Category Archives: Schenley Park

Seen This Week

Ginkgo turning yellow at Schenley Park, 13 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 November 2021

This week we had a last blast of fall color, a partial lunar eclipse and a surprising confirmation of pigeon fertility. Here are a few scenes from 12-19 November.

The ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba) turned yellow and will probably drop their leaves in a single day. Red oaks and hickories made a bright splash of color at Phipps’ outdoor garden on Monday.

Red oak at Phipps garden, 15 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some beech leaves were already brown though the leaf veins were still yellow. Beech leaves cling to the smaller trees all winter, becoming paper thin and rattling in the wind.

Beech leaves turn brown though the veins are still yellow, Schenley Park, 15 November 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Wednesday 17 November four of us drove north hoping for water birds but were disappointed by the lack of bird activity, particularly after the clouds moved in. Colorful leaves were scarce in Crawford County, especially at Conneaut Outlet swamp where high water killed the trees. This scene says “November in western Pennsylvania.”

Conneaut Outlet, Crawford County, 17 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 18 November I saw a pigeon feeding two babies at its nest on Filmore Street near the Cathedral of Learning. Yes, nesting in November! Feral rock pigeons (Columba livia) breed year round if there’s enough food — and there is at this pile of birdseed on the corner.

Birdseed for pigeons at S. Dithridge & Filmore, 18 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

As expected the partial lunar eclipse was obscured by clouds in Pittsburgh at 4am on 19 November. Only a tiny bright uneclipsed sliver is visible. The clouds are lit from below by the city lights.

Partial lunar eclipse obscured by clouds. Only the bright sliver shows in Pittsburgh, 19 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

More leaves fell this week but most of the trees are not yet bare. Here’s a week’s worth of change at Schenley Park, 12 and 19 November.

Maples are bare, oaks are red, Schenley Park, 12 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Not yet. Most of the trees are Not bare. Schenley Park, 19 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The leaves are hanging on about two weeks longer than they used to. When will most of the trees be bare in Pittsburgh? Soon.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Fall Colors, Frost, and Bad Air

Colorful trees at Moraine State Park, 3 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

8 November 2021

Last week began as a warm colorful autumn and ended with frosty mornings. This week begins with bad air.

Before last week’s frost I found splashes of fall color including this amaranth in an unusual place at Phipps Conservatory. Click here to see where this red plant was growing.

Amaranth in an unusual spot at Phipps Conservatory, 30 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Colorful leaves at Schenley Park, 30 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 4 November the leaves glowed yellow as the sun gained altitude at Frick. When the sun melted the frost, leaves quickly loosened and dropped from the trees.

Sun through golden trees on a frosty morning at Frick Park, 4 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Saturday morning at Yellow Creek State Park the frost was beautiful, ephemeral and cold. Hoarfrost decorated the weeds in the parking lot.

Hoarfrost on a grassy weed, Yellow Creek State Park, 6 Nov 2021, 9:39am (photo by Kate St. John)
Hoarfrost at Yellow Creek State Park, 6 Nov 2021, 9:39am (photo by Kate St. John)

Frost remained in a tree’s shadow but not for long.

Frost in the shadow, Yellow Creek State Park, 6 Nov 2021, 9:49am (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week I re-learned how to dress for winter. This week will be warm with highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s, temperature inversions and bad air in Pittsburgh.

Roger Day captured these views of the Mon Valley yesterday morning, 7 November, from Frick Park’s Riverview overlook. The Allegheny County Health Department has issued an air pollution warning and the state DEP has issued a Code Orange warning. Read more here.

Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock pouring smoke, seen through smog at Frick Park, morning of 7 Nov 2021 (photo by Roger Day)
Inversion: Edgar Thompson Works in the distance, Frick Park, morning of 7 Nov 2021 (photo by Roger Day)
Inversion: Kennywood seen through smog from Frick Park, morning of 7 Nov 2021 (photo by Roger Day)

Don’t breathe!

(photos by Kate St. John & Roger Day)

Early October Beauty

Turtleheads at Westinghouse Memorial, Schenley Park, 4 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 October 2021

White turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are widely distributed in eastern North America while pink ones (Chelone lyoni) have a narrow range in the Blue Ridge Mountains. These showy flowers were planted at the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park.

Arrow-leaved tearthumb (Persicaria sagittata) has very tiny white flowers enclosed in a pink bud. I used to think the flowers were pink until I examined this one.

Arrow-head leaved tearthumb, Moraine State Park, 6 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is so fancy that it must be tropical, right? Actually, it’s native to the southern U.S. This vine was blooming on 3 October on Phipps Conservatory’s garden fence. Wow!

Passion flower blooming along the fence at Phipps Conservatory, Schenley Park, 3 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Did you know these asters close at night? I didn’t until I saw them opening in after dawn on Friday.

Asters opening when morning light reaches them, Schenley Park, 8 October 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

And here’s a curiosity that looks like a pinecone, but it’s not. Willow pinecone galls are made by the willow to protect itself from an insect. Inside each gall is the larva of a midge whose mother laid eggs at the tip of the branch. The larva will overwinter here and emerge as an adult in the spring … unless a bird hammers the gall and eats the insect.

