Arsenal and Leslie Parks Master Plan Nearing Completion

Lawrenceville, there are big plans for your parks.


Community members and organizers on a site walk through Arsenal Park in summer.

Started May 2014, the Arsenal and Leslie Parks Master Plan is nearing completion, an exciting next step for these two greenspaces seeped in local history. A collaborative effort shared by the City, the Parks Conservancy, Lawrenceville United, Lawrenceville Corporation, Friends of Arsenal Park, and the Leslie Park Collective, this revitalization road map is slated to be finished this spring.

Enmeshed in the community for generations, Arsenal and Leslie Parks’ rich histories and roles in the neighborhood are tangible:

If you also love Arsenal and Leslie Parks, we welcome you to give your two cents on the developing plan through this MindMixer site and at these upcoming public meetings:

Thursday, Februrary 26th
6 – 8pm
Stephen Foster Community Center (286 Main Street)

Saturday, Februrary 28th
10am – noon
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (279 Fisk Street)

We look forward to hearing what you have to say, and stay tuned for the completed Master Plan!

Did you know? In addition to four of Pittsburgh’s RAD parks — Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley — the Parks Conservancy in recent years has begun to work alongside community groups in neighborhood parks. Our work in these parks allows us to join Pittsburghers in bringing the benefits of healthy green space to even more communities.

Spotlight on Mary Schenley

An estranged daughter. An international love affair. An heiress disinherited.

Before turning twenty, Mary Schenley’s life read like many a juicy soap opera. And it’s exactly this flair for the dramatic that has us telling her story more than 150 years later.

Recently, 90.5 WESA featured the story of Mary Schenley in a pithy piece featuring our Parks Curator Susan Rademacher. Listen to the full story here, and read below for a piece written by Susan about Mary and the making of Pittsburgh’s civic park.

Mary Schenley and the Making of Our Park System

By Susan M. Rademacher, Parks Curator, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Originally published in
Squirrel Hill Magazine

Only two of our city’s four historic regional parks bear a family name. Frick Park is named in tribute to Henry Clay Frick who, upon his death in 1919, gave 150 acres and an endowment to develop and care for a new park. Frick Park is also a symbol of a father’s Iove for his daughter — Frick’s daughter Helen is reputed to have asked her father for the park property as a gift to the children of Pittsburgh. This story is perhaps the better known of the two family-named parks, because the Frick home and museums at Clayton remain to embody the family’s presence and impact on Pittsburgh.

Mary E. Schenley

Schenley Park, on the other hand, wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the forgiveness of a father in restoring his estranged daughter to her inheritance. In what became the scandal of the day, Mary Elizabeth Croghan eloped at age 15 from her Long island boarding school with the headmistress’s 43-year-old brother-in-law, Captain Edward Schenley. The newlyweds settled in London and Mary was promptly disinherited. Her father, William Croghan Jr., couldn’t bear the break for long, visiting the young couple and the first of many grandchildren in London a year later in 1843. His forgiveness is especially understandable, given that Mary was the widower’s only surviving child.

William Croghan Jr., father of Mary Schenley

Croghan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, at the fabled country seat Locust Grove. His father was the Revolutionary War Quartermaster General William Croghan, married to the sister of General George Rogers Clark. After the steamboat allowed passage upriver, Pittsburgh became a favored destination of Louisvillians. It was on such an outing that William Croghan Jr. met the prosperous O’Hara family, marrying daughter Mary O’Hara in 1821. The couple started their family in Louisville with son William and daughter Mary Elizabeth born at Locust Grove on April 27, 1826. That same year, William Croghan Jr. wrote his brother-in-law, “I am sick & tired of farming, incessant toil and anxiety & no profit….I am now firmly resolved so soon as my difficulties will allow to make arrangements for moving to Pittsburgh.” Sadly, he would make that move as a widower, his wife Mary having died 1827. In an 1828 letter from William’s sister Ann Croghan Jesup to her sister Eliza Croghan Hancock, Ann writes “Mr. Baldwin in Pittsburgh says Will Croghan is the finest boy he ever saw & Mary is a lovely child it did me good to hear him speak of those poor little children. Mary has quite recovered I sat up with her for two nights she was dangerously ill with Quinsy and inflammation on the Lungs.”  Young Will died only a month later.

