Archive for the 'Schenley Park' Category

Apr 28 2016

The Catbird’s Coverts

Gray Catbird (photo by Alan Vernon from Wikimedia)

Gray Catbird (photo by Alan Vernon from Wikimedia)

This week gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) came back to Pittsburgh from their winter homes in Central America.

I saw my first one in Schenley Park on Tuesday (April 26) and now I hear them every day, singing from the coverts in my neighborhood.  Here’s what they sound like:

“Covert” means “thicket” but it’s also an ornithological term for feathers that cover the base of the main flight or tail feathers.

Gray catbirds have rust-colored undertail coverts.  Read about them in this 2010 bird anatomy lesson: Undertail Coverts.

 

(photo by Alan Vernon in Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Apr 26 2016

Did You Know That I Sing?

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

Female northern cardinal (photo by Steve Gosser)

Now every morning we awake to birdsong.  All the singers are male, right?  Well … not really.

When I took a class on birdsong years ago I learned that female birds don’t sing. This information came from centuries of bird observations made in Europe and North America. Charles Darwin even used it to describe how song evolved in male birds to attract mates and compete for territory.

But in 2014 that “fact” was turned upside down.  71% of female songbirds do sing.  It’s just that most of them are tropical species.  No one had studied birdsong worldwide until a team lead by Karan Odom of University of Maryland, Baltimore County published their findings in Nature Communications in March 2014.

It’s true that almost all the singing birds in North America are male, but there are some exceptions.

Did you know that female northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) sing and they’re just as good at it as the males?

I was reminded of this last week when a female flew into a tree just over my head and sang a long sustained vibrato even faster than this:

Cardinal couples countersing to synchronize their pair bond.  Yesterday in Schenley Park I saw a female sing a phrase several times, then her mate matched it.

So when you hear a cardinal singing, take the time to find the singer.  It may be a lady!

 

p.s. Female rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) and black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus) sing, too.  They’re in the Cardinal Family.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Apr 25 2016

Sunday’s Outing in Schenley Park

Outing in Schenley Park, 24 April 2016 (photo by Nancy Hart)

Outing in Schenley Park, 24 April 2016 (photo by Nancy Hart)

The weather was sunny yesterday morning as 19 of us explored Schenley Park.

The City is warmer than the surrounding countryside so most of Schenley’s wildflowers are past their peak.  However spring migration brought a whole new set of birds to the park.  The juncoes are gone. Yellow-rumped warblers are here.

We didn’t count a lot of individual birds but we saw and heard some really good ones.  Best Birds were three First of Year species:  a green heron, the sound of a wood thrush that we couldn’t find, and a rose-breasted grosbeak.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo by Chuck Tague)

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo by Chuck Tague)

The grosbeak is early but Schenley’s oaks are ready for him(*).  They’re already flowering and leafing out ahead of schedule.

Northern rough-winged swallows courted over the lake and a northern flicker called from a superb nest hole with a shelf-mushroom roof.  (I still don’t know what the flicker’s panting-in-hole dance meant.)

A few of us prolonged the tour with a view of the red-tailed hawks’ nest on Flagstaff Hill.  Here‘s a complete list of birds seen/heard via eBird.

My next Schenley Park outing will be Sunday May 22.  Hope to see you then.

 

(outing photo by Nancy Hart; rose-breasted grosbeak by Chuck Tague))

(*) Rose-breasted grosbeaks move north as the oaks bloom.  Yesterday’s bird passed a lot of leafless territory to stop in the City’s heat island.

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Apr 16 2016

Buds Bursting

Horse chestnut bud bursting, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse chestnut bud bursting, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week’s cold weather was deadly for flowering trees but good for those still in bud.

A hard freeze on April 5 —  23 o F — wiped out the early-blooming trees in Schenley Park.  Most of the eastern redbuds had already flowered so Schenley’s redbud display this year is anemic.

On the other hand, buds that were closed 10 days ago are in good shape now.  On Wednesday I found a horse chestnut bud about to burst (above) and one with leaves and flower stack already emerged (below).

