Category Archives: Books & Events

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

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 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

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

Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count circle (map from

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; click on the captions to see the originals)

Panther Hollow Lake on Hold

Panther Hollow Lake in flood 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 proposed dredging the lake, removing the concrete surround, and building a new dam so the lake would be a good depth.

Concrete edge and 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

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)

Pick Your Favorite in the Comedy Wildlife Photo Contest

Burrowing owls at the Salton Sea (photo by Wendy Miller @geococcyxcal)

4 November 2022

Since 2015 the Comedy Wildlife Photo Contest has held a competition to choose the funniest wildlife photo of year. This year’s entries were received by 1 September, forty finalists have been chosen, and voting is now open online for the Affinity Photo People’s Choice Award.

For a Friday chuckle check out the 40 finalists gallery at Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, Gallery of Winners and Finalists 2022 Finalists.

You can vote for your favourite and be in with a chance of winning £500 (*) courtesy of our brilliant sponsors at Affinity Photo. … Voting will close on 27th November and the 2022 Winners of all the categories and the Comedy Wildlife Photographer of the Year will be announced on December 8th.

Happy Friday!

p.s. The photo above is by Wendy Miller @geococcyxcal, Creative Commons license on Flickr. I don’t know if her photos were part of the competition but they oughta be!

(*) Because the contest is in the UK the prize is in British pounds: £500

Fruit on the Planet of Weeds

Oriental bittersweet, Frick Park, 29 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

1 November 2022

Just over a week ago I wrote about the sixth mass extinction during which the Earth will become a weedy place with fewer species.

Earth will be a different sort of place — soon, in just five or six human generations. My label for that place, that time, that apparently unavoidable prospect, is the Planet of Weeds.

David Quammen, Planet of Weeds, Harper’s Magazine, October 1988

The plants pictured here are some of those weeds, all of them non-native invasives that happen to provide food for birds and small mammals.

Last week in Frick Park large flocks of American robins gobbled up oriental bittersweet, honeysuckle and porcelain berry fruits. As they continue their migration they’ll deposit the seeds along the way.

(Amur) honeysuckle fruit, NMR Trail, 27 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Porcelain berry fruit, NMR Trail, 27 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Animals that aren’t afraid of thorns eat the fruits of Japanese barberry.

Japanese barberry in October (photo by Kate St. John)

After the frost softens the Callery pears robins and starlings strip the fruit from these invasive trees.

Callery pear fruits in November 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Even though the fruits are “weeds” they can be beautiful.

(photos by Kate St. John)