Monthly Archives: November 2010

Most of the Trees Are Bare?

Western Pennsylvania was a changed landscape last Sunday when I drove to Shenango Lake.

Only a week before the trees showed some fall color and many still had leaves, but now most trees are bare except for russet stands of oaks and lone tulip poplars with yellow tops like candle flames.

For many years I kept track of the date when the trees lost their leaves.  It's a useful marker for scientific studies.  For instance, it's the first piece of local information you need for doing a deer density count in which you count the number of deer droppings on top of winter's fallen leaves.  (Deer density is a calculation based on the number of days since all the leaves fell and the number of times an individual deer drops scat per day.)

Once I started tracking the dates when "Most Trees Are Bare" and "Most Trees Have Leaves" (real leaves, not just hints) I realized there are leaves on our trees only six months of the year.  In the City of Pittsburgh, where our growing season is longer because of urban heat, most trees are bare by November 15 and most have leaves by May 5.

You can track this too.  The oaks still had their leaves last weekend so I'll wager none of you have reached the "Most Trees Are Bare" stage.  But that date is coming very soon.

Keep watching.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Quiz: Not a Thrush?

Yesterday I was happy to see a flock of these birds on the exposed, dry mud at Shenango River Lake.  I know their identity but they're tricky, so here's a quiz. 

One quick glance tells you this bird is not a sparrow because his beak is too thin. 

Is he a thrush?  He has a striped breast, short neck, thrush-like stance, almost-thrush-sized bill, and he walks a lot. 

A longer look reveals many Not Thrush things about him. 

  • He's a little smaller than a Swainson's thrush.  This is hard to determine because he is rarely near anything that gives him scale.
  • He is only found in open tundra-like landscape, never in the forest.
  • He has wing bars.  Our eastern thrushes don't.
  • His outer tail edges are white.  (You can see this when he flies.)
  • When he walks he darts and jabs, unlike the walk-and-pause of thrushes.
  • He pumps his tail and almost wags.  This is not the slow raise-and-lower pumping of the hermit thrush.  
  • In flight he's bouncier than a goldfinch.
  • And like a goldfinch he always calls when he flies.  His call is a dead giveaway.  He says his name.

Final hint:  This bird is a treat to see because he neither breeds nor winters in Pennsylvania.

What do you think?  Leave a comment with your answer.

(photo by Steve Gosser)