Great blue herons nest colonially near creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands. As soon as they return to Pennsylvania they gather at their rookeries, usually located in sycamores. We have at least three rookeries in or near Allegheny County.
Northeast of Pittsburgh: On 22 March Jim McCollum went to Barking Slopes to see the island rookery above Lock and Dam #3 on the Allegheny River. This island is so close to the dam that it’s inaccessible but the rookery is visible after a mile-long hike at Barking Slopes. A much easier place to view it is on the Cheswick side of the river from the Harmar House parking lot on Freeport Road. There are more than 40 nests at this site.
Northwest of Pittsburgh: On 6 April, Dick Rhoton and his wife visited a rookery near Sewickley, PA, described below with photos.
Last Monday Nellie and I made our almost yearly trip to see what was happening with the blue herons rookery north on the red belt from 65 (just past Sewickley (turn at the high tension wires and go until you see the cement plant on the left and the asphalt plant on the right- park here and then walk up the road for 1/4 mile or so).
This year we counted 30 to 35 nests east of the road and almost all were occupied with sitting herons.— email from Dick Rhoton , 8 April 2020
South of Pittsburgh: There’s an easy-to-see rookery above a wetland between I-79 and the parking lot to the left of DDI headquarters on Washington Pike in Bridgeville, PA. Donna Foyle reports that at least 21 nests are visible from the I-79 edge of the parking lot.
If you decide to view a rookery remember to stand 6-feet away from other folks you encounter and, per Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home COVID-19 outdoor guidance, please limit your trip to a 15 minute drive from home. To make that possible, I’ve described locations in three directions.
p.s. The COVID-19 shutdown gives us an unparalleled opportunity to document spring in our own neighborhoods. In a “normal” spring I’d be traveling all over the place and ignoring the wonders of home. Instead I’m seeing changes in Schenley Park and visiting nearby hotspots such as Duck Hollow. This is a great time to keep a Nature Journal!
(photos by Jim McCollum and Dick Rhoton)