Category Archives: Deer

Puzzling Objects Seen This Week

Leaf-out reveals the browseline, Schenley Park, 5 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 May 2024

This week I photographed a few puzzling objects for the record.

When I took a photo of Full Leaf trees in Schenley Park on 5 May I noticed something newly visible in the presence of leaves. Can you see it?

Look at the center of the photo where the path disappears in the distance. Above the path is a gap that allows you to see further under the trees. The gap flows to the right and follows the contour of the hillside. That’s the browseline, the cumulative effect of too many deer eating at the same location over and over.

I saw a native(!) honeysuckle this week. Pink with fused leaves, it’s called limber or glaucous honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica).

Limber or glaucous honeysuckle, Moraine State Park, 7 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Was this a cattle egret at Moraine State Park? If so it was a rare bird! Nope. It’s a white bag.

Cattle Egret at Moraine State Park? (photo by Kate St. John, 7 May 2024)

On 3 May a leaf-footed bug appeared to walk across the sky.

Leaf-footed bug walks across the sky, 3 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

During the Pittsburgh Marathon Dippy the dinosaur watched near the halfway mark.

Dippy wears black and gold for the Pittsburgh Marathon, 5 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

What puzzles will we see this week?

Seen This Week

Bloodroot blooming at Independence Marsh, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 April 2024

This week March went out like a lamb and April came in like a lion.

After photographing garden flowers on Easter morning I traveled out to Independence Marsh in Beaver County. I did not find my target bird, rusty blackbirds, but I did find spring flowers: Dutchmans breeches, cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot (above) and the first tiny bloom on shooting star (below).

Early bloom on shooting star, Independence Marsh, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

As soon as March was over, things went wrong. I should have known when I saw this troubled sky of mammatus clouds on Saturday, 30 March. Not a good sign.

Mammatus clouds presage a week of rain, snow and graupel in Pittsburgh, 30 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

It rained and rained and rained on April 1-3, setting a record of 2.68 inches on April 2. Streams and basements were hit hard while the rain was falling. The rivers rose, as shown at at Duck Hollow on 4 April with the Monongahela River at parking lot level. (more flood photos and videos here)

Duck Hollow parking lot — A River Runs Through It — 4 April 2024, 7:19am ET

Later that same day, Thursday 4 April, the temperature fell and so did graupel.

Graupel falls o n4 April 2024 (video by Kate St. John)

Today it’s cold but the precipitation has finally stopped.

Meanwhile ….Remember those beautiful tulips I posted last Sunday, Easter morning?

BEFORE –> Tulips on N. Neville St on Easter morning, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

And remember the deer I saw between two highrises in Oakland on 24 March?

A deer browsing the garden at a highrise in Pittsburgh, 5:30am 24 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Well, the two met up and the tulips did not fare well.

AFTER –> Same tulips eaten by deer on N. Neville St as of 2 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

That was on N Neville Street. Here’s N Craig Street.

BEFORE –> Tulips in front of a highrise on N Craig St, Easter morning, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
AFTER –> Tulips eaten by deer on N Craig St, 4 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Deer damage has come to the “asphalt jungle.”

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week: Ducks, a Swan and Leaf Out

Blue-winged teal, Moraine State Park, 27 March 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

30 March 2024

A Wednesday trip to Moraine State Park was cold and gray but quite worthwhile. We saw 300(!) red-breasted mergansers, many ring-necked ducks, blue-winged teal and a rare bird — a trumpeter swan. Charity Kheshgi’s photos show off the teal and swan.

Trumpeter swan, Moraine State Park, 27 March 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) are “the heaviest living bird native to North America and the largest extant species of waterfowl.” They were nearly extinct in 1933 — only 70 remained in the wild — but several thousand were then found in Alaska. “Careful re-introductions by wildlife agencies and the Trumpeter Swan Society gradually restored the North American wild population to over 46,000 birds by 2010.” The trumpeter at Moraine is one of their descendants. (quotes from Wikipedia)

Spring is 20 days early in Pittsburgh this year. To prove it the yellow buckeye trees were in near-full-leaf on Thursday 28 March in Schenley Park.

Yellow buckeye leaves open and green, Schenley Park, 28 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

They are 8 days later than the astoundingly early spring of March 2012. Click here to read about that year.

