A Blue Jay Way

I’m not sure how George Harrison arrived at his lyrical “Blue Jay Way,” but I arrived at mine by heading down to metro Pittsburgh for a Pirates game against the Toronto Blue Jays (the latter slightly favored by most of our group) and to do some fishing and exploring, as well. Son Brent and his wife Catherine had purchased game tickets for the Saturday evening game at PNC Park, but the morning and afternoon were devoted to inspection of the Allegheny highlands about an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. We visited a “spruce bog” and then the pristine Laurel Hill State Park where Brent and I would do some casting on a popular trout stream.

Walking out to the Spruce Bog was a pleasant birding exercise for us. Catherine identified several songs given by migrating warblers and we were especially pleased to see and hear a male hooded warbler singing from the mixed highland forest as we ambled toward the bog. From a short boardwalk over the placid water, we could study the abundant pitcher plants and the highlight of this unique Allegheny ecosystem– specimens of Atlantic white cedar trees, the only known occurrence of this species inland of the coastal plain.

pitcher plants, Spruce Bog
Atlantic white cedars, Allegheny highlands

After Catherine, Brent and I honed our fly-casting skills at Laurel Hill State Park, Leighanne joined us for a walk along the natural area adjoining Laurel Hill Creek. The trout stream was flowing a bit too high and off-color for successful fly rod work, but Brent and I enjoyed our first round of trouting together in decades. A six-acre old growth stand of Eastern hemlock trees, along with an abundant variety of wildflowers, was a highlight of our walk along this pleasant waterway, a stream well worth revisiting for its fish and other wild things. Also very attractive was Jones Mill Run, a deeply shaded tributary in the neighborhood, a mountain brook containing both stocked and wild trout that we would have to investigate more closely on a future day.

Laurel Hill State Park
a fly-fishin’ Franklin!
hemlocks worth huggin’

Early in the ball game, an actual blue jay flew across the stadium packed with baseball fans as if it were a harbinger of another victory for Toronto. The Jays won the previous game on Friday and would win the last game in the series, on Sunday, for a three-game sweep. I don’t know where the feathered blue jay disappeared to when it left the air space of the stadium, but I hope it was far enough away to escape the impact of an incendiary fireworks display that immediately followed the game. The fireworks exploded over the western rim of PNC Park and the junction of the big three rivers. It boomed and feathered downward on the city like no other I’ve experienced. Truly awesome, if you’re into fireworks, as many people are. I am not a fan of such. The noise of close-range attendance makes a coward out of me.

Jays 8, Pirates 2
skyline from our 2nd-tier seats

On the following day, the sunny conditions clouded over and produced intermittent showers, ideal for indoor events like visiting the National Aviary and sitting around on sheltered patios of Pittsburgh area breweries (of which there are plenty).

welcome to the Aviary
“I’m a Pirate fan. Not a Jay,” sez Hyacinth Macaw

I had heard about the aviary and its eco-themed displays of living birds from far and near, and our visit was both wonderful and stimulating. One great room, filled with active birds from tropical rainforests around the planet, seemed to hold iridescent feathers in the foliage and vegetation like streaming colors of the earlier fireworks display. Without the noise, thankfully enough. It was like a Blue Jay Way to color, form, and vibrancy in the real world out beyond the confines of our civilization. A way toward the reality that contains us all, of course, and one that could use our help for the sake of preservation.

Dormont, PA evening softball game, a few blocks from the Pittsburgh city line
red finch from a distant land, a sunset tone

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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18 Responses to A Blue Jay Way

  1. Morning. I live in southeastern PA. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been to Pittsburgh. How many days of vacationing there would it take to do the city justice?

    • Brent says:

      I’ll answer since the post was about visiting me! My wife and I used to visit from DC on day trips, and it was fun to pick one or two activities and then go home. But before moving, we made a three-full-day trip–restaurants and breweries, museums, parks, a full range– and that was great. Point is, it’s worth visiting (but preferably in spring to fall)! Pennsylvania has two amazing big cities, in my opinion, and they’re both great to visit.

    • Neil, I’m not much of a city person, but do admit that “reconstructed” Pittsburgh has a lot to offer in the way of scenery, museums, history, and cultural attractions. I think you’d enjoy a few days visit, almost any time of year.

  2. Brent says:

    Good writeup and photos of a fun, action-packed weekend! Those zoomed-in shots of birds, on-field action, and fireworks are only gettable with your nicer “real” camera.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Bogs, birds, beers, ball games and fishing? I like the way of the blue jay, and it seems a pretty good time was had by all! Fireworks? Nah, no need…
    Thanks, Walt, for another colourful one!

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Glad that Brent got to see his Jays take one from the Buccos. My daughter is living in the Pittsburgh area now as well, a good excuse to go check out some of the culture of this crazy city. Although it started out as essentially a Scots-Irish settlement, the fingerprints of waves of Eastern European immigrants are all over that city.

    • Ah, what town or general area of the ‘Burgh does she live in? Brent knows the whole place remarkably well (and so many of the breweries & cultural hotspots). Maybe we could all meet up somewhere sometime.

  5. Jet Eliot says:

    Thanks for taking us to the baseball game and its urban beauty, and then to the bog and park, and then to the Aviary, Walt. Really fun. I love going to bogs and swamps and what a bonanza with finding the pitcher plants and white cedars too. I was especially taken with the hooded warbler song, being a birder, and loved this sentence, “…we were especially pleased to see and hear a male hooded warbler singing from the mixed highland forest as we ambled toward the bog.” Your words were, as always, a treat.

    • Thank you, Jet! Yeah, the birding in this region is nearly at its migratory peak right now (probably a bit later than in your own area) so it’s fun to check out new arrivals every day, especially with the various warblers. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post.

  6. Bob Matuzak says:

    Glad you enjoyed the visit to “my” city. Sorry the fireworks frightened you. We Pittsburghers absolutely love fireworks.
    And Jones Mill is definitely worth a visit.

    • Bob, your city has a lot of reasons to celebrate, but I like my fireworks at a distance. Thanks, too, for reinforcing my idea of Jones Mill. Will sample, someday. Brent wants me to check out Slippery Rock (?) as well.

      • Bob says:

        Slippery Rock is a very good choice is well as is the Nesshannock Creek up around Volant.
        I actually like the slippery rock a little later in the year for smallmouth. Good fun!

  7. Thanks again. I’ll put ’em on my list!

  8. loydtruss says:

    What a weekend adventure packed with sites and sounds that would get the attention of any outdoor individual. That Red Finch certainly gets the attention of any bird watcher. The House Finch is a regular visitor to my feeders. Thanks for sharing
    P.S. I would differently return to fish those trout streams; very impressive!

    • Thanks, Bill. Yes, it’s part of the fun of learning new territories, whether it be urban or rural or totally wild. Birds, flowers, and trout streams often help us in showing the way.

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