Bimonthly Membership Meeting
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
7:30 PM -- 9:00 PM
Virtual Zoom Platform from Pittsburgh, PA

Seventy computers were logged on to 3RBC's August 2021 meeting, with several of those shared by more than one person. In total, at least 85 individuals viewed the club's seventh virtual Zoom meeting, which featured a presentation by well-known Ontario birder, Jean Iron, who presented, "The Nature of Arctic Birds."

3RBC President Sheree Daugherty called the meeting to order at 7:40 PM. She and other club officers made the following announcements and reports.

    •   Sheree began by noting that the club was in for a treat with speaker Jean Iron, who had previously entertained and informed the club with her last presentation in 2012.

    •   President Daugherty also announced that she is looking forward to the club's next virtual meeting, its annual "Slide Slam," which features photographs by several of the club's outstanding photographers. She asked everyone to pay attention to Dave Brooke's upcoming report for more details and contact information.

    •   Sheree announced another photo-related event: the Hollow Oak Land Trust's annual photo contest fund-raiser. Photographers should consult the 3RBC website for details.

    •   Sheree was pleased to announce that the club has finally re-started its very popular schedule of bird outings. She noted that she had led two, and that they were among the most enjoyable outings she had ever conducted; everyone was thrilled to be out in the field once again, after the long, dark pandemic interlude. She told everyone to stay tuned for Steve Thomas's upcoming report for more details about the club's remaining upcoming outings.

    •   Finally President Daugherty noted that the club will continue to meet using the Zoom platform until at least February 2022, and maybe beyond. Although everyone wants to get back to in-person meetings, the safety of our members is paramount. So, in the interest of safety, 3RBC will continue with virtual meetings until the pandemic relents. When we do resume in-person meetings, they will be at Phipps Conservatory's Botany Hall, in Oakland. She asked that we look for updates in The Peregrine and on the club's website and Facebook page.

    •   She also asked everyone to remember to adhere to Zoom-meeting etiquette: please do not unmute yourself unless you wish to address the whole group! Once the meeting has begun, the meeting hosts (Tom, Suzanne and Steve) mute everyone's microphones except the speaker's. Also, she asked that members please not interrupt the speakers' presentations; questions should be typed into Zoom's 'chat' feature, and will be addressed at the meeting's end.

    •   Peregrine Editor Paul Hess next highlighted the content of the November-December issue of The Peregrine.

    Editor Hess announced that the list of contacts for the Christmas Bird Count (December 18 through January 2, 2022) will be found on the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and 3RBC websites for birders interested in participating.

    Paul next told everyone that Sheree's President's Message is one of the most enjoyable such messages he's published since the beginning of the club, and he's sure we will find it entertaining.

    Paul was happy to report that Outings Coordinator, Steve Thomas, finally has outings to report, and that the Outings Revisited section will contain an outings report by a 9-year old birder, a welcome event, which we would all like to see repeated by other young birders.

    Tom Moeller's Observations column will be about a Cliff Swallow nest colony. Tom's photo is amazing, so make sure and check it out!

    Finally, Paul reminded all that this issue will contain, as does every issue, Mike Fialkovich's seasonal bird report for the Three Rivers area. Paul acknowledged that each of these reports requires formidable research and careful compilation, something that few would be able to handle as well as Mike does. On behalf of the club, Paul thanked Mike for his timely, thorough, and authoritative reports, and for his many contributions and dedication.

    •   Next, Tom Moeller gave his treasurer's report. He announced that the club is building back its membership that declined slightly during the pandemic. Memberships now total 313, since some of these are families, the club can boast more than 400 individuals who enjoy birding. Of the total, six are Student/Youth memberships, and Tom echoed Paul's sentiments: it is gratifing to see young people take an interest in birds and birding.

    Treasure Moeller told the club that he had just completed the club's annual financial report (3RBC's fiscal year ends on 30 September), and the club is solvent and in good financial condition, our bottom line rising about 10% from last year. Tom attributed this to the generosity of our members, who continue their strong financial support.

    •   Webmaster Tom Moeller remarked that the club's Main website page contains something that it has not for quite a while: species lists from outings! With some restrictions, outings are back, and Tom has been able to provide timely listings of the birds see.

    Tom also reported that the club's Facebook page was lit up with news and updates about the National Aviary's escaped Steller's Sea Eagle, Kody. Happily the bird was recaptured in Pine Township, after being on the loose for 8 days. Since it has been in captivity for 16 years, it is not equipped to live independently in the wild, as is the case with most escaped zoo animals. It is good news that its handlers will once again be able to provide the care and support that this unique bird requires. Members can look at the club's Facebook page to see a video of Kody's recapture.

    •   Outings Coordinator Steve Thomas reported that, after consulting CDC guidelines and considering other factors, 3RBC's outings have resumed, and several have been completed without incident. Everyone is glad to be back in the field, once again enjoying the experience with their comrades-in-birds! A few more are scheduled for the remainder of the year.

