Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Apr 21 2016

Blooming This Week

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Early saxifrage, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 17 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Early saxifrage, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 17 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wildflowers are blooming throughout the Pittsburgh area.  This week I traveled southeast and west to record their progress.

At Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve on April 17 the earliest flower — skunk cabbage — had disappeared among the plant’s large leaves.  Toad trillium (Trillium sessile), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) and early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) were open. White large-flowered trillium was not.  I found an interesting sedge but I don’t know its name.

Braddock’s Trail Park in Westmoreland County has a south-facing slope so it’s flowers were much further along than Raccoon, even though I visited a day later.  Small-flower crowfoot (Ranunculus micranthus), Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) were in full bloom while blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) carpeted the forest floor.  Trillium were already at their peak.  Dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) had just begun.

Click here or on the photo above for a slideshow of the flowers.  (Unfortunately the sun was so bright that it washed out the details of white flowers … I tried anyway.)

Look for wildflowers this weekend before the trees leaf out. Go north to see early flowers. Go south to see late blooms.

When the woods are in shade the flower party will be over.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 16 2016

Buds Bursting

Horse chestnut bud bursting, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse chestnut bud bursting, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week’s cold weather was deadly for flowering trees but good for those still in bud.

A hard freeze on April 5 —  23 o F — wiped out the early-blooming trees in Schenley Park.  Most of the eastern redbuds had already flowered so Schenley’s redbud display this year is anemic.

On the other hand, buds that were closed 10 days ago are in good shape now.  On Wednesday I found a horse chestnut bud about to burst (above) and one with leaves and flower stack already emerged (below).

Horse chestnut leaves and flowers stack emerged from bud, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse chestnut leaves and flowers stack emerged from bud, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Even the hickories are getting into the act.

Mockernut hickory bud opening, Schenley Park, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Mockernut hickory bud opening, Schenley Park, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Check out your neighborhood for emerging leaves and flowers. Buds are opening fast in this weekend’s warm weather.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 10 2016

Blue-Eyed Mary in Bloom

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Blue-eyed Mary blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Blue-eyed Mary blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

It’s cold this morning — and snowy for some of you — but when the weather improves you’ll find …

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) usually blooms in southwestern Pennsylvania from mid April to early May but we found it at Cedar Creek Park on Wednesday April 6.

This annual drops its seeds in summer, germinates seedlings in the fall, and overwinters to bloom in the spring.  It spreads by reseeding so you usually find it in patches — that look more green than blue from a distance.

Blue-eyed Mary patch at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Blue-eyed Mary patch at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Collinsia verna grows in woodlands with light to dappled shade and moist to mesic rich loamy soil.  Though the plant can be locally abundant, its habitat can be hard to find.  Blue-eyed Mary is endangered in New York and Tennessee.

Here are three places in southwestern Pennsylvania to see Blue-eyed Mary this month:

 

(photos by Donna Foyle)

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Apr 05 2016

What’s Outdoors in Early April?

Published by under Phenology

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

Spring started early but this week’s cold snap has put everything on “Pause.”  From 22 degrees above normal on March 31 to 7 degrees below normal on April 3, we’ve seen it all.

Despite that, this phenology of What to Look For in Early April should be a good one.

How much of the list did you see in March?

So much is yet to come!

 

p.s. Friends of mine saw yellow-throated warblers (pictured above) last weekend in Morrow-Pontefract Park, Edgeworth.

(photo of a yellow-throated warbler by Chuck Tague)

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Mar 30 2016

Too Early Spring

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Bloodroot gone to seed, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bloodroot gone to seed, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is coming in fits and starts but mostly it’s coming too soon in southwestern Pennsylvania.

On Easter Day I took a walk at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County and found native plants blooming two to three weeks ahead of schedule.  No wonder! It was 75 degrees F.

At top, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was already blooming. Some had gone to seed.

Spring beauties were everywhere. This Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) is identifiable by its wide leaves.

Spring beauty, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring beauty, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

The steep hillside known for snow trillium (Trillium nivale) …

Snow trillium, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Snow trillium, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

… was also hosting sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta), some of which were past their prime.

Sharp-lobed hepatica, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sharp-lobed hepatica, Cedar Creek Park, 27 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Get outdoors as soon as you can!  Spring could pass you by.

 

p.s. The Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania is already alert to this early growing season.  They moved up their snow trillium outing from April 2 to March 20.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Mar 12 2016

Seen in Schenley Park This Week

Bud about to open. What shrub is this? (photo by Kate St. John)

Bud opening on 9 March 2016. What shrub is this? (photo by Kate St. John)

Flowers, birds, and too many deer, here are some sightings from Schenley Park in this week’s abnormally warm weather.

Red maples and American elms are blooming and bush honeysuckles are opening their leaves.

Above, these yellow flowers are beautiful on a large ornamental shrub but I can’t identify it.  Do you know what it is?

Below, our days are sometimes graced by a roosting eastern screech-owl.  I saw him on Thursday but he’s often not there.  Benjamin Haake was lucky to photograph him.

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Benjamin Haake)

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Benjamin Haake)

 

A decade ago deer were rare in Schenley Park but their population doubles every two to three years (yes, it doubles) and it’s taking its toll.  This week I walked by the golf course and noticed these arborvitae trees are naked from the ground to the height of a deer.  The browse line indicates there are now too many deer in Schenley Park — more than the land can support.

