Jul 04 2014

Happy Fourth of July 2014

Published by under Birds of Prey

One of the juvenile Bald Eagles from the Hays PA nest (photo by Dana Nesiti)

This juvenile bald eagle is only four months old, hatched at the Hays nest in Pittsburgh, PA.

Thanks to Dana Nesiti for his photo from the Eagles of Hays, PA Facebook page.

Happy Fourth!


(photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays, PA)

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Jul 03 2014

TBT: Six Years of Bald Eagle Success

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagles in Butler County, PA (photo by Chuck Tague)

It’s Throw Back Thursday…

Six years ago bald eagles were doing well in Pennsylvania with 140 active nests.  Back then we knew it was only a matter of time before they’d be off Pennsylvania’s endangered list but we couldn’t imagine how quickly that would happen.

Who knew that by July 2014 we’d have 250 nests in Pennsylvania, three of them in Allegheny County, and one in Pittsburgh that’s internationally famous because of its webcam!

Click on the bald eagles’ photo above to go back in time to July 2008 when there were no eagles to watch at the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and far fewer eaglecams.  At that time one of the famous eaglecams was at Norfolk Botanical Gardens where the pair had a Peyton Place year and an ailing eaglet.

After you read the 2008 Norfolk eagle story, you might be wondering what happened to the eaglet with avian pox.  Nicknamed Buddy he lives in captivity because his beak grows in a deformed shape and must be trimmed once a month so he can eat.  Though otherwise healthy, he would die in the wild without this treatment.  He will never fly free.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Jul 02 2014

Two Peregrine Chicks at Westinghouse

Published by under Peregrines

Two peregrine chicks at Westinghouse Bridge on banding day, 1 July 2014 (photo by Thomas Keller, PGC)

Two peregrine chicks at Westinghouse Bridge on banding day, 1 July 2014 (photo by Thomas Keller, PA Game Commission)


Just when you thought peregrine nesting season was over, there’s one more nest remaining to fledge in Pittsburgh.

Yesterday morning Tom Keller of the PA Game Commission rode with PennDOT in their graciously provided bucket truck to band the nestlings at the Westinghouse Bridge.  This late nest was first confirmed on May 20 when Dan Brauning and Tom Keller found the female incubating three eggs.  On June 10 Tom confirmed the first hatchling.  Yesterday he banded two females.  (One egg didn’t hatch.)

This late-in-the-season nest cycle is probably a re-nesting after the first attempt failed.  Nest failures at natural cliff sites can be caused by predation but this location is so inaccessible that the re-nest is probably due to a changeover in adults after a peregrine-vs-peregrine challenge.  The banded female, Hecla, hatched in 2009 at the Ironton-Russleton Bridge in Ironton, Ohio and has been present at Westinghouse since 2012.  Perhaps her banded mate is new but no one has been able to read his bands.  He’s still unidentified.

Westinghouse site monitor (and proud “papa”), John English, organized a Banding Watch under the bridge.  Thanks to photos from watchers Maury Burgwin and Donna Memon, I’ll tell the rest of the story in pictures.

The bucket near the nest, peregrine "mom" flies by (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Bucket at the nest, upset peregrine mother, Hecla, flies by (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Female peregrine on the attack on Banding Day (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Hecla is very angry. “Get away from my babies!” (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Hecla's mate (unidentified) does a barrel roll to defend his nestlings on Banding Day (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Hecla’s mate (unidentified) in a barrel roll defending his nestlings (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Female peregrine, Hecla, defending her nest on Banding Day, 1 July 2014 (photo by Maury Burgwin)

Hecla flies under the bridge to attack the banding crew (photo by Maury Burgwin)


Male peregrine drives a gull away from the Westinghouse bridge during the excitement on Banding Day (photo by Donna Memon)

Worked up about the banding, the male peregrine drives away everything from the Westinghouse bridge including this hapless gull. “Sorry! Just leaving!” says the gull. (photo by Donna Memon)


Stay tuned for Fledge Watch, July 18, 19 and 20!   Check John English’s Westinghouse Peregrines webpage or Pittsburgh Falconuts for details.


