Feb 25 2015

Peregrine Nesting Season is Almost Here!

Peregrine nestlings, two weeks old at the Gulf Tower, 7 May 2014 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Though the Hays bald eagles are incubating eggs in their icy nest, Pittsburgh’s peregrines are hanging back — but that’s about to change.

Peregrines in western Pennsylvania lay eggs from mid-March to early April.  In late February they make courtship flights together when the weather is good (when has it been good?!).  Then in early March they bow at the nest.

You can watch this up close on the National Aviary falconcams:

Drama is possible at any site in March. Younger peregrines arrive to challenge the older ones.  (Not only is Dorothy 16, but Louie at the Gulf Tower is 13 this year.)  Nevertheless by mid-May there will be bright-eyed nestlings on camera.

To get you in the mood for nesting season, click here or on the photo above for nesting highlights from last spring at the Gulf Tower.

Peregrine nesting season is almost here!

 

p.s.  Pittsburgh’s six other peregrine sites can be monitored from the ground:

  • Tarentum Bridge: PGC and PennDOT will install a nest box this Friday 2/27 at 9:00am.  Come watch from the boat ramp under the bridge.  There were 2 chicks here last year.
  • Monaca-East Rochester Bridge: 4 chicks in 2014
  • Westinghouse Bridge: 2 chicks in 2014
  • Neville Island I-79 Bridge: 1 chick in 2014
  • McKees Rocks Bridge: Nest could not be found
  • Green Tree water tower:  No nest in 2014

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at the Gulf Tower)

p.p.s.  Right on schedule, guess who came to visit at the Cathedral of Learning nest this afternoon … E2 calls, “Hey, Dorothy!”

E2 calls for Dorothy to come bow at the nest (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Pitt)

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Feb 24 2015

What’s In A Name?

Published by under Musings & News,Quiz

James Bond (ornithologist) and screenshot from James Bond 007 Dr.No (images from Wikimedia Commons)

Question:  What do these two people have in common?  On the left, a real person. On the right, the symbol for a fictional one.

Answer:  They have the same name and there’s a bird connection.

Birders, did you know…?

The person on the left is ornithologist James Bond.  Born in Philadelphia in 1900 he was the curator of ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the preeminent authority on birds of the Caribbean.  His definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies, was first published in 1936.  Updated over the years, it was the only field guide devoted to Caribbean birds until 1998.  Click here to read more about the real James Bond.

Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond 007 books, was an avid birder and writer who spent every January and February writing novels at his villa in Jamaica.  Of course he had a copy of James Bond’s field guide to help him identify local birds.  When he needed a name for his 007 hero he chose James Bond because it was “brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon, and yet very masculine – just what I needed.”

Fleming received James Bonds’ permission to use his name and they later met in person.  Fleming also connected birds and Bond by placing many bird references in Dr. No  including a guano (bird poop) mine and a bird sanctuary for roseate spoonbills.  Click here to read about the 007 connection.

How did I find this out?  When I returned from my Caribbean trip last month, Tony Bledsoe told me about the two James Bonds.

 

Thanks to Wikipedia, the source of this information. Note the copyright information below:
* photo of James Bond the ornithologist in 1974 from Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see the original.
* Screenshot from the Dr. No trailer, James Bond 007, from Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see the original and its rights information

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Feb 23 2015

Across The Sahara

Eleanora falcon with satellite tracking backpack (photo by Pacual López/ SINC via Science Daily)

When you know a bird’s winter and summer homes, can you guess the route it takes on migration?  Not necessarily.

Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) spends the summer on islands in the Mediterranean and winters at Madagascar.  How does it travel from Europe to that big island east of Africa?  For decades ornithologists assumed it followed the coast — the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The assumption makes sense because in Europe Eleonora’s falcons eat small birds that they capture in the air over the sea.  Of course this falcon would take a water route … until a 2009 tracking study proved it wrong.

