I was happy to see that deer are eating Japanese knotweed in Schenley as well as in Frick.
Because it had been two months since my last outing in Schenley, when we rounded the bend to Panther Hollow Lake I saw the park through new eyes. Sadly it looked unloved: scattered litter, algae on lake, and a large barren area after last Friday’s grading project.
At this moment the Panther Hollow Lake end of Schenley Park is not in good shape. However, there are birds.
Schenley Park, May 28, 2023 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM — Canada Goose 2 Mourning Dove 1 Chimney Swift 6 Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 gull species 1: Flyover Great Blue Heron 1 Red-tailed Hawk 4: adult + 3 nestlings under PH Bridge Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Downy Woodpecker 1 Peregrine Falcon 1 Perched at CL visible from Schenley Acadian Flycatcher 1 Red-eyed Vireo 4 Blue Jay 1 American Crow 1 Carolina Chickadee 3: adult feeding 2 young Tufted Titmouse 2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4 White-breasted Nuthatch 1 House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 1 Carolina Wren 2 European Starling 6 Gray Catbird 1 Wood Thrush 1 American Robin 20: including two active nests + 3rd family with recently fledged young Cedar Waxwing 1 House Sparrow 1 House Finch 5 American Goldfinch 1 Chipping Sparrow 1 Song Sparrow 3 Baltimore Oriole 2 Red-winged Blackbird 7 Brown-headed Cowbird 2 Common Grackle 1 Magnolia Warbler 2 Yellow Warbler 1 Scarlet Tanager 1 Northern Cardinal 4
Schenley Outing Rescheduled to Sunday 28 May (Memorial Day weekend) due to conflict with Komen More Than Pink Walk
Schenley Park, 28 May 2023, 8:30a
Meet me at the Schenley Park Visitors Center (40.4383304,-79.9464765) on Sunday 28 May (the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend) for a bird and nature walk , 8:30am to 10:30am. Migration will be winding down but nesting birds will be in full swing including scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, red-winged blackbirds and many robins.
As always, dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.
If the birding is good we’ll have the option to continue until 11:00a.
Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, 4 June 2023, 8:30a
Phipps BioBlitz is an annual event for families, students, local scientists and naturalists in which we conduct a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. There will be booths on the Phipps lawn displaying the wonders of local nature plus walks in the park including my bird walk at 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free. No registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.
Meet me on the Phipps lawn (directions here) Sunday 4 June, 8:30a-10:30a, after you check in at the Events Desk. Parking is Free on Sundays!
Three years ago this week, five little foxes came out every day to play inside the fence surrounding their den under the Neill Log House in Schenley Park. At the end of April 2020 their antics were a bright spot in sixth week of the COVID shutdown and attracted a crowd.
After the fox family dispersed, Public Works cleaned up the log house basement and blocked access to the den. In the spring of 2021 the family denned in a rock outcrop below the Falloon Trail but that must have been too close to people and dogs. They haven’t been back since then.
When I saw this Twitter video by @urbanponds_101 I remembered the Schenley Park foxes.
At the end of winter Pennsylvania’s landscape has very little cover yet wildlife still needs shelter, especially from bad weather. Normally birds and animals would hide in thick bushes and shrubs but the deer population in Schenley Park is so high that they’ve denuded the thickets, including bush honeysuckle, even though it provides them with good shelter and is not a favorite food.
Without cover the deer were easy to see in Schenley Park’s barren woods in late March. The deer pictured below was camouflaged in plain sight until it moved.
Evergreen bushes could provide shelter but the yews have been browsed literally to death as the deer population has grown exponentially in Schenley in the past couple of years. The white backdrop at Frick Fine Arts building shows the damage typical of all yews near the park.
Now that the honeysuckle has leafed out it’s obvious that deer have eaten their own shelter. You can see straight through these bushes at ground level.
The effect of deer browse is also starkly obvious at Frick Park’s deer exclosure at Clayton East. The slideshow below gives west and north views of the fenceline, the plants growing inside the exclosure (I took a photo through the fence) and the barrens outside the fence. (I pivoted in place to show inside/outside.)
Ground-nesting birds can make a well hidden nest inside the exclosure but not outside.
The deer have eaten their own shelter as well as that of birds, rabbits and other animals in Pittsburgh’s city parks. There is nowhere to hide.
Few birds wag their tails side to side but we do call it “wagging” when they bob or pump their tails up and down. Eastern phoebes are subtle about it but the movement is almost constant and it draws our attention.
What makes phoebes wag their tails faster? Predators! Sibley describes a 2011 study of black phoebes:
Avellis concludes that tail pumping is a signal meant to send a message to the predator. It tells the predator that the phoebe has seen it, and therefore the phoebe is not worth pursuing.
Louisiana waterthrushes don’t just wag their tails. They continuously bob the entire back end of their bodies by moving their ankle joints. Birds’ ankles are the backward “knees,” the middle joint on their legs, hidden by this waterthrush while he dips his butt.
His bobbing is like a habit he just can’t quit.
Louisiana waterthrushes have a different reason for tail wagging than eastern phoebes and they hold their technique in common with another April migrant, spotted sandpipers.
In case you missed it, here’s why they “wag” their tails.