Comparing two springs, yellow buckeyes’ early leaf-out, Schenley, March 2012 and 2024 (photos by Kate St. John)

Early spring is the hungriest time of year for deer in Pennsylvania because they’ve already eaten all the easy-to-reach food. When the deer population is greater than the area’s carrying capacity they seek out food in unusual places. Thus I was amazed but not surprised to see a deer browsing the bushes next to our highrise at 5:30am. There is nothing to eat down there. There is nothing to eat anywhere near here.

A deer browses at a highrise in Pittsburgh, 5:30am 24 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week

Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 7 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 February 2024

Beautiful sunrises, calm reflections and high water at Duck Hollow were on tap this week in Pittsburgh.

Wind-less clear skies along the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 4 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pastel sunrise on 8 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The week began as Winter but ended even warmer than early Spring. The tulips in my neighborhood are well above ground, fortunately without flower buds. One week from today, on 17 Feb, the weather forecast calls for temperatures as low as 19°F.

These tulips think it’s already spring, Pittsburgh, 7 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The tulips survive in my too-many-deer neighborhood because they’re surrounded by buildings and tall fences with no obvious exit other than a narrow driveway.

I thought that the maze of buildings and driveways would protect these Japanese yews in front of Newell-Simon Hall at Carnegie Mellon, but deer found their way in and munched the bushes down to sticks. There’s a lot more to eat here. The deer will be back.

Deer damaged yews at Newell-Simon Hall, CMU, 7 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week + Pittsburgh’s Deer Won This Round

Afternoon light in Schenley Park, 3 Jan 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 January 2024

Pittsburgh had a rare moment of sunshine on 3 January. I was happy to be outdoors during the Golden Hour in Schenley Park.

This El Niño winter has been so warm that bulbs sprouted in my neighborhood in December. Here are four of the many I found on New Years Eve. That exposed bulb would never have survived in a normal winter like those we used to have just a decade ago.

Flower shoots emerge on New Year’s Eve, 31 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pittsburgh’s deer won this round.

At Carnegie Museum in Oakland this week I discovered that deer damage near the rear parking lot was so severe that gardeners removed all the Japanese yews. It took two years and an ever-burgeoning deer population to reach this stage.

All the yews have been removed at Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, 3 Jan 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last August there were fewer yews than in 2022 because the damaged ones had been removed. Unfortunately the deer were severely browsing the now exposed healthy yews.

Damaged yews at Carnegie Museum in August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s what they looked like in August 2022. Those in front had been eaten bare and died. The next tier was severely browsed and those in back were still normal because the dead and dying yews protected them.

Deer damage on yews at Carnegie Museum, 16 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

The bank of yews could not survive with so many deer.

Fewer Deer In The Road

Deer crossing sign on a residential street (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5 December 2023

Back in early September I urged us all to start paying attention and Be Careful Out There! Deer in the Road. Deer were restless in the run-up to the rut and had started to move around. From late October through November they mindlessly crossed in front of traffic, but now in early December the bulk of the rut is over and soon (if not already) there are fewer deer in the road. We can almost relax our vigilance because …

Chasing each other: During the rut — October and November — bucks roam in search of mates and chase does on the move. Driven by hormones, all of them ignore vehicles in the heat of sexual pursuit.

Deer crossing the road in northwestern Ohio (photo by Starley Shelton via Flickr Creative Commons license)

After the rut deer calm down and return to their home range where they stay December to September. Home ranges in Pennsylvania’s forests are approximately 800 acres (a 1.2 mile radius) and in urban areas just 100-300 acres. Even if the range includes road crossing(s) deer are not chasing each other and they know about cars. Many now watch and wait for traffic. Females that pay attention to vehicles live to reproduce and teach their fawns to watch and wait (when it’s not the rut).

Never run from hunters: Some people say that deer run into traffic to get away from hunters but studies have shown that the animals use a completely different strategy. They never run to evade hunters. Instead they stay put and hide.

Since 2013 Penn State’s Deer-Forest Study has tagged and tracked more than 1,200 white-tailed deer around 100 square miles of Pennsylvania forest. In the process they’ve learned that successful deer, the ones that survive hunting seasons, actually know when hunting is about to start and search for a good hiding place in advance. Then each day before dawn (hunters cannot hunt until after dawn) deer go to their hiding places and wait quietly until the afternoon when the hunters have left the woods.

