Category Archives: Schenley Park

Yesterday at Schenley Park, 5/18

Female red-winged blackbird scans the sky while collecting nesting material, Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

19 May 2024

The pouring rain ended yesterday morning just in time for our walk in Schenley Park.

Outing at Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

From midnight until 8am 1.16 inches of rain fell. All the streams were rushing and Panther Hollow Lake was muddy and full. It looked as if the lake had risen 8-12 inches since I saw it the day before.

Among the cattails we found busy red-winged blackbirds including a female gathering nesting material who scanned the sky for predators (at top). The last time I saw red-wings building nests was in mid April. Was this a second nesting? Or had high water flooded nests that now were being rebuilt?

Female red-winged blackbird collecting nesting material, Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Why was the female blackbird scanning the sky? She probably saw a red-tailed hawk shuttling food to three youngsters in their nest on the bridge.

3 youngsters in red-tailed hawk nest, Schenley Park, 18 May 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

All told we saw 27 species of birds plus one doe, five bucks and an active beehive.

I’m so glad it stopped raining!

Our checklist is here https://ebird.org/checklist/S175534213 and listed below.

Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
May 18, 2024 8:30 AM – 10:45 AM, 27 species

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 5
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1 Perched on snag
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 4 3 youngsters in nest
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 3 Adult perched on nest rail, 2 young on falconcam
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) 2
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) 1
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 4
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 8
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 3
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 4 House wrens usually nest at PH Lake in the streetlight hoods. Singing wren near the streetlight went into the hood.
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 3
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 4
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) 1 Heard
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 30
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 6
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 4
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 3
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) 4
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 8 (PHLake very high after lot of rain. Perhaps flooded RWBL nests)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) 1
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 2
Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina) 2
Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) 1 Heard

Yes, We Saw Sapsuckers

Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

15 April 2024

Twelve of us gathered in yesterday’s perfect weather for an outing in Schenley Park.

Schenley Park outing, 14 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I announced the outing, I said we had a good chance of seeing yellow-bellied sapsuckers and indeed we did — at least four plus an interesting interaction between a male and female.

Was this pair migrating together? Birds of the World says Not likely. Male yellow-bellied sapsuckers migrate first, the females follow later. When the males reach the breeding grounds they drum and squeal to establish territory and attract a mate. There was no drumming and squealing in Schenley (they don’t breed here) but the two birds followed each other from tree to tree. One of them seemed annoyed. Was the other “stealing” sap from his/her holes?

There were plenty of holes to choose from. The sapsuckers redrilled old rings on shagbark hickories and made new rings on tuliptrees.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker sipping sap from a tuliptree, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We also saw nest building among blue jays (a pair) and red-winged blackbirds (just the female) …

Blue jay carrying nesting material, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

… and a pair of red-tailed hawks incubating eggs in last year’s successful nest under the bridge.

Red-tailed hawk on nest under PH Bridge, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

There aren’t many wildflowers in Schenley Park because of abundant hungry deer but we saw a few foamflowers (Tiarella sp) in an inaccessible spot.

Foamflower in bloom, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Can you see the flying honeybees and honeycombs in this photo? The hive is so high up (20-30 feet) that we wouldn’t have seen it if we hadn’t been looking for birds.

Honeybee hive way up high in a hollow branch, Schenley Park, 14 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

In all, we saw 33 species and lots of breeding behavior. Our last sighting was a surprise: two bald eagles, an adult and an immature, circling northward in Junction Hollow. I wondered if one of the Hays eagles was escorting an immature intruder away from the Hays nest.

See our checklist below and online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S168641182

Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Apr 14, 2024, 8:30 AM – 10:45 AM, 33 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 4
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) 1 Immature
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 2 One adult & one immature flying/soaring up Junction Hollow.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) 4 Drilling and sipping sap, especially on trees with well established sapsucker rings on bark.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 4
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 6
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) 2
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 7 Two jays carrying nesting material to same nest area.
Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) 1 Heard
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 5
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Corthylio calendula) 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) 2
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 2
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) 2
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 4
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 5
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 6
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 5
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 4
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) X Heard
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 5
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 9 Female building a nest.
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) 3
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 3
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 6

(all photos by Charity Kheshgi except for the people-photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing on April 14, 8:30am

Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Frick Park, 6 April 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

8 April 2024

Surprise! Instead of an outing on the last Sunday of the month, let’s go birding next weekend. Join me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center for a bird & nature walk on Sunday 14 April, 8:30a – 10:30a.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers migrate through Allegheny County in April so mid-month is the best time to find one in Schenley. Charity Kheshgi and I saw this one at Frick.