Picnic House

Father and daughter Mary Elizabeth soon moved to Pittsburgh to make a new life. There, William Croghan Jr. was admitted to the Allegheny Bar. And in August of 1833, Mary writes to her Aunty Lucy Jesup, “Next year Papa is to build his cottage.” This fine Greek Revival-style home atop Stanton Heights was named Picnic House, and contained 22 rooms. Croghan died at Picnic in 1850, but his will preserved the home and furnishings for the use of Mary and her children until 1931, when Mary’s daughter Hermione, Lady Ellenborough, sold the furnishings. The house was demolished in 1955, and its grand ballroom and foyer were transplanted to the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning where they remain a major attraction.

Mary’s inheritance of O’Hara properties from her mother’s estate made her the largest property owner in Allegheny County. Her Pittsburgh landholdings included slums at the “Point” and she was severely criticized as an absentee landlord and exploiter of the wretched by Pittsburgh’s Labor Tribune and the Chicago Daily Tribune in the late 1880s. Her redemption came in philanthropic form. Significant gifts to several important institutions helped shape the cultural, social, and physical landscape of Pittsburgh as we know it today.

Among her major gifts were:

  • Land for building the West Penn Hospital;
  • Property for the Western Penn Institute for the Blind;
  • A large lot for the Newsboys Home;
  • A $10,000 subscription toward the purchase of land for Riverview Park; and
  • The gift of the Old Block House and adjoining property, (the original Fort Duquesne) to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

While the City of Pittsburgh had been attempting to buy or take Schenley properties for an Oakland park since 1869, it wasn’t until 1889, after Captain Schenley died, that the land for Schenley Park was finally acquired. It was through the enterprising efforts of the “Father of Pittsburgh Parks,” Edward Manning Bigelow (1850-1916), that Mary was persuaded to donate 300 acres, giving an option to buy another 100 acres. Bigelow, named the first director of the new Department of Public Works, envisioned a park system for the city. When he heard that a developer was heading to London to broker a deal with Mrs. Schenley, he promptly dispatched an attorney to get there first and secure a donation. Mary had just two conditions: that the land be used for a park named after her and that it could never be sold. The City soon purchased an additional 144 acres, including the present-day Schenley Plaza and part of the Carnegie Library for much less than its tax value.


Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain

Sculpted by Victor David Brenner, with the granite base by architect H. Van Magonigle, the memorial was entitled A Song to Nature and dedicated on Labor Day, September 2, 1918. The memorial was restored and lit in 2008 by the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Her invaluable gift is memorialized in the Mary E. Schenley Memorial Fountain at Schenley Plaza.

When she died in 1903, the New York Times observed, “The death of Mrs. Mary E. Schenley, which occurred at her home in Hyde Park, London, was made known in Pittsburg [sic] to-day. Mrs. Schenley has been Pittsburg’s benefactress for many years… Mrs. Schenley was the heroine, sixty years ago, of the greatest romance in Pittsburg’s early history… The affair created an immense social sensation at the time, and the house was preserved for many years in precisely the shape that it was in at the date of the elopement.”

Mary returned only once to Pittsburgh before her father’s death in 1850, and rarely after that. As an asthmatic, the smoky city was not a healthy environment for her. How fitting that our park system was created, in part, to improve the health of our people while changing the image of the city from gray to green. Schenley Park, along with all the parks and greenspaces of Pittsburgh, has more than fulfilled that early promise, thanks in no small part to the spirited benefactress Mary E. Schenley.

A century and a half of Pittsburg and her people, by John Newton Boucher; illustrated. Vol. 2.
Frick Fine Arts Library: Schenley Plaza, Schenley Park &Environs, Library Guide Series, No. 11.
Grove Gazette, Winter 2011.   Historic Locust Grove, Louisville, Kentucky.
“Fountain of Forgetting: Mary E. Schenley (1827-1903),” by Don Simpson, University of Pittsburgh.
Mandy Dick, “The Storyteller,” Clarksville, Indiana, 502-500-8899.
The New York Times, November 6, 1903.
The History of Pittsburgh: Its Rise and Progress, by Sarah Hutchins Killikelly.  B. C. & Gordon Montgomery Co., 1906: Pittsburgh, PA.