(photo credits:
Nestlings by Thomas Keller, PA Game Commission.
Action shots of adult peregrines by Maury Burgwin.
Peregrine-vs-gull encounter by Donna Memon

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Jul 01 2014

The Could-Have-Been National Bird

Published by under Doves & Chickens

Wild turkeys (photo by Steve Gosser)

Around the world, national birds are chosen from among large, distinctive or iconic native species.  The bald eagle was chosen in 1782 for the Great Seal of the United States.  He is naturally large and distinctive and, after hundreds of years of persecution (yes, people used to trap and kill bald eagles) the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act made him completely iconic.

Many national birds are not majestic.  Austria and Estonia have both chosen the barn swallow and the U.K. has chosen the European robin.  The U.S. could have chosen the large, native wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).  After all France, our great supporter during the American Revolution, chose the Gallic rooster (Gallus gallus) as their symbol but that was largely due to a play on words.  Gallus is the Latin name for both the Gauls and the chicken.

Some say Ben Franklin preferred the wild turkey over the bald eagle as a national symbol but the real story is more nuanced than that.  It’s a story of our first principles and the fight for independence.

Our basic reason for fighting the War of Independence was Americans’ desire to be freed of England’s hereditary aristocracy (the king) who imposed oppressive laws from afar.  The leaders of our Revolution were not hereditary aristocrats.  They were generally “commoners” who became successful on this continent.  They resented being pushed around by the aristocrats overseas.

As the war was winding down in 1783, Major General Henry Knox proposed that the leaders keep in touch so they formed the exclusive Society of the Cincinnati and chose the bald eagle as their symbol.  Open only to those who fought or lead the American Revolution and their descendants, the Society’s bylaws formed the first hereditary aristocracy on American soil.

This was offensive to Benjamin Franklin.  What did we just spend eight years fighting for?!  In a letter to his daughter he criticized the Society and pretty much “dissed” everything they stood for including their odd depiction of a bald eagle on their crest.  He said that it looked like a wild turkey and then he let lose on the bald eagle and riffed on the turkey’s “better” qualities.  It’s a great piece of writing and well worth a read (click here).   By the way, Franklin is correct about the bald eagle’s rapacious habits.

Ben Franklin’s and judge Aedanus Burke’s distaste for the Society’s bylaws turned public opinion against them.  George Washington threatened to resign as the Society’s president unless they removed the hereditary clause — which they did until the furor died down.  Then they secretly returned to the rule of primogeniture, membership inheritance by the first-born males. (“Hmmm!” says this first-born female.)

More than 200 years later, the Society of the Cincinnati still exists but is so obscure that few of us have heard of it.  Their lasting legacy is the name of Cincinnati, Ohio and the misconception that Ben Franklin preferred turkeys.


(photo of wild turkeys by Steve Gosser)

p.s.  The Society of the Cincinnati  has other lasting legacies but few of us know what they are.  While writing this article I learned for the first time that Society members played a role in the development of Pittsburgh and that Arthur St. Clair (viz. Upper St. Clair) was a member.  Who knew?

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Jun 30 2014

Green Flowers

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Flowers of Indian cucumber root, 22 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

It seems odd that a plant would have green flowers but a surprising number do including jack-in-the-pulpit, northern green orchid and ragweed.

In mid-June I found a blooming Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) that I nearly missed because the flowers didn’t stand out.  The top two had already gone to seed and those in bloom were camouflaged in a greenish yellow way.

The bottom whorl of leaves caught my attention.  It’s typically five to nine long leaves (this one had seven) suspended a foot or so above the ground.  Only the blooming plants have the smaller top whorl too.

I tried to take a picture of this arrangement but even my best photo is confusing.  The small flower whorl blends in with a second plant behind it even though the background is beyond the mossy log.

Indian cucumber root, Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, 22 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Having paused to take a photo I knelt down to see the flowers.  This perennial is pollinated by insects, probably flies.  The color green makes sense for flies as they don’t need fancy red, white, yellow or purple to be attracted to the plant.

Indian cucumber root earned its common name when Native Americans taught the settlers that the edible root smells and tastes like cucumber. People still dig and eat it today, thereby destroying the plant.  It’s endangered in Illinois and Florida.

