Archive for the 'Schenley Park' Category

Sep 14 2014

International Rock Flipping, Without A Flip

International Rock Flipping Day logo (from Wanderin' Weeta)

Today is International Rock Flipping Day and I’m participating for the sixth time in this Blog Carnival event.

But the truth is I did not flip a rock.

This year I finally realized that I don’t like to flip rocks.  I don’t want to be surprised by what’s underneath and the surprise is increased by having to stand close enough to photograph the critters.

Before this dawned on me I flipped two carefully chosen benign-looking rocks.  Predictably, there was nothing but dirt under them.  (Whew!)  Even so I followed Rock Flipping Protocol and replaced the rocks as I found them.

Then I remembered Mainly Mongoose’s 2010 blog post in which she pondered the hazards of flipping rocks in the lowveld of northeastern South Africa, a location filled with poisonous snakes. Luckily she found a rock monitor (lizard) poised in a rock crevice.  No flipping required!

So I switched strategies and photographed the most interesting crevices in the rock walls at Schenley Park.  This yielded three spider webs: a many-round-holed web, a hammock, and a funnel.  The spiders were quick to hide as I approached.

Webs between the rocks, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Webs between the rocks, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Web between the rocks (photo by Kate St. John)


Hoping for more interesting creatures, I visited the groundhogs’ wall domain but no one was home until this little guy appeared, hidden behind the flowers.

Chipmunk in a rock crevice, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Not as good as a rock monitor but a chipmunk is a nice surprise.

Happy, International Rock Flipping Day.  Go out and flip a rock if you dare!  Remember to put it back the way you found it.


p.s. Heather Mingo At the Edge of the Ordinary posted links to 2014’s hearty crew of international rock-flippers.  Click here for the round-up and links to the flipper results on Flickr and Facebook, too.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 13 2014

Isabella Scoffs At Winter

Isabella tiger moth caterpillar (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday I found this Isabella Tiger moth caterpillar in Schenley Park.  Does she have a prediction for the coming winter?

Legend has it that wide brown stripes on woolly bear caterpillars predict a mild winter; narrow brown stripes mean a harsh one.

In the 1950’s the former curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History surveyed a very small sample of woolly bears and found that the caterpillars had an 80% accuracy rate.  However, no one’s been able to replicate Dr. C. H. Curran’s findings.  Instead a whole host of factors influence the stripes including species, diet and age.  Especially age.  The older instars are browner.

And frankly, this caterpillar doesn’t care how harsh the winter.  It can survive to -90 degrees F, hibernating as a caterpillar (not in a cocoon!) curled up in a ball under a rock or bark.  It freezes completely except for the innermost portions of its cells which are protected by naturally produced glycerol.  In the spring the caterpillar thaws and resumes eating before making a cocoon and becoming a moth.

Theoretically this particular caterpillar is saying “mild winter” but we know it ain’t so.

Isabella scoffs at winter.

Read more here about the woolly bear legend and amazing winter feats.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 14 2014

TBT: Spunky

House Sparrow at Schenley Plaza (photo by Kate St. John)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

By August Pittsburgh’s house sparrow flocks have grown substantially and the birds are bold.  At Schenley Plaza they ask for handouts.

Click here for my encounter with a spunky sparrow in August 2008.   They’re up to the same tricks this week.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 09 2014

August Nectar

Honeybee at blue vervain, August 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

August flowers have broken the nectar dearth.

This honeybee is feeding at blue vervain (Verbena hastata) in Schenley Park.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Aug 07 2014

Fog Webs

Spider silk revealed by fog (photo by Kate St. John)

Monday morning’s thick fog held some surprises:  Pitt’s 40-story Cathedral of Learning “disappeared” yet all the spider webs stood out.

In Schenley Park diaphanous silk connected the flowers.  Where is the spider who made this?  Will he find the aphids sheltering under the flower head?

On the ground I found many small white “area rugs” like this one.

Funnel spider web (photo by Kate St. John)

These are funnel spider webs.  Mostly flat, they slope inward to a single hole.

Here’s a closeup of the hole beneath that horizontal blade of grass.

