Category Archives: Schenley Park

Insects, Deer, a few Birds Yesterday at Schenley

7-point buck in Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

29 August 2022

A year ago in Schenley Park we had such a slow birding day that I wrote, “We worked for every bird.” A year later, nine of us were there yesterday and the birding was even slower! (14 species instead of 19.) However we found lots of insects and two white-tailed bucks in velvet. Here’s the story in pictures, thanks to Connie Gallagher.

Connie saw the very Best Bird, a blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Schenley Park, 28 August 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

We pondered the identity of these wasps and then remembered, all at once, that they are bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata), a type of yellowjacket wasp.

Bald-faced hornets at their paper nest in a pignut hickory, Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

There was still dew on the wild senna as this bumblebee gathered nectar.

Bumblebee on wild senna, Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

The browseline is so severe in Schenley Park that there’s no cover for the deer who sleep there during the day. Looking down from the Falloon Trail we saw two bucks, a 7-point buck (at top) and a 10-point below.

10-point buck in Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

Fortunately some of us heard these birds flying overhead. I can tell their identity by shape and the yellow tips of their tails. Cedar waxwings.

Cedar waxwings fly over, Schenley Park, 28 Aug 2022 (photo by Connie Gallagher)

Here’s the group that worked for every bird on Sunday. Thank you all for coming!

Schenley Park outing, 28 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

See our checklist at https://ebird.org/checklist/S117700393 and printed below.

Schenley Park–Panther Hollow, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, US
Aug 28, 2022 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, 1.5 mile(s), 14 species

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 5
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 4
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) 1 Seen by Connie
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 1
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) 5
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 1
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 3 Including a bald female Cardinal

(photos by Connie Gallagher (group photo by Kate St. John))

Eradicated By Deer

Doe in Schenley Park, July 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 August 2022

Back in 2010 the City of Pittsburgh commissioned a deer count in the parks that found the population was too high and not sustainable for the habitat. Nothing has been done since then to reduce the deer population other than accidentally killing them with our cars.

Twelve years have passed. According to deer experts “Urban deer can live for 10 years; the deer population, if unchecked, doubles about every two years.” Schenley Park now has as much as 60 times the number of deer we had in 2010. This is truly unsustainable, even for the deer themselves.

8-point buck in Schenley Park, 21 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley’s deer have completely consumed all the good food plants and are starting to nibble the poisonous ones. The browse line is painfully obvious. In the process deer have eradicated their favorite plants from Schenley Park.

Orange (Impatiens capensis) & Yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida)

Orange jewelweed and yellow jewelweed provide nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees and are a favored food of deer.

Orange jewelweed in Schenley Park in 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yellow jewelweed in Schenley Park in 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Both jewelweeds were prolific in Schenley Park as recently as four years ago.

Orange jewelweed was prolific in 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

But this year all the accessible plants have been eaten down to bare stems. The only ones that flower are those in spots unreachable by deer — on extremely steep slopes or hidden among thick cattails in Panther Hollow Lake.

Deer ate the jewelweed, no flowers, no leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

Jewelweeds are annuals that must re-seed every year but no seeds are produced in this deer-browsed landscape. Impatiens will disappear from Schenley Park when the seed bank is exhausted.

False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

False Solomon’s seal used to grow throughout Schenley Park and it carpeted the ground in an area near the Bridle Trail. All of it has been eaten to the ground since 2014. Here’s what it looked like eight years ago.

False Solomon’s seal blooming in May 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)
False Solomon’s seal in August 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
White wood asters (Eurybia divaricata)

White wood asters used to bloom in Schenley’s woods. Not anymore. Here’s what they looked like in 2013.

White wood asters in Schenley Park, August 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eradicated plants are indirect evidence of too many deer in Schenley Park. Direct evidence is their visibility every day.

A sustainably-sized deer herd would hide in the underbrush while sleeping during the day, but the browse line in Schenley is so severe there is no cover for them. The large herd has coped by becoming accustomed to people and leashed dogs.

I stood near this group of three deer on Sunday 21 August using my snapshot camera zoomed to 90mm (approximately 2x). This 8-point buck did not care that I was there.

8-point buck in velvet, Schenley Park, 21 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Young doe and buck browsing in Schenley Park, 21 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Doe watches a husky dog on a leash approach in the distance, Schenley Park, 21 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

UPDATE: I was interviewed by Andy Sheehan, KDKA News, 25 August 2022. Click on this link or on the image below. Experts warn deer are destroying Pittsburgh’s parks and moving into neighborhoods.

Video: Experts warn deer are destroying Pittsburgh’s parks and moving into neighborhoods

Three articles, 2017-2019, about deer in Allegheny County by John Hayes, Post-Gazette:

Seen This Week

Long shadows are back again, 12 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 August 2022

The days are getting shorter and shadows are getting longer. Pittsburgh had one and a half more hours of daylight on the summer solstice, just two months ago, than we do today.

