Archive for the 'Schenley Park' Category

Jul 05 2015

Pretty. Invasive.

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Purple loosestrife blooming on CMU's campus, 2 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple loosestrife blooming on CMU’s campus, 2 July 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I saw this plant blooming in Schenley Park the other day I made sure to point it out to participants at last Sunday’s walk.  Most people aren’t aware that purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is highly invasive.

Purple loosestrife came to North America from Europe and was established on the east coast by the mid 1800s.  It grows 1.5 to 5 feet tall with opposite or alternate untoothed leaves and a spike of pinkish purple flowers. Here’s a closeup of the flower.

It spreads by seed and by massive woody roots in ditches, wet meadows and wetlands.  Once it takes hold it out-competes native plants and creates a monoculture that lowers the biodiversity of the site.  Amazingly it even affects ducks because, though dense at the top, it’s open at water level and provides no cover for nesting.

Purple loosestrife is listed as invasive in 27 states, including Pennsylvania, but many garden stores and garden websites still sell it to those who are unaware of the danger.  When its seeds get into flowing water, watch out!

Fortunately years of research found a beetle that eats it.  In the video below, Donna Ellis from the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension describes purple loosestrife and how the Galerucella beetle is an effective biological control agent. (Birders, listen to the audio track. If I’d been standing there I would have been totally distracted by those upset birds!)

I found only a single loosestrife in Schenley Park and an Urban Eco Steward pulled it up (yay!) but on Thursday I found two clumps on Carnegie Mellon’s campus.  Uh oh!

Pretty.  Invasive.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jul 03 2015

Little Eats Big … Slowly

Harvestman with mites on its legs (photo by Kate St. John)

Harvestman with mites on its legs, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

We’re used to top predators eating small prey but the world is far more complicated than Big Eats Little.  Small things can weaken a predator or bring it down.

Harvestmen (Opiliones), also called daddy long-legs, are omnivorous ‘bugs’ distantly related to spiders.  They are harmless to humans but can be dangerous to small insects.  However they can be weakened by even tinier parasites.

See those two red dots on the harvestman’s legs?  They are parasitic mites sucking the harvestmen’s “blood.” identifies them as a species of Leptus (family Erythraeidae) whose larvae parasitize North American harvestmen.

Just two mites are probably not a problem but a large infestation on the body weakens the harvestman.  If seeing bugs-on-bugs doesn’t bother you, click here for an example.

Harvestmen clean their legs by drawing them through their jaws so it’s a wonder the mites remain in place.  Obviously there’s been a long mutual evolution of cleaning and clinging that brought these two species to where they are today.

No matter how small the predator, there’s always something smaller to oppress it.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 29 2015

Walks in Schenley Park: Yesterday + July through October

Participants in Sunday's walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St.John)

Group photo: Sunday’s walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite the cold, gray, and drizzle 12 people came out to walk in Schenley Park yesterday morning.

Our best birds were a Baltimore oriole with a fledgling, northern rough-winged swallows, a scarlet tanager, gray catbirds and a rose-breasted grosbeak.

We also observed that deer tried to eat the Black Cohosh flowers and rejected them (they smell bad), Bottlebrush Buckeye is in full bloom near Panther Hollow Lake, and a rose-breasted grosbeak jumped up to eat Pale Touch-me-not seeds.

Yesterday’s walk was the last one on the schedule but many of you asked for more so I’m pleased to announce 4 more monthly walks — late July through late October — that will take us up to winter.  (Most are the last Sunday of the month, but not in August.)

  • Sunday, July 26:  Meet at Bartlett Shelter. Let’s look at the park from a different angle and see what’s blooming in the meadow.
  • Sunday, August 23:  Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center.  What’s changed at the lake since June? Late summer flowers and a hint of fall.
  • Sunday September 27:  Meet at Bartlett Shelter.  It’s Great Race Day so we’ll avoid road closures and spend time at the quiet end of the park.
  • Sunday, October 25: Meet at the Schenley Park Visitors Center for the last walk before winter sets in.  Will the crows be back yet?

As always, the walks are 8:30am to 10:30am.  Dress for the weather, wear comfortable walking shoes, and bring binoculars if you have them.

Click here for more information and updates if a walk is canceled for bad weather.

See you then!


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 24 2015

Wet Weather Brings …

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At the end of May I lamented that my backyard was dry and cracked while 27 counties in Pennsylvania were under a Drought Watch.

Conditions have changed significantly.

From a May rain deficit of 1.23 inches, Pittsburgh now has a surplus of 2.00″ in the first 23 days of June. (Normal in Pittsburgh is 3.95″ for May and 3.30″ to the 23rd of June.)  Yes it’s wet!

Around western Pennsylvania it’s wet elsewhere, too.  New Castle got 2.32″ in yesterday’s storms alone!  Johnstown is 6.5″ above normal for the month (300% of normal) and Dubois stands at 1.85″ above normal for June 23.

The wet weather has caused flash floods, flooded basements and another more subtle problem:  fungus.

On Monday I noticed that the tulip trees in Schenley Park and at Phipps’s outdoor garden have brown curled leaves at the top.  Worried that we had another forest pest on our hands I emailed this photo to Phil Gruszka, my favorite tree expert at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  He says its anthracnose.

