Nature

Pittsburgh’s Huge Flathead Catfish Rule the Rivers

Late one August night last year, Dusty Learn, an Indiana County farmer and factory worker, caught what is, perhaps, the most spectacular catfish Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers have been known to ever yield. Although not the VW Beetle-sized beast of urban legend, Learn’s flathead — nabbed on a piece of cut bluegill — might have beaten …

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A Short Raucous Party

At night, like us, they stop making noise. Tired, I suppose. All day long they scream for a mate among the millions nearby. They don’t have much time, a few weeks at most, to ensure their brood will arise again. Perhaps their screaming is about that particular problem, a coordinated audible insect protest about what …

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The Blackberry: The Humblest Jewel

If you were tasked with designing a wild fruit to represent western Pennsylvania, you might come up with the blackberry. Its familiar, arcing canes spread over logged hillsides and reclaimed strip mines, beside railroad tracks and across abandoned farmland reverting to woods. Blackberries are an unplanned bonus from hard-used land. Such a luscious treat, blackberries …

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Visiting Western Pennsylvania’s Wild and Beautiful Ohiopyle State Park

About 80 minutes from Downtown Pittsburgh in Fayette County is the town of Ohiopyle and one of our area’s natural gems of rare habitats, dense forests, breathtaking scenic areas and whitewater for paddlers — Ohiopyle State Park. Over the past year, visitation to parks, nature reserves and forests has increased dramatically, as people have sought …

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My Vegetable Garden, in Springtime

“The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.” —Rudyard Kipling My favorite time in the vegetable garden is in spring, after the soil is tilled and before the seeds are planted. Perennials are poking up—chervil, lovage, sorrel—but otherwise there’s little growth, just a blank canvas. The weather is cool, less humid and with …

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Celebrating Spring in Penns Creek Wild Area

People who have spent time around state College know the surrounding mountains hold countless opportunities for enjoying the outdoors. From winter hiking in the rocky ridgelines and snowshoeing around Bear Meadows Natural Area to spring fishing in Penns Creek’s and Fishing Creek’s famous trout waters, Centre County offers beautiful, remote landscapes in any season. One …

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Exploring the Appalachian Shale Barren

An interesting, out-of-the-way place to explore in western Pennsylvania is the Sideling Hill Creek area. The Sideling Hill Creek valley is located in southeastern Bedford County and southwestern Fulton County, about a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh. Its watershed is framed by the sandstone-capped Town Hill mountain to the east, and Big Mountain to the west. …

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Mysteries of the Porcupine

This is how a porcupine attacks. It turns its back, displays the black line running down the middle of its tail, edged with white quills visible in the dark. Its body shivers. The jaw clenches, incisors vibrate, and the teeth clatter. It emits an odor. Quills become erect. These are mere warnings. If not enough …

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A Peaceful Respite

At the bottom of the steep, rutted trail lay a deep green five-acre pond, lush at its shorelines with cattails, multiflora rose and staghorn sumac, its surface glossy in the early-morning mist. Ridges rose abruptly on three sides, sporting stunted red pine and white spruce near the swampy bottomlands with red oaks, silver maples and …

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Joshua Troup: Nature’s Bounty

He’s a data scientist by day, but for the last eight years Joshua Troup has also been a professional photographer based in Canonsburg. While the work he does for clients varies, the photos he takes for himself most often feature the special beauty of the western Pennsylvania region. “I try to get outdoors as much …

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Saving Injured Animals

Carol Holmgren lifts a baby bunny—a kit—from its bed at Tamarack Wildlife Center in Saegertown, Crawford County, for morning ministrations that include potty training and breakfast. Just four days old, the tiny Eastern cottontail weighs little more than an ounce and its eyes and ears are still closed. He and three littermates were brought to …

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A Natural Escape Minutes from Downtown

Some of the deep ravines in the regional landscape provide secluded getaways for hiking and exploring, while not far from the urban center. One such special place is the 370-acre Toms Run Nature Reserve, eight miles northwest of downtown Pittsburgh, off Route 65 just before the I-79 interchange. The stream that intersects the reserve, Toms …

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Counting Your Chickens During COVID

Buff Cochins: sold out. Barred Rocks: sold out. Light Brahmas: Sold out. Not a hen of my choice available this year from Murray McMurray, the hatchery in Iowa where I’ve ordered peeps for 30 years. This has never happened before, but due to coronavirus, suddenly everyone wants to be a chicken farmer. I had no …

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A Walk in the Northern Woods

About two and a half hours northeast of Pittsburgh is a remote property in Elk and Clearfield counties known as Bennett Branch Forest. The 1,500-acre tract owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy adjoins Moshannon State Forest. Visitors can hike a newly designed 3.6-mile round-trip trail through forests of mixed oak, sugar maple, black birch and …

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Floating on the Shenango River

One wonderful way to see portions of our western Pennsylvania landscape is to paddle a river or stream by canoe or kayak. One place to paddle is the upper Shenango River in western Mercer County, 70 miles north of Pittsburgh. A 23-mile stretch flows unimpeded between the Pymatuning and Shenango reservoirs. The Iroquois name Shenango, …

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The Invincible Elder

“Judas was hang’d on an elder…” —Biron in Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” “What shall we do with it?” Ron Weasley asked Harry Potter and Hermione in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.” “It’s the elder wand. The most powerful wand in the world. With it we’d be invincible.” Who knew that the lowly-looking shrub perched …

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Ramps

At Greene County’s 29th Annual Ramp Festival on a sunny Saturday last April, a party atmosphere was in full swing with crafters, wood carvers, metal workers and a band. But the main draw were about 15 vendors selling ramp chili, ramp sausage, ramp cookies, ramp mints, ramp butter, ramp wine, ramp hardtack, ramp pancakes, ramp …

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Fallingwater and Bear Run Nature Reserve

Southwestern Pennsylvania now has a world Heritage site. Fallingwater, designed in the 1930s by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family, was inscribed this summer to the UNESCO—United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization—World Heritage List. It’s in good company: the few structures in the United States on this list include Independence Hall, the Statue …

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Trying to Save a Horse

There have been phone calls in my life I wish I’d never received. I was cold and wet from swimming in an Irish lake when I returned to the house to see my husband standing in the driveway. Waiting for me. That wasn’t normal. My father had called. My mother was dead. She was unloading …

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Pathway to Pain

I’ve always been enchanted by the idea of a days-long hike—to head off into the woods with nothing but a pack and the possibility of adventure, much like Bill Bryson in my favorite book, “A Walk in the Woods.” But with two kids and crazy soccer schedules, I really can’t afford to take six months …

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The Urban Deerhunter

Every July, along deer trails in pockets of forest in and around the city of Pittsburgh, Dan Krivanek and his buddies hang a bevy of camouflaged infrared LED hunting cameras in the crooks of trees. They also strew cut up apples and feed corn. Then, back in his Bridgeville borough home a few miles away, …

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Where Nature and History Collide

Here are a few state parks in Pennsylvania that offer nature at its most dramatic and some history of what life was like long before barcodes, internet and smart phones. McConnells Mill The park wraps around a restored 19th century gristmill that ground buckwheat, oats and corn with the force of the wild stretch of …

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