Now that it’s mid December Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock has chosen favorite roosts but continues to adjust the location in subtle ways, especially when it’s cold.
In October they switched sites abruptly — here today, gone tomorrow. In November they focused in Oakland and tried for Schenley Farms. On the 18th I watched the flock hover from four blocks away, then heard a distant BANG! a single banger firework. The crows made a U turn in the sky and didn’t come back.
This month the flock has split into several roosts including rooftops and trees at Bouquet and Sennott, at Fifth and Thackeray, and perhaps at University Prep in the Hill District. On 11 December I followed them to the Hill where I found them staging at Rampart Street, Herron near Milwaukee, and University Prep.
But I don’t know where they sleep. I plan to count them on 26 December for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count so if you see them sleeping somewhere let me know!
Meanwhile, the flock’s incursion into Oakland prompted this tongue-in-check tourism video by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy interns, posted on 20 November.
The crows and I recognize a lot of places in the video. 😉
Pittsburgh’s November cloud forecasts often leave me scratching my head. What does “Partly Cloudy” mean?
Thanksgiving Day was partly cloudy. See that tiny patch of blue, above? That’s the sunny bit. No, it did not rain.
The official NWS forecast Sky Conditions ought to shed some light (copied below). Though the cloud cover percentages are fixed the names are flexible and disappointing. Mostly Cloudy has two definitions (see italics) and Cloudy is an anemic word for Pittsburgh’s really Overcast skies.
National Weather Service Sky Conditions
Opaque Cloud Coverage
Cloudy / Overcast
88% - 100%
Mostly Cloudy / Considerable Cloudiness
70% - 87%
Partly Sunny / Mostly Cloudy
51% - 69%
Mostly Sunny / Partly Cloudy
26% - 50%
Sunny / Mostly Clear
6% - 25%
Sunny / Clear
0% - 5%
Something was brewing in the sky below. Would it be Mostly or Partly Cloudy … or Partly Sunny?
An hour later it was calmer and “Mostly” something.
What would the weatherman call this sky condition (below)? Mostly Cloudy? Cloudy? Overcast?
While pondering the answer, look for four crows among the clouds.
By now all the leaves have fallen in the Pittsburgh area. Or have they? There are still a few trees with bright yellow leaves in Schenley Park — Norway maples.
As their name implies Norway maples (Acer platanoides) were imported from Europe where their native range extends further north than Pittsburgh. Our short November days are the same length as those they experience in October back home. The sun will be up for 9 hours and 39 minutes today, 24 November, in western Pennsylvania. That’s the day length on 21 October in Oslo, Norway.
Right now our native trees are bare or retain just a few yellow leaves at the very top (tuliptrees) or dried brown leaves overall (oaks and beeches).
Because non-native plants are out of synch with our seasons late November is the best time of year to see them in the landscape.
The trees with leaves are aliens!
Fun fact: Pittsburgh’s latitude is very far south of Scandinavia. Did you know we are on the same latitude as Madrid, Spain?
Quiz: What North American city is nearly the same latitude as London, England? The answer is surprising.
At dawn on Thursday morning, 19 November, sunrise lit the clouds after a clear, cold night. Ice had started to form on Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow Lake. It was 6 degrees below normal on the day before.
Two days earlier we had our first daytime snow in the city.
By Friday 20 November the temperature was 17 degrees above normal(*).
No more ice.
(photos and video by Kate St. John)
(*) The normal average on 20 November is 41 degrees F in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh’s weather has been down-and-up from 30 degrees F + snow on Monday to 70 degrees F + sun today. By the end of the week it was fun to spend time outdoors.
On Friday I noted that most trees in the City of Pittsburgh still have leaves but few were as colorful as the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), above, in Scheney Park. American goldfinches moved among the leaves searching for seeds in the sweetgum balls.
The return of warm weather reactivated insects who were hiding from the cold. On Thursday a leaf-footed bug walked up our living room window.
White-tailed deer seem to be everywhere, especially in the city parks. The rut is in progress so the deer are less wary of people and cars. Meanwhile small trees in Schenley Park show new damage after bucks rub the velvet off their antlers.
Some trees have the perfect defense against such assaults. Large thorns adorn the trunks of honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos). No buck rubs here!
The warm weather will continue next week. It’s (still!) time to get outdoors.
On Sunday morning 25 October 2020 three of us braved the suddenly cold weather and were rewarded with lots of birds and witch hazel in bloom.
Though we saw only 23 species bird activity was intense at the wetland near Panther Hollow Lake. A large flock of robins fed on fruit and bathed in the creek. White-throated sparrows poked through the underbrush, woodpeckers fed on fallen logs and ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in the trees. (Our eBird checklist is here.)
None of us had a camera so Joanne Tyzenhouse contributed this ruby-crowned kinglet photo she took in the spring.
Despite the cold weather I’m glad we went.
p.s. I forgot to take our picture so you will have to imagine what we looked like.