From 2007 to 2009, researchers from the Universities of Valencia and Alicante satellite tagged and tracked 16 Eleanora falcons on the Balearic and Columbretes Islands off the coast of Spain.  The data showed the falcons indeed spent the winter on Madagascar but they didn’t take the long, dog-leg coastal route to get there.

If you draw a straight line from the western Mediterranean to Madagascar it crosses 6,000 miles (more than 9,500 km) of the African continent.  That’s what the falcons did.  Flying both day and night they even crossed the Sahara.

Perhaps they were eating insects as they flew.  That’s what they do in Madagascar.

Read more here at EurekAlert.

 

(photo of satellite tagged Eleonor’as falcon by Pacual López/ SINC via EurekAlert)

 

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Feb 22 2015

It’s a Hard Life

Hays bald eagle on nest in snowstorm, 18 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays eaglecam)

“It’s a hard life” certainly describes the first few nesting days of the Hays bald eagle pair.

Above, on February 18 Mother Eagle waits out a snowstorm while incubating the egg she laid the day before.

Below, it’s -4 degrees at the nest on Friday morning, February 20.  The sun is shining so it has already “warmed up” from a low of -7.  (*temperatures are from the Allegheny County airport less than 3 miles away)

A very cold morning at the Hays bald eagle nest, 20 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

Later that day, at 4:40pm, she laid her second egg.  It was 11oF at the time.  Click here or on the picture for video of her second egg.

Pittsburgh Hays female bald eagle, 2nd egg on 2/20 at 4:40pm (screenshot from PixController)

Then yesterday, Saturday February 21, it snowed several inches and …

Hays bale eagle in snow on nest, 21 Feb 2015 (screenshot from the Hays bald eaglecam)

… then turned into rain .. and then freezing drizzle.  Below she sleeps in the icy nest before dawn this morning (February 22).

Bald eagle in icy nest, 22 Feb 2015 (screenshot from Hays bald eaglecam)

 

Our warm indoor lives are soft compared to this!

Click here to watch the real-time eaglecam.

 

(screenshots from the Hays bald eaglecam presented by Pix Controller and Audubon of Western PA)

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Feb 21 2015

Face On A Tree

Published by under Plants

Shelf mushrooms make a face on this tree (photo by Kate St. John)

Shelf mushrooms frown on a dead ash tree.

Is this a comment on the weather?

 

(photo by Kate St. John, taken at at Raccoon Creek State Park)

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Feb 20 2015

Incoming!

Published by under Weather & Sky

Most of us were asleep at 4:50am on Tuesday morning when a 500-pound space rock hurtled into Earth’s atmosphere.  It was on its way to Pittsburgh.

Fortunately the meteor’s aim was off a bit — just enough to miss all the populated areas and disintegrate east of Kittanning.

Considering its early morning arrival we wouldn’t know about it if a few people hadn’t been awake.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing and hearing it on the American Meteor Society (AMS) website and NASA’s camera at Allegheny Observatory recorded its arrival in the video above.

Using eyewitness reports AMS generated a map of its trajectory.  Scroll down to see what it was aiming for.  Yikes!

We were lucky.  In an uncanny space-time coincidence a very big meteor whooshed over Russia two years and two days before the Kittanning event.  It weighed 10,000 tons(*) and injured over 1,000 people.  February 15, 2013 in Russia.  February 17, 2015 in Pittsburgh.

…What is it about February?

I wish I had seen it.  I was awake but I wasn’t paying attention.

 

(YouTube video of the February 17 fireball from NASA’s Marshall Center)

(*) that’s 40,000 times heavier than the meteor at Kittanning.

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Feb 19 2015

TBT: Cold Feet

Mourning Dove in winter (photo by Marcy Cunklelman)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT)

Unlike many birds, mourning doves are prone to frostbitten toes.  Can they do anything to avoid it?

Last Sunday morning when it was 2o F, two mourning doves flew in to stand on the dry patch in my heated bird bath.  They were warming their feet!