Anthacnose is a group of fungi that infect shade trees, usually browning their leaves but sometimes infecting their twigs, bark and fruit.  Each tree species has its own specific fungus pest.  The one that infects tulip trees attacks the leaves.

In large stands of trees there’s no practical treatment for anthracnose.  Though it may weaken the trees it doesn’t kill them outright and they get a respite if the weather changes.  The fungi go away when it’s dry.

When will it be dry?  … Do we dare ask that question?


p.s. Libby in New Castle, Marianne in Dubois area, and Marcy in Indiana County, how’s the weather out there?

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 31 2015

This Morning’s Walk in Schenley Park

Participants in May 31 Walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Participants in May 31 Walk in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Great turnout this morning — 21 people, including myself — and the weather cooperated!

From our meeting place at the Visitors Center we could see E2 on the lightning rod at the Cathedral of Learning so we talked about peregrines and I answered questions before we walked to Panther Hollow Lake.

Best sightings included beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles at their nests, a house wren at its nest in a street lamp, and northern rough-winged swallows taking flight-baths in the lake.  Two wood thrushes sang in the woods and common whitetail dragonflies chased at the lake edge.

Spend time outdoors in the weeks ahead.  In mid-June come to Peregrine Fledge Watches (to be announced) at Schenley Plaza, Downtown, Neville Island and the Westinghouse Bridge.  And on Sunday June 28 I’ll lead another walk in Schenley Park.

Check the schedule on my Events page for the latest updates.



(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 27 2015

Reminder: Let’s Walk in Schenley Park, May 31

Fleabane (photo by Kate St. John)

Just a reminder that I’m leading a bird and nature walk on Sunday May 31, 8:30am in Schenley Park. Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center where Panther Hollow Road meets Schenley Drive.

Dress for the weather. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.

Click here for more information and for updates if the walk is canceled for bad weather.

I know we’ll find fleabane blooming.

See you soon.

(photo of fleabane by Kate St. John)

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May 12 2015

Color Coded For Bees

Published by under Schenley Park,Trees

Horse Chestnut flowers, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

A close look at horse chestnut flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

This week the horse chestnut trees are in full bloom in Schenley Park.

Common horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) are native to southeastern Europe but are planted widely in the U.S. for their beauty and shade.  Their flowers are dramatic in 10″ tall clusters and their large leaves with seven leaflets provide lots of shade.
Horse Chestnut tower of flowers, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Up close, the ornate white flowers have spots in either yellow or pinkish-red.  There’s a purpose behind the beauty.

When the flower is unfertilized the spot inside is yellow.  After pollination the spot turns reddish to tell the bees, “Don’t waste your time on me.”

The flowers are color coded for the bees.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 05 2015

Leaf Out!

Red oak leaves, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St.John)

Last weekend’s new leaves in Schenley Park demonstrated that the city is warmer than the suburbs.  Schenley’s leaves unfurled on May 1 while the suburbs were still brown.

Above, new red oak leaves. Below, sugar maple.

Sugar mapleleaf-out, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

This white ash sapling opened its leaves like a crown.  Tiny ash saplings aren’t eaten by emerald ash borer because their stems are too narrow for the bug to use.
White ash leaf-out, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

For dramatic leaf-out, you can’t beat a shagbark hickory.  This bud was just about to unfurl …
Shagbark hickory, leaves about to open, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And … Boom!
Leaf out! Shagbark hickory (photo by Kate St. John)

Three days later the leaves now produce shade.
Shagbark hickory leaves, 4 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)


Take a look at tree covered hillsides as you drive north or south and you’ll notice leaf-out moving north 13 miles a day — except in the city.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 01 2015

False Miterwort

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Foamflower blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

Foamflower blooming, photo by Kate St. John

Foamflower is one plant, Miterwort’s another, but I called a patch of Foamflower “Miterwort” during last Sunday’s outing in Schenley Park.

Perhaps that’s because one of Foamflower’s alternate names is “False Miterwort.”  I must have had that in mind when called it Miterwort. (Sure!)

The position of their leaves is the easiest way to tell the difference.  Though the leaves are the same shape, Foamflower has basal leaves, Miterwort has two leaves opposite each other in the middle of the stem.

Miterwort blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

Miterwort blooming (The plant is usually erect), photo by Kate St. John

A close look at the flowers also tells them apart. Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) look fluffy or foamy (first photo).  Miterwort (Mitella diphylla) flowers have intricate lace edges like tiny bishops’ caps — or miters (second photo).

I know the difference but I persistently say the wrong name.

Maybe I’ll do better now that I’ve publicly embarrassed myself.  😉


(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Since last Sunday the deer have eaten the tops off half of those Foamflower plants.  Grrrr!

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Apr 26 2015

This Morning’s Walk in Schenley Park

April outing in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

April 26 outing in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

This morning there were eight of us on the Schenley Park outing:  Linda, Larry, Michelle, Rose, Jen, Marianne and Dave. (Dave missed the photo opportunity & I’m behind the camera.)

At the Visitors Center we saw Virginia bluebells and redbud blooming.  In the creek valley we found miterwort, yellow trout lilies and large-flowered trillium.  We did see purple deadnettle, as promised.  😉

In addition to the usual residents we saw these Best Birds and bird behavior:

A good time was had by all.

Watch for my next outing on the last Sunday in May — May 31.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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