Category Archives: Schenley Park

Five Little Foxes

  • Five little foxes, Schenley Park, 25 April 2020 (photo by Frank Izaguirre)

Looking back to a month ago…

Back in April, five little foxes lived with their mother in a den under the old log cabin in Schenley Park.

During the day, while mom was asleep, they came out to play inside the chain link fence that surrounds the cabin. Frank Izaguirre photographed them on 25 April 2020 and tweeted about them here.

Inevitably the fox kits attracted a crowd.

Six people watching the fox kits in Schenley Park, 27 April 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

As soon as they were old enough to move, their mother got them out of there.

The kits have grown up and haven’t been seen in a long time.

(photos by Frank Izaguirre @BirdIzLife)

Orange Juice In These Leaves

Greater celandine blooming in Schenley Park, 15 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a Eurasian perennial in the poppy family that’s blooming now in Schenley Park. Though it resembles our native celandine-poppy it’s not as particular about habitat. It can be invasive.

Greater celandine in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

To be sure it’s in the poppy family, break a leaf. Greater celandine has orange latex sap.

Orange sap of greater celandine (photo by Kate St. John)

Don’t put the evidence in your pocket. The “orange juice” can leave a stain.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Stars Of The Show

Ruby-crowned kinglet, April 2017 (photo by Steve Gosser)

29 April 2020

Day by day and week by week there are different stars in the spring migration show. Here are the birds that brightened last week in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park with a look to the week ahead.

For six days, April 22-27, I saw the largest influx of ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula) I’ve ever experienced in Schenley Park. Each day I counted 25 to 35 of them though I’m sure my numbers were low.

Steve Gosser’s photos, above and below, display these tiny birds from two perspectives. Did you know they have golden feet and black legs? It’s hard to see their feet because they move so fast!

Ruby-crowned kinglets wear golden slippers (photo by Steve Gosser, 2013)

On 23 April a large flock of yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) paused on a foggy morning and foraged on the ground. The males were quite bright in their black, white and yellow spring plumage. I’m waiting for the next flock to arrive soon.

Yellow-rumped warbler, May 2012 (photo by Steve Gosser)

Monday 27 April was a stellar day for hermit thrushes (Catharus guttatus) when I tallied seven near the Falloon Trail. Steve Gosser’s two photos, below, show their distinctive reddish tail and plain face. All were silent but they provided an additional behavioral hint: They raised and slowly dropped their tails.

Hermit thrush, April 2020 (photo by Steve Gosser)
Hermit thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)
Hermit thrush, 2014 (photo by Steve Gosser)

In the week ahead I expect more thrushes and warblers.

My first wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) in Schenley was photographed on 23 April by Donna Foyle. Yesterday there were three more.

Notice the wood thrush’s distinctive rusty head and back, dotted breast and mottled cheek in these two photos by Steve Gosser.

Wood Thrush (photo by Steve Gosser, 2008)
Wood Thrush (photo by Steve Gosser, 2008)

More warblers are on their way. Yesterday I saw my first black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia) of the year. Yay! This one was photographed by Lauri Shaffer in May 2018.

Black and white warbler, May 2018 (photo by Lauri Shaffer)

And here’s an audio star that I heard in Frick Park on 25 April.

At dusk at the intersection of Falls Ravine and Lower Riverview Trail in Frick Park you’ll hear American toads trilling in the wetland by the fence. Check out the video below for their look and sound, recorded on 11 May 2014 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. At the end of the video you’ll hear a bird sing, an orchard oriole. They’ll arrive soon at the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail near Duck Hollow.

UPDATE AT NOON, 29 April 2020: Two more stars arrived today! Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak.

Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)
Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)
Rose-breasted grosbeak, May 2011 (photo by Steve Gosser)

(photos by Steve Gosser, Donna Foyle and Lauri Shaffer)

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:

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 – basketball hoops have been removed – tennis/pickleball courts closed – sports fields closed – no contact sportsno playdates in parks for kids – no pavilions – park facilities and amenities are closed – no restrooms, water fountains, etc. – if you are experiencing symptoms stay home!

Poster from Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (red circle added by Kate St. John)

9 April 2020 update: The City of Pittsburgh added restrictions to basketball, tennis and sports last week because people were not maintaining physical distance.

Pittsburghers, it’s up to us to keep our parks open. Maintain physical distance!

(images from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy; altered slightly by Kate St. John)

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)