Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

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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Nov 19 2015

What to Expect Outdoors Through Mid December

Published by under Phenology

Snow bunting (photo by Chuck Tague)

Snow bunting (photo by Chuck Tague)

Today is Throw Back Thursday with a twist: I’m looking back to a phenology list that predicts the future.

What can we expect outdoors in the next 4-6 weeks?

My list from 2008 was based on our normal weather for late November and early December but the Earth is experiencing a strong El Niño this year.

Will the old predictions will hold true or will they be delayed?

Click here for What To Look For Through Mid-December and compare the predictions as time unfolds.

 

(photo of a Snow Bunting by Chuck Tague)

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Nov 12 2015

A Late Fall

Flock of ducks (photo by Brian Herman)

Flock of ducks (photo by Brian Herman)

It seems to me that fall is late this year.

The leaves were late to change color and stayed on the trees longer than expected, temperatures last week were 15 degrees above normal, and the ducks are late arriving from the north.  In my city neighborhood we haven’t had a really hard frost yet.

Have you noticed this, too?

A strong El Niño is warming the northern U.S. and southern Canada this fall.  Without ice forming on the northern lakes, waterfowl have no compelling reason to come south.  When do you think the big flocks will arrive?

For a good explanation of this year’s El Niño and the Winter 2015-2016 forecast, click here at The Weather Channel.

 

(photo by Brian Herman)

p.s. Here’s what the El Niño looks like in an image from climate.gov. There’s a big warm spot in the Pacific Ocean and another one off the coast of California.

Seas surface temperature anomaly, Oct 11 - Nov 7, 2015 (image from climate.gov)

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Oct 17 2015

Get Out To See Fall Colors, But Don’t Take The Bridge

Fall color (photo by Kate St. John)

The trees are still colorful in Pittsburgh but frost is coming tonight.

Get outside today to take in Nature’s beauty … but don’t expect to cross the Greenfield Bridge into Schenley Park.

Greenfield Bridge as seen from the Parkway East (photo by Pat Hassett)

Greenfield Bridge as seen from the Parkway East July 2015 (photo by Pat Hassett)

The Greenfield Bridge is closed now for 18 months (probably 2 years!) while it’s dismantled, blown up and replaced.

Today, October 17, there’s a party on the bridge — Greenfield BridgeFest — from 4:00pm to midnight. Music headliner: Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers. Win a chance to be the one to blow up the bridge.  Click here for more info.

Come on down!

 

(fall color photo by Kate St. John; Greenfield Bridge photo by Pat Hassett)

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Oct 15 2015

TBT: What To Look For in Late October

Published by under Phenology

Flowering dogwood in October, annotated (photo by Chuck Tague)

Flowering dogwood in October, annotated (photo by Chuck Tague)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

What should we expect outdoors in late October?

Colorful leaves, fruits on trees, the first frost … and more in this Throw Back Thursday article:
What To Look For in Late October.

This year Halloween is the last day of Daylight Saving Time.  On Halloween night we’ll turn our clocks back to Standard Time and the next day the sun will rise at 6:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and set at 5:17 p.m.  Rush hour in the dark!

Spooky!

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Oct 04 2015

Two Orchids: Common and Rare

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Yellow ladies tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Yellow Ladies’ Tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Winter’s not here yet so there’s still time to see fall orchids blooming in western Pennsylvania.

Yellow Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes ochroleuca) are relatively common.  Standing 4 to 21 inches tall, they grow in dry open habitats such as open woods, thickets or meadows and even by side of the road.  Dianne Machesney photographed the one above at Moraine State Park.

October Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes ovalis), below, are so rare that they’re listed as endangered in Pennsylvania. Their USDA Pennsylvania map shows them occurring only in Lancaster County.

Lesser or October Ladies' Tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

October Ladies’ Tresses (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Despite this status, Dianne and Bob Machesney found them blooming at both McConnells Mill and Moraine State Parks on September 19.

You can find October Ladies’ Tresses this month in moist, shady woods or thickets, or along the edges of marshes.  Keep your eyes peeled for a flower that’s 2 to 15 inches tall.

 

(photos by Dianne Machesney)

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Oct 01 2015

Don’t Clear Your Garden

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Milkweed pods in winter (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Milkweed pods (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

October’s here, the growing season is over, and soon you’ll clear your garden.

This year, don’t do it.  Save yourself the labor and increase bird activity in your yard.  Here’s why from Marcy Cunkelman in this 2010 Throw Back Thursday article:  Why Not to Clear Your Garden.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Sep 27 2015

Two Gentians

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Closed Gentian (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Bottle Gentian (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Autumn would not be complete without a look at two gentians that bloom in western Pennsylvania from late August to October.

Bottle or closed gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is relatively common, especially in damp shaded soil at Moraine State Park.  When the flowers bloom they remain so tightly closed that only bumblebees can force their way in and pollinate the plant.  Other insects cheat, however, and pierce the flower to reach the nectar.

Fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) is such a rare plant that the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy acquired and preserved the Fringed Gentian Fen in Lawrence County to protect it.

Fringed Gentian (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Fringed Gentian (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Fens are open wetlands dominated by grasses and sedges that have pH neutral or alkaline water with lots of dissolved minerals.  Fens seem useless to humans because they’re so soggy but they’re exactly where fringed gentians love to grow.

Visit damp places in September and October to find these two gentians.

 

(photos by Dianne Machesney)

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