We’ll also see trees in bud, in bloom, and with tiny leaves. Ten years ago the redbuds had not opened yet. Will they be blooming next Sunday?

Redbuds in bud, Schenley Park, 18 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

April showers won’t stop us. This event will be held rain or shine, but not in downpours or thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of cancellation.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars.

Hope to see you there.

p.s. If the birding is good I’ll give an option to continue until 11:00am.

p.p.s. Don’t expect a big show of spring wildflowers like we used to see several years ago. Pittsburgh’s overabundant deer have eaten everything except the toxic flowers.

(credits are in the captions)

Turkey Day

Turkeys in a Pittsburgh backyard, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by Kathy Saunders)

23 November 2023

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are thriving in Pittsburgh’s suburbs. This flock of 14 feels right at home in a Kathy Saunders’ backyard.

Meanwhile, where have all the city turkeys gone? A decade ago they were easy to find in Schenley Park and Oakland but I haven’t seen one here in three years. This vintage article describes an impromptu Turkey Day at WQED when six came for a visit in November 2011.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(credits are in the captions)

Burst of Color Before The Freeze

Witch hazel in a garden, 28 Oct 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

4 November 2023

Throughout October Pittsburgh’s city neighborhoods had not experienced a freeze, even though it was felt in the outlying areas. That changed on the first two days of November with a whisper of snow. We still had fall colors before the freeze. There are brown leaves and bare trees in our future.

At top, landscaping plants are often bred to maximize fall color as seen on a cultivated witch hazel on 28 October.

The oozing “sweat” beads on this polypore mushroom are just the right color for autumn.

Bracket polypore fungus, Schenley Park, 27 Oct 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Heavy mist on 29 October clung to ornamental grasses at Phipps Conservatory.

Heavy dew on ornamental grass at Phipps, 29 Oct 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) was still blooming last week. Alas, it’s invasive.

Canada thistle still blooming, 27 Oct 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) at Phipps change color before they lose their needles.

Dawn redwood changing color, Phipps, 29 Oct 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fall color was muted on a misty morning in Schenley Park, 29 October.

Panther Hollow Lake on a misty morning, Schenley Park, 29 Oct 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Leaf Peeping and Patchy Frost Prediction

Bright red maple leaf near Phipps Conservatory, 16 October 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

21 October 2023

Fall color’s peak in southwestern Pennsylvania used to be around the 12th of October but climate change has pushed it later, closer to the 21st, as you can see in the PA fall foliage prediction for 19-25 October.

PA fall color prediction for 19-25 Oct 2023 (map from PA DCNR)

This week I found bright leaves on red maple trees, at top, and yellow on buckeyes and hickories.

Schenley Park leaves are yellow and green on 16 October 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yellow and orange maple leaves, Frick Park, 18 October 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Frick and Schenley are dominated by oaks whose color will peak in the next two weeks. Meanwhile their few red maples turned red from the top down and have lost their leaves in the same order. The maples are gorgeous up close but you can’t see them from a distance because the tops are bare.

The top of this red maple is almost bare, 16 October 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tomorrow night the northwest wind will bring migrating birds overnight and patchy frost on Monday morning.

This is the week to go leaf peeping.

(credits are in the captions)

Seen This Week

Turtleheads blooming in Schenley Park, 3 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 September 2023

Seen this week:

Turtleheads and late boneset flowers at Schenley Park. Do you see the honeybee?

Honeybee flies to late boneset, Schenley Park, 4 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A rainbow with crows over Oakland.

Rainbow over Shadyside on 7 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fiery sunset on 7 September.

Fiery sunset on 7 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Six deer in Schenley Park — only 5 made it into the photo.

Five of six does in Schenley Park along the Bridle Trail, 4 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

But there’s a photo of deer I wish I’d been able to take: Friday morning 8 September along 5th Ave between the Cathedral of Learning and Clapp Hall I saw 3 deer — 2 does and 1 fawn — standing on the pavement at Clapp Hall. They were close to the curb of 5th Ave at Tennyson as they tried to figure out how to cross 5th Ave during rush hour.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Right now there are 2 flamingos in PA in Franklin County east of Chambersburg.