Funnel hole of the funnel spider web (photo by Kate St. John)

An even closer look reveals the funnel spider lurking inside.  The slightest movement on his “carpet” brings him out in a flash to capture his prey.

Funnel spider in his web (photo by Kate St. John)

I tried to make him emerge by touching the web but he knows the difference between a human touch and the struggling movements of prey.  He won’t come out for me.

And yes, it’s Throw Back Thursday.  Here’s a 2008 article with a lot more information on funnel spiders.  Read What’s This Cloud on the Ground?


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Aug 05 2014

The Rough Is For The Birds

Published by under Schenley Park

Schenley Park Golf Course, Hole 14, the rough is for birds (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Friday The Allegheny Front featured an article on the Audubon certification of Schenley Park’s golf course.  I’ve watched this transformation and can attest that the program has made a huge difference for birds.

The 18-hole Bob O’Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park is more than 100 years old and has seen its ups and downs.  Years ago it was not well maintained, though certainly well mowed.  Then in 2007 First Tee of Pittsburgh took over golf course management and things really started looking up.

For starters, First Tee decided to enroll the course in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf that focuses on habitat management, chemical reduction, water conservation, outreach and education to improve habitat for birds.  It was a cooperative effort with many partners and volunteers which culminated in their first certification award in 2012.  This year the course was re-certified.

The project’s design team created bird friendly places and saved the golf course lots of mowing because the roughs are really rough.  Planted with native species they are intentional habitats for birds.

Shown above and below is the 14th hole, bordered on the left by thick vegetation and two bluebird boxes.  Front and center is a thick swath of tall grass.  No need for a sand trap.

Here’s a view looking at the hole over the left-side rough.

Schenley Park Golf Course, the rough is rough (photo by Kate St. John)


Birds really love the golf course, now.  Two years ago red-winged blackbirds returned to Schenley for the first time in my memory.  This swath of cattails, in the path of Holes #8 and #9, was claimed by several song sparrows and red-winged blackbirds this spring.
Schenley Golf Course cattail hazard (photo by Kate St. John)

This month American goldfinches are feasting on the native thistle and using the fluff to line their nests.  And it’s no accident that rusty blackbirds made a stopover at the golf course during migration last April.

The rough is really for the birds.

Click here to read more about the golf course’s success and listen to the podcast at The Allegheny Front.


(photos by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Jun 04 2014

What Made This Tree Fall Over?

Published by under Quiz,Schenley Park,Trees

Black cherry tree toppled at Schenley Park, 30 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I see a tree snapped in half like this I have to ask: What made this tree fall over?

I did some detective work but I don’t know the answer yet.  Maybe you can help.  Here are the clues:

  • The tree is a black cherry (Prunus serotina)
  • It was alive when it fell.  It grew leaves this spring so the structural weakness wasn’t evident until the tree broke.
  • This is the only broken tree at this location in Schenley Park.  Even if a strong wind snapped the trunk it wasn’t strong enough to damage other trees.
  • The trunk is not hollow inside the break though there are air gaps between the light outer wood and dark inner core.
  • There’s a white flaky substance inside the trunk that coats the light wood layers.  Is it a fungus?
  • Did the white stuff weaken the trunk?  Is it responsible for the break?

The trunk isn’t hollow, but…
Black cherry break, 30 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a close look at the white flaky fungus.  It reminds me of the white correction tape I use on paper.
White flaky fungus. What is it? (photo by Kate St. John)

Do any of you know what this is?  Is it the reason the tree fell over?

Leave a comment with your answer.


(photos by Kate St. John)

UPDATE on June 5 with the ANSWER!   It’s a species of Armillaria or honey fungus.  (See Maureen Hobma’s comment below.)   Well, I feel a little dumb.  I wrote about Armillaria on 16 January 2014 because I was fascinated that it’s the largest living organism.  I even included a photo of the white sheets inside the heartwood but, having never seen the white sheets before, I did not remember them.  Until now I had only seen the black rope-y strands and the honey mushrooms so that’s all I knew of Armillaria.  The white sheets are the newer growth, the mycelium, and can be bio-luminescent!   I learn something new every day.