One tracked doe’s hiding spot was incredibly hard for people to reach and impossible to sneak up on. Read about a family’s visit to Hillside Doe’s Hiding Spot.

Watch Hillside Doe’s movements during hunting season. She didn’t have to cross roads to get there.

video posted by Duane Diefenbach on YouTube

Deer Seasons Switch This Weekend

Deer browse at the polling place on Election Day, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by John, friend of Martha Isler)

24 November 2023

Deer hunting seasons are changing this weekend in Pennsylvania. Archery season will pause tomorrow (25 Nov) until the day after Christmas (26 Dec) because Deer Rifle Season begins on Saturday 25 November and runs through 9 December including THIS SUNDAY 26 November.

CORRECTION! (Thanks to Noelle’s comment) The archery hunt in Frick and Riverview Parks does take a pause in December but those dates match Allegheny County’s Archery season, not the statewide dates listed above. Engage Pittsburgh lists the 2023 archery dates in the City of Pittsburgh as: Saturday, September 30 – Saturday, December 9* and Tuesday, December 26 – Saturday, January 27 (2024)* *Excluding Sundays.

Meanwhile, the City’s deer are wise to what’s going on and have left Frick Park to browse their way through the neighborhoods. The pair pictured above visited a Squirrel Hill polling place on Election Day.

Deer hunting will be particularly intense in the countryside this weekend so wear orange if you go for a walk in the woods!

Wear Orange sign (PA Game Commission), Blaze Orange Vest available on Amazon

The PA Game Commission’s 2023-2024 Hunting and Trapping Pocket Guide lists the seasons in a nutshell. I’ve highlighted the remaining deer hunting days. Pink+arrow indicates Archery days in the City of Pittsburgh. We are in WMU 2B.

Deer Hunting Dates in PA, 25 November 2023 – 27 January 2024
excerpt from PA Game Commission’s 2023-2024 Hunting and Trapping Pocket Guide

WMUs for the extended hunts are circled below.

PGC Wildlife Management Units map

(credits are in the captions)

Chances Are You’ll Hit a Deer in PA

Deer crossing a road at dusk (photo by “i threw a guitar at him” via Flickr Creative Commons license)

8 October 2023

Fall is deer crash season in Pennsylvania. November, October and December, in that order, are the highest months for deer collisions because the animals are on the move in the breeding season.

During the rut, bucks travel an average of 3-6 miles per day searching for and chasing does in heat. Females split from their fawns when they find a mate and the youngsters wander. All age groups are crossing roads more frequently and all of them are distracted.

In Pennsylvania it’s especially important to stay alert because our high deer population increases the odds of a collision. Last month State Farm Insurance reported:

 State Farm estimates over 1.8 million auto insurance claims were filed across the industry from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023 involving animal collisions. Pennsylvania had the highest number of claims out of all the states, with an estimated 153,397 claims for the same time period.

Nationwide the odds of U.S. drivers hitting an animal are 1 in 127 this year. Drivers in West Virginia held on to the number one spot with the least favorable odds at 1 in 38. Montana (1 in 53), Pennsylvania (1 in 59), Michigan (1 in 60), Wisconsin (1 in 60) round out the top five most likely states to hit an animal while on the road.

State Farm: Likelihood of Hitting an Animal While Driving, 12 Sept 2023

PennDOT’s heat map of deer-vehicle collisions on state roads shows particularly high deer collisions in several areas including Allegheny County.

PennDOT heat map of deer-vehicle collisions on PennDOT roads in 2022 (generated at crashinfo.penndot.gov)

In fact PennDOT statistics show that for 2018-2022 Allegheny County leads all Pennsylvania counties in deer-vehicle collisions. Your chance of hitting a deer in Pittsburgh is particularly high.

Deer spooked near the road in WV (photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Statewide the odds of hitting a deer — or a deer hitting you! — are 1 in 59 and probably higher in Pittsburgh. This means that each one of us knows someone who will hit a deer in the year ahead. It might be us.

Stay alert behind the wheel, especially at dawn and dusk. Watch out!