25 Ways to Celebrate Your Galentines and Valentines (Part 2)

Last week, we starting laying out our recommended ways to celebrate Valentines and Galentine (really, anyone who you love taking to the park). Here’s the second half of our list of park adventures:

14. Find serenity lakeside

Love a little peace and quiet? Skipping rocks? The perfect scene to Instagram? Look no further than the lovely water features throughout the parks. We think you and your someone special will love a trip to Lake Elizabeth, Panther Hollow Lake, and Lake Carnegie.

Sunset at Panther Hollow Lake. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

15. Grab a cuppa at the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center

Warm your hands around a tasty beverage of your choice and take in the views of Panther Hollow from the big open windows of the Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center. After enjoying your vantage from above, follow the chunky Belgian block trail behind the Cafe through peaceful Panther Hollow.

Hang out with this soldier in Schenley for Valentine’s Day.

16. Play docent all of the art

Pittsburgh parks are art. For art aficionados and history buffs, the parks are like a free museum, open year-round. Brush up on art in the parks with this helpful Pittsburgh Art Places website.

17. Snap a selfie with Dippy and bask in the bosque

Diplodocus carnegii is just too cute not to be a part of any selfies shot around the Plaza. Once you’ve visited Dippy, walk on through the bosque in front of the Carnegie Library – Main with its ceiling of overarching London plane trees.

18. Join the parties that are volunteer days 

It’s always a good time when you gather hundreds of happy, energized folks to beautify the parks. Rain or shine (even snow or sleet), volunteer days are full of positive vibes, perfect for a day spent with your friend or sweetheart.

19. Prowl for owls

Getting on around dusk, the silent winged denizens of the park come to life. If you keep your voice down and your ears open, you might be lucky enough to hear owls on the move.

20. Promenade in Allegheny Commons

The allées of Allegheny Commons were designed to accommodate the wide hoop skirts of the late 19th century when the park was designed. Walking on through this park today can be like going back in time, especially since some of the park’s trees growing there today date almost as old as the park itself.

Daffodils popping up in spring.

21. Give a gift they’ll really dig

A gift of daffodils in the parks is perfect for all of your favorite people, whatever the occasion. Each spring, the bulbs planted through the Daffodil Project burst into life for all to enjoy, which is really a gift from all park lovers to everyone. Learn more here.

22. Go for a ride, start a war

Be a kid again: grab some saucers, toboggans, cafeteria lunch trays, whatever you can get your hands on and hit the sled-riding slopes or go all in on an all-out snow ball battle.

23. Eat to your heart’s content at The Porch

The Porch at Schenley, the only full-service restaurant at Schenley Plaza, is always a popular spot for a bite before or after your adventures in Schenley Park.

24. Skate the night away

Citiparks’ annual Valentines on Ice event attracts couples from across the land for a night of skating under the stars with the city as a backdrop. Added bonus: the first 300 couples to arrive receive complimentary sweets and flowers. Can’t make this event? The Schenley Park Skating Rink is open daily; find the schedule and pricing here.

Where is this snowy scene? You’ll just have to explore the parks and find out!

25. Get lost, then get found

You’re a modern-day explorer on a quest to conquer new park lands. Pack a bag and venture out to parks uncharted by you and your date. It’s always fun to get lost in these urban jungles, but if you’d like to get found, there’s a free app for that.


Have other date ideas that we’ve missed? Post them below or through Facebook and Twitter!


The Matchmakers at the Parks Conservancy

25 Ways to Celebrate Your Galentines and Valentines (Part 1)

25 Ways to Celebrate Your Galentines and Valentines (Part 1)

Whether you’re celebrating your Valentine, Galentine, or really anyone that you enjoy, we’ve compiled a list of date ideas — platonic or romantic! — that will knock your next park adventure, well, out of the park:

1. Catch sunset at the Highland Park Reservoir

The Overlook at Schenley Park is a fan favorite for sunset spotters. Take a stroll around the Highland Park Reservoir, though, to see the sun set betwixt trees and the Giuseppe Moretti entrance statues in the peaceful entrance garden.


