Archive for the 'Schenley Park' Category

Apr 24 2017

Reminder: Schenley Park Outing, April 30, 8am

Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)

Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, April 30, 8a – 10a.  (Note the early start! 8:00am)

Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road for this joint outing with the Three Rivers Birding Club.

New birds come to town every day at the end of April so there will be plenty to see.  Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes.  Don’t forget your binoculars!

Click here for more information and in case of cancellation.

 

p.s. I’ve already seen a Baltimore oriole in the park.  🙂

(Baltimore oriole photo by Steve Gosser)

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Apr 18 2017

A Busy Week For Trees

Sugar maple flowers, 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Sugar maple flowers (wind pollinated), 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Are you sneezing yet?

It’s a busy week for trees in southwestern Pennsylvania as they open flowers and unfurl new leaves.

Redbud flowers fully open, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Redbud flowers fully open (insect pollinated), 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In Schenley Park the trees are flowering everywhere, from insect pollinated redbuds (pink above) to wind pollinated sugar maples (yellow at top) and hophornbeams (below).

Hophornbeam catkins, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hophornbeam catkins (wind pollinated) 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Last weekend it was so dry that pollen coated my car and made my throat and eyes itch … and this was before the oaks had bloomed!  (Pollen note: Both oaks and pines are wind pollinated. Southwestern PA has an oak-hickory forest with few pines.)

Other busy trees include the bursting buds of hawthorns and hickories.  …

Hawthorn buds bursting, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hawthorn buds bursting, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bitternut hickory bud is opening, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bitternut hickory bud is opening, 15 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and new leaves on Ohio buckeyes.

Ohio buckeye shows off its leaves, 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Ohio buckeye shows off its leaves, 15 April 2017, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The city is a heat island so Schenley Park’s trees are ahead of the surrounding area.  Our red oak buds burst yesterday so you can expect several busy weeks ahead for trees in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Are you sneezing yet?

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 01 2017

Signs of Spring in Schenley Park

Star magnolia, bursting bud, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Star magnolia, bursting bud, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Wednesday I found more signs of Spring in Schenley Park.

Above and below, a star magnolia near the Westinghouse Fountain showed off its fist-shaped buds that burst into wild petals.  Did you know these flowering trees are imported from Japan?

Star magnolia blossom in Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Star magnolia blossom in Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Below, northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) opened its tiny yellow flowers.  You can identify this shrub by smell.  Just rub your fingernail against the twig’s bark and smell the spicy citrus scent.

Spicebush blooming, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spicebush blooming, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Most native trees haven’t opened their buds but this oak is getting there.

Oak buds opening, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Oak buds opening, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

These buds will distend their wind-pollinated flowers first, then open the leaves.  This timing gives the flowers full access to the wind without any leaves in the way.

 

p.s. The oak bud photo looks fake but it’s a trick of the bright sunlight that put shadows on the buds in the background.  No retouching required.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jan 22 2017

Coffee Beans in Schenley Park

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod from Schenley Park (photo by Kate St.John)

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod with penny for size comparison (photo by Kate St.John)

Last week I found these large, dull gray seed pods beneath a tree in Schenley Park with “coffee” beans inside.

The Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a rare tree with a wide distribution from Oklahoma to Ohio.  It was planted in Schenley Park as an ornamental more than 100 years ago.

The tree earned its name because Native Americans used to grind the roasted beans to make a beverage like coffee.  When coffee and chicory weren’t available the settlers drank this beverage, too, but they didn’t like it as well.

The pods are very tough and hard to open.  I quickly learned that the flattest ones have no beans so I chose a broken one and pried it open with a knife.

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod opened, found in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod opened, found in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

The beans are dark brown, round, and hard to photograph.  I moved the biggest one so you can see it better.

Did a squirrel eat the other beans?  If so, I hope he’s immune to the cytisine alkaloid inside them.  When not fully roasted, these beans are poisonous to humans.

Want to try some Kentucky “coffee?”  No thanks. I’m sticking with Starbucks.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jan 21 2017

Seasonal Movements: One Owl

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Last month I mentioned that a pileated woodpecker lives in Schenley Park, but only in the winter.  Here’s another bird that seems to do the same thing.

On sunny days this eastern screech-owl perches motionless in an unusual tree opening.  He’s not there every day in winter, but he’s never there when spring comes.

Though the range maps says eastern screech-owls live in Pittsburgh year round, this individual bird probably lives in Schenley during the winter and goes somewhere else to nest.

Range map of eastern screech-owl (linked from All About Birds website)

Range map of eastern screech-owl (linked from All About Birds website)

 

Sorry … I’m not going to tell you exactly where he is because too much public attention will scare him off.  And if you find him, please don’t publicize his location for the same reason.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s.  In January this blog has 400-700 readers a day.  That’s a lot of public attention.

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Jan 01 2017

Last Bird, First Bird

American crows coming in to roost near the Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

American crows coming in to roost near the Cathedral of Learning (photo by Peter Bell)

What species was the last bird you saw in 2016?  Which one was your first of the new year?

Mine were the same species.  Black birds in a black sky.  American crows.  Here’s why.

Yesterday was the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count.  I counted birds in my neighborhood (best bird: red-breasted nuthatch) and gave tips to Schenley Park’s counter, Mike Fialkovich, on where to find the best raptors.

