Halloween is almost here. Who has the largest jack o’ lantern?
Two pumpkins in Jersey would like to win the honor. They’re nearly as wide as a picnic table.
They would lose to this 905.5 pound pumpkin from Ohio. Even if scooped out it would break the picnic table.
No squash can match the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden when dressed for Halloween. At 360 feet in diameter it’s wider than a football field, the largest jack o’ lantern in the world.
However, the universe wins the prize for size. The Jack O’ Lantern nebula is a cosmic cloud of radiation and particles emitted by a huge star 15-20 times heavier than our sun. This 2019 animation from NASA/JPL-Caltech shows why it’s called The Jack O’ Lantern.
Yesterday damp weeds brushed our clothing as two friends and I walked a creek side trail in the drizzle. When we got back to our cars we checked for black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) and found many on our clothing. I also found one on the car seat where I’d dropped off my backpack and gloves. Yikes!
You don’t have to go far to find them. Of course they are in the woods but they’re also found in backyards in Allegheny County. Damp weeds are a favorite habitat. Click on this photo of Japanese barberry to read why.
Needless to say I felt itchy all over after finding the ticks. When I got home I took a careful shower and put all my clothes in a hot dryer for 10+ minutes. Really. Dryers desiccate ticks. In 10 minutes they’re all dead.
Since moving to Oakland three months ago I’ve had a front row seat on the crow population. From a family group of six crows in late July the numbers grew to 200 in mid-August, 1000 in late September, 5000 in mid-October and now, in late October, 10,000 crows come to Oakland every night. The question that worries everyone who has trees is this: Where will the crows sleep?
Crows roost in mature trees or on flat roofs where there’s ambient light, white noise and no disturbance. They want the lights on so they can see danger coming, especially owls. They like white noise — the sound of traffic, rushing water, or humming fans — but they don’t like sudden loud noises.
About 10 years ago the crows chose Pitt’s campus (photo below, December 2017).
Two winters ago they moved one block north to Schenley Farms, a small neighborhood of mature trees and historic homes where their noise and slippery feces are overwhelming. This year Schenley Farms is going to encourage the crows to sleep elsewhere by making sudden loud noises before the crows settle for the night.
The first step, however, is to find out what the crows are doing. I volunteered for that job and I love it.
I’ve learned that crows move into Oakland almost exactly at sunset, land in final staging areas 1-3 blocks from the roost, and swirl around for 30-45 minutes until they settle.
Last Saturday the crows didn’t choose Schenley Farms but I couldn’t see their final roost west of Soldiers and Sailors because of intervening buildings. On Monday evening at 8pm Michelle Kienholz photographed them roosting on trees and buildings near the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH).
They’re hard to see in her photo below …
… so I removed the brown and circled them in red. They line the roof edge and the treetops. One is flying in the dark!
So far so good. The crows aren’t sleeping near the Cathedral of Learning. They’re not at Schenley Farms.
There’s still a possibility they could choose Schenley Farms but if they do the residents will use “clappers” like those Pitt has found effective for dispersing crows — simply two boards connected by a hinge that can make a loud clapping sound.
If clappers don’t work Schenley Farms will warn the crows before they roost by making really loud noises — pyrotechnic “screamers and bangers.” So far it hasn’t come to that.
Where will the crows sleep this winter? Perhaps far away.
Let me know if you find them.
(photos by Kate St. John, Joanne Tyzenhouse and Michelle Kienholz. Clappers photo via Alex Toner at Univ of Pittsburgh)
Eurasia is home to wild rock pigeons (Columba livia) where people domesticated them for food and fancy (Columba livia domestica). 10,000 years later there are a thousand different breeds. Some are pets. Some are messengers. Some are racing pigeons. But have you ever heard of stunt pigeons? Birmingham rollers? They were news to me last week.
Birmingham rollers are popular domestic pigeons that were first bred in Birmingham, England for their tendency to do backward somersaults in flight. Some of them spin so rapidly that they look like a plummeting ball but they recover and continue flying. Pigeon fanciers enter them in competitions with high points for multiple birds tumbling at the same time.
Much of this video is in slow motion show you can see how the pigeons move.
Some pigeon breeders have taken things a step further by selecting to the point where the rollers cannot fly, merely tumble backwards on the ground. Clearly these birds would not survive in the wild. (Compilation video includes footage from the one above.)
Knowing peregrine falcons as I do, I can imagine what one thinks when it sees a Birmingham roller in flight. Mmmm hmmm!
p.s. Thank you to Scott Young for telling me about Birmingham rollers.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)
On Sunday morning 25 October 2020 three of us braved the suddenly cold weather and were rewarded with lots of birds and witch hazel in bloom.
Though we saw only 23 species bird activity was intense at the wetland near Panther Hollow Lake. A large flock of robins fed on fruit and bathed in the creek. White-throated sparrows poked through the underbrush, woodpeckers fed on fallen logs and ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in the trees. (Our eBird checklist is here.)
None of us had a camera so Joanne Tyzenhouse contributed this ruby-crowned kinglet photo she took in the spring.
Despite the cold weather I’m glad we went.
p.s. I forgot to take our picture so you will have to imagine what we looked like.
About 4.2 feet long, the octopus expanded and contracted its tentacles, flapped its Dumbo-like “ears” and transformed itself into a circus tent, perhaps in an effort to look big to the deep sea machine.
Like the crew we are all amazed by this wonder of the deep.
When you see a bird eating white berries from a hairy vine you might not realize it’s eating poison ivy. Birds are blissfully immune to the urushiol in poison ivy sap that gives us humans a nasty rash.
By late October poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) doesn’t look like the plant we’ve been avoiding all summer. The leaves are red or missing, the vine is exposed, and bunches of white berries hang from the branches. It’s easy for migrating yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) to find the food they’re so fond of.
Back in March I canceled all my 2020 outings because of COVID-19. The disease has not disappeared — in fact it’s resurging now in the U.S. and Allegheny County — but we’ve learned more about how it spreads and the relative safety of being outdoors. Today I’m announcing my first and probably last outing of 2020 (winter is coming).
Next Sunday morning, 25 October 2020, I will hold an outing in Schenley Park with restrictions to keep us safe.
UPDATE: FEW PEOPLE HAVE SIGNED UP (cold weather) so there is no chance of too many of us. Meet me at 8:30am at Bartlett Shelter(*) .
Everyone must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth.
We’ll social distance as we walk.
We’re sure to see fruits, seeds and fallen leaves. Birds may be few but there will certainly be acorns, chipmunks and blue jays. Will we find a white-throated sparrow? I hope so.
To prepare: WEAR A MASK. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.
Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations.
(*) ORIGINAL TEXT SAID: Participation will be limited. To join you must “register” by leaving a comment on this blog post (not in Facebook). I will respond via email & tell you where and when to meet.