Last week four of us hiked the Redbank Trail near Lawsonham, Pennsylvania. At our turnaround point we stopped at a picnic shelter and lean-to that had a new pit toilet restroom with a shiny green door. As I left the restroom I noticed tooth marks on the doorknob.
Then I noticed tooth marks all along the bottom of the door and even at the top. See the red arrows.
The animal apparently propped its upper teeth against the edges and scraped with its bottom teeth.
It scraped the hinges.
And it ate the aluminum door jamb!
Who did this? What Pennsylvania wild animal eats outhouses and chews metal?
Years ago Pennsylvania’s porcupines only lived north of I-80 but for more than a decade they’ve been expanding their range southward. When they reach Pittsburgh they’re going to find a lot of doorknobs. 😉
p.s. Porcupines are already south of Pittsburgh in the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland but they prefer to live in heavily forested areas. I can’t imagine them moving into cities … but you never know.
p.p.s. See the comments. Porcupines have been seen in the metro area. Uh oh!
This morning 15 of us met at the Westinghouse Memorial pond for a walk along the Falloon Trail and Serpentine Road in Schenley Park.
For the most part birds were hard to find. Though we knew they were in the woods, they weren’t singing and the leaves were dense and dark. Ultimately we recorded 19 species. Complete checklist is here.
Early Saturday morning, July 29, more than three inches of rain fell in the Monongahela River watershed. At the Allegheny County Airport more than an inch fell between midnight and 12:53am where the total was 3.51″ in 24 hours.
Initial flooding occurred along streams and creeks and affected homes and roads, but by the time I visited Duck Hollow at 2:50p Nine Mile Run was back inside its banks while the Monongahela River was rising fast.
My two photos above show where the mudflat used to be at Duck Hollow. In only two hours — 2:50p to 4:45p — the river engulfed all but three trees. I expect they disappeared later.
To give you an idea of what’s missing, here’s Don Kerr’s photo of the mudflat only 20 days ago, 10 July 2017. There’s a lot underwater!
After watching the river I walked up the Nine Mile Run Trail and found more evidence of flooding along the creek. Check the captions for more information.
I was amazed to find four snakes sheltering in this tree above the water. They are wrapped together in coils, two by two, waiting for the water to go down. Probably northern water snakes. (See the comments. I am bad at identifying snakes. I had guessed black rat snakes.)
Inside Frick Park, Nine Mile Run scoured the landscape next to the creek. Flood debris was chest-high in the lowest lying spots and there was evidence the creek had overrun Commercial Street.
No wonder the Monongahela River is rising!
(photo of the Duck Hollow exposed mudflat by Don Kerr in Duck Hollow Facebook Group. Remaining photos by Kate St. John)
Jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens) is easy to find in Schenley Park where it was planted as an ornamental.
In the spring I misidentify its four-petaled white flowers as mock-orange because I don’t pay attention to the leaves. Jetbead has opposite, deeply toothed leaves with narrow tips and pronounced veins.
The fruits are unmistakable, though. When ripe, they form a cluster of four shiny black beads — jetbeads — shown above.
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:
A bird that hasn’t nested in Pennsylvania since the early 1950’s returned this year to Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
The piping plover (Charadrius melodus), a very rare bird, has been endangered in the Great Lakes region since 1986. This spring for the first time in over 60 years they nested at Gull Point.
Their decline was due to habitat loss. Their return is an environmental success story. As Dan Brauning, PGC‘s Wildlife Diversity Program Chief, said, “This is a testament to dedication and teamwork, not only in Pennsylvania but throughout the species’ range. Their return wasn’t by chance, or an accident.”
Piping plovers nest on wide, sparsely vegetated sand or cobble beaches but 20 years ago Presque Isle State Park had nothing like that. As the population of Great Lakes piping plovers grew, a plover would sometimes stop at Gull Point during migration but it never stayed. PGC, DCNR, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy worked to clear invasive vegetation and protect Gull Point during the nesting season. Then Audubon monitors, including my friend Mary Birdsong, watched for piping plovers each spring. For a couple of years Mary observed a male piping plover stay at the point, calling for a female, but he was a lonely bachelor. This year, success. Two pairs!
Read here about their nesting success and how eggs were rescued from the waves. Click here to see a close up of a piping plover.
What’s that sound? In July the birds stop singing and the bugs begin. Some sing during the day, others at night. We usually don’t see what’s making the noise but sometimes we can identify the bugs by song. Here’s a group of insects that are fairly easy to figure out.
Cicadas sing during the day and they are loud. Some songs are so unique that you can identify the bug if you know what to listen for.
Here are audio descriptions for five common species of annual(*) cicadas in southwestern Pennsylvania in order of “most likely to hear/notice,” at least in my experience.
As with birds, pay attention to the habitat where you hear a cicada. Swamp cicadas, for example, are only found in swamps or marshes.
Scissor grinder cicada (Neotibicen pruinosus). Easiest sound to identify.
Song: a repetitive WEEE ah, WEEE ah, WEEE ah, WEEE ah, tapers at end
When? may begin in late morning, but sings the most at dusk
p.s. Annual(*) cicadas have a life cycle of 2-5 years but they seem “annual” because some individuals in each species reach adulthood every year (i.e. the species appears annually).
p.p.s There aren’t many scissor-grinders in my neighborhood this year. I wonder if they had a bad reproductive year the last time this brood was above ground. How long do scissor-grinders take to reach adulthood? If it’s 5 years then that’d be 2012, a very hot year. Hmmm.
I’ve noticed this too. During Pittsburgh’s 2016 Christmas Bird Count last December, many of us found pileated woodpeckers — so much so that Audubon’s summary of the count included this remark: “Pileated Woodpecker was reported at a higher than expected number. 48 individuals represents a new high count for Pittsburgh. ”
On the same day as Pittsburgh Today’s article, I also received an email from Tree Pittsburgh with news about a project this fall to replace ash trees lost to emerald ash borer (read more here.)
Without intending it, the topics are related. My hunch is that we have more pileated woodpeckers in Pittsburgh because we have more under-the-bark insects and more dead and dying ash trees, suitable for nesting, since the emerald ash borer came to town 10 years ago.
Woodpeckers are doing really well. It’s the only bright spot in the emerald ash borer plague.
(photo credits: Pileated woodpecker by Chuck Tague. Dead ash tree with pileated woodpecker hole by Kate St. John)
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!