High Water

Moderately high water on the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 15 Feb 2018, 9:30am (photo by Kate St. John)
Moderately high water on the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, Thursday 15 Feb 2018, 9:30am (photo by Kate St. John)

This week in the space of 40 hours -- Feb 14, 4:30pm to Feb 16, 9:50am -- the Pittsburgh region received 2.5+ inches of rain.  At first it flooded creeks and streams. Now it's in the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers.

Since I live near the Mon River I went down to Duck Hollow to see what it looked like.  In video below from Friday morning 16 Feb, the island of treetops in Thursday's photo had disappeared.

Today (Saturday) the rivers are even higher and I don't have to visit them to find out.  The PennDOT traffic cams tell the story.

In Downtown Pittsburgh there's a stretch of I-376 westbound called "The Bathtub" that dips into the Mon River flood zone.  Last month it was the site of exciting river rescues when two people drove their vehicles into it as the water was rising.  Click here to see a Live Video of the rescues.

This morning The Bathtub is full, as shown in before-and-after photos from the PennDOT traffic cam:  Yesterday (Feb 16) on the left, today (Feb 17) on the right, both at 7:20am.

PennDOT traffic cam at The Bathtub: Feb 16 2018 (before the flood) and Feb 17 (after)
PennDOT traffic cam at The Bathtub: Feb 16 2018 (before the flood) and Feb 17 (after)

The Allegheny is flooding, too, at the 10th Street Bypass.

PennDOT traffic cam at the 10th Street Bypass, 17 Feb 2018, 7:20am
PennDOT traffic cam at the 10th Street Bypass, 17 Feb 2018, 7:20am

All of this is "Minor" flooding in Pittsburgh per the National Weather Service.

Later this morning I'll go down to Duck Hollow and see what's up.  The water's up for sure!

 

(Duck Hollow photo and video by Kate St. John. Traffic cam snapshots from PennDOT)

p.s.  Flooding on the Youghiogheny River in Sutersville nearly reached the "Major" stage last night.  It's receding now.

Yellow Is A Sign of Spring

White-throated sparrow (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)
White-throated sparrow (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

Even before the buds burst and the flowers bloom, birds give us a hint that spring is coming.  Some of them turn yellow.

* White-throated sparrows have boring faces in the winter but their lores turn bright yellow ahead of the breeding season. They'll leave in March or early April for their breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada.

* American goldfinches were brownish all winter but molt into yellow feathers in late winter. Even the females turn a subdued yellow as seen in the female on the left in Marcy's photo.

Goldfinches turning yellow for spring (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Goldfinches turning yellow for spring (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

* At this time of year European starlings become glossy and their beaks turn yellow.  The starling below is male because the base of his beak is blue (near his face).

European Starling in breeding plumage (photo by Chuck Tague)
European Starling in breeding plumage (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

There are other birds whose yellow facial skin becomes brighter in the spring.  Can you think of who that might be?  ...

Yellow is a sign of spring.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, Marcy Cunkelman and Chuck Tague. See credits in the captions)

Happy Valentine’s Day

Pitt peregrines courting, 10 Feb 2018(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Pitt peregrines courting, 10 Feb 2018 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Love is in the air!

Pittsburgh's peregrines are courting in February.  The females will lay eggs in March.

Above, Terzo and Hope are seen regularly at the Cathedral of Learning nest box.  Here they are bowing as part of the peregrines' courtship ritual.

And today the Downtown peregrines visited the Gulf Tower in the rain.

Downtown peregrines visit the Gulf Tower, 14 Feb 2018, 4:24pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)
Downtown peregrines visit the Gulf Tower, 14 Feb 2018, 4:24pm (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Happy Valentine's Day!

 

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

First Egg At Hays Bald Eagle Nest, Feb 13

First egg at Hays Bald Eagle nest,13 Feb 2018 (photo from Pix Controller Facebook page)
First egg at Hays Bald Eagle nest,13 Feb 2018 (photo from Pix Controller Facebook page)

The female bald eagle at Hays laid her first egg of the season last night. This photo was captured by PixController and posted on their Facebook page.

Watch the Hays Bald Eagles on camera at this link.

Happy Spring!

