Category Archives: Schenley Park

Two Fledge Watches + A Bird Walk, June 1-12

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

The first two weeks of June are jam-packed with outdoor opportunities. Join me at one of these upcoming events:

  • Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, June 1-5
  • Phipps Bio-Blitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, June 2
  • Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch, June 7 and 10, 11, 12.

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 1-5, 11a – 1p

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is a fluid drop-in event to swap peregrine stories and watch the young Pitt peregrines learn to fly. Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.
Where: Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above.
When: 1-5 June 2019, 11a-1p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder.
Who: I’ll be there with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group and lots of peregrine fans. (Note on June 1: John English will start the watch at 11a; I’ll arrive at noon.)
Parking: Pay-parking is available around Schenley Plaza (on-street parking is free on Sundays!) and at Carnegie Museum.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 2, 8:30a – 10:30a

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

On Sunday June 2, the fourth annual Phipps BioBlitz Festival will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers to conduct biological surveys of living species in Schenley Park. The event is free with no advance registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.
Where: Meet me at the back of the Event Tent on Phipps’ front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk.
When: Sunday June 2, 8:30a-10:30a
Parking: Free on Sundays!
Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza to look for peregrines.

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch, Third Avenue, June 7, 10, 11, 12 … 11a-1p

Fledge watchers Downtown at Third Ave, 7 June 2016 (photo by John English)
Downtown Fledge Watch, June 2016 (photo by John English)

During the second week of June — perhaps earlier — the peregrine nestlings on Third Avenue will make their first flight. Because their nest is low they may need our help. In the first 24 hours of flight, fledgling peregrines lack the wing strength to take off from the ground and have to be put up high to start over. The PA Game Commission (PGC) will send an officer to rescue the bird. Call PGC at 724-238-9523.

The #1 purpose of Downtown Fledge Watch is to educate the public so lots of people know to call the Game Commission if they find a downed peregrine. We’d love to believe trained volunteers can find every bird but the reality in Downtown Pittsburgh is that peregrines in trouble are found by people who’ve never seen a peregrine.  People often tell building security guards about the birds so I’ve notified nearby Point Park University (site of the rescue porch).

Downtown Peregrine Fledge Watch is a drop-in event to watch the young Downtown peregrines, educate the public about peregrines, and alert the PA Game Commission at 724-238-9523 if a fledgling needs to be rescued from the ground.

Come when you can. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Be sure to check the blog for updates in case of weather cancellation.

Where: 3rd Avenue between Wood and Smithfield in Downtown Pittsburgh. (click the link for a map)
When: On weekdays, Fri June 7, Mon-Wed June 10-12. Time: 11a-1p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder.
Who: I’ll be there (except June 12) with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group.
Notes: There is no official Fledge Watch on June 8-9 weekend but John and/or I may be there. On-street parking is free on Sundays.

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

A Beautiful Success Story

Kentucky yellowwood flowers, Schenley Park, 20 May 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This flowering tree is a native North American but was so rare that few people ever saw it until botanists fell in love with it.

Originally found in small patches from Arkansas to Kentucky and Tennessee, the Kentucky yellowwood’s (Cladrastis kentukea) beautiful flowers, mid-story height, and tolerance for full sun in urban settings makes it the perfect ornamental.

Original range of the Kentucky yellowwood tree (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Planted in eastern North America for over 200 years, it became naturalized in scattered locations from Ohio to Massachusetts. Allegheny County is one of the few new places where Kentucky yellowwood grows wild.

On Sunday in Schenley Park, our group was awed by the profusion of vanilla-scented flowers at the Visitors Center. We didn’t recognize the species so I went exploring yesterday and found it both cultivated and wild.

Kentucky yellowwood at the Schenley Park Visitors Center, 20 May 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here are some other cool facts about Kentucky yellowwood:

  • It’s called yellowwood because “a clear yellow dye is obtained from the heartwood.”
  • It is the only Cladrastis native to North America.
  • The flowers are attractive to bees. Narratives say the tree is attractive to birds.
  • Flowering varies from year to year with heavy blooming every 2-3 years, particularly after a long hot summer. 2019 is a big year for Kentucky yellowwood in Pittsburgh.
  • Every description says the tree flowers in June, but blooming started here in mid May — two+ weeks early, probably due to climate change.

