Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Feb 18 2017

Spring Before Its Time

Published by under Phenology

Amur honeysuckle buds opening, 14 Feb 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Amur honeysuckle buds opening, 14 Feb 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our weather has been running hot and cold.  When it’s hot, the buds burst. When it’s cold, it snows.

On February 9 we had four inches of snow.

Four inches of snow in my backyard, 9 Feb 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Four inches of snow in my backyard, 9 Feb 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Then on Saturday February 11 it melted in one day and warmed to nearly 60oF.

Five days later, on Valentine’s Day, the honeysuckle buds were open (above) and my daffodils were coming up.  This is at least a month ahead of schedule.

Daffodils emerging in my garden, 14 Feb 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Daffodils emerging in my garden, 14 Feb 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today’s high will be 59oF but I’m sure we’ll have another cold snap and the early plants will suffer.

It’s Spring before its time.

 

p.s.  How are your plants doing?  What’s showing up early in your yard?

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Nov 17 2016

Fox Sparrows Are Passing Through

Published by under Migration,Phenology

Fox sparrow (photo by Steve Gosser)

Fox sparrow (photo by Steve Gosser)

I saw my first fox sparrow this fall at Hillman State Park on Sunday, November 13.

Fox sparrows (Passerella iliaca) breed in Canada, Alaska and the northern Rockies and spend the winter in the southern U.S. so we typically only see them on migration in Pittsburgh.

These birds are never numerous and are often hard to find.  Sometimes you hear one scratching in dead leaves in the underbrush but he’s well camouflaged.  Fortunately the bird at Hillman flew into a tree with a flock of dark-eyed juncos so I could see him.  A nice surprise.

Look for surprises among the sparrows this week.  Perhaps the ducks and geese will arrive at last.

This phenology for early November still applies because our weather’s been so warm:

What to Look For: Early November

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Nov 12 2016

November Primrose

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Evening primrose, 9 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Evening primrose, 9 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

This common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) was blooming on Wednesday, November 9 along the Nine Mile Run Trail in Frick Park.

Last night’s low of 30oF produced a light frost.  I wonder if these flowers are still there.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 30 2016

Roadside Fruits and Seeds

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Fruits of bittersweet nightshade (photo by Kate St.John)

Fruits of bittersweet nightshade (photo by Kate St.John)

Roadsides are waste places where the junk plants grow but even the weeds produce fruit and seeds.  Here’s what I found yesterday on a walk in my neighborhood.

The fruits of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny tomatoes, above, or small jalapeño peppers … but don’t eat them!

Nightshade fruits (photo by Kate St.John)

Bittersweet nightshade fruits (photo by Kate St.John)

 

A close look at burdock reveals the tiny hooks that inspired velcro.

Burdock, Nature's velcro (photo by Kate St.John)

Burdock, Nature’s velcro (photo by Kate St.John)

 

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) shows off its spike of dark brown seeds encased in the calyx of the flowers that produced them.  Wikipedia says this flange allows the seeds to float.

Curly dock seeds (photo by Kate St.John)

Curly dock seeds (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And when the wind blows these white snakeroot seeds (Ageratina altissima) will leave the mother plant.

White snakeroot gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

White snakeroot gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

Take a walk around the edges to see roadside fruits and seeds.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Oct 15 2016

What To Look For In October

Published by under Phenology

Fall foliage (photo by Chuck Tague)

Fall foliage (photo by Chuck Tague)

Autumn is here though the temperature may fool you.  After near-frost last Thursday we’ll reach 81oF next week.

Despite the fluctuating temperatures, plants and animals are getting ready for winter.  What will we see outdoors in the weeks ahead?  Here’s a list from Chuck Tague’s phenology for the month of October.

  • Fall foliage will peak from north to south and from the mountains to the lowlands.  Color hasn’t reached its peak in Pittsburgh yet.
  • Blue skies and pretty sunsets, but shorter days as we lose 3 minutes of daylight each day. Daylight Savings Time ends at 2:00am on Sunday November 6.
  • Sounds: Listen for blue jays, chipmunks and the last of the crickets.
  • Flowers: Asters! and smartweeds, chicory, spotted knapweed, and white snakeroot.
  • Fruits, nuts, berries, acorns and “hitchhiker” seeds are everywhere.
  • Migrating songbirds:  The first dark-eyed juncoes, purple finches and golden-crowned kinglets arrived in my neighborhood last week.  We’ll also see yellow-rumped warblers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, blackbirds, grackles, brown creepers and lots of sparrows including song, chipping and white-throated.
  • Watch for these uncommon migrants:  Lincoln’s sparrows and rufous hummingbirds.
  • Hawks: October is the month for sharp-shinned hawks, American kestrels and red-tailed hawks.  Golden eagles begin their peak at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch in late October.  The Front’s highest-ever golden eagle count was last year: 74 on October 24, 2015.
  • Ducks and cormorants are moving south.  Last Sunday at Pymatuning the Three Rivers Birding Club outing found mallards, American wigeons, wood ducks, blue and green-winged teals, northern shovelers, gadwalls, ruddy ducks and ring-necked ducks.  The lakes aren’t freezing so the ducks are taking their time getting here.
  • Owls:  Short-eared owls and northern saw-whets are on the move to their wintering sites.  Eastern screech-owls and great horned owls stay home to claim their territories.
  • Rodents are stocking up on food: Squirrels are burying it, mice and chipmunks are stashing it, and groundhogs are eating it.
  • The white-tailed deer rut has begun and so have various hunting seasons.  Wear blaze orange and stay safe.

