Category Archives: Phenology

The Trees With Leaves Are…

Yellow leaves and bare trees, Schenley Park, 23 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

24 November 2020

By now all the leaves have fallen in the Pittsburgh area. Or have they? There are still a few trees with bright yellow leaves in Schenley Park — Norway maples.

As their name implies Norway maples (Acer platanoides) were imported from Europe where their native range extends further north than Pittsburgh.  Our short November days are the same length as those they experience in October back home.  The sun will be up for 9 hours and 39 minutes today, 24 November, in western Pennsylvania.  That’s the day length on 21 October in Oslo, Norway.

Right now our native trees are bare or retain just a few yellow leaves at the very top (tuliptrees) or dried brown leaves overall (oaks and beeches).

Because non-native plants are out of synch with our seasons late November is the best time of year to see them in the landscape.

The trees with leaves are aliens!

Fun fact: Pittsburgh’s latitude is very far south of Scandinavia. Did you know we are on the same latitude as Madrid, Spain?

Quiz: What North American city is nearly the same latitude as London, England? The answer is surprising.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Sunrise, Ice, First Snow

Sunrise, 19 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 November 2020

Last week it was again both cold and warm.

At dawn on Thursday morning, 19 November, sunrise lit the clouds after a clear, cold night. Ice had started to form on Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow Lake. It was 6 degrees below normal on the day before.

First ice on Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 19 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Two days earlier we had our first daytime snow in the city.

By Friday 20 November the temperature was 17 degrees above normal(*).

No more ice.

(photos and video by Kate St. John)

(*) The normal average on 20 November is 41 degrees F in Pittsburgh.

A Week of Summer and Fall

Lichen at Moraine State Park, 13 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

14 November 2020

This week in Pittsburgh began with several days of summer and ended with autumn frost. The scenery was beautiful and well worth the time outdoors.

Above, lichen clings to a dead hemlock at Moraine State Park along the Muddy Creek Trail. Below, as of Thursday 12 November 2020 the trees were not bare in Schenley Park.

The trees are not bare yet in Schenley Park, 12 Nov 2020 (photo by Rick St. John)

But this one is.

Dead tree, blue sky, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Ginkgos rapidly lost their leaves in the rain on 11 November.

Ginkgos dropping leaves in Schenley Park, 11 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Many fruits and seeds.

Porcelainberry ripening, Schenley Park, 12 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Goldenrod gone to seed, 9 Nov 2020, Churchill Valley Greenway (photo by Kate St. John)

Can you tell me what plant this is? I found it at the base of red pines at Moraine State Park along the Muddy Creek Trail. Is it parasitic?

Wrinkled club fungus, Moraine State Park, Muddy Creek Trail, 13 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

UPDATE 14 NOVEMBER 2020: Master gardener Dianne Machesney says this plant is Wrinkled club fungus (Clavulina rugosa). Judy Stark put my photo into iNaturalist and the app said so, too. Wikipedia says it is edible.

It’s colder now but there’s still time to get outdoors.

Outdoors is the safest place now that COVID-19 is spreading exponentially in the U.S. Pittsburgh Public Schools have gone fully remote again. Please wear a mask.

(photos by Kate & Rick St. John)

Outdoors in Warm November

7 November 2020

Pittsburgh’s weather has been down-and-up from 30 degrees F + snow on Monday to 70 degrees F + sun today. By the end of the week it was fun to spend time outdoors.

On Friday I noted that most trees in the City of Pittsburgh still have leaves but few were as colorful as the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), above, in Scheney Park. American goldfinches moved among the leaves searching for seeds in the sweetgum balls.

The return of warm weather reactivated insects who were hiding from the cold. On Thursday a leaf-footed bug walked up our living room window.

Leaf-footed bug, 5 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

White-tailed deer seem to be everywhere, especially in the city parks. The rut is in progress so the deer are less wary of people and cars. Meanwhile small trees in Schenley Park show new damage after bucks rub the velvet off their antlers.

Buck rub on an understory tree, 6 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some trees have the perfect defense against such assaults. Large thorns adorn the trunks of honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos). No buck rubs here!

Honey locust thorns, Schenley Park, 6