Category Archives: Books & Events

CANCELLED! Schenley Park Outing, 2 Oct, 8:30am

Goldenrod gall shaped like a green rose, Schenley Park, October 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 September 2022

UPDATE 1 OCTOBER, 5:51PM: THIS OUTING IS CANCELLED BECAUSE I DON’T FEEL WELL

In early October the weather’s fine and there’s plenty to see outdoors. Birds are migrating, fruits are maturing, and insects have their final fling.

Join me on a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday 2 October 2022 — 8:30am – 10:30am(*). Meet me at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center near Phipps Conservatory where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

We’ll look and listen for signs of fall, yellow leaves and chirping crickets. We many find a goldenrod “rose” like the gall at top. Or a million blue jays and chipmunks.

Blue Jay and chipmunk (photos by Chuck Tague)

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit the Events page in case there are changes or cancellations.  The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning (unlikely this coming Sunday but you never know).

From experience I can say … there will be lots of blue jays and chipmunks.

(*) If the birding is suddenly good at 10:30am we’ll have the option to continue to 11a.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Birdlab: Banding Birds at Hays Woods

Red-eyed vireo, held by bander Nick Liadis, 31 Aug 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

8 September 2022

Yesterday Charity Kheshgi and I visited Nick Liadis’ bird banding project — Birdlab — at Hays Woods, the City of Pittsburgh’s newest, most remote, and least developed park.

Nick runs Birdlab at three sites: Hays Woods plus at two private properties, Upper St. Clair and Twin Stupas in Butler County. During migration Nick is out banding six days a week unless it’s raining or windy.

Hays Woods is unique for its size and habitat so close to densely populated Downtown and Oakland. Like an oasis it’s an appealing stop for migratory birds. We were there to see Nick band five birds on a slow day compared to the day before when he banded 60!

Hays Woods, The Forest in the City (image courtesy Friends of Hays Woods)

Oakland is visible from the Hays Woods powerline cut.

Oakland in the distance, view from Hays Woods, 31 Aug 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nick has placed the mist nets in a variety of habitats. They are intentionally hard to see. When birds see the nets they avoid them.

Bird banding mist net at Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Every 30 minutes the banders walk the nets to check for birds. Lisa Kaufman assists at Hays Woods on Wednesdays. Here she is walking the powerline cut.

Walking to check the nets, 31 Aug 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Each netted bird is gently placed in its own cloth bag and brought back to the banding table. Here Nick tells Lisa what time to record.

Nick Liadis and Lisa Kaufman, bird banding at Hays Woods, 7 Sept 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s an ovenbird.

Ovenbird to be banded, held by Nick Liadis, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

To age the birds Nick checks their wings, tail and body feathers for molt stage. Below he points out the very faint fault bars on the tail feathers that indicate feather growth. If all the bars line up, then these tail feathers grew in at the same time, which means the bird is still wearing his very first tail feathers and thus hatched this year.

Examine the feathers for molt stage and age, ovenbird at Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nick blows on the belly of a Nashville warbler to check the lump of fat that is fuel for migration. This Nashville warbler had a high fat score so he may be ready to leave tonight for his wintering grounds in Mexico.

Checking the fat score on a Nashville warbler, Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Nashville warblers are one of the smallest birds but it’s not noticeable until they are in the hand. Nick prepares to apply the band.

Applying the band to a Nashville warbler, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Nick holds an ovenbird after banding.

Bander Nick Liadis holds an ovenbird, Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Each of us got to release a banded warbler.

Kate St. John holds an American restart before releasing it, Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
Charity Kheshgi holds an ovenbird before releasing it, Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

And we learned how much northern cardinals hate to be captured. Cardinals of all ages screech and bite! We were grateful not to hold one.

Female northern cardinal awaits her bands, Hays Woods, 7 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

To learn more about Nick’s banding project and schedule a visit, see his website at birdlab.org.

Support Nick’s efforts with a donation at his GoFundMe site: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-nick-to-conserve-birds-their-habitats.

(photos by Kate St. John and Charity Kheshgi)

Schenley Park Outing: August 28, 8:30am

Pokeweed fruits, Schenley Park, 13 August 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 August 2022

Late August fruits, flowers, and insects put on a show while songbirds gather to migrate south.

