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)
(The logs in the photo are an old ash, killed by emerald ash borer.)
(photos by Kate St. John)
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)
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)
The honeysuckle leaves, an invasive species, had grown considerably.
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)
We had June in February. It’s January in March this morning.
(photos by Kate St.John)
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.
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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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!
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)
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)
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)
Take a walk around the edges to see roadside fruits and seeds.
(photos by Kate St. John)
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)
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