Beautiful sunrises, calm reflections and high water at Duck Hollow were on tap this week in Pittsburgh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bank of yews could not survive with so many deer.
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.
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.
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!
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.
PennDOT’s heat map of deer-vehicle collisions on state roads shows particularly high deer collisions in several areas including Allegheny County.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
Turtleheads and late boneset flowers at Schenley Park. Do you see the honeybee?
A rainbow with crows over Oakland.
Fiery sunset on 7 September.
Six deer in Schenley Park — only 5 made it into the photo.
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.
A year ago I learned that deer are really easy to find and photograph in Schenley Park in August but suddenly much harder to find in September. As their breeding season, called the rut, approaches its November peak deer become secretive in the woods(*). However, the rut prompts them to move around a lot so they sprint across the road. Their behavior in past six days has borne that out already.
On a walk in Schenley Park on 1 September I saw four bucks resting in their usual spot near the Upper Trail. One buck had just shed velvet from his 9-point antlers which were bloody from the missing velvet. With him were one 8-point and two 4-point bucks. Shedding velvet is the first obvious sign of the rut and the biggest buck was ready.
Two days later, on 3 September, only one 4-point buck remained in that resting place. The others were somewhere secret and moving around. That night I heard two reports of deer collisions in the city. These don’t end up in the deer-killed-by-cars statistics if the deer are only stunned:
Mary at 8:15pm posted a comment on my blog: “Off-topic but I wanted to let you know that a deer and car collided this evening around 730 pm on Schenley Drive near the library. Deer sat on the side of the road for a while. Then stood up as people gathered around.”
In the city, deer have to cross roads to get anywhere especially in Schenley Park. The deer pictured below are on a virtual traffic island — Flagstaff Hill — surrounded by cars. When I took this picture in April they weren’t charged up with breeding hormones so they ambled or trotted across the road instead of sprinting.
But now we can expect a lot more accidents in the months ahead. Collisions don’t end well for deer.
And they don’t end well for cars.
So be careful out there! Watch out for deer in the road.
Learn more about cars and deer in this vintage article.
p.s. Yesterday City Council approved two bills that will begin deer management in the City of Pittsburgh. When the bills were introduced last week the public made comments on hunt vs no-hunt yet no matter where someone stood on that spectrum everyone agreed there are too many deer in Pittsburgh.
The first step in City Deer Management will be a pilot program bow hunt in Frick and Riverview this fall. It will not solve the deer overpopulation problem but is the first step in deer management and is required by the PA Game Commission.
Here are three of the many news articles about City Deer Management in Pittsburgh. Please don’t ask me how the hunt will be conducted. I don’t know that answer.
The white-tailed deer population in the City of Pittsburgh has been so high for so long that most people think the browse line in our parks is normal, but the light-gap you see under the trees above is not normal in a balanced forest. It’s a sign of deer overpopulation. Here’s what a browse line is and how deer maintain it.
Browse line: A phenomenon that occurs when herbivores consume all of the vegetation in the woods between the ground and the level of their highest reach. A clearly visible line is formed between the leafed and the leafless areas.
Is the browse line hard to recognize in the photo above? Here’s an extreme example.
This eye-level view of the Grande Allée of horse chestnut trees at the Tuileries in Paris is a man-made browse line in which gardeners trim the trees and clear the ground to maintain an opening beneath the trees at uniform height. Nothing is growing between the ground and the trimmed height.
An individual deer browsing the ground and lower branches of trees does not create the browse line. It’s the cumulative effect of too many deer eating at the same location over and over.
Last Friday I watched two 8-point bucks, antlers in velvet, maintain the browse line next to the Upper Trail at Schenley Park. The current browse line, seen in the video, is that clear view straight through the woods to the cars passing on the road beyond.
In the video the bucks eat herbaceous stems and leaves on the ground, then switch to twigs, leaves and stems of trees. About halfway in, the buck on the right stands on his hind legs to reach the lowest branches. The buck on the left wrestles with a tree to yank off the branches. Deer only have lower teeth so they can’t sharply bite off a branch like a beaver would.
In late August, when forage should be quite plentiful, these bucks are forced to eat their own cover and what little remains of the edible plants.
p.s. Here’s what the forest would look like if there was no browse line.
In the city of Pittsburgh there are so many white-tailed deer that it’s easy to see them in August. The bucks are eating, eating, eating to bulk up. The does are hanging out with their adolescent fawns in this brief period between birthing and mating. It’s the calm before the rut.
Last Friday morning I found eight deer resting in dappled shade in Schenley Park. My cellphone photos don’t do them justice except for this: The photos show how hard it is to notice deer that are lying down and not moving.
A few of them moved, however, grooming to shed their chestnut brown summer coats for gray-brown winter pelage. The photo above shows four bucks with antlers in velvet, each with a different point count: 4-point, 6-point, 7-point and 8-point.
Two does and two fawns rested a short distance from the males. The fawns gave the group away. They did not hold still for long. (The second doe is not in the photo.)
One week earlier it was impossible not to see this six-point buck browsing the hillside right next to the Lower Trail.
He’s leaving a lot of greenery behind but the leaves he’s not eating are unpalatable invasive aliens called goutweed. The buck is nosing through them to re-browse the deer-food plants hidden below the goutweed. Those food plants won’t recover this late in the season. All the food will be gone and he won’t be back to this spot.
In August the days are still longer than the nights and deer hormones are not surging yet but it’s only a matter of time and the Equinox before their sedate demeanor ends. According to the PA Game Commission, after 12 weeks of rut excitement from mid October through early January:
98% of the mature does will have bred
40% of the fawns will have bred at only 6-7 months old (city/suburb phenomenon)
85% of the pregnancies will result in twins or triplets, some with different fathers.
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