For more of Chuck Tague’s beautiful photos and his description of October’s wonders see his 2011 blog at: Asters, Wooly Bears and Sweaters: a Phenological perspective for October

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Sep 15 2016

Asters or What to Look For Outdoors

Published by under Phenology

Calico asters (photo by Kate St. John)

Calico asters (photo by Kate St. John)

We’re halfway through September and it’s starting to feel like fall.  Broad-winged hawks are migrating through Pennsylvania and some of you haven’t seen a hummingbird for a while.

What can we expect to see outdoors in the next six weeks?

On Throw Back Thursday, here’s a list of what’s coming up …

Asters or What to look for in September/October

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Aug 23 2016

Balm For A Horse?

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Horse balm in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse balm in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a tall woodland plant that’s easy to overlook because its flowers aren’t big and beautiful.

Horse balm (Collinsonia canadensis) is a perennial mint that grows 1.75 to 5 feet tall in deep woods.  Even in the middle of its blooming cycle it looks ragged with flowers in every stage of development from bud to bloom, from fade to seed.

Closeup of horse balm flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of horse balm flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

At very close range the flowers are fancy tubes with lips and protruding stamens (click here to see). You’ll also notice that the plant smells like cheap lemon scent, giving it the alternate name cintronella horse balm.

The name “balm” comes from its medicinal properties described at eNature: “Tea can be brewed from the leaves, and the rhizome was formerly used as a diuretic, tonic, and astringent.”

But why is it horse balm?

I haven’t found horses mentioned anywhere in the literature about this plant.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 31 2016

A Coralroot With Many Names

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Striped or summer coralroot (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Spotted coralroot blooming, July 2016 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Now blooming in western Pennsylvania, Corallrhiza maculata is an orchid with many common names:
Spotted coralroot, Speckled coral root, Summer coralroot, Large coralroot, Many-flowered coralroot, and Western coralroot.

The names describe the plant:

  • Its flower lip is spotted or speckled
  • It blooms in the summer, July and August
  • It’s large compared to other coralroots: 8-20 inches high with flowers 1/2 to 3/4 inches long
  • It has many flowers, up to 40 per plant, and …
  • It has a wide distribution that includes the U.S. West.

You’ll notice that none of the names include a color.  That’s because this leafless plant can be brown, purplish, reddish or yellow.  The flower lip is always white but the yellowish plants have no spots.

Wildflowers Of Pennsylvania by Mary Joy Haywood and Phyllis Testal Monk says, “This plant, which goes dormant for years, grows in shady deciduous or coniferous forests, and is found throughout Pennsylvania.”

But finding it is difficult. Like the other coralroots it matches its habitat and to find it you have to go out in July’s heat.

Dianne and Bob Machesney found this one on a very hot day in Butler County.

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Jul 24 2016

Bladder Campion

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Bladder campion, 17 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bladder campion, 17 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

This unusual flower with a swollen calyx is blooming now in western Pennsylvania.  Though the plant stands two feet tall its bladder-like flowers weigh down the branches when it’s in full bloom.

Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) is a member of the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae) native to Eurasia.  It prefers to grow in waste places or sandy soil and is found as far north as Greenland and Alaska.  Some people call it a weed.

Why is it here?  Perhaps because its leaves and young shoots are eaten in some Mediterranean dishes.  Or because it’s pretty.

I found this one blooming by the side of the road at the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.

 

p.s.  Sometimes the swollen calyx is pink as shown in this article from 2011 entitled Balloons.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jul 23 2016

Now Blooming: Water Willow

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Water willow, Ohiopyle, July 2016 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Water willow, Ohiopyle, July 2016 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Here’s a plant you might not notice unless you walk to the water’s edge. Even then, it’s unremarkable from a distance because it looks like a clump of tall grass –> like this.

American water willow (Justicia americana) is the hardiest member of the tropical Justicia genus and the only one found in Pennsylvania. It likes to keep its feet wet so it typically grows on muddy shores or islands in creeks and rivers.

It’s always associated with water and its leaves resemble willows and so it got its name.

Water willow’s iris-like flowers are 1.5 inches across so they’re hard to see on a distant island.  However, I’ve found them on shore at Duck Hollow, in Slippery Rock Creek at McConnell’s Mill State Park and in Chartiers Creek at Boyce-Mayview wetlands.

In this weekend’s hot weather, check out the water’s edge.  Dianne Machesney found this one blooming at the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle.

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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