Once I started looking I found the tree in many out of the way places in Schenley Park, probably growing wild. Kentucky yellowwood is a beautiful success story in Pittsburgh.

Today in Schenley Park: Canada Warbler!

Canada warbler in Schenley Park, 19 May 2019 (photo by Peter Bell)

This morning 14 of us met at the Visitors’ Center for a bird walk in Schenley Park. We started with a view of the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning and ended with Best Bird in a tree near the Visitors’ Center — a Canada warbler!

Schenley Park outing, 19 May 2019 (photo taken by Margaret Laske)

Highlights in between included the sound of Tennessee warblers, scarlet tanagers, a yellow warbler, and an Acadian flycatcher, plus the sight of two ruby-throated hummingbirds, a wood thrush building her nest, a blue jay feeding nestlings, and a bay-breasted warbler in the tree canopy.

There were a heck of a lot of bullfrog tadpoles in Panther Hollow Lake. Why so many? They were almost gross.

After the walk we were milling about when Pete Bell took the photo at top and asked what it was. A Canada warbler! Several of us stayed 20-30 minutes to re-find it with some really great looks. Kuldeep Singh captured this gorgeous photo of the bird.

Canada Warbler (photo by Kuldeep Singh)

In all we saw and heard 32 species.  The complete checklist is here on eBird.

(photos of Canada warbler: at top by Peter Bell, at bottom by Kuldeep Singh. Group photo taken by Margaret Laske using Kate St. John’s phone)

Schenley Park Outing, May 19, 8:30a

Red-eyed vireo on nest (photo by Don Weiss)

Join me on Sunday May 19 at 8:30am for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park.

Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive for this 8:30am to 10:30am walk. We’ll see flowers, late migrants and nesting birds. Red-eyed vireos, shown above, nest in Schenley Park. Will we see one?

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Check the Events page before you come for more information and in case of cancellation.

(photo of nesting red-eyed vireo by Don Weiss)

Yesterday At Schenley Park

Five of us went birding in Schenley Park on Saturday morning April 20. The weather was great! Blue sky and puffy clouds.

Our Best Birds were a yellow-rumped warbler and two ruby-crowned kinglets chasing each other and raising their red crowns. First-of-Year Birds were fun, too: Wood thrushes, house wrens, and a spotted sandpiper. We saw 29 species: ebird checklist S55174092.

Schenley Park has few wildflowers because there are so many deer. We saw three in broad daylight on Saturday (same location as this March 27 photo). I’ve seen a herd of 21 in the past month. The flowers don’t stand a chance.

Herd of deer in Schenley Park, distant photo, 27 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fortunately the deer leave the trout lilies alone. Perhaps these plants are poisonous.

Trout lilies blooming in Schenley Park, 18 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaf Out is coming. The red oaks have very tiny leaves.

In case you’re curious, bird migration has picked up in the past two weeks. Here are the First-of-Year Birds I’ve seen in Schenley Park from April 10 to April 20, 2019.

  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Stelgidopteryx serripennis (4/10)
  • Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor (4/10)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula (4/11)
  • Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus (4/11)
  • Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius (4/12)
  • Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis (4/17)
  • Broad-winged Hawk – Buteo platypterus (4/18)
  • Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum (4/18)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata (4/19)
  • Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius (4/20)
  • House Wren – Troglodytes aedon (4/20)
  • Wood Thrush – Hylocichla mustelina (4/20)

p.s. For information on future outings, see the Events page.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Now Blooming

Bluets at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 April 2019

Wildflowers are blooming, elms are setting seed, and some early trees are leafing out. Here’s a sampling of buds and blooms this week in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Tuesday our group found many flowers opening including bluets (above) and early saxifrage (below). Our complete list is at the end.

Early saxifrage at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

The trail at Racoon Wildflower Reserve was littered with the tips of sugar maple branches, chiseled off by squirrels. These Acer saccharum buds are opening to reveal new flowers.

Sugar maple bud opening at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile in the City where it’s warmer …

This spruce in Shadyside was flowering, too. The pink buds will become cones.

American elms (Ulmus americana) have already set seed. You can tell this is an American (not slippery) elm because the samaras are deeply notched.

American elm samaras from Schenley Park, 16 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

In Schenley Park, invasive Norway maples (Acer platanoides) are leafing out.

