May 12 2013

Happy Mothers’ Day

Dorothy and Baby, 8 May 2013 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy and her chick have been emblematic of mothers’ love this year.  Above, Baby leans on Dorothy.


And here Dorothy watches over Baby as he sleeps.
Dorothy watches over Baby, 8 May 2013 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers, and especially to my own mom who reads this blog every day.


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

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May 11 2013

Two-Tone Violet

Published by under Plants

Birdfoot violets (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Violets with amazing colors are blooming now if you know where to look.

Dianne Machesney found these bird’s-foot violets (Viola pedata) at Sideling Hill just south of the Pennsylvania border in Maryland.  They prefer dry, undisturbed soil so they don’t do well in gardens where the loamy, moist soil is turned over often.

Above, a close up of the flowers.  Below, the entire bouquet shows the birds-foot shaped leaves.

Birdsfoot violets (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Most of the flowers are one shade of blue.  The two-toned blooms are extra special.


(photos by Dianne Machesney)

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May 10 2013

A Sideways Glance

Published by under Peregrines

Peregrine on the balcony (photo by Matthew Richardson)

Matthew Richardson had a visitor on his balcony at Point Park University yesterday.

Who is that bird perched on the railing?  Certainly not a robin!


The peregrine preened his back feathers and looked headless for a moment.

Peregrine preening on the balcony (photo by Matthew Richardson)

Then he stretched…

Peregrine falcon on the balcony railing (photo by Matthew Richardson)

…and looked at Matthew.

Peregrine on the balcony (photo by Matthew Richardson)

Louie was taking a good long look.


Did you know that when peregrines look at you from a 40 degree angle they’re seeing you with their very best vision?

On Monday I met Chris Saladin who monitors peregrine falcons in Ohio.  Chris and I have corresponded in email for years  — and you see her photos on this blog — but we had never met.  It was great to get to know her!

Chris and I stopped beneath the Ohio Turnpike bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park where Rocky and Lara nest.  We chatted about peregrines while Rocky flew around and checked his cache zones.  Then he perched up high and looked at us obliquely.  I knew he was watching us but Chris said, “He’s seeing us really well right now.”   From an angle?   Here’s why.

Everyone’s eyes have their highest visual acuity at the fovea, the small depression on the retina that holds the highest concentration of receptors and nerves.  In humans this is 4-8 degrees off center but in peregrines, it’s at a 40 degree angle from their straight-ahead vision.   When they dive on prey they circle downward on a logarithmic path that keeps their highest vision on the prey below.

Chris told me that when a peregrine merely wants to look at you he doesn’t have to face you.  When he looks straight on, watch out!  Chris had just experienced this with Stammy (Dorothy’s son) in Youngstown after she visited his nest to check on his nestlings.  Click here to see Stammy coming straight at Chris.


(photos by Matthew Richardson)

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May 10 2013

Mothers’ Work

Mallard with ducklings (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

We tend to think that birds with precocial chicks have an easier time as parents than those whose nestlings are naked and blind at birth, but this isn’t necessarily so.

Ducklings can walk, swim and feed themselves shortly after they hatch but their mobility is problematic.  They have no idea where to find food nor how to stay safe.  All they know is “Stay with Mom!”

Mother leads them to feeding areas and shows them what to taste.  The ducklings peck in the vicinity until they find good food.

Her hardest responsibility is protecting them from danger.  Baby ducklings are tasty morsels for raptors, minks, cats, dogs, large fish and snapping turtles.  If you watch a mallard family day to day you’ll notice the number of ducklings decreases over time.  Mom does her best but danger lurks.

This mother mallard has had pretty good success so far.  Out of 8 to 13 eggs she still has six chicks.

Until they can fly she has mothers’ work to do.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original. Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 483 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)

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May 09 2013

How Many Nestlings?


Downtown Pittsburgh peregrine nest (photo by Christopher Rolinson)

Now that the falconcam is running and the peregrine chicks are mobile we’ve been trying to count white, fluffy heads.  How many chicks are at the Downtown Pittsburgh peregrine nest?

A week ago Chris Rolinson, associate professor of photography and photojournalism at Point Park University, set up a time-lapse camera to take snapshots of the nest.  Many hours later he retrieved the camera hoping for lots of peregrine activity, but they did not oblige.  On the other hand, he captured a really clear shot of one of the parents, a chick, and a prey item at the ledge edge.  Click on the image above for a larger view.

The falconcam also takes snapshots but it sways in the wind so most of its images are blurs of the facade.  Yesterday there were three tantalizing photos.

Here a chick traveled closer to the nest opening.  He looks pretty big.

Peregrine chick walks to the front (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Point Park University)


And around one o’clock they lined up so we could count heads.  In the marked up snapshot below there are three peregrine chicks facing us.

Three chicks visible, Downtown nest (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Point Park University)


A few minutes earlier there may have been a fourth with his side to the camera and his face hidden by the wall.  His nearest sibling appears to be looking at him.  (Notice that his location is dark-colored in the image above.)

Possibly four chicks visible, Downtown nest (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Point Park University)


So how many chicks do Dori and Louie have?  Certainly three, perhaps four.

Watch the Downtown Pittsburgh falconcam and tell me what you think.


p.s. We’re looking forward to more from Chris Rolinson when the chicks are more active.


