Jun 23 2014

Downtown Lunch

Published by under Peregrines

Five peregrines in Downtown Pittsburgh, 21 June 2014 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Five peregrines in Downtown Pittsburgh, 21 June 2014 (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Is this a flock of crows?  No!

Anne Marie Bosnyak went Downtown last Saturday to find Pittsburgh’s Gulf Tower peregrines and she hit the jackpot.  At the corner of Fifth and Wood she saw two on the edge of the Citizen’s Bank Building.  As she watched, an adult arrived with food and four juveniles popped in for a meal.  From the looks of this, I doubt they were planning to share.

When they aren’t hanging out elsewhere the youngsters have lunch at the U.S. Steel Tower where Patti Mitsch can watch them outside her 38th floor window.  Here are four snapshots from cellphone videos she shared with me on Facebook.

Peregrine leftovers on the ledge, U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Juvenile peregrine with leftovers on the ledge, U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Two snapshots, juvenile peregrine on US Steel Tower ledge (photos by Patti Mitsch)

Peekaboo at the US Steel Tower ledge (photos by Patti Mitsch)

 

And just to prove that peregrines match the buildings, here’s another close-up.

Peregrine falcon juvenile at U.S. Steel Tower (photo by Patti Mitsch)

Juvenile peregrine at U.S. Steel Tower, 9 June 2014 (photo by Patti Mitsch)

If I had a peregrine outside my window I’d be unable to work for days! ;)

 

(top photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak.  Juveniles at U.S. Steel Tower by Patti Mitsch)

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Jun 22 2014

Portrait

Published by under Beyond Bounds

Tree swallow (photo by Jessica Botzan)

Oh, Mr. Tree Swallow, where did you get that blue?

 

(photo by Jessica Botzan)

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Jun 21 2014

He’s Flying at Hays!

Published by under Birds of Prey

First fledgling from the Hays Bald Eagle nest (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Dear Readers, there’s nothing like an in-person visit to correct a beautifully written but inaccurate story.  This morning I wrote that #3 had flown but I confused #3 with H3.  My original incorrect story follows.  Watch for the correction(**) at the end!

He hatched last and flew first! (**)

Yesterday morning the three Hays eaglets were still walking up and down the branches near their nest and testing their wings (click here for video). At 10:14am one left the nest but no one saw where it went. Then at 1:20pm that eaglet flew!  And guess what …drumroll…  the first to fly was Eaglet#3, the smallest and last to hatch. (** ummm. no.  See note at end!)

In early April we worried that #3 might not make it because he was so small and his oldest sibling bopped him on the head whenever his parents brought in food. But #3 proved to be a tough little bird who could “elbow” his siblings out of the way and get his share first.

As they grew we figured out that #3 is smallest because he’s male and his siblings are female.  This gave him First Flight advantage because he’s more maneuverable than his bigger, heavier sisters.

Yesterday at the Eagle Watch, Dana Nesiti was ready with his camera in case one of the eaglets flew.  At 1:20pm a young eagle went airborne and Dana captured it all.

The juvenile’s first landing was on the ground (uh oh!) but he got up and flew again, this time right past his mother.  Great shot, Dana!

Eaglet #3 flies past his mom on Fledge Day (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Congratulations, #3!  And thank you, Dana Nesiti, for sharing your photos!

See more of the first flight and great eagle photos at Eagles of Hays PA.

Visit the Hays Eagle Watch today and see the eagles in person.  Click here for directions and here for the weekend-only parking map.

Wooo hooo!

(photo by Dana Nesiti, Eagles of Hays PA)

(**) CORRECTION at 9:00pm!

I went down to the Eagle Watch this afternoon and learned my mistake. The watchers are as certain as they can be that the first to fledge is one of the two females.  Most say it was “H3.”  

H3 means “3rd to Hatch” but in eagle terminology it’s “3rd hatch of this mother” not “3rd hatch this year.” H1 was last year’s solo juvenile, H2 is this year’s first female, H3 is the 2nd female, H4 is the male.