By noon, Mike had not seen the eastern screech-owl nor the merlins, and he’d only seen one peregrine at Pitt.  Oooo!  I carved out some time at dusk to run over to Schenley and have a look.  Mike did too, but I didn’t know that.

Dusk came early.  At 4pm I raced around by car and on foot to find the owl (yes!) the merlins (yes!! two!) and both peregrines (alas, none).  Interestingly, Mike and I saw the merlins at the same time but did not see each other.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but see hundreds of crows coming in to Schenley and Pitt for the night, still flying after sunset.  By the time I got home no other birds were out.  Crows were my Last Bird of 2016.

This morning before dawn they flew over my house on their way from the roost.  American crows were my First Bird of 2017.

Happy New Year!

 

p.s. When I stepped outdoors to hear the crows, I heard an unexpected Second Bird of 2017: an American robin singing his spring song, Cheerily Cheerio.

(photo by Peter Bell)

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Dec 31 2016

Seasonal Movements: One Woodpecker

Male Pileated Woodpecker (photo by Dick Martin)

Range maps can obscure the seasonal movement of birds.

For instance, the range map for pileated woodpeckers, below, shows them in western Pennsylvania all year long but they’re not everywhere. There are none in Schenley Park in the spring and summer.

Pileated woodpecker range map. Green means year-round. (from Wikimedia Commons)

Pileated woodpecker range map. Green means year-round. (from Wikimedia Commons)

However, a male pileated woodpecker comes to Panther Hollow for the winter.  He announces his presence when he sees me on the trail.

It’s a treat to see him as I walk through Schenley Park.

 

(photo by Dick Martin, range map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the map to see the original image)

 

6 responses so far

Dec 17 2016

Variably Icy

Icy path in Schenley Park, Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Icy trail in Schenley Park, Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Snow, sleet, rain, freezing rain.

From 5 degrees F on Thursday night to 53 degrees with freezing rain today, we’ve had it all.  And there’s more to come.  Tomorrow night will be 15 degrees.

This yo-yo weather reminds me of what we learned during the polar vortex in January 2014:  Climate change is making the jet stream wobble so we get shots of very cold air and then warm air soon after, as shown in drawing(c) below.

Jet stream Rossby waves (graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

Jet stream Rossby waves (graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Be careful today!  It’s variably icy out there.

 

p.s. I’ve used an old photo of ice because it’s too icy to step outside this morning!

(photo by Kate St. John.  Drawing from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

3 responses so far

Nov 27 2016

Cars And Deer

Published by under Mammals,Schenley Park

Deer spooked near the road (photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Deer spooked near the road (photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

It’s that time of year again when cars and deer come into conflict.

From October through December white-tailed deer hormones surge for the mating season.  Males become aggressive, spar with their rivals, and challenge anything they see as a threat.  Both sexes roam in search of mates and barely pay attention to their surroundings.  Cars are the last thing on their minds.

Last year, Pennsylvania won the “prize” for the most deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S.   According to a September 2015 article by Ad Crable at Lancaster Online, we hit 127,275 deer with our cars — and those were only the collisions reported to insurance.   When compared to hunting season, which took more than 353,000 deer that year, we’re making a sizable dent with our vehicles.

A case in point is in Schenley Park where hunting is prohibited, as in all Pittsburgh City Parks.  Deer used to be rare but they moved in about 10 years ago (perhaps longer) and their population has exploded in the past five years.  I knew we’d reached a milestone when I saw a first ever road-killed deer in the Park along the Boulevard of the Allies, hit on November 5 or 6.

I’m sure the person who hit that 6-point buck was very, very surprised.  So are those whose dogs are challenged by aggressive deer.  Every year since 2015, a buck has killed a dog in the City’s east end parks.

So be careful out there, especially at dusk and dawn when deer are most active.  Use your brightest headlights and slow down.  Don’t become a statistic.

 

Reminder: Deer (rifle) season begins tomorrow, Monday November 28, in Pennsylvania. Wear blaze orange when you’re outside the city.

(photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Click on the image to see the original.)

8 responses so far

Nov 25 2016

Merlins This Month At Schenley Park

More than a decade ago four merlins used to hang out at Schenley Park Golf Course every winter.  They were often seen at dusk in the area near the club house just before they flew to roost.  For a few years they were reliable every winter and then they were gone … until now.

Merlins (Falco columbarius) are small falcons that eat birds for a living, though they choose smaller prey than peregrines do.  You could mistake one for an immature peregrine except for this:  Merlins are smaller and darker, their malar stripes are less pronounced, and they are very fast in level flight, rapidly pumping their wings.

Most merlins nest in Canada and migrate south with their prey.  Some go as far as South America.  Others stay in the southern U.S. and a few, very few, spend the winter in southwestern Pennsylvania.

This month two merlins came back to Schenley Park.  Just like those a decade ago, these birds prefer perches with long views in every direction.  You can find them at dawn or dusk at the highest elevation of the golf course near Darlington Road at Schenley Drive. They perch on treetops or dead snags near hole #2 and the fairways of holes #3 and #4.

If you’ve never seen a merlin, watch this video of a falconer’s merlin on the hunt to get an idea of their size and flight style.

 

p.s.  If you go look for the merlins, keep in mind that this is a golf course.  You must stay out of the way of golfers and not tread on the tees and greens!  Watch from the sidelines.

(video by Primitive Tim on YouTube)

4 responses so far

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