Category Archives: Schenley Park

A Few Things Seen

A red oak felled at Anderson Playground in Schenley Park, 30 Dec 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

7 January 2023

This week’s rain dampened outdoor activities but there were still some things to see.

Chainsaw tree “trimming” continues in the city. This red oak had a hollow core so it was chopped down in late December at Anderson Playground in Schenley Park. Can you count the rings and determine its age?

On 3 January rain flecked the camera as Ecco stopped by for a visit. Notice how wet his head is!

On 4 January the rain finally stopped and the moon shone at 8pm.

When the cold snap ended on 28 December the ice thawed and the creeks began running again. Listen to the sound of Panther Hollow Run in Schenley Park on 30 December 2022.

(nest photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh, all other photos and video by Kate St. John)

Panther Hollow Lake on Hold

Panther Hollow Lake flooded with ice, 25 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

30 November 2022

Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park has had problems for decades but there was hope they would be solved by an ambitious 2016 plan to rehab the lake and daylight Four Mile Run downstream. Unfortunately the plans were so ambitious that they had to be put on hold this month.

The lake’s problems are legion. It is really only the size of a pond and is filled with sediment. The shallow water cannot replenish fast enough so algae blooms in summer; sometimes fish die. Its unnatural concrete edges prohibit lakeside vegetation that could absorb water and it does not flow into any creek or river. Instead Panther Hollow Lake dumps 68 million gallons per year of clean water into a sewer pipe.

The sewer pipe is what used to be Four Mile Run plus lots of sewage. When there’s not much rain the pipe carries its contents to the water treatment plant at Alcosan.

6.2.3 M29 Four Mile Run: Green Infrastructure Concept Plan Figure 6-15 from pgh2o (markup added for 4 Mile Run)

But in a downpour the pipe is overloaded and floods the downstream neighborhood called The Run.

Combined sewer overflow flood in The Run, August 2016 (photo by Justin Macey used by permission)

In 2016 Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s Draft Green Infrastructure Plan (PWSA at pgh2o.com) proposed dredging the lake, removing the concrete surround, and building a new dam so the lake would be a good depth.

Concrete edge an algae among the cattails in Panther Hollow Lake, August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

It also proposed daylighting Four Mile Run in Junction Hollow — in other words, making it flow on the surface in daylight instead of in a pipe underground. Here’s an example of a daylighted stream in Yonkers.

EXAMPLE OF DAYLIGHTING a stream in an urban setting (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But when the plans were submitted for approval big problems stood in the way of progress. Here’s what stood in the way, quoted from the PGH2O presentation on 14 Nov 2022 (my comments added).

  • DEP’s review proved difficult
    • DEP would not approve the dam as designed. It had to be much larger to meet current dam codes.
    • Daylighting Four Mile Run in Junction Hollow would be a long permitting nightmare because it must be put back into a (new) pipe to get under the railroad and Second Ave on its way to the Monongahela River.
  • The dam would have to be placed on railroad property and the railroad had already said no.

So PWSA updated the project to solve the biggest problem — flooding in The Run. Described in a public meeting on 14 Nov 2022, the revised project map shows no work in Schenley Park. All work will occur in The Run.

Four Mile Run Stormwater Project (from pgh2o community presentation 14 Nov 2022)

Improvements to Panther Hollow Lake are on hold again. Fortunately the flooding will be solved in The Run.

Read about the updated plan as of 14 Nov 2022 at Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority: Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. See the Community Presentation Powerpoint here.

(image credits and links to the originals are in the captions. Maps from pgh2o.com)

Seen This Week

Burning bush leaf and fruit, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

19 November 2022

On Tuesday morning, 15 November, I found beautiful fruits on my walk in the neighborhood: Red berries on invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus), purple berries on native American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and dusty blue fruit on invasive English ivy (Hedera helix).

American beautyberry, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
English ivy berries, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

It began to snow so I hurried home and was glad I was indoors when it came down fast. It looks peaceful in slow motion at the end of this video.

The snow stuck to the grass, parked cars, and the Pitt peregrine nest …

Snow on the Pitt peregrine nest, 15 November 2022, 2:15pm

… then melted overnight as the temperature rose and low clouds moved in.

