Monthly Archives: September 2017

Leaf Miner on Coltsfoot

Leaf miner on coltsfoot (photo by Kate St. John)
Leaf miner on coltsfoot (photo by Kate St. John)

Autumn is a good time to look for unusual leaves. They used to be boring until something happened to them.  Like this.

There's an elaborate squiggle on this coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara) made by a leaf miner, an insect larva that makes a path as it eats within the leaf tissue.  Eventually the larva settles down to pupate and the path comes to an end.  When the adult insect hatches it leaves a hole.

What makes these lines?  I had no idea until I googled "leaf mine on coltsfoot"and found the answer.  A blogger at Nature Post collected similar coltsfoot leaves, put them in jars, and waited for the adult insects to appear.  It turns out his leaf mines were made by tiny moths called Phyllocnistis insignis.

See more leaf mines and a photo of the adult moth in his Nature Post from October 2013:  A Little Scientific Discovery.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

Chicken Of The Woods

Chicken-of-the-woods (photo by Chuck Tague)
Chicken-of-the-woods (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

This mushroom is easy to find right now.  It's edible(*) and it tastes like chicken so it's called Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

I found a huge one years ago with a chicken-sized chunk taken out of it.  Apparently a mushroom hunter had been there ahead of me, as described in this 2010 article: Chicken of the Woods

 

But don't listen to me when it comes to mushrooms.  (I know nothing!)  Learn about Chicken-of-the-woods in this video by Adam Haritan of Learn Your Land.

 

 

(*) Note that an "edible mushroom" can sometimes be poisonous.  Be sure you know what you're doing!

(photo by Chuck Tague, video by Adam Haritan)

Fruits On Migration

Fruits of Devil's Walkingstick (photo by Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org)
Fruits of Devil's Walkingstick (photo by Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org)

Travel puts nutrition demands on birds in migration. What's on the menu for birds that eat fruit?  Here's what they've been eating lately in Pittsburgh's Schenley and Frick Parks.

Number One on the menu is devil's walkingstick (Aralia spinosa). The picture above shows a beautiful full fruit cluster but you can't find these anymore.  The tops of the plants are now empty pink stems with a few berries hanging on.  Here's one in Schenley Park, looking up from below.

Fruit has been mostly eaten from Devils Walking Stick, 25 Sept 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Fruit has been mostly eaten from Devils Walking Stick, 25 Sept 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Another favorite are these tiny black cherries (Prunus serotina).  Many black cherry trees have already been stripped of their fruit by large flocks of American robins and cedar waxwings.

Black cherry fruits and leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Black cherry fruits and leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Invasive species are also on the menu.  Amur, bush and the other alien honeysuckles have showy red berries.

Amur honeysuckle fruits (photo by Kate St.John)
Amur honeysuckle fruits (photo by Kate St.John)

 

Porcelain berry, another invasive, is a favorite with cedar waxwings.

Porcelain berries (photo by Kate St. John)
Porcelain berries (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I don't know if these wild grapes are native or alien, but they sure look good for birds.

Wild grapes (photo by Kate St. John)
Wild grapes (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And here are two native species ...

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and ...

Ripe Pokeberries (photo by Kate St.John)
Ripe poke berries (photo by Kate St.John)

 

Spicebush (Lindera sp.) is especially nutritious and a real favorite of wood thrushes and veeries.  There's a lot of it along the Upper Trail at Schenley Park.

Spicebush berries (photo by Kate St. John)
Spicebush berries (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The plants have laid out a feast for the birds so their fruit will be eaten on migration.

 

(photo credits: Devil's walkingstick by Vern Wilkins, Indiana University via bugwood.org; Black cherries from Wikimedia Commons. All other photos by Kate St. John)

The Mating Song

Elk bugling in Elk County, Pennsylvania (photo by Paul Staniszewski)
Elk bugling in Elk County, Pennsylvania (photo by Paul Staniszewski)

At this time of year an eerie sound echoes through the north woods of Pennsylvania, the mating song of the elk.