2. Ride a bicycle built for two on Pocusset Street

Don’t have the balance to reenact that timeless Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid scene with your sweetie? Riding a tandem bicycle (or any bike, really) down the biker- and walker-only Pocusset Street in Schenley Park is the next best thing.


Knock, knock!

3. Hunt for fairy doors 

In Frick and Mellon Park, Allegheny Commons, and many other parks are teensy little doors for the resident fairies. Find and knock on them to see if anyone’s home.

4. Gaze at stars in Riverview Park

The iconic Allegheny Observatory opens its doors weekly to star-struck astronomers for free tours, lectures, and open houses at this incredible space. On clear nights during these events, the 100-year-old-and-older telescopes are generally open for use.

5. Gaze at stars in Mellon Park

Whatever the weather, you can always see 150 stars peeking up from the lawn of Mellon Park’s Walled Garden thanks to 7:11AM  11.20.1979  79º55’W 40º27’N, a memorial art installation.


6. Read Shakespeare in a Shakespearean garden

Whilst we speak of Mellon Park, o’er the hill of the Walled Garden thou must recite verses when alighting in the Shakespearean Garden.

7. Make a snowman or snowbeast

This is an anywhere, anytime activity. Let your creativity run wild. Just try not to sing that one song from Frozen when you’re out there; it’s contagious.


Telescope in Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park.

8. See the cityscape from Emerald View Park

The Mount Washington overlooks get a lot of love (deservedly), but seeing Downtown peek in and out from the undulating trails of Emerald View Park is always a rewarding experience.

9. Take a trip around the world with a visit to the Plaza

Immerse yourself in international flavors with the fares served in Schenley Plaza. Your hankerings for Chinese, Greek, Belgian, or the ever-changing cuisines at Conflict Kitchen are all conveniently in one square acre.

10. Traverse the tufas

The solid bridges along the lower and upper Panther Hollow trails in Schenley Park, made of a limestone variety (tufa) and built by W.P.A. crews, are straight from a storybook, covered in moss, lichens, and now snow. See these and other old-timey Works Progress projects sprinkled throughout the park.


Tufa under snow.

11. Latch a love lock and throw away the key

Make a statement with your sweetie by adding your own lock to the Schenley Bridge and throwing away the key — just as you do it in the proper waste receptacle. (Forgetting the combination also acceptable.)

 12. Tour the neighborhood, visit parkside cultural establishments

While you’re in the neighborhood, drop by the Carnegie Museums, the Frick Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory, the National Aviary, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and many other must-see institutions around the parks.

13. Learn something new together

Be spontaneous, try something new! Take a shot at disc golf, lawn bowling, or curling.


Check back next week for the second half of our park date ideas. Share your inspired date ideas below or through Facebook and Twitter!


The Matchmakers at the Parks Conservancy

How To: Bagel Birdfeeders with the Habitat Explorers


A Habitat Explorer from Propel Braddock Hills, bundled to his beak.

Remember that scene from A Christmas Story when the little brother, Randy, is getting wrapped head to toe like he was going ‘extended deep-sea diving’ to venture out into the snow?

Multiply that operation ten- or twenty-fold, and you’ll have an idea of what our naturalist educators accomplish when they take Habitat Explorer students out in the parks. Once bundled in puffy coats, balaclavas, and lots of animal-themed hats, these 1st graders go on an expedition in the parks to learn about the woods in winter.

Their goal? Exploring the parks woodlands and spotting birds! (And we don’t mean the Angry variety.)

Winter bird watching

Birds need to eat all day long to stay warm in the winter. They can survive without humans because they’re pros at finding seeds on plants all over Pittsburgh to keep them full. As part of our Habitat Explorers curriculum, students learn about local birds and what they eat, then make bagel birdfeeders to hang so that they can observe their feathered friends up close and personal.


Faison students hanging their feeders.

How to: Make your own backyard feeder

In just a few steps, you can bring Pittsburgh’s resident winter birds to your backyard by making bagel birdfeeders just like our Habitat Explorers. And since the cold months are a calm time when many birds have finished their migration, learning to identify Pittsburgh’s birds in winter is the time to start. Here’s a helpful resource to get familiar with some common local birds.

