Monongahela Aquatorium Kids Fishing Derby 2019

Saturday, 6/8, was a pleasantly mild morning in Monongahela. Thankfully, the Mon River was at normal flow & clarity because the Kids Fishing Derby, co-sponsored by the City of Monongahela & the Valley Inn Sportsmen’s Association, was on today. According to the folks at the registration desk this was perhaps the 14th year and a great deal of credit was given to Bob Kepics, the current Mayor of Monongahela. Bob has served as Mayor since January 6, 2007 and was named as instrumental in the founding of this event in both of his roles as Mayor and member of the Valley Inn Sportsmen’s Association. Thank you for your service to the community Bob.

 The event was scheduled to run from 8AM to 2PM. When Frodo & I arrived about 10:30AM, 74 children had been registered with 2 signing in just as we stood there. The desk expected that families would continue to sign in during the morning. Including the accompanying adults, I estimated there were 150-200 strung out along the Aquatorium & neighboring river banks.

Nice crowd for such an event and the reach went outside Monongahela. Talked with organizers from Cub Scout Pack 99 from Elizabeth Twp., who had 17 families signed up.

 About 30+ sponsors had donated to support this event, allowing the Valley Inn Sportsmen to line up an array of prizes which included dozens of rod/reel sets, tackle, tackle boxes, coolers, etc. Prizes would be awarded both by lottery, according to the registration ticket number, and according to largest fish in each age category. Every child had a chance to go home with something.

 Biggest fish registered by that time were a 24″ Carp & a 25″ Catfish. Fun fish to catch for any age group and neither fish species gives up easily.

The catch also included smaller Bass, Rock Bass, and other panfish. The catch of a basically healthy river although there are still challenges in keeping & improving that water quality. 

 Walking around talking to folks it was hard to decide who was having more fun, the families there or our Standard Poodle Frodo. He’s a very sociable dog & feeds off the energy of the crowd like a happy vampire. By the time we got down to the river bank he was practically vibrating & hovering about 3 ft off the ground. Boy, if you could bottle that & take a little sip when you were feeling down!

 Again, a very nice community family event, and thanks to all the organizations & individuals who put in the effort to make it a success.

 See you next time.
Ken Yonek

MOA Kids Fishing Derby

The Marianna Outdoorsmen Association lucked out on the second try. After one rain cancellation, the Kids Fishing Derby went off as rescheduled on May 11. They got a partly sunny Saturday in the high 50’s sandwiched in between two rainy days. Lucky.

Our dog, Frodo, & I got there ca 11 AM. He just loves to mingle & I’d hate to have him miss out.

The MOA owns several acres along both banks of Daniels Run in Marianna and It was clear that the volunteers of the MOA had done a lot of work at the site since their first derby there last Fall. A lot more space had been cleared of brush & debris and smoothed for parking, fishing access, tables & food prep. A section of bank had even been reserved for kids & families with some tables & chairs stream side.

To help make this derby a success, the Marianna Outdoorsmen Association had stocked $3100 worth of trout, the majority over 18″, in their section of Daniels Run. By the time we arrived, 5 trout in the 22″-23″ size had already been registered on the leaderboard. WOW ! 

Free food & drinks were available for the children. In addition, prizes, including Ugly Stick rod & reel sets, tackle boxes, rods, & lures would be awarded to the kids. The MOA would even pay to have the largest fish caught in each of the 3 (childrens ) age categories mounted for display. 

The best thing about the leaderboard concept was that fish caught were immediately compared, by the angler ( mostly by  their parents ), to the largest fish posted. If the fish was not bigger than the largest already posted, it was returned to the water in every case I saw.  So, beautiful fish like this one were quickly released for someone else to catch on another day. Commendable sportsmanship.

But probably even more important than that sportsmanship was that family groups, including Moms, Dads, Children, & Grandparents were out there together. The children were having fun & learning about the outdoors and the parents & grandparents were experiencing some of that joy also.

 This looked like a very successful morning for the kids and the adults were already arriving for their derby, starting at 2 PM, when we were preparing to leave.

 Let’s give some recognition to the Marianna Outdoorsmen Association members, volunteers & community supporters for their commitment to their communities and the fine programs they organize.

See you next time.

Ken Yonek

Osprey Very Active on Peters Lake

Over the last 2-3 weeks I’ve seen more Osprey presence & fishing activity than any year since they first showed up 4 years ago. And not only has a pair been seen more often in early April, but a photographer/birder reported seeing three on the lake at the same time. From what I’ve read, Osprey will certainly defend their nest & immediate nest area, but are not so territorial that they won’t share the water. The Bald Eagles at Canonsburg Lake, on the other hand, have been observed, this spring, driving an Eaglet as well as Osprey off the lake. 

And over the last weeks I’ve observed 5 osprey “dives”, attempting to catch fish. Two were successful, although I’ve read that Osprey are generally successful on about 70% of their fish hunts. 