(photo at top by Christopher Rolinson.  Time-stamped photos are from the National Aviary falconcam at Point Park University)

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May 08 2013

Taking A Bath

Published by under Peregrines

I often see robins and starlings take baths but I’ve never seen a peregrine do so.

Meredith Lombard monitors the peregrines who nest at the Route 462 bridge over the Susquehanna near Lancaster, PA.  Early this month she observed one of them bathing in the river.  Fortunately she had her camera and scope ready.  Unfortunately it was windy, but it was well worth recording.

This video is a window on the lives of peregrine falcons.


(video by Meredith Lombard)

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May 07 2013

Important Rest Stops

Published by under Migration

Bay-breasted Warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Birders flock to Magee Marsh, Ohio in May because the birds do, too.  For us it’s exciting to see them so close. For them it’s an important rest stop on their long journey from Central or South America to Canada.

Songbirds migrate overnight and stop before dawn to rest for the day. They may be leisurely in the fall but they make the journey faster in spring.  This bay-breasted warbler travels from Panama or northern South America to Canada, a journey of at least 2,400 miles, and he does it in as little as 17 days.  His longest leg is more than 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico.

Rest stops are key.

Imagine you’re driving each night on a long distance journey.  From experience, or because you’re traveling in a group (i.e. flock), you’ve picked the rest stops in advance.  You’re on a tight schedule and you’re not going to stop often.  A few of the rest stops are the last food and fuel for hundreds of miles.  No problem.  You’ve been there before and you know those places are good.

But what if you arrive one night and a crucial rest stop is gone… destroyed?  No gasoline, no food and you’re nearly out of both.   You have no idea where to find a substitute and you’re already tired.  If you’re a bird, this emergency can kill you.

That’s why the warblers at Magee Marsh don’t seem to care about people. They’re hungry and they don’t have much time.  They’re fueling up so they can leave tonight for Canada.

And that’s why the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network  are all working to preserve stopover sites for migratory birds.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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May 07 2013

Quality Time

Published by under Peregrines

Dorothy and nestling face-to-face (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy is spending quality time with her chick.

Thanks to @PittPeregrines for capturing this Pic-of-the-Day snapshot.

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)

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May 06 2013

Downtown Peregrines On Camera At Last

Downtown Pittsburgh Peregrines website at the National Aviary

It’s been two years since we’ve seen Pittsburgh’s Downtown peregrine family on camera.

Louie and Dori used to nest at the Gulf Tower where we had a great close-up view of their activities but in 2012 they abandoned Gulf for a building on Fourth Avenue.  They’ve nested in the same place this year but I was unsuccessful in finding the proper contact to permit a camera.

It looked like we’d have another year without a view of the Downtown pair until Amanda McGuire came to the rescue.   She works for Point Park University and her balcony is Louie and Dori’s favorite perch during the nesting season.  I was excited when Amanda said, “I think we can put a webcam on my balcony” so I began a flurry of email to put everyone in touch with each other.

Amanda made all the arrangements with Point Park, Bill Powers of PixController donated his time and equipment, and Point Park University donated the camera location and Internet access.  It all came together when Wildearth began streaming and the National Aviary put the Downtown peregrine page on their website.

The webcam is located here on the National Aviary website or by clicking on the image above.  That’s Dan Costa’s photo of Dori on the splash-screen.

When you watch the webcam, keep in mind that it’s a block away from the nest so you’re seeing an exterior view without sound and nightlights.  Bright sunlight hides the interior space so you’ll find that best viewing is during cloudy days or at dawn and dusk.

The image below shows the nest opening with Louie perched on the left while it rained Monday evening, April 29.  Yes, Louie matches the building.

Downtown falconcam view with Louie at left, 29 April 2013 (photo from the Downtown falconcam at Point Park University)

Here’s a marked up snapshot that describes what you’re seeing.

Description of Downtown falconcam scene (snaphot from the Downtown falconcam at Point Park University)

By now Louie and Dori’s chicks are moving around the nest and visible in the back corner.  They’re white and fluffy but will turn brown as they grow their juvenile feathers.  Fortunately they’ll move to the front of the nest opening as they grow up.

Around June 1 they’ll attempt their first flight and leave the nest, so now’s the time to watch.  Click here or on the image at top to see them on the National Aviary website.


(images from the National Aviary’s Downtown Pittsburgh Falconcam)

p.s. Yes, this temporary camera is blurry.  We’ll have something better next year.

p.p.s. Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group have been watching this cam for several days and have captured snapshots of Dori and Louie in the nest area.

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May 05 2013

On Erie’s Southern Shore

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Cape May warbler (photo by Bobby Greene)

Cape May warblers are some of the many wonderful birds at Magee Marsh, Ohio this year.

Other highlights on the south shore of Lake Erie include:

  • An eye level look at a cerulean warbler,
  • Discovering that a brown lump in a field was an American golden-plover when he turned around,
  • Finding two soras in the reeds … and then they mated,
  • Seeing a great horned owl nestling with pretty face feathers,
  • And watching a sora cross the road. He made himself into a ball so he looked like a very slow, round muskrat without a tail (was this camouflage?) and risked his life by walking slowly in front of traffic.  Fortunately all the drivers were birders and we stopped to stare and spare his life.

Glad to be here!

(photo by Bobby Greene)

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