Category Archives: Schenley Park

Yesterday at Schenley Park

American robin at nest with young, Schenley Park, 27 May 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

29 May 2023

Twelve of us turned out in fine weather yesterday morning for a walk in Schenley Park.

Participants in Schenley Park outing, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

There were fewer birds than I expected but some really nice moments such as:

  • Peregrine falcon, Carla, seen through my scope as she perched on the Cathedral of Learning,
  • A red-tailed hawk’s nest with three young high in the superstructure of the Panther Hollow Bridge,
  • A wood thrush singing above Phipps Run,
  • Two magnolia warblers gleaning insects near a chickadee family,
  • Active robin nests and many adults gathering food. (The nest pictured above by Charity Kheshgi is well camouflaged among the stones of the tufa bridge.)

(Checklist is at and listed at the end.)

I was happy to see that deer are eating Japanese knotweed in Schenley as well as in Frick.

Deer browse on Japanese knotweed in Schenley Park, 28 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Because it had been two months since my last outing in Schenley, when we rounded the bend to Panther Hollow Lake I saw the park through new eyes. Sadly it looked unloved: scattered litter, algae on lake, and a large barren area after last Friday’s grading project.

Algae on Panther Hollow Lake, 26 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

At this moment the Panther Hollow Lake end of Schenley Park is not in good shape. However, there are birds.

Schenley Park, May 28, 2023 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM

Canada Goose 2
Mourning Dove 1
Chimney Swift 6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
gull species 1: Flyover
Great Blue Heron 1
Red-tailed Hawk 4: adult + 3 nestlings under PH Bridge
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Peregrine Falcon 1 Perched at CL visible from Schenley
Acadian Flycatcher 1
Red-eyed Vireo 4
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 3: adult feeding 2 young
Tufted Titmouse 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 1
Carolina Wren 2
European Starling 6
Gray Catbird 1
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 20: including two active nests + 3rd family with recently fledged young
Cedar Waxwing 1
House Sparrow 1
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 1
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 3
Baltimore Oriole 2
Red-winged Blackbird 7
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Common Grackle 1
Magnolia Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 4

(photos by Charity Kheshgi and Kate St. John)

Two Outings: Schenley Sunday the 28th + Phipps BioBlitz Jun 4

Schenley Outing Rescheduled to Sunday 28 May (Memorial Day weekend) due to conflict with Komen More Than Pink Walk

Mayapple in bloom, 17 May 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park, 28 May 2023, 8:30a

Meet me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center (40.4383304,-79.9464765) on Sunday 28 May (the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend) for a bird and nature walk , 8:30am to 10:30am. Migration will be winding down but nesting birds will be in full swing including scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-winged blackbirds and many robins.

As always, dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

If the birding is good we’ll have the option to continue until 11:00a.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, 4 June 2023, 8:30a

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

Phipps BioBlitz is an annual event for families, students, local scientists and naturalists in which we conduct a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. There will be booths on the Phipps lawn displaying the wonders of local nature plus walks in the park including my bird walk at 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free. No registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.

Meet me on the Phipps lawn (directions here) Sunday 4 June, 8:30a-10:30a, after you check in at the Events Desk. Parking is Free on Sundays!

Hope to see you in Schenley Park!

(photo credits are in the captions)

I Miss The Schenley Park Foxes

Fox kits in Schenley Park, 25 April 2020 (photo by Frank Izaguirre)

28 April 2023

Three years ago this week, five little foxes came out every day to play inside the fence surrounding their den under the Neill Log House in Schenley Park. At the end of April 2020 their antics were a bright spot in sixth week of the COVID shutdown and attracted a crowd.

Five little foxes attract a crowd in Schenley Park, 27 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

After the fox family dispersed, Public Works cleaned up the log house basement and blocked access to the den. In the spring of 2021 the family denned in a rock outcrop below the Falloon Trail but that must have been too close to people and dogs. They haven’t been back since then.

When I saw this Twitter video by @urbanponds_101 I remembered the Schenley Park foxes.

Gosh, I miss them!

(photos by Frank Izaguirre and Kate St. John; Twitter embed from @urbanponds_101)

Nowhere To Hide

Two deer at Schenley Park, 24 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

17 April 2023

At the end of winter Pennsylvania’s landscape has very little cover yet wildlife still needs shelter, especially from bad weather. Normally birds and animals would hide in thick bushes and shrubs but the deer population in Schenley Park is so high that they’ve denuded the thickets, including bush honeysuckle, even though it provides them with good shelter and is not a favorite food.