A Habitat Explorer filling a container with seeds.

A Habitat Explorer filling a container with seeds.

The materials:

  • A bagel (one bagel will make two feeders)
  • An 8” piece of string for each feeder (cotton or other natural fiber are recommended because they will decompose)
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Seeds
  • A butter knife
  • A sharp knife
  • A plate or shallow container
  • The perfect branch or bush to hang your feeder

The process:

  1. Carefully cut the bagel in half. (Pro tip: It helps do this a day or more ahead of time so it gets stale. The birds don’t mind, and it makes it easier to spread the shortening!)
  2. Tie the string through the hole of the bagel half so it can hang on a tree.
  3. Put birdseed on a plate or shallow container. (No birdseed? Unsalted, flavor-less sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, millet, chopped peanuts, barley, and coarse ground corn meal also work.)
  4. Spread the shortening on the flat side of the bagel. This can be hard for small hands, so be ready to help out!
  5. Press the shortening covered side of the bagel into the seeds so they stick to the shortening.
  6. Gently shake the bagel over the plate or outside to remove excess seeds.
  7. Hang your birdfeeder near your house and watch the birds!

Ellis students with their bagel birdfeeders

We recommend hanging your bagel birdfeeder somewhere you can see for best bird spotting. Do you have a tree near a window? Perfect! Birds like to feel secure, so choosing a feeder location in a tree or bush where birds can go to take shelter from cats, hawks and other predators is extra appealing.

Mike Cornell, Naturalist Educator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

You Asked for It, You Got It: Parks Conservancy in Allegheny Commons

Going to the park to promenade in a hoop skirt or top hat, as one does, is an exquisite way to spend a weekend afternoon. When one’s week has been spent in the steel mills or in the city that some may call “hell with the lid off,” just load up the buggy and head to the neighborhood park.


View from Picturesque America, 1872” Photo courtesy University of Pittsburgh, Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

In the same year that our capital expanded suffrage to African American men and antiseptic surgery became a thing, the citizens of the then City of Allegheny transformed a plot of free grazing land into a park. And what a delightful place it became. It was here that Alleghenians could shake off the dust of the day and see their neighbors out for a stroll.

The first thing we want is breathing places accessible to our overworked people. As these grounds develop in beauty, and new works of art are introduced, our citizens can resort thither to spend a holiday or leisure hour, instead of being compelled to stay indoors, or to frequent places of questionable propriety, for recreation or pastime. (Parks Commission Second Annual Report, 1870)


Pittsburgh’s earliest park, Allegheny Commons is comparable to the historic Regional Parks in nearly every dimension except for scale. It’s been a part of a world that has changed completely in 150 years. The truest testament to this being the thousand or so trees of one hundred different species that grow there, some of which are thought to date back to the original 1800’s plantings. The Commons are an invaluable cultural landscape for Northsiders and Pittsburghers of all stripes.

Keeping Allegheny Commons lovely is no small feat, as outlined by Allegheny Commons Master Plan of 2002, a comprehensive guide to improving and maintaining this 80-acre space. Spearheaded by the Allegheny Commons Initiative, and more broadly supported by the Northside Leadership Conference, the community has already completed two of its planned phases, and is now moving on to the third. It’s in this third phase that we at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are thrilled to become an ally in this exciting project.

The importance of historic preservation, the park’s vital role in community development, and the need for ongoing stewardship are the basis of this collaborative effort.


Rendering of the restored northeast fountain. Rendering by Carlos Peterson.

In this next phase of the Master Plan, the Parks Conservancy will oversee the design and construction of the $2.5 million restoration of one of the park’s four spectacular fountains and surrounding areas in the North Commons at the intersection of Cedar Avenue and North Avenue. The Allegheny Commons Northeast Fountain Restoration, which comprises approximately one city block, includes reconstruction of the historic fountain (now a planting bed) and surrounding gardens, as well as restoration of the promenade and other walk ways, plus installation of new signage, benches, lighting, and other amenities.

