Heading For A Low Point In The Birder’s Year

Momentarily disappointed (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

14 June 2021

Very soon Pennsylvania birders will reach our annual psychic low point. If you watch peregrine or bald eagle nestcams you’re already there. Spring migration is over and the nestcams are quiet. Soon the birds will stop singing. We are bound to feel let down after so much excitement.

I was reminded of our emotional roller coaster when I rediscovered “The Birder’s Year” graph posted in 2014 on the The Birders Conundrum blog. Back then bloggers Sam Jolly @JollyBirding and Lucas Bobay @BirderBobay were avid birders in high school in North Carolina. They have since moved on, still birding not blogging, but their website is alive at The Birders Conundrum so you can see their original graph here.

The moment I saw their graph I realized that mine is a slightly different. I get excited in February and March when peregrines court and lay eggs. Incubation is boring in April but migration heats up in May and the nestlings are on the falconcam. Even so, I reach the same trough in July as the rest of Pennsylvania’s birders. You can see this on my altered version of Sam and Lucas’s graph which I’ve labeled The Peregrine Birder’s Year.

The Peregrine Birder’s Year of ups and downs (from a graph by Sam & Lucas at The Birders Conundrum)

Perhaps you’ve noticed too that we’re heading for a low point in The Birder’s Year.

p.s. In the graph above CMWA = the last Cape May Warbler, CBC = Christmas Bird Count

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, graph altered from one by Sam & Lucas at The Birders Conundrum)

The Most Beautiful Song

Wood thrush singing (photo by Shawn Collins)

13 June 2021

Right now Schenley Park is full of singing wood thrushes. In recent days I’ve counted a dozen every time I walk the trails.

On Friday morning, 11 June, this wood thrush sang his heart out at the Bartlett end of Panther Hollow. It’s the most beautiful song in Schenley Park.

Get outdoors now to hear the wood thrushes. They will stop singing in July.

(photo by Shawn Collins, recording by Kate St. John)

Becoming Summer

Yellow Goat’s Beard flower and seed pod, 11 June 2021, Moraine State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

12 June 2021

Temperatures have fluctuated widely in the past couple of weeks — from chilly damp to searing heat — but the plants and insects keep on their steady march to summer.

Above, yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius) now has both flowers and seeds.

Below, this sprig of bedstraw (Galium sp) has almost finished blooming with just one flower and many seeds. The plant feels sticky because its stems, leaves, and seed pods are all covered in tiny hooked bristles that act like Velcro.

Bedstraw gone to seed, 11 June 2021, Moraine State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

In Schenley Park the tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) have finished blooming, the “tulips” are fading and dropping their petals.

Tuliptree flower is fading, 8 June 2021, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

As birdsong wanes the bugs are taking over the soundscape. I’ve already heard the first crickets and an unknown-to-me insect that buzzes at 5,000 hertz in Schenley Park.

And who is this? None of us could name him yesterday at Moraine State Park. Can you identify this hunched insect with bright orange antenna tips? If so, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: It’s a leaf-footed bug, probably Acanthocephalus terminalis, thanks to Kim’s comment.

Who is this? Insect at Moraine State Park, 11 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Who is this? Insect at Moraine State Park, 11 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

When A Nest Is Too Low

Downtown peregrine fledgling perches on 7th floor deck, 10 June 2021 (photo by Brian Johnston)

11 June 2021

After a peregrine chick makes its first flight it waits for hours in its new location, apparently regrouping. When it flies again it will flap along the cliff and land on a slightly lower ledge, then flap again to another ledge, and so on. Many hours later it figures out how to circle out and fly up.

Lower ledges are very important. In the 24 hours after first flight peregrine fledglings don’t have the upper body strength to make a powerful flap and become airborne. At high peregrine nest sites with open airspace and lots of lower ledges, the chicks rarely land on the ground where they become vulnerable to predators and cars.