Without cover the deer were easy to see in Schenley Park’s barren woods in late March. The deer pictured below was camouflaged in plain sight until it moved.

One deer camouflaged on barren hillside, Schenley Park, 24 March 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Evergreen bushes could provide shelter but the yews have been browsed literally to death as the deer population has grown exponentially in Schenley in the past couple of years. The white backdrop at Frick Fine Arts building shows the damage typical of all yews near the park.

Deer damage on yews at Frick Fine Arts building, Univ of Pittsburgh, 17 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Now that the honeysuckle has leafed out it’s obvious that deer have eaten their own shelter. You can see straight through these bushes at ground level.

Browseline on honeysuckle, Trough Trail Frick Park, 13 April 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The effect of deer browse is also starkly obvious at Frick Park’s deer exclosure at Clayton East. The slideshow below gives west and north views of the fenceline, the plants growing inside the exclosure (I took a photo through the fence) and the barrens outside the fence. (I pivoted in place to show inside/outside.)

Ground-nesting birds can make a well hidden nest inside the exclosure but not outside.

The deer have eaten their own shelter as well as that of birds, rabbits and other animals in Pittsburgh’s city parks. There is nowhere to hide.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Two Tail-Waggers Are Back in Town

Eastern phoebe, Carondelet Park, 26 March 2017 (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia Commons)

3 April 2023

On Saturday before the storms I saw my First Of Year eastern phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) in Schenley Park while Kathy Saunders found a first Louisiana waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) at Tom’s Run Nature Reserve. Two tail-waggers are back in town.

Few birds wag their tails side to side but we do call it “wagging” when they bob or pump their tails up and down. Eastern phoebes are subtle about it but the movement is almost constant and it draws our attention.

Video by GoTrails on YouTube

What makes phoebes wag their tails faster? Predators! Sibley describes a 2011 study of black phoebes:

Avellis concludes that tail pumping is a signal meant to send a message to the predator. It tells the predator that the phoebe has seen it, and therefore the phoebe is not worth pursuing.

Sibley Guides: Why Do Phoebes Pump Their Tails?

Louisiana waterthrushes don’t just wag their tails. They continuously bob the entire back end of their bodies by moving their ankle joints. Birds’ ankles are the backward “knees,” the middle joint on their legs, hidden by this waterthrush while he dips his butt.

Louisiana waterthrush, April 2020 (photo by Steve Gosser)

His bobbing is like a habit he just can’t quit.

video by Jim Zipp @mcelroyproductions76 on YouTube

Louisiana waterthrushes have a different reason for tail wagging than eastern phoebes and they hold their technique in common with another April migrant, spotted sandpipers.

In case you missed it, here’s why they “wag” their tails.

(photo and video credits are in the captions)

Seen This Week

Woodland crocus or Tommasini’s croscus, 21 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 February 2023

For seven days this week the temperature stayed above freezing and hit 71 degrees F on Thursday. At 26 degrees above normal, flowers opened on plants and trees.


My favorites were the early crocuses. Native to Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania and the former Yugoslavia, these woodland crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus) are often seen in gardens but someone in my neighborhood planted them in a grassy front yard. Because the flowers bloom before the grass grows they are in no danger of being mowed.

Tomasini’s crocuses blooming in the grass, Neville Ave, 21 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Pitt’s campus Cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) produced yellow flowers.

Flowers of Cornelian Cherry, 20 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Red maples (Acer rubrum) bloomed next to Carnegie Museum …

Red maple flowers near Carnegie Museum, 20 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and at Frick Park the maple branches looked thick with tiny flowers, including yellowish pollen-bearing ones.

Maple trees against a blue sky. Branches look thick with small flowers and pollen anthers, Frick Park, 23 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week, tiny leaves opened on jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens) and a few honeysuckle bushes. Unfortunately invasive plants are first to leaf out.

New leaves opening on jetbead, Frick Park, 23 Feb 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The coming week will be like a wet blanket: above freezing, gusty wind, lots of rain.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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 in flood 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 proposed dredging the lake, removing the concrete surround, and building a new dam so the lake would be a good depth.

Concrete edge and 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

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