    -     Sunday, October 10, 2021 - Pymatuning Area

    -     Sunday, October 24, 2021 - Allegheny Cemetery

    -     Saturday, October 30, 2021 - Moraine State Park

    -     Saturday, November 6, 2021 - Yellow Creek State Park

    Participants must follow CDC guidelines, including these: practice social distancing; do not share equipment; vaccines are recommended; wear a mask when appropriate. Each outing leader has set additional restrictions and requirements: most require pre-registration, and numbers of participants are limited. Finally, each leader may discontinue the outing at any time if conditions warrant such an action. Please see the full Outings listings on the website for all restrictions and requirements that may apply! As always, check the club's Facebook page for possible last minute changes or cancellations.

    •   3RBC Vice President Mike Fialkovich thanked Paul Hess for his kind words regarding his reports to The Peregrine. He next relayed recent bird sightings, reporting the following sightings since last August: Great Egrets at Avonsworth, Dashields Dam, and Wingfield Pines; Allegheny County's first sighting of a Tri-colored Heron at Imperial; Black Vultures at Peters Creek in Jefferson Borough - a reliable place to see them (they seem to be increasing all over western Pennsylvania); Merlin in Wexford; Sedge Wren at Hartwood Acres (only the fourth County sighting, previous records include first sighting in 1899, noted in Clyde Todd's Birds of Western Pennsylvania, second sighting in 1997 at Imperial, third in 2016 at Harrison Hills by Paul Hess; a large number of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are being reported widely; Philadelphia Vireos are also widely reported, being more common in the fall here than in spring; several Olive-sided Flycatchers have been reported over the past few weeks; Mourning Warblers and Connecticut Warblers at Hartwood Acres, Deer Lakes, Beechwood Farms, and Sewickley Heights Park; Blue Grosbeaks continued in Imperial; an immature Red-headed Woodpecker at Harrison Hills; Norther Waterthrushes at Frick Park, Emmerling Park, Indiana Township; a single Golden-winged Warbler at Frick Park; Brewster's Warbler at Beechwood Farms; Lawrence's Warbler at Deer Lake Park; good numbers of Cape May Warblers, as well as Tennessee and Bay-breasted Warblers; a Henslow's Sparrow was photographed at Hartwood Acres (an unusual sighting); over the past week, white throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos have arrived; finally, there have been a few reports of winter wrens and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

    •   Program Coordinator Dave Brooke noted that the club's next meeting will take place on December 1, 2021, at 7:00 pm and will feature the club's very popular Slide Slam. Photographers must pre-register by emailing Dave Brooke at Because of time limitations, only a limited number of photographers will be able to present their work, probably 10-12, so contact Dave soon for details. Information is also on the website.

Dave next turned things over to Paul Hess, who introduced Ontario ornithologist and birder Jean Iron, who presented "The Nature of Arctic Birds." Hess, who has known Iron for years, noted her special interest in the qualities and adaptations of Arctic birds and her important work. As a leader for Quest Nature Tours to Canada's High Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic, she experienced Arctic birds in their natural habitats. From 2002 to 2018, Jean went north to Hudson Bay and James Bay to survey shorebirds and geese for the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

She was president of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO) for nine years and editor of its newsletter for fourteen. In 2016, she received the OFO Distinguished Ornithologist Award.

Paul remarked that, just as Jean entranced 3RBC members previously when she presented a program on shorebird identification and ecology in April 2012, so will we be similarly enchanted with tonight's program.

The Nature of Arctic Birds

Arctic birds have a special attraction for birders and are among our most sought-after species. Jean Iron took us far north and gave us a privileged look at birds very few of us have seen on their breeding grounds. In fact, most of us have not seen some of them anywhere - such as the gorgeous Ivory Gull pictured in her presentation. Of prime importance, she discussed the many adaptations that Arctic birds must undergo in order to survive the harsh environment.
Jean Iron
Jean Iron

Jean summarized the main points of her presentation: geography - what constitutes 'the Arctic;' the challenging arctic environment and how arctic bird species' exceptional endurance and lifestyle are determined by the relentless forces of nature; physical adaptations of arctic birds, their color schemes; the necessarily short breeding seasons; their impressive migrations; and some facts about arctic bird populations in general.

The Arctic Circle is at latitude 66°30'N. On and around the Circle the sun doesn't set in June on the Summer Solstice - 24 hours of sunlight. Conversely, in December on the Winter Solstice, the sun doesn't rise - 24 hours of darkness. Also, much of this area is above the tree-line, and therefore a tundra, with underlying permafrost - the ground is frozen all year, with only a shallow layer thawing in the brief arctic summer. All of these have major effects on bird populations.

Jean pointed out the Nunavut Territory, the summer ground of many of the birds that migrate through our Pittsburgh region. The area comprises Canada's largest territory, totaling more than 772,000 square miles, approximately the same size as all of western Europe! It also has one of the lowest human population densities, with fewer than 38,000 souls living in the entire territory! Jean noted that the capital of Nunavut is not all that far from Pittsburgh, being 1,675 miles away, as the gyrfalcon flies. (For a detailed information on the birds of this amazing region, Jean recommended the two-volume Birds of Nunavut.)

