Little did we know a year ago today when the first known case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. that we were heading for a year of recurring fear, illness, death, isolation, political unrest and economic hardship. By now almost everyone knows someone who tested positive. Too many know someone who died.
Yesterday the U.S. COVID-19 death toll reached 400,000. To put this in perspective, that’s the entire population of Tulsa, Oklahoma or Tampa, Florida or 1/3 of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
For a year we have been grieving alone or in small groups. Yesterday for the first time we mourned as a nation for the lives lost to the coronavirus. A nurse from Livonia, Michigan who cares for COVID patients sang Amazing Grace as a tribute to those we’ve lost.
Michigan nurse Lori Marie Key, who went viral singing ‘Amazing Grace’ at work, reprises the song at the national COVID-19 memorial ceremony pic.twitter.com/8OtCaNU5mw
If you have ever approached a tiny spider that jumped suddenly far and fast you’ve probably seen a jumping spider (Salticidae), one of 6000 species on Earth.
Jumping spiders are harmless to humans and can be identified by the position of their eyes. They have four pairs(!) with the largest front and center. As for jumping, they use their back legs.
Jumping spiders’ well-developed internal hydraulic system extends their limbs by altering the pressure of their body fluid (hemolymph) within them. This enables the spiders to jump without having large muscular legs like a grasshopper. Most jumping spiders can jump several times the length of their bodies.
A stream is called a “Run” in Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Maryland. Derek Watkins’ map of Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous U.S., generated from GNIS data, shows the places where people use different words for Creek including: Branch, fork, run, brook, kill, stream, bayou, swamp, slough, wash, cañada, arroyo, rio. (Click here to see his map.)
There are other anomalies as well. Hollow, as in Panther Hollow, is our name for a narrow valley. The term is used throughout Appalachia and in places where Appalachians settled later such as the Ozarks, Utah, Texas, and parts of Oregon and Wisconsin(*). Everywhere else out West a narrow valley is a Gulch. Since the West is dry we think gulches are dry, but they don’t have to be.
Here’s Pfly’s map of Hollow in orange versus Gulch in blue.
So a Run in a Hollow could be called a Branch in a Gulch.
Nine Mile Branch in Duck Gulch is pictured at top.
Southwestern Wisconsin uses both Branch and Hollow, terms from the southern Appalachians. Derek Watkins speculates that this patch may have come from Appalachian in-migration “during a regional lead mining boom in the early 19th century.”
This winter Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park rose to flood level in late November, remained flooded for almost two months, and fell suddenly last week. Here’s the story of the rise and fall of Panther Hollow Lake.
Panther Hollow Lake, which is actually the size of a pond, was built around 1904 by damming the fresh water of Panther Hollow Run and piping its outflow into the combined sewer system of what had been Four Mile Run, the creek that used to receive it. Buried in Junction Hollow the big pipe passes under a neighborhood called The Run on its way to the Monongahela River.
Normally the water level is low enough that the concrete-step edge is visible as shown at top left and on 19 Nov 2020 below.
But the valve malfunctioned or clogged in late November. By 25 November water was climbing the edge and by 4 December the lake was obviously flooded (top photo at right). An alternate channel kept the water from rising further but you couldn’t walk around the lake until someone beat a path above the water line.
On Wednesday 13 January I circumnavigated the still-flooded lake. The next day someone fixed the valve and the lake began to fall rapidly, cracking and levering ice around the edge.
Here’s what it looked like on Friday 15 January 2021, back to normal water level.
The ice was still settling and cracking when I stopped to record the sound last Friday. Listen to it pop and groan. You can also hear a Carolina chickadee and a song sparrow at the end.
p.s. And, yes, a stream is called a “Run” in Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Maryland. Derek Watkins’ map of Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous U.S., generated from GNIS data, shows the places where people use different words for Creek including: Branch, fork, run, brook, kill, stream, bayou, swamp, slough, wash, cañada, arroyo, rio. (Click here to see his map.)
