Our Best Bird was a lucky find. As we stood next to Panther Hollow Lake a peregrine falcon zoomed overhead, went into a stoop, and disappeared beyond Phipps Conservatory on his way to the Cathedral of Learning.
When I wrote on Tuesday about non-functional grass in Las Vegas, several of you remarked on the Valley’s many golf courses that use so much water. Should they be considered non-functional grass?
Since I’m a birder and not a golfer I would view golf courses as “non-functional” except that some are very good for birds. Courses managed for low chemical use, clean water, and interspersed wildlife habitat are great for birds, especially when their location is an oasis in the midst of other land uses. Courses can achieve these goals and be recognized for their efforts through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses.
The Bob O’Connor Golf Course in Schenley Park, affectionately known as The Bob, is just such an oasis. Audubon certified since 2012, the course is savanna habitat interspersed with thickets and bordered by forest and residential neighborhoods.
I see birds at The Bob that are hard to find elsewhere including nesting orchard orioles, barn and tree swallows following the mowers, and merlins in winter.
When I walked around (pond-sized) Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park last Friday, I had to dodge high water. On Saturday I expected to see the same water level, or even higher, but it had dropped significantly. Panther Hollow Lake is doing its job.
Panther Hollow Lake has a smart valve governed by the solar-powered weather instrument in the photo below. The smart valve knows the weather forecast and closes during heavy rain events to hold back fresh water that otherwise flows into Pittsburgh’s combined sewer system. After the danger has passed and before the next storm the valve slowly releases water to provide room in the lake for the next downpour. Thus Panther Hollow Lake prevents downstream flooding in The Run neighborhood.
At normal water level three concrete steps edging the pond are exposed. On Friday 13 August all but the top step were hidden (above) and some walkways were flooded (below).
When I returned 24 hours later the water was lower and all three steps were exposed. Here are the same three scenes on Saturday 14 August.
Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms with potentially heavy rain. Panther Hollow Lake is ready. The smart valve is doing its job.
As June turned into July I found yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooming an unusual pink in Schenley Park.
Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) flowers close at night and reopen in the morning. I caught these petals in the act at Frick Park on the last day of June.
Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) turned its face to the sun at Piney Tract on 23 June.
Blooming now in Schenley Park, bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) opens its flowers from the bottom up.
The word bladder has unpleasant connotations but also describes anything both inflated and hollow. The bladdernut tree (Staphylea trifolia) has inflated and hollow seed pods, seen yesterday at Frick Park.
And on the subject of bladders, bladder campion’s (Silene vulgaris) pink, inflated flowers drew our attention at Piney Tract on 23 June. Thanks to Barb Griffith for the photo.
Two species in this list are not native to North America. Can you name which ones?
We are usually unaware of wild honeybee hives high in the forest and that was certainly true of this one near the Westinghouse Shelter in Schenley Park. The bee tree broke during last Sunday’s storm and just missed hitting the shelter. At noon on Tuesday I found the tree cordoned off by Public Works as they waited for the bees to be removed.
The massive hive was in a hollow 20+ feet up in a red oak. When a northwest gust hit the tree it broke at its weakest point and split the hive. Most of the hive remained in the upper section with a few empty honeycombs in the dangling piece.
Rather than step closer I zoomed my cellphone camera to show the bees covering the hive (center of photo) and more honeycombs at top right in the hollow.
When I passed through at 1:30pm, beekeeper and DPW Schenley Park worker Kevin Wilford was carefully moving the hive to a bee transport box. He attached the white box to the tree to encourage the bees to go in it after he moved the hive. However, the hive was so deep that he could not reach it without more tools. The process took longer than I had time to watch but Kevin gave me a taste of it, a small piece of honeycomb laden with honey. Mmmmmm good! and sticky!
By Friday the beehive will be on a scenic hill above Hazelwood, the damaged tree will be gone, and the Westinghouse Shelter will be ready for use.
UPDATE on 24 JUNE 2021: As I passed by the bee tree today I could see that most of the hive was still in place. The bees are very deep inside the hollow so the tree is still down.
UPDATE on 1 JULY 2021: The end of the bee tree. It is gone except for a very tall stump.
At 6pm on Sunday evening a violent thunderstorm blew through Pittsburgh with powerful wind gusts, hail and heavy rain.
Dave DiCello photographed the storm from the West End as it approached Oakland. The VA Hospital and the Cathedral of Learning are to the right of the lightning bolt.
Watching that storm roll into #Pittsburgh today was incredible. A huge hail core, tons of lightning; looked like the apocalypse coming into town. Though this wasn't the largest bolt I captured tonight, it is my favorite image. An absolute monster of a cloud. Lots more to come. pic.twitter.com/b6aqMnbPNZ
Meanwhile my husband and I watched from our 6th floor apartment as a wind gust picked up the patio umbrella from the high-rise roof next door and blew it, Mary Poppins-like, until it crashed into our building. Then we saw no more as rain and hail battered our windows for half an hour, first from the north, then the east.
The tempest left behind flooding, downed trees, power outages, and a rainbow.
Yesterday morning I surveyed the damage after the cleanup had already begun. In a short walk I found trees down at Frick Fine Arts, Carnegie Library and Museum, and two small breaks on South Craig Street.
At Schenley Park the valley around Panther Hollow Lake was spared but the lake itself was full of flood water. This is by design. A flow control gate at the outlet holds back freshwater so that storms will not flood The Run.
This morning the power was still out in parts of Squirrel Hill as I drove home from the grocery store.
My husband and I were fortunate. Our power never failed and that flying umbrella hit the wall below us and caused no damage.
p.s. The young Pitt peregrines are flying so well that they are hard to find. I saw both adults plus two of four juveniles on my Monday morning walk.
Did you know that the Cathedral of Learning is such as safe nesting site that we never have to rescue a young peregrine from the street? That means that Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is pure fun. Drop-in when you can, no need to stay the whole time. Swap peregrine stories, learn about peregrines and watch the Pitt youngsters learn to fly. Bring binoculars or camera if you have them. Check the Events page before you come in case of weather cancellation.
Where:Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above. When: Wed Jun 2, Fri Jun 4 and Sun Jun 6, 11:30a-1:00p. Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder. Check here before you come. Parking: Parking is free on Sunday. Otherwise you must use the pay stations on the street at Schenley Plaza. Garage parking is available at Carnegie Museum, entrance on Forbes Ave at Craig St. (*) Face masks: Wear a face mask if you want to or need to. CDC guidance on 27 April 2021 says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a face mask outdoors; un-vaccinated people can go maskless outdoors if they are alone or with household members.
Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 6, 8:30a – 10:30a
On Sunday June 6, Phipps BioBlitz will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers for a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. See and learn about birds, plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, mollusks and more. As part of the BioBlitz I will lead a bird walk 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free but registration is required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.
How to join the walk: Participation is limited. Registration is required. Sign up here. Where: Starting from Phipps’ front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk. When: Sunday June 6, 8:30a-10:30a Parking: Free on Sundays! (*) Face masks: Will follow Phipps rules. Bring a mask and be prepared to wear it. See details here. Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.
(photo credits: Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John, Phipps Conservatory from Wikimedia Commons)