Describing the environment, Jean informed us that, as we might expect, it is rock and ice covered and cold, with the average July temperature below 50°F. The species diversity is low, so it's easier to learn the birds. But, though the diversity is low, the numbers can be huge, with lots of birds per species. The best place to see birds is in the valleys and along the coastlines in the spring, which doesn't come until June: winter can begin in August! Brrr!

Jean told the audience that, though 295 migrants can be seen there throughout the year, there are only 12 resident species in Nunavut: two species of Ptarmigan, Rock and Willow; three species of alcids, the Thick-billed Murre, Dovekie, and Black Guillemot; two species of gull, Ross's and Ivory; Snowy Owl; Gyrfalcon; Common Raven, and Hoary and Common Redpolls. The Rock Ptarmigan (also called "Snow Chicken"), which spends the entire year on the tundra, is the Territorial Bird of Nunavut and is very important to the Inuit residents. The bird's drab markings blend perfectly with the surroundings. As for the others, the Dovekie is the most numerous, and also the smallest alcid in the Arctic. Alcids need open water, which can be found in a few areas even during the cold, dark winters. The Ross's Gull is very rare in Nunavut, with fewer than 100 found there - the bird's primary breeding ground is in Siberia. The Ivory Gull is the only all-white gull in the world: in North America, it breeds only in Nunavut. Its numbers are small, with only about 1,100 birds documented in Canada and about 24,000 world-wide. Everyone is familiar with the Snowy Owl; this magnificent bird often moves south to our region in response to food supplies - when their main food source, lemmings, experiences a population crash, the owls move south. The area's Gyrfalcon is the world's most northerly falcon, and the largest, and it is the epitome of 'Arctic-ness.' The Common Raven that stays all winter long in Nunavut is the same species we see here. Finally, the Hoary and Common Redpolls are Nunavut's smallest birds, and the only resident passerine.

What adaptations have these birds developed which allows them to survive the bitter conditions? One important adaptation is size, with most Arctic birds being larger than pigeons. The larger size keeps the heat loss to a minimum - the body mass to surface area ratio is crucial. It is also an advantage in dealing with the large Arctic mammals, who feed on other large prey. Bigger birds are better able to scavenge from the large carcasses available.

Most Arctic birds are adapted to dealing with an aquatic or sodden environment, including ducks, geese, swans, loons and gulls, shorebirds and alcids. With these and others, developing ways to retain heat is another vital Arctic adaptation, as evidenced by the Common Eider, whose feathers are spectacularly well suited to insulation and staying warm. Since a bird's feet are a weak spot for heat loss, many Arctic birds - the Snowy Owl is a good example - are feathered to the ends of their toes. The Common Raven has developed yet another way to keep its feet warm: instead of feathers, the Raven has developed a unique array of blood vessels in its feet, which greatly restrict and condi-tion blood flow, and thereby reducing heat loss. (This phenomenon is called rete mirabile - Latin for 'wonderful net' - and occurs in other species as well, including gulls.) Arctic Ravens exhibit other adaptations: their bills are larger, and they are larger in general than the more southern birds we are used to seeing.

She went on to tell us how the very specialized climate and short breeding season of the Arctic has forced birds to develop other habits and adaptations. Most Arctic breeding birds mate for life, forming mating pairs before they reach the Arctic, thus enabling them to make the best use of time once they arrive. Young Arctic birds are usually ready to fend for themselves very shortly after birth, even migrate, with very little parental care necessary. The colors and adornments of these birds match their uncompromising environment - simple, no frills and non-essentials, diametrically opposed to the markings found on tropical birds. Though the color palette is limited, their markings - usually black, white, and grey with an occasional touch of color - are quite dramatic.

Jean outlined many more fascinating details of the lives of these cold-adapted bird species. The young of these birds will migrate almost as soon as they are hatched, without their parents. As soon as the eggs hatch, adult shore birds leave for feeding grounds at James Bay in Ontario and the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, where they fatten before migrating to South America. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of shore birds that stop there, James Bay is especially important to the Red Knot, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Some birds fly incredible distances: Arctic Terns, for example, fly a total distance of 44,000 in one year's migration! The rufous subspecies of the Red Knot is one of the avian world's most extreme long-range flyers, especially given its small size. Some fly 18,000 miles on a journey beginning in Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America, and ending in the Canadian Arctic. In 1995 one Red Knot - named, Moonbird - was banded in Tierra del Fuego; Over the course of its life, this bird was recorded as flying an incredible 398,000 miles, approaching twice the distance of the moon to the earth!

After her fascinating talk, Jean took several questions.

Sheree thanked Jean for her presentation. She wished everyone well, cautioned us to stay safe, and adjourned the meeting.

— prepared by Frank Moone on 10-12-2021

Image Gallery

Mission of 3RBC

To gather in friendship, to enjoy the wonders of nature and to share our passion for birds!

© Photo Credits:
Sherron Lynch, Tom Moeller, Brian Shema, and Chuck Tague