Jul 15 2015

Fossil at Ferncliff

Rock, path, with fossil at Ferncliff (photo by Kate St. John)

Rock with hashmark pattern across it (left to right) at Ferncliff, Ohiopyle (photo by Kate St. John)

Years ago when I first hiked the Ferncliff Trail at Ohiopyle I was puzzled by this pattern on the rock beneath my feet.

In those days there weren’t interpretive signs nearby so I tried to make sense of it as best I could.  I decided it was a motorcycle track, but I couldn’t figure out how the vehicle had gotten there and why it had run from the cliff into the river.

Duh!  Motorcycles don’t leave tracks in rock.  It’s a fossil.

Fossil at Ferncliff Peninsula (photo by Kate St. John)

Fossil at Ferncliff Peninsula (photo by Kate St. John)

This Lepidodendron is one of six kinds of fossils found along the river’s edge now listed on an interpretive sign as: Cordaites leaves, Lepidodendron scale, giant Calamites, Psaronius, a giant dragonfly and Sigillaria.

Though I’ve seen the other ones this is the fossil I like the best.

Lepidodendron was a tree-like plant with scales on its trunk that grew as high as 100 feet tall.

Drawing of Lepidodendron by Eli Heimans, 1911 (image from Wikipedia)

Drawing of Lepidodendron by Eli Heimans, 1911 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

It lived and died in the Carboniferous (coal making) era.  If the tree had fallen in a swamp it would have become peat and then coal, but it happened to fall on sand so the patterns of its scaly trunk were preserved in rock.

Not far away is one of Lepidodendron’s last living relatives: Lycopodium or groundpine. Only 6-12 inches tall, its tiny trunks and branches provide a visual hint of its ancestor’s appearance.

Lycopodium (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Tree Groundpine, Lycopodium dendroideum (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The past and present are near each other at Ferncliff Peninsula.

 

(fossil photos by Kate St. John. Drawing of Lepidodendron and photo of Lycopodium from Wikimedia Commons; click the images see the originals)

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Jul 14 2015

Find The Whimbrel

Whimbrel with eggs (photo by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS)

Whimbrel with eggs at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada (photo by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS)

Can you see the whimbrel and four eggs?

These ground-nesting shorebirds have natural camouflage but I’ll bet you can see the one above because the eggs have shadows and the bird’s mouth is open.  If you were holding the camera you’d hear the whimbrel shouting like this.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) nest in the northern tundra around the world.  In North America they lay eggs in the first week of June that hatch in the first week of July.  Mom stays with the family 3-14 days after the chicks hatch.  Then she leaves on migration while dad stays with the kids until they fledge in August.  The kids don’t leave until September.  This means that some sort of whimbrel is on the move in North America from July through September.

Successful mothers and birds whose nests have failed arrive on northern coasts in July on the first stage of their long migration.  Mary Birdsong saw this one yesterday at Presque Isle on Lake Erie’s shore (video below).

Their early stops are only way stations where the whimbrels fatten up for their transoceanic trips.  Some North American whimbrels fly non-stop 2,500 miles to South America.  (Others save time by wintering on the southern U.S. coast.)

Asian whimbrels spend the winter as far south as Australia. Here’s a group in Singapore.

Whimbrels wintering in Singapore (photo by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons)

Whimbrels wintering in Singapore (photo by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons)

But on migration they travel alone.

This month, if you’re lucky, you might see a whimbrel on the shore.  You’ll see it when its long down-curved bill stands out. Woo hoo!

 

(photo of whimbrel at nest by Dr. Matthew Perry, USGS. Video of whimbrel at Presque Isle State Park 13 July 2015 by Mary Birdsong. Photo of whimbrels in Singapore by Lip Kee via Wikimedia Commons.)

 

p.s. I often go to Conneaut Harbor, Ohio to find shorebirds but the sandspit is inundated right now because the harbor water level is 20 inches higher than normal.  See this message at OhioBirds.

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Jul 13 2015

Father-Daughter Pair in Norfolk

'Dad' and 'tHE Missus', Norfolk, Virginia (photos by Mike Inman, used by permission)

‘Dad’ and his mate ‘HE’ in Norfolk, Virginia, 2015 (photos by Mike Inman used by permission)

In a recent Peregrine FAQ I described how peregrine falcons are not social creatures like we are.  In fact most raptors don’t hang out with their relatives, so that siblings from different years and birds separated by more than one generation can’t know that they’re related.

Since they don’t know their relatives, how do raptors avoid interbreeding?  By traveling.

Young raptors naturally disperse far from home and females typically travel twice as far as males, thereby mixing the gene pool.  Here’s how far some of Pittsburgh’s peregrines traveled from where they were born:

  • Downtown Pittsburgh: Louie dispersed 2.3 miles, Dori traveled 93 miles from Akron, Ohio
  • Cathedral of Learning: E2 dispersed 2.3 miles, Dorothy traveled 450 miles from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Neville Island I-79: Beau dispersed 10.7 miles, Magnum traveled 79 miles from Canton, Ohio

Bald eagles are much more social than peregrines. They fish and roost together in early winter but when it comes time to breed they disperse far and wide.  Close interbreeding among bald eagles is rare.

