Category Archives: Schenley Park

Today in Schenley Park, Sep 29

Participants at Schenley Park outing on 29 Sep 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning 12 of us gathered at the Bartlett Shelter to kick off a bird walk in Schenley Park. The weather was very gray and cloudy, almost foggy, and we worked hard for every bird for more an hour and a half.

Then the sun came out at 10am and so did the birds. Our best sightings were in the last 15 minutes. We ran overtime to see them!

Our list below, 27 species, has my favorites in boldface type. There were so many birds in the last 15 minutes that I may have missed some. Here it is on eBird: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60218049

Mourning Dove 3
Chimney Swift 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 (First of fall)
Red-bellied Woodpecker 8
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 5
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 18
American Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 2
Carolina Wren 3
European Starling 2
Gray Catbird 2
Brown Thrasher 1
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 16
House Finch 3
American Goldfinch 1
Song Sparrow 1
Common Grackle 100 (big flock flying over the golf course)
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Northern Cardinal 6

Thanks to all for coming out today. Never expected it to be so great at the end!

p.s. Chipmunks did outnumber blue jays — barely — but common grackles beat them all.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Sep 29, 8:30a

Blue jay and chipmunk (photos by Chuck Tague and Brian Herman)

Fall officially arrived this week though it’s been in progress for a while. Trees and plants are gradually losing leaves, squirrels are storing food for the winter and birds are migrating. It’s a good time to be outdoors.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, 29 September 2019, 8:30a – 10:30a. We’ll meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street because the north end of Schenley will be hard to get to. Forbes and Fifth Avenues will be closed for the Pittsburgh Great Race.

We’re sure to see birds, lingering flowers, fruits and acorns. Acorns are a big attraction for chipmunks and blue jays. Last week the number of blue jays exploded when migrating jays arrived in town. Will there be more blue jays than chipmunks? Come and see.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. NOTE that a fallen tree blocks part of the Falloon Trail trail so we’ll have to go off the beaten path. Be prepared to walk on dirt with roots and rocks. A walking stick may be useful.

Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations.

(photo credits: blue jay by Chuck Tague, chipmunk by Brian Herman)

Fringetree Fruit

Fringetree fruit, 31 August 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

One advantage of botanizing the same place over and over again is that you get to know what grows where. You remember a plant that draws attention in the spring, forget it in the summer when it’s boring, then notice it again in fall. Because it’s in the same location, you know what it is.

The identity of this dangling blue fruit was a puzzle until I remembered that it’s hanging from the fringetree that put on a floral show in May.

One flower of a fringetree in Schenley Park, 18 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
One flower of a fringetree in Schenley Park, 18 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Each flower can become a blue fruit.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Aug 25, 8:30a

Orange jewelweed, “touch-me-not” (photo by Kate St. John)

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

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, 25 August 2019, 8:30a – 10:30a. Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road joins Schenley Drive. 

I know we’ll hear True Bugs and see lots of summer flowers. We might even catch a glimpse of a ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at orange jewelweed.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. If it’s hot be sure to bring water, sunscreen and a hat.

Visit my Events page before you come 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)

Is This Bug True?

Here’s lookin’ at ya! Deceased annual cicada, Neotibicen sp. (photo by Kate St. John)

All bugs are insects but not all insects are true bugs. Is this cicada a true bug? The answer is complicated.

According to Ask A Biologist, true bugs are insects with:

  • A long slender beak-shaped mouth part (proboscis) for sucking liquid food.
  • A partially hardened pair of front wings with clear tips and completely clear rear wings shorter than the front ones.
  • Few joints in the antennae and feet: antennae about five joints, feet usually no more than three.

Cicadas have these characteristics so they and 50,000 to 80,000 other insects are in the “true bug” Order Hempitera. This tiny green flatid planthopper is too.

Flatid planthopper hiding on a bottlebrush buckeye stem in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

But their status is more complicated. These two are true bugs but not true “True Bugs.”

Within Hempitera there’s a suborder of really True Bugs called Heteroptera. Cicadas, planthoppers, spittlebugs, aphids, and adelgids aren’t in this suborder. (See taxonomic chart from bugguide.net below.)

BugGuide’s taxonomy for the order Hempitera (screenshot from bugguide.net)

Encyclopedia Britannica says you can recognize Heteroptera by the X shaped design on their backs. Here are three true True Bugs I’ve seen in Pittsburgh this month.

This green and brown shield bug (probably Elasmostethus artricornis) is native to North America. I found several perched on American spikenard in Schenley Park.

A true bug, probably a shield bug (photo by Kate St. John)

The invasive brown marmorated stinkbugs are mating this month. I found this pair at Washington’s Landing.

Brown marmorated stinkbugs mating (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally, I think this is a leaf-footed bug because of the swollen leaf-like segments on his hind legs.

Probably a leaf-footed bug (photo by Kate St. John)

Wondering if a bug is true? It’s a safe bet that it isn’t. Most insects are not, including dragonflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, flies and fleas.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Very Tame

White-tailed deer are numerous and very tame in Schenley Park. Last week I encountered a doe with twin fawns near the swimming pool.

The family became alert while I was staring at them, but the mother has learned that we humans aren’t dangerous and is teaching it to her kids. How many generations does it take for the herd to become this tame?

Doe in Schenley Park, 29 July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Her twin fawns, 29 July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

In the past ten years I’ve seen the landscape change in Schenley Park while the deer population has grown exponentially. Where there used to be thick slopes of false Solomon’s seal and yellow jewelweed there is nothing green now, just carpets of fallen leaves. Having eaten the good stuff they are working on less tasty food, avoiding the poisonous plants such as white snakeroot at their feet in these photos. Some day their range will fail them.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.

Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like A Mountain,” A Sand County Almanac

p.s. Click here for a photo of an 8-point buck I saw in the park yesterday, August 3.

p.p.s. Also see this article: Too Many Deer: A Bigger Threat to Eastern Forests than Climate Change?

(photos by Kate St. John, Schenley Park, 29 July 2019)

Why So Many Landslides?

After a rainy period or spring thaw in Pittsburgh we inevitably see devastating landslides on the news. Why does Pittsburgh have so many landslides and why are they associated with rain or moisture?

The problem is a combination of a particular bedrock with our steep hillsides. Where both are present the location is landslide prone, as shown on the City of Pittsburgh map below. (Click here to see the City’s interactive landslide-prone map and zoom in for details. Click here for the Allegheny County interactive landslide map.)

Landslide prone areas (screenshot from Pittsburgh GIS Data Download Page)

The house in the video above was inside a landslide zone on Semicir Street overlooking Riverview Park. Add water and … the house collapsed!

The bedrock at fault is Pittsburgh redbed, a claystone that disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces if exposed to pressure when it’s wet. Redbed is usually under pressure because it’s underneath solid rock and overlying soil. Add water to a steep slope and you have a landslide.

This sandstone boulder on the Bridle Trail in Schenley Park was part of the escarpment above it until the redbed layer beneath it gave way.

An old landslide in Schenley Park on the Bridle Trail, July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a future landslide on the Lower Panther Hollow Trail. This sandstone boulder, high above my head, will fall some day because the slow drip of water over the boulder has disintegrated the underlying redbed. Notice the reddish crumbled stones.

Sandstone boulder is undercut, a landslide waiting to happen at Lower Panther Hollow Trail, Schenley Park, July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

I had read that Pittsburgh redbed disintegrates when wet but I wanted to see for myself so I gathered some redbed rocks and ran an experiment.

Thousands of years ago these small crumbles were a much bigger solid rock but water had already acted on them. Will the crumbles disintegrate in the presence of water and pressure? I kept some rocks dry and soaked others for a day. Here’s my experiment.

Add water and pressure to Pittsburgh redbed claystone and … Watch out below!

p.s. For a really spectacular landslide, check out what happened to Route 30 in East Pittsburgh in April 2018.

(photos and redbed experiment by Kate St. John, house collapse video embedded from WTAE Pittsburgh on YouTube, map from Pittsburgh GIS Data)

Schenley Park Bridle Trail, July 28, 8:30a

American hophornbeam fruit at Schenley Park Bridle Trail (photo by Kate St. John)

Join me on Sunday, July 28 at 8:30am for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

On this month’s outing we’ll visit a trail I’ve never shown you before. Meet me at the start of the Bridle Trail, so named because it was built in the late 1880s as a riding path for horses. We’ll make a clockwise circle for 1.6 miles.

Bridle Trail loop in Schenley Park (map saved at GMap Pedometer)

The gravel trail is a gentle downhill with rock outcrops, a view of the Monongahela River, two stone bridges, and some cool birds and plants. American hophornbeam winged fruits, shown above, are seen along the way.

Dress for the weather (probably hot!). Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water, a sunhat, binoculars and field guides if you have them.

p.s. What goes downhill must come up the woodland staircase to the Oval.

(photo by Kate St. John, map created using Gmap Pedometer)

Ghost Flower

Indian pipe, Schenley Park, 11 July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

I found a ghost flower blooming in Schenley Park last Monday.

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) looks ghostly because it has no chlorophyll. Instead it’s symbiotic or parasitic on fungi that have a symbiotic/parasitic relationship with tree roots. This makes Indian pipe a parasite on a parasite … sort of.

Though it’s a perennial member of the Heath family, Indian pipe only grows when conditions are perfect and these are so impossible to replicate that the plant isn’t cultivated.

Its stems and flowers grow and bloom in a couple of days. The flowers are pollinated, in part, by long-tongued bees and fade within 1-2 weeks. After pollination the developing fruit makes the flower head stand up. Click here to see.

Later this month I’ll return to see the fruiting stems and will look for remnants of the bizarre truck accident that was in progress when I found the flowers.

Tri-axle truck falls over the hill, 8 July 2019: I found Indian pipe while on a shortcut past the paving project on Serpentine Road. My normal route was closed because a huge tri-axle dump truck had pitched over the hillside, dumped its load of asphalt and was lying on its side. On Tuesday July 9 they winched the truck out of the valley. Unfortunately, as of Friday July 12 the asphalt is still on the hillside. 🙁 Click on the embedded news links to see what the accident looked like.

(photo by Kate St. John)