Category Archives: Schenley Park

Signs of Spring: Flowers & Leaves

Purple deadnettle in Schenley Park, 1 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 April 2020

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.

Sedge buds, Schenley Park, 27 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sedge blooming, Schenley Park, 29 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

Compound leaf of cultivated shrub in Schenley Park, 31 Mar 2020 (not sure what it is; photo by Kate St. John)

There are also flowers in the trees: Northern magnolia, crabapple buds, blooming (invasive) Callery pear, and flowering cherry.

Northern magnolia, Schenley Park, 27 Mar 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Crabapple buds, Schenley Park, 31 Mar 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Callery pear in bloom, Pittsburgh, 31 Mar 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Flowering cherry, Pittsburgh, 1 Apr 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

I am so grateful that Schenley Park is still open.

Please keep physical distance in the parks or our parks will close as have those in other parts of Pennsylvania!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Please Cooperate Or Parks Will Close Too!

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 sportsno 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!

Signs of Spring, 18-23 March

Crocuses blooming in my Pittsburgh neighborhood, 21 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 March 2020:

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.

Daffodils in my neighborhood, 21 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The earliest trees are beginning to leaf out including the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) in Schenley Park.

Bud on a bottlebrush buckeye, Schenley Park, 23 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
New leaves on a bottlebrush buckeye, Schenley Park, 23 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) are in bloom at Schenley. Photos of the whole tree and a blossom closeup.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) tree in bloom, 23 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in bloom, 22 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

A small American beech stands out with its papery dry leaves. Raccoon Creek State Park, 18 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Papery leaves of a American beech, Raccoon Creek State Park, 18 March 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Getting outdoors is not cancelled.

Stay safe.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week In Schenley Park

Witch hazel flowering in Schenley Park, 24 Dec 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

I found three things in Schenley Park on Christmas Eve:

  • Witch hazel blooming,
  • Gray squirrels searching for nuts,
  • An eastern screech-owl at his roost.

Tiny spider webs span a few petals of the witch hazel flower shown above. These winter flowers are pollinated at night by owlet moths.

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.

A gray squirrel who’s black in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park, 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Don’t forget to spend time outdoors in late December. There are still cool things to see.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Helps Stop The Flood

These signs announcing the closure of Schenley Park’s Bridle Trail and some tree removals are actually good news. Here’s why.

Pittsburghers are among the 40 million people in the U.S. who use combined sewer systems that carry both rainwater and sewage. Built between the 1860s and 1920s the pipes dumped directly into our rivers until the 1950s when Allegheny County opened a sewage treatment plant. (Fortunately, Pittsburgh has been disinfecting drinking water since 1911.)

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).

3D map of Schenley Park and The Run from 4mr.org (notes in red by Kate St. John)

You’ve probably never visited The Run but you’ve seen it’s most famous building from the Parkway East, the onion domes of Andy Warhol’s family church, St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church.

St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church down in The Run (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Run bears the brunt of heavy downpours when the sewers back up into basements and streets. The Greenfield Community Association’s website has video plus photos of a manhole spouting 20 feet under the Parkway bridge.

Sewage floods The Run, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Justin Macey)

People are sometimes trapped by the floods in The Run. On 28 August 2016 a father and son had to crawl through the sunroof when their car was swamped on Saline Street. Click here for photos of the flood and rescue.

Father and son waiting for rescue, escaped through the sunroof of their flooded car, The Run, 28 Aug 2016 (photo by Justin Macey)

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.

Schenley Park will help stop the flood.

For more information, see Channeling The Energy of Fast Moving Rain

(photos of signs by Kate St. John, photos of flood by Justin Macey, maps from 4mr.org)

A Very Thorny Problem

Invasive wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week this thorny alien showed off its armor in Schenley Park.

Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) is an Asian member of the Rose family that was introduced to North America in the 1890s as breeding stock for raspberries. What a mistake! It became invasive in less than 100 years.

Wineberry is easy to distinguish from native raspberries because, in addition to thorns, the stems are coated with sharp red hairs. The stems look red from afar and dangerous up close.

Wineberry canes (Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org)

During the growing season wineberry resembles other raspberries with leaves that are white underneath and clustered flowers and fruits.

Wineberry leaves (photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org)
Wineberry foliage and developing fruit (photo by Richard Gardner, bugwood.org)

However, wineberry fruits are bright red.

Wineberry fruit (photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org)

I’m sure the fruit is good for birds but it’s practically inaccessible to other wildlife because the plant is so formidable.

Whether you’re trying to pick its fruit, cross the thicket, or remove the plant, wineberry is a very thorny problem.

Read more about wineberry and its invasive properties at New York Invasive Species Information: Wineberry.

(first photo by Kate St. John, remaining photos from bugwood.org. See photo credits and links to the originals in the captions.)

Today in Schenley Park, Sep 29

Participants at Schenley Park outing on 29 Sep 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

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!

Our list below, 27 species, has my favorites in boldface type. There were so many birds in the last 15 minutes that I may have missed some. Here it is on eBird: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60218049

Mourning Dove 3
Chimney Swift 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1 (First of fall)
Red-bellied Woodpecker 8
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 5
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 18
American Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 2
Carolina Wren 3
European Starling 2
Gray Catbird 2
Brown Thrasher 1
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 16
House Finch 3
American Goldfinch 1
Song Sparrow 1
Common Grackle 100 (big flock flying over the golf course)
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Northern Cardinal 6

Thanks to all for coming out today. Never expected it to be so great at the end!

p.s. Chipmunks did outnumber blue jays — barely — but common grackles beat them all.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Sep 29, 8:30a

Blue jay and chipmunk (photos by Chuck Tague and Brian Herman)

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.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, 29 September 2019, 8:30a – 10:30a. We’ll meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street because the north end of Schenley will be hard to get to. Forbes and Fifth Avenues will be closed for the Pittsburgh Great Race.

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)

Fringetree Fruit

Fringetree fruit, 31 August 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

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.

One flower of a fringetree in Schenley Park, 18 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
One flower of a fringetree in Schenley Park, 18 May 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Each flower can become a blue fruit.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Aug 25, 8:30a

Orange jewelweed, “touch-me-not” (photo by Kate St. John)

Late summer flowers are blooming, bugs are buzzing, and the first migrating birds are on the move.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, 25 August 2019, 8:30a – 10:30a. Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road joins Schenley Drive. 

I know we’ll hear True Bugs and see lots of summer flowers. We might even catch a glimpse of a ruby-throated hummingbird feeding at orange jewelweed.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. If it’s hot be sure to bring water, sunscreen and a hat.

Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations. The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning.

Hope to see you there!

(photo by Kate St. John)