In Downtown Pittsburgh the Third Avenue nest site is so low and tucked away that fledglings land on the ground every year. Thankfully, passersby call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 to rescue the downed birds.

Yesterday morning at Third Avenue two peregrine chicks were at the nest opening. One had fledged.

Nearby workmen showed me the fledgling on a railing four stories up, facing a narrow space between buildings with a view of Lawrence Hall across Third Avenue. Flying from this location is no problem for an adult peregrine. The youngster waited for enlightenment.

Downtown peregrine fledgling perched on the railing, 4 floors up, 10 June 2021, 10:30a (photo by Kate St. John)
Closeup of Downtown peregrine fledgling perched on the railing, 10 June 2021, 10:30a (photo by Kate St. John)

At this point any action by humans would have frightened the fledgling and guaranteed his failure. We humans stayed away so he could figure it out with help from his experienced parents, Terzo and Dori.

Eventually the youngster will make a move. My guess is he will land on the ground, be rescued by Point Park Police and the PA Game Commission, and be taken to the rescue porch where he can start over.

You might be asking: Isn’t the Gulf Tower a better place for these birds to nest? Yes but not right now.

On 19 May a transformer blew in the Gulf Tower basement and started a 5-alarm fire with smoke billowing from the roof. The building was condemned by City of Pittsburgh building inspectors last week. Here’s the news.

Life is full of challenges for all of us. This bird will get through it.

If you see a downed peregrine, call the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523.

(photos by Brian Johnston and Kate St. John)

Peregrine News Around Town, June 10

Composite photo: Morela at Pitt, 8 June 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

10 June 2021

Peregrine news from the Cathedral of Learning, Downtown Pittsburgh, Westinghouse Bridge and Tarentum Bridge.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

Juvie peregrine coming in for a landing, 8 June 2021 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

After two young peregrines fledged at Pitt on June 4 & 5 there was a long gap until the next bird flew. Two of four were still waiting to fly on 8 June when Jeff Cieslak photographed Morela coming in for a landing on the lightning rod (composite at top) and a juvie puttering around the building. The two early birds were already skilled enough to chase their parents.

Yesterday 9 June at 9am I found chick #3 had fledged and was perched on 15th North (Fifth Ave side) patio edge. At that point the fourth had still not flown.

I plan to check again this morning.

Downtown Pittsburgh:

  • Dori on Lawrence Hall windowsill, 9 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

Lori Maggio saw the entire Downtown peregrine family at Third Avenue on Wednesday 9 June at 7am. Dori and Terzo watched from across the street as three chicks called and flapped at the nest opening.

Today she saw only two at the nest opening. Did one fledge?

Meanwhile the Gulf Tower, site of a peregrine nestbox, was condemned this week after a large electrical fire damaged it on 19 May 2021. The damage and condemnation will not affect the Downtown peregrines at all. They have not nested at Gulf Tower since 2017 and show no inclination to go back there.

Monongahela Watershed: Westinghouse Bridge

Adult female at Westinghouse Bridge, 6 June 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

On 6 June, Dana Nesiti saw both fledglings and the banded mother peregrine at the Westinghouse Bridge. As he snapped photographs …

I watched one of the juvies fly head on into one of the pillars, tumble down to the arch below, shake it off and scamper up to the top.

— email from Dana Nesiti, 6 June 2021
  • Peregrines at Westinghouse Bridge, 6 June 2021 (photo by Dana Nesiti)

Yesterday morning PennDOT found a juvenile peregrine walking on the Westinghouse Bridge road deck and sidewalk. It eventually walked off the bridge and stood in some weeds where PGC Game Warden Doug Bergman retrieved it. To be on the safe side he took it to HAR Verona for a checkup though it appeared to be in good condition. I wonder if this is the juvenile who banged his head a few days earlier. (We can’t know since they are not banded.)