Horse chestnut leaves and flowers stack emerged from bud, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse chestnut leaves and flowers stack emerged from bud, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Even the hickories are getting into the act.

Mockernut hickory bud opening, Schenley Park, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Mockernut hickory bud opening, Schenley Park, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Check out your neighborhood for emerging leaves and flowers. Buds are opening fast in this weekend’s warm weather.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 04 2016

Schenley Owl Nest Found

Great horned owl adult and one owlet, 2 Apr 2016, Anderson Bridge, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Great horned owl adult and one owlet, 2 Apr 2016, Anderson Bridge, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

(If you subscribe to PABIRDS you saw this news over the weekend.)

After the great horned owl fledgling was rescued in Schenley Park on Tuesday March 29 and an adult was seen nearby on Thursday morning, I made it my mission to find the nest.  At first I came up empty.  There were no big stick nests in any of the hillside trees.

Then, late Friday afternoon I took another look at the underside of the Anderson Bridge.

Faintly through the trees I saw two owlets walking on a girder!

On Saturday I brought my scope and discovered that the “branching” owlets and their mother were quite visible from the Junction Hollow Bike Trail below the bridge.  Here are two (lousy!) photographs I took through my scope.

Above, mother owl and one owlet pose on the girder.  Below, the second owlet is perched just below the nest. Later he flew from girder to girder and landed near his mother.  The blue box highlights him in the washed-out photo.

Second owlet at Anderson Bridge great horned owl nest, Schenley Park,2 Apr 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Second owlet at Anderson Bridge great horned owl nest, Schenley Park, 2 Apr 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Sunday I visited the trail again and Nathan Mallory used my scope to take this photo of the two owlets sleeping.  You can see their stick nest above them on the lattice.

Two great horned owlets sleeping near their nest under the Anderson Bridge (photo by Nathan Mallory)

Two great horned owlets sleeping near their nest under the Anderson Bridge, 3 Apr 2016 (photo by Nathan Mallory)

So there were three owlets in this nest. The first is in rehab.  The other two will probably fly soon.

 

 

p.s. As you can see, the Anderson Bridge is very rusty!  It will be completely replaced in a few years, after the Greenfield Bridge is done.

(photos by Kate St. John and Nathan Mallory)

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Apr 02 2016

New Arrivals This Week

Brown creeper (photo by Steve Gosser)

Brown creeper (photo by Steve Gosser)

The flowers are ahead of schedule and so are some migratory birds.  This week in Schenley Park I found four new arrivals.

Brown creepers (Certhia americana) spend the winter in the central and southern U.S. so they know about our warm weather and can decide to migrate early.  I saw several brown creepers and heard their high pitched, squeaky song along the Bridle Trail on Thursday.

 

Two very tiny birds, smaller than chickadees, arrived on Tuesday. It’s unusual to see them together.

Golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa), at left below, have a winter range similar to the brown creeper’s and usually migrate through before their ruby-crowned cousins show up.  I found both birds on March 29 when I heard the ruby-crowned kinglet singing “Stay away!” as the golden-crowned chased him.  I’ve never seen these two species fighting!

Golden-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Golden-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) spend the winter in the southern U.S. and even in eastern Pennsylvania but they’re a big deal here.  An appearance on March 29 is two weeks earlier than I expect them.

Here’s the ruby’s song and, at the end, the “chack” he makes when annoyed.

 

On Tuesday I heard a lone chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) along the Bridle Trail but couldn’t find him for two days.  He was hanging out with a flock of dark-eyed juncoes.  Bob Machesney says that in the North Hills the dark-eyed juncoes are gone before the chipping sparrows arrive.  This solo bird isn’t playing by the rules. 😉

Chipping sparrow in May (photo by Steve Gosser)

Chipping sparrow in May (photo by Steve Gosser)

Here’s the chipping sparrow’s song:

 

Watch for the first three birds in the days ahead.  Only the chipping sparrow will stay to nest in Schenley Park.

 

(all photos by Steve Gosser)

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Mar 27 2016

Schenley Park Last Week

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 18 and 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 18 and 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is early, as expected, so I wasn’t surprised to find leaves unfurling in Schenley Park last week.  Here are a few highlights from my walks in the past nine days.