Read more about deer-vehicle collisions at WESA: Deer Danger: Pennsylvania is No. 1 in the U.S. for car crashes with animals.

(credits are in the captions; click on the links to see the originals)

p.s. An interesting statistic from Cornell University’s Community Deer Advisor website:

Hunter harvest is the primary cause of white-tailed deer mortality in rural landscapes, while deer in suburban landscapes are more likely to die in deer-vehicle collisions. [p.10]

Managing a deer herd via vehicle collisions is both inhumane and costly for community residents. [p.30]

Cornell University: Integrated Approach for Managing White-tailed Deer in Suburban Environments

Dress For Hunting Season

I’m dressed for hunting season, winter 2021-2022 (photo by Linda Roth)

30 September 2023

Stylish blaze orange over purple, accented by a dayglo yellow hat!

Birders and hikers are out in the woods at all times of year. You don’t have to look as eccentric as I do but it’s important to dress for success during deer and wild turkey seasons in Pennsylvania.

Allegheny County has so many deer that bow hunting (Deer Archery Season) has been allowed in municipalities and County Parks for many years. This fall is the first time it will occur in the Frick and Riverview Parks. Some city dwellers are nervous, especially those who don’t spend time in the woods or in North or South Parks where hunting is allowed.

Bow season — officially called DEER, ARCHERY (Antlered and Antlerless) Season — runs Statewide in Pennsylvania Mondays to Saturdays, Sept 30 – Nov 17 (Nov 24 in Allegheny County) and Dec 26 – Jan 15 (Jan 27 in Allegheny County).

Here is my message to park users. I am not worried because …

For many years I’ve hiked in the woods alone even during hunting season including at Moraine State Park. I wear orange so I can be seen. You should too (blaze orange shown above). I understand being worried because this is a new experience for most park users. Thirty years ago I was worried because it was new to me. Experience put my fears to rest. I have *never* encountered a problem in 30 years of hiking during hunting season nor have any of my birding friends who are out in the woods as well. It is rare to see a hunter except in the parking lot. They are never hunting in the parking lot.

So dress for hunting season. And don’t expect to see a hunter. The hunters are in tree stands deep in the woods where the deer are, not where people are. (Don’t miss my update below.)

I encourage you to read all about bow hunting in Frick and Riverview at WESA-FM: Bowhunting season in two city parks will begin September 30 and at the City of Pittsburgh’s Deer FAQ webpages: Pittsburgh Deer Management Pilot Program

If you want to know about the City of Pittsburgh’s deer overpopulation read my Deer Category here. (Some of the articles are on more general topics with photos of deer in Frick and Schenley.)


UPDATE, noon on 30 Sept: I went birding in Frick Park this morning for 2.5 hours and saw zero hunters and among all the other visitors only one person wore blaze orange. When the day warmed up I took off my coat and gave up on my orange running vest. This is what I wore. (OK, so I broke my own rule but really, there were lots and lots of people and no hunters in sight.)

For all my preaching, this is what I ended up wearing at Frick Park on 30 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Note: PA Game seasons have many special dates, times and arms. Click here to download a pocket guide that lists all the nuances for 2023-2024.

p.s. I have corrected the text to reflect this change: Hunters wear orange during firearms season but bow hunters wear camouflage because they wait in tree stands for the deer to walk beneath them.

(photos by Linda Roth and Kate St. John)

Seen This Week

Turtleheads blooming in Schenley Park, 3 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 September 2023

Seen this week:

Turtleheads and late boneset flowers at Schenley Park. Do you see the honeybee?

Honeybee flies to late boneset, Schenley Park, 4 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A rainbow with crows over Oakland.

Rainbow over Shadyside on 7 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fiery sunset on 7 September.

Fiery sunset on 7 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Six deer in Schenley Park — only 5 made it into the photo.

Five of six does in Schenley Park along the Bridle Trail, 4 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

But there’s a photo of deer I wish I’d been able to take: Friday morning 8 September along 5th Ave between the Cathedral of Learning and Clapp Hall I saw 3 deer — 2 does and 1 fawn — standing on the pavement at Clapp Hall. They were close to the curb of 5th Ave at Tennyson as they tried to figure out how to cross 5th Ave during rush hour.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Right now there are 2 flamingos in PA in Franklin County east of Chambersburg.