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Penn Hills 'birds and bees' program focuses strictly on nature

| Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 5:21 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
A red-bellied woodpecker tries to nibble at birdfeed in a hanging feeder in Homewood on April 25, 2014. Woodpeckers are among the many species birdwatchers may glimpse on a July 12 bird walk at the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Bees swarm in and out of the apiary at the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park on Colorado Street. Cemetery director Kristin Hauman is also the park's beekeeper, and will give a demonstration of how the hive functions on July 12.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Bees swarm in and out of the apiary at the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park on Colorado Street. Cemetery director Kristin Hauman is also the park's beekeeper, and will give a demonstration of how the hive functions on July 12.

A pair of binoculars, a bird identification guide and a healthy respect for stinging insects will go a long way this weekend at the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park.

The “green” cemetery on Colorado Street will host a “birds and bees” talk on Saturday at 9 a.m., and while that phrase traditionally applies' to parents broaching the reproductive discussion with their children, on July 12 it will be solely focused on nature.

Chris Kubiak of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania will lead participants on a bird walk, and Penn Forest's resident beekeeper Kristin Hauman will demonstrate the inner workings of a beehive.

For Kubiak, the Penn Forest grounds represent a wide variety of possibility when it comes to birdwatching.

“That's a place, particularly in an urban area like Penn Hills, that in a lot of ways is a good spot for finding birds,” Kubiak said.

From resident species that remain in the area year-round — cardinals, chickadees, titmice and some of the woodpecker species — to migratory visitors such as the Baltimore oriole and scarlet tanager, the park's 32 acres should be home to an abundance of birds, Kubiak said.

“We'll likely see some of the summer migrants, along with resident species and probably a few types of local hawks,” he said.

Data-collection website eBird.org, which allows users to tag geographical regions with bird counts, has entries with watchers spotting 52 species of bird in the nearby Dark Hollow woods, and 76 species along the Log House Trail in Monroeville's Boyce Park, just a few miles away.

Kubiak said western Pennsylvania is among the Audubon's top five chapters in the country for bird-watching.

“With all the habitat diversity, there are a lot of bird species here,” he said.

Joining the local birds in flight are bees, which gather in two hives kept on the Penn Forest property.

Hauman, who will give a presentation on how the hive operates, works with Burgh Bees, a resource for local residents interested in forming an apiary, or bee colony.

“We teach all the classes in the area,” said Burgh Bees President Steven Repasky. “We try to hook people up with experienced beekeepers to help them get a good start.”

Repasky said he recommends beginners first sign up for a class.

“This isn't like going to get a dog from the animal shelter,” he said. “It's such a steep learning curve, you really do need assistance. There's a lot of science involved and a lot of art in terms of the management.”

Burgh Bees advises prospective apiarists to start with two colonies, to compare their progress. Between bees and equipment, the costs can run between $600 and $1,000, Repasky said.

The classes, which are typically offered in fall and early winter, are designed to help first-timers become more comfortable with the biology of honeybees.

“With the societal fear of stinging insects, opening up that hive and looking at about 30,000 bees can be intimidating,” Repasky said.

The schedule for “Birds and Bees,” will include Kubiak's bird walk at 9 a.m., Hauman's apiary presentation at 10:30 a.m., and a question-and-answer session on “green” burial with cemetery manager Pete McQuillin at 11 a.m.

For more information, call 412-927-0103 or visit Pennforestcemetery.com.

Patrick Varine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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