoors!

From March through June I’m leading bird and nature walks once a month in Schenley Park.  Come out with me to see birds and blooms, trees and bees.

On each walk we’ll travel at the speed of botany (slowly!) keeping our eyes and ears open for the latest flora and fauna.  Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes that aren’t afraid of mud.  Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.  The walks will last two hours, but you can bow out early.

Here’s the schedule:

As each date approaches I’ll post a reminder on the blog — or visit my Events page any time for directions and up-to-date information including cancellations and rain dates.

Hope to see you in Schenley Park.  I can hardly wait for Spring!


(photo of a northern magnolia blooming in Schenley Park by Kate St.John)

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Feb 14 2015

Happy Valentine’s Day

Pair of mute swans (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A mute swan pair bows in courtship.


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

NOTE:  Mute swans were imported to North America. Though beautiful they are very aggressive and pose a threat to our native waterfowl.

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Feb 12 2015

Owls Coming to PBS, February 18

Screenshot from PBS NATURE's Owl Power program

Who can see in the dark, fly silently, and hear their prey beneath deep snow?  Owls!

Owls live on every continent except Antarctica, some in extreme heat, others in extreme cold.  How do they thrive in the nighttime world?  PBS NATURE explores their special talents on Owl Power, premiering next Wednesday, February 18.

The show explains some amazing facts about owls.  Did you know that … Their eyes take up 70% of their skull.  Their ear tufts aren’t for hearing, they’re for expressing moods(!).  Owls can hear the sound-frequency of a mouse 10 times better than we can.  And, to an owl the night is 2.5 times brighter than it is for us.

And there are cool video segments including…

  • A thermal-sensing camera shows what’s really happening at night!
  • The barn owl’s slow flight style is compared to a peregrine and a greylag goose.
  • Great gray owl babies fall branch to branch when they “fledge” from the nest.
  • Super-sensitive microphones record the sounds of a pigeon, a peregrine and a barn owl in flight. Only the barn owl is completely silent. (Of course, peregrines don’t need to be silent … just very fast!)

Click on the screenshot above for a preview, then watch Owl Power on PBS next Wednesday February 18, 8pm EST/7pm CST.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(screenshot from PBS NATURE’s Owl Power)

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Feb 06 2015

Count Backyard Birds Next Weekend

Published by under Books & Events

Three dark-eyed juncoes feeding in the snow (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

One week from today — February 13-16 — the Great Backyard Bird Count will take a real-time snapshot of the birds in North America and beyond.

Since 1998 the Great Backyard Bird Count has enlisted volunteers like us to count the birds we see for four days in mid-February.  We count them in our backyards or anywhere we choose.  Last year more than 142,000 volunteers tallied birds in 135 countries.  Most of us count in North America so the northern cardinal and dark-eyed junco were the #1 and #2 birds.  Click here to see which species was #3.

Counting is so easy you can participate from your kitchen window!  Just fill your feeders, sit back with a cup of your favorite beverage, and tally the highest count of each species for at least 15 minutes.  Then submit your observations online.  Don’t be daunted. It’s really easy.  Click here for instructions from Cornell Lab.

There are also outdoor events across the U.S. and in Pittsburgh –> Emerald View Park with Venture Outdoors, Three Rivers Birding Club & Fern Hollow Nature Center at Sewickley Heights Park, and Pittsburgh Botanical Garden.

If you love to take photographs, submit your best shots to the GBBC photo contest. Click here for contest information.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Get ready this coming week.
  2. Set up your feeders and …
  3. Go!

February 13-16, 2015.


(Marcy Cunkelman counted 3 dark-eyed juncoes in this photo from her backyard.)

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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)

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