Category Archives: Books & Events

Yesterday at Schenley Park

American robin at nest with young, Schenley Park, 27 May 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

29 May 2023

Twelve of us turned out in fine weather yesterday morning for a walk in Schenley Park.

Participants in Schenley Park outing, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

There were fewer birds than I expected but some really nice moments such as:

  • Peregrine falcon, Carla, seen through my scope as she perched on the Cathedral of Learning,
  • A red-tailed hawk’s nest with three young high in the superstructure of the Panther Hollow Bridge,
  • A wood thrush singing above Phipps Run,
  • Two magnolia warblers gleaning insects near a chickadee family,
  • Active robin nests and many adults gathering food. (The nest pictured above by Charity Kheshgi is well camouflaged among the stones of the tufa bridge.)

(Checklist is at and listed at the end.)

I was happy to see that deer are eating Japanese knotweed in Schenley as well as in Frick.

Deer browse on Japanese knotweed in Schenley Park, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Because it had been two months since my last outing in Schenley, when we rounded the bend to Panther Hollow Lake I saw the park through new eyes. Sadly it looked unloved: scattered litter, algae on lake, and a large barren area after last Friday’s grading project.

Algae on Panther Hollow Lake, 26 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

At this moment the Panther Hollow Lake end of Schenley Park is not in good shape. However, there are birds.

Schenley Park, May 28, 2023 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM

Canada Goose 2
Mourning Dove 1
Chimney Swift 6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
gull species 1: Flyover
Great Blue Heron 1
Red-tailed Hawk 4: adult + 3 nestlings under PH Bridge
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Peregrine Falcon 1 Perched at CL visible from Schenley
Acadian Flycatcher 1
Red-eyed Vireo 4
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 3: adult feeding 2 young
Tufted Titmouse 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 1
Carolina Wren 2
European Starling 6
Gray Catbird 1
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 20: including two active nests + 3rd family with recently fledged young
Cedar Waxwing 1
House Sparrow 1
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 3
Baltimore Oriole 2
Red-winged Blackbird 7
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Common Grackle 1
Magnolia Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 4

(photos by Charity Kheshgi and Kate St. John)

Two Outings: Schenley Sunday the 28th + Phipps BioBlitz Jun 4

Schenley Outing Rescheduled to Sunday 28 May (Memorial Day weekend) due to conflict with Komen More Than Pink Walk

Mayapple in bloom, 17 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park, 28 May 2023, 8:30a

Meet me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center (40.4383304,-79.9464765) on Sunday 28 May (the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend) for a bird and nature walk , 8:30am to 10:30am. Migration will be winding down but nesting birds will be in full swing including scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-winged blackbirds and many robins.

As always, dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

If the birding is good we’ll have the option to continue until 11:00a.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, 4 June 2023, 8:30a

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with Cathedral of Learning in the distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Phipps BioBlitz is an annual event for families, students, local scientists and naturalists in which we conduct a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. There will be booths on the Phipps lawn displaying the wonders of local nature plus walks in the park including my bird walk at 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free. No registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.

Meet me on the Phipps lawn (directions here) Sunday 4 June, 8:30a-10:30a, after you check in at the Events Desk. Parking is Free on Sundays!

Hope to see you in Schenley Park!

(photo credits are in the captions)

Schenley Park Outing, April 30, 8:30am — CANCELED DUE TO RAIN

Wood thrush in May (photo by Melissa McMasters via Wikimedia Commons)

21 April 2022

CANCELED due to lots of rain in the forecast as of 4:30pm Sat.

Pittsburgh rain forecast as of 29 April, 4:30pm (graph from NWS)

Spring migration has been slow in Pittsburgh but things will improve in the week ahead so let’s get outdoors.

Join me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center for a bird & nature walk on Sunday 30 April, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Because of this month’s super-hot weather most trees will be in Full Leaf and the early flowers will have gone to seed but there’s still more to see. The second wave of migrating birds will be coming through and the wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) will have come home.

Wood thrush, Schenley Park, 24 April 2020 (photo by Donna Foyle)

We’ll peek through the leaves to look for birds. Will we see tuliptree flowers?

Tulip tree leaves and flower, 2 May 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tulip tree leaves and flower, 2 May 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Will the mayapples be blooming? Or forming fruit?

Mayapple flowering in Schenley Park, 10 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meet me at the Visitors Center at 8:30am. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars!

I’ll be there rain or shine, but not in downpours or thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of a cancellation.

Hope to see you there.

p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11a.

