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