Nov 18 2014

Winter Is A Great Pest Control System

Published by under Weather & Sky

Frozen lake in Poland (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While we brace for 150F this morning and moan that it’s 300F below normal in Pittsburgh, it’s important to look at the bright side.

Last winter’s “polar vortex” put a real dent in invasive insect populations.  It reduced the hemlock wooly adelgid population in the eastern U.S. and completely wiped out adelgids in some of the infected stands in Cook Forest.  It also killed emerald ash borers and stink bugs.

This one-to-two day cold snap won’t seriously reduce invasive insects but it may zap a few bugs caught unexpectedly outside their lairs.  Every little bit helps.

And one more thought in case you aren’t convinced.  There are no poisonous snakes in Alaska and very few in Canada and northern-border U.S. states.

Winter is a great pest control system.   :)


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

p.s.  It also reduces human pests.  No one’s “partying” at the park across the street from my house.

3 responses so far

Nov 17 2014

Dorothy’s Oldest Granddaughter

Published by under Peregrines

Pittstop at Medina Raptor Center, 15 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dorothy, the matriarch peregrine at the Cathedral of Learning, is 15 years old and no longer fertile but she’s fledged 42 youngsters and has many descendants.  Last weekend Karen Lang and I traveled to Medina Raptor Center to visit her oldest granddaughter.

Pittstop has lived at the Raptor Center in Spencer, Ohio ever since she was found with an injured wing in North Olmsted on September 12, 2003. Though her injury happened in September, she’d been flying for only two months. She hatched in early June because her parents had had such an eventful spring.

Louie (Dorothy’s son) was only a year old that spring when he fought and killed Boris at the Gulf Tower and left Boris’ body in camera view. After the dust settled Louie and Tasha (a wild-born female who claimed the Gulf Tower in 1998) paired up and laid four eggs.  “Pittstop” was born in Pittsburgh and stopped in Ohio when she apparently hit a building.

Here, Annette Piechowski holds Pittstop high while she tells her story.  You can see that Pittstop’s wing is not quite right … but that’s not why she’s unreleasable.

Pittstop with Annette, glove up, 16 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

When her wing first healed Pittstop looked good in the flight cage and on the creance cord but she was stopped by incapacitating seizures. They’re related to her injury but no one knows how.  Sometimes they’re mild, sometimes grande mal, so she’s on medication to control them.  Evidently Pittstop knows when a seizure is coming on. Annette says she gets a faraway look on her face and flies down to the ground before the seizure happens.

Because of the seizures Pittstop does her educational work at the Raptor Center where she can receive immediate attention (and not alarm the public).  She’s a great peregrine ambassador.  Here she shows her concentration working with Toni McNamara.

Pittstop with Toni, 16 Nov 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)


I’ve sponsored Pittstop for many years so I was anxious to see how she’s doing.  The last time I saw her she was still in juvenile plumage.  Here we had a little reunion.

Pittstop with Annette Piechowski and Kate St. John, 16 Nov 2014

Then Pittstop had a message for me though I couldn’t hear it. (She silently opened her beak.)

Pittstop says "Hey" to Kate St.John, with Annette Piechowski


Later Annette Piechowski, Toni McNamara and Jackie Cabonor gave us a great tour of the Raptor Center and showed us the many educational birds:  owls, hawks, more falcons and Migisi the bald eagle.  I’ll be blogging about these beautiful birds in the near future.

Thank you to Laura Jordan and everyone at Medina Raptor Center for the good work you do for raptors and for taking such good care of Pittstop.

It was great to see Dorothy’s oldest granddaughter.


(photos from Kate St. John’s camera taken by Kate St. John, Toni McNamara and Jacki Cabonor)

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 15 2014

Swans On The Move

Tundra swan flock in migration (photo by Steve Gosser)

Tundra swans are migrating now over western Pennsylvania.  They’re traveling 3,600 miles from Canada’s Northwest Territory and Alaska’s North Slope to Chesapeake Bay and eastern North Carolina.

Steve Gosser photographed this flock on November 12.  I saw 60 at Moraine State Park on November 13.

The flocks are composed of families: mother, father and one or two youngsters.  In the fall their trip takes about 12 weeks, a slower pace than their springtime return because their “kids” are young and need to rest longer.

Sometimes they’re hard to see.  On an overcast day they’re white birds in a white sky so listen for their voices and look up.

Do you know their call?  Click here to hear.  Start the player at the 6:00 minute mark to hear a flock approach and land at Pungo Lake, North Carolina.

Tundra swans are on the move.


(photo by Steve Gosser)

2 responses so far

Nov 14 2014

Crows Recognize Their Friends

Published by under Crows, Ravens

On Halloween I posted a video showing how crows recognize their enemies.  Libby Strizzi wondered, do they recognize their friends?  You bet!

In Gifts of the Crow John Marzluff, who conducted the face-recognition experiments at University of Washington, tells how the same American crows that harass the mask-face fly to perch near Lijana Holmes when she arrives on campus.  She feeds them a breakfast of eggs and meat every day.  It’s not just the food.  Crows know who their friends are.

In this video from Germany “Rabenvater” offers treats to hooded and carrion crows and records their antics.  He feeds them often (see his many crow videos) and they trust him.  Their relationship is so amazing that spectators pause to watch.

Not only do the crows trust him, they’re willing to raid his pocket that holds the treats.  Watch at 2:30 as a hooded crows thinks about the pocket and at 3:40 when a carrion crow spends time pulling out the treats and throwing away the peanuts.

Crows recognize their friends.


