Category Archives: Schenley Park

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.

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.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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

How Deer Create a Browse Line

Browse line in Schenley Park — gap below the trees — at the entrance to the Upper Trail, 18 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 August 2023

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.

paraphrased from Blue Jay Barrens: Fallen Trees and Browse lines, May 2011

Is the browse line hard to recognize in the photo above? Here’s an extreme example.

Tuileries Garden in Paris, a man-made browse line (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Two bucks reinforce the browse line in Schenley Park, 18 Aug 2023 (video by Kate St. John)

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.

Buck in velvet has no cover to hide him, Schenley Park, Aug 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Here’s what the forest would look like if there was no browse line.

No browse line here, August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing: August 27, 8:30am

Wingstem, Schenley Park, August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

21 August 2023

Late summer flowers are blooming, bugs are buzzing, and the migrating birds are on the move.

Join me for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park next Sunday, August 27, 8:30am to 10:30am. Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road joins Schenley Drive.

In addition to birds and flowers, this walk it will take a look at two huge effects humans have had on the landscape, both direct and indirect. Heavy equipment and deer.

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)

The Calm Before The Rut: Deer in August

6-point buck in Schenley Park, 4 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

13 August 2023

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.

Four bucks resting in Schenley Park, 11 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.)

Doe and two fawns resting in Schenley Park, 11 Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

One week earlier it was impossible not to see this six-point buck browsing the hillside right next to the Lower Trail.

Deer eating in Schenley Park, 4 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

Buck browsing in Schenley Park, 4 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

It’s calm now before the storm.

Schenley Park suffers from its overabundant deer population. See this article for more information: The Forest Lives in Mortal Fear of Its Deer.

A NOTE TO COMMENTERS: Some interesting threads have developed in the comments with new readers weighing. Please note that comments on this blog are moderated and may be edited for clarity. Comments that could inflame others will be edited or deleted.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Panther Hollow Lake Refills

Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 1 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 July 2023

Yesterday I was curious about the status of Panther Hollow Lake after I’d found it more than half drained out on Friday 23 June. I was out of town last week so yesterday was my first opportunity to see what happened. Happily, Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works and PWSA fixed the leak while I was away. The lake is refilling slowly as it rains.

These before and after slides show the same views on 23 June and 1 July.

Formerly a sea of mud, it now has water.

  • Panther Hollow Lake is empty here, 23 June 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
  • Panther Hollow Lake, cone in the mud, 23 June 2023

Here’s the drain on 23 June with mud at the outflow and water on 1 July.

  • Panther Hollow Lake going down the drain, 23 June 2023

(photos by Kate St. John)

Panther Hollow Lake Found Empty Last Friday

Panther Hollow Lake bottom exposed, 23 June 2023, 8:38am (photo by Kate St. John)

27 June 2023

On my Friday morning walk in Schenley Park (23 June 2023) the first thing I noticed from the Upper Trail was that Panther Hollow Lake looked really odd. When I got down to the edge I found out why. The lake had drained out, leaving half of it a sea of mud.

Panther Hollow Lake was built in 1892 by damming Panther Hollow Run and directing its outflow to a sewer pipe containing its original drainage, Four Mile Run, plus sewage. Last week something went wrong at the outflow point and the lake emptied.

Panther Hollow Lake, drained out at this outflow point, 23 June 2023, 8:56am (photo by Kate St. John)

Within 15 minutes of my Friday call to Pittsburgh 311, employees from two City Departments arrived on the scene. By mid-morning the Department of Public Works and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority were working to fix the outflow.

DPW at Panther Hollow Lake outflow awaiting PWSA, 23 June 2023, 10:15am (photo by Kate St. John)

Today (27 June) Panther Hollow Lake is probably filling again but I’m out of town and haven’t had a chance to see it. If you visit the lake this week, leave a comment to let me know how it looks.