Allegheny River, Tarentum Bridge:

Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, 2 June 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tarentum Bridge, Allegheny River, 2 June 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Construction started on the Tarentum Bridge this week but will not adversely affect the juvenile peregrines because they fly so well and can leave the bridge if necessary. Only two of the three juveniles have been seen since 26 May. We believe the third died in late May.

In other sad news, I learned yesterday that long time Tarentum peregrine watcher and hummingbird fan Rob Protz died of a heart attack this week (obituary here). I will miss his excellent proofreading skills that kept me on my toes. I’m sure you’ll see more errors in my posts.

(photos by Jeff Cieslak, Lori Maggio, Dana Nesiti and Kate St. John)

Terzo Found At Home Downtown

Terzo Downtown: Banded with heart-shaped cheek, 8 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

9 June 2021

Yesterday Lori Maggio visited Third Avenue for just half an hour and solved two mysteries with just a few photos:

  • Who is the banded male peregrine in Downtown Pittsburgh?
  • Did Terzo (Black/Red N/29) find another territory after he left the Cathedral of Learning last February?

Loris photos reveal that the banded male is Terzo and, yes, he’s doing fine raising three chicks with Dori. She wrote:

The male was perched above the nest site ledge on the green beam … I was able to get pictures of his bands while he was scratching his chin when preening. He has black/red bands! …

I don’t have a full picture of the entire N or 29 but if you put the pictures together it is his N/29. I also included several pictures of him … to ID him. From what I remember Terzo had heart shaped cheeks and this male does, too.

— email from Lori Maggio, 8 June 2021

Yesterday Terzo and one of the juveniles were perched at the nest opening.

Terzo above, nestling below, Third Avenue, 8 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

The photos below helped us identify the bands. Terzo is Black/Red N/29. Notice his distinctive heart-shaped cheek.

  • Terzo at Third Avenue, 8 June 2021 (phoo by Lori Maggio)

Lori also took photos of a juvenile peregrine who hadn’t flown yet. Art McMorris remarked that this youngster is at least 40 days old and ready to fly at any time. This morning at 7am Lori saw all three chicks at the nest opening, raring to go.

  • Juvenile peregrine at Third Avenue nest, 8 June 2021 (photo by Lori Maggio)

And in case you’re wondering, Terzo and Dori have known each other — or about each other — for quite a while. Last year Dori stopped by the Cathedral of Learning during the revolving door of Morela, Terzo, Ecco. Here she is at the Pitt nest on 15 March 2020. A month later she laid eggs at Third Avenue and nested successfully with a new mate (Louie died in 2019). I wonder who.

Dori at Cathedral of Learning, 15 March 2020 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

If you want to see a peregrine family ready to fledge, stop by Third Avenue in the days ahead. Say hello to Terzo while you’re there.

p.s. Meanwhile at Pitt yesterday at 8:30am we were still at 2 fledged + 2 chicks waiting to go. If all goes to plan I will visit both sites today.

(photos by Lori Maggio and from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Stay Away From My Baby

Raven strafes a coyote that got too close to her youngster (screenshot from tweeted video by @CrytzerFry)

8 June 2021

Ravens and coyotes can work together but not when a fledgling raven is involved. A motion detection camera captured this mother raven’s reaction when a coyote came too close to her fledgling.

Keep your distance! Stay away from my baby!

p.s. Sometimes ravens and coyotes work together. See these anecdotes from the Adirondacks (https://www.adirondackavianexpeditions.com/behavior/communication-between-common-ravens-and-eastern-coyotes-an-observation) and San Francisco (https://coyoteyipps.com/2010/06/11/crows-and-ravens/).

(screenshot from embedded Twitter video by Melissa Crytzer Fry @CrytzerFry)

They’ve Flown The Coop

Pitt peregrine fledgling is unimpressed by an angry blue jay, 5 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

7 June 2021

We’ve had an exciting few days at Schenley Plaza as we waited for the Pitt peregrine chicks to make their first flight. By Fledge Watch midday yesterday two had flown and two were still waiting to launch. No chicks slept at the nest last night. I believe all four have flown the coop.

