Category Archives: Books & Events

Mostly Off The Grid

Beginning this afternoon (26 April 2019) through Tuesday afternoon (30 April 2019) I’ll be birding out of cellphone range during the day. I’ll still be posting daily articles on the blog, but I won’t be able to respond to your comments until I’m back “on the grid” in the evenings. (I’m looking for warblers!)

Yesterday At Schenley Park

Five of us went birding in Schenley Park on Saturday morning April 20. The weather was great! Blue sky and puffy clouds.

Our Best Birds were a yellow-rumped warbler and two ruby-crowned kinglets chasing each other and raising their red crowns. First-of-Year Birds were fun, too: Wood thrushes, house wrens, and a spotted sandpiper. We saw 29 species: ebird checklist S55174092.

Schenley Park has few wildflowers because there are so many deer. We saw three in broad daylight on Saturday (same location as this March 27 photo). I’ve seen a herd of 21 in the past month. The flowers don’t stand a chance.

Herd of deer in Schenley Park, distant photo, 27 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fortunately the deer leave the trout lilies alone. Perhaps these plants are poisonous.

Trout lilies blooming in Schenley Park, 18 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaf Out is coming. The red oaks have very tiny leaves.

In case you’re curious, bird migration has picked up in the past two weeks. Here are the First-of-Year Birds I’ve seen in Schenley Park from April 10 to April 20, 2019.

  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis (4/10)
  • Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor (4/10)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula (4/11)
  • Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus (4/11)
  • Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius (4/12)
  • Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis (4/17)
  • Broad-winged Hawk – Buteo platypterus (4/18)
  • Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum (4/18)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata (4/19)
  • Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius (4/20)
  • House Wren – Troglodytes aedon (4/20)
  • Wood Thrush – Hylocichla mustelina (4/20)

p.s. For information on future outings, see the Events page.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Sat. April 20

Redbud about to bloom, 23 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is here! Let’s get outdoors.

Meet me at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Saturday, April 20, 8:30a – 10:30a. (Note: Due to scheduling difficulties this walk is on Saturday.)

Trees and wildflower buds are bursting. New birds arrive on every south wind. I’m sure we’ll see redbuds. Will they be open?

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars! This event will be held rain or shine, but not in thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of cancellation.

Hope to see you there!

(photo of a redbud by Kate St. John)

This Morning at Duck Hollow

Birding on the Duck Hollow Trail, 31 March 2019 (photo by Ramona Sahni)

This morning at Duck Hollow fifteen of us braved wind and snow flurries to look for birds on the Monongahela River and along the Duck Hollow Trail.

Best birds were a common loon, four horned grebes, two pied-billed grebes, eastern phoebes (new arrivals), and a red-tailed hawk on its nest at the Homestead Grays Bridge. Since both male & female red-tailed hawks incubate the eggs we don’t know which parent was on the nest.

As we walked back to our cars a killdeer flew high overhead, calling.

Thanks to everyone who braved the cold weather. Such a change from yesterday’s 60 degrees!

Our eBird checklist is here: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S54418039

(photo by Ramona Sahni)

Hays Woods Public Feedback Meeting, April 3

Hays Woods is a 660 acre forest in the City of Pittsburgh (image courtesy Friends of Hays Woods)

If you care about Pittsburgh’s city parks or you’re interested in the Hays bald eagles you’ll want to attend the upcoming Hays Woods Task Force Public Feedback Meeting on Wednesday April 3 at Holy Angels Parish.

Hays Woods is a forested 600 acre tract in the City of Pittsburgh that’s so large and so remote that most people don’t know it’s there. Its forest, meadows, wetlands and streams are surrounded by steep wooded slopes that are home to the Hays bald eagles.

Most people have never set foot in Hays Woods because it’s been private property for so long. In 2016, with an eye to making it a city park, Mayor Bill Peduto worked with the URA to purchase it from Pittsburgh Development Group II. He then appointed co-chairs Former Mayor Tom Murphy and Councilman Corey O’Connor to form the Hays Woods Task Force to make recommendations on the site’s future.

A scene from Hays Woods (photo from Western PA Conservancy’s Environmental Assessment)

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at 6:30pm at Holy Angels Parish, 408 Baldwin Road, Pittsburgh PA 15234 the Hays Woods Task Force will present its draft recommendations and ask for public feedback.