That’s why it was such a surprise to discover that this year’s pair nesting near Norfolk Botanical Garden is father and daughter.

The male is not banded but he has a unique tiny black dot in his left iris, called an inclusion, that’s visible in good photographs. This identified him as the 25-year-old male that used to nest in the Garden.

His mate is banded with the code “HE,” a band she received six years ago when she was a nestling at Norfolk Botanical Garden.  Yes, she’s his daughter.

Their close relationship was reported this spring by the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) that monitors bald eagles in Virginia and banded “HE” in 2009.   CCB’s blog article provides details and photos.

It’s unusual for a female to settle so close to her birthplace but this location has had many challenges.  After the old female was killed by an airplane at nearby Norfolk International Airport in 2011, eagles were no longer allowed to nest at the Garden.  The male and all his potential mates were harassed away.  Nine nests were destroyed.  All the females left. The male didn’t nest for three years.  (Click here for the story.)

Unusual as this pairing is, the good news is that he finally found a mate, they found a safe place to nest, and together they fledged one eaglet on May 29.

It all worked out in the end.

 

(photos of the NBG pair courtesy of Mike Inman, inmansimages.com)

p.s. As part of their monitoring efforts CCB recently identified a female bald eagle with an unusual story. Click here to read about ‘Dolly’, born at the Birmingham (Alabama) Zoo to injured, unreleasable parents, she now nests along the James River in Virginia.

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Jul 12 2015

Wall Of Water

Published by under Water and Shore

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Lots of rain means a lot of water, especially in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle.

When I visited Fern Cliff Peninsula on July 1, I was astonished at the river’s height and roar.  The site is downstream of two dams — Deep Creek and Confluence — yet the river made walls of water just above the falls.

Here’s what it looked like on July 1 after a very wet June.

For perspective: the wall of water is on the woman's right, Youghiogheny River, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

For perspective the closeup below is on the woman’s right.  Youghiogheny River atOhiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wall of water in the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Trees that had been on islands stood alone, fighting the river’s relentless pull.

A tree that had been on an island stands alone, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

A view from the other side: A tree fights the river alone, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And this Joe-pye weed and a patch of grass are all that’s left of a ledge.

Joe-pye weed as an island (photo by Kate St. John)

Joe-pye weed as an island (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite the high water, rubber-raft whitewater trips were operating just below the falls.

You couldn’t pay me to ride these waves.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 11 2015

Indian Pipe Heads Up

Published by under Plants

Indian pipe, fertilized flowers, Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Indian pipe, fertilized flowers, Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are some pink flowers you don’t see every day.

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is a parasite on a parasite.  It lives on fungi that are parasites of trees.  Since it doesn’t need chlorophyll the plant is ghostly white and can live in the deep shade of a dense forest.

When Indian pipe blooms the flowers droop downward.

Indian pipe blooming (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Indian pipe blooming (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But as soon as they’re fertilized the flowers move into the heads up position.  Esther Allen taught us that this helps the plant disperse its seeds.

Most plants have erect flowers that nod when fertilized.  Indian pipe is backwards in many ways.

 

Learn more about Indian pipe in this article from the Arkansas Native Plant Society.

(heads up photo by Kate St. John. Heads down photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the photo to see the original)

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Jul 10 2015

Baby Owls in a Bird Bath

Published by under Birds of Prey

This week on PABIRDS Carole Winslow described a family of six eastern screech-owls roosting in her barn in Clarion County.  Right now the family is sticking together because the youngsters haven’t learned to hunt yet.

Carole’s report reminded me of this video of screech-owls at a bird bath.  Filmed in Texas in 2011, it shows an adult at the bath first, then a baby, then …  it’s a party.

It was 105 degrees that day so the owls stopped by for a drink.  Who knew that they bathed!

 

p.s. Both eastern and western screech-owls occur in Texas. Sibley’s Guide says they are similar and best identified by voice.  Tony Bledsoe listened to the video and identified the faint screen-owl voice as an eastern screech-owl.

Note:  The adults have lighter faces and ear tufts. The babies have round dark heads and faces.

(YouTube video by TexasChickens)

 

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Jul 09 2015

He’s A Boy

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine nicknamed "Silver" at ARL Wildlife Center, 8 July 2015 (courtesy ARL Wildlife Center)

Video screenshot of peregrine falcon “Silver” at ARL Wildlife Center, 8 July 2015 (courtesy ARL Wildlife Center)

Late yesterday afternoon the ARL Wildlife Center posted a short video and this update on their Facebook page.  Click here or on the photos to see the video.

Peregrine Update:

It’s a boy! X-ray reports have revealed that the falcon is a male. We have also received the results from initial blood tests which have all been normal. We are still waiting for the reports from the lead test, but the bird is gaining weight & his flight feathers continue to grow. We will continue to provide public updates on the peregrine as soon as new information develops, but are unable to respond to individual inquiries about this patient.