Late summer flowers are attracting bees.

Allium flower with bee, 16 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ornamental grasses are going to seed.

Ornamental grass at Phipps (photo by Kate St. John)

And the clouds have been interesting.

Puffy clouds over Millers Ponds, Crawford County, 15 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Can you see the face in the cloud below?

Glowing eyes in the face in the cloud, 17 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Keep looking up.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Fossil in Schenley Park

Closeup #1 of fossil in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

10 August 2022

Sometime this summer the Department of Public Works placed a large sandstone rock at the base of the stairs behind the Schenley Park Visitors’ Center. The prominent fossil facing the stairs tells a story about life in Pittsburgh 300 to 330 million years ago.

Fossil rock at the base of the WPA stairs, Schenley Park, 6 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

During the late Carboniferous period, while this rock was still sand, a Lepidodendron tree fell on it. Lepidodendron had scales on its branches and trunk that left impressions in the sand, illustrated below in increasingly fine detail.

Lepidodendron artist’s rendering (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)
Lepidodendron trunk or branch and resulting fossil impression (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

The sand became sandstone and in the early 21st century the rock separated from its fellows thereby exposing the fossil. This rock many have fallen at the Bridle Trail rockslide.

Locations of two closeup photos of the fossil in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Closeup #2 of fossil in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

I have never seen Lepidodendron’s closest living relative, Lycopodium, in Schenley Park …

Lycopodium (ground pine or club moss), Laurel Ridge State park, 30 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

… but I’ll look for it now that I’ve seen its fossil ancestor.

Thank you to Public Works for placing this fossil rock on display in Schenley Park.

p.s. If this Lepidodendron had fallen in a swamp instead of on a sandy beach, it would have become coal. Read about similar fossils at Ferncliff Peninsula in Ohiopyle State Park in this vintage article: Fossils at Ferncliff

(photos by Kate St. John, illustrations from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Lying in Wait for Aphids

Red aphids coat false sunflowers in Schenley Park, 6 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 August 2022

Every August the false sunflowers in Schenley Park become covered in red aphids. My first reaction is disgust, then I look for aphid predators and protectors.

Aphid predators include ladybugs, syrphid flies (hover flies), parasitic wasps and lacewing larvae. Their protectors are the ants who harvest their honeydew.

The ants were out in full force and chased off a ladybug that flew to escape them.

Ants harvesting aphid honeydew, Schenley Park, 6 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

The ladybug found a safer place to munch on aphids. No ants in sight.

Ladybug predator of aphids, Schenley Park, 6 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Syrphid flies hovered and darted among the leaves, choosing to lay eggs where there would be plenty of aphids for their larvae to feed on.

Syrphid fly on a leaf near the aphids, Schenley Park, 6 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Larger predators lay in wait to eat the aphid eaters. Can you see the spider inside this flower?

False sunflower with aphid on outer petal, spider lurking inside flower, 3 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a hint. His feet are dangling are at the bottom of the circle.

Spider lurking inside the flower (photo by Kate St. John, retouched)

I’m sure there were many more predators lying in wait for aphids. This video shows what to look for.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Flowers and Seeds

Wingstem from bud to seed, Schenley Park, 3 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 August 2022

By early August many flowers have already produced seeds. Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) above displays every step in the process: buds, new flowers, fading flowers and seed packets.

The three-flanged seed pods of American wild yamroot (Dioscorea villosa) are as distinctive as its pleated leaves.

American wild yamroot leaves and seeds, Jennings 29 July 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) now has both seed pods and flowers (seeds in shadow at left). This alien plant is easy to find in Schenley Park because it is toxic to deer.

Greater celandine with seeds in the background, Schenley Park, 3 August 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) is much harder to find because it is ravaged by the large deer herd.

Yellow jewelweed. no seed in the picture, Schenley Park, 30 July 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

If this flower evades the deer it will turn into a seed pod that bursts explosively when ripe.

Seed pod on yellow jewelweed, Schenley Park, August 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Yesterday at Schenley Park on 7/31

Pileated woodpecker, May 2020 (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)

1 August 2022

Twelve of us met in Schenley Park yesterday morning and walked East Circuit Road in search of birds. As expected in late July the birds were quiet, though we did manage to see or hear 27 species. Our checklist is here and listed at the end.

Best Bird was a pileated woodpecker hammering on a fallen log in the darkest woods. The photo above is not from our walk. Chad+Chris Saladin had better light for their photo in May 2020.

I forgot to take a picture of the group. 🙁 Here is my one photo from the walk: Yellow hawkweed (Pilosella caespitosa) blooming in the grass.

