Category Archives: Phenology

April Showers Bring …

Yellow corydalis at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yellow corydalis at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather was beautiful on Wednesday when my friends and I found hopeful signs of spring at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County.  There were two Best Birds (yellow-throated warbler, Louisiana waterthrush) and many April flowers including hepatica, Virginia bluebells, twinleaf, bloodroot, harbinger of spring, and ...

Yellow corydalis (Corydalis flavula) is a native annual in the Poppy family. Its small flower, 1/4" long, has an unusual puckered shape.

The most common spring beauty in our area, Claytonia virginica, has thin grass-like leaves.  Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) has oval leaves and deeper pink flowers.

Carolina spring beauty at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Carolina spring beauty at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) was on the verge of blooming last Wednesday.  Here's one stunning flower.

Wild blue phlox at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Wild blue phlox at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

But this morning all is changed.  It rained all day yesterday and now we have gusty winds and snow flurries.  🙁

Thursday's April showers closed the flowers.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

Signs of Spring in Schenley Park

Star magnolia, bursting bud, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Star magnolia, bursting bud, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Wednesday I found more signs of Spring in Schenley Park.

Above and below, a star magnolia near the Westinghouse Fountain showed off its fist-shaped buds that burst into wild petals.  Did you know these flowering trees are imported from Japan?

Star magnolia blossom in Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Star magnolia blossom in Schenley Park, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Below, northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) opened its tiny yellow flowers.  You can identify this shrub by smell.  Just rub your fingernail against the twig's bark and smell the spicy citrus scent.

Spicebush blooming, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spicebush blooming, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Most native trees haven't opened their buds but this oak is getting there.

Oak buds opening, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Oak buds opening, 29 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

These buds will distend their wind-pollinated flowers first, then open the leaves.  This timing gives the flowers full access to the wind without any leaves in the way.

 

p.s. The oak bud photo looks fake but it's a trick of the bright sunlight that put shadows on the buds in the background.  No retouching required.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Now Blooming at Raccoon Creek

Harbinger of spring, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)
Harbinger of spring, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Last Sunday, 26 March 2017, I visited Raccoon Creek State Park's Wildflower Reserve to see the newest flowers.

The woods were brown and the sky was gray so I had to look closely to find small signs of spring.

Raccoon Creek at the Wildflower Reserve, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Raccoon Creek at the Wildflower Reserve, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

(Winter floods scraped the creekside vegetation. Click on the creek photo above to see.)

 

Harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was opening its tiny salt-and-pepper flowers, shown at top and below.

Harbinger of spring, just opening, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Harbinger of spring, just opening, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

It was fun to find blue flowers in the grass:  corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis), a non-native.  Our earliest spring natives aren't this bright.

Speedwell blooming in the grass, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Speedwell blooming in the grass, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) was past its prime.

Snow trillium past its prime, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St. John)
Snow trillium past its prime, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) was blooming everywhere.  This one is surrounded by garlic mustard. 🙁

Spring beauty, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring beauty, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) bloomed among old oak leaves.

Round-lobed hepatica, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Round-lobed hepatica, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) was in bud on the south facing Jennings Trail near Shafers Rock.  I'm sure it will bloom this week.

Cutleaf toothwort, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)
Cutleaf toothwort, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

Coltsfoot Bloomed Last Wednesday

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

In another landmark of spring I found coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park last Wednesday, March 8.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an early-blooming Eurasian plant whose flower resembles a dandelion except that it blooms when it has no leaves. The leaves, which are shaped like a colt's footprint, come out after the flower is gone.

This morning it's 14oF so the flowers are closed tight against the cold.  Coltsfoot will survive but I'm not so sure about my daffodils.

Looking back, I'm wistful.  It was only three days ago that the temperature was 60oF and these hazelnut catkins blew in the wind along Schenley Park's Lower Trail.