Though not threatened in Pennsylvania, I won’t say the exact location of this flower.  Only that I found it in the Laurel Highlands, an area encompassing 3,000 square miles.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jun 29 2014

Color On The Wing

Published by under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Calico pennant (photo by Charlie Hickey)

If you’re like me, you’re in the midst of a low spot in the birding year.  There are lots of birds in Pennsylvania right now but they’re secretive because they’re nesting, and they’re going to stop singing in July.  Sigh.  (Check out this graph of the birders’ emotional year to see what I mean.)

However, it’s Bug Season!  Beautiful bugs are here to fill our need for color on the wing.

In June Charlie Hickey and his wife watch for the dragonflies to emerge from the lake at their backyard in Berks County.  Charlie posted this Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) on his Flickr page on June 5, the day they first appeared.

Dragonflies come in so many colors: blue and green Eastern Pondhawks, golden Eastern Amberwings, black and white Widow Skimmers.  My very favorite is the black and iridescent blue Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly.

Click here to see Charlie’s Odonata (dragonfly) album.  So many colors on the wing!


(photo by Charlie Hickey)

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Jun 28 2014

A Native Portulaca

Published by under Plants

Round-leaved Fameflower (photo by Dianne Machesney)

This Pennsylvania threatened plant is in the Portulacaceae family, related to our garden variety Portulaca.  Look closely at its thin, round, succulent leaves and you’ll see the family resemblance.

Round-leaved fameflower  (Talinum teretifolium), also called Quill fameflower and (Phemeranthus teretifolius), is found in rocky or sandy soil from Pennsylvania southward to Georgia and Alabama.

Dianne Machesney found this one last week at serpentine barrens in Chester County.

It was a Life Flower(*) for her. It would be one for me, too.


(photos by Dianne Machesney)

(*) Life Flower: Borrowing a term from birding, this means the first time one has ever seen this species.

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Jun 27 2014

Cute Kits

Published by under Mammals

Red fox kit (photo by Dan Arndt)

Most baby animals are cute but fox kits could win the Cutest prize.

Last month in Alberta, Dan Arndt photographed three red fox kits playing and exploring while their mother supervised nearby.  They tussled like puppies and paused to look curiously at the human with the camera.

Click on Dan’s photo above to see his Foxes 2014 album on his Flickr page.

Soooo cute!

(photo by Dan Arndt, Creative Commons license on Flickr.  Dan lives in Calgary and writes for two blogs: Birds Calgary and Bird Canada.)

3 responses so far

Jun 26 2014

TBT: From the Hummingbird’s Point of View

Published by under Plants

Close-up of a nasturtium (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… Throw-Back-Thursday: What does a hummingbird see in here? …

Facebook has Throw Back Thursdays (TBT *) and now, so do I.

I’ve been writing Outside My Window since November 2007 and accumulated more than 2,320 articles.  Many of them are great information that I’ve almost forgotten, so today I’m starting my own Throw Back Thursdays to reprise some really cool stuff.

Let’s re-explore the inside of a nasturtium.  Did you know it has a special structure just for hummingbirds?

Click on the photo to go back in time to 2011 and read “From the Hummingbird’s Point of View.”


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to read more about it)

(*) If you aren’t on Facebook… Throw Back Thursday (TBT) is the day each week when Facebook users post an old photo from their past.

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Jun 25 2014

Til Death Do Us Part

One of a pair of snow geese at Martin's Creek PP&L, June 2014 (photo by Jon Mularczyk)

In this month of wedding vows …

Jon Mularczyk confirmed that there are still four snow geese at the Martin’s Creek PP&L lands in Northampton County.  This species is quite unusual in Pennsylvania in June.

All the other five million snow geese are nesting at their arctic breeding grounds right now and their eggs are about to hatch.  The four geese near Bangor, PA should have left months ago.

Why are they still here?  Because they mate for life.

When snow geese are two years old they choose a mate … forever.  Their pair bond is so strong and so permanent that they will never abandon each other as long as they live.  The bird pictured above is able-bodied and could fly to the arctic but his mate, below, has a broken wing.  He won’t leave without her.
Snow goose with broken wing at Martin's Creek PP&L, June 2014 (photo by Jon Mularczyk)

The other two geese are probably their one-year old “kids.”  Young snow geese stay with their parents during their first round-trip migration so if Mom and Dad get stuck in Pennsylvania the kids stay, too.  Family ties are important.

Humans could learn a lot from snow geese.

Til death do us part.


(photos by Jon Mularczyk, Broad-Winged Photography)

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