Category Archives: Schenley Park

Spring Green

Spring green among the trees, Frick Park, 8 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 April 2021

This week Pittsburgh’s sugar maples are clothed in spring green flowers while the oaks remain bare. Most trees bloom long before leaf out so their leaves won’t block the pollinators. These flowers take full advantage of the wind.

Sugar maple flowers, Schenley Park, 9 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Did your allergies kick in this week? The trees are throwing off lots of pollen with little rain to lay the dust.

Insect-pollinated flowers will follow soon. On 3 April pawpaw flowers (Asimina triloba) were still tiny buds in Schenley Park but by the time they bloom the stems will be long and flexible. The dark maroon fetid-smelling flowers will hang like bells to attract flies and beetles. Click here to see a pawpaw flower.

Pawpaw flower bud, Schenley Park, 3 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eastern redbud flowers (Cercis canadensis) had not opened in Schenley as of 7 April, but they showed promise.

Redbuds, Schenley Park, 7 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa) was blooming at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Easter Day.

Spring cress, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 4 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

And Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were open in Schenley Park on 9 April.

Virginia bluebells, Schenley Park, 9 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

This winter I noticed that when moss grows up the base of saplings it looks like leggings on the trees. At Raccoon Wildflower Reserve I found an entire group of saplings wearing mossy leggings. Click here to see the whole group. (Anyone know what this mossy phenomenon is?)

Mossy “leggings” on saplings, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 4 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring green will continue in the coming weeks as tiny leaves pop open and more trees bloom.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Spring Unfolds, late March

Harbinger of spring, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 24 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

29 March 2021

For more than a week the temperature has not dipped below freezing in western Pennsylvania, providing a chance to watch spring unfold.

On 24 March at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve my walking route took me past harbinger of spring (top), hazelnut catkins, skunk cabbage, spring beauties and cutleaf toothwort.

Hazelnut catkins, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 24 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Skunk cabbage after the flood, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 24 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring beauty, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 24 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Cutleaf toothwort about to bloom, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 24 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 26 March my favorite northern magnolia in Schenley Park began to bloom.

Northern magnolia flower, Schenley Park, 26 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The buds looked like this only three days before.

Northern magnolia bud, Schenley Park, 23 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

I also found spicebush in bloom, bottlebrush buckeye leaf out, and Ohio buckeye buds bursting.

Spicebush in bloom, Schenley Park, 26 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bottlebrush buckeye leaf out, Schenley Park, 26 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Ohio buckeye bud, Schenley Park, 26 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Ohio buckeye bursting buds, Schenley Park, 26 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The trees are still bare but European willows provide a spot of green and maple flowers add a hint of red and orange.

Bare trees lean toward the light at Pymatuning Lake, 27 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Flowering sugar maple, Pymatuning State Park, 27 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tonight the temperature will dip close to freezing in the city and will reach a low of 24 degrees on the night of April Fools Day. No fooling! Get outdoors before that happens. Many flowers will be brown on April 2.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Spring Update, 24 March

A small wasp explores a daffodil, 23 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

24 March 2021

Spring has been popping out all over now that we’ve had a string of warm — even hot — sunny days.

Above, a small wasp checks out the daffodils at Carnegie Mellon. Below, coltsfoot is blooming in Schenley Park and cherry trees are flowering at Carnegie Museum.

Coltsfoot blooming, Schenley Park, 21 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Cherry tree in bloom, Carnegie Museum, 21 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The 23 March 2021 National Phenology Network (NPN) Spring Leaf Index indicates that Leaf Out hasn’t reached the bottom left corner of Pennsylvania. The map uses honeysuckle buds as the Spring Leaf Index gauge because, though invasive, the plants are everywhere.

National Phenology Network Spring Leaf Index, 1 Jan to 23 March 2021

I should have reported what I found on Monday in Washington County. Honeysuckles were leafing out at Hillman State Park on 22 March 2021.

Leaf out! Honeysuckle leaves emerge, Hillman State Park, 22 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Garlic mustard leaves are up, too.

Garlic mustard leaves, Hillman State Park, 22 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Did you notice that all the plants I’ve shown so far are non-native?

Our native trees are cautious about frost so only the earliest, such as this red maple, have opened their flowers.

