Category Archives: Schenley Park

Seen This Week

Burning bush leaf and fruit, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

19 November 2022

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).

American beautyberry, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
English ivy berries, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

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 …

Snow on the Pitt peregrine nest, 15 November 2022, 2:15pm

… then melted overnight as the temperature rose and low clouds moved in.

Low clouds at 8pm, 15 Nov 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

By Friday most leaves were gone and the only green shrubs in Schenley Park were invasive plants: Bush honeysuckle in this view …

Scene in Schenley Park, 18 Nov 2022. The green shrubs are invasive honeysuckle (photo by Kate St. John)

… and bamboo near the railroad tracks.

Scene in Schenley Park, 18 Nov 2022. The green shrubs are invasive bamboo (photo by Kate St. John)

Tonight the temperature will drop to 19 degrees for a very cold start to the new week. Brrrrr!

(photos and video by Kate St. John)

November Deer in Pittsburgh

Doe on the trail in Frick Park, 10 Nov 2022 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

13 November 2022

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.

4-point buck on the trail looks down at the 8-point and two does, 10 Nov 2022 (photo by Charity Khseshgi)

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.

10-point buck in Frick Park, 5 Nov 2022 (photo by Mike Fialkovich)

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.

Map of Pennsylvania WMUs from PA Game Commission

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
  • Nov. 26 – Dec. 10 including Sunday Nov. 27: Statewide Rifle (“Regular firearms”)
  • Dec. 26 – Jan. 28, 2023, WMU 2B:
    • Archery
    • Flintlock
    • Extended Rifle season (Antlerless only).
Wear Orange and be alert for hunters! Note hunting on three Sundays in November.

p.s. When you’re on the road, watch for deer running into traffic, especially at dusk.

(photos by Charity Kheshgi and Mike Fialkovich, WMU map from PA Game Commission, calendar marked up from timeanddate.com)

City Deer in the Rut

Doe drinks from a pond in Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, 10 October 2022 (photo by John English)

25 October 2022

If you’ve been watching white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in the City of Pittsburgh you’ve noticed that they’ve changed their behavior since early September. Back then deer were easy find in groups during the day but now in October they seem to have gone missing. Soon — very soon — they’ll be running into traffic. All of this is part of their breeding season, called the rut, which is driven by photoperiod.

In late summer, white-tailed deer hang out in bachelor groups of adult males and matriarchal groups of does with fawns. As the rut goes through phases, described below, the dynamics change. In the city we live with so many deer that it’s good to know the phases.

Pre-Rut Phase: In late September and early October testosterone levels rise in the bucks, they rub on trees and shed velvet from their antlers. The bachelor groups break up as each male goes it alone and adjusts his home range. During this phase the bucks eat a lot, especially acorns. Once the rut begins they’ll be too busy to eat while chasing, breeding and tending does.

Buck on a tree, Fall 2008 (photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr Creative Commons license)

The buck rubs were fresh in Schenley Park on 9 October 2022. Right after this the bucks “disappeared” from the park.

Buck rubs in Schenley Park, 9 October 2022 (photos by Kate St. John)

Bucks also spar to settle their pecking order as shown in this photo from Tennessee. I have never seen sparring in the city parks.

Two bucks locking antlers, Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Seeking and Chasing Phase: As the females begin coming into estrous the males search for and chase does in heat. The bucks move around lot, averaging 3-6 miles per day. Meanwhile doe+fawn groups break up as adult females become distracted. Watch out! They may run into traffic.

The late summer groups have already broken up in Schenley and Frick Parks. The only deer I’ve seen recently are lone females or almost grownup fawns.

Peak of the Rut: According to The Whitetail Rut in Pennsylvania, the peak in Pennsylvania lasts about five weeks, 29 October to 3 December. Their graph, embedded below, is tiny on purpose so that you will look at the original graph, including date ranges, on the Boone & Crockett Club website.

At the peak of the rut bucks make long excursions out of their home range in search of females, sometimes 10-20 miles. The peak also includes a “tending” phase during which bucks and does pair up and hide in thick cover to breed repeatedly.

Post-Rut Phase: Activity drops off precipitously in early December after most of the does have bred. Adults stop wandering and settle into their home ranges. The males still have antlers and some will search for recently-matured fawns that come into estrous (red color in graph above), but the frantic edge is gone.

When will we see deer in lazy groups again in the city parks? Wait and see.

11+ deer in Schenley Park, Cathedral of Learning in distance, March 2019 (photo by Kate St John)

Resources for this article:

(photos by John English, Kate St. John and Creative Commons licenses from USFW Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. Embedded graph from Boone & Crockett Club website)

Seen This Week

Fall leaves, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

15 October 2022

Fall colors were looking good in the City of Pittsburgh this week. A maple in Schenley Park turned shades of orange and red while the sunrise worked to match it.