Join me for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park next Sunday, August 28, 8:30am to 10:30am.

Meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street near Panther Hollow Road to see birds, fall flowers, fruits, and seeds. Fingers crossed that we get to see a confusing fall warbler.

Dress for the weather — including sun hat + water — and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit the Events page in case of changes or cancellations. The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning.

Hope to see you there!

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. If you’ve read yesterday’s blog — Eradicated by Deer — this is an opportunity to see what I mean.

Who Eats a Mile-a-Minute?

Mile-a-minute weed in Frick Park, July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 August 2022

For 24 days — 5-29 August 2022 — a team of goats and their guard donkey from Allegheny Goatscape are back in Frick Park eating invasive plants.

One of their targets is invasive mile-a-minute (Persicaria perfoliata). It has thorns all over it …

Mile-a-minute weed in fruit (photo by Kate St. John)

.. but the goats eat it anyway. The challenge will be: Can they eat it fast enough?

Learn how mile-a-minute got to North America in the article below. Pennsylvania is involved!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Yesterday at Schenley Park on 7/31

Pileated woodpecker, May 2020 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

1 August 2022

Twelve of us met in Schenley Park yesterday morning and walked East Circuit Road in search of birds. As expected in late July the birds were quiet, though we did manage to see or hear 27 species. Our checklist is here and listed at the end.

Best Bird was a pileated woodpecker hammering on a fallen log in the darkest woods. The photo above is not from our walk. Chad+Chris Saladin had better light for their photo in May 2020.

I forgot to take a picture of the group. 🙁 Here is my one photo from the walk: Yellow hawkweed (Pilosella caespitosa) blooming in the grass.

Hawkweed blooming at Schenley Park, 31 July 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

eBird checklist: Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Jul 31, 2022 8:30A – 10:30A
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 8
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 4
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1
Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus) 2
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 5
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) 1 Heard
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 7
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 6
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 3 Young with obvious gape-beak
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 2
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 1
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) 1 Heard one making agitated call
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 15
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 2
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 2
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 1
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 5

(pileated woodpecker photo by Chad+Chris Saladin; hawkweed photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, July 31, 8:30am

Pickerel weed (photo by Kate St. John)

26 July 2022

In late July, songbirds are wrapping up the breeding season and it’s summer flower time.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, July 31, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Meet at the Westinghouse Memorial to walk Circuit Drive near the Falloon Trail.  We’ll see pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) at the fountain and goldfinches and chipping sparrows at the golf course.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring water, a sun hat, binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit my Events page in case of changes or cancellations. The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning.

Hope to see you there!

(photo by Kate St. John)

Count Turkeys in PA

Wild turkeys in Central Pennsylvania, Sept 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 July 2022

Once again it’s time to count wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in Pennsylvania.

Every year the PA Game Commission conducts a statewide Wild Turkey Sighting Survey, July 1 to August 31, to collect data on the size and makeup of our wild turkey population.

They ask for the public’s help to report what we see on the Turkey Brood Survey website. It’s pretty easy to do.

  • The survey runs from July 1 to August 31.
  • Count the turkeys you see and use the Survey page to enter the data
    • Record the location where you see them.
    • Count “big” versus “little” birds — adult vs juvenile.
    • Record the sex for all adults, if possible. (Consult the Wild Turkey Poster.)
    • Don’t double count. See the Survey page for more info on this.
    • Give some basic contact info in case PGC has questions.

Here are two photos to give you practice counting: (1) “Big” and “Little” birds, and (2) Count the flock.

Wild turkeys, mother and juveniles, July 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Wild turkeys in central Pennsylvania (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

How many did you count?

Get outdoors with the Wild Turkey Sighting Survey.

p.s. I fear there will be a low/zero count of turkeys in the city. They used to be plentiful in Frick and Schenley Parks but not anymore.

