There was plenty to see this week in Schenley Park even though the weather was hot.
My best visit was on Thursday morning when my friend Andrea convinced me to come out at 7:30a. I’ve been missing a lot by sitting at my computer until 9am. Best Bird: Louisiana waterthrush! Waterthrushes don’t breed in the park but they stop by in transit before and after breeding.
Best flowers this week include the bright yellow flower (above) near the Westinghouse fountain, a cultivated variety of St. Johnswort (Hypericum).
Teasel (Dipsacus), an invasive alien, has not bloomed yet but the flower buds are visible between the spikes.
Spotted joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), above, has buds in the leaf axils but when it blooms the showy flowers at the top attract all our attention. This year I’ll have to watch for the side flowers as well.
Enchanters nightshade (Circaea canadensis), below, blooms from the bottom up and has plenty of buds yet to open. The lower buds in the photo are on a different branch.
Bugs are quite evident now but they are difficult to photograph because they move(!). Below, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) appeared to be rubbing its abdomen on the bird dropping. Was it ovipositing?
Aphids are not plentiful this year — yet — but it’s only a matter of time. There’s only one winged adult in this photo but the juveniles will grow up, sprout wings, and fly to other Helianthus plants to reproduce. It won’t be long before I think there are too many.
And finally, some bugs are never seen but we know they were there … as this leaf attests.
On 17 June six friends and I gathered at Wolf Creek Narrows to bird watch and botanize.
I was hoping to find ramps (Allium tricoccum) in full bloom but we were too early to see the balls of flowers that become these unusual starburst seed pods. Note that the leaves in the background are a different plant. Ramps don’t have leaves when they bloom.
There are white foam patches on plant stems now in western Pennsylvania that indicate it’s spittlebug season.
Spittlebugs are nymphal froghoppers that suck the juice out of plants and excrete it as a sticky foam to protect themselves from temperature extremes, dessication and predators.
I’ve never seen a spittlebug but I haven’t looked closely. Fortunately Rod Innes’ 2011 video shows what these insects are up to. Way cool!
There are also some coming attractions outdoors.
Mulberries are bearing fruit in western Pennsylvania, attracting birds and smashing on the sidewalk. Read more about them in this vintage article: Mulberries Underfoot.
Schenley Park’s bottlebrush buckeyes are almost ready to bloom as shown below on 11 June. Stop by the park in early July to see the flowers in full glory at two locations: South side of Panther Hollow Lake (left side of lake as seen from Panther Hollow Bridge) and across West Circuit Road from the Westinghouse Fountain.
When bottlebrush buckeyes bloom they look like this.
In the past week I’ve found flowers and insects in Schenley Park, on Laurel Mountain, and at McConnell’s Mill State Park. Here are the best of the lot.
At McConnell’s Mill, white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) bloomed in May and is already forming berries that become dolls eyes in October. I used two photographic techniques on the same plant. The slideshow shows what a difference that makes.
Dolls eyes in portrait mode (photo by Kate St. John)
Dolls eyes in camera mode (photo by Kate St. John)
The mosquitoes are out on Laurel Mountain, especially at dusk, but so are the caterpillars. This oak-eating caterpillar took a chunk out of a leaf but will become a tasty snack for a baby bird if the parents find it.
Leaves are also food for tiny gall-making insects as seen on this leaf in Schenley Park.
As I said it’s bug season, so be prepared when you visit the woods.
Songbird migration is over so I’m paying more attention to flowers even though there aren’t very many in early June. April’s woodland flowers are long past and July’s field flowers aren’t here yet. Even so, I found a few blooms last week in Schenley and Frick Parks.
Above, an ornamental mock orange shrub bloomed along the Lower Panther Hollow Trail in Schenley Park. Below, daisies are blooming at the tiny meadow next to Bartlett Playground.
In Frick Park I found cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) along Lower Nine Mile Run Trail.
This native plant can grow 7 feet tall. Here I stand by one at Mingo Creek in 2013.
Because their flowers and leaves are similar, some people mistake cow parsnip for giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), an invasive plant from Eurasia that’s so toxic it causes nasty skin rashes if you merely brush against it. Fortunately it’s easy to tell the difference by looking at the stems and leaf joints.
Cow parsnip is all green. (2 photos above)
Giant hogweed has purple blotches on its stem and leaf joints, just like poison hemlock. (2 photos below)
Both plants are so big that you can identify them from afar before getting too close.
Green is good. Purple is bad. The flowers are white on both of them.
(photos by Kate St. John except where noted in the caption which is linked to the originals on Wikimedia Commons)
In a normal spring tent caterpillars would have constructed gauzy tents in the cherry trees just before the leaves unfurled. This year I haven’t seen any tent caterpillars and we’re already at “Full Leaf”(*) in Schenley Park. Did our unusually cold spring kill them?
The absence of tent caterpillars affects birds, especially yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos who rely on them as a food staple. Perhaps the absence of tent caterpillars explains why cuckoos are scarce this year.