Category Archives: Schenley Park

Yesterday at Schenley Park: Nestlings and Blackpolls

Blackpoll warbler, Schenley Park, 22 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

23 May 2022

Six of us gathered at Schenley Park yesterday morning in perfect weather for a bird and nature walk. (The sixth is taking the picture.)

Great weather for an outing in Schenley Park, 22 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

First on the agenda was a look through my scope at the Pitt peregrines. Though we were half a mile from the Cathedral of Learning we could see one adult babysitting and two fluffy heads looking out the front of the nestbox. This is where the chicks were standing as we watched.

3 peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning, 26 days old, 22 May 2022

Inside the park, a pair of red-tailed hawks is raising three chicks about the same age as the peregrines. We paused on our walk to watch them eat. Best views are from here.

Scroll through Charity Kheshgi’s Instagram photos to see our Best Birds including the blackpoll warbler pictured above.

In all we saw 25 species (https://ebird.org/checklist/S111010535). Not a high count but well worth the trip.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis): Saw 4, maybe 5: 1 or 2 adults + 3 young in nest.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  3
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  2
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  Saw 4: 1 adult via scope + 3 young in nest via falconcam.
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)  5
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  4
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  1
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  5    2 pairs
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  4
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  18
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  5
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)  2
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)  1
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  4
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  1
Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)  2    Seen!
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  1

p.s. Charity’s photo of the rose-breasted grosbeak was taken after the walk.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

What Tree Is This?

Hosechestnut in flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

19 May 2022

Trees with stacks of white flowers are drawing our attention this week in Pittsburgh. Perhaps you’re wondering “What tree is this? “

Horsechestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) originated in Greece but have been planted around the world for their beautiful flowers. When fertilized the flowers become the familiar shiny buckeyes I played with as a child.

Fruit of the horsechestnut (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In Pittsburgh we call the tree a “buckeye” though it is just one of many buckeyes (Aesculus) in our area including natives of North America: yellow, Ohio, and bottlebrush.

A close look at horsechestnut flowers reveals that some have yellow centers, others red.

Closeup of horsechestnut flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bees see and are attracted to yellow, not red, so when a horsechestnut flower is fertilized it turns red. The flowers are …

Are there red flowers on the tree? Come back in early fall to collect the buckeyes.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Schenley Park Outing, May 22, 8:30am

Purple deadnettle, Schenley Park, 6 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 May 2022

Join me on Sunday 22 May, 8:30am to 10:30am, for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

UPDATE Sunday 22 May 2022 at 6am: Perfect weather this morning! See you soon.

Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive (40.4383304,-79.9464765). We’ll see flowers, late migrants, and nesting birds.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring water, a hat, binoculars — and field guides if you have them.

We’re sure to see purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) at top, and golden alexanders (Zizia aurea), below, in bloom.

Golden alexanders, Schenley Park, 24 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hope to see you there.

p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11:00a.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Best In Song

14 May 2022

Wood thrushes (Hylocichla mustelina) are back in Schenley Park after their winter sojourn in Central America.

Yesterday this one used his beautiful voice to claim a nesting territory near the Bartlett tufa bridge. Click here or on the screenshot below to hear him sing.

Of all the birds he wins “Best In Song.”

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, video by Kate St. John)

Rare Golden-winged Warbler Visits Schenley Park

Golden-winged warbler in Schenley Park, 4 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

5 May 2022

After yesterday morning’s downpour the sky never cleared and the air was so heavy that I didn’t expect to see good birds in Schenley Park, but when I arrived the soundscape was filled with the songs of rose-breasted grosbeaks, wood thrushes, Baltimore orioles, and many northern parulas. When I found the loudest parula I discovered he had a rare friend — a golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera). The two of them were feeding on insects hidden in new elm leaves.

My post on the rare bird alert drew in other birders and photographers, including Charity Kheshgi whose photos are shown here. Rare birds usually visit for only 24 hours so everyone had to act fast.

Golden-winged warbler in Schenley Park, 4 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Why is this bird rare?

The Golden-winged Warbler is a sharply declining songbird that lives in shrubby, young forest habitats in the Great Lakes and Appalachian Mountains regions. They have one of the smallest populations of any songbird not on the Endangered Species List and are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. An estimated 400,000 breeding adults remain—a drop of 66% since the 1960s. In the Appalachian Mountains the situation is even worse: the regional population has fallen by 98%. We’ve learned that the main reasons for the decline include habitat loss on the breeding and wintering grounds (Central and northern South America) and hybridization with the closely related Blue-winged Warbler.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Golden-winged warbler Conservation Strategy

Because of their precipitous decline, golden-winged warblers have been well studied for at least a decade. Seven years ago, scientists tracking this tiny bird in Tennessee discovered that it sensed the approach of violent storms and fled the tornadoes one day ahead. Read the amazing story of how golden-winged warblers flew 400 miles to the Gulf of Mexico to avoid the storms … and then came back.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)

Today in Schenley Park, April 24th

Schenley Park outing, 24 April 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

24 April 2022

Thirteen of us came out for a walk in Schenley Park on Sunday morning and were thrilled to hear a wood thrush singing near the Visitors Center. The bird was hard to spot in the treetops but CJ Showers got a photo of him from below.

Wood thrush, Schenley Park, 24 April 2022 (photo by CJ Showers)

Two First of Year species had just returned: yellow warbler and gray catbird. Male red-winged blackbirds claimed territory and chased females at Panther Hollow Lake, while two spotted sandpipers sidestepped bullfrogs among the reeds.

Red-winged blackbird, 24 April 2022 (photo by CJ Showers)

The red-tailed hawk family on the bridge appears to have babies in the nest, though we could not see them.