The northeast fountain, original to the park’s 1869 design, was filled and shut down due to city budget and staffing constraints years ago. This well-used corner of the park is within walking distance of more than 7,000 people and is practically the front yard for Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Center Alliance Church, and Martin Luther King School. Northside landscape architecture firm Pashek Associates is finalizing work on the design for the restored fountain and surrounding areas.

In addition to this Capital Project, the Parks Conservancy is also spearheading a detailed stormwater management plan for Allegheny Commons, to be completed in 2015.


Lake Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Allegheny Commons Initiative.

The Parks Conservancy is diving head first into this project and is very excited to be working in Allegheny Commons. Stay tuned for more information on volunteering in the park, and how our collaborative efforts will become a formal partnership alliance for years to come.

Great Expectations

Great Expectations

This guest blog was shared courtesy of Ted Floyd, Editor of Birding Magazine. This article previously appeared at The ABA Blog, published by the American Birding Association. An expanded version can be found here.

Boys playing ice hockey in Frick Park.

Boys playing ice hockey in Frick Park. Photo from City of Pittsburgh City Parks Department.

Christmas day, my family and I flew to my natal town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We deplaned and were greeted at the gate by a Santa Claus impersonator. Then we got on the bus to my boyhood home, where my parents still live. The bus took us past the same rivers, bridges, and buildings from my childhood. At my parents’ house, the gas fireplace, piano, and piles of books were as they always had been.

On occasions such as this, one might be pardoned the sin of nostalgia.

Our second day back, I did the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count (CBC). I had done my first CBC, in Pittsburgh, in 1982, when I was 14. My current assignment was Pittsburgh’s Frick Park, the same as in my teen years.

I got to the park early for owling. There I met up with Frank Izaguirre, and he and I proceeded through the old woods to a stretch of trail called the horseshoe. The horseshoe was good in the old days for Eastern Screech-Owls. So it was this morning. A bonus was two Great Horned Owls sitting silently on the bough of a gnarled locust. Come to think of it, my first CBC at Frick Park, 30+ years ago, was highlighted by a bonus Great Horned Owl.

We pressed on into the heart of Frick Park. It was quite dark this cloudy morning, but that didn’t matter. Years ago, the lay of the land was imprinted in my brain forever. After all these years, I can still find my way around the park by topographic triangulation: the grade of the trail, the squishiness of the ground, the way sounds carry in the steep hollows.


Frozen Frick Park. Photo credit: Melissa McMasters.

Frank and I played a little guessing game: What would be the first bird of the daylight hours?Several screech-owls later, we had our answer. It was a good one, a Winter Wren, giving its shrill chimp-chimp call. On that first CBC at Frick Park, my party found a Winter Wren, one of the best birds of the long day.

It was 1982 all over again. On this trip down Memory Lane, I was half-expecting to bump into a 14-year-old version of myself birding along the trail.

Not so fast.

Our next bird was an American Crow. Then another. Then dozens. Then nearly a thousand, streaming east from a roost near the city center. Another party, assigned to count crows at the roost, tallied an astonishing 19,000+ birds. That would have been unimaginable in the early 1980s, at which time crows were beginning to colonize the city.

The late Dr. Kenneth C. Parkes, Curator of Birds at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, considered the urbanization of the American Crow to be the most remarkable ornithological phenomenon he had ever witnessed. I wonder what he would think now. And it’s not just crows.

One of the CBC parties in the city proper reported a Common Raven, another a Fish Crow. Ravens occurred nowhere near Pittsburgh in the early 1980s, and Fish Crows were unrecorded in the region at the time. Today a three-Corvus day within the city limits is unremarkable.


Pileated woodpecker, Frick Park. Photo credit: Melissa McMasters.

The crows completed their passage over Frick Park, and Frank and I got our first woodpecker of the day: a Pileated. A Pileated! In the early 1980s, I listened enthralled as the old-timers told me the tale of the one, wild Pileated Woodpecker that once wandered into the park. It might as well have been a wolf or an alligator, that’s how rare Pileateds were at the time. Today they breed in the park. We saw two females—perhaps nest mates hatched this past summer—jerking their way up the trunk of an old sycamore.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers were within earshot practically all day long. Frank and I tallied 19, and I bet we undercounted. The Red-bellied Woodpecker population explosion in the Pittsburgh region still amazes me. That was a good bird, a hotline bird, when I was a kid. It was a bird to brag about at the CBC compilation.

