Due to the great lakes being mostly frozen right now, Pittsburgh has been overrun with waterfowl of all shapes an sizes. The highlight has probably been the gulls which we have been having. Besides the usual ring-billed and herring gulls, there have been Iceland, glaucous, lesser and great black-backed gulls, even a Thayer’s gull! In addition to the gulls, long-tailed ducks, white-winged scoters, and even red-necked grebes have been showing up.
Case in point (no pun intended), a few days ago, a red-necked grebe showed up at Pittsburgh’s Point (which is where two of Pittsburgh’s rivers come together to form the third). So, this Saturday, I went down to try to see the bird as well as the huge numbers of gulls which have been seen there.
We arrived at the point at dawn (the gulls only roost here for the night so we wanted to arrive before they left for the day). Almost immediately, I saw the grebe swimming in the ice filled water just offshore! A life bird and my last North American grebe species! In addition to that, there were also a group of four white-winged scoters (which I had seen previously here) as well as a goldeneye, two male long-tailed ducks, and a pair of greater scaup. What made it better is that all of these birds were fairly close to shore, allowing for great views.
I began to scan through the gulls and one of the first things I noticed was the continuing lesser black-backed gull. Despite that I had seen this same bird the previous week, it was still a cool bird to see as they are rare in Allegheny County. I didn’t get much farther through the gulls when another birder who was there said that he had found the great black-backed gull that had been seen the day before. I followed his directions as to where to point my scope and there it was, a beautiful adult great black-backed gull. A second county life bird in under five minutes!
At that point I decided to wander down closer to the shore to see if I could get any photos of the waterfowl. When I got down to the shore, the grebe resurfaced within fifteen feet of the shore and began to swim around, completely ignoring me! It’s one thing to get a life bird, but it’s another to get stunning looks at one. However, when I raised my camera to take a photo, I found out that my camera was malfunctioning and wouldn’t allow me to use it. My previous joy was quickly turned to frustration as I watched the grebe come closer and closer, almost as if it was taunting me, before diving and moving back out towards the middle of the river. To make things even worse, the goldeneye as well as the scoters had come quite close as well which would have made for some lovely photo opportunities had I had a working camera. In the end, I only got one really crummy iPhone photo of the grebe. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
By then, I had to return to the car as my dad had a business meeting that morning which limited the amount of time I could stay out. However, I was very pleased with the morning, for in a very short amount of time, I had gotten a life bird, a county life bird, and some killer looks at waterfowl.