Meanwhile, this episode does not fix Panther Hollow Lake’s underlying problems of summer algae blooms and its unnatural concrete edge that prohibits lakeside vegetation. The algae blooms in part because the lake is shallow. The lake is shallow because it’s passing through the normal life cycle of a lake, illustrated in this diagram from NHLakes: The Life of a Lake.

diagram from The Life of a Lake at

Once formed, lakes do not stay the same. Like people, they go through different life stages—youth, maturity, old age, and death. All lakes, even the largest, slowly disappear as their basins fill with sediment and plant material. The natural aging of a lake happens very slowly, over the course of hundreds and even thousands of years. But with human influence, it can take only decades.

… Eventually, the lake becomes a marsh, bog, or swamp. At this point, the drying-up process slows down dramatically; limnologists aren’t sure why. Eventually, the lake becomes dry land.

The Life Cycle of Lakes, National Geographic

At this point eutrophic Panther Hollow Lake is “old” and somewhat like a marsh, a state that can last a long time without much change. But the lake’s 130 year history is filled with human intervention, from construction in 1892, through two “renovations” (1909 and 1957), and plans made in 2010-2016 to renovate again. Those plans fell through last November and put Panther Hollow Lake on hold.

Last Friday’s drain-out will likely restart the planning process. Meanwhile, the marsh attracted two rare birds in late April (American bittern and sora) and still has nesting red-winged blackbirds. On Friday the remaining “puddle” at the deep end held two Canada geese and a great blue heron, both unbothered by low water.

Two Canada geese and a great blue heron are not bothered by low water, 23 June 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Curious about the life stages of a lake? See:

(photos by Kate St. John, diagram courtesy

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)

I Miss The Schenley Park Foxes

Fox kits in Schenley Park, 25 April 2020 (photo by Frank Izaguirre)

28 April 2023

Three years ago this week, five little foxes came out every day to play inside the fence surrounding their den under the Neill Log House in Schenley Park. At the end of April 2020 their antics were a bright spot in sixth week of the COVID shutdown and attracted a crowd.

Five little foxes attract a crowd in Schenley Park, 27 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

After the fox family dispersed, Public Works cleaned up the log house basement and blocked access to the den. In the spring of 2021 the family denned in a rock outcrop below the Falloon Trail but that must have been too close to people and dogs. They haven’t been back since then.

When I saw this Twitter video by @urbanponds_101 I remembered the Schenley Park foxes.

Gosh, I miss them!

(photos by Frank Izaguirre and Kate St. John; Twitter embed from @urbanponds_101)

Nowhere To Hide

Two deer at Schenley Park, 24 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

17 April 2023

At the end of winter Pennsylvania’s landscape has very little cover yet wildlife still needs shelter, especially from bad weather. Normally birds and animals would hide in thick bushes and shrubs but the deer population in Schenley Park is so high that they’ve denuded the thickets, including bush honeysuckle, even though it provides them with good shelter and is not a favorite food.

Without cover the deer were easy to see in Schenley Park’s barren woods in late March. The deer pictured below was camouflaged in plain sight until it moved.

One deer camouflaged on barren hillside, Schenley Park, 24 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Evergreen bushes could provide shelter but the yews have been browsed literally to death as the deer population has grown exponentially in Schenley in the past couple of years. The white backdrop at Frick Fine Arts building shows the damage typical of all yews near the park.

Deer damage on yews at Frick Fine Arts building, Univ of Pittsburgh, 17 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Now that the honeysuckle has leafed out it’s obvious that deer have eaten their own shelter. You can see straight through these bushes at ground level.

Browseline on honeysuckle, Trough Trail Frick Park, 13 April 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The effect of deer browse is also starkly obvious at Frick Park’s deer exclosure at Clayton East. The slideshow below gives west and north views of the fenceline, the plants growing inside the exclosure (I took a photo through the fence) and the barrens outside the fence. (I pivoted in place to show inside/outside.)

Ground-nesting birds can make a well hidden nest inside the exclosure but not outside.

The deer have eaten their own shelter as well as that of birds, rabbits and other animals in Pittsburgh’s city parks. There is nowhere to hide.

(photos by Kate St. John)