Last spring the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) reached Cooks Forest, scary news for the old-growth eastern hemlocks there.
The pest is easy to recognize by its white egg sacs that cling to the underside of the branches. They kill hemlocks by sucking the juice out of the needles. Infected trees look gray-green instead of deep green and, under a heavy infestation like the one shown above, can die in only four years. This is sad anywhere but especially unfortunate in Cooks Forest where the old growth hemlocks are over 300 years old.
It has taken a long time for the bug to reach Cooks Forest. HWA arrived from Asia in 1924 but moved very slowly across the eastern U.S. By 2007 it was present in 50% of the eastern hemlock’s range, unable to spread far northward because of harsh winters. Unfortunately our climate is warming so new adelgid territory opens up every year. (Notice on this NOAA plant hardiness map that the location of Cooks Forest warmed enough to change growing zones.)
HWA was first spotted in eastern Pennsylvania in 1967 but took about four decades to cross the Allegheny Front into western PA. Slowly, slowly it crept toward Cooks Forest. By 2010 it was in the vicinity. This year it was there.
Knowing the imminent danger DCNR has treated the area and the old growth trees. They use biological controls — Asian beetles that eat adelgids, though not enough of them — and soil or bole-injected insecticides on specific trees. The poisons are systemic, similar in concept to the insecticide treatments for emerald ash borer that kill or repel all insects. The treated trees will have fewer insects living on them. Will this make them less useful to birds?
The question hardly matters. Nature can’t produce a 300 year old hemlock as fast as the adelgids can destroy one. In the case of our oldest treasures our task is clear. Save these trees if we can.
For more information on the hemlock woolly adelgid, click here for DCNR’s report.
(photo via Wikimedia Commons by Nicholas A. Tonelli at Jacobsburg, Northampton County, PA. Click on the image to see the original)
p.s. Thanks to Kim Getz for alerting me to this news. Because of the adelgids activity cycle, DCNR treated the old-growth trees in May and again in October.
Sandhill cranes are much more common out west but the eastern population has grown to 60,000 birds. They used to be rare in Pennsylvania where our first crane was noted in the late 1980′s, first breeding was recorded in 1993 in Lawrence County, and the first photograph of a nest was in 2009. Sandhills have now been spotted in more 30 Pennsylvania counties — nearly half the state!
This is your opportunity to make history. Put your name, location, count, date and time on record. It’s significant if you visit a likely crane place and don’t find any. Yes, even ZERO counts.
Where to count: Look for cranes in wetlands and nearby agricultural settings. Cranes often forage in shallows and mud flats along lakes, ponds, and swamps or in nearby agricultural fields and pastures, but they can be found in a variety of odd sites during migration. (Pittsburgh birders: visit Lawrence, Mercer, Crawford counties)
When: Sunday, October 27 through Saturday, November 2. Ideal dates are October 29-31. Counts are best conducted just after sunrise or just before sunset when birds are concentrated in their roost sites. (It’s easier to find cranes at that time of day, anyway.)
Their numbers grew quietly this month, gathering at the edges especially near Wilkinsburg. Last night it was official. The crows are here.
Peter Bell and Anne Marie Bosnyak emailed reports from Oakland. My husband called from Squirrel Hill.
Anne Marie said, “Saw a murder of crows at the playground across the street from the Church Brew Works last night and a coworker saw them this morning in Schenley! Borrowed from Thin Lizzy (source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/)
The crows are back in town! The crows are back in town!
Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed crows that had been away
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy.”
Silence isn’t their strong suit. The crows will have lots to say in the days ahead.
Let me know when you see them.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
If you’ve ever had a pet starling, you know their beaks are very powerful when opening. That’s because European starlings have the unusual characteristic that their jaws are strongest in reverse.
It’s a counter-intuitive trait. Our jaws are strongest when we clamp down. William Beecher discovered that starlings’ jaw muscles are at their best when they spring open and that their eyes automatically rotate forward for binocular vision as they open their beaks. This gives them an excellent look at potential prey in the hole they’ve just probed open and probably contributes to their success in winter.
Even as pets, starlings can’t help but probe. It’s in their blood. HayleyM‘s pet starling, Lolly, opens her son Aidan’s mouth as a dentist might. Notice that beak action!
Don’t try this at home!
Click here to view the original video and read in the comments how this orphaned starling became a pet. Also read the important notes in the p.s. below.
(video on YouTube, uploaded January 2011 by HayleyM)
p.s. Important notes:
* In North America, European starlings are one of only two wild birds (the other being the house sparrow) that can be kept as pets without a permit. Both species are listed as invasive.
* In addition to the possibility of people catching disease from birds, HayleyM added this note to the video: “After review by my good friends at Starling Talk (www.starlingtalk.net), I have found out that this is an ill advised practice. Apparently the bacteria in the human mouth can actually make a bird sick.”
Even though New York is the largest city in the U.S. they have a wide variety of habitat and some great places to go birding. I didn’t know about Bayswater until Gintaras Baltusis, a long time follower of this blog, told me about it.
Gintaras was in Queens at Bayswater Park last weekend to photograph airplanes approaching JFK airport. While he was focused on airplanes this osprey came over with a newly caught fish.
Birds love to perch on wires and power poles, the bigger the bird the bigger the wire. Unfortunately this affinity poses a threat to very large birds because their long wings can touch two wires at the same time and electrocute them. Vultures are especially vulnerable because they roost in large gregarious groups. If they jostle their buddies too much … ooops!
Cape vultures (Gyps coprotheres) of southern Africa, like most Gyps species, are declining. They are listed as threatened because of decreased carrion for their chicks, poisoning from medication in livestock carcasses, electrocution and collision with wires, and exploitation for traditional medicine/religion.
Cape vultures live a long time and reproduce slowly so significant losses of any kind pose a problem. There are protected areas in southern Africa where the vultures aren’t exposed to so many threats but there is also a growing power grid.
W. Louis Phipps and his team decided to find out how cape vultures used the power grid so they affixed GPS trackers on nine cape vultures — five adults and four immatures — to see where they would go. The results were somewhat surprising.
The cape vultures’ home range is larger than expected; some traveled more than 600 miles one way. Given the opportunity to travel the power corridors, that’s what they did. Cape vultures are cliff birds so the power towers gave them high perches and clear sight lines in formerly useless habitat. The study also found that the vultures fed more often on private farmland than in protected areas. (The vultures would say, “Well, that’s where the food was.”)
It’s the classic Catch-22. The power corridors have expanded the cape vultures’ range but the wires sometimes kill them. In a declining population it makes a difference.