Screenshot of Silver, 8 July 2015 (courtesy ARL Wildlife Center)

Video screenshot of peregrine falcon “Silver” at ARL Wildlife Center, 8 July 2015 (courtesy ARL Wildlife Center)

 

(Posted on Facebook by Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, approximately 4:30pm)

NOTE:  As you can see, my news cycle is typically 13-15 hours later than ARL’s Facebook posts.  For up-to-the-minute news from ARL, check their Facebook page at Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center. Their page is public.  You don’t have to join Facebook to see it.

p.s. Here’s an informative July 9 article from Pitts’ University Times and standing on one leg is normal.

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Jul 08 2015

Too Many Ticks? Hire a Possum

Virginia opossum (photo by Drcyrus from Wikimedia Commons)

Pennsylvania won an award again though there’s no reason for applause.  For the third straight year we lead the nation in reported cases of Lyme disease.

One could argue that we won because Pennsylvania is a big state with a large population, but we also have too many black-legged ticks, too many tick hosts that carry Lyme disease (mice), and too many deer carrying ticks long distances to other locations.  Black-legged ticks are now present in every county in the state.

What to do?  In April I wrote about the many effective ways to reduce ticks around your house and protect yourself outdoors.  But here’s an unconventional solution.  Get yourself a ‘possum.

Like all mammals, Virginia opossums pick up ticks in their travels but the good news is that they don’t carry Lyme disease and they groom so meticulously that ticks don’t stay on them for long.  In fact, when a possum finds a tick on its body, it eats it!

Weird as they are, possums have some advantages.  They consume up to 5,000 ticks in one season and are practically immune to rabies and venomous snakes.

So as we do our best to combat Lyme disease — especially in May through July when black-legged ticks are so hard to see in their tiny nymphal stage — remember that having a possum in your yard is a good thing.

Too many ticks? Hire a ‘possum!

 

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

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Jul 07 2015

The Sneaky Little Vine: Dodder

Published by under Plants

Dodder vine wrapped around a stem (photo by Kate St. John)

Dodder vine wrapped around a stem (photo by Kate St. John)

This small yellow-orange vine is a native member of the morning glory (Convolvulaceae) family that’s hated by agriculture.

Dodder (Cuscuta) has virtually no leaves and is not green because it doesn’t use chlorophyll to make food.  Instead it wraps itself closely around a host plant, inserts very tiny feelers (called haustoria) between the cells, and sucks nutrients out of the host.  Though it starts growing from seed, it loses its soil-based roots when it’s found a really good host.

Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide has only one entry for dodder in eastern North America — common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) — but there are 100-170 species around the world, especially in tropical and subtropical climates.

In Pennsylvania dodder blooms summer and fall in dense clusters of small white flowers.  According to Wikipedia “the seeds are minute and produced in large quantities. They have a hard coating and typically can survive in the soil for 5–10 years, sometimes longer.”  And therein lies the problem.

Farmers hate this plant because it eats some of the plants we cultivate.  Tomatoes, for instance.  If dodder takes over the best way out is to plant something dodder can’t live on — grasses or wheat — but it takes a few years before the dodder seed bed is too old to grow.  Hence, dodder has been declared a noxious weed/seed in 49 states.

On the other hand, I’ve rarely seen dodder take over (here’s what a thick patch looks like) and tomatoes have developed their own defenses against it.

In the end you might think dodder is good for nothing but in western North America it hosts the caterpillars of the brown elfin butterfly (Callophrys augustinus). (See comments.)

And so goes the circle of hosts.  It’s eat and be eaten.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jul 06 2015

From A Different Angle

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 3 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 3 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

With access denied to private property under the Westinghouse Bridge(*) we’re exploring public property to see the peregrines who nest there.

Over the weekend Dana Nesiti tried two locations at the East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard Bridge.  The sidewalk (topside) is the closest and shows off the birds from a different angle.

Here he captured some great shots of the adults in the sun.

Peregrine lifting off, Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrine lifting off, Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrine lifting off, Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrine lifting off, Westinghouse Bridge (photo by Dana Nesiti)

… and this one of Storm on the catwalk perch.

Peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge, 3 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge, 3 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

The youngsters were hard to see on Friday but by Saturday they were ledge walking far and wide on the big arch.  With my scope, John English and I could easily see one walking and squawking for food.

On Sunday they made practice flights.

Young peregrine practice flight at Westinghouse Bridge, 5 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Young peregrine practice flight at Westinghouse Bridge, 5 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

And seemed to be train spotting. 😉

Young peregrines (pre-fledge) at Westinghouse Bridge, 5 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Young peregrines (pre-fledge) at Westinghouse Bridge, 5 July 2015 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

As you can see, “topside” is closer to the action.

 

(*) NOTE!  The place where we used to stand under the Westinghouse Bridge — and the access to it — is owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad (NSRR) and we are not allowed on it.  DO NOT go there.  NSRR is closely monitoring the site.

(photos by Dana Nesiti)

 

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