Category Archives: Schenley Park

Fall Is Here

Misty walk at Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 10 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 September 2021

The weather has been pleasant with low humidity and highs in the 70s. Chilly fall mornings produce a mist on Panther Hollow Lake.

Asters are blooming right on time …

Asters (photo by Kate St. John)

… but this hawthorn tree is confused, opening two flowers and a leaf in September.

Hawthorn tree puts out two flowers and a leaf, Schenley Park, 10 September 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

This eastern screech-owl confirms it’s fall when he peeks from his well known roost on 4 September. Though screech-owls breed in Schenley Park, they only use this roost during the non-breeding season.

Eastern screech-owl at the winter roost, Schenley Park, 4 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

My least favorite hot weather will return tomorrow through Tuesday, forewarned by this morning’s red sunrise.

Red sky at morn, sailors forewarn.

Sunrise in Oakland, Pittsburgh, 11 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Today in Schenley Park, Aug 29

Schenley Park outing, 29 August 2021 (photos by Kate St. John)

29 August 2021

This morning’s outing in Schenley Park was very well attended — 28 people! — so I had to paste two photos together to get (almost) everyone in.

The weather was clammy-hot and the birds were not active but bugs were easy to find. Can you see the green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris) in this picture?

Green stink bug, Schenley Park, 29 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

We also saw cocklebur as promised and an unusual invasive, yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), which is cultivated in Eurasia for its edible tubers eaten as snack food or made into a sweet milk-like beverage.

Yellow nutsedge, Schenley Park at Panther Hollow Lake, 29 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our Best Bird was a lucky find. As we stood next to Panther Hollow Lake a peregrine falcon zoomed overhead, went into a stoop, and disappeared beyond Phipps Conservatory on his way to the Cathedral of Learning.

We worked for every bird on this checklist at

Schenley Park–Panther Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Aug 29, 2021 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, 1.5 mile(s), 19 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  30    part of the larger flock on Phipps lawn
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2    1 adult, 1 immature circling as we ended the walk
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)  2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  4
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  1    Flyover went into a stoop beyond Phipps roof
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  6
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  2
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  1    Heard
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  1
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  2
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  3
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  2
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  5
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  4

The next walk, scheduled for 26 September at Bartlett Shelter, should be cooler. Whew!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Functional Grass?

Aerial view of a golf course in Pennsylvania (photo by formulanone via Flickr Creative Commons license)

26 August 2021

When I wrote on Tuesday about non-functional grass in Las Vegas, several of you remarked on the Valley’s many golf courses that use so much water. Should they be considered non-functional grass?

Since I’m a birder and not a golfer I would view golf courses as “non-functional” except that some are very good for birds. Courses managed for low chemical use, clean water, and interspersed wildlife habitat are great for birds, especially when their location is an oasis in the midst of other land uses. Courses can achieve these goals and be recognized for their efforts through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses.

The Bob O’Connor Golf Course in Schenley Park, affectionately known as The Bob, is just such an oasis. Audubon certified since 2012, the course is savanna habitat interspersed with thickets and bordered by forest and residential neighborhoods.

Near Hole 14 at Schenley Park’s Bob O’Connor golf course (photo by Kate St. John)

I see birds at The Bob that are hard to find elsewhere including nesting orchard orioles, barn and tree swallows following the mowers, and merlins in winter.

Read about The Bob’s bird amenities in The Rough is For the Birds. It’s one of only six Audubon certified golf courses in the Pittsburgh area.

  1. The Bob O’Connor Golf Course (also called The Bob), Pittsburgh
  2. Brightview at Youghiogeny Country Club, McKeesport
  3. Butler’s Golf Course, Elizabeth
  4. Cranberry Highlands Golf Course, Cranberry Twp, Butler County
  5. Diamond Run Golf Club, Sewickley
  6. Treesdale Golf and Country Club, Gibsonia

Birds will tell you these golf courses are functional.

(photos by formulanone via Flickr Creative Commons license and Kate St. John)

Panther Hollow Lake is Doing Its Job

Panther Hollow Lake is full, 13 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 August 2021

When I walked around (pond-sized) Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park last Friday, I had to dodge high water. On Saturday I expected to see the same water level, or even higher, but it had dropped significantly. Panther Hollow Lake is doing its job.