Red maple flowers, 22 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

More blooms ahead! This week’s forecast looks promising.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Yellow Buds and Ice

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) flower buds, 19 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 March 2021

Last Wednesday was gorgeous, Thursday was miserable with rain and wind, Friday was sunny but cold.

The Cornelian cherry tree (Cornus mas) next to Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park was close to blooming yesterday but the flowers remained cautious, above. Take a good look at this tree this spring. When the lake is re-done it will be gone.

Cornelian cherry in March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile Thursday’s rain had turned to ice by Friday morning. Notice the straight-edge and wavy lines.

Ice near Panther Hollow Lake, 19 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather will be warmer this weekend so get outdoors when you can.

Happy First Day of Spring!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Is It Grackle Day?

Male common grackle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1 March 2021

Grackle Day is coming this week. For some it’s already here.

The arrival of migrating blackbirds and grackles is one of the earliest signs of spring. Common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) leave the East End of Pittsburgh during fall migration and don’t return until early March, usually around the 5th. I haven’t seen a grackle yet but I found a red-winged blackbird — just one — in Schenley Park on Friday 26 Feb, my First of Year.

Friends in Beaver County reported small flocks of grackles at their feeders on Saturday 27 February. I’m disappointed the birds bypassed Pittsburgh but am keeping my eyes open for their arrival here.

Sometimes I hear their “chucking” sound before I see them. Listen for …

Then they point their bills up, strut and puff and “skriiNNNK.”

I can hardly wait!

Will this be Grackle Day?

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, audio from Xeno Canto, video from YouTube. click on the captions to see the originals)

Slow Melt, New Buds

Long shadows late in the day, 23 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

27 February 2021

This week was full of sunshine and days above freezing but the ice is slow to melt on Schenley Park’s gravel trails.

On Tuesday I wore ice cleats to walk the interior. It was a beautiful — though slow and careful — journey.

Clouds lit by the setting sun, 23 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Long shadows during the Golden Hour.

My very long shadow, 5:19pm, 23 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The waxing moon peeks through the trees.

Moon behind the trees, Schenley Park, 23 February 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday the trails were still icy (so we walked the road) but I found signs of spring on the way.

Daffodil buds on Bartlett Street, Schenley Park, 26 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Keyholes and Clouds

Through the garden gate at Phipps Conservatory, 17 Jan 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On overcast days it’s too easy to convince myself not to go outdoors but last week, when five of seven days were overcast, I forced myself to walk to Phipps to take photos of dawn redwoods. While there I looked through the garden gate — like a large keyhole.

On the 20th I promised myself to be at Schenley Park Overlook at noon for a big view of the sky, the city and the Cathedral of Learning (falcon home). On the way there I snapped a photo of Panther Hollow Lake, surprisingly shaped like a giant keyhole.

Panther Hollow Lake, normal water level, 20 Jan 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The day ended with a Gleam At Sunset, 10 minutes of happy sunshine before darkness. Below you can see the source of the gleam, a patch of clear sky in the lowest notch between the buildings.

The Gleam at Sunset, Pittsburgh PA, 20 Jan 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Working backwards in time, 19 January provided a welcome respite with a panoply of blue sky and clouds. One cloud broke away from the pack.

One cloud above the hill, Pittsburgh PA, 19 Jan 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

January 16th was gloomy with freezing fog, light snow and mist but two merlins and The Gleam At Sunset made my late-day walk to Schenley Park worthwhile.

The Gleam at Sunset, Schenley Park, 16 Jan 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning is overcast with a 10oF wind chill. I plan to go outdoors … later.

p.s. I digitally brightened the gloomy skies in yesterday’s blog.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Living Fossils in Pittsburgh

Base of a dawn redwood in front of Phipps Conservatory, Jan 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

This month Tree Pittsburgh is featuring the dawn redwood as their Tree of the Month so I walked to Phipps Conservatory to see four of the living fossils. On the way I found a fifth near the Cathedral of Learning.

Dawn redwood on Pitt’s campus next to the Cathedral of Learning, Heinz Chapel in the background (photo by Kate St. John)

Endangered in the wild, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is the only survivor of the genus Metasequoia from the age of the dinosaurs. It was thought to be extinct until a single living tree was discovered in 1941 in the village of Moudao in Hubei province, China.

The discovery happened in the nick of time. The tree would have gone extinct by now were it not for local protection and a seed-collecting expedition in 1947 that distributed seeds to ornamental gardens and arboretums around the world. Joe Stavish tells the story in Tree Pittsburgh’s video.