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Jun 02 2014

Schenley Park: Subtract and Add

Published by under Schenley Park

Daisies at the Bartlett meadow, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)
There’s a lot going on in Schenley Park near the corner of Bartlett Street and Greenfield Road.  Last weekend I noticed two subtractions to make way for additions.

Making a Meadow:

If you’re familiar with the grassy hill that sweeps down from Beacon to Bartlett you’ll notice that it changed recently.  There are green grass paths, ropes to guide you along the paths, and brown grass everywhere else.  The dead grass will be “subtracted” to make a meadow!

Schenley Park, medow preparation at Beacon hill, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a map of the meadow from a presentation by Erin Copeland of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in May 2013.  Click here or on the map for the complete watershed restoration plan.

Schenley Park, future meadow at Beacon (from Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Panther Hollow Restoration Plan)

The daisies above are blooming now in the tiny meadow at the Bartlett Shelter, top left of the map.  Next spring they’ll have neighbors.


Eradicating Oak Wilt:

Across the street from the meadow, oak wilt eradication at Prospect Circle is nearing its end.  Not only are most of the trees gone but the ground is bare.  The work is so thorough that you can see the bare spot from Greenfield Road through the remaining fringe of trees (if you look for it).

Oak wilt eradication at Prospect Circle as of 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

To tree-lovers this seems sad but wildlife filled the niche immediately.  Red-tailed hawks love open-space perches and, true to form, I found a large, pale, red-tailed hawk perched on one of the remaining trees.  The smaller birds complained about her as she watched me take her picture.

Red-tailed hawk at Prospect Circle, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Though many trees were subtracted, the Parks Conservancy has already begun reforestation by adding 30 trees nearby.

New trees planted at Prospect Circle, 31 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Watch for more additions in the months ahead.

Visit the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s website for plans and information.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 28 2014

Jack Explains Himself

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Jack in the Pulpit, Schenley Park, 16 May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

When I found this Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) blooming in Schenley Park, he begged for an opportunity to explain himself.

Go ahead, Jack.  What’s on your mind?

First off, I’m not always a guy.  I’m both male and female but not at the same time.  What you call “Jack” is my spadix whose base is covered in tiny male or female flowers.  I can turn them off and on depending on my age and environmental conditions.  Sometimes I’m male.  Sometimes I’m female. Call me Jack or Jill.

I’m pollinated by fungus flies so I smell like a mushroom.  (Oh, really?)

My pulpit is called a spathe — rhymes with bathe.  My hood looks like a garden spade if you open it up.  I’m not happy when you do that but I understand the temptation.

Botanists cannot decide whether I am one or three species.  I, personally, am all green inside. Some of us have fancy stripes.  Click here to see.

My trifoliate leaves start near the ground and sometimes look unrelated to me, but they’re mine.  Yes, they look like “leaves of three.” No, I am not poison ivy.

When I’m female I’m quite pretty in the fall.  I drop my spathe and develop a cluster of bright red berries on my spadix.  Check back in a few months and you’ll be impressed.

And finally, don’t eat me.  I’m full of calcium oxalate. Native Americans had recipes for my use but you have to know their special preparations or you’re in for a nasty burning, possible sterility or poisoning.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 15 2014

Remarkable Journeys

Swainson's thrush (photo by Steve Gosser)

In the middle of May, Schenley Park’s bird population bursts at the seams as migrants stopover on their way to Canada.  Early this week one of the most numerous visitors was the Swainson’s thrush.

We tend to take their migration for granted, knowing the birds make long journeys from South to North America, but we’re unable to visualize it.  How far do they go?  How long do they live?

Last December in the Columbian highlands a bird banding station captured a previously banded Swainson’s thrush.  Its bands revealed the bird was captured more than five years earlier while on its journey north.

The thrush was banded near Unadilla, Nebraska in May 2008, heading home to breed in central Canada.  At that time it was at least one year old.  In December 2013 it was recaptured near Las Margaritas, Columbia 2,700 miles away, probably at its winter home.  It was more than six years old and had made the journey at least 13 times.

From Canada to Columbia, read about this bird’s journey and see the map at Klamath Call Note.

(photo of a Swainson’s thrush on migration in Pennsylvania by Steve Gosser)

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