Above, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) began blooming on March 7 and was still flowering when I passed by on March 24.

Below, Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra) are one of the first trees to leaf out in Schenley Park.  These leaves picked up fluff from other trees whose flower parts had blown away, perhaps a wind dispersal strategy.  The buckeye makes flowers that attract bees.

Ohio buckeye leaves unfurl, 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ohio buckeye leaves unfurl, 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) began blooming March 10 and will continue for many weeks. Its flower has a spotted lip that says, “Land here, little insect.”

Purple deadnettle blooming, Schenley Park 18 and 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple deadnettle blooming, Schenley Park 18 and 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The weather’s been mild so get outdoors soon. Don’t miss our early Spring.

Happy Easter!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Mar 12 2016

Seen in Schenley Park This Week

Bud about to open. What shrub is this? (photo by Kate St. John)

Bud opening on 9 March 2016. What shrub is this? (photo by Kate St. John)

Flowers, birds, and too many deer, here are some sightings from Schenley Park in this week’s abnormally warm weather.

Red maples and American elms are blooming and bush honeysuckles are opening their leaves.

Above, these yellow flowers are beautiful on a large ornamental shrub but I can’t identify it.  Do you know what it is?

Below, our days are sometimes graced by a roosting eastern screech-owl.  I saw him on Thursday but he’s often not there.  Benjamin Haake was lucky to photograph him.

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Benjamin Haake)

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Benjamin Haake)

 

A decade ago deer were rare in Schenley Park but their population doubles every two to three years (yes, it doubles) and it’s taking its toll.  This week I walked by the golf course and noticed these arborvitae trees are naked from the ground to the height of a deer.  The browse line indicates there are now too many deer in Schenley Park — more than the land can support.

Arborvitae eaten to the browse line, Schnley Park Golf Course (photo by Kate St. John)

The browse line: Arborvitae eaten by too many deer at Schenley Park Golf Course (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And finally, this plant is blooming in Schenley but also in lawns and waste places.  From long experience I know it’s hard to identify (and photograph).  Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is a non-native that’s not in many field guides. Click here to learn more about it.

Hairy bittercress, 10 Mar 2016, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Hairy bittercress, 10 Mar 2016, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(flower and tree photos by Kate St. John. Eastern screech-owl by Benjamin Haake)

p.s. Adam Haritan suggests that the yellow flower is Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). That’s what it looks like to me (Click the link to read more and see a similar photo.)

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Feb 06 2016

Mud Season

Daffodil leaves, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Daffodil leaves, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

In this weirdly warm winter all the snow melted a week ago, the daffodil leaves poked out further, and we didn’t have to wear jackets.  At 61o on January 31 it was 26 degrees above normal!

Though yesterday’s temperature was exactly on target, today will be 8 degrees above average.  That’s not a huge difference but enough to maintain our early mud season.

We already had mud in our neighborhood ballpark when rain on Wednesday morning enhanced the creamy mudscape.

Mud season in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

An early mud season in Pittsburgh, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Off the beaten path at Schenley Park it was muddy too, though navigable.

Schenley Park, Falloon Trail, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park, Falloon Trail, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Are the plants in your area waking up early?  Put on your mud boots and go out to see.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

 

 

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Dec 29 2015

It’s Time To Pick Up The Pieces

Greenfield Bridge as seen from the air, 24 December 2015 (photo from Pat Hassett)

Greenfield Bridge as seen from the air, 24 December 2015 (photo from Pat Hassett)

I don’t usually write about bridges, but there was big excitement only 1,200 feet from my house yesterday when contractors blew up the Greenfield Bridge.  As you can see from the photo above, it connected my neighborhood to Schenley Park (right of photo) over the Parkway East I-376.  I haven’t been able to walk into this part of Schenley since the bridge closed on October 17.

Even if you don’t live in Pittsburgh, the implosion made national news so you probably saw videos on TV.  Here are some photos of the event, a bit of the birds’ perspective, and links to my favorite implosion videos.

