Seen This Week: Flowers and Owls

Saucer magnolia bud about to bloom, Pittsburgh, 18 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 March 2024

This week non-native flowering trees put on a show in the city of Pittsburgh. Originally from China and Japan their growing season is earlier than our native trees.

Star magnolia in bloom, Pittsburgh, 15 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

This month’s three-day spurts of highs in the 60s and 70s prompted the red maples to flower and start producing seeds.

Red maple already gone to seed, Pittsburgh, 18 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Saturday I visited Wolf Creek Narrows, almost an hour north of Pittsburgh, where the growing season is later than at home. There we found an interesting jelly fungi called witches butter (Tremella mesenterica) …

Witches butter fungi, Wolf Creek Narrows, 16 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and a decapitated skunk cabbage that allowed us to see the spadix inside. The hood usually covers this structure but something ate the hood. What animal could put up with the odor to eat that hood? And then the animal would vomit because the plant is toxic.

Skunk cabbage spadix revealed, Wolf Creek Narrows, 16 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

I promised you an owl.

Inspired by Steve Gosser‘s photo of an American woodcock at North Park Upper Fields on 4 March, two of us stood out in the cold on Thursday evening waiting for sunset and for American woodcocks to make their twittering courtship flights. The sky was clear and the moon was so bright that we had moon shadows. It was also 5°F colder than at home in the city and I brought the wrong gloves. Brrrr!

Despite the cold it was worth the trip. Half an hour after sunset three American woodcocks put on a show and two flew right past us on their way to the sky.

American woodcock, North Park Upper Fields, 4 March 2024 (photo by Steve Gosser)

But the big surprise of the evening came before the woodcocks. Karyn saw a great-horned owl fly out of the pines and land on top of a brush pile. The owl was hunting while the voice of a youngster begged for food from pines.

Meanwhile a second adult owl flew to a bare tree at the other end of the field where we could see its silhouette against the glowing sky. Though my cellphone is not good at distance photos, you can faintly see the ear tufts that prove that this second bird of prey is a great-horned owl.

Great horned owl, North Park Upper Fields, 21 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is getting interesting.

(credits are in the captions)

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