Note: Watkins did not include regional pronunciations such as “crick” because the data he used from GNIS spells it “creek.”
Sunrise on Friday 15 January was a deep crimson red. Though it was sunny for a couple of hours yesterday, gusty wind arrived at 9:30a and rain followed five hours later.
Mackerel sky without rain.
A mackerel sky can predict rain 6-8 hours later, but that wasn’t the case over Frick Park on Saturday 9 January 2021. The day was brilliantly sunny for two hours but became overcast by 5p. These clouds were the leading edge.
Are they a “mackerel sky” or not? What do you think?
Meanwhile, I’d say the bottom right corner is a Harbinger of Gloom.
It’s winter and you’re out for a walk in the neighborhood. As you approach a hedge you can hear it’s alive with hidden birds. They sound like this:
The noise is a flock of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) but the hedge is so dense and dark that you can’t see them. The photo below shows the problem; click on it to see the birds in a digitally brightened version.
House sparrows are always gregarious, but more so in winter when they flock together in large numbers.
In the morning and afternoon they disperse to feed, but twice a day — at midday and in the evening — they gather in dense shrubs or evergreens and chatter for an hour or more. If you approach the hedge they suddenly fall silent. If you peer inside you’ll find a few birds looking wary. The rest have flown out the other side.
If you wait long enough, someone else will watch the hedge for you.
(photo of a hedge by decaseconds on Flickr via Creative Commons license; sparrow photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals)
The smartest bird in the western hemisphere, the common raven (Corvus corax), has come to town and is claiming nest sites in the City of Pittsburgh. Ravens have been seen in Schenley Park, above, and are regularly found at Forbes Avenue in Frick Park. This is a big deal because…
Common ravens were extirpated from eastern North America by 1900. After 1950 they slowly recolonized remote areas of the north and Appalachians but were rarely seen in eastern cities. We were very surprised when a pair showed up at Brunot’s Island in October 2007 and eventually nested there. Since then, very slowly, ravens have become more visible in Pittsburgh.
[When the car noise abates briefly at 0:19 below you can almost hear what the raven is saying, a muted “whup … whup”.]
Yes – just down the road apiece from your boyhood diorama … here he is trying to convey his passion for another raven in the trees below the bridge but being drowned out by traffic. A cyclist saw me videoing and said, wow – that’s a really big crow! pic.twitter.com/3AC4IzaIHR
In the UK there’s a lovely tradition of birders (called twitchers) making a donation to a local charity when they come visit a rare bird. In 2008 the parish church St. Margaret’s at Cley next the Sea, built in 1320-1340, was in need of restoration funds so the donations were given to the church. The bird stayed for weeks, ultimately raising 6,000 pounds, more than $11,000 in 2008 dollars. At the time it was the most ever raised by a rare bird.
St. Margaret’s honored the bird with a stained glass window.
And British twitchers honored the bird with a nickname — “badger bunting” — for the badger-like stripes on its head.
Beyond the thrill of seeing a rare bird there can be tangible benefits.
p.p.s. I saw the church from a distance in late June 2017 when I visited Cley & Salthouse Marshes on a birding tour with Oriole Birding. I had 12 Life Birds there; Best Bird was Eurasian spoonbill. It’s a great place for birds!
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Zoopla; click on the captions to see the originals)
Last week was too overcast for a good photo but Steve Gosser returned yesterday for these stunning pictures.
Then on Saturday 9 January 2021 the birds were even closer to home. Matt Juskowitch found a dozen redpolls at Bethel Green in Allegheny County. Here’s Matt’s documentation shot, proving that the birds are real. Notice the red hat! Adult male redpolls also have a pink wash on their chests.
I went to Bethel Green yesterday, 10 Jan 2021, and saw 9 redpolls eating birch catkins. Here’s one of Matt’s photos from his eBird report yesterday afternoon.
The birds are moving around from place to place so they may show up at your own birches, alders, sunflowers or feeders. Watch for small finches with red on top of their heads (“poll” means head). They are only as big as goldfinches.