Low clouds at 8pm, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

By Friday most leaves were gone and the only green shrubs in Schenley Park were invasive plants: Bush honeysuckle in this view …

Scene in Schenley Park, 18 Nov 2022. The green shrubs are invasive honeysuckle (photo by Kate St. John)

… and bamboo near the railroad tracks.

Scene in Schenley Park, 18 Nov 2022. The green shrubs are invasive bamboo (photo by Kate St. John)

Tonight the temperature will drop to 19 degrees for a very cold start to the new week. Brrrrr!

(photos and video by Kate St. John)

November Deer in Pittsburgh

Doe on the trail in Frick Park, 10 Nov 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

13 November 2022

It’s mid November and the rut is at its peak in Pennsylvania. Bucks sniff the air for females in estrous (flehmen), chase does in heat, and hide with them in thick cover to breed repeatedly. Some run into traffic, including yesterday’s road-killed 6-point buck in Schenley Park. Meanwhile birders in Frick Park are seeing all of this up close. Very close.

On 10 November Charity Kheshgi and I encountered a group of five. Two does and an 8-point buck were hiding in a thicket when a 4-point buck walked onto the trail behind us, sniffed the air and looked down at the females. Meanwhile another doe (at top) walked onto the trail ahead of us. This could have been dangerous for the two of us. Fortunately the deer did not view us as competitors.

4-point buck on the trail looks down at the 8-point and two does, 10 Nov 2022 (photo by Charity Khseshgi)

The 8-pointer was hard to see in the underbrush but he resembled this 10-point buck Mike Fialkovich saw on 5 November that appears to be flehmening.

10-point buck in Frick Park, 5 Nov 2022 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

Deer are a prey species, alert to the presence and intent of predators. “Is the predator here? Is it hunting?” And they move to locations of least danger. We see them up close in Frick Park because they have learned that humans in Pittsburgh’s city parks are not dangerous even during hunting season.

Meanwhile, hunting is currently in progress statewide and it’s good to be aware of it. We have so many deer in our area — Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 2B — that hunting lasts longer here than in most of the state.

Map of Pennsylvania WMUs from PA Game Commission

Here’s a quick summary of deer hunting times and types, now through January, in WMU 2B both Antlered and Antlerless unless otherwise noted.

  • now – Nov. 25, including Sundays Nov. 13 and Nov. 20, WMU 2B: Archery
  • Nov. 26 – Dec. 10 including Sunday Nov. 27: Statewide Rifle (“Regular firearms”)
  • Dec. 26 – Jan. 28, 2023, WMU 2B:
    • Archery
    • Flintlock
    • Extended Rifle season (Antlerless only).
Wear Orange and be alert for hunters! Note hunting on three Sundays in November.

p.s. When you’re on the road, watch for deer running into traffic, especially at dusk.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi and Mike Fialkovich, WMU map from PA Game Commission, calendar marked up from timeanddate.com)

City Deer in the Rut

Doe drinks from a pond in Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, 10 October 2022 (photo by John English)

25 October 2022

If you’ve been watching white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the City of Pittsburgh you’ve noticed that they’ve changed their behavior since early September. Back then deer were easy find in groups during the day but now in October they seem to have gone missing. Soon — very soon — they’ll be running into traffic. All of this is part of their breeding season, called the rut, which is driven by photoperiod.

In late summer, white-tailed deer hang out in bachelor groups of adult males and matriarchal groups of does with fawns. As the rut goes through phases, described below, the dynamics change. In the city we live with so many deer that it’s good to know the phases.

Pre-Rut Phase: In late September and early October testosterone levels rise in the bucks, they rub on trees and shed velvet from their antlers. The bachelor groups break up as each male goes it alone and adjusts his home range. During this phase the bucks eat a lot, especially acorns. Once the rut begins they’ll be too busy to eat while chasing, breeding and tending does.

Buck on a tree, Fall 2008 (photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr Creative Commons license)

The buck rubs were fresh in Schenley Park on 9 October 2022. Right after this the bucks “disappeared” from the park.

