This week Pittsburgh’s sugar maples are clothed in spring green flowers while the oaks remain bare. Most trees bloom long before leaf out so their leaves won’t block the pollinators. These flowers take full advantage of the wind.
Did your allergies kick in this week? The trees are throwing off lots of pollen with little rain to lay the dust.
Insect-pollinated flowers will follow soon. On 3 April pawpaw flowers (Asimina triloba) were still tiny buds in Schenley Park but by the time they bloom the stems will be long and flexible. The dark maroon fetid-smelling flowers will hang like bells to attract flies and beetles. Click here to see a pawpaw flower.
Eastern redbud flowers (Cercis canadensis) had not opened in Schenley as of 7 April, but they showed promise.
Spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa) was blooming at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Easter Day.
This winter I noticed that when moss grows up the base of saplings it looks like leggings on the trees. At Raccoon Wildflower Reserve I found an entire group of saplings wearing mossy leggings. Click here to see the whole group. (Anyone know what this mossy phenomenon is?)
Spring green will continue in the coming weeks as tiny leaves pop open and more trees bloom.
For more than a week the temperature has not dipped below freezing in western Pennsylvania, providing a chance to watch spring unfold.
On 24 March at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve my walking route took me past harbinger of spring (top), hazelnut catkins, skunk cabbage, spring beauties and cutleaf toothwort.
On 26 March my favorite northern magnolia in Schenley Park began to bloom.
The buds looked like this only three days before.
I also found spicebush in bloom, bottlebrush buckeye leaf out, and Ohio buckeye buds bursting.
The trees are still bare but European willows provide a spot of green and maple flowers add a hint of red and orange.
Tonight the temperature will dip close to freezing in the city and will reach a low of 24 degrees on the night of April Fools Day. No fooling! Get outdoors before that happens. Many flowers will be brown on April 2.
Spring has been popping out all over now that we’ve had a string of warm — even hot — sunny days.
Above, a small wasp checks out the daffodils at Carnegie Mellon. Below, coltsfoot is blooming in Schenley Park and cherry trees are flowering at Carnegie Museum.
The 23 March 2021 National Phenology Network (NPN) Spring Leaf Index indicates that Leaf Out hasn’t reached the bottom left corner of Pennsylvania. The map uses honeysuckle buds as the Spring Leaf Index gauge because, though invasive, the plants are everywhere.
I should have reported what I found on Monday in Washington County. Honeysuckles were leafing out at Hillman State Park on 22 March 2021.
Garlic mustard leaves are up, too.
Did you notice that all the plants I’ve shown so far are non-native?
Our native trees are cautious about frost so only the earliest, such as this red maple, have opened their flowers.
More blooms ahead! This week’s forecast looks promising.
Last Wednesday was gorgeous, Thursday was miserable with rain and wind, Friday was sunny but cold.
The Cornelian cherry tree (Cornus mas) next to Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park was close to blooming yesterday but the flowers remained cautious, above. Take a good look at this tree this spring. When the lake is re-done it will be gone.
Meanwhile Thursday’s rain had turned to ice by Friday morning. Notice the straight-edge and wavy lines.
The weather will be warmer this weekend so get outdoors when you can.
Grackle Day is coming this week. For some it’s already here.
The arrival of migrating blackbirds and grackles is one of the earliest signs of spring. Common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) leave the East End of Pittsburgh during fall migration and don’t return until early March, usually around the 5th. I haven’t seen a grackle yet but I found a red-winged blackbird — just one — in Schenley Park on Friday 26 Feb, my First of Year.
Friends in Beaver County reported small flocks of grackles at their feeders on Saturday 27 February. I’m disappointed the birds bypassed Pittsburgh but am keeping my eyes open for their arrival here.
Sometimes I hear their “chucking” sound before I see them. Listen for …
Then they point their bills up, strut and puff and “skriiNNNK.”
I can hardly wait!
Will this be Grackle Day?