This terminology is foreign to me, a veteran peregrine watcher.  Peregrine eggs hatch all at once so it’s impossible to identify the young by their hatch order and equally impossible to identify them by their birth order to the same mother.

So…. This year’s male hasn’t flown yet.  But he will soon.  His sister H2 may have fledged today just before sunset.  Stay tuned at Eagles of Hays PA and the Hays Eaglecam.

p.s. The Post-Gazette says the eaglet flew at 10:14am.  This is because the bird left the nestcam view at 10:14am. She was not seen flying until 1:20pm.

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Jun 20 2014

Take That, You Pesky Airplane!

Published by under Peregrines

Adult female peregrine attacks remote-controlled model glider (photo by Steve Shinn)

It looks like Photoshop, but it’s not.  The bird and the plane are actual size, frozen in time in Steve Shinn’s photograph.

The peregrine is a wild bird who nests on the seaside cliffs near Los Angeles, California.  She has “kids” on the cliff and won’t tolerate anything flying near them.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

The plane is a radio-controlled glider, guided by a human on the ground.  Model airplane enthusiasts love the wind above the cliffs for testing their equipment.  They have not thought that peregrine falcons could be a hazard.

Steve Shinn stops by the cliffs frequently during peregrine nesting season to capture awesome photos of their activities.  He was lucky to be there the day this female peregrine had had enough.

Annoyed by the glider invading her airspace, she flew out ahead of it, talons dangling, watching her chance.

Boom!  She grabbed it in mid-air and bit the “neck” to sever its spinal cord but it didn’t die quickly.

Peregrine grabs and bites the "neck" of a radio-controlled model glider (photo by Steve Shinn)

Steve writes, “Having grabbed this invader, she naturally wanted to chew off its head.  Fiberglass is a tough nut to crack even for a Peregrine.  … She has been reported to have ripped off the canopy of one plane and caused another to plunge into the ocean.”

You’d think the glider fans would learn.

“Take that, you pesky airplane!”

 

(photos by Steve Shinn.  Click here to see more of his peregrine photos.)

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Jun 20 2014

Peregrine Update, Pittsburgh

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine falcon (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)Here’s a quick update:

Gulf Tower peregrine family:  Yesterday morning, June 19, I heard from Amanda McGuire that the Downtown peregrines are hanging out near Point Park University and Oxford Center.  You may remember her balcony at Lawrence Hall was the rescued juveniles’ way station last year, the place where they rested near the (former) nest after rescue from the ground.  At 7:45am Amanda texted me saying:

Just ran for my life… There’s a peregrine on a little perch a floor below my balcony… and another one circled over me as I was looking over the edge.  |  They’ve been loud the past couple of days. Yesterday around 7pm there were two flying around Oxford Center.  |  I thought about going back out to get you a picture… but after that second one swooped by, I think I’m just gonna stay inside.  | One of them has the voice of their dad. Volume-wise at least… Luckily it’s not as long winded.

If you want to see the Gulf Tower peregrines, check out the area only three to four blocks from the Gulf Tower.

Westinghouse Bridge peregrine banding, Tuesday July 1, 10:00am:  The Westinghouse Bridge family is maturing later than other Pittsburgh area nests (perhaps this is a re-nesting).  On July 1 the PA Game Commission will band the nestling(s) when they are approximately 20 days old.  PGC’s Peregrine Falcon Coordinator, Art McMorris, writes:

We will meet at 10:00 AM on US Route 30 east of the bridge. From the east, driving westbound towards the bridge, there is a pull-off on the right side of the road about 1/3 mile before the bridge, across from Clyde Ave. … PennDOT will set up the snooper crane and we will access the nest via the crane. Everyone going onto the bridge deck to observe should have the standard safety equipment: at a minimum, a hard hat and safety vest. Others who would like to observe can watch from locations near the bridge. Observers can help by taking photographs in hopes of documenting the identity of the adults.