Buck rubs in Schenley Park, 9 October 2022 (photos by Kate St. John)

Bucks also spar to settle their pecking order as shown in this photo from Tennessee. I have never seen sparring in the city parks.

Two bucks locking antlers, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Seeking and Chasing Phase: As the females begin coming into estrous the males search for and chase does in heat. The bucks move around lot, averaging 3-6 miles per day. Meanwhile doe+fawn groups break up as adult females become distracted. Watch out! They may run into traffic.

The late summer groups have already broken up in Schenley and Frick Parks. The only deer I’ve seen recently are lone females or almost grownup fawns.

Peak of the Rut: According to The Whitetail Rut in Pennsylvania, the peak in Pennsylvania lasts about five weeks, 29 October to 3 December. Their graph, embedded below, is tiny on purpose so that you will look at the original graph, including date ranges, on the Boone & Crockett Club website.

At the peak of the rut bucks make long excursions out of their home range in search of females, sometimes 10-20 miles. The peak also includes a “tending” phase during which bucks and does pair up and hide in thick cover to breed repeatedly.

Post-Rut Phase: Activity drops off precipitously in early December after most of the does have bred. Adults stop wandering and settle into their home ranges. The males still have antlers and some will search for recently-matured fawns that come into estrous (red color in graph above), but the frantic edge is gone.

When will we see deer in lazy groups again in the city parks? Wait and see.

Heard of a dozen+ deer in Schenley Park; Cathedral of Learning in distance, March 2019 (photo by Kate St John)

Resources for this article:

(photos by John English, Kate St. John and Creative Commons licenses from USFW Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. Embedded graph from Boone & Crockett Club website)

Seen This Week

Fall leaves, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

15 October 2022

Fall colors were looking good in the City of Pittsburgh this week. A maple in Schenley Park turned shades of orange and red while the sunrise worked to match it.

Sunrise on 12 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

This acorn in Schenley Park is a squirrel’s dream come true, the largest acorn native to North America. Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa also spelled burr oak) were planted in several places in the park more than 100 years ago, most notably at the main trail entrance near Bartlett Playground. This species withstands harsh conditions and is one of the most drought resistant oaks.

Bur oak acorn, Schenley Park, 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Goldenrods are blooming in the small meadow near Bartlett Playground.

Goldenrod in meadow, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

During my walk to Schenley Plaza on 11 October I saw a peregrine fly toward Heinz Chapel’s scaffolding and disappear among the dense rods.

Heinz Chapel scaffolding, 11 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

If he hadn’t moved I would not have found him. Ta dah! (See inside red circle.)

Peregrine falcon perched (circled) on Heinz Chapel scaffolding, 11 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Amazingly he was easier to see through binoculars from Schenley Plaza tent. Too far for a photo.

(photos by Kate St. John)

October With Too Many Deer

Colorful leaves, Schenley Park, 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 October 2022

The season has changed and the woods in Schenley Park look different than they did a month ago. The trees are putting on fall color and deer are providing more evidence of their overpopulation in the park.

Doe browsing in Schenley Park, 21 Aug 2022. NOTE: A buck-rubbed sapling is in the foreground (photo by Kate St. John)

With the growing season over there is less greenery for deer to eat and there are fewer places to browse because they have already denuded many areas.

Nothing growing on the ground in the presence of too many deer, Schenley Park, 9 October 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

What is left has been eaten down to nubs, just visible above the unpalatable invasive plants. Below, goutweed nearly hides the tops of what used to be jewelweed while pokeweed was browsed to tiny leaves and bare stems.

Favored plants are browsed to the tops of unappetizing plants (goutweed), Schenley Park 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pokeweed overbrowsed by deer, Schenley Park, 9 October 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

As the greenery disappears deer eat tree saplings and small branches. In cases of deer overpopulation, such as Schenley Park, the young trees are foraged down to bonsai.

Ash tree sapling overbrowsed by deer, like bonsai, Schenley Park, 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley no longer has enough food for deer so at night they walk into neighborhoods and browse in backyards. This is happening across the city and has prompted some residents to consider a Deer Management Plan for Pittsburgh. KDKA’s Andy Sheen reports: Some Pittsburgh residents say it’s time to get deer population under control. Click on the link or the screenshot below.