How Deer Create a Browse Line

Browse line in Schenley Park — gap below the trees — at the entrance to the Upper Trail, 18 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 August 2023

The white-tailed deer population in the City of Pittsburgh has been so high for so long that most people think the browse line in our parks is normal, but the light-gap you see under the trees above is not normal in a balanced forest. It’s a sign of deer overpopulation. Here’s what a browse line is and how deer maintain it.

Browse line: A phenomenon that occurs when herbivores consume all of the vegetation in the woods between the ground and the level of their highest reach. A clearly visible line is formed between the leafed and the leafless areas.

paraphrased from Blue Jay Barrens: Fallen Trees and Browse lines, May 2011

Is the browse line hard to recognize in the photo above? Here’s an extreme example.

Tuileries Garden in Paris, a man-made browse line (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This eye-level view of the Grande Allée of horse chestnut trees at the Tuileries in Paris is a man-made browse line in which gardeners trim the trees and clear the ground to maintain an opening beneath the trees at uniform height. Nothing is growing between the ground and the trimmed height.

An individual deer browsing the ground and lower branches of trees does not create the browse line. It’s the cumulative effect of too many deer eating at the same location over and over.

Last Friday I watched two 8-point bucks, antlers in velvet, maintain the browse line next to the Upper Trail at Schenley Park. The current browse line, seen in the video, is that clear view straight through the woods to the cars passing on the road beyond.

In the video the bucks eat herbaceous stems and leaves on the ground, then switch to twigs, leaves and stems of trees. About halfway in, the buck on the right stands on his hind legs to reach the lowest branches. The buck on the left wrestles with a tree to yank off the branches. Deer only have lower teeth so they can’t sharply bite off a branch like a beaver would.

Two bucks reinforce the browse line in Schenley Park, 18 Aug 2023 (video by Kate St. John)

In late August, when forage should be quite plentiful, these bucks are forced to eat their own cover and what little remains of the edible plants.

Buck in velvet has no cover to hide him, Schenley Park, Aug 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Here’s what the forest would look like if there was no browse line.

No browse line here, August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing: August 27, 8:30am

Wingstem, Schenley Park, August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

21 August 2023

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

Join me for a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park next Sunday, August 27, 8:30am to 10:30am. Meet at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road joins Schenley Drive.

In addition to birds and flowers, this walk it will take a look at two huge effects humans have had on the landscape, both direct and indirect. Heavy equipment and deer.

Dress for the weather — including sun hat + water — and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit the Events page 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)

The Calm Before The Rut: Deer in August

6-point buck in Schenley Park, 4 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

13 August 2023

In the city of Pittsburgh there are so many white-tailed deer that it’s easy to see them in August. The bucks are eating, eating, eating to bulk up. The does are hanging out with their adolescent fawns in this brief period between birthing and mating. It’s the calm before the rut.

Last Friday morning I found eight deer resting in dappled shade in Schenley Park. My cellphone photos don’t do them justice except for this: The photos show how hard it is to notice deer that are lying down and not moving.

Four bucks resting in Schenley Park, 11 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A few of them moved, however, grooming to shed their chestnut brown summer coats for gray-brown winter pelage. The photo above shows four bucks with antlers in velvet, each with a different point count: 4-point, 6-point, 7-point and 8-point.

Two does and two fawns rested a short distance from the males. The fawns gave the group away. They did not hold still for long. (The second doe is not in the photo.)

Doe and two fawns resting in Schenley Park, 11 Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

One week earlier it was impossible not to see this six-point buck browsing the hillside right next to the Lower Trail.

Deer eating in Schenley Park, 4 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

He’s leaving a lot of greenery behind but the leaves he’s not eating are unpalatable invasive aliens called goutweed. The buck is nosing through them to re-browse the deer-food plants hidden below the goutweed. Those food plants won’t recover this late in the season. All the food will be gone and he won’t be back to this spot.

Buck browsing in Schenley Park, 4 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

In August the days are still longer than the nights and deer hormones are not surging yet but it’s only a matter of time and the Equinox before their sedate demeanor ends. According to the PA Game Commission, after 12 weeks of rut excitement from mid October through early January:

  • 98% of the mature does will have bred
  • 40% of the fawns will have bred at only 6-7 months old (city/suburb phenomenon)
  • 85% of the pregnancies will result in twins or triplets, some with different fathers.

It’s calm now before the storm.

Schenley Park suffers from its overabundant deer population. See this article for more information: The Forest Lives in Mortal Fear of Its Deer.

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(photos by Kate St. John)