Panther Hollow Lake has a smart valve governed by the solar-powered weather instrument in the photo below. The smart valve knows the weather forecast and closes during heavy rain events to hold back fresh water that otherwise flows into Pittsburgh’s combined sewer system. After the danger has passed and before the next storm the valve slowly releases water to provide room in the lake for the next downpour. Thus Panther Hollow Lake prevents downstream flooding in The Run neighborhood.

At normal water level three concrete steps edging the pond are exposed. On Friday 13 August all but the top step were hidden (above) and some walkways were flooded (below).

High water. Level is controlled by solar-powered instrument, 13 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
High water. A single concrete step at the cattails, 13 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I returned 24 hours later the water was lower and all three steps were exposed. Here are the same three scenes on Saturday 14 August.

Panther Hollow Lake is lower, 14 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Water no longer floods the walkway, 14 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Three steps at the cattails, 14 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms with potentially heavy rain. Panther Hollow Lake is ready. The smart valve is doing its job.

p.s. Panther Hollow Lake’s concrete steps will be removed during the Four Mile Run Stormwater Project that will change the lake significantly! Click here to read about the project.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Flowers on the Cusp of July

Yarrow in unusual pink, Schenley Park, 29 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

3 July 2021

As June turned into July I found yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooming an unusual pink in Schenley Park.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) flowers close at night and reopen in the morning. I caught these petals in the act at Frick Park on the last day of June.

Daisy fleabane opening on a chilly day, Frick Park, 30 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) turned its face to the sun at Piney Tract on 23 June.

Sulphur cinquefoil at Piney Tract, 23 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Blooming now in Schenley Park, bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) opens its flowers from the bottom up.

Bottlebrush buckeye in bloom, Schenley Park, 28 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The word bladder has unpleasant connotations but also describes anything both inflated and hollow. The bladdernut tree (Staphylea trifolia) has inflated and hollow seed pods, seen yesterday at Frick Park.

Bladdernut seed pods, Frick Park, 2 July 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

And on the subject of bladders, bladder campion’s (Silene vulgaris) pink, inflated flowers drew our attention at Piney Tract on 23 June. Thanks to Barb Griffith for the photo.

Bladder campion, Piney Tract, 23 June 2021 (photo by Barb Griffith)

Two species in this list are not native to North America. Can you name which ones?

(photos by Kate St. John and Barb Griffith)

Enchanting Sky and Flowers

Sunrise on 24 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 June 2021

The sky was enchanting on Thursday morning while enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana or perhaps Circaea canadensis) was blooming in Schenley Park.

Enchanter’s nightshade, Schenley Park, 25 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 16 June, six of us were enchanted by mountain laurel and hundreds of pitcher plants blooming at Spruce Bog on top of Laurel Mountain.

  • Mountain laurel on Laurel Mountain, 16 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

In the slideshow above, notice the leaf that’s wrapped and sealed into a tube. The structure was made by an insect. I don’t know which one.

p.s. Read more here about the enchanter’s nightshade name. Interestingly the plant is not in the nightshade family.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Bee Tree Broke In The Storm

17 June 2021

We are usually unaware of wild honeybee hives high in the forest and that was certainly true of this one near the Westinghouse Shelter in Schenley Park. The bee tree broke during last Sunday’s storm and just missed hitting the shelter. At noon on Tuesday I found the tree cordoned off by Public Works as they waited for the bees to be removed.

The massive hive was in a hollow 20+ feet up in a red oak. When a northwest gust hit the tree it broke at its weakest point and split the hive. Most of the hive remained in the upper section with a few empty honeycombs in the dangling piece.

Rather than step closer I zoomed my cellphone camera to show the bees covering the hive (center of photo) and more honeycombs at top right in the hollow.

Wild honeybee hive in a fallen oak, 15 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I passed through at 1:30pm, beekeeper and DPW Schenley Park worker Kevin Wilford was carefully moving the hive to a bee transport box. He attached the white box to the tree to encourage the bees to go in it after he moved the hive. However, the hive was so deep that he could not reach it without more tools. The process took longer than I had time to watch but Kevin gave me a taste of it, a small piece of honeycomb laden with honey. Mmmmmm good! and sticky!

Beekeeper & DPW worker Kevin Wilford begins to move the bees, 15 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

By Friday the beehive will be on a scenic hill above Hazelwood, the damaged tree will be gone, and the Westinghouse Shelter will be ready for use.