Some Pittsburgh residents say it’s time to get the deer problem under control, KDKA Andy Sheehan

(photos by Kate St. John + screenshot from KDKA)

CANCELLED! Schenley Park Outing, 2 Oct, 8:30am

Goldenrod gall shaped like a green rose, Schenley Park, October 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 September 2022

UPDATE 1 OCTOBER, 5:51PM: THIS OUTING IS CANCELLED BECAUSE I DON’T FEEL WELL

In early October the weather’s fine and there’s plenty to see outdoors. Birds are migrating, fruits are maturing, and insects have their final fling.

Join me on a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday 2 October 2022 — 8:30am – 10:30am(*). Meet me at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center near Phipps Conservatory where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

We’ll look and listen for signs of fall, yellow leaves and chirping crickets. We many find a goldenrod “rose” like the gall at top. Or a million blue jays and chipmunks.

Blue Jay and chipmunk (photos by Chuck Tague)

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

Before you come, visit the Events page in case there are changes or cancellations.  The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning (unlikely this coming Sunday but you never know).

From experience I can say … there will be lots of blue jays and chipmunks.

(*) If the birding is suddenly good at 10:30am we’ll have the option to continue to 11a.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Why Is Wingstem Thriving in City Parks?

Honeybee approaches wingstem, Frick Park, 8 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

17 September 2022

In Schenley and Frick Parks you can look straight through the forest if you duck your head below four feet high. In Schenley Park the ground is often bare and most plants in that four-foot zone are gone. But one flower, wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), is doing just fine in the city parks.

Wingstem, Frick Park, 8 Sep 2022

The absence of cover from the ground to 4 – 5 feet is called a browseline (below) and is evidence of an overpopulation of white-tailed deer.

Bare ground and absence of cover below the trees in Schenley Park, September 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

According to this KDKA report, the deer population in Schenley Park is estimated at 80-120 per acre, which roughly equates to 57-86 deer per square mile. A 2010 deer study for City Parks found that the parks can support 7-8 deer per square mile, but with 8 to 11 times that number living in Schenley any plant still growing there is definitely something deer don’t eat.

Doe browsing in Schenley Park, September 2022 (photo by Kate Sr. John)

So why don’t deer eat wingstem?

A thicket of wingstem on the “elbow” trail, Frick Park, 8 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

The leaves are bitter!

Find out more about wingstem at Illinois wildflowers.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Insects, Deer, a few Birds Yesterday at Schenley

7-point buck in Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

29 August 2022

A year ago in Schenley Park we had such a slow birding day that I wrote, “We worked for every bird.” A year later, nine of us were there yesterday and the birding was even slower! (14 species instead of 19.) However we found lots of insects and two white-tailed bucks in velvet. Here’s the story in pictures, thanks to Connie Gallagher.

Connie saw the very Best Bird, a blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Schenley Park, 28 August 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

We pondered the identity of these wasps and then remembered, all at once, that they are bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata), a type of yellowjacket wasp.

Bald-faced hornets at their paper nest in a pignut hickory, Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

There was still dew on the wild senna as this bumblebee gathered nectar.

Bumblebee on wild senna, Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

The browseline is so severe in Schenley Park that there’s no cover for the deer who sleep there during the day. Looking down from the Falloon Trail we saw two bucks, a 7-point buck (at top) and a 10-point below.

10-point buck in Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

Fortunately some of us heard these birds flying overhead. I can tell their identity by shape and the yellow tips of their tails. Cedar waxwings.

Cedar waxwings fly over, Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

Here’s the group that worked for every bird on Sunday. Thank you all for coming!

Schenley Park outing, 28 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

See our checklist at https://ebird.org/checklist/S117700393 and printed below.

Schenley Park–Panther Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Aug 28, 2022 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, 1.5 mile(s), 14 species

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 5
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 4
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) 1 Seen by Connie
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 1
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 5
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 1
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 3 Including a bald female Cardinal

(photos by Connie Gallagher (group photo by Kate St. John))