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 tcontreras@washjeff.edu

 

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 http://netapp.audubon.org/cbcobservation/ 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 bobolink1989@gmail.com or 412-508-032.  

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 Daniels Run

On Saturday , October 20, the Marianna Outdoorsmen Association stocked 500 Rainbow & Golden Trout on the Daniels Run tributary of 10 Mile Creek for an October 21 fishing derby. When Frodo, the Wonder Dog, & I arrived creekside at 11 AM Sunday it was a chilly 40F morning. He had a great time making new friends while I tried to keep my fingers warm enough to take pix & notes.

The MOA had started clearing the site of high grass , weeds & piles of debris, from previous high water events, on September 22. One short month later they had cleared paths & access to hundreds of yards of stream bank & fishing spots. That was a way ‘ beyond the call of duty’ kind of effort. Thank you folks. And some of the dried out debris ended up as fuel for a big warming, bonfire.

After arriving, I checked in with the organizers. 62 trout had already been caught, registered & released in just the 1st hour of fishing. And 3 more were pulled in the 1st 10-15 minutes I stood stream side.

Whole families were out having fun. In one group it looked like Dad was fishing with a junior sized, or ultralight outfit. As soon as he hooked a fish he handed the rod over to one of the young (pre-school?) children alongside. Now the child had a fishing rig size that they could handle with a fish that was a handful with that tackle. Still, they brought in a couple while I was watching. A great way to learn.

Thanks again to the Marianna Outdoorsmen Association for all they give back to the community.

Birding Along Peters Lake

Walking along Peters Lake yesterday, 10/16, & spotted an Osprey doing a slow pass along the shoreline before it veered off. I’m thinking that it’s getting around the time when they’ll start moving toward a wintering ground. A very stable metric such as daylight/nighttime hours must be one trigger. Food availability has to play in there also since I’ve read that they don’t make a ‘continuous ‘ migration flight but a series of jumps & layovers on the way to a final wintering ground.

Also wondered when Cormorant move out since I hadn’t seen them for a few days. But then met a walker who described the ‘unusual’ birds she saw yesterday. ” Black, like crows, but with ‘funny’ necks & beaks “. Turns out she was describing 4 Cormorant perched in same tree I usually spot a pair. So we have a little flock of Cormorant. In nice weather they seem to prefer a perch at the top of the biggest, deadest tree overlooking the water and spend more time out of the water than in it. And, in the water, they ride so low that it reminded me of a submarine running with periscope up & deck barely breaking the surface of the water.

More Egrets. Met another couple & the fellow remarked ‘ I think I saw what might have seen 3 Snowy Egret yesterday ‘. I’d also seen some white ‘birds’ in shallows at far end of the lake yesterday but way to far for me to make an ID. I replied that my ‘ birder friends ‘ had advised that we don’t see Snowy’s around here but more likely Great White Egrets. I described the Snowy as a medium sized bird only a couple of feet tall while the Great White is closer to the size of a Great Blue Heron. Nope, he said, weren’t nowhere near that big. So there we are. Trouble is, the Audubon Field Guide on-line for Snowy Egret quotes ” After breeding season may wander well north “.  Their range map shows “Common” breeding area in E PA & coastal areas as far N as Connecticut and ‘Uncommon” breeding area on W end (Ohio Shore) of Lake Erie to a dotted line that approximates the US/Canada border. So, it’s certainly possible. Wonder if there have been other reported sightings of Snowy’s? Either that, or we have some ” Not-So-Great White Egrets ” out there.

Hope the Fall stays brighter for a while. Really tired of rain. Have fun out there.

Ken Yonek

Note from Mon River Towns Program:  We would like to include images of the birds referred to in this blog.  So please, feel free to share your photos with us!!

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

Osprey Sightings by a River Town Friend

Before going out to visit family on Easter morning Frodo, our Standard Poodle, & I had our normal walk around a local lake (Peters Lake Park, Nottingham Township, Washington County).

I’d read about the Osprey cam on a nest at Lake Arthur since last week of March but frankly was a bit mystified. At our local lake I hadn’t seen any sign of fish activity at surface or in shallows until about Wednesday last. But the Osprey at Lake Arthur must be able to catch something to eat. In the last two years I’ve first seen Osprey at our lake in early April, so I’ve been on the lookout.

Came around a bend in the road this morning & there it was. Perfect visibility, with the sun to my back. A white head over dark brown shoulders perched on a branch over the water. Beautiful. And as a Cheshire Cat grin spread over my face there was a splash behind me. Looked over my left shoulder just in time to see a second Osprey ( it’s mate I assume) pulling itself out of the water with something in its claw. Not a big something, but something. After a couple of loops & dips around the 1st bird it flew off to another tree. Showing off. ‘ See what I caught’. The 1st bird didn’t look impressed. I have a feeling the female Osprey spends a lot of time watching the male fishing before she’ll set up ‘nest keeping’. Just to be sure that he can bring home the bacon (fish), so to speak.

Last month I saw a solitary Horned Grebe paddling around the same lake. This morning I think I saw 8 of them together. I say ‘think’ because they were in the middle of the pond & I don’t carry field glasses walking the dog. White & black colors showed up clearly although shape was indistinct at that distance. Size was right as well as some mostly white necks. And when a couple of mallards paddled out the difference between the lighter sides of a mallard & the bright white on these birds was stark. So, I’m goin’ with Horned Grebe again.

Have fun out there.

Ken Yonek

The Mon River Towns: A Journey Of Development

The Mon River Towns offer a historic area to visitors wanting to get outdoors.