Sunrise on 12 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

This acorn in Schenley Park is a squirrel’s dream come true, the largest acorn native to North America. Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa also spelled burr oak) were planted in several places in the park more than 100 years ago, most notably at the main trail entrance near Bartlett Playground. This species withstands harsh conditions and is one of the most drought resistant oaks.

Bur oak acorn, Schenley Park, 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Goldenrods are blooming in the small meadow near Bartlett Playground.

Goldenrod in meadow, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

During my walk to Schenley Plaza on 11 October I saw a peregrine fly toward Heinz Chapel’s scaffolding and disappear among the dense rods.

Heinz Chapel scaffolding, 11 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

If he hadn’t moved I would not have found him. Ta dah! (See inside red circle.)

Peregrine falcon perched (circled) on Heinz Chapel scaffolding, 11 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Amazingly he was easier to see through binoculars from Schenley Plaza tent. Too far for a photo.

(photos by Kate St. John)

October With Too Many Deer

Colorful leaves, Schenley Park, 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 October 2022

The season has changed and the woods in Schenley Park look different than they did a month ago. The trees are putting on fall color and deer are providing more evidence of their overpopulation in the park.

Doe browsing in Schenley Park, 21 Aug 2022. NOTE: A buck-rubbed sapling is in the foreground (photo by Kate St. John)

With the growing season over there is less greenery for deer to eat and there are fewer places to browse because they have already denuded many areas.

Nothing growing on the ground in the presence of too many deer, Schenley Park, 9 October 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

What is left has been eaten down to nubs, just visible above the unpalatable invasive plants. Below, goutweed nearly hides the tops of what used to be jewelweed while pokeweed was browsed to tiny leaves and bare stems.

Favored plants are browsed to the tops of unappetizing plants (goutweed), Schenley Park 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pokeweed overbrowsed by deer, Schenley Park, 9 October 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

As the greenery disappears deer eat tree saplings and small branches. In cases of deer overpopulation, such as Schenley Park, the young trees are foraged down to bonsai.

Ash tree sapling overbrowsed by deer, like bonsai, Schenley Park, 9 Oct 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley no longer has enough food for deer so at night they walk into neighborhoods and browse in backyards. This is happening across the city and has prompted some residents to consider a Deer Management Plan for Pittsburgh. KDKA’s Andy Sheen reports: Some Pittsburgh residents say it’s time to get deer population under control. Click on the link or the screenshot below.

Some Pittsburgh residents say it’s time to get the deer problem under control, KDKA Andy Sheehan

(photos by Kate St. John + screenshot from KDKA)

CANCELLED! Schenley Park Outing, 2 Oct, 8:30am

Goldenrod gall shaped like a green rose, Schenley Park, October 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 September 2022

UPDATE 1 OCTOBER, 5:51PM: THIS OUTING IS CANCELLED BECAUSE I DON’T FEEL WELL

In early October the weather’s fine and there’s plenty to see outdoors. Birds are migrating, fruits are maturing, and insects have their final fling.

Join me on a bird and nature walk in Schenley Park on Sunday 2 October 2022 — 8:30am – 10:30am(*). Meet me at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center near Phipps Conservatory where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

We’ll look and listen for signs of fall, yellow leaves and chirping crickets. We many find a goldenrod “rose” like the gall at top. Or a million blue jays and chipmunks.

Blue Jay and chipmunk (photos by Chuck Tague)

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Before you come, visit the Events page in case there are changes or cancellations.  The outing will be canceled if there’s lightning (unlikely this coming Sunday but you never know).

From experience I can say … there will be lots of blue jays and chipmunks.

(*) If the birding is suddenly good at 10:30am we’ll have the option to continue to 11a.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Why Is Wingstem Thriving in City Parks?

Honeybee approaches wingstem, Frick Park, 8 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

17 September 2022

In Schenley and Frick Parks you can look straight through the forest if you duck your head below four feet high. In Schenley Park the ground is often bare and most plants in that four-foot zone are gone. But one flower, wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), is doing just fine in the city parks.

Wingstem, Frick Park, 8 Sep 2022

The absence of cover from the ground to 4 – 5 feet is called a browseline (below) and is evidence of an overpopulation of white-tailed deer.

Bare ground and absence of cover below the trees in Schenley Park, September 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

According to this KDKA report, the deer population in Schenley Park is estimated at 80-120 per acre, which roughly equates to 57-86 deer per square mile. A 2010 deer study for City Parks found that the parks can support 7-8 deer per square mile, but with 8 to 11 times that number living in Schenley any plant still growing there is definitely something deer don’t eat.

Doe browsing in Schenley Park, September 2022 (photo by Kate Sr. John)

So why don’t deer eat wingstem?

A thicket of wingstem on the “elbow” trail, Frick Park, 8 Sep 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

The leaves are bitter!

Find out more about wingstem at Illinois wildflowers.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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)