Nowadays I don't have to go far to see white-tailed deer in southwestern Pennsylvania. The deer population in Schenley Park has grown by leaps and bounds since I first noticed them a decade ago.
When I don't see the animals, I see their evidence. In July, they eat so much jewelweed that it looks like the trail edges were weed-whacked.
In winter they eat shrubs like this arborvitae on Schenley Golf Course until there's no green near the ground.
And they eat small trees. More than a year ago they ate the leader shoot of this hackberry seedling. The next year two branches sprouted to compensate and the deer ate those. And on and on and on. The tree grows old but never tall.
These signs of deer damage indicate their over-population in Schenley Park but the scariest sign is the growing number of deer crossing the road.
Last week I saw an 8-point buck ambling across Greenfield Road while pedestrians stopped and stared. He was majestic and he was lucky. No cars were coming.
Last June a deer leapt over a guard rail in Indiana County and landed on the hood of Marcy Cunkelman's car. She couldn't see it coming and she couldn't see to drive after it crumpled the hood. The deer didn't survive the accident but Marcy and her family were fortunate. They were fine and the airbags didn't deploy.
That happened in June when deer are less distracted than they are in autumn. This month there's a much higher chance of hitting a deer because they're on the move and they aren't paying attention. It's mating season.
Pennsylvania is the #3 state for vehicle-deer insurance claims. According to State Farm's annual report, there were more than 142,000 vehicle-deer collisions in Pennsylvania from June 2016 to June 2017. On an annual basis we have a 1 in 63 chance of a hitting a deer but during mating season that likelihood more than doubles ... to maybe 1 in 30. Yikes!
So stay alert! Watch out for deer, especially at dusk. Click here for State Farm's tips on what to do. ... And good luck.
On Tuesday I heard a sound in Schenley Park that I didn't recognize: a melodious call from a baby bird.
I found the bird flutter-climbing from a low perch to a high spot in a tree, moving fast and begging the entire time. He had downy tufts on his head, a striped chest, big feet, short wings and an almost non-existent tail. He looked a lot like the bird pictured above.
I couldn't identify the fledgling so I waited for his mother to bring food and she solved the mystery. A bird just like her is pictured below (from Wikimedia Commons).
If you don't recognize her, here's another clue. The father bird looks like this. (I didn't see him that day.)
Obviously scarlet tanagers change a lot as they grow into breeding adults. Read more about them in this vintage article from July 2008:
Join me on a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park next Sunday, July 30, 8:30am to 10:30am.
Meet at the Westinghouse Memorial pond and we’ll walk Serpentine Drive or the nearby Falloon Trail keeping our eyes open for birds, plants and animals. The memorial pond is especially pretty in July with pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) in bloom.
Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.
Before you come, visit my Events page in case there are changes or cancellations. Note: The outing will be canceled if there's lightning!
I'm excited by this discovery because Panther Hollow Lake has a host of challenges including low stream flow, storm water inundation and deep sediment (13 feet of sediment under 2 feet of water!). In hot weather mucky algae floats on the surface and the lake stinks. This will all be corrected as part of the Four Mile Run Watershed Restoration Project but in the meantime, yuk!
Despite these problems, four species of fish were found during the BioBlitz. They are:
* Blue gill (Lepomis macrochirus), a game fish native to eastern North America but introduced around the world.
Truth be told, participants at my last Schenley Park outing pointed out a goldfish in the pond. It was orange and white and huge! I can guess where it came from. Years ago someone said, "We can't keep this fish at home anymore. Let's release it in the lake."
Take a walk and you'll find motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) blooming now in western Pennsylvania. Originally from Eurasia, this member of the Mint family is now at home on many continents because it's useful as an herbal remedy for heart disease and childbirth.
Its flowers are furry dragon mouths arranged in whorls around the stem, similar in shape to purple deadnettle, a near relative. Its square stem gives us the hint that it's a mint.
In full sun motherwort is knee high or even taller so you won't miss it. Its opposite, toothed leaves look like paws but are sometimes confused with mugwort leaves.
I prefer to identify motherwort when it's in bloom. 😉
I'm taking a break from peregrines today. Here's a plant. 🙂
In Schenley Park, mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) bloom in April and fruit in May. The plants must have two leaves to produce a flower because the flower stalk grows from the Y between the leaves.
Here's what they look like when they bloom.
The fertilized flower transitions from flower to apple in May, as shown in the photo at top.
You can eat a mayapple when it's ripe but Be Careful! The entire plant is poisonous and the apple is only edible when ripe! Find out more and see a mayapple sliced open in this vintage article from 2011: Eating Mayapples
(top photo by Kate St. John. Blooming photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)
This morning there were 36 of us ready to go birding in Schenley Park at 8am. We searched for birds in the Bartlett area and part of Lower and Falloon Trails, then walked the golf course edge for a view of the treetops along Serpentine Road.
The birds were quiet at first but became more active when the sun broke through the clouds. Best Birds of the day were rose-breasted grosbeaks, the first-of-year ovenbird and a green heron at the lake. I wish we'd seen the blue-winged warbler (heard singing) but we did see a peregrine falcon flying around the Cathedral of Learning.
I promised we'd end at 10am but a dozen people wanted to continue so we split up at 9:45a. (Thank you, Marcus, for guiding folks back to Bartlett Street.) So I have two lists of the birds we saw. Let me know if I missed something.
Before 9:45m. Birds Seen and Heard, 8am-9:45am, 0.8 miles (until turn around). Click here for eBird checklist.
Ovenbird (first of year)
Blue-winged Warbler (heard by several of us, seen by Michelle)
After 945am: Additional Species Seen and Heard, 9:45am-11:30am, 2.17 miles, via Panther Hollow Lake (Click here for the eBird list of additional birds)
Green Heron (first of year)
Osprey (2 flew over at Bartlett at the end of the walk)
Red-tailed Hawk (adult at Occupied Nest)
Peregrine Falcon (flying and perched at Cathedral of Learning)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Palm Warbler (first of year)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Thanks, everyone, for coming out. It was a great birding day!
When I got home I heard a white-eyed vireo singing in my neighborhood. 🙂