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.

Birding Excitement in Washington, PA

On Friday, 3/1, Frodo & I were walking around Peters Lake when we saw our first birder/photographer. Many others would follow. When I asked if he’d sen anything interesting, he answered, yes, a Hooded Merganser and an Arctic Long Billed something or other that I’d never heard of.

I’d heard of a merganser but didn’t really know what it looked like. So, when we got home I checked the Cornell U website ‘ All About Birds’. Soon as I pulled up the pictures, I thought, I’ve seen that bird. The bird has a ‘hoodie’ that it can hold raised :

or folded back :

It occurred to me that if i saw it far out on the lake, without field glasses, with the hoodie folded back, I might mistake it for a Wood Duck :

They’re both quite common in the region. And since they’re both tree cavity nesters they would occupy a similar habitat. But if they’re common in the region, what’s so exciting about that ? Nothing, it seems. It was the second bird everyone was flocking to see.

After a few more birders passed, I’d gotten the name right. The ‘Arctic’ Long Tailed Duck is what everyone wanted to see. So I pulled up it’s profile and pictures :

This is one tough little bird. It’s described as a small sea bird. Their summer nesting range is across Canada & Alaska, from the Arctic Circle north to lands end at the Arctic Ocean. And some will winter along the northern coasts, south to Delaware Bay in the east, and to Washington State on the west coast. But some of these eastern birds will simply move to open water off the coasts of Greenland, for example. For the Winter ! Crikeys mate.

And by Saturday the word had really gotten out. A small ‘anti-tank company’ of birders descended on the lake. I called them that because they were all carrying cameras the size of a small bazooka. This bird was likely heading north again from eastern coastal waters, but finding one on a small lake in W PA is so rare that it even brought out Robert Mulvihill, Ornithologist, from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. We chatted a bit & I asked, jokingly, if there was a ‘birder bat signal’ that brought all these people out. As a matter of fact there is, he said. Turns out, there are a number of ‘list serves’ that will send out an alert, by various means, to subscribers when something noteworthy is sighted. Who knew.

By Sunday it was gone. Journeying on. But the Mute Swan was back again. So, always something interesting to see out there.

Ken Yonek

3/3/19

Swans

I’ve been stalking this bird for weeks. Stalking, but not harassing. Never got close enough for that. And really, only got close enough for half decent pix last week. I now realize that I’ve been seeing a solitary swan when driving by various nearby lakes for a couple of years. Saw it, but then discounted what my eyes were seeing because ‘ swans don’t live around here’. About sums up the human condition. But when I did some research on swans after seeing a trio of migrating Tundra Swan on Peters Lake in November, I realized that the imported European Mute Swan could indeed live around here. It was imported to ‘beautify’ parks & ponds and as a non-migrator would tend to stay in place. Nature being what it is, however, enough birds ‘escaped’ from this form of captivity that there are naturalized, wild breeding populations along the East Coast and around the Great Lakes. It is described by various sources as ‘invasive but contained’.

Oh, BTW, my tentative ID of the Tundra Swans has been confirmed by some naturalist friends:

” Ken,

Guess I forgot to tell you that I put one of your Tundra Swan photos up on iNaturalist, as blurry as it was, to see if those guys were willing to confirm them as Tundra Swan and within a day a fellow from northeast PA confirmed them as Tundra Swan. That’s what I believed them to be as well given location and timing.

Tim”

 When first spotted, this solitary Mute Swan was swimming at the far end of the upper pond, probably 70 yards from my vantage point. Using my iPhone with it’s maximum 2X zoom and some enlargement, this is the best I could get:

 After looking at the pictures I realized that there was a small object & wake in front of the swan. Probably following one of the mallards common there.

 Finally, after a longer cold spell, the upper pond froze over & the swan moved to the larger, lower lake. It was weeks before it settled into a small  inlet near the walking trail and I could get the following shot :

After my experiences of the last few months, I’m starting to see the limitations of the iPhone for any kind of nature photography. I’m not trying to capture birds in flight or lions on the Serengeti Plain but it’s not realistic to expect to see wild creatures at selfie/close-up distances unless you’re at a zoo. And I’m not interested in the artistic side of photography. But, if I see something new or interesting swimming 50 yards out in the lake, I want to be able to take a photo good enough for ID purposes. 

 After researching, I’ve found various companies offering clip on lenses for the iPhone camera that will add fisheye, wide angle, macro and zoom  capabilities. But each of those lenses cost about $90. And the only one I care about, the zoom, only comes with 3X. On top of the phones 2X, that gives a total of 6X zoom. More, but not really enough. I’m seriously considering a ‘good beginners quality’ Canon, digital, point & shoot, that can give up to 40X zoom. Now, you’re talking zoom. 

If any readers have camera suggestions I’d welcome them. Keep you posted.

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
12/16/18

In Search of Swans

On Thursday, 11/15, Frodo & I were taking our regular walk near Peters Lake in Peters Twp. It was cold & raining, but a dogs gotta do what a dogs gotta do. It would be a short walk. As we walked along the lake, I spotted the three large white birds, pictured below, near the middle of the lake. I’ve seen snow geese in migration that  stopped there once, but these seemed too large for geese and there was none of the blue/gray color variations I saw the last time. I wondered if they were swans, but they “didn’t look like swans”. More about that thought later. 