Hawkweed blooming at Schenley Park, 31 July 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

eBird checklist: Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Jul 31, 2022 8:30A – 10:30A
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 8
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 4
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1
Hairy Woodpecker (Dryobates villosus) 2
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) 1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 5
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens) 1 Heard
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) 7
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 6
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) 3 Young with obvious gape-beak
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 2
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 1
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) 1 Heard one making agitated call
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 15
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 2
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 2
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 1
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 5

(pileated woodpecker photo by Chad+Chris Saladin; hawkweed photo by Kate St. John)

A Few Flowers Last Week

Chicory with fly, Schenley Park, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

19 June 2022

Wildflowers bloom in two spurts in southwestern Pennsylvania: Woodland wildflowers in April before leaf out, “field” flowers in July-August after the solstice.

May and June are practically flowerless except for a few non-natives blooming in Schenley Park last week. Some are invasive. They thrive because deer don’t eat them.

Greater celandine already going to seed, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Canada thistle going to seed, Schenley Park, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Goutweed, Schenley Park, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Fledge Watch + Phipps BioBlitz, June 4,5

Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)
Schenley Plaza tent (photo by Kate St. John)

30 May 2022

UPDATE! JUNE 7 FLEDGE WATCH IS CANCELED DUE TO RAIN

The first week of June is jam-packed with outdoor opportunities. Join me at Schenley Plaza or Schenley Park for these fun activities:

  • Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 4, 5 and 7
  • Phipps Bio-Blitz, Schenley Park, June 5

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch, Schenley Plaza, June 4, 5

Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch is a drop-in event to swap peregrine stories and watch the young birds learn to fly from the Cathedral of Learning. I’ll have my scope on hand for a zoomed in view of the youngsters exercising their wings. Bring binoculars or camera. Check the Events page before you come in case of weather cancellation.

Where: Schenley Plaza near the tent, shown above.
When: Fledge Watch is weather dependent and will be canceled for rain or thunder. Check here before you come.

  • Saturday June 4, 11:30 to 1:00pm
  • Sunday June 5, 11:00 – 12:30pm, starts earlier after my BioBlitz walk (see below)
  • CANCELED DUE TO RAIN Tuesday June 7, 11:30 – 1:00pm

Who: I’ll be there with John English of Pittsburgh Falconuts Facebook group and lots of peregrine fans. (On June 7 John English will start the watch at 11:30a; I’ll arrive at noon.)
Parking: On-street parking is free on Sundays. Otherwise you must use the pay stations on the sidewalks. Garage parking is available at Soldiers and Sailors Hall, just over a block away on Bigelow Boulevard.

Phipps BioBlitz Bird Walk in Schenley Park, Sun June 5, 8:30a – 10:30a

Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with Cathedral of Learning in the distance (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday June 5, Phipps BioBlitz will bring together families, students, local scientists, naturalists, and teachers for a biological survey of the plants and animals in Schenley Park. See and learn about birds, plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks and more. As part of the BioBlitz I will lead a bird walk 8:30am-10:30am. The event is free. No registration required. Read all about Phipps BioBlitz Day here.

Where: Starting from Phipps front lawn. You’ll see a sign for my walk.
When: Sunday June 5, 8:30a-10:30a
Parking: Free on Sundays!
Note: As soon as the bird walk is over, I’ll adjourn to Schenley Plaza for Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch.

(photo credits: Schenley Plaza tent by Kate St. John, Phipps Conservatory from Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday at Schenley Park: Nestlings and Blackpolls

Blackpoll warbler, Schenley Park, 22 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

23 May 2022

Six of us gathered at Schenley Park yesterday morning in perfect weather for a bird and nature walk. (The sixth is taking the picture.)

Great weather for an outing in Schenley Park, 22 May 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

First on the agenda was a look through my scope at the Pitt peregrines. Though we were half a mile from the Cathedral of Learning we could see one adult babysitting and two fluffy heads looking out the front of the nestbox. This is where the chicks were standing as we watched.

3 peregrine chicks at the Cathedral of Learning, 26 days old, 22 May 2022

Inside the park, a pair of red-tailed hawks is raising three chicks about the same age as the peregrines. We paused on our walk to watch them eat. Best views are from here.

Scroll through Charity Kheshgi’s Instagram photos to see our Best Birds including the blackpoll warbler pictured above.

In all we saw 25 species (https://ebird.org/checklist/S111010535). Not a high count but well worth the trip.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis): Saw 4, maybe 5: 1 or 2 adults + 3 young in nest.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)  3
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  2
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  Saw 4: 1 adult via scope + 3 young in nest via falconcam.
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)  1
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)  5
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  4
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)  1
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)  5    2 pairs
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)  4
Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  18
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  5
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  2
Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)  2
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)  1
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  4
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  1
Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)  2    Seen!
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)  1

p.s. Charity’s photo of the rose-breasted grosbeak was taken after the walk.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi)