Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a Eurasian perennial in the poppy family that’s blooming now in Schenley Park. Though it resembles our native celandine-poppy it’s not as particular about habitat. It can be invasive.
To be sure it’s in the poppy family, break a leaf. Greater celandine has orange latex sap.
Don’t put the evidence in your pocket. The “orange juice” can leave a stain.
Day by day and week by week there are different stars in the spring migration show. Here are the birds that brightened last week in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park with a look to the week ahead.
For six days, April 22-27, I saw the largest influx of ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) I’ve ever experienced in Schenley Park. Each day I counted 25 to 35 of them though I’m sure my numbers were low.
Steve Gosser’s photos, above and below, display these tiny birds from two perspectives. Did you know they have golden feet and black legs? It’s hard to see their feet because they move so fast!
On 23 April a large flock of yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) paused on a foggy morning and foraged on the ground. The males were quite bright in their black, white and yellow spring plumage. I’m waiting for the next flock to arrive soon.
Monday 27 April was a stellar day for hermit thrushes (Catharus guttatus) when I tallied seven near the Falloon Trail. Steve Gosser’s two photos, below, show their distinctive reddish tail and plain face. All were silent but they provided an additional behavioral hint: They raised and slowly dropped their tails.
In the week ahead I expect more thrushes and warblers.
My first wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) in Schenley was photographed on 23 April by Donna Foyle. Yesterday there were three more.
Notice the wood thrush’s distinctive rusty head and back, dotted breast and mottled cheek in these two photos by Steve Gosser.
More warblers are on their way. Yesterday I saw my first black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia) of the year. Yay! This one was photographed by Lauri Shaffer in May 2018.
And here’s an audio star that I heard in Frick Park on 25 April.
At dusk at the intersection of Falls Ravine and Lower Riverview Trail in Frick Park you’ll hear American toads trilling in the wetland by the fence. Check out the video below for their look and sound, recorded on 11 May 2014 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. At the end of the video you’ll hear a bird sing, an orchard oriole. They’ll arrive soon at the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail near Duck Hollow.
UPDATE AT NOON, 29 April 2020:Two more stars arrived today! Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak.
Spring keeps coming to Pittsburgh in fits and starts. In the last week we’ve gone from +22 F degrees above normal (29 March) to -3 F degrees below normal (31 March) and yet the flowers and leaves keep coming.
To illustrate I took two photos of the same sedge in Schenley Park. The buds on 27 March burst open two days later in 77 degree heat.
Leaves are starting to pop, too. Yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) have their first leaves …
… and these reddish, toothed, compound leaves are opening on shrubs along West Circuit Road in Schenley Park. It’s a cultivated alien I can’t identify.
There are also flowers in the trees: Northern magnolia, crabapple buds, blooming (invasive) Callery pear, and flowering cherry.
I am so grateful that Schenley Park is still open.
The parks have been our solace in these troubled times but EVERYONE must obey the COVID-19 rules or Pittsburgh’s parks will close as they have in other cities.
A message from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy:
Pittsburgh, it’s in our hands to keep the parks open. We have to follow the guidelines set by the City of Pittsburgh, our national government, and the CDC.
Be safe in #PittsburghParks – practice physical distancing (6-8 feet) – wash your hands before and after a park visit – avoid surfaces: benches, railings, fences, exercise equipment – playgrounds are closed – basketball hoops have been removed – tennis/pickleball courts closed – sports fields closed – no contact sports – no playdates in parks for kids – no pavilions – park facilities and amenities are closed – no restrooms, water fountains, etc. – if you are experiencing symptoms stay home!
9 April 2020 update: The City of Pittsburgh added restrictions to basketball, tennis and sports last week because people were not maintaining physical distance.
Pittsburghers, it’s up to us to keep our parks open. Maintain physical distance!
(images from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy; altered slightly by Kate St. John)
Around the world, more and more of us are under Stay At Home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. Yesterday Governor Wolf announced that eight PA counties — 45% of Pennsylvanians — must Stay At Home through 6 April. Fortunately residents are permitted to “engage in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing” — i.e. stay at least 6 feet apart.
So I’ve been going outdoors alone … especially when the weather is drizzly, cold or gray because no one else is out there. I’ve seen lots of birds including red-winged blackbirds, hundreds of American robins, eastern phoebes, a brown-headed cowbird, a golden-crowned kinglet and a merlin(!) in Schenley Park.
I’ve also photographed some signs of spring, 18-24 March 2020. Flowers are blooming in Greenfield’s neighborhood gardens, above and below.
The earliest trees are beginning to leaf out including the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) in Schenley Park.
Cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) are in bloom at Schenley. Photos of the whole tree and a blossom closeup.
Yet the rest of the forest is still quite brown. The smaller American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) stand out with dry pale leaves. Photo from afar and a close-up.
Squirrels were busy in Schenley Park this week. Some are so black that they look like a black hole in the landscape. Despite his color he’s just an eastern gray squirrel.
This particular eastern screech-owl has been spending the winter in Schenley Park since at least 2015-2016. I saw him on Christmas Eve but my cellphone photo was too poor to use. Here’s a photo I took in January 2017.
Don’t forget to spend time outdoors in late December. There are still cool things to see.
By now our sewers are over 100 years old and too small to handle heavy rain. In some places it takes only a 1/4 inch to cause a sewer overflow, sending toilet paper to the rivers. Meanwhile climate change has brought frequent heavy downpours that flood some valleys with sewage, including the neighborhood below Schenley Park.
That neighborhood, called The Run, is located at the base of Four Mile Run’s watershed where all the old sewers converge before reaching the Monongahela River (highlighted in red on the 3D map below).
The less rainwater that enters the sewer system the better it is for The Run. Toward that end the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PGH2O) is working in Schenley Park for the next several months, building detention swales along Overlook Drive and the Bridle Trail to channel stormwater away from the sewer system.
When the project is done they’ll plant more trees than they removed.
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!