Many of us have probably seen the near iconic photos/videos of a Bald Eagle, like this one, snatching a fish at or near the surface, barely getting it’s claws wet.

That’s not the way Osprey do it. In every “dive” I’ve seen, the Osprey ends up at least partially submerged. And the one we saw 3 weeks back was a show stopper. The bird was sitting on a tree limb overlooking the water, when it suddenly leaned forward & took off. At first we thought it was heading down lake, but then it circled around & back 2-3 times. Finally it turned itself into the very stiff wind & just hung there in the air for several seconds, not much more than 50′ away & 50′ up. Then it just folded it’s wings & dropped, claws first, into the water & disappeared completely below the surface. There was kind of a collective, ‘wow, stuck that landing buddy’. And then it reappeared, in reverse, head first, hauling itself out of the water holding onto a 10-12″ fish. 

 When I relayed this to a ‘conservationist’ friend he remarked that he wouldn’t know how to recognize an Osprey vs other local raptors. After a moments thought I replied that there were at least two distinctive features that would identify an Osprey. Thought I’d share that.

 First, an Osprey shows an almost snow white breast plumage :

Compared to the more mottled or cream colored Red Tailed Hawk :

Overall, they are whiter below than most raptors.

 Second, an Osprey, with a 5′-6′ wingspan, is larger than the common Red Tailed Hawk ( wingspan 4’+/- a  few inches ) but smaller than a Bald Eagle with a wingspan close to 7′. But, honestly, without a reference object, and at an undetermined distance away, I couldn’t tell the difference by wingspan alone. But the overall  shape & color is very distinctive.

 Besides showing a great deal of white below, the Osprey’s wings, in flight, are held with a very distinctive leading wedge shape. And they’ll often show a more pronounced taper to the edges :

It’s been described as “M” shaped when seen from below although I’d call it a more flattened “M”.

 Whereas, the Red Tailed Hawk shows a straight leading edge in flight :

And the Bald Eagle’s wings (never mind the dark colors) , in flight, look like a couple of broad, flat boards (2 by 12’s) with the corners rounded off :

So that the overall effect is that of a much larger bird than the Osprey.

 And often, the wing silhouette will be the most definitive especially when you see the birds at distance or unfavorable light or sun angle conditions.

 Hope this helps you to recognize  the beauty that’s out there, in nature, if we just look for it.

It’s Fishing Time!!

For the second year in a row the Valley Inn Sportsmen’s Association stocked trout in Pigeon Creek for Opening Day. Starting at 7AM on Opening Day, 500 Rainbow Trout were released into Pigeon Creek between Peno Plaza on Park Ave, Monongahela, to the State Route 43 bridge on Bentleyville Rd. Interestingly, it wasn’t just ‘put & take’ fishing. I saw a number of trout caught & released. And it’s not a wasted effort either. One angler reported two trout caught recently, before the stocking, that had survived from last year’s stocking. A rainy summer certainly helped. The stocking also included 20 tagged fish that were worth prizes ranging from merchant gift cards to $100 cash. Great to see such support from the community.

 Frodo ( the wonder Poodle ) & got there about 11:30AM. Might as well give folks time to catch some fish. And catch them they did. We made our first stop near Peno Plaza. Groups of families  & friends like this dotted the bank at every place accessible from some parking area.

Weather was in the  high 60’s, sunny & mild. Perfect. Over several stops I found a number of anglers who’d caught from 1 to 3 trout. I saw 3-4 caught while we were walking along. One angler I talked with had released a trout & then pulled in this nice looking Monongahela River ” native trout” while we were chatting.

Yes, I know what a Carp is. 

 Another fellow across the way hollered over that he’d caught & released three legal sized Smallmouth Bass. And again, while we were watching he reeled in a fat Sheephead.

They were more than happy to pose for a shot. 

 An angler who had caught three trout had also caught a pan sized Rock Bass. 

 Next to the fact that there were a lot of family groups out there, the second most gratifying thing was that anglers were catching fish out of the spectrum of species found in the river & tributary system. That tells you that there is also a self reproducing sport fishery potential there.

 Many thanks again to the Valley Inn Sportsmen’s Association, merchants & individuals for supporting this event. Thanks to the volunteers who got up at an early hour on their Saturday to haul buckets of fish to the water. And thanks to the members & organizers who simply hop scotched from fishing spot to fishing spot to insure that things were proceeding safely & orderly. Well done.

A Christmas Bird Count Adventure

It’s 6:50AM on a Saturday morning (Dec 15) and I’m heading to my first Christmas Bird Count. It’s cold, dark, and raining. Yippee.

What’s a Christmas Bird Count ? It’s a program administered by the National Audubon Society that uses volunteer birdwatchers to take a census of birds in the Northern & Western Hemisphere winter. Yep, that’s right. Folks go out into the cold winter woods to count numbers & species of birds. Then they report this to the Audubon Society.

