There’s nothing better, in my experience, than a water treatment system if you’re looking for interesting birds (of all sorts). I have spent many happy hours in these man-made wetlands, searching for bitterns and rails and warblers and sparrows, and always hoping for a raptor of some sort.
I was in Florida in January, and thoroughly enjoyed a day at Viera Wetlands, a water reclamation facility operated by Brevard County. 200 acres, split into a maze of dikes and “cells” and even a deep water lake; home to lots of big, exciting birds (and plenty of little ones too.) Coming back to bird in Pittsburgh, PA, after that trip wasn’t as disheartening as you might think, due to the area’s surprisingly rich variety of habitat – but amid all the forest and river spots, I was missing a proper man-made wetland.
Just in time, a friend pointed me in the direction of Wingfield Pines – a passive abandoned mine drainage system not far outside the city of Pittsburgh, near the townships of Upper St. Clair and South Fayette. Perfect!
Wingfield Pines is 87 acres of land, in the floodplain of Chartiers Creek (hence the mud I ran into on my visit!) Like so many places in Western PA, the land was used and abused for decades, and Chartiers Creek was filling up with 43 tons of iron oxide from nearby abandoned mines. Once the treatment/drainage system was laid in, using gravity and a series of ponds the water now arrives in the creek relatively clear of pollutants. You can see the process in action as you walk the trails and boardwalks across the site – the upper ponds are orange and murky, while the bottom ponds are bluish and green.
When I visited about a week ago it was cold and sunny, and the Red-winged Blackbirds were holding down the fort until more exciting species return from their winter ventures. A Pileated Woodpecker (or two, probably) was busy in the woods nearby, zooming across the dikes at one point to hammer on a dead tree at the center of the system. There were Killdeer scooting around in the frozen reeds, and a few Mallards in the creek.
The best bird (always, when it appears!) was a pair of Eastern Bluebirds. I saw the female first, and guessed the species based on rough size and shape even though the bird was in deep shade. Then the male popped up onto a tree branch and the winter sun threw a spotlight on him, making the deep blue on his head and back zing. What a wonderful sight!
Both birds peered around them for a bit before dropping down to get some more grub, I assume, and I lost track of them while I was digging myself out of the mud…
I’ll be back to Wingfield Pines in a few weeks to see what I see, and even if it’s nothing new, if I see the Bluebirds I’ll be more than content.