(YouTube video by Rabenvater)

No responses yet

Nov 13 2014

Black Gray Squirrels

Published by under Mammals,Schenley Park

Black gray squirrel in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

Last month when the leaves changed color I began to notice the many black squirrels in Schenley Park.  During the summer they were hidden by leafy shadows but they stand out now among the bare trees and fallen leaves.

Black squirrels aren’t a separate species.  They’re just “eastern gray squirrels” (Sciurus carolinensis) that are melanistic.  This one isn’t 100% black.  He has white whiskers.

Read more about melanism and squirrels in this article from 2010 entitled This Is A Gray Squirrel.


(photo by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

Nov 12 2014

Check Every Vulture

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

Zone-taile Hawk illustration from the Crossley ID Guide Raptors via Wikimedia Commons

Last week at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival I wanted to see a zone-tailed hawk but the only way to do it was to check every vulture.

The relationship between zone-tailed hawks and turkey vultures goes way back.  Both are South and Central American birds who’ve hung out together for longer than we can imagine — so much so that the hawks now resemble the vultures.  Turkey vultures moved into North America but the hawks didn’t commit that far, only coming to Arizona, New Mexico and southern Texas in the summer.

Zone-tailed hawks (Buteo albonotatus) like to soar with turkey vultures and they easily blend in.  The hawks are slightly smaller, have the same bi-color underwings (dark leading edge and pale trailing edge), and soar with their wings set in a dihedral.

Where I come from a dark, soaring V means vulture so I wouldn’t give those birds a second thought, but look at the three birds soaring at the top left of Crossley’s illustration.  One of them isn’t a turkey vulture.  Can you tell which one?

Our trip leader, Bill Clark, told us how to find a zone-tailed “needle” in the turkey vulture “haystack.” Check each bird’s head and feet.

Turkey vultures have tiny, bald, reddish heads.  Zone-tailed hawks have dark, feathered, hawk-sized heads.  Turkey vultures have drab legs and feet.  Zone-tailed hawks have bright yellow legs and feet.  Turkey vultures have plain tails.  Zone-tailed hawks are named for the white “zone” band on their black tails.

Fortunately my “Life Bird” zone-tailed hawk flew quite close.  I saw his dark head, his yellow legs and feet, and the white zone on his tail.  Woo hoo!

Now that I’m back in Pittsburgh it’s a relief that I don’t have to check every vulture.  ;)


(illustration from The Crossley ID Guide Raptors via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Click on the image to see the original)

3 responses so far

Nov 11 2014

Road Closed For Ocelots

Published by under Mammals

Ocelot (phti by USFW via Wikimedia Commons)

At the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival I visited many birding hotspots but didn’t have time to see Laguna Atascosa. Exploring it on my own would not have helped.  The 15-mile Bayside Drive loop road is closed for ocelots.

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are about the size of a Maine Coon cat (15-30 pounds, one foot high and 3 feet long from nose to tip of tail) with short fur in a beautiful spotted pattern.  Because the pattern is unique to each cat they can be identified as individuals in photographs.

Though ocelots are widespread in Central and South America they’re endangered in the U.S., seen only in Arizona and south Texas.  They used to range across South Texas into Arkansas and Louisiana but the land looks nothing like it did 50-100 years ago.  Ocelots need thick native vegetation to hunt and raise their young but 95% of that has been cleared and drained for farms and towns.  There’s nowhere for the ocelots to go.

In 1995 there were 80-120 ocelots in south Texas but the number is now just under 50, all of them in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  A ranch and Laguna Atascosa are the only places in the U.S. where ocelots breed.

With only 12 ocelots at Laguna Atascosa each sighting is a gift.  In March and May trail cams recorded a cute female kitten and a year-old male. USFW also captures and radio tags the ocelots so they can target the cats’ preferred areas for protection.

Unfortunately road-kill history and the radio tags have shown that ocelots frequently walk Bayside Drive during the day.  Since 1995 about half of all ocelot deaths in Texas have been road kills.

As bad as it is to run over an abundant animal, imagine the horror of killing one of only 12 endangered animals.  To stop their decline U.S. Fish and Wildlife closed the loop road to private vehicles on October 15, 2013.

Though I couldn’t drive my rental car on Bayside Drive, I’m glad the road is closed to protect these beautiful cats.

Click here to read more and see ocelot photos at Friends of Laguna Atascosa.


(photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original.)

One response so far

Nov 10 2014

Flame-chested Crooked Beak

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Pyrrhuloxia in Arizona (photo by SearchNetMedia on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

To a Pennsylvania birder (me) this looks like an odd female cardinal but it’s actually a male pyrrhuloxia.

Pyrrhuloxias (Cardinalis sinuatus) are closely related to northern cardinals and their ranges overlap in the southwestern U.S.  The pyrrhuloxias take the driest habitats, the cardinals take the wet ones.  If you live in southern Arizona or south Texas you may have both at your feeders.

How do you tell the difference at a glance?  Look at the beak.  Pyrrhuloxias have short, stubby, yellow beaks with a smaller and curved upper mandible.  Adult northern cardinals have bright red-orange beaks while immatures have dull brown-red.

The beak accounts for part of the pyrrhuloxia’s name.  Birds of North America Online explains that “Pyrrhu” comes from Pyrrhula, the genus for bullfinches meaning flame-colored or red. Loxia is the genus name for crossbills and means crooked.

Its a desert cardinal with a flame-colored chest and a crooked beak.


(photo taken in Tuscon, Arizona by SearchNetMedia via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

One response 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

« Prev - Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