 As soon as Frodo had done his duty, we hustled back to the car. I grabbed my iPhone and left Frodo in the back seat. I didn’t hear any complaints from him as I left. Guess even he’d rather be warm & dry than cold & wet. I took several pictures. These were the best of a bad lot. I’ve since retained a consultant ( my granddaughter) who showed me how to use the cameras zoom feature &  then further zoom & take a screen shot of the subsequent pix. I explained to her that they were most likely swans but could be snow geese (less likely in my opinion) and the birds having a black bill rather than a light colored bill would confirm it as a swan. As she ramped up thru increasingly blurry enlargements she suddenly said, ” they’re getting fuzzy, but they have black bills”. I can almost see them myself but as I read further about swans I  concluded there was only one ID likely.

There are 3 swans found in North America.

 1. Trumpeter Swan – Although there are some populations around the Great Lakes it’s main range is across the northern tier to the West Coast, then north into Canada. It has a black bill but, more decisively, the Cornell website describes these as ” immense birds ” that can reach 30 lbs + in size with a wingspan of 8 ft & over. It’s described as the worlds largest swan, the largest waterfowl in North America, and one of the world’s largest flying birds. My trio above were clearly not immense bids. So, not Trumpeter Swans.

2. Mute Swan – This is a non-native, European, bird. It was imported to decorate our ponds & parks, so it can be found all over the country. It is slightly smaller that the Trumpeter, but clearly mine were not mute swans (below).

3. Tundra Swan – This is a white swan with a black bill. It is considerably smaller than Trumpeters or Mutes. It’s summer breeding range is, as the name suggests, along the Arctic Circle from Canada to Alaska. In the Fall, easternmost populations take a migratory route that can pass over W PA on their way to wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast from Maryland to the Carolinas. I think this is the bird I saw.

 Comfortable with the ID, I wondered why my first impressions were that they ” didn’t look like swans “. And then I came to understand why I expected swans to have a certain look.

* The only live swans I had ever seen were likely those stocked in parks & ponds. These were invariably Mute Swan.

* Early images of swans, in e.g. Disney movies, were also Mute Swan.

* As a child, my reading included the classical fairy tales of European authors like Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Naturally, if the story had anything to do with a swan, the illustrations would be that of the European Mute Swan.

* As a result, my minds classical image of a swan was that of a large white bird with swept back wings held high on the back; a long, gracefully arched neck; right down to the large black ‘nose bump’ at the base of a light colored bill. In short, a Mute Swan.

 I rather enjoyed that short voyage of discovery. I  hope you have the opportunity for similar ones.

Fishing on the Mon

It was great opening day on Pigeon Creek.

What opening day?

Of trout season.

On Pigeon Creek in Monongahela?

Yep.

Pigeon Creek hadn’t been stocked with trout by the State of Pennsylvania, or anyone else, for years. But, on April 9, the Valley Inn Sportsmen Association , and their business community sponsors, stocked trout, up to 20′ in length, in Pigeon Creek from Peno’s Plaza along Rt 481 to the I 43 bridge on Bentleyville Rd. I hadn’t been able to attend the stocking but I figured that if I drove along Park Ave. it wouldn’t be hard to tell where the fish ( & anglers ) were. Sure enough, every place where there was parking & access from the road, there were clusters of cars & anglers. Talked to several. They ranged from the angler who reported he & his family caught, released & lost several Rainbow Trout (and the baits he was using) to the fellow who said he caught two but didn’t know that much about fish & couldn’t say what kind they were. But they were all having fun. It was a sunny, mild, day in the low 70’s at 10 AM on a Saturday morning & they were out there with their families & friends. Catching fish, or not. Almost didn’t matter. They were doing something they enjoyed with people they cared about.

Thanks to the Valley Inn Sportsmen Association for giving them that opportunity.

The Ospreys on Peters Lake

Today, 4/3, was the best bird (Osprey) watching day I’ve ever had. After seeing a pair at Peters Lake on Sunday and a loner on Monday, I figured that a smart bird was going to be hunkered down in the conifers around the lake. Staying out of the rain. (Yeah, we were out walking it it.) I guess I forgot that if your lifestyle requires diving into the water to eat, being wet is just part of the deal.

We were rounding the bend at the upper (shallower) end of the lake when one barreled in front of us, from right to left, heading down lake. Over  the next few minutes that bird made one dive after another into the water. The most spectacular came after it had spiraled up over treetop height, wheeled around & dropped straight down the elevator shaft into the water. Whoa ! Either that bird was very hungry or he had a nesting mate that was. If it continues to be spending a lot of time fishing then I’m guessing the latter. I couldn’t tell, from across the lake, if it’d been successful. Sooner or later, though, practice will pay.

Next thing, this Great Blue Heron just about flew into my pocket. It came across a small inlet & landed less than 20′ feet away. It seemed to be so focused, staring in the direction of the Osprey, that it never even glanced  at the dog & I very close by. Guessing, again, that an active potential predator or competitor ( for the fish ) just naturally demands it’s full attention.

Have fun out there.

Ken Yonek