Norway maple leaf-out in Schenley Park, 17 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spend time outdoors this weekend and see what’s blooming near you.

Here’s are list of flowers seen at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Tuesday 16 April 2019, in no particular order. Many flowers were only beginning to open. By now they’ll be in full bloom.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Sat. April 20

Redbud about to bloom, 23 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is here! Let’s get outdoors.

Meet me at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Saturday, April 20, 8:30a – 10:30a. (Note: Due to scheduling difficulties this walk is on Saturday.)

Trees and wildflower buds are bursting. New birds arrive on every south wind. I’m sure we’ll see redbuds. Will they be open?

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 thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of cancellation.

Hope to see you there!

(photo of a redbud by Kate St. John)

Red Maples Are Complicated

Male red maple flowers fallen from the tree, 10 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week the hillsides turned faintly red as red maples (Acer rubrum) bloomed across southwestern Pennsylvania. The city’s maples bloom sooner than the suburbs so I’ve had a preview of what’s to come.

In Schenley Park the ground under some red maples is carpeted with fallen flowers (above) while others retain flowers that are setting seed (below).

Female red maple flowers on the tree, developing samaras, 10 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

That’s because red maples are sexually complicated. They are polygamodioecious which means some trees have only male flowers, some have only female, and some have both (i.e. hermaphroditic). And they can even switch back and forth:

Under the proper conditions, the tree can sometimes switch from male to female, male to hermaphroditic, and hermaphroditic to female.

Wikipedia Acer Rubrum

Watch your local red maples to see what they’re up to. The one in my backyard dropped its flowers a few days ago. This year it’s a male. 😉

p.s. For more on maple phenology, read Chuck Tague’s blog post: Maples In Spring: A Study in Diversity.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Now Blooming

Hepatica at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

What’s blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania this weekend?

Yesterday’s joint outing of the Botanical Society of Western PA and Wissahickon Nature Club found a lot of spring flowers at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, 6 April 2019.

Hepatica was blooming in shades of white, pink and blue. In the photo above, the leaves aren’t visible so I can’t tell if this plant is round-lobed (Anemone americana) or sharp-lobed (Anemone acutiloba) hepatica.

Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was blooming along the valley trail. Did you know this plant is in the Carrot family?

Harbinger of spring at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) covered the hillside beyond the last bridge …

Snow trillium at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and spicebush’s (Lindera benzoin) tiny yellow flowers were a nice surprise.

Spicebush at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Most of the spring beauty was not in bloom but we found Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), a specialty at Cedar Creek shown below.

Spring Beauty at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

This bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was bright white by the bike trail. Its leaves are barely visible, clutching the stem, while a garlic mustard leaf tries to photo-bomb the bottom corner.

Bloodroot at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile, how are the buckeye buds doing in Schenley Park? Some were unfurling on Friday 5 April 2019. Note the CORRECTION ABOUT BUCKEYES below!

Yellow buckeye buds, starting to unfurl their leaves in Schenley Park, 5 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

CORRECTION ABOUT BUCKEYES: Last week Stephen Tirone investigated the buckeye buds in Schenley and Frick Parks and learned that these are yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) not Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra). Though Ohio buckeyes are more common in the wild, Pittsburgh’s parks are not “wild.” Schenley and Frick Parks were landscaped with ornamentals when the parks were established more than 100 years ago. Yellow buckeyes are often planted as ornamental trees and may be hybridized to produce showy flowers. So, yes, these are yellow buckeyes.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Buds About To Burst

Yellow buckeye buds about to burst, 1 April 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday I found these buds about to burst in Schenley Park.

Yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) are one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring, unfurling their dramatic palmate leaves. They’re such a welcome splash of green that I photograph them nearly every year. This is the first time I noticed the bud at this stage. I didn’t expect it to be red.

Over the years my buckeye photographs have documented the vagaries of spring in Schenley Park. In cooler years — such as 2015 — the buds weren’t this far along in mid-April. Here’s a closed bud on 15 April 2015.

Closed bud on 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

In hot years — such as 2012 — the buds opened weeks ahead of schedule. This buckeye was completely leafed on 19 March 2012.

Yellow buckeye tree 19 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

This year appears to be a “normal” spring … whatever that means these days.

(photos by Kate St. John)