Catkins blow in the wind along Schenley Park's Lower Trail, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)
Catkins blow in the wind along Schenley Park's Lower Trail, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

(The logs in the photo are an old ash, killed by emerald ash borer.)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

The Spring Report

Status of Spring: Leaf Index Anomaly, 1 March 2017 (map from USA National Phenology Network, usanpn.org)
Status of Spring: Leaf Index Anomaly, 1 March 2017 (map from USA National Phenology Network, usanpn.org)

Uh oh! What's that deep red color covering the U.S. from the Gulf Coast to Pittsburgh?

It's the track of our too-early Spring.

This March 1 map from the National Phenology Network (usanpn.org) shows the status of leaf-out in the United States.  It is darkest red is where leaf buds burst 20+ days ahead of schedule.  It's blue where spring is late.

Where is it blue?  Click on the map to see a larger version and find the few places in Washington, California and Arizona where the leaves came out late.

We knew southwestern Pennsylvania was ahead of schedule.  We just didn't have the numbers.

Click here to read more about this map and the Spring Report.

 

p.s. NPN's map is similar to Journey North's projects that track the arrival of rufous and ruby-throated hummingbirds and monarch butterflies.  The plants are early this year but what about the birds and butterflies that rely on them?  Uh oh!  When they arrive "on time" they'll be too late.

(map from the USA National Phenology Network, usanpn.org)

It Was June In February

Ornamental crabapple with old fruit and new leaves, 1 March 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)
Ornamental crabapple with old fruit and new leaves, 1 March 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

It's been another week of yo-yo weather.   We had normal temperatures last weekend, then 18 degrees above normal midweek and 10 degrees below normal yesterday.

A cold front blew in on March 1 but during the sunny gap between thunderstorms it was so warm that I took off my jacket and sweater while looking for signs of spring.

The leaves were out on an ornamental crabapple, above, and the crocuses were in full bloom.

Crocuses blooming, 1 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Crocuses blooming, 1 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The honeysuckle leaves, an invasive species, had grown considerably.

Honeysuckle leaves, 1 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves, 1 March 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

In case you'd forgotten, the buds were just opening on 14 February.  Here's the same plant, before and after, 15 days apart.

Honeysuckle leaves: 14 Feb 2017 and 1 March 2017 (photos by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves: 14 Feb 2017 and 1 March 2017 (photos by Kate St. John)

 

We had June in February.  It's January in March this morning.

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

A Bad Month For Maple Syrup

Maple trees with sugar pails (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Maple trees with sugar pails (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

There's snow in this picture but there hasn't been snow in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands for half of this month.

March is supposed to be the best month for tapping sugar maples to collect sap for maple syrup.  The sap runs best with daytime temperatures above freezing and nights below freezing.  When the nights don't freeze the sap stops running and the season is over.

This year Somerset County's maple season was hampered by bursts of extremely warm weather in January and summer-like temperatures this month.  The thermometer hasn't dipped below freezing since February 17 and some days have been more than 20oF above normal.  Maple sugaring stopped before it should have reached its best.

This trend isn't unique to southwestern Pennsylvania.  The maple syrup industry tracks what's happening to maple farmers from Virginia to Maine. Since 1970 they've noticed that the seasons have become shorter and the sap is less sweet so it takes more sap to make the same amount of syrup.

No matter where you stand on climate change the people whose livelihoods depend on cold winters (maple sugar farmers and ski operators) can tell you this:  Whacky climate ruins their business.

Read more here in a 2014 article from the Allegheny Front.

 

(*) Today the weather is yo-yoing again.  Meyersdale, PA will dip below freezing tonight (25 Feb) for two nights, then run up again to a 48oF low on Tuesday 28 Feb.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

UPDATE on 7 March 2017: Here's more on this year's maple sugar season from the Allegheny Front, WESA-FM.

Spring Before Its Time

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)

Fox Sparrows Are Passing Through

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 in Early November

 

(photo by Steve Gosser)