In September and October Pennsylvania's elk herd (Cervus canadensis) has an annual period of sexual activity called the rut. The bulls gather harems, pursue the females, spar with other males, and "sing" a bugling love song.

Based on the size and posture of a bugling elk you'd think his voice is low -- but not at all.  The bugle call is bell-like and echoing even when the animal is close by.  His song carries far in the woods and fields.

Listen and watch the video below to hear the elks' eerie mating song.

 

Visit the Elk Country Visitor Center to hear and see elk for yourself.

If you can't be there in person, watch the Pennsylvania Game Commission's live stream.  Even when elk aren't on camera the audio is worth it.  Yesterday morning I heard purple finches in the background.

 

Thank you to Paul Staniszewski for reminding me that the elk are calling now. See more of Paul's elk photos here.

(photo by Paul Staniszewski; video by Lively Legz/Living4theoutdoors on YouTube)

Waiting For News … Again

Whimbrel (photo by Arturo Mann from Wikimedia Commons) This is not Hope.
Whimbrel (photo by Arturo Mann from Wikimedia Commons) This bird is not Hope.

News from the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, is horrific now that two Category 5 hurricanes have passed through the islands in just two weeks.  Homes, infrastructure and habitat are all destroyed. Our hearts and help go out to everyone affected by these storms.

Images of the widespread damage also have made me wonder:  Did birds survive these hurricanes?

Early this month one particular bird, a whimbrel named Hope, survived Hurricane Irma on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Did she survive Hurricane Maria?  We don't know yet.

North American whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) that breed in the tundra of northwest Canada make long migrations to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.  To understand their migration The Center for Conservation Biology fitted a few of them with satellite transmitters when the birds made migration stopovers on Virginia's eastern shore.  One bird, nicknamed Hope, was tracked for three years beginning in 2009. Her transmitter was removed after it broke in 2012 but she still wears two colorful leg tags. Every year she returns in late August to St. Croix.

After Hurricane Irma I was encouraged on September 13 when The Center for Conservation Biology sent news that Hope had survived Irma.  The map below provides perspective on this miracle.

St. Thomas and St.John (purple pin markers) took a direct hit from Irma.  Hope spends the fall and winter on St. Croix (blue pin) at Great Pond (yellow star).  She was fortunate that Irma passed more than 45 miles north of her location.  St. Thomas and St. John were so devastated by Irma that survivors were evacuated to Puerto Rico and St. Croix.  (Click here to see a video of Hurricane Irma damage on the U.S. Virgin Islands, posted by the U.S. Navy.)

Then on the night of September 19 Hurricane Maria blew through the islands, passing only 10 miles south of St. Croix.  Hurricane force winds scraped the island for 7.5 hours before slamming Puerto Rico.  The southwestern corner of St. Croix was hardest hit.

As with Hurricane Irma it will take a while to find out what happened.

And I wonder: Did Hope make it through Maria, too?

We're waiting for news ... again.

Read more about Hope surviving Hurricane Irma -- and see photos of her -- in this article at The Center for Conservation Biology.

 

(photo of a whimbrel (this is not a photo of Hope) by Arturo Mann via Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

p.s. For more news of the Virgin Islands see the Virgin Islands Daily News.

This Morning in Schenley Park: 5 Warblers

Participants at the Schenley Park outing on Sept 24 (photo by Kate St. John)
Participants at the Schenley Park outing on Sept 24 (photo by Kate St. John)

Even though we saw only 21 species in Schenley Park this morning it was a better than average day with five warbler species.  Of course they were all Best Birds.

We also witnessed some interesting woodpecker behavior.  Five northern flickers perched near each other on a telephone pole and two of them challenged each other with "wikka wikka wikka."