Dating back to Dec 1900, this is described as the longest running citizen science survey in the world. Now in year 118. The Audubon Society also partners with several other organizations in the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

According to a Facebook post by Robert Mulvihill of the National Aviary, there are 15 designated counting circles in SW PA. Each is headed by a Compiler who, as the name implies, compiles the data for that particular circle & sends it up the ladder. I’m joining the Washington Circle where the Compiler is Thomas Contreras, a Professor in the Biology Department at W & J. That’s where we’ll meet. Several other volunteers show up there. Others will be heading out directly from home to their pre-designated area in the circle. Others will be counting at bird feeders. No doubt they’ll be warmer & drier than we’ll end up.

After short discussions I’m partnered with a life -long birder. And ‘partnered’, in the birding sense only since he’s the senior managing partner in a prestigious law firm and I’m an unpaid summer intern just finishing up pre-law. (See ‘gofer’ or ‘nephew’, whichever applies.) Although, in this case, my partner was more than companionable. And if you’re going to spend 3 hours walking in the cold rain with someone, companionable is the least that you hope for.

We got our assigned area and headed out. We ended up south of Washington in the area around Prosperity & Bells Lakes, crisscrossing Ten Mile Creek or some tributary  several times.

A few things I learned from my birding partner :

There’s a big difference between a ‘walk in the woods’ and a birders ‘walk in the woods’. The latter is much, much, much, slower. In 3 hours in the field my partner estimated that we’d only walked about 1.5 miles. After all, if you’re looking for ” little brown jobs ” (an informal  term referring to the large families of small plain colored birds) hiding in the brush you have to look long & hard.

 There’s also some unique vocabulary & techniques :

“Pishing” is simply the act of saying “pish,pish,pish” several times in the hope that a curious bird will poke it’s head out of the brush. You do it in the same tone you might use in saying “Psshh” to someone. Not too loud. It didn’t help flush any birds that day but, later, it would get my dogs attention every time.

“Squeaking” is another form of pishing. To squeak, nosily kiss the back of your hand. This makes a noise, you hope, like a bird scolding a predator. It can entice other birds to join in.

You can also get something called a “squeaker”. A little noise maker to do something similar. Although when I searched “birders squeaking noise” I got a video of a parrot that made a squeaking sound when squeezed. Followed by an endless series of videos of parrots making funny sounds. Who knew?

The binoculars recommended were typically described in range of 843 or 845 to 1050. The 8 or 10 refers to magnification. And there’s a tradeoff. The lower magnification gives a wider field of vision while the higher magnification offers  a narrower field. For hand held binoculars, and for following a bird in flight, a wider field is very important. And water proof binoculars with good lens optics do not come cheap. A truly good pair can cost $1500-$2000.

Well, it rained the entire time we were out. And the temperature hovered around 46F. Chilling. About 2 hours into the field trip I decided I better put my gloves on or I wouldn’t be able to grip the keys for my cars ignition.

Did the birds cooperate? Not so much. In that weather any bird with an instinct for self -preservation was hunkered down in the thickest brush it could find, trying to stay warm and dry.

But, will I do it again? Absolutely. It is a way to learn something new while doing something worthwhile. And if you’re lucky, that’s as good as retirement gets.

Ken Yonek

Two Local Christmas Bird Counts

If you’re a birder, or curious about what birders do, or maybe just looking for an outdoor  activity and to meet some new people interested in nature, consider the following:


Washington, PA Bird Count, Dec.15

Contact is Tom Contreras at


I am happy to announce that the Washington PA’s 45th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, 15 December, 2018.  

Field participants will meet at 7:30am in 305 Dieter-Porter Hall (W&J College) at the corner of College St. and East Maiden St. 

Field participants should be able to park in the Grant Street lot across from Swanson Hall at the corner of Grant St. and Lincoln St. or in the lot directly behind Dieter-Porter Hall (access to lot from College St.). 

It’s important that those of us doing field counts meet to discuss coverage and travel within the count circle. 

If you absolutely can’t make it in to W&J that morning, but would still like to participate in the field count, please contact me the week before the count so we can arrange proper coverage for the count circle.

 I need to know who will be helping with the field count, so please contact me by email or phone (724-223-6118) to let me know if you can help with the field count. 

If you know of anyone else who would like to participate, have them email me.


For those of you watching your bird feeders on the day of the count, I have attached a checklist which you can fill out and send back to me sometime before 20 January, 2018.  Remember to only record the maximum number of individuals of a particular species you’ve observed at one time—this will help to avoid double-counting of individuals.


Thanks to all of you for your help with this year’s count. 

Let’s hope the weather cooperates. 

To see results from previous years, go to and enter “PAWS” as the “Count Code”.  Results go all the way back to the first counts for this area in the 1970’s.


Also, my cell phone number is 724-413-2310 in case there are any weather-related issues on the day of the count and you want to contact me to determine the status of the count.


 Buffalo Creek event in Washington County, Dec.16

Buffalo Creek in Washington Co. on Dec. 16th. 

If interested in participating contact Larry Helgerman, coordinator, at or 412-508-032.