UPDATE on 2 Aug 2022: Turkeys have declined in Pennsylvania from a high of 280,000 twenty years ago (2001) to 159,000 last year (2021). The PA Game Commission is conducting a study to find out why.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

By The 4th Of July

Cornfield in early July in Ontario (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4 July 2022

Some Rules of Thumb for Nature are timed “by the 4th of July.” Here are three. Can you think of more?

Corn is knee high by the 4th of July. Or at least it should be. This year in Minnesota there was worry that it might not come true. KARE 11 in Minneapolis reports:

Native rhododendrons bloom by 4th of July in the Laurel Highlands. Cultivated rhododendrons bloom in May because they’ve been bred to do so.

Rhododendron blooming, Fern Cliff, Ohiopyle, 1 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Most songbirds stop singing around the 4th of July. Others will follow this month.

Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)

Birds sing to attract mates and maintain their nesting territories. Those that migrate to Central and South America are on such a tight schedule that they finish nesting and stop singing by early to mid July. Song sparrows, robins, and cardinals are still singing because they have new nests this month.

When is the last time you heard a Baltimore oriole sing? For that matter, when did you last see one? He won’t leave until September but he is far more discreet than he was in May.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, Kate St. John and Steve Gosser)

Today at Frick Park, Nine Mile Run

We gather before the hike at Frick Park, Commercial Street, 26 June 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

26 June 2022

Thirteen of us gathered in humid cloudy conditions to walk the Frick Park boardwalk at Commercial Street. While we were in the trail parking lot we saw and heard an indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager. The day was getting off to a good start.

The mystery flower that I posted on Thursday/Friday turned to be a false sunflower. I had to pluck and examine a petal to be sure.

False sunflower at Frick (photo by Kate St. John)

I hoped for orchard orioles and they didn’t disappoint. We saw six of them, certainly two families and one feeding young.

Our fleeting glimpses of two yellow-billed cuckoos were close to “Best Bird” but Charity Kheshgi did not see them well so she and Connie went back to the area for a better look. They found a black-billed cuckoo that hung around for an hour!

Black-billed cuckoo at Frick Park at Nine Mile Run, 26 June 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We had a great time on a cloudy and not-too-hot day.

See our checklist at https://ebird.org/checklist/S113823266 and listed below:

  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)  2    Fleeting glimpses on branch & each in flight, one after the other. Clear look at cinnamon highlights on one of them. 
  • Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)  4
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)  2
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  2
  • Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  4    2 loudly begging juvies
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  6
  • Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  2
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)  1
  • Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  2
  • Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)  5
  • Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  4
  • Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  9
  • Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  4
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)  6
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)  1
  • Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  1
  • European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  2
  • Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  3
  • American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  3
  • Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  6
  • American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  4
  • Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  5
  • Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)  6
  • Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)  1    Very wet and ragged looking
  • Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  5
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)  3
  • Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  6
  • Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)  1
  • Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)  1
  • Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  10    Many pairs. ?Working on 2nd broods?
  • Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)  1

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Revisiting Cow Parsnip

Kate stands next to cow parsnip at Mingo Creek County Park, 1 June 2013 and 18 June 2022 (photos by Dianne Machesney)

23 June 2022

Last Saturday the Wissahickon Nature Club celebrated its 80th Anniversary with a picnic at Mingo Creek County Park. We always come early and take a hike before lunch, the same hike every time.

As we walked the trail we encountered cow parsnip whose identity I had forgotten yet again. When Dianne Machesney reminded me of its name I remembered blogging about it after another Wissahickon picnic. When was that? 2013!

In the two photos above I am standing next to cow parsnip at Mingo Creek on 1 June 2013 (left) and 18 June 2022 (right).

I have aged in nine years but some things are the same. I’m still using the same binoculars and walking stick and I’m wearing the same pants and shirt, unseen under the jackets. (My hiking clothes are rugged.)

This year’s cow parsnip is shorter than the one we found nine years ago and it has gone to seed, perhaps because we came 2.5 weeks later or because climate change has advanced it.

Learn about cow parsnip, including a lively discussion about its downsides. And no, cow parsnip is not the same at giant hogweed!

See more photos and our list of sightings at Wissahickon Nature Club: Trip Report Mingo Creek County Park June 18, 2022

(both photos by Dianne Machesney)