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, 31 March 2020:
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 – no contact sports – no playdates in parks for kids – no pavilions – park facilities and amenities will be closed – no restrooms, water fountains, etc. – if you are experiencing symptoms stay home!
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!
Fall officially arrived this week though it’s been in progress for a while. Trees and plants are gradually losing leaves, squirrels are storing food for the winter and birds are migrating. It’s a good time to be outdoors.
We’re sure to see birds, lingering flowers, fruits and acorns. Acorns are a big attraction for chipmunks and blue jays. Last week the number of blue jays exploded when migrating jays arrived in town. Will there be more blue jays than chipmunks? Come and see.
Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. NOTE that a fallen tree blocks part of the Falloon Trail trail so we’ll have to go off the beaten path. Be prepared to walk on dirt with roots and rocks. A walking stick may be useful.
Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations.
(photo credits: blue jay by Chuck Tague, chipmunk by Brian Herman)
One advantage of botanizing the same place over and over again is that you get to know what grows where. You remember a plant that draws attention in the spring, forget it in the summer when it’s boring, then notice it again in fall. Because it’s in the same location, you know what it is.
The identity of this dangling blue fruit was a puzzle until I remembered that it’s hanging from the fringetree that put on a floral show in May.