Five of us went birding in Schenley Park on Saturday morning April 20. The weather was great! Blue sky and puffy clouds.
Our Best Birds were a yellow-rumped warbler and two ruby-crowned kinglets chasing each other and raising their red crowns. First-of-Year Birds were fun, too: Wood thrushes, house wrens, and a spotted sandpiper. We saw 29 species: ebird checklist S55174092.
Schenley Park has few wildflowers because there are so many deer. We saw three in broad daylight on Saturday (same location as this March 27 photo). I’ve seen a herd of 21 in the past month. The flowers don’t stand a chance.
Fortunately the deer leave the trout lilies alone. Perhaps these plants are poisonous.
Leaf Out is coming. The red oaks have very tiny leaves.
In case you’re curious, bird migration has picked up in the past two weeks. Here are the First-of-Year Birds I’ve seen in Schenley Park from April 10 to April 20, 2019.
Meet me at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center for a bird & nature walk in Schenley Park on Saturday, April 20, 8:30a – 10:30a. (Note: Due to scheduling difficulties this walk is on Saturday.)
Trees and wildflower buds are bursting. New birds arrive on every south wind. I’m sure we’ll see redbuds. Will they be open?
Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t forget your binoculars! This event will be held rain or shine, but not in thunder. Check the Events page before you come in case of cancellation.
This week the hillsides turned faintly red as red maples (Acer rubrum) bloomed across southwestern Pennsylvania. The city’s maples bloom sooner than the suburbs so I’ve had a preview of what’s to come.
In Schenley Park the ground under some red maples is carpeted with fallen flowers (above) while others retain flowers that are setting seed (below).
That’s because red maples are sexually complicated. They are polygamodioecious which means some trees have only male flowers, some have only female, and some have both (i.e. hermaphroditic). And they can even switch back and forth:
Under the proper conditions, the tree can sometimes switch from male to female, male to hermaphroditic, and hermaphroditic to female.
What’s blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania this weekend?
Yesterday’s joint outing of the Botanical Society of Western PA and Wissahickon Nature Club found a lot of spring flowers at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, 6 April 2019.
Hepatica was blooming in shades of white, pink and blue. In the photo above, the leaves aren’t visible so I can’t tell if this plant is round-lobed (Anemone americana) or sharp-lobed (Anemone acutiloba) hepatica.
Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was blooming along the valley trail. Did you know this plant is in the Carrot family?
Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) covered the hillside beyond the last bridge …
… and spicebush’s (Lindera benzoin) tiny yellow flowers were a nice surprise.
Most of the spring beauty was not in bloom but we found Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), a specialty at Cedar Creek shown below.
This bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was bright white by the bike trail. Its leaves are barely visible, clutching the stem, while a garlic mustard leaf tries to photo-bomb the bottom corner.
CORRECTION ABOUT BUCKEYES: Last week Stephen Tirone investigated the buckeye buds in Schenley and Frick Parks and learned that these are yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) not Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra). Though Ohio buckeyes are more common in the wild, Pittsburgh’s parks are not “wild.” Schenley and Frick Parks were landscaped with ornamentals when the parks were established more than 100 years ago. Yellow buckeyes are often planted as ornamental trees and may be hybridized to produce showy flowers. So, yes, these are yellow buckeyes.
Yesterday I found these buds about to burst in Schenley Park.
Yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) are one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring, unfurling their dramatic palmate leaves. They’re such a welcome splash of green that I photograph them nearly every year. This is the first time I noticed the bud at this stage. I didn’t expect it to be red.
Over the years my buckeye photographs have documented the vagaries of spring in Schenley Park. In cooler years — such as 2015 — the buds weren’t this far along in mid-April. Here’s a closed bud on 15 April 2015.
In hot years — such as 2012 — the buds opened weeks ahead of schedule. This buckeye was completely leafed on 19 March 2012.
This year appears to be a “normal” spring … whatever that means these days.
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Garlic mustard and goutweed leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Early blooming coltsfoot, 17 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Hairy bittercress, purple dead nettle and garlic mustard leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Forsythia beginning to bloom, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring is coming at a good pace this year. Unlike hot years, such as March 2012, there’s time to appreciate each new leaf and flower before the next set appears.
My photos above show a selection of leaves and flowers at Schenley Park this past week. Most were taken on March 28 but the real surprise was coltsfoot blooming on St. Patrick’s Day. That flower hid for ten days and appeared again last week.
Unfortunately, all of these plants are alien and some are invasive. Their ability to spring ahead of the local plants gives them an advantage all year long.
Click here for that same honeysuckle branch, bud-to-leaves on March 11, 16.
Weeping willows (Salix babylonica) are popular landscape trees that were brought here from Asia. They’re easy to notice at this time of year because their drooping stems turn yellow in very early spring. From a distance you see a splash of yellow.
Imported species, especially those from Europe, grew up in a steady climate with few spring surprises so they’re quick to bloom in the spring and late to drop their leaves in autumn.
Meanwhile our native trees are still brown, conservative about producing tender shoots because they know that volatile spring weather can bring a killing frost in April.
Are you tired of winter? Watch for the weeping willow’s hint of spring.
The weather this month has been up and down like a yo-yo: A low of 6oF on February 2, highs in the 50s and 60s for six days, then a low of 14oF on February 9. During those warm days the sap started running in the trees. I wouldn’t have noticed except …
On February 10 during a walk in Schenley Park I found flash-frozen sap on the damaged trees. At top, a fallen red oak made a red-orange waterfall. Below, a small amount of sap in a fungi-encrusted tree dripped like orange ribbons.
Sap runs and freezes inside healthy trees, too. We just can’t see it.
If you live in the City of Pittsburgh and visit our parks you’ll want to participate in this survey, available now through April 2019.
Pittsburgh has 165 parks sprinkled throughout our neighborhoods from small playgrounds to regional parks — Schenley, Frick, Riverview, Highland and the future Hays Woods. The City’s goal is to have well maintained parks within a 10-minute walk of every resident.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that infrastructure is crumbling in many of them. The park system gets big donations for capital improvements (bricks & mortar) but not for maintenance, so we have new buildings like the Frick Environmental Center but deteriorating playgrounds, landscape and trails. How do we fix that inequity and how much will it cost?