Tree of the Month: Dawn Redwood from Tree Pittsburgh on Vimeo.

Across the lawn the dawn redwoods at Phipps smile to other living fossils in Pittsburgh — the ginkgos that line Schenley Drive.

(photos by Kate St. John)

The Rise and Fall of Panther Hollow Lake

Panther Hollow Lake: Normal level (left) 29 Dec 2017, Flooded (right) 4 Dec 2020 (photos by Kate St. John)

16 January 2021

This winter Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park rose to flood level in late November, remained flooded for almost two months, and fell suddenly last week. Here’s the story of the rise and fall of Panther Hollow Lake.

Panther Hollow Lake, which is actually the size of a pond, was built around 1904 by damming the fresh water of Panther Hollow Run and piping its outflow into the combined sewer system of what had been Four Mile Run, the creek that used to receive it. Buried in Junction Hollow the big pipe passes under a neighborhood called The Run on its way to the Monongahela River.

For decades that pipe has been too small to handle heavy rain so sewage backs up in The Run, dangerously flooding streets and basements. In 2019 as part of the Four Mile Run Stormwater Project, a smart valve was placed in the lake’s outflow pipe to hold back fresh water during heavy rain events, then release it slowly after the danger passes. In this way Panther Hollow Lake rises and falls a little to protect the downstream neighborhood.

Normally the water level is low enough that the concrete-step edge is visible as shown at top left and on 19 Nov 2020 below.

But the valve malfunctioned or clogged in late November. By 25 November water was climbing the edge and by 4 December the lake was obviously flooded (top photo at right). An alternate channel kept the water from rising further but you couldn’t walk around the lake until someone beat a path above the water line.

On Wednesday 13 January I circumnavigated the still-flooded lake. The next day someone fixed the valve and the lake began to fall rapidly, cracking and levering ice around the edge.

Here’s what it looked like on Friday 15 January 2021, back to normal water level.

Sheets of ice lever up as Panther Hollow Lake level falls, 15 January 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Ice thickness revealed, 15 January 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Ice stranded above water at Panther Hollow Lake, 15 January 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The ice was still settling and cracking when I stopped to record the sound last Friday. Listen to it pop and groan. You can also hear a Carolina chickadee and a song sparrow at the end.

Read more about the Panther Hollow Watershed and the origin of Panther Hollow Lake in this March 2018 blog by Krissy Hopkins: From Hill to Hollow The Evolution of Panther Hollow Watershed.

p.s. And, yes, a stream is called a “Run” in Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Maryland. Derek Watkins’ map of Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous U.S., generated from GNIS data, shows the places where people use different words for Creek including: Branch, fork, run, brook, kill, stream, bayou, swamp, slough, wash, cañada, arroyo, rio. (Click here to see his map.)

Note: Watkins did not include regional pronunciations such as “crick” because the data he used from GNIS spells it “creek.”

(photos by Kate St. John)

Photos of the Week: Cold and Warm

Icicles lean inward, deformed by the wind, 18 December 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

27 December 2020, Pittsburgh

Nestled between two bouts of winter on Dec 16 and 25 the snow melted and the birds fed frantically before snow and bitter cold returned.

The melting began right after heavy snow stopped on Dec 17. The wind that day was so steady that dripping icicles leaned away from it. Then the wind dropped and new icicles formed straight down. (photo above)

While the deep snow lasted I found many tracks in Schenley Park including evidence of humans and …

Evidence of humans in the snow, Schenley Park, 19 December 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

… evidence of white-tailed deer, below. With the rut still in progress it looks as if the deer are leaving “calling cards” on the snow. (Can you tell me more about this brownish (maybe) urine? I found it in several locations.)

Evidence of deer, footprints and dark urine, Schenley Park, 19 Dec 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 22 December the snow was mostly gone when I found a pumpkin graveyard on Aloe Street in Bloomfield.

Pumpkin graveyard, Aloe St. Bloomfield, 22 Dec 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The next day’s “red sky at morn” presaged Christmas Eve’s all-day rain.

Red skies forewarn a winter storm, 23 December 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 24 December cherry trees started to bloom on Craig Street. It was 57oF.

Cherry trees start to bloom in Oakland, 57 degrees F and rain on 24 Dec 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And then it turned cold.

A white Christmas, overcast sky, 25 Dec 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)