Winter in the Northside’s Riverview Park is great for wildlife viewing, night hikes, and birding.

Photo: David Bennett, Sean Brady, and David Grinnell were participants in the recent Audubon Christmas Bird Count, the nation’s “longest-running community science bird project.” Courtesy of Ranger Nancy Schaefer

Winter provides amazing opportunities to view wildlife, and you don’t have to travel further than Riverview Park. The primary advantage of winter is the ability to view so much of the landscape without the tree canopy. Once there is snow, there is an added advantage, as movement and shapes are in sharp contrast to the solid white background. The snow is initially like a blank canvas on the ground, but before long, there are plenty of stories to discover.  

Download a guide to animal tracks and use it to investigate what animal activities occurred while no one was around.  A good blanket of snow allows us to leave the trail and explore the entire landscape without fear of damaging plants or habitat. Grab a pair of binoculars and a thermos of hot chocolate and park yourself on top of a hill: Riverview’s steep topography allows one to view much of the park without moving. Night hikes in winter are my favorite; no flashlight is needed as snow reflects light and provides all that you need to guide your way in a magical landscape. A favorite website of mine for viewing Pennsylvania’s beauty is “Bob’s Pennsylvania Wildlife Camera” on Facebook and he has posted “A Walk in the Woods with Bob Winter 2021” for those unable to venture out.  

Several pairs of the largest woodpeckers—pileated—reside in Riverview Park, and often make nests like the one pictured above in dead ash trees, which provide them with food and shelter. Courtesy of Ranger Nancy Schaefer

Winter is also great for birding and Riverview has plenty of opportunities for it. During the recent Audubon Christmas Bird Count, three intrepid birders: Sean Brady, David Grinnell, and David Bennett, braved frigid temperatures and were rewarded with 20 species including a whopping 17 red-bellied woodpeckers, three red-tailed hawks, and four downy woodpeckers.  The presence of so many woodpeckers is due, in part, to the huge number of dead ash trees which provide food and shelter for them. Several pairs of the largest woodpeckers—pileated—reside in Riverview, and are fairly easy to find on most days. Our resident great horned owls are probably sitting on eggs now, so any approach should be done with extreme caution. You’ll also see a variety of species at the new bird feeding station, next to the Visitor Center.  

In order to support and improve the environment for birding, Ray Morris, a certified master naturalist, visited Riverview last month to advise on locations and structure for bluebird boxes. These boxes will be placed around the park to encourage bluebird nesting. Our plan is to revitalize boxes already placed in Snyder’s Point and with Ray’s help, place new boxes in other locations including Archery Field and Valley Refuge meadow. Anyone interested in helping with the bluebird boxes or wishing to join a Riverview birding group should get in touch with Ranger Nancy at riverviewpark.pgh@gmail.com.

Nancy Schaefer is a City of Pittsburgh Park Ranger in the Northside’s Riverview Park.

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