 

p.s. February 13 is also the date she laid her first egg in 2016. Amazing.

(photo from the Hays Bald Eagle camera via PixController)

Tundra Swans On The Move

In the next few weeks tundra swans and snow geese will move north through Pennsylvania on their way to the Arctic. The best place to see them is at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Kleinfeltersville.

Though the birds are anxious to get home they wait for winter to break its grip, moving only as far north as open water and fields without snow cover.  They look for open water to rest at night and visible food in the fields.

It's always hard to predict when waterfowl numbers will reach their peak at Middle Creek but this year must be especially challenging. This winter's hot-and-cold weather has created thick ice, then open water, then ice again. The snow geese have come and gone and come again.

PA Game Commission counts the geese and swans every day and posts Thursday's count on their Migration Update page.  The latest report on February 8 says:

Snow Geese: 50,000
Canada geese: 5,000
Tundra swans: 2,500
Since the last update, the majority of the snow goose numbers have returned and seem to be holding there.

Even though I saw lots of snow geese and tundra swans at the Snow Goose Festival in California I still want to go to Middle Creek.  I like to arrive at Willow Point before dawn and watch the snow geese leave the lake after sunrise in an explosive burst.  Then the tundra swans put on a beautiful show.

Tundra swans get in synch on the water before they fly.  They swim together, bob their heads, and hum "whooooo" as they go.  Near the moment of takeoff the flock swims in line, bobbing their heads frequently and humming loudly.  And then they're off!

Watch them prepare for takeoff in this video from Wisconsin.

Later this month I'll go see tundra swans on the move.

 

(video by Dale Bohlke on YouTube)

What date is best?  Here are the peak dates in 2016 & 2017 from the Middle Creek Migration Update page:

2017 Migration Summary:
Snow geese: 70,000+ on 02/22/17
Tundra swans: 4,500+ on 02/6/17  <-- notice how early this was!
Canada geese: 5,000+ on 02/10/17

2016 Migration Summary:
Snow geese: 65,000+ on 02/29/16
Tundra swans: 3,500+ on 02/29/16
Canada geese: several hundred on 02/09/16

Downtown Peregrines Seen at Third Avenue

Peregrine at Third Ave nest ledge (photo by Lori Maggio)
Peregrine at Third Ave nest ledge (photo by Lori Maggio)

After Pittsburgh's Downtown peregrines visited the Gulf Tower a week ago, Lori Maggio says they've been hanging out at the Third Avenue nest site.

Lori walks to work across the Smithfield Street Bridge and can see into the nest from a distance.  Her zoom camera shows what it looks like. There's a peregrine in there!

Peregrine in the Third Ave nest site as seen from the Smithfield Street Bridge (photo by Lori Maggio)
Peregrine in the Third Ave nest site as seen from the Smithfield Street Bridge (photo by Lori Maggio)

 

On Saturday afternoon, February 10, I stopped by for a look and found both peregrines at home.  One was at the nest ledge (closeup above is from Lori in 2016).  The other was on a Lawrence Hall gargoyle.  I took two lousy cellphone photos and marked them up.

Peregrine on Third Ave nest ledge, 10 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Peregrine on Third Ave nest ledge, 10 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dori on the Lawrence Hall gargoyle, 10 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dori on the Lawrence Hall gargoyle, 10 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

If my camera was better, here's what the gargoyle peregrine would have looked like (closeup from Lori in 2016).

Peregrine on Lawrence Hall gargoyle (photo by Lori Maggio)
Peregrine on Lawrence Hall gargoyle (photo by Lori Maggio)

The peregrines' recent interest in the Third Avenue site might not mean they'll nest there.  Last year they hung out at Third Avenue right up to the day before Dori's first egg but she laid it at the Gulf Tower.   We won't know which nest site she's chosen until mid to late March.

There's something in the Gulf Tower's favor: The building below the Third Avenue nest site is under renovation, as shown in my nest-ledge photo.  Dori won't want to use the Third Avenue site if workmen are visibly active there.

 

(photos by Lori Maggio and Kate St. John; see photo credits in the captions)

Rare Bird!

Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)
Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)

On 1 February 2018, a couple noticed an unusual finch at their feeders in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.  Slightly larger that a house finch, it was mostly brown with a gray cap, a black-tipped yellow bill, and pinkish wings and rump.  Was it a gray-crowned rosy-finch?

Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)
Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)

The wife called her birding friend Shawn Collins for a second opinion.  Yes indeed, this is a gray-crowned rosy-finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis) a bird so rare that it's the first one ever recorded in Pennsylvania.

A rare bird like this causes a stampede as soon as the news gets out, so Shawn and the homeowners made a plan.  Their home is in a gated community and they wish to remain anonymous, but they want birders to see the rosy-finch from the best viewing location -- inside their living room!  -- so Shawn is coordinating visits to its anonymous location.  (If you want to see the gray-crowned rosy-finch, email Shawn Collins for an appointment. Click here for instructions.)

Gray-crowned rosy-finch with house finch in background. Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)
Gray-crowned rosy-finch with house finch in background. Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)

Why is this bird so rare?

Gray-crowned rosy-finches live in western North America.  The interior population (this bird) nests on the tundra in the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to Montana and spends the winter from British Columbia to New Mexico, Nevada to western Nebraska.

But individual rosy-finches sometimes wander in winter as far east as northern Ohio.

Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)
Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)

Crawford County, PA is on the Ohio state line so maybe it was only a matter of time before a gray-crowned rosy-finch made it to northwestern Pennsylvania.

We're glad this one is here.  Life Bird!

Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)
Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Crawford County, PA, 3 Feb 2018 (photo by Shawn Collins)

Thank you to the anonymous homeowners who've graciously opened their home to view the rosy-finch and thanks to Shawn Collins for coordinating the visits.

For more looks at the gray-crowned rosy-finch see Shawn Collins' Flickr album.

 

(photos by Shawn Collins)

p.s.  Shawn tells those who plan to see it: "Please use the eBird hotspot that Geoff Malosh started for the bird. This is not the exact location due to the home owners request to keep all of her info offline. The gated community is small and the only parking allowed is in her driveway which fits 4 cars. And we are pushing it with 4! To view the bird we have to be in her living room. If you need the eBird link I can send it to you. Please no personal hotspots!!! If anyone is walking the area or what not, you will be turned into the police and will be escorted out with trespassing charges. If that happens once then this bird will be off limits! So please no one be stupid and do anything that will jeopardize folks seeing this bird. This is a very watched community and she had to let people know she will be having visitors this week and next so they were not alarmed at the cars in her driveway.

Just a side note....in each group I've brought over...the bird shows up within 2 minutes after we get there! It's like it knows!!!"

Great Backyard Bird Count, February 16-19

Burrowing owl in Florida (photo by Chuck Tague)
Burrowing owl in Florida (photo by Chuck Tague)

This burrowing owl isn't in a backyard but if you find one next weekend you can count it in the Great Backyard Bird Count.  This global event runs Friday, February 16 through Monday, February 19, 2018.  You can count birds anywhere!

It's easy to participate.  If you're already on eBird, just enter your checklists and the Great Backyard Bird Count will scoop up the data.

If you've never participated (or you haven't done so since 2012) follow the easy steps here: Get Started.

Bonus for photographers: Submit your photos to the GBBC Photo Contest.

Most of us will count backyard birds, especially if the weather is bad.  In Pittsburgh we're sure to see chickadees. Trick question: Are they black-capped or Carolina?
(click the link for the answer)

Black-capped chickadee at the feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Black-capped chickadee at the feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

 

(photos by Chuck Tague and Marcy Cunkelman)

Flashy Hummingbirds In Winter

One of the cool things about visiting California in January was seeing hummingbirds in the winter.  On field trips near Chico I saw Anna's hummingbirds flash their red faces in the sun.

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) is found year round in many parts of California. The rainy season triggers breeding so they nest from December to May.  Though there's snow on the mountains in January, the manzanita that blooms at lower elevations attracts these tiny birds.

Often an Anna's will stake out a bush, watching and waiting to chase off other hummingbirds.  His forehead, face and gorget flash a warning red, "This is mine! Stay away!"

The video from Cornell Lab shows how flashy this hummingbird can be.

 

(video about iridescence from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)