7 June 2021, 9:30am: I’M WRONG AGAIN! The last two haven’t fledged and are on the nestrail this morning exercising their wings. They must have found a different place to sleep up there rather than the nestbox. As of 9:30am we’re still at 2 fledged, 2 waiting to fledge.

Empty nest, 7 June 2021, 3am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Fledge Watch was great on Friday 4 June with lots of peregrine activity. Saturday had no scheduled Watch but Charity Kheshgi and I could not resist stopping by Schenley Plaza. Embedded below are Charity’s Pitt peregrine photos from Instagram.

Before we begin… You might not realize that the Instagram posts are slideshows. To see all the photos, click on the faint arrow on the right side of each one.

From Fledge Watch on Friday 4 June 2021:

On Saturday 5 June two chicks waited on the nestrail while one extremely active fledgling flew to many different ledges at the Cathedral of Learning. At one point he landed on the netting that covers the ornate corners and had to walk up to launch from the top.

He also visited the globe on Carnegie Museum’s roof and perched on Stephen Foster Theater where he was harassed by a pair of blue jays.

Yesterday at Fledge Watch it was so hot that the peregrines spent the time resting in the shade. There wasn’t much to see.

Today I’ll have to walk around the Cathedral of Learning over and over just to count heads. In a few days it will be impossible to find them.

We will miss them on camera. And yes, eventually all four will fly the coop.

Juvenile peregrine flying at Cathedral of Learning, 5 June 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Baby Bird Season

Pileated woodpecker feeding nestling, Frick Park, 31 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

6 June 2021

After weeks of excitement during songbird migration, birders are disappointed when it ends. Fortunately migration is followed by baby bird season. Here are two bird families in Frick Park whose young made an appearance at the edge of the nest.

At top and below, a pileated woodpecker family was fun to watch on 31 May as both parents brought food to their begging youngsters.

Two pileated woodpecker nestlings, Frick Park, 31 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Pileated woodpecker feeding nestling, Frick Park, 31 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

On the other side of the park, red-tailed hawk nestlings peeked over the edge of the nest on 22 May, closely guarded by a parent. By now these nestlings will have feathers.

Red-tailed hawk adult and nestling, Frick Park, 22 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Red-tailed hawk nestling, Frick Park, 22 May 2021 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

It’s baby bird season.

Keep your eyes and ears open for begging birds and please keep your cats indoors to give those babies a chance.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Climbing the Exit Ramp

Two chicks at the nest but unseen by streaming camera, 5 June 2021, 6:10am

5 June 2021

None of the Pitt peregrine chicks fledged on 2 June as predicted. Nor had they fledged by the end of yesterday’s Fledge Watch on 4 June. However, only three chicks slept in the nest last night so one probably flew yesterday afternoon.

UPDATE as of 5 June, 11:00am: By 11am, 3 of the 4 chicks had fledged. One was flying so well he landed on the globe on top of Carnegie Museum.

UPDATE as of 6 June, 5:00am: Yesterday morning we definitely saw 2 fledged chicks but never 3 at the same time. We could not find the 3rd chick so we assumed it had flown. However, two chicks slept at the nest last night while two (fledged) chicks slept elsewhere. I am revising my statement: As of 5 June, 2 of 4 chicks have fledged. Fledge watch today will be HOT. Bring water.

Only 3 chicks slept at the nest last night, 4 June 11:08pm

This morning at 6:10am there were two chicks at the nest but neither was visible on the streaming camera. One chick had climbed the exit ramp under the snapshot camera. The other was perched on the nestbox roof, talons and tip of the tail visible. See photo at top.

The cameras looked very different at that moment (below). Click here to see the snapshots in real time.

Two camera views. Streaming camera cannot see the chicks, 5 June 2021, 06:10am

At least one has flown. Let the games begin!

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