For more Banding Day information, contact John English at Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook page or leave a comment here.

(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

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Jun 19 2014

A Plant With Four Names

Published by under Plants

Bowman's root, Gillenia trifoliata (photo by Tom Potterfield, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

On the day we saw the upland sandpipers Carole Winslow showed me a “Life Flower”(*) growing by the road.

The delicate flowers of Bowman’s Root (Gillenia trifoliata) have five petals, but they’re arranged irregularly as you can see in Tom Potterfield’s photo above. When the flower fades each petal falls alone leaving three and four-petaled flowers to confuse us amateur botanists.

I took a (poor) photo of the profuse flowers and drooping stems.  They look as if the rain beat them down but this perennial just won’t stand upright.
Bowman's root, Clarion County, 14 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Gillenia trifoliata has two scientific names because there was a big disagreement about its first one.  Conrad Moench named it Gillenia in honor of German botanist Arnoldus Gillenius, but another of Gillenius’ fans later named a completely different plant Gillena in his honor. Professor Britton decided that the single letter “i” was not enough to distinguish the two names so he renamed Bowman’s Root Porteranthus trifoliatus in honor of his friend, Thomas C. Porter.

Which name is right?  In scientific naming there’s a rule that the first name takes precedence unless, of course, the organism is reclassed.  As we have seen with warblers, the Dendroica genus name completely disappeared when American Redstarts, Setophaga ruticilla, were reclassed into the Dendroica genus.  Because Setophaga is an older name the American Ornithologists’ Union declared that Setophaga replaced Dendroica. (Don’t get me going on how much I hate this!)  Apparently botanists made no such pronouncement on Gillenia so both names continue.

Bowman’s Root has another common name, Indian Physic, because Native Americans used the powdered root for an emetic (bleah!) and other medicinal uses.

Four names are a heavy load for these ethereal flowers.  I like to call them Bowman’s Root.

 

(Top photo taken at Longwood Gardens by Tom Potterfield. Click on the image to see the original.  Bottom photo by Kate St.John)

(*) Life Flower: I’m borrowing a term from birding to describe the first time I’ve ever seen this species.

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Jun 18 2014

Magical

Upland sandpiper (photo by Dan Arndt)

Strip mining consumes nearly 3,000 acres of Pennsylvania every year but there’s a ray of hope when the mines are reclaimed.  The “strips” become grasslands that could attract this bird.

Though they are “shorebirds” upland sandpipers don’t live at the shore.  They’re the quintessential grassland bird and an indicator of healthy tallgrass prairie.  Eight months of the year they live on the pampas (grasslands) of Argentina but in early spring they fly 6,000 to 8,000 miles, sometimes in as little as a week, to nest in the grasslands of North America.  Present from April to August, they stay here only four months.

In this century it’s a privilege to see one.  In the late 1800′s the upland plover, as it was called at the time, was market-hunted to fill the dining niche vacated by the suddenly scarce passenger pigeon.  Trainloads of dead “plovers” were shipped East while settlers drained the prairie and converted it to farmland.  Nowadays habitat loss and pesticides continue to threaten the bird’s existence.  Bartramia longicauda is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania.

Upland sandpipers are magical birds.  Your first hint of their presence may be a long mellow courtship whistle, given in flight or upon alighting (click here to hear), or their short whistle: “Ba-tui-tui.

They are graceful in almost everything they do.  In flight they use a distinctive rapid fluttering style reserved for the breeding grounds. Scan the fenceposts and you’ll find one perched where he landed with wings held aloft in a V, then slowly lowered.  It’s worth waiting to see one do this.  With its 20 inch wingspan, you can’t help but notice the bird.
Upland sandpiper (photo by Dan Arndt)

Upland sandpipers are very picky about grass.  They require upland, ungrazed grassland with three kinds of habitat: perches for courtship, tall vegetation with overhanging cover for the nest, low vegetation for their young to forage in.  They are also picky about grass species, preferring native grasses to invasives.  This means there are few places to find them in Pennsylvania.