My favorites were the early crocuses. Native to Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania and the former Yugoslavia, these woodland crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus) are often seen in gardens but someone in my neighborhood planted them in a grassy front yard. Because the flowers bloom before the grass grows they are in no danger of being mowed.
On Pitt’s campus Cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas) produced yellow flowers.
Red maples (Acer rubrum) bloomed next to Carnegie Museum …
… and at Frick Park the maple branches looked thick with tiny flowers, including yellowish pollen-bearing ones.
This week, tiny leaves opened on jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens) and a few honeysuckle bushes. Unfortunately invasive plants are first to leaf out.
The coming week will be like a wet blanket: above freezing, gusty wind, lots of rain.
This week’s rain dampened outdoor activities but there were still some things to see.
Chainsaw tree “trimming” continues in the city. This red oak had a hollow core so it was chopped down in late December at Anderson Playground in Schenley Park. Can you count the rings and determine its age?
On 3 January rain flecked the camera as Ecco stopped by for a visit. Notice how wet his head is!
On 4 January the rain finally stopped and the moon shone at 8pm.
When the cold snap ended on 28 December the ice thawed and the creeks began running again. Listen to the sound of Panther Hollow Run in Schenley Park on 30 December 2022.
Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park has had problems for decades but there was hope they would be solved by an ambitious 2016 plan to rehab the lake and daylight Four Mile Run downstream. Unfortunately the plans were so ambitious that they had to be put on hold this month.
The lake’s problems are legion. It is really only the size of a pond and is filled with sediment. The shallow water cannot replenish fast enough so algae blooms in summer; sometimes fish die. Its unnatural concrete edges prohibit lakeside vegetation that could absorb water and it does not flow into any creek or river. Instead Panther Hollow Lake dumps 68 million gallons per year of clean water into a sewer pipe.
The sewer pipe is what used to be Four Mile Run plus lots of sewage. When there’s not much rain the pipe carries its contents to the water treatment plant at Alcosan.
But in a downpour the pipe is overloaded and floods the downstream neighborhood called The Run.
In 2016 Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s Draft Green Infrastructure Plan (PWSA at pgh2o.com) proposed dredging the lake, removing the concrete surround, and building a new dam so the lake would be a good depth.
It also proposed daylighting Four Mile Run in Junction Hollow — in other words, making it flow on the surface in daylight instead of in a pipe underground. Here’s an example of a daylighted stream in Yonkers.
DEP would not approve the dam as designed. It had to be much larger to meet current dam codes.
Daylighting Four Mile Run in Junction Hollow would be a long permitting nightmare because it must be put back into a (new) pipe to get under the railroad and Second Ave on its way to the Monongahela River.
The dam would have to be placed on railroad property and the railroad had already said no.
So PWSA updated the project to solve the biggest problem — flooding in The Run. Described in a public meeting on 14 Nov 2022, the revised project map shows no work in Schenley Park. All work will occur in The Run.
Improvements to Panther Hollow Lake are on hold again. Fortunately the flooding will be solved in The Run.
On Tuesday morning, 15 November, I found beautiful fruits on my walk in the neighborhood: Red berries on invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus), purple berries on native American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and dusty blue fruit on invasive English ivy (Hedera helix).
It began to snow so I hurried home and was glad I was indoors when it came down fast. It looks peaceful in slow motion at the end of this video.
The snow stuck to the grass, parked cars, and the Pitt peregrine nest …
… then melted overnight as the temperature rose and low clouds moved in.
By Friday most leaves were gone and the only green shrubs in Schenley Park were invasive plants: Bush honeysuckle in this view …
… and bamboo near the railroad tracks.
Tonight the temperature will drop to 19 degrees for a very cold start to the new week. Brrrrr!
It’s mid November and the rut is at its peak in Pennsylvania. Bucks sniff the air for females in estrous (flehmen), chase does in heat, and hide with them in thick cover to breed repeatedly. Some run into traffic, including yesterday’s road-killed 6-point buck in Schenley Park. Meanwhile birders in Frick Park are seeing all of this up close. Very close.
On 10 November Charity Kheshgi and I encountered a group of five. Two does and an 8-point buck were hiding in a thicket when a 4-point buck walked onto the trail behind us, sniffed the air and looked down at the females. Meanwhile another doe (at top) walked onto the trail ahead of us. This could have been dangerous for the two of us. Fortunately the deer did not view us as competitors.
The 8-pointer was hard to see in the underbrush but he resembled this 10-point buck Mike Fialkovich saw on 5 November that appears to be flehmening.
Deer are a prey species, alert to the presence and intent of predators. “Is the predator here? Is it hunting?” And they move to locations of least danger. We see them up close in Frick Park because they have learned that humans in Pittsburgh’s city parks are not dangerous even during hunting season.
Meanwhile, hunting is currently in progress statewide and it’s good to be aware of it. We have so many deer in our area — Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 2B — that hunting lasts longer here than in most of the state.
Here’s a quick summary of deer hunting times and types, now through January, in WMU 2B both Antlered and Antlerless unless otherwise noted.
now – Nov. 25, including Sundays Nov. 13 and Nov. 20, WMU 2B: Archery