As a member of the Task Force I can tell you that we’re very enthusiastic about Hays Woods and look forward to all of it becoming a low impact park.

Come find out about Hays Woods and the Task Force recommendations. Learn about the timeline as it moves from URA ownership to City public access to a full-fledged public park. Give us feedback on Hays Woods’ future.

For more information see:

(photo credits: Forest in the City courtesy Friends of Hays Woods, Bald eagle at Hays by Dana Nesiti Eagles of Hays PA, Hays woodland photograph by Western PA Conservancy, flyer from the Hays Woods Task Force)

Duck Hollow Outing, March 31, 8:30a

Male mallard (photo by Steve Gosser)

At last it feels like spring is coming. Let’s get outdoors!

Join me on my first bird and nature outing of 2019 at 
Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park on Sunday, March 31, 2019 — 8:30am to 10:00am.

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

We hope to see migrating ducks on the river and and songbirds along lower Nine Mile Run Trail in south Frick Park.

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

Hope to see you there!

NOTE! Check the Events Page before you come. Construction of the new McFarren Street Bridge at Duck Hollow begins on Monday March 11. If it affects this outing I’ll let you know on the Events page.

(photo by Steve Gosser)

How Many Blue Jays?

Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

In the winter of 2012 Pittsburghers noticed we had very few blue jays in our area. It was such a mystery that I posted an article in February asking folks to tell me if they’d seen any blue jays lately. Seven years later the responses are still coming in.

Most people respond when they don’t see any blue jays because they miss them. It turns out that blue jay frequency varies throughout the year and can drop locally when the habitat changes, especially if oaks are cut down. (Blue jays rely on acorns.)

Our blue jay count surges during spring and fall migration because a lot of them breed north of us. In Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) there’s also a mysterious mini-surge every year in mid February. What’s that about?

eBird frequency of blue jays in Allegheny County, PA, 2014-2019

See seven years of blue jay reports and musings at Have You Seen Any Blue Jays Lately?

Count your own blue jays during the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. How many birds will you find?

(image credits: Great Backyard Bird Count poster, eBird report on frequency of blue jay sightings in Allegheny County, PA, 2014-2019; click on the captions to see the originals)

Pittsburgh Parks Listening Tour, Now Through April

Schenley Park, Panther Hollow lake, April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

If you live in the City of Pittsburgh and visit our parks you’ll want to participate in this survey, available now through April 2019.

Pittsburgh has 165 parks sprinkled throughout our neighborhoods from small playgrounds to regional parks — Schenley, Frick, Riverview, Highland and the future Hays Woods. The City’s goal is to have well maintained parks within a 10-minute walk of every resident.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that infrastructure is crumbling in many of them. The park system gets big donations for capital improvements (bricks & mortar) but not for maintenance, so we have new buildings like the Frick Environmental Center but deteriorating playgrounds, landscape and trails. How do we fix that inequity and how much will it cost?

The City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy have teamed up for the Parks Listening Tour, a citywide initiative to hear what neighbors love about our parks and what they would love to improve.

The Listening Tour includes meetings in every neighborhood and online tools. Attend a meeting to find out more or go online to view the presentation and take the survey. Click here for the schedule and online tools.

This is your chance to speak up for the parks. Your comments will shape their future.

(acknowledgements: text and tour logo from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, photo of Schenley Park by Kate St. John)

Count Birds, Feb 15-18

One week from today — February 15-18 — the Great Backyard Bird Count will take a real-time snapshot of birds around the world. You can help.

Since 1998 the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) has enlisted volunteers like us to count the birds we see for four days in mid-February.  Last year our worldwide effort counted 6,459 species and nearly 29 million birds!

Everything you need to know is at birdcount.org including this slideshow that explains how to do it. It’s as easy at 1-2-3.

  1. Register for an eBird or GBBC account if you don’t already have one. (GBBC uses eBird so you don’t need both.)
  2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes during the four-day period.  You can count in more than one place and longer than 15 mins if you wish. Keep track of the highest number of each species you see with a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day.
  3. Use your computer or the eBird mobile app to submit your observations.

If you love to take photographs submit your best shots to the GBBC photo contest. Click here for contest information.

You can count birds anywhere —  in your backyard, in a park, at the shore, or on a hike.  If the weather’s bad, stay indoors and count birds at your feeders.

On your mark… Get set… Go! February 15-18, 2019

(2019 poster from birdcount.org)