Arborvitae eaten to the browse line, Schnley Park Golf Course (photo by Kate St. John)

The browse line: Arborvitae eaten by too many deer at Schenley Park Golf Course (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And finally, this plant is blooming in Schenley but also in lawns and waste places.  From long experience I know it’s hard to identify (and photograph).  Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is a non-native that’s not in many field guides. Click here to learn more about it.

Hairy bittercress, 10 Mar 2016, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Hairy bittercress, 10 Mar 2016, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(flower and tree photos by Kate St. John. Eastern screech-owl by Benjamin Haake)

p.s. Adam Haritan suggests that the yellow flower is Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas). That’s what it looks like to me (Click the link to read more and see a similar photo.)

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Mar 10 2016

Will We Have An Early Spring?

Dutchman's breeches, 25 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Dutchman’s breeches, 25 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Climate change is giving us some weird weather extremes.  From 9oF below normal a week ago we’ve now had two hot days 24 degrees above normal.

On Monday (March 7) I saw coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park. It usually blooms in late March so this may be an indication that Spring is two weeks ahead of schedule.

In March 2012 we had an unprecedented heat wave in North America.  Pittsburgh had highs in the 80’s and all of our woodland wildflowers, which normally bloom from late March to late April, opened at the same time.  Dutchman’s breeches and trillium bloomed four weeks ahead of schedule.  Some plants were six weeks early.

In this trip down memory lane, read about the extreme spring of March 2012 in this post: The New Normal.

Do you think we’ll have an early Spring this year?

 

p.s.  We all like warm weather but be careful what you wish for.  Summer temperatures in March 2012 gave way to extreme heat in July 2012 with drought and highs of 100 degrees!   🙁

(photo by Kate St.John)

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Mar 06 2016

Green Leaves in the Woods

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Garlic mustard in winter (photo by Kate St. John)

Garlic mustard in winter (photo by Kate St. John)

I should be excited to see green leaves poking up in the woods but these are bad ones.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial alien invasive.  It turns green early because it’s out of synch with our seasons — and that gives it a growing advantage over many native plants.  Read more here about its invasive ways.

The only place I know of in western Pennsylvania that has no garlic mustard is Duff Park in Murrysville, thanks to the vigilance and activism of Pia van de Venne.   Over the years she has pulled out tons of garlic mustard, trained countless volunteers in invasive plant eradication, and placed signs at every park entrance that describe garlic mustard and urge folks to pull it up.

Everywhere else, these leaves are our first sign of spring.  🙁

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Feb 06 2016

Mud Season

Daffodil leaves, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Daffodil leaves, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

In this weirdly warm winter all the snow melted a week ago, the daffodil leaves poked out further, and we didn’t have to wear jackets.  At 61o on January 31 it was 26 degrees above normal!

Though yesterday’s temperature was exactly on target, today will be 8 degrees above average.  That’s not a huge difference but enough to maintain our early mud season.

We already had mud in our neighborhood ballpark when rain on Wednesday morning enhanced the creamy mudscape.

Mud season in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

An early mud season in Pittsburgh, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Off the beaten path at Schenley Park it was muddy too, though navigable.

Schenley Park, Falloon Trail, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park, Falloon Trail, 3 Feb 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Are the plants in your area waking up early?  Put on your mud boots and go out to see.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

 

 

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Dec 30 2015

Drunk On Climate Change

Ornamental fruit in December after a couple of frosts (photo by Kate St.John)

Ornamental fruit in December, after a couple of frosts (photo by Kate St.John)

Freeze. Thaw. Freeze. Thaw.  In this non-winter of 2015 we’ve had days and weeks of warmth punctuated by occasional frosts.  Eventually the freeze-thaw cycle produces fermented fruit and that leads to drunken birds.

Fruit ferments outdoors when freezing temperatures break down the hard starches into sugars and then a thaw allows yeast to get into the softened fruit and begin the fermentation process.

The sweet, soft fruit is particularly tempting to birds.  After a good frost the ornamental trees in my neighborhood, like the one above, are swamped with hungry starlings and robins.  When they swallow a fermented berry it has a fizzy zing, but so what?  It tastes good.

But some birds don’t know when to stop.  They eat so much fermented fruit that they walk with a wobble and can’t fly straight.  When they’re falling-down drunk, they end up in “detox” at a wildlife center until they sleep it off.  Bohemian waxwings are famous for this.

Back in 2014 National Geographic reported on an incident in Whitehorse, Yukon when a bumper crop of fermented rowan (mountain ash) berries were the waxwings’ undoing.  The birds were in such bad shape that they ended up in Meghan Larivee’s “drunk tank” at Environment Yukon.

It turns out climate change is increasing the likelihood of these episodes up north.  National Geographic explains:

Larivee’s recent waxwing patients were admitted to her Yukon animal unit following several frosts and thaws due to warmer temperatures. … While fermentation is most pronounced in winter, “we also likely have longer autumns, which gives more time for berries to ferment, but still have early frost that allow sugars to be produced in berries early in the fall,” she said.

The waxwings were drunk on climate change.

 

Read more here in National Geographic.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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