(photo from Wikimedia Commons, audio from Xeno Canto, video from YouTube. click on the captions to see the originals)
On overcast days it’s too easy to convince myself not to go outdoors but last week, when five of seven days were overcast, I forced myself to walk to Phipps to take photos of dawn redwoods. While there I looked through the garden gate — like a large keyhole.
On the 20th I promised myself to be at Schenley Park Overlook at noon for a big view of the sky, the city and the Cathedral of Learning (falcon home). On the way there I snapped a photo of Panther Hollow Lake, surprisingly shaped like a giant keyhole.
The day ended with a Gleam At Sunset, 10 minutes of happy sunshine before darkness. Below you can see the source of the gleam, a patch of clear sky in the lowest notch between the buildings.
Working backwards in time, 19 January provided a welcome respite with a panoply of blue sky and clouds. One cloud broke away from the pack.
January 16th was gloomy with freezing fog, light snow and mist but two merlins and The Gleam At Sunset made my late-day walk to Schenley Park worthwhile.
This morning is overcast with a 10oF wind chill. I plan to go outdoors … later.
This month Tree Pittsburgh is featuring the dawn redwood as their Tree of the Month so I walked to Phipps Conservatory to see four of the living fossils. On the way I found a fifth near the Cathedral of Learning.
Endangered in the wild, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is the only survivor of the genus Metasequoia from the age of the dinosaurs. It was thought to be extinct until a single living tree was discovered in 1941 in the village of Moudao in Hubei province, China.
The discovery happened in the nick of time. The tree would have gone extinct by now were it not for local protection and a seed-collecting expedition in 1947 that distributed seeds to ornamental gardens and arboretums around the world. Joe Stavish tells the story in Tree Pittsburgh’s video.
This winter Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park rose to flood level in late November, remained flooded for almost two months, and fell suddenly last week. Here’s the story of the rise and fall of Panther Hollow Lake.
Panther Hollow Lake, which is actually the size of a pond, was built around 1904 by damming the fresh water of Panther Hollow Run and piping its outflow into the combined sewer system of what had been Four Mile Run, the creek that used to receive it. Buried in Junction Hollow the big pipe passes under a neighborhood called The Run on its way to the Monongahela River.
Normally the water level is low enough that the concrete-step edge is visible as shown at top left and on 19 Nov 2020 below.
But the valve malfunctioned or clogged in late November. By 25 November water was climbing the edge and by 4 December the lake was obviously flooded (top photo at right). An alternate channel kept the water from rising further but you couldn’t walk around the lake until someone beat a path above the water line.
On Wednesday 13 January I circumnavigated the still-flooded lake. The next day someone fixed the valve and the lake began to fall rapidly, cracking and levering ice around the edge.
Here’s what it looked like on Friday 15 January 2021, back to normal water level.
The ice was still settling and cracking when I stopped to record the sound last Friday. Listen to it pop and groan. You can also hear a Carolina chickadee and a song sparrow at the end.
p.s. And, yes, a stream is called a “Run” in Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Maryland. Derek Watkins’ map of Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous U.S., generated from GNIS data, shows the places where people use different words for Creek including: Branch, fork, run, brook, kill, stream, bayou, swamp, slough, wash, cañada, arroyo, rio. (Click here to see his map.)
Note: Watkins did not include regional pronunciations such as “crick” because the data he used from GNIS spells it “creek.”
Nestled between two bouts of winter on Dec 16 and 25 the snow melted and the birds fed frantically before snow and bitter cold returned.
The melting began right after heavy snow stopped on Dec 17. The wind that day was so steady that dripping icicles leaned away from it. Then the wind dropped and new icicles formed straight down. (photo above)
While the deep snow lasted I found many tracks in Schenley Park including evidence of humans and …
… evidence of white-tailed deer, below. With the rut still in progress it looks as if the deer are leaving “calling cards” on the snow. (Can you tell me more about this brownish (maybe) urine? I found it in several locations.)
On 22 December the snow was mostly gone when I found a pumpkin graveyard on Aloe Street in Bloomfield.
The next day’s “red sky at morn” presaged Christmas Eve’s all-day rain.
On 24 December cherry trees started to bloom on Craig Street. It was 57oF.