Back in March I canceled all my 2020 outings because of COVID-19. The disease has not disappeared — in fact it’s resurging now in the U.S. and Allegheny County — but we’ve learned more about how it spreads and the relative safety of being outdoors. Today I’m announcing my first and probably last outing of 2020 (winter is coming).
Next Sunday morning, 25 October 2020, I will hold an outing in Schenley Park with restrictions to keep us safe.
UPDATE: FEW PEOPLE HAVE SIGNED UP (cold weather) so there is no chance of too many of us. Meet me at 8:30am at Bartlett Shelter(*) .
Everyone must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth.
We’ll social distance as we walk.
We’re sure to see fruits, seeds and fallen leaves. Birds may be few but there will certainly be acorns, chipmunks and blue jays. Will we find a white-throated sparrow? I hope so.
To prepare: WEAR A MASK. Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.
Visit my Events page before you come in case of changes or cancellations.
(*) ORIGINAL TEXT SAID: Participation will be limited. To join you must “register” by leaving a comment on this blog post (not in Facebook). I will respond via email & tell you where and when to meet.
Now that the breeding season is over birds have gathered for migration and the winter.
Early this week 50 common grackles leapfrogged over the trees and forest floor as they searched for food and bathed in Panther Hollow Run. (This photo gives you an idea of their abundance.)
Cedar waxwing numbers peaked in Schenley Park in early October when they devoured most of the porcelain berries. They’ll spend the winter further south, for instance in Memphis, Tennessee where this photo was taken.
Pine siskins were everywhere a couple of days ago. Are they still visiting your feeders? Where will they head next?
Starlings numbers are building in Pittsburgh as northern visitors arrive. Soon there will be thousands.
Crow numbers are building too. Last weekend I counted 2,400 but more arrived last night. Eventually the flock will look like this video from 2011. Where will they roost? Stay tuned.
Watch for spectacular flocks this fall. Let me know what you see.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Mr. T in DC, video by Sharon Leadbitter. Click the captions to see the originals)
His legend was created to fill a gap and now the legend is fading. What if Columbus never crossed the Atlantic? Here’s how things might have been different.
The coronavirus pandemic gives us an inkling of what it was like when Columbus and the Spanish explorers brought pandemic to this part of the world. It changed the western hemisphere.
Before Columbus, the human population in the Americas was larger than that of Europe. The landscape, animals and birds were balanced by the pressure of so many people living in North, Central and South America. When European explorers accidentally left behind pigs that carried human disease, native Americans encountered the free-range pigs, had no immunity and spread the plagues through human contact.
The Western Hemisphere suddenly lost 95% of its human population in only 150 years. Remove the keystone species and you get some pretty weird results. European settlers didn’t see the transformation so they thought what they found was normal including the endless forest, huge bison herds and billions of passenger pigeons.
All summer we noticed curly dock (Rumex crispus) leaves and not the flowers. Now our attention is reversed because the seeds have turned a rich brown. The stalk is ugly, however the seeds are fascinating up close, each one surrounded by the calyx that produced them. The papery wings allow them to float on water and fly a bit in the wind.
The most obvious sign of fall is the temperature. 43 degrees F at dawn today. Speaking of gloves, you’ll need them when you go birding in the morning.
In September porcelain berry’s (Ampelopsis glandulosa) beautiful porcelain-like fruits show why the plant was imported as an ornamental.
Unfortunately this Asian vine is terribly invasive, engulfing small trees and draping itself over large ones.
Some people call it “wild grape” but you’ll never see grapes on it. Just porcelain berries.
This month you’ll find common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) blooming in meadows, along roads and bike trails. The name implies that it opens only in the evening but I photographed these at midday. The flowers are 1-2 inches wide. The plants are hard to miss at six feet tall.
Meanwhile, bug love continues. This pair of goldenrod soldier beetles (also called Pennsylvania leatherwing (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)) are perched on a flower in the Aster family while working to continue their species.
Spend time outdoors this week while the weather is good. Autumn is beautiful and all too short.
p.s. Thank you to Monica Miller and John English for correcting my bug identification mistake!
p.p.s. Did you notice that Pennsylvania is misspelled in the bug’s scientific name (only 1 ‘n’). This is not the only species with this misspelling. Can you name another?
Meanwhile at Frick Park the goats and their guard donkey are back in the large enclosure at Clayton East, munching away at invasive plants. The black goat at the fence is eating mile-a-minute weed on the fencing. Yay!
This week brought a profusion of August flowers and very localized rain.
Above, tansy’s rayless flower heads look like daisies without petals. Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) has only one kind of flower — the small yellow ones in the central disk. Daisies have two kinds — the central disk plus white flower rays.
Below, cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is blooming in Schenley Park showing off the cupped leaves that give it its name.
Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) can be invasive, too, though the flower lasts only a day.
This week brought rain to our new home north of Schenley Park and continuing drought just south of here. At home on 11 August it rained so hard that a bug took shelter on our window. Its location 70 feet off the ground explains why chimney swifts fly so high.
While the bug was avoiding rain north of Schenley, no rain fell in the park just a mile away.
Meanwhile, edible plants have not increased exponentially and they can’t keep up with the heavy browsing. Jewelweed is a deer favorite so it’s routinely “mowed” to ankle height.
A few individuals are able to sprout new leaves while the deer consume other areas but these recovering plants are few and far between.
This summer it’s hard to find a complete plant.
The situation bothers me but has posed real problems for Andrea Fetters of the University of Pittsburgh who is studying pollen-associated viruses in Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida. She has so few study objects in Schenley Park that she’s had to add study sites north of Pittsburgh where jewelweed thrives because deer aren’t so plentiful.
Unfortunately the number of deer in Schenley Park is not going down any time soon. Predators, other than cars, would solve the problem. My friend Andrea Boykowycz suggests cougars, the “Pitt panther” mascot. It would be fitting to have two in Panther Hollow. Well, we already do but they’re frozen in place.