So was the Northern Mockingbird. Frank and I found a couple, and parties elsewhere in and around the park found many more. They found a flock of Wild Turkeys, too, and a couple of Merlins. Wild Turkeys and Merlins, like crows in the late 20th century, are in the process of being urbanized. In the old days, only the northern suburbs ever reported turkeys. And nobody ever got a Merlin. Bald Eagles have become routine in winter in recent years on the CBC, and so have Turkey Vultures. Cooper’s and Red-shouldered hawks are more numerous than they used to be, too, especially in the urban districts.

Every chickadee Frank and I detected was a Carolina Chickadee. When I was a kid, only Black-capped Chickadees were reported on the CBC. That’s mainly because there were a lot of the latter species. It’s also because we simply assumed they were all the latter. Birders are funny that way. Birders get notions, and notions get in the way of reality. Well, Pittsburgh birders finally got it all straightened out, and now it’s all Carolina Chickadees in and around Frick Park. For more than 30 years, we now know, Carolina Chickadees have been pushing into the Pittsburgh region, and Black-capped Chickadees have been withdrawing.

We wrapped up our day atop a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River valley, and I pondered an illusion. It was tempting to say nothing had changed. The river was still there, and the hills. The parkway, too, and the same bridge and tunnel. They’ve been there for as long as I’ve been alive, and they’ll long outlive me. There’s nothing new under the sun, says the old proverb.

At the end of a long day of birding, the author ponders Pittsburgh’s changeless landscape. Photo credit: Frank Izaguirre.

At the end of a long day of birding, the author ponders Pittsburgh’s changeless landscape. Photo credit: Frank Izaguirre.

But the birds say otherwise: the crows and ravens, the vultures and eagles, the Coops and shoulders, the Carolina Chickadees and Wild Turkeys, the Merlins and mockingbirds, the Red-bellied and Pileated woodpeckers, and more. Birding has its traditions, for sure, and birders are probably as prone to nostalgia as anyone else. But if you stick at it with birding long enough, you’re confronted with an inescapable reality: πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει. “Everything changes, nothing stays the same.” So said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, and so it is today.

I‘m at a curious juncture at this point in my birding life. I’ve been birding now for more than a third of a century, and, statistically speaking, I’ve got about another third of a century ahead of me. I won’t rattle off a list of names, but I know that a bunch of you reading this are in the same demographic boat as I.

If you’re like me, you reflect from time to time on how much things have changed in the past few decades. I’ve told the story of the Pittsburgh CBC, but it’s the same in Chicago and Denver, Los Angeles and New York, London and Amsterdam, and practically everywhere else on Earth. Here’s my challenge to you: What will things be like in late 2040s? Assuming the Singularity hasn’t happened, many of us will still be around then.

What are we to expect?

I don’t know. In the early 1980s, we in Pittsburgh weren’t expecting population increases across so broad a taxonomic swath. Think about it again. All these birds have enjoyed population increaseson the Pittsburgh CBC: Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, American Crow, Fish Crow, Common Raven, Carolina Chickadee, and Northern Mockingbird. And I haven’t mentioned a slew of others: Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Barred Owl, Eastern Bluebird, Carolina Wren, and more.


Frick Park Song Sparrow. Photo credit: Melissa McMasters.

As I said, I don’t know what the future holds in store. But if things continue as they have—and why wouldn’t they?—maybe Rufous Hummingbirds will become as routine as Fish Crows. Throngs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls perhaps? Will Eurasian Collared-Doves finally establish? Why not Black Vultures and Sandhill Cranes? Or how about stuff nobody’s even thinking of, I dunno, African Collared-Doves, House Crows, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows?

It sounds far-fetched. But so did Peregrines and Merlins, Fish Crows and ravens, cormorants and Herring Gulls, and many others, not all that long ago. Heck, I’m just barely old enough to remember when folks were still remarking on the spread of the House Finch.

I ask the question again: What are we to expect?

Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. Read more articles by Ted here.