UPDATE on 24 JUNE 2021: As I passed by the bee tree today I could see that most of the hive was still in place. The bees are very deep inside the hollow so the tree is still down.

Bee tree still has bees as of 24 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

UPDATE on 1 JULY 2021: The end of the bee tree. It is gone except for a very tall stump.

Bee tree is gone, Schenley Park, 1 July 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

After The Storm

Sunset after the storm, 13 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tuesday 15 June 2021

At 6pm on Sunday evening a violent thunderstorm blew through Pittsburgh with powerful wind gusts, hail and heavy rain.

Dave DiCello photographed the storm from the West End as it approached Oakland. The VA Hospital and the Cathedral of Learning are to the right of the lightning bolt.

Meanwhile my husband and I watched from our 6th floor apartment as a wind gust picked up the patio umbrella from the high-rise roof next door and blew it, Mary Poppins-like, until it crashed into our building. Then we saw no more as rain and hail battered our windows for half an hour, first from the north, then the east.

The tempest left behind flooding, downed trees, power outages, and a rainbow.

Rainbow after the storm, 13 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday morning I surveyed the damage after the cleanup had already begun. In a short walk I found trees down at Frick Fine Arts, Carnegie Library and Museum, and two small breaks on South Craig Street.

At Schenley Park the valley around Panther Hollow Lake was spared but the lake itself was full of flood water. This is by design. A flow control gate at the outlet holds back freshwater so that storms will not flood The Run.

Panther Hollow Lake holds back floodwaters from the storm, 14 June 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning the power was still out in parts of Squirrel Hill as I drove home from the grocery store.

My husband and I were fortunate. Our power never failed and that flying umbrella hit the wall below us and caused no damage.

p.s. The young Pitt peregrines are flying so well that they are hard to find. I saw both adults plus two of four juveniles on my Monday morning walk.

(photos by Kate St. John)

The Most Beautiful Song

Wood thrush singing (photo by Shawn Collins)

13 June 2021

Right now Schenley Park is full of singing wood thrushes. In recent days I’ve counted a dozen every time I walk the trails.

On Friday morning, 11 June, this wood thrush sang his heart out at the Bartlett end of Panther Hollow. It’s the most beautiful song in Schenley Park.

Get outdoors now to hear the wood thrushes. They will stop singing in July.

(photo by Shawn Collins, recording by Kate St. John)

Fledge Watch + a BioBlitz, Jun 2,4,6

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

26 May 2021

Now that COVID restrictions have eased outdoors(*) join me for fun activities at Schenley Plaza and Schenley Park on June 2, 4 and 6.

  • Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, midday June 2, 4, 6
  • Phipps Bio-Blitz, Sunday June 6 (Registration required)

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 2, 4, 6. 11:30a-1:00p

Did you know that the Cathedral of Learning is such as safe nesting site that we never have to rescue a young peregrine from the street? That means that Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is pure fun. Drop-in when you can, no need to stay the whole time. Swap peregrine stories, learn about peregrines and watch the Pitt youngsters learn to fly. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Check the Events page before you come in case of weather cancellation.

Where: Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above.
When: Wed Jun 2, Fri Jun 4 and Sun Jun 6, 11:30a-1:00p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder. Check here before you come.
Parking: Parking is free on Sunday. Otherwise you must use the pay stations on the street at Schenley Plaza. Garage parking is available at Carnegie Museum, entrance on Forbes Ave at Craig St.
(*) Face masks: Wear a face mask if you want to or need to. CDC guidance on 27 April 2021 says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a face mask outdoors; un-vaccinated people can go maskless outdoors if they are alone or with household members.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 6, 8:30a – 10:30a

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with Cathedral of Learning in the distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday June 6, Phipps BioBlitz will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers for a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. See and learn about birds, plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, mollusks and more. As part of the BioBlitz I will lead a bird walk 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free but registration is required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.

How to join the walk: Participation is limited. Registration is required. Sign up here.
Where: Starting from Phipps’ front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk.
When: Sunday June 6, 8:30a-10:30a
Parking: Free on Sundays!
(*) Face masks: Will follow Phipps rules. Bring a mask and be prepared to wear it. See details here.
Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

(photo credits: Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John, Phipps Conservatory from Wikimedia Commons)