Click here for our eBird checklist or peruse the list below.  Notice that we saw NO CROWS.  That'll change soon. 😉

Canada Goose
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Song Sparrow
House Finch

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

 

 

Leaves Turned White

Wingstem leaves turning white. Why? (photo by Kate St. John)
Wingstem leaves turning white. Why? (photo by Kate St. John)

In July and August I noticed something I'd never seen before along the trails of western Pennsylvania -- scattered instances of leaves turning white.

The leaves had been green but now their tips or even whole branches were white. The plant below had advanced to the stage where some of the stems were completely white.

Leaves in distress: top is white, 31 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)
Leaves in distress: top is white, 31 July 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The condition is called chlorosis and it means the plant is not producing enough chlorophyll to look green.  Since chlorophyll uses sunlight to make food for the plant, it's a sign the plant is in distress.  But why?

Causes of chlorosis are wide-ranging.  Here's the list from Wikipedia, with my [notes] added:

  • a specific mineral deficiency in the soil, such as iron, magnesium or zinc
  • deficient nitrogen and/or proteins
  • a soil pH at which minerals become unavailable for absorption by the roots
  • poor drainage (waterlogged roots)  [Not likely in this case.]
  • damaged and/or compacted roots  [Not likely in this case.]
  • pesticides and particularly herbicides may cause chlorosis, both to target weeds and occasionally to the crop being treated.  [Not likely in this case due to location.]
  • exposure to sulphur dioxide [Possible in Pittsburgh but not likely in this case.]
  • ozone injury to sensitive plants [Not likely in this case.]
  • presence of any number of bacterial pathogens, for instance Pseudomonas syringae pv. tagetis that causes complete chlorosis on Asteraceae.

Interestingly, the plants I photographed are in the Aster Family (Asteraceae) and one of them has complete chlorosis.

Was the 2017 growing season especially bad for the bacteria mentioned above?  Or does chlorosis happen every year and I've just not noticed?

If you know more about this condition in the wild, please leave a comment.  I'm really curious!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

Variety of Goldenrods

Goldenrod at Mount Dessert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)
Goldenrod at Mount Dessert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Any trip outdoors this month will find a lot of goldenrods in North America.  Here are just a few of the species I've photographed over the years.  All of them are different.

Can I tell you their names? No. Goldenrods are notoriously hard to identify.

Above, a beautiful bushy goldenrod at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Below, the classic goldenrod shape in Pittsburgh: a tall plant with narrow alternate leaves and a tassel of yellow flowers on top.  To identify it I'd need more information than the photo provides.  For instance:  Do the leaves have two or three prominent veins?  Are they toothed or entire?  Is the main stem smooth or downy or both?

Tall goldenrod with a tassel on top (photo by Kate St. John)
Tall goldenrod with a tassel on top (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In the photo below: An unusual goldenrod shape photographed in Pittsburgh. The plant reaches out horizontally with flowers perched in clusters on top of the stem. The leaves are long and narrow.  Perhaps it's blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod.

Perhaps this is blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod (photo by Kate St.John)
Perhaps this is blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod (photo by Kate St.John)

 

This one is a stand-up spike of yellow flowers with egg-shaped alternate leaves, found in Pittsburgh.

A goldenrod at Cedar Creek in 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
A compact, upright goldenrod at Cedar Creek Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Is this goldenrod the same species as the tall tassel above?  I don't know.

A tall and bushy goldenrod, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
A tall and bushy goldenrod, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I've never seen white goldenrods in Pittsburgh. This spike of white flowers was photographed at Acadia National Park in Maine.

White goldenrod in Maine (photo by Kate St.John)
White goldenrod in Maine (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And finally, a ball-shaped flower cluster with long leaves, growing in a granite crack at Acadia National Park.

Goldenrod in a rock, Acdia National Park, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)
Goldenrod in a rock, Acdia National Park, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

So much variety.  So many goldenrods.  And often so hard to identify.

 

(photos by Kate St.John)