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.
The Ghosts of Washington County – Part #1
The southwestern PA region has a long history of mining & manufacturing activity. Some of this activity ‘died’ a long time ago & evidence of it may be obscured, forgotten, or unknown. I had a discovery experience just like that recently.
In the Fall of 2018 we’d moved to a neighborhood in Peters Twp. that was near a section of the Montour Trail that I’d never been on before. So, Frodo, our Standard Poodle, & I have since been exploring that trail. We start out at Mile Marker 30.4 next to the Peters Twp. Sanitary Authority plant on Brush Run Creek. Last week we’d walked only a short way from the parking lot & decided to take an old road/trail that left the Montour Trail & cut sharply up the hillside that lined the trail. It was steep enough & long enough to get the heart started. And it was deserted enough to let Frodo off-leash so that he could run around, explore, & do doggy stuff. A win-win for both of us. When I got tired of climbing, we took a trail across the face of the hillside on to a path & series of cutbacks down. Coming around the last cutback into a clearing saw this locked metal door on the face of the hillside.
Moving in closer realized that it was the actual portal into the Montour 4 mine.
This portal was opened in 1953 and allowed a conveyer belt to bring coal from the mine into a collector which loaded the coal into rail cars parked directly below at the Montour Trail level. Unfortunately, this portal did not have a particularly long use life.
Fortunately, some folks had the vision to see this as the starting place to develop a real regional asset which now connects all the way to Washington D.C.