Willow pinecone galls, Moraine State Park, 6 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Inside the Bladdernut

3 October 2021

By October the seed pods of American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) are papery brown three-sided puffs.

American bladdernut seed pods, Schenley Park, 1 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John) (background was blurred by portrait mode on my cellphone)

If you peel one apart it becomes three heart-shaped pieces. Each piece may hold one popcorn-like seed. Some pieces may be blank.

Outside of a single bladdernut paper shell (photo by Kate St. John)

Six months ago the bladders began as small dangling flowers less than 1/4 inch long. Notice the three-part leaves that give this native shrub or small tree its trifolia species name.

Flowers much magnified with trifolia leaves, Schenley Park, 17 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

By late July the bladders were green and very puffy. Each section had its own distinct point.

Bladdernut seed pods, 28 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And then the bladders dried out.

Dried bladdernut, Schenley Park, 3 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

American bladdernuts put so much effort into seed pods that it’s surprising to find they can spread by suckers, especially in their favorite habitats of floodplain woods or stream banks in eastern North America.

Range map of American bladdernut (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Visit Schenley Park this month to see the bladdernuts. Pull a seed pod apart and look inside.

(photos by Kate St. John, map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Blue Jays and a Monkey Ball: Today in Schenley Park

Participants in this morning’s outing in Schenley Park, 26 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 Sep 2021

This morning was sunny and chilly with heavy dew when fifteen of us gathered for a walk in Schenley Park. All of us are in this photo though I am just a long shadow of my usual self.

Last night’s weather sucked most of the migrating birds out of Schenley Park and did not add any new ones. I expected to see 20 species; we saw only 10. I expected 100 individual birds; we saw 63. Of those 55% were blue jays.

Plants, however, filled the gap especially this broken osage orange (Maclura pomifera) or “monkey ball.”

Monkey ball a.k.a. osage orange, Schenley Park 26 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Its insides are damp with latex, its seeds enveloped in plant flesh. Few animals eat this fruit so why does the tree produce so much? It’s making fruit for giants. Learn more and see a video at Food For The Extinct.

Inside a monkey ball a.k.a. osage orange (photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Here’s our eBird checklist for “The Blue Jay Walk.”

Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Sep 26, 2021 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, 1.8 mile(s), 10 species

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  4
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  35
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  7
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  2
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  7
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  1

(photos by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park Outing, Sep 26, 8:30a

Schenley Park path in the dew, 30 Sept 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 September 2021

Though it hasn’t felt like it lately, fall will arrive on the equinox this Wednesday at 3:21pm ET. With it will come cooler temperatures, morning dew and migrating thrushes. It’s a good time to be outdoors.

Join me for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday, 26 September 2021, 8:30a – 10:30a(*). We’ll meet at Bartlett Shelter on Bartlett Street. Note that Forbes and Fifth Avenues will be closed for the Pittsburgh Great Race so plan your route accordingly. See road closures times below.

Porcelain berry fruits, some eaten (photo by Kate St. John)

We’re sure to see blue jays, chipmunks, autumn flowers and fruits. I hope for at least one Swainson’s thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak or ruby-crowned kinglet, passing through the park on their way south.

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them. NOTE that storm damage from Hurricane Ida is still present in the park though not as prevalent at the Bartlett end. Be prepared for some rough spots. A walking stick may be useful.

Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations.

(*) If the birding is suddenly good at 10:30am we’ll have the option to continue to 11a.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Information on Great Race road closures — Squirrel Hill to Downtown — from OTMA

Congestion and Closures

Barricades will be set up throughout the city to clear the race route which stretches from Frick Park in Squirrel Hill along Forbes Avenue to Morewoood Avenue at Carnegie Mellon University’s campus, then onto Fifth Avenue through Oakland, and onto the Boulevard of the Allies and into downtown before finishing at Point State Park.

Approximate closure times are as follows:

  • Zone A: Beechwood Blvd to intersection of Forbes & Morewood
    Closed from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
  • Zone B: Forbes & Morewood to intersection of Fifth & Bigelow Blvd
    Closed from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
  • Zone C: Fifth & Bigelow to Fifth & the ramp to the Blvd of the Allies
    Closed from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
  • Zone D: Fifth & Blvd of the Allies to Commonwealth Place & Liberty Ave
    Closed from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

In Oakland specifically, travelers and residents can expect to see barricades on Fifth Ave, Oakland Ave, Atwood St, and DeSoto St and crowds gathered near mile marker 3 and the 5K starting line. See map for detail.

In Squirrel Hill, travel will be restricted around the starting line on Beechwood Blvd with barricades prohibiting vehicle access at Beechwood & S Dallas, Beechwood & the Forbes connector, Beechwood & Darlington, and Beacon & Shaw.

Fall Is Here

Misty walk at Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 10 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 September 2021

The weather has been pleasant with low humidity and highs in the 70s. Chilly fall mornings produce a mist on Panther Hollow Lake.

Asters are blooming right on time …

Asters (photo by Kate St. John)

… but this hawthorn tree is confused, opening two flowers and a leaf in September.