(photo by Donna Foyle on taken at Schenley Park on 24 April 2020!)

Today at Duck Hollow

Participants gather round for a group photo, 26 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 March 2023

This morning it was brilliantly sunny and becoming warmer as 15 of us walked at Duck Hollow.

Because of recent rain, especially in West Virginia, the river was running high though not quite as high as I found it during yesterday’s gloomy, rainy, windy weather (below).

The Monongahela River was running high on 25 March 2023. The tangle is al that’s left of the mudflats (photo by Kate St. John)

High water cut down on the number of waterfowl so we were happy to find a common merganser and pied-billed grebe. Best Mammal was a muskrat swimming up Nine Mile Run.

Today’s checklist is here: and below.

Duck Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Mar 26, 2023 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling, 1.4 mile(s)
Checklist Comments: Also 1 muskrat, 1 rabbit, 1 squirrel
23 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 2
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 6
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) 1 Female
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) 1
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) 2
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) 1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) 5
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 4 One pair courting. One pair with occupied nest under the bridge.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 2
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 4
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 3
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 4
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 30
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 8
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) 6
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 6
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 2
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 10

My next outing will be in Schenley Park on Sunday 30 April at 8:30am. Stay tuned.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Watching Sunrise on the Equinox

19 March 2023

Tomorrow the Spring Equinox will occur at 5:24pm EDT. Some will mark the day by visiting a celestial calendar, a structure where sunrise lines up with particular stones. At Angor Wat, below, the sun rises behind the middle tower.

Equinox sunrise over top of the middle tower of Angkor Temple, Angor Wat, Cambodia, March 2012 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the U.S. there’s a granite celestial calendar behind the Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. Pictured at top, the Star Base includes a granite keyhole, a shelter (cave) and Adirondack chairs for viewing.

Tonight the Hike Inn is probably full to capacity with all 20 bunkrooms in use. Tomorrow everyone will be up and out before dawn to watch the sun rise.

The Hike Inn as seen from Star Base, March 2009 (photo by Kelly Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Newcomers usually visit the Star Base beforehand so they know what to expect.

Nashville Hiking Meetup members visit the Star Base, 2009 (photo by Kelly Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons license)

The next morning they watch from the cave.

Waiting for Spring Equinox sunrise, 2009 (photo by Kelly Stewart via Flickr Creative Common license)

The most famous aspect of the Hike Inn is not the Star Base but the fact that you have to hike 5 miles to get to it. No vehicle access. Check-in at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitors Center, park your car at the trailhead and start your hike. The Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain is (relatively) nearby.

Trail sign for the Hike Inn (photo by Kelly Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Upon arrival put your phone in airplane mode. The Hike Inn is intentionally unplugged, though they do have electricity (mostly solar). No TV, no radio, no phone … just enjoy the quiet time.

Arriving at the Hike Inn, 2009 (photo by Kelly Stewart via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Because the equinox is late in the day on 20 March there may be two sunrises, March 20 & 21, that come close to perfect.

Sunrise at the Equinox 20 March 2004 from the Hike Inn, Georgia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For more information about lodging, check out the Hike Inn website.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Kelly Stewart on Flickr via Creative Commons license; click on the captions to see the originals)

Duck Hollow Outing, March 26, 8:30a

Male mallard (photo by Steve Gosser)

17 March 2023

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Spring is coming in fits and starts, here one day and not the next. By late March we’ll have mild weather. Let’s get outdoors!

Join me on my first bird and nature outing of 2023 at Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park on Sunday, March 26, 2023 — 8:30am to 10:00am.

Meet at Duck Hollow parking lot at the end of Old Browns Hill Road.

We’ll check the river for ducks and walk nearby trails to see a red-tailed hawks’ nest. Migrating ducks will have left by then but I hope for killdeer, kingfishers, and cardinals.

We’ll also see new flowers and leaves. Will we find a four-leaf clover?

A child finds a four-leaf clover (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars, field guides and a scope for river-watching if you have them.

Check the Events Page before you come in case of bad weather.

Hope to see you there!

(duck photo by Steve Gosser; remaining photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Love Is In The Air

Pair of northern cardinals (photo by Steve Gosser)

14 February 2023

Now that Groundhog Day has passed and we are well on our way to the Spring Equinox, our resident birds are ramping up the breeding season.

Male northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched peacefully together in mid-winter.

Flock of cardinals in Oklahoma, Feb 2015 (photo from justabirdthing via Flickr Creative Commons license)

But now they chase each and pursue the females.

