Category Archives: Books & Events

Happy New Year! Found The Crows!

Crow with his beak thrust through a bun, the paper still clinging,” 27 Dec 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

1 January 2023

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:

  • KEM, who passed along a Reddit video of crows at Duquense U. (Silly me. For weeks I looked at the Forbes end of campus.)
  • 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.

Crows on their way from Riverview to the roost, 27 Dec 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

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)

Holiday Lights and Colors

Phipps Winter Garden lights, 20 Dec 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

24 December 2022

Brrrrr! It’s -1oF this morning in Pittsburgh, too cold to enjoy the outdoors.

Last Tuesday the temperature was a balmy 33oF when I visited Phipps Conservatory’s Holiday Magic at dusk. The Winter Garden glowed.

Phipps Winter Garden lights, 20 Dec 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Phipps Winter Garden lights with “Falcon Home” in the background, 20 Dec 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

As daylight faded a few white-throated sparrows made contact calls before they fell asleep. The garden is their winter home.

Sunset glowed through the trees, 20 Dec 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

And then the garden was brighter than the sky.

Phipps Winter Garden in the dark, 20 Dec 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Phipps Holiday Magic continues through Sunday 8 January 2023. By Wednesday 28 December Pittsburgh’s high will be 42oF! Click here for a timed ticket.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Winter Solstice

Winter sunrise in Leicestershire (photo by ItsNoGame via Flickr Creative Commons license)

21 December 2022

Today at 4:47pm ET the sun will pause in its southward journey down the sky and begin moving north.

This year’s solstice occurs near sunset: 9 minutes after sunset in Philadelphia (4:38pm ET), 9 minutes before sunset in Pittsburgh (4:56pm ET). If you live in Shippensburg, PA sunset and the winter solstice will happen simultaneously.

Soon the days will be longer and birds will begin to sing. Here’s what we can look forward to on a warm day in late January.

(photo by ItsNoGame via Flickr Creative Commons license; click on the caption to see the original)

Golden Eagle Special on WQED, Dec 21

Golden eagle at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, 2 Nov 2016 (photo by Steve Gosser)

19 December 2022

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.

Pittsburgh conservation filmmakers, David and Melissa Rohm of Wild Excellence Films, went to Wyoming to learn about the challenges the eagles face and meet the people working to save them. Their film, Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West, will air on WQED this coming Wednesday, 21 December 2022 at 10:00pm.

Coming to WQED on Wednesday 21 December 2022 at 10pm

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.

Golden eagle range map (image from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Don’t miss Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West on WQED on Wednesday, 21 December 21, at 10pm.

(photo of golden eagle at the Allegheny Front by Steve Gosser, map from Wikimedia Commons, remaining images from Wild Excellence Films, click on the captions to see the originals)

Help Me Find Pittsburgh’s Winter Crows

Crows gathering at dusk in Schenley Park, 21 Jan 2017 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

5 December 2022

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!

Where are they roosting? (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.)

Locations of Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock on Dec 3 & 4, 2022 at 5pm (mark up screenshot from Google Maps satellite view)

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)

Start Counting! Christmas Bird Counts Coming Soon

3 December 2022

Gloomy, windy weather has chased us indoors but there’s fun ahead in the coming weeks. Join Audubon’s 123rd annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), Wednesday 14 December 2022 to Thursday 5 January 2023.

Date span of the 2022 Christmas Bird Count (calendar images from timeanddate.com)

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.

Choose a location and date that suits you from the national map at audubon.org and follow the instructions here for singing up. (NOTE: To see the date of your chosen CBC you may have to scroll down in the little block that shows the compiler’s name.)

If you live in the Pittsburgh area you may be interested in one of these counts. Click on the map for details.

Screenshot of zoomed-in 123rd Christmas Bird Count map from audubon.org

Join the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count on 31 December 2022 (map below). If you’ve not yet made arrangements to participate, or you need more information, contact Brian Shema at the Audubon Society of Western PA at 412-963-6100 or bshema@aswp.org.

Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count circle (map from audubon.org)

Sign up now! We’ll be counting soon.

p.s. Did you know … ?

  • The Christmas Bird Count is funded entirely by donations. Donate here to support the CBC.
  • The CBC extends into January because it spans 11 days before and after Christmas. The entire count period is 23 days, though I doubt any counts are scheduled on Christmas.

(photo from 2022 Audubon Christmas Bird Count webpage, maps from audubon.org; click on the captions to see the originals)

Panther Hollow Lake on Hold

Panther Hollow Lake flooded with ice, 25 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

30 November 2022

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.

6.2.3 M29 Four Mile Run: Green Infrastructure Concept Plan Figure 6-15 from pgh2o (markup added for 4 Mile Run)

But in a downpour the pipe is overloaded and floods the downstream neighborhood called The Run.

Combined sewer overflow flood in The Run, August 2016 (photo by Justin Macey used by permission)

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.

Concrete edge an algae among the cattails in Panther Hollow Lake, August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

EXAMPLE OF DAYLIGHTING a stream in an urban setting (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But when the plans were submitted for approval big problems stood in the way of progress. Here’s what stood in the way, quoted from the PGH2O presentation on 14 Nov 2022 (my comments added).

  • DEP’s review proved difficult
    • 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.

Four Mile Run Stormwater Project (from pgh2o community presentation 14 Nov 2022)

Improvements to Panther Hollow Lake are on hold again. Fortunately the flooding will be solved in The Run.

Read about the updated plan as of 14 Nov 2022 at Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority: Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. See the Community Presentation Powerpoint here.

(image credits and links to the originals are in the captions. Maps from pgh2o.com)

Pumpkin Day Number 2

24 November 2022

Today is the second pumpkin festival of the year that celebrates this cultivar of the New World squash Cucurbita pepo. On Halloween we carve pumpkins. On Thanksgiving we eat them.

Pumpkin flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Pumpkin pie (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I am very fond of pumpkin pie. It’s a good excuse to eat lots of whipped cream.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Pumpkin pie slice smothered in whipped cream (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Happy Bird-day to the Blog!

Crows in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons, cropped)

9 November 2022

How many crows are in this picture? That’s how many years I’ve been writing this blog.

15 candles for Outside My Window (party crow by Joan Guerin)

15 Years!

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.

Check out the comments on the YouTube video that explain what his noises mean.

Happy 15th Bird-thday to the Blog!

p.s. Today I beat my deadline by half an hour!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. Party crows by Joan Guerin)