This morning it is zero degrees Fahrenheit so I expect they’ll be back.

Here’s why they need to warm their toes in an article from January 2010:  Cold Feet.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Feb 18 2015

First Hays Eagle Egg of 2015

If you haven’t been watching the Hays Bald Eaglecam, now’s the time to start.  Last night Mother Eagle laid her first egg of 2015, revealed on camera at 7:37 pm.

Bald eagles are one of the earliest birds to lay eggs in Pennsylvania because their young take so long to grow up and fledge.  The pair at Hays in the City of Pittsburgh has been courting, mating, and tidying their nest since January.  Then on Sunday the female eagle started spending her nights on the nest — just in case.

We saw the first egg on Tuesday, February 17 at 7:37pm when she stood up and looked at it.  (After laying an egg the female bird usually stands over it until the shell dries.)

Dedicated eagle watchers are already calling this egg “H5″ in anticipation of its hatching.  (“H” is for Hatch Hays, 5 means the fifth hatchling (see the comment below from Joyce))  Its hatching event is a pretty good bet.  The first egg a bald eagle lays is always the first to hatch — if it’s fertile — and fertility is not in doubt with the amount of mating this pair has been up to.

Egg #2 is due on Thursday or early Friday when the temperature dips to -8 oF.  Mother Eagle will certainly be clamped down to keep the egg(s) warm!  We’ll have to keep an “eagle eye” on her to see her reveal Egg#2.

Click here to watch the eaglecam and chat with fellow eagle watchers on the PixController website.

 

p.s. Thank you to Bill Powers of PixController for installing the eaglecam.

(YouTube video from PixController)

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Feb 17 2015

Who Made This Hole?

Pileated woodpecker hole in dead white ash tree, Pennsylvania (photo by Kate St. John)

Sometimes you can tell who drilled a hole just by looking at it.

This one caught my eye at Raccoon Creek State Park.  I can tell by its big, rectangular shape that it was made by a pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) are the size of crows, mostly black with white on their necks and faces, white on their wings (seen in flight) and a red crest. Males, like the one below, have red foreheads and mustaches where the females are black.

Male Pileated Woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin)

Male pileated woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin, 2009)

These are huge woodpeckers! And so are their holes.  Here’s a closer look.

Pileated woodpecker hole in deah ash tree (photo by Kate St. John)

As you can see, the hole is oblong — about 9″ tall by 3.5″ wide — and hollow inside.  The male chooses the site and excavates the interior, gathering wood chips in his beak and throwing them out the “door.”  Eventually his mate helps, too.  It takes them 3-6 weeks to finish a new nest hole each spring.

They only use the nest for one season, but nothing goes to waste.  Pileated woodpeckers stay on territory all year long and use their old holes for roosting at night.  They usually roost alone but on cold winter nights like these “Ma” and “Pa” may roost together to stay warm.

Maybe even in this hole.

 

(photos of woodpecker hole by Kate St. John. photo of pileated woodpecker in Cumberland County, PA by Dick Martin, 2009.)

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Feb 16 2015

Tracks In The Snow

Published by under Mammals

Deer mouse and squirrel tracks in the snow (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t feel trapped indoors on this cold bank holiday.  There’s snow outside and there are animal tracks in it!   Identify the tracks and you can read their story.

You don’t have to stand out in the snow to identify them.  Bundle up and take a camera or cellphone and a ruler.  (The ruler is important! In your photos it will show you the size of the paw print and the distance between prints.)

Run out to the feeder, set the ruler near some tracks and take a bunch of pictures.  Then come inside and identify the tracks at your leisure. Here are some tracking guides to help:

Using Dorcas Miller’s Track Finder booklet, I identified the squirrel tracks beneath my bird feeder. It helps that I saw the squirrels make them.  ;)

 

(photo of deer mouse tracks(across the middle) and squirrel tracks (in the back left corner) from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original by Jomegat.)

 

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