Male northern cardinals chasing each other in Upstate NY, March 2010 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Males who’ve established a pair bond with a female, collect seeds and feed their mates.

Male cardinal feeds his mate (photo by Bob Kroeger)

You might even see a courtship display called the “lopsided pose,” shown in detail and big picture below.

Lopsided pose (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Cardinals, juncoes, titmouse in snow (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Female cardinal in lopsided pose (at left) as male cardinal approaches (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

The male or female cardinal tilts one side of its body up, raises its wing and exposes its belly. This “come hither” signal happens quickly. You’ll be lucky to see it.

Love is in the air. Happy Valentine’s Day!

(photos by Steve Gosser, Bob Kroger, Marcy Cunkelman and from Wikimedia Commons)

How Many Wild Birds? Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb 17-20

Birds at Marcy's feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Chickadee and American goldfinches at the feeder (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

10 February 2023

Have you ever wondered how many wild birds live on Earth? Scientists came up with a very good estimate in 2021 by using data algorithms on the sightings logged in Cornell Lab’s eBird database. The answer two years ago was 50 billion — six birds for every human — but the numbers change so they plan to rerun the analysis every couple of years. And that’s where we come in. They need our help by counting birds.

Every sighting logged in eBird contributes to the global knowledge of birds. Like an individual raindrop each sighting is added to the river of data that tells the story. Three times a year we create a momentary global deluge during the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) in February, Migratory Bird Count Day in May and the Christmas Bird Counts at year end.

So here comes our opportunity. Join people around the world for the Great Backyard Bird Count, Friday to Monday, 17-20 February 2023.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is more than just backyard birding. You can count birds anywhere — from your window, while on a trail, on the beach, or parked to count from your car.

Everything you need to know is at The How To Participate instructions are quoted below:

“Participating is easy, fun to do alone or with others, and can be done anywhere you find birds.

Step 1: Decide where you will watch birds.

Step 2: Watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days, 17-20 February 2023.

Step 3: Identify all the birds you see or hear within your planned time/location and use the best tool for sharing your bird sightings:

  • If you are a beginning bird admirer and new to bird identification, try using the Merlin Bird ID app to tell us what birds you are seeing or hearing.
  • If you have participated in the count before and want to record numbers of birds, use the eBird Mobile app or enter your bird list on the eBird website (desktop/laptop).

If you already contribute to eBird or Merlin, continue what you are doing! All entries over the 4-days count towards the GBBC.”

Count birds and have fun.

For more information on the number of wild birds on Earth, see Scientists Determine How Many Wild Birds Populate The Planet And… It’s A Lot.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Happy New Year! Found The Crows!

Crow with his beak thrust through a bun, the paper still clinging,” 27 Dec 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

1 January 2023

Happy New Year! Claire Staples and I counted 20,000 crows for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count yesterday.

Three days ago it looked like we were headed for a washout. Rain was in the forecast and on 29 December I found only 15 crows while driving 16 miles to scout recent locations — from Parkway Center Mall to Woodville Ave, Uptown, the Hill District, Polish Hill, the Strip District and the River Trail at Heinz Lofts. Fifteen!?!

Fortunately, thanks to hot tips from readers, we counted 20,000 crows last evening from our vantage point near Rooney Stadium at Duquesne University. Big Thank Yous go to:

  • KEM, who passed along a Reddit video of crows at Duquense U. (Silly me. For weeks I looked at the Forbes end of campus.)
  • Elizabeth Norman, who emailed at dusk on 30 December that crows were flying west to east over Allentown/Mt. Oliver. I saw them simultaneously from my building rooftop.
  • Lori Maggio, who emailed on 30 December that thousands of crows were swirling above the Blvd of the Allies at Mercy Hospital and Duquesne University in near darkness. (my Aha! moment)
  • Norman Wise, who confirmed on 31 Dec that there’s a large roost in the wooded area farthest northeast between Mount Washington and the South Side Slopes.

I triangulated those reports and looked for a high vantage point that could see all of them. Claire and I counted crows from the Bluff at Duquesne University and had the best crow count ever. Close in the air and countable.

Crows on their way from Riverview to the roost, 27 Dec 2022 (photo by Jeff Cieslak)

Thank you, dear readers, for all your help. Your enthusiasm for my blog inspires me to keep writing every day.

Happy New Year to all!

p.s. The caption on the first photo is a quote from my favorite poem about crows. Highly recommended! See the poem here. By Doug Anderson.

(photos by Jeff Cieslak on 27 December 2022 at Riveriew Park)