Archive for the 'Books & Events' Category

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

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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.

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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)

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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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Dec 22 2013

Deck The Halls

Published by under Books & Events,Plants

Bromeliad Christmas wreath at Phipps Conservatory (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Though Christmas wreaths are a northern tradition this one at Phipps Conservatory is made of bromeliads from the American tropics.

After the weather turns cold tomorrow you might be wishing you were somewhere warm.  If you’re in Pittsburgh you can warm up at the Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory.  They’re all decked out for the holidays through January 12.

I love to bask in the humid warmth with tropical plants when its cold outside.  I can almost believe I’m on vacation.


(bromeliad Christmas wreath at Phipps Conservatory. photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Dec 21 2013

Winter Solstice

Winter sunset over the Susquehanna at the Wrightsville Bridge (photo by John Beatty)

Today at 12:11pm the sun will stand still.

We call this the “winter” solstice but it’s more accurate to call it the southern solstice because the sun is going to stand still over the southern hemisphere.  The word “solstice” describes the event:  sol means sun and stice, from sistere, means to stand still.

You might be jealous of the southern hemisphere right now because they’re in the midst of summer but take heart in this: their spring and summer are shorter than ours.

That’s because the Earth doesn’t move at a constant speed in its elliptical orbit.  It takes the Earth 92.8 days to travel from the point of our vernal equinox to the location of the northern/summer solstice (March to June), 93.6 days from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox (June to September), 89.8 days from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice (September to December) and 89.0 days from winter solstice to vernal equinox (December to March).  Thus the seasons aren’t equal in length.

This means that in the northern hemisphere spring and summer together are 7.6 days longer than those seasons in the southern hemisphere.  We have a week’s more warmth than they do.

If this is confusing, check out the earth map and explanation at this link at whose information I paraphrased above.


(photo of the sun setting over the Susquehanna at Wrightsville, PA by John Beatty)

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Dec 16 2013

Everybody Loves Beethoven

Beakie the starling talks on the phone (screenshot from YouTube video)

Today is Beethoven’s 243rd birthday and we’re celebrating on Classical WQED-FM with (nearly) All Beethoven, All Day.

Beethoven’s music is so popular that birds learn to sing it.  Click on the photo above to watch a pet starling whistle his favorite Beethoven symphony over the phone.

Can you identify the symphony?

(screenshot from YouTube video)

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Nov 29 2013

Happy Birthday, Surtsey (Belated)

Island of Surtsey, 1999 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Fifty years and fifteen days ago, the island of Surtsey emerged from the sea off the southern coast of Iceland.

On November 14, 1963 the cook on the trawler Ísleifur II saw smoke on the water.  The captain motored over to see if it was a ship on fire or a volcano (in Iceland you know to include “volcano” on your list) and yes, it was a volcano.

From a spot of smoke it grew quickly into an island.  Here it is erupting in 1963.

Island of Surtsey erupting (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Named for a Norse fire giant, Surtsey continued to erupt for the next three and a half years until it grew even larger than it is today.  The island is literally losing ground.  It was 1 square mile at its maximum; now it’s only half.   The ocean immediately took away the loose rocks leaving behind hard volcanic cliffs.  They will eventually erode as well, it’ll just take longer.

For now Surtsey has settled down to a bland, quiet existence as a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most studied places on earth.  What began as barren hot rock now hosts at least 69 plant species and 15 species of nesting birds (nice cliffs!).  Even spiders have drifted in and set up housekeeping.

Two unexpected plants arrived with human visitors and had to be eradicated lest they became invasive.  A tomato plant grew from a seed deposited by diarrhea (yes, it happens) and some boys planted potatoes.  Wrong!  Those had to go.

Right now Surtsey is probably under snow as in this photo from January 2009.
Surtsey Island, Jan 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Very quiet, but she has an amazing history.  See great photos of her fiery birth and read more of her history, including the bizarre French territorial dispute, at the VolcanoCafé blog.


(photos of Surtsey from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the original)

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Nov 16 2013

Two Free Bird Events Next Week

Published by under Books & Events

Here are two free bird events coming up next week in Pittsburgh.

Guam rail at the National Aviary (photo from Wikimedia Commons)Monday November 18, 4:30pm, Guam Rail Reintroduction Presentation at the National Aviary

Laura Barnhart Duenas, manager of the Guam Rail and Micronesian Kingfisher captive breeding program at Guam’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, will present a lecture on the successful bird conservation work she’s doing to reintroduce the Guam rail and other birds wiped out by the invasive brown tree snake.

The flightless Guam rail became extinct in the wild in the late 1980’s but has been bred in captivity and returned to small snake-free islands in the Mariana archipelago (Guam’s island zone).  The National Aviary has bred Guam rails since 1984, hatched 57 chicks and returned 23 of them to Guam.

Doors open at 4:00 p.m. Click here for more information. Click here for directions.



Flamingo folio print by John James Audubon (courtesy University of Pittsburgh)

Friday, November 22, 9:00am to 4:45pm, Annual Audubon Day at the University of Pittsburgh

Next Friday the University of Pittsburgh will host their annual Audubon Day at Hillman Library.  More than two dozen original John James Audubon prints will be on display in the Special Collections Reading Room, Room 363.

In addition, from 10:00am to noon, Joel Oppenheimer, one of the world’s foremost Audubon experts, will deliver a presentation titled “Audubon’s Art and the Published Editions from the Nineteenth Century to the Present” in the Amy Knapp Room on Hillman’s ground floor.

For more information including the day’s agenda, click here.




(photo of Guam rail at the National Aviary from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Flamingo print by John James Audubon, courtesy of University of Pittsburgh)

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