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.
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!