The opportunity to see an upland sandpiper is so tempting, though, that birders will drive long distances to find them.  When I read last week that they were seen in Clarion County I drove an hour and a half last Sunday to meet up with Carole Winslow, Clarion County’s bird compiler.   We found a birder from New Jersey who had driven 5 hours to find “uppies.” He was lured by the magic, too.

Carole and I were very lucky. We saw four upland sandpipers in a large field at Mt. Airy and as we drove away were startled to see one perched on a fencepost close to the road.   Oh my!  We stopped in our tracks.  He took our breath away.

 

(Photos by Dan Arndt, Creative Commons license.  Dan lives in Calgary and writes for two blogs: Birds Calgary and Bird Canada. His most recent blog celebrated Rachel Carson’s birthday (a native of the Pittsburgh area) with a photo of a peregrine. Woo hoo!)

6 responses so far

Jun 17 2014

Stotting

Published by under Mammals

Springbok pronking (photo by Yathin_sk, Wikimedia Commons)

Last month I learned a new word that describes what this springbok is doing.

Stotting, also called pronking or pronging, is a stiff-legged trot punctuated every few paces by a high jump.

Here’s a quick look at a stotting gazelle in real time.

And here’s a longer look at springboks in slow motion from the BBC.

Cheetahs make the springbok run.  What makes them stott?  One theory is that they do it to show off.

It’s certainly a “Look at me!” moment when a springbok jumps 13 feet into the air with his back arched and legs dangling.  When a male jumps he opens the pocket of skin that runs from his back to his tail, as you can see in the photo above.  This flashes his patch of white hair and, according to Wikipedia, emits a sweaty odor.

Springbok and Thomson’s gazelles aren’t the only animals that stott.  North American mule deer and pronghorn do it and young sheep stott, too, as a form of play.

Who knew?!

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

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Jun 16 2014

The Importance of Tail Streamers

Barn swallows in flight (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Because the barn swallow is very widespread and nests almost exclusively on man-made structures, it’s been easy to study this bird for a very long time.  One interesting finding is that Hirundo rustica’s long tail streamers (outer edge tail feathers) are an excellent indicator of the birds’ health and a predictor of breeding success.

Birds with the longest and most symmetrical tail streamers are the healthiest and most desirable mates.  According to Cornell’s Birds of North America, “Tail length tends to correlate with reproductive success, annual survival, propensity to engage in extra-pair copulation, parental effort, ability to withstand parasites, immunocompetence, and other measures of fitness.”

In other words, if you’re a barn swallow with a long symmetrical tail you’re really healthy, you get to choose the best mate, and your nest will be very successful.  You’re also likely to be an older bird because tail length increases with age.

The down side is that long-tailed females are fickle.  They always get the best mates but even when they’re paired up they often “mess around” with un-mated long-tailed guys.  “Thus long-tailed male barn swallows are cuckolded more often than their less attractive neighbors,” says Frank B. Gill.

The longer the tail streamers, the better the bird.  I’ll be watching their tails now.

 

(photo by Cris Hamilton. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 340 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

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Jun 15 2014

King Devil

Published by under Plants

King Devil at Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

My neighbors will tell you I am not a gardener.  When the growing season arrives I spend all my time birding.  Around Memorial Day I glance at the garden and think, “Something must be done!”  I go out there with my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and identify what’s growing.  I pull out the noxious weeds and leave everything else in place.

That’s how I got King Devil.

Also called Field Hawkweed (Hieracium pratense), it’s a perennial creeping plant whose yellow flowers cluster at the top of a tall, hairy stem.  The leaves are basal, thin, hairy, untoothed and hardly noticeable compared to the flowers.

I find the flowers interesting in all their phases.

King Devil at Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

I left the King Devil where it sprouted.

Wikipedia says, “This species finds its habitat where the soil has been neglected.”  That’s a pretty good description of my gardening efforts.  The birds are luring me away from home.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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