Hawthorn tree puts out two flowers and a leaf, Schenley Park, 10 September 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

This eastern screech-owl confirms it’s fall when he peeks from his well known roost on 4 September. Though screech-owls breed in Schenley Park, they only use this roost during the non-breeding season.

Eastern screech-owl at the winter roost, Schenley Park, 4 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

My least favorite hot weather will return tomorrow through Tuesday, forewarned by this morning’s red sunrise.

Red sky at morn, sailors forewarn.

Sunrise in Oakland, Pittsburgh, 11 Sep 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Today in Schenley Park, Aug 29

Schenley Park outing, 29 August 2021 (photos by Kate St. John)

29 August 2021

This morning’s outing in Schenley Park was very well attended — 28 people! — so I had to paste two photos together to get (almost) everyone in.

The weather was clammy-hot and the birds were not active but bugs were easy to find. Can you see the green stink bug (Chinavia hilaris) in this picture?

Green stink bug, Schenley Park, 29 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

We also saw cocklebur as promised and an unusual invasive, yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), which is cultivated in Eurasia for its edible tubers eaten as snack food or made into a sweet milk-like beverage.

Yellow nutsedge, Schenley Park at Panther Hollow Lake, 29 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our Best Bird was a lucky find. As we stood next to Panther Hollow Lake a peregrine falcon zoomed overhead, went into a stoop, and disappeared beyond Phipps Conservatory on his way to the Cathedral of Learning.

We worked for every bird on this checklist at https://ebird.org/checklist/S93900051

Schenley Park–Panther Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Aug 29, 2021 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, 1.5 mile(s), 19 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  30    part of the larger flock on Phipps lawn
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2    1 adult, 1 immature circling as we ended the walk
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)  2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  4
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  1    Flyover went into a stoop beyond Phipps roof
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  6
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  2
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  1    Heard
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  1
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  2
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  3
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  2
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  5
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  4

The next walk, scheduled for 26 September at Bartlett Shelter, should be cooler. Whew!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Functional Grass?

Aerial view of a golf course in Pennsylvania (photo by formulanone via Flickr Creative Commons license)

26 August 2021

When I wrote on Tuesday about non-functional grass in Las Vegas, several of you remarked on the Valley’s many golf courses that use so much water. Should they be considered non-functional grass?

Since I’m a birder and not a golfer I would view golf courses as “non-functional” except that some are very good for birds. Courses managed for low chemical use, clean water, and interspersed wildlife habitat are great for birds, especially when their location is an oasis in the midst of other land uses. Courses can achieve these goals and be recognized for their efforts through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses.

The Bob O’Connor Golf Course in Schenley Park, affectionately known as The Bob, is just such an oasis. Audubon certified since 2012, the course is savanna habitat interspersed with thickets and bordered by forest and residential neighborhoods.

Near Hole 14 at Schenley Park’s Bob O’Connor golf course (photo by Kate St. John)

I see birds at The Bob that are hard to find elsewhere including nesting orchard orioles, barn and tree swallows following the mowers, and merlins in winter.

Read about The Bob’s bird amenities in The Rough is For the Birds. It’s one of only six Audubon certified golf courses in the Pittsburgh area.

  1. The Bob O’Connor Golf Course (also called The Bob), Pittsburgh
  2. Brightview at Youghiogeny Country Club, McKeesport
  3. Butler’s Golf Course, Elizabeth
  4. Cranberry Highlands Golf Course, Cranberry Twp, Butler County
  5. Diamond Run Golf Club, Sewickley
  6. Treesdale Golf and Country Club, Gibsonia

Birds will tell you these golf courses are functional.

(photos by formulanone via Flickr Creative Commons license and Kate St. John)

Panther Hollow Lake is Doing Its Job

Panther Hollow Lake is full, 13 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 August 2021

When I walked around (pond-sized) Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park last Friday, I had to dodge high water. On Saturday I expected to see the same water level, or even higher, but it had dropped significantly. Panther Hollow Lake is doing its job.

Panther Hollow Lake has a smart valve governed by the solar-powered weather instrument in the photo below. The smart valve knows the weather forecast and closes during heavy rain events to hold back fresh water that otherwise flows into Pittsburgh’s combined sewer system. After the danger has passed and before the next storm the valve slowly releases water to provide room in the lake for the next downpour. Thus Panther Hollow Lake prevents downstream flooding in The Run neighborhood.

At normal water level three concrete steps edging the pond are exposed. On Friday 13 August all but the top step were hidden (above) and some walkways were flooded (below).

High water. Level is controlled by solar-powered instrument, 13 Aug 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
High water. A single concrete step at the cattails, 13 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I returned 24 hours later the water was lower and all three steps were exposed. Here are the same three scenes on Saturday 14 August.

Panther Hollow Lake is lower, 14 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Water no longer floods the walkway, 14 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)
Three steps at the cattails, 14 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms with potentially heavy rain. Panther Hollow Lake is ready. The smart valve is doing its job.

p.s. Panther Hollow Lake’s concrete steps will be removed during the Four Mile Run Stormwater Project that will change the lake significantly! Click here to read about the project.

(photos by Kate St. John)