Red-tailed hawk at nest, Schenley park, 24 April 2022 (photo by CJ Showers)

And a surprise awaited us around the bend.

Sara Showers saw the profile of this fledgling eastern screech owl perched at eye level on a hackberry branch. Though he wasn’t hidden he was doing his best to look like part of the tree until we gawked at him. That made him raise his ear tufts and look at us through slit eyes.

Fledgling eastern screech-owl, Schenley park, 24 April 2022 (photo by CJ Showers)

See our entire checklist at https://ebird.org/checklist/S107910492 and listed below.

Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA, Apr 24, 2022 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM. 30 species
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  4
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)  2
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)  2
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)  1 — Flyover
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2
Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)  1 — fledgling!
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  1
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)  1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  4
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  7
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  3
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Corthylio calendula)  10
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  1
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  1    First of year
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  20
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  4
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  2
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  9
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  8
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)  3
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  2
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)  1    First of year
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  8
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  6

If you attended the outing and would like me to share the list to you, please leave a comment to tell me so.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi and CJ Showers)

UPDATE 25 APRIL 2022: On Monday morning I took the same walk as on Sunday and found that bird activity was more subdued. Many of the birds we saw on Sunday must have left on Sunday night’s strong south wind, including all but one of the ruby-crowned kinglets. However, I found an eastern screech-owl nest near where we saw the fledgling on Sunday. His sibling was looking out of the hole! (It’s a lousy cellphone photo but you get the idea.)

Eastern screech-owl youngster poised at nest hole, Schenley Park, 25 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, April 24, 8:30am

Gray catbird (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 April 2022

It’s time to get outdoors!

Join me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center for a bird & nature walk on Sunday 24 April, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Trees and wildflowers are blooming. New birds come to Pittsburgh on every south wind. I expect gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) will back in time for this outing. Will we hear one? Will we see him before he hides? I hope so.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars.

This event will be held rain or shine, but not in downpours or thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of cancellation.

Hope to see you there.

p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11a.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click the caption to see the original)

April Showers Bring …

Purple dead nettle, Toms Run, 6 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 April 2022

This week’s showers brought …

  • Almost-blooming native trees including eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) in Frick Park.
Redbud flowers in bud, 7 April 2022 in Frick Park (photo by Kate St. John)
  • Swelling buds and leaf out on the yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) in Schenley Park.
Yellow buckeyes in Schenley Park: buds and leaf out! (photos by Kate St. John)
  • and Mud Season!
Mud season! after a trek in Schenley Park, 9 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

This year’s cold weather delayed the trees compared to last year on this date. For comparison see Spring Green from 10 April 2021.

And finally: Why did it Rain, Sun, Rain, Sun over and over again yesterday? The National Weather Service radar shows a flock of discrete self-contained rain clouds moving over the landscape.

National Weather Service radar part of eastern US, 9 April 2022, 6:43pm

(photos by Kate St. John; radar map from NWS)

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Flowering cherry in Pittsburgh, 24 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 March 2022

This week the elms, maples, ornamental cherries and northern magnolias began to bloom in Pittsburgh. Their flowers have not yet reached their peak and that’s a good thing. Tomorrow night the low will be 19 degrees F and will devastate the tender petals.

Above, an ornamental cherry shows off its delicate pink-white blossoms in the sun on Thursday 24 March. Below, a northern magnolia flower peeks out of its winter coat in Schenley Park on Tuesday 22 March.

Northern magnolia flower bud, 22 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Red maple flowers are either male or female. These female pistils are waiting for pollen from the male flowers. Pollen season is coming soon!

Red maple flowers, 22 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), one of the earliest shrubs to bloom in western Pennsylvania, is a Eurasian member of the dogwood family. It can also look like an understory tree.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) at Moraine State Park, 24 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Also blooming in yellow this week, forsythia is putting out tentative flowers.

Forsythia blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

And at Frick Park the hellebore planted near the Environmental Education Center is in full bloom (probably Hellebore odorus). I wonder if these nodding flowers will survive the cold.

Hellebore in bloom in Frick Park, 25 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile I’m not worried about the new leaves on these hardy invasive plants. I doubt they’ll be damaged by the cold.

Bush honeysuckle leaf out in Frick Park, 21 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Privet leaf out in Oakland, 23 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Garlic mustard leaf out in Frick Park, 21 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Take a look at flowers today. They’ll be gone tomorrow night.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Spring Has Been Dealt A Setback

Morela at the snowy nest, 12 March 2022, 8am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

13 March 2022

After yesterday’s 2.5 to 5 inches of drifting snow, this morning’s temperature is 14oF. Our progress toward Spring has been halted in only a day.

Last week I saw hopeful signs of Spring.

  • Skunk cabbage was blooming at Jennings Prairie on 5 March.
Skunk cabbage, Jennings Prairie, 5 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
  • Northern magnolia buds were beginning to open at Schenley Park on 8 March.
Skunk cabbage, Jennings Prairie, 5 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
  • Spring peepers had started to sing at Moraine State Park on 10 March, calling very slowly in the cold. Turn up your speakers to hear 5 creaky peeps in the video.
  • And The Crocus Report came back positive on 7 March when I found a lawn of purple crocuses blooming on North Neville Street.
Crocuses blooming, North Neville Street, 7 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Lawn of purple crocuses, North Neville Street, 7 March 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

But yesterday morning brought heavy snow and gusty winds, drifts and bare patches.

(building provides a dark backdrop so you can see the snow.)

The tender plants have died. Those crocuses are gone. Spring has been dealt a setback.

Keep up with the status of Spring at the National Phenology Network. Watch it move north on this animated map.

Six-leaf index anomaly showing the progress of Spring (animated map from the National Phenology Network)

(photos by Kate St. John and from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh, map from the National Phenology Network)