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.
In late July, the nesting season is over but Pittsburgh's adult peregrines still see each other every day and sometimes visit the nest to bow and cement their pair bonds.
The Downtown pair, Dori and Louie, are especially early risers. Here they are this morning, Saturday July 30 at 5:53am. In the distance you can see the sky lighting up in the east and the silhouette of the Cathedral of Learning. The sun rose at 6:16am. (They also visited before dawn on July 24.)
The Cathedral of Learning peregrines aren't such early birds but they're bowing too. Sometimes Hope is impatient for Terzo to join her at the nest. Below, she shouts, "Come here!" on 25 July at 8am.
Yesterday they bowed twice -- at 4:11pm and 6:22pm, July 29. Here's their second session.
Now that the "kids" have grown and flown, the adults spend time with each other.
Twenty-five years ago peregrine falcons moved into the City of Pittsburgh. Since then lots of cool raptors have come here, too, including red-tailed hawks, Coopers hawks, turkey vultures and, most recently, bald eagles.
City living provides food and protection from predators but birds face new challenges by living near humans. Jean-Nicolas Audet of McGill University wondered if these challenges put city birds at a disadvantage compared to their country cousins so he designed some tests to answer these questions: Which group is better at problem solving? Which group is more immune to disease? And since both traits require lots of energy, is there a trade-off such that smarter birds have lower immunity?
The Caribbean island of Barbados has both city and country habitats and an endemic species that lives in both places, the Barbados bullfinch (Loxigilla barbadensis). Audet tested the bullfinches and the results were surprising.
“We found that not only were birds from urbanized areas better at innovative problem-solving tasks than bullfinches from rural environments, but that surprisingly urban birds also had a better immunity than rural birds,” says Jean-Nicolas Audet, a Ph.D student in the Department of Biology and first author of the study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology in 2016.
As earth's human population grows and more habitat is converted to cities, more birds may have to choose the urban environment. If they can adapt, it will be a smart move. As Audet says, "Urban birds have it all."
I'm not kidding. This bug is an alien invader from China that hitchhikes as larvae in wooden packing material. When it gets here it eats trees ... lots of them! If it shows up in your neighborhood it has to be eradicated. Otherwise your town is doomed.
The Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis (Motschulsky, 1853)), or ALB, is a very large wood-eating beetle native to China and the Korean peninsula. Its white-spotted black body is an inch long with antennae 1.5 to 2 times longer than its body. The antennae are unique, banded black and white.
Because it arrives in infected wood, ALB's first location in North America is a warehouse. From there it spreads unpredictably, depending on the shipment. It's been found in suburbs and cities in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio and Ontario. Click here for the map as of July 2015.
When the beetle gets loose it's not picky. Its eats maples, elms, birches, willows, poplars, ashes, hackberries, horsechestnuts, London planetrees ... just about anything ... but it takes 3-4 years to notice it. The adults are active late spring until fall so July is a good time of year to see its damage or the bug itself.
And this bug is noticeable. Big and showy, even its larvae (at left) are huge.
If you don't see the bug you may see its evidence.
This unusual leaf damage is a hallmark of ALB. They eat the ribs of leaves, not the papery part.
Its entrance and exit holes are unique, too.
The female excavates a niche in the bark and lays her eggs in the hole. Each roughly chewed egg niche is half the size of a dime.
To get out of the tree, the beetle chews a perfect-circle hole as big as a pencil!
We can stop ALB if he's confined to cities but if he gets loose in our forests all bets are off.
So if you see an Asian longhorned beetle or its damage, report it. There are some look alikes, but USDA wants us to be better safe than sorry. Call them at 1-866-702-9938 or click here for details.
If you think about it, a lot of us are farmers. We devote our small acreage to a crop that we fertilize, water and harvest. Then we throw away the harvest or grind it up to re-fertilize the crop. We never eat it and we don't feed it to our animals.
Grass. In Pennsylvania we devote 1.8 million acres to lawns. Our next largest crop uses 1.6 million acres. (*See table below.)
The amazing dominance of the lawn is true everywhere in the continental the U.S. except in the Central West -- Montana to Nevada to Kansas -- where hay, corn and soybeans take up more space. Click here and scroll down for the map.
This isn't really news. A 2005 study by Cristina Melisi used satellite data to show that lawns are the largest crop in America and the most irrigated by acreage. This is no surprise in Florida and the West where lawns have built-in irrigation systems, but do we irrigate in the Northeast? You bet! The sprinklers are running this month.
If I was a gardener I'd convert my tiny backyard lawn but I'm not even a participant. I am, at best, an observer using my Newcomb's Guide to identify what comes up. I never water, weed or seed it. When it grows, it gets cut. It's not growing right now.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
(*) TEXT UPDATED July 26, 9:30pm: The original text was wildly incorrect! Thank you Mary Ann Pike for providing a correction with this link at USDA. Here's a table combining lawn and USDA statistics for Pennsylvania:
Acreage in PA
Hay and Haylage
Corn for grain/silage
This means that lawns are about 30% of Pennsylvania's cultivated lands.
This summer Steve Gosser spent a lot of time at Piney Tract in Clarion County photographing a family of northern harriers. The harriers nested there because it's one of their preferred habitats and one of the few grasslands in western Pennsylvania.
Though they're birds of prey, northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) nest on the ground. The male harrier usually does all the hunting, then transfers the food to his mate in an aerial prey exchange. The female takes the prey to the nest and feeds the young but she's sneaky about it so she doesn't give away the nest location.
Throughout their nesting season Steve was able to photograph them from his car window without disturbing them. He captured their prey exchanges and aerial maneuvers though he never saw the nest. Later he learned that they fledged three chicks.
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.