Happy New Year! Claire Staples and I counted 20,000 crows for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count yesterday.
Three days ago it looked like we were headed for a washout. Rain was in the forecast and on 29 December I found only 15 crows while driving 16 miles to scout recent locations — from Parkway Center Mall to Woodville Ave, Uptown, the Hill District, Polish Hill, the Strip District and the River Trail at Heinz Lofts. Fifteen!?!
Fortunately, thanks to hot tips from readers, we counted 20,000 crows last evening from our vantage point near Rooney Stadium at Duquesne University. Big Thank Yous go to:
Elizabeth Norman, who emailed at dusk on 30 December that crows were flying west to east over Allentown/Mt. Oliver. I saw them simultaneously from my building rooftop.
Lori Maggio, who emailed on 30 December that thousands of crows were swirling above the Blvd of the Allies at Mercy Hospital and Duquesne University in near darkness. (my Aha! moment)
Norman Wise, who confirmed on 31 Dec that there’s a large roost in the wooded area farthest northeast between Mount Washington and the South Side Slopes.
I triangulated those reports and looked for a high vantage point that could see all of them. Claire and I counted crows from the Bluff at Duquesne University and had the best crow count ever. Close in the air and countable.
Thank you, dear readers, for all your help. Your enthusiasm for my blog inspires me to keep writing every day.
Happy New Year to all!
p.s. The caption on the first photo is a quote from my favorite poem about crows. Highly recommended! See the poem here. By Doug Anderson.
(photos by Jeff Cieslak on 27 December 2022 at Riveriew Park)
Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) occur worldwide in the northern hemisphere but are quite rare in Pittsburgh though we see them on migration at the Allegheny Front. Their stronghold in North America is in the American West but now the birds face many threats.
In the film we learn that golden eagles prefer wide open spaces without human interference so when we move in, they move out. They’ve disappeared from many areas heavily disturbed by humans and, according to Birds of the World, most North American nesting populations are declining or below carrying capacity due, in part, to anthropogenic related mortality.
Watch eagle researchers rappel down cliffs to band golden eagle chicks. Visit wildlife rehabilitation centers where eagles are treated for lead poisoning. Hear Indigenous people’s connections to the largest eagle in the American West.
For the past several years I’ve counted Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock for the Christmas Bird Count. Some years I’ve counted as many as 20,000 but last year was a bust. Steady rain, fog, and the fact that the crows moved their roost just before the CBC meant I counted only 220. Aaarrg!
I will not be foiled again this year but I need your help. Where are the crows settling for the night? If you know where they are overnight or after sunset, leave a comment to let me know.
I say “overnight or after sunset” because crows make a big noisy deal out of gathering in large numbers on their way to the roost. Hundreds stage at the tops of trees and shout as more come in. When the sky darkens, they fall silent and leave. For where? That’s the question!
Last weekend I tried to find them. By 5:00pm on Saturday 3 December I was sure I’d found the roost by watching from Mt Washington at the Mon Incline (my vantage point is the pink V on the map below). Crows staged in the trees in The Saddle on Sycamore Street, then left for a tree-filled hillside near Kirkpatrick Street below Oak Hill, marked in yellow 12/3/22. I counted about 7,500.
Yesterday I went back to Mt. Washington, confident they’d do the same thing and I was wrong! They didn’t gather in the The Saddle; they didn’t roost at Kirkpatrick. Instead they gathered in the Hill District above Bigelow Boulevard. I could barely count 2,000. As I drove home I saw thousands over Bigelow Boulevard but couldn’t count while driving. Aaarrg! My guess at their location is marked in yellow 12/4/22.
Did they end up near Heinz Lofts along the Allegheny River or on Troy Hill as they did a few years ago? (See orange blocks and question mark.)
This year Claire Staples and I will count crows together for the CBC on 31 December but I fear the crows will foil us again.
Do you know where the crows are overnight or after sunset in Pittsburgh? If so, please leave a comment with your answer. (We will need this info especially during the week after Christmas.)
p.s. This weekend’s location change can probably be attributed to the weather. Strong west wind vs. weak southwest wind.
Sat 3 Dec 5pm: 43 degrees F. West wind gusting over 30 mph. Temperature falling.
Sun 4 Dec 5pm: 36 degrees F. SW wind at 6 mph. No wind chill.
(photo and map credits are in the captions; click on the captions to see the originals)
During the Christmas Bird Count, volunteers count birds in more than 2,500 count circles in North America. Each circle is 15-miles in diameter and has its own compiler who coordinates the count for a single scheduled day.
You can go birding outdoors or count birds at your feeder (if your home is in a count circle). No experience is necessary. The only prerequisite is that you must contact the circle compiler in advance to reserve your place.
Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park has had problems for decades but there was hope they would be solved by an ambitious 2016 plan to rehab the lake and daylight Four Mile Run downstream. Unfortunately the plans were so ambitious that they had to be put on hold this month.
The lake’s problems are legion. It is really only the size of a pond and is filled with sediment. The shallow water cannot replenish fast enough so algae blooms in summer; sometimes fish die. Its unnatural concrete edges prohibit lakeside vegetation that could absorb water and it does not flow into any creek or river. Instead Panther Hollow Lake dumps 68 million gallons per year of clean water into a sewer pipe.
The sewer pipe is what used to be Four Mile Run plus lots of sewage. When there’s not much rain the pipe carries its contents to the water treatment plant at Alcosan.
But in a downpour the pipe is overloaded and floods the downstream neighborhood called The Run.
In 2016 Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s Draft Green Infrastructure Plan (PWSA at pgh2o.com) proposed dredging the lake, removing the concrete surround, and building a new dam so the lake would be a good depth.
It also proposed daylighting Four Mile Run in Junction Hollow — in other words, making it flow on the surface in daylight instead of in a pipe underground. Here’s an example of a daylighted stream in Yonkers.
DEP would not approve the dam as designed. It had to be much larger to meet current dam codes.
Daylighting Four Mile Run in Junction Hollow would be a long permitting nightmare because it must be put back into a (new) pipe to get under the railroad and Second Ave on its way to the Monongahela River.
The dam would have to be placed on railroad property and the railroad had already said no.
So PWSA updated the project to solve the biggest problem — flooding in The Run. Described in a public meeting on 14 Nov 2022, the revised project map shows no work in Schenley Park. All work will occur in The Run.
Improvements to Panther Hollow Lake are on hold again. Fortunately the flooding will be solved in The Run.
How many crows are in this picture? That’s how many years I’ve been writing this blog.
After all this time I’m used to getting up early every morning (4am) to write the day’s article, usually from scratch. I hope for inspiration and enough time to do the research, find photos, tie it together with cogent prose, and publish by 7:30am or 8:00am. If you’ve been paying attention lately you know I sometimes miss my deadline. (Aaarg!) Fortunately I get to try again the next day.
In 2014 with seven years of blogging and 2,320 posts I realized that some articles are worth a second look so I started my own re-runs (called “Throw Back Thursdays” à la Facebook). After 15 years I now have 5,545 articles to choose from.
You, dear readers, are why I keep writing every day. I enjoy birds, nature and peregrine falcons and I enjoy learning new things, but it would all be useless without your enthusiasm, comments, and sharing with friends.
And it would be boring text without the great photographers who let me use their photos and videos. A Big Thank You to all of them. See who they are here.
Today’s celebration would not be complete without remarks from a Corvid. A raven (Corvus corax) is stepping in to say, “Happy Bird-day!” and comment on my missed deadlines.