Picture the Monongahela River. Now picture the towns nestled alongside it. Now ask yourself – are you picturing the towns as they are today? Or as they once were?

Change is constant, especially in this part of the state. If you haven’t visited the towns sitting along the Mon in the last two or three years, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you see the next time you pass through one. Many changes have taken place in these towns, thanks in part to the work by the River Towns Program.

The Mon River Towns offer a historic area to visitors wanting to get outdoors.The Mon River Towns Program works with communities bordering the Monongahela River to highlight Pennsylvania’s growing outdoor recreational market, and to make it easy to help residents and visitors connect with the beautiful river. The Program is presently an initiative of the National Road Heritage Corridor and was launched by the statewide Pennsylvania Environmental Council in 2011.

“These are towns looking at new opportunities,” Cathy McCollom, director of the River Towns Program, says about this region and communities within it. “They were once industrial towns. The Mon was and remains an industrial highway but it is now also a recreational river. With the changing economy, we help communities look at the river in a different way.”

The River Towns Program is dedicated to improving the visitor infrastructure in these towns. The first step in doing so is for community leaders and River Town Program staff to consider how the towns appear to travelers. For example, is there public access to the Mon River for visitors? Are there community parks next to the river or view corridors open to the river? Are there signs to direct traffic, and restaurants for families to enjoy? Are there historic buildings and cultural spots of significance and are they highlighted and accessible to visitors?

Since 2011, questions like these have driven improvements on infrastructure such as launches and docks, public access, signage, and added amenities such as public restrooms, public art and riverfront parks. Most importantly, communities have worked with Program staff to raise over $3 million, not only for these projects but also to market the region.

According to Cathy, “The projects have included canoe and kayak launches, riverfront parks, directional and gateway signage, improved public launches, riverfront landscaping and clearings, and multiple events such as summer riverfront concerts, festivals, and paddling events. With community leadership and organizational partners, we have led riverfront master planning, public art projects, and business attraction workshops – and have offered entrepreneurial business grants to encourage new businesses.”

And these efforts are paying off. Nature lovers – taking advantage of new boat launches and trails – are helping to bring outdoor recreational traffic through these Mon River towns. New businesses have opened in several of the communities. Gateway and directional signage is now more prevalent. Over two dozen pieces of public art have added a layer of beauty to towns and riverfronts. And River Festivals have literally sprung up across the map. At River Town Program’s founding, there were three such festivals in operation – currently, there are twelve!

But while our team can talk about this work all day every day, we truly think it has to be experienced. A visit to a river town during an event or a peaceful weekend of local travel is the best way to highlight local changes, and to experience the history. From green spaces to new businesses to local history spots, there is so much to experience in the Mon River Towns.

Ready to plan a visit? We can help you get started! Our website houses a list of River Towns and even sample itineraries to help you hit the road quickly and easily. Happy travels!

Outdoors in the Mon Valley Region

Hi. My name is Ken Yonek & I’m going to try to start a conversation about some of the birds and natural attractions in the region. Since this region is defined by the meeting of woods, water & field it provides many different habitats to support a variety of creatures.

When it comes to birds I’ll probably be asking more questions than providing answers. I’m a ‘recreational birder’ at best, but I do have a copy of “ Peterson Field Guides , Eastern Birds “ and when I see something new, I want to know what it is. So, let’s start.

On Thursday , 2/22, my dog & I were walking around a familiar lake park when I saw a flash of color to my right just as a pileated woodpecker landed on a tree trunk in full view. It called out  & almost simultaneously I heard an answering call from my left. That second call was so sudden & unexpected that I wasn’t sure I’d really heard one. But after several seconds, it called again & this was immediately answered by the bird on my right. ( I realize that while I say “ answered “ I have no idea what’s going on in either birds head.) I assumed they were a bonded pair since it would otherwise be unusual to see two pileated woodpeckers in such close proximity because a nesting pair will try to defend hundreds of acres of territory. At this time of the year former mates will be moving closer together in preparation for nest building & mating. And that leads to my 1st question. I checked several on-line sources but none told when the pair will start excavating a new nesting cavity or laying eggs in this region. Anyone out their know that ?

My second observation/question concerns the pileated woodpeckers call. If you’ve heard it, you know it’s not anything you’d call a “ bird song “. I’ve seen it described as a bark, a laugh, or a wuk/cuk call. It’s essentially the same note repeated several times with variations in the length of the repeat chain. The normal call will run several  “ wuks “ with a pause between each, e.g. wuk-wuk-wuk. There’s also the almost manic sounding version that Cornell University called the “ fast wuk series call “. There the repeat chain, length, volume & frequency all seem to increase. It’s more like a WUKWUKWUK.…. My reaction the first time I heard that was : “ What the heck was that ?” Because it seems like a such strident call, I assumed it must be a territorial warning call and thus more common during the nesting period. But the same Cornell website advised that a short “ wuk-wuk “ is the territory boundary or alarm call. Ok, I thought. That’s like us shouting “ stop, no, or help “. But then I thought about my dog’s reactions to potential threats. When another dog has acted too aggressively toward him/me/us the barks & spittle will pour out rapid fire. So, I’m still wondering. Is that “ fast wuk series call “ a special time/purpose call , or just a random variation, even though it seems to be used much less frequently that the “ normal “ wuk series ? Or is it just the pileated woodpeckers version of singing a few bars of “ Ode to Joy “ ? Appreciate any thoughts on that “ fast wuk “ question.

Love to hear about anyone else’s experiences.

Oh yeah. I’ve got 3-4” daffodil shoots all over the beds. Spring is coming.