Golden-crowned Kinglet

I regularly walk to Duck Hollow, following Nine Mile Run out the bottom of Frick Park to where the stream slips into the Monongahela River near where it ends in Pittsburgh, PA. The trail runs among old slag heaps, now grown over with bushes and trees and often populated by interesting sparrows and warblers and other colorful birds.

Slag, for those who don’t know, is a by-product of iron and steel production, which was once the primary industry found in the Monongahela River Valley. The mills used iron ore and coke to make carbon steel. Slag is made of silica and alumina from the original ore, and “every ton of iron produced more than a half ton of blast furnace slag“, so an awful lot of slag needed to be dumped somewhere. For about 50 years, from 1922 to 1972, a whole lot of that slag landed in Nine Mile Run. You can read more about that process, and the history of the area in this fascinating article by Andrew McElwaine, which was written BEFORE the area was bought by Frick Park and extensively restored by the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.

Now, despite the area’s intense history from an environmental point of view, it is easily one of the best birding spots in the city and quite beautiful in its own way. I saw several species of orioles here last summer, and Indigo Buntings, and most recently my best views of a Golden-crowned Kinglet EVER.

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12-1-2017 Sally Ingraham

It was the tail end of my walk and I was almost back to the car, my thoughts already on the rest of the day’s tasks. Movement caught my eye, and I thought I was seeing a hummingbird at first. A tiny bird, moving fast but fluttering/hovering often as it searched for things to nibble in the thick bushes to my left.

It couldn’t really be a hummingbird in such chilly temps, and I’d caught a glint of yellow on its head that was almost startling against the grey colored day – so logically it had to be a Golden-crowned Kinglet! It took several minutes of snatched glimpses through my binoculars to confirm, but for a kinglet it was relatively cooperative. Not cooperative enough for a picture, of course – even my Dad chased them for years before getting a “decent” photo – so my memory (and a comic) will have to do.

Hopefully this little guy will still be around on December 30th to join me for the Christmas Bird Count – although I can guarantee he won’t sit for his portrait then either!

Schenley Park: Panther Hollow

Sally Ingraham

Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, PA, covers 456 acres, which makes for a lot of corners to explore. The Phipps Run stream channel, which leads down to Panther Hollow Lake, is one of my favorite areas due to it’s crazy terrain.

From the stream channel, where little stone bridges carry a zigzagging trail, the walls of the hollow rise steeply. There are broad gravel paths on either side about 1/2 way up, and plenty of birds in the bushes, but my birder’s dawdle is often at odds with the joggers who frequent the area. This is why I like to head further up the hollow, to a network of trails that skirt the rim, running through the forest just on the edge of the Bob O’connor Golf Course.

Highlights of the hollow – top to bottom – over the last year were bluebirds, an Eastern Screech Owl, the always interesting antics of Red-tailed Hawks, and of course a crowd of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.

Sally Ingraham

This area, like several other watersheds in the city of Pittsburgh, has undergone extensive restoration over the past 10 years or so. The stream was once channeled underground, but this caused stormwater to overwhelm the sewer system. I like it better above-ground! I caught a Red-tailed Hawk splashing around in it one day last winter, which is kind of weird behavior for a hawk, but it was a really nice day so I can’t fault the guy for enjoying some sun-dappled water.

Digiscoping this is not! Just an iPhone photo through my bins (yes, I do own a good camera, I just didn’t bring it)

As for the hollow’s namesake, I’ve never seen a panther around there – unless I count the University of Pittsburgh students who go racing past me wearing their school mascot!

The Wren

A Carolina Wren appeared at the feeder last winter. I heard it singing – or rather, I heard it shouting – in my Pittsburgh, PA, backyard, it’s ringing teakettle-teakettle! overpowering the mild(ly-offended) chipping of the resident House Sparrows. The wren seemed incredibly exotic compared to them, with its latte coloring (cream and cinnamon), fierce white eyebrow, and cocked tail. A bouncy-ball bird, round and excited, it frequented the feeder and brought along friends.

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Carolina Wren – Sally Ingraham

I’ve been keeping an eye on a bird feeder since I was a kid, but Carolina Wrens didn’t make it up north to my childhood feeders in Maine. That fact made this wren seem even more fantastic, and it reminded me that there were, in fact, interesting birds in Pittsburgh – a concept which I had neglected to consider for the majority of the time I’d lived in the city.

I went other places to bird – traveling with my Dad (Stephen Ingraham, or “the Point and Shoot Nature Photographer“) to birding festivals in Arizona, Florida, Honduras, New Mexico, Ohio, exploring proper marshes and wetlands, deserts and jungles in the morning, and working as a rep sellingĀ Zeiss binoculars and spotting scopes in the afternoons. A morning spent in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, near Titusville, FL, in January has that “a kid in a candy store” feel to it. Birds galore, every shape and size and color.

In a way though, I got just as much pleasure last winter out of watching the antics of the Carolina Wren, and when I noticed the same bird (the very same bird, perhaps?) down in the Hollow at the bottom of Frick Park, my on-again (when traveling)/off-again (when home) interest in birding finally solidified into a concentrated pursuit – one that perfectly fits in with my normal excursions and explorations around Pittsburgh.

You’ll catch me as usual investigating a flight of city steps, or poking round underneath a bridge – the only difference is I now carry a pair of “bins” with me.

Sally Birder
Sally Ingraham