Above, a birds-eye view of the bridge on Christmas Eve.  Below, the bridge is wrapped, charged and waiting on Monday morning, December 28.

The Greenfield Bridge, just before it blows (photo by Geoff Campbell)

The Greenfield Bridge, just before it blows (photo by Geoff Campbell)

The implosion required a lot of warning, coordination, street blocking and police patrols.  The map below shows the exclusion zone.

Folks could stay home if their house was inside the circle but they had to stay inside and away from windows.  If you live that close to something this exciting, you either left home to watch nearby or you saw the best view of all on TV.

Map of the Exclusion Zone around the implosion (distributed by City of Pittsburgh)

Map of the Exclusion Zone around the implosion (distributed by City of Pittsburgh)

My house is outside the circle but I watched from one of the red roads closed to traffic. Those roads have good views but were open only to pedestrians to prevent gawkers’ cars from causing traffic and parking problems.  It was fun watching with the neighbors.  We were all in a party mood.

Starting an hour+ before the blast an infrared sensing helicopter circled overhead to make sure no one was outdoors within the exclusion zone.  One guy snuck into the woods and had to be rousted out.  We never saw him but he delayed the blast 20 minutes.

Back in October the neighborhood held a party and raffled off a chance to push the plunger and blow up the bridge.  Sally Scheidlmeier, pictured below, won that honor.  Here she is with the plunger (“Let’s Do It”) and the plunger’s victim in the distance, only minutes before the blast.  She pushed the plunger …

Sally Scheidlmeier just before she pushed down the plunger to blow up the bridge (photo by Geoff Campbell)

Sally Scheidlmeier just before she pushed down the plunger to blow up the bridge (photo by Geoff Campbell)

… and then …

Thar she blows! (photo from Pat Hassett)

Thar she blows! (photo from Pat Hassett)

Here’s my favorite video of the blast from the Post-Gazette.  Watch for the guy in the hard hat and orange-yellow vest who runs into the picture and down the road.  That’s a man who loves his job!

 

Down in The Run (the neighborhood in the valley on the left side of the exclusion zone), Trinidad Regaspi took a video with her cellphone.  Do you see that bird-like dot to the right of the telephone pole?  It’s one of four wild turkeys that flew across the valley to escape the noise.  They sure had a story for their friends last night!

Four wild turkeys escape the blasts (screenshot from video by Trinidad Regaspi's Facebook video)

Four wild turkeys escape the blasts (screenshot from video by Trinidad Regaspi’s Facebook video)

… and then the bridge was gone.

The Bridge is gone! (photo by Geoff Campbell)

The Bridge is gone! (photo by Geoff Campbell)

It didn’t take long before the contractors were down on the Parkway picking up the pieces.  Six pillars on the Schenley side didn’t fall during the blast but they came down shortly after I took this photo at noon.  Alas, I missed it.

Six pillars still stand, but not for long, noon on 28 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Six leaning pillars still stand on the Schenley side, but not for long. At noon on 28 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At road level there’s a lot of debris.

Picking up the pieces (photo from Pat Hassett)

Picking up the pieces in the rain (photo from Pat Hassett)

The contractors are out there picking up the pieces all day and all night (we can hear them).  They have to work fast because they only have permission to keep the interstate closed for 5 days after the blast.

I-376 is slated to reopen on January 1 at 6:00am.  The new bridge will take 18+ months to build.

Read more and see additional videos here at the Post-Gazette.

 

(photos from Pat Hassett, Geoff Campbell, Trinidad Regaspi and Kate St. John)

UPDATE DECEMBER 31, 2015:  The cleanup finished ahead of schedule!  The Parkway East opened INBOUND today at 2:00pm.  OUTBOUND will reopen between 10:00pm and midnight because of another project down the road at the Birmingham Bridge.

Parkway East is all cleaned up after the Greenfield Bridge blast, 31 Dec 2015, 8:30am (photo by Pat Hassett)

Parkway East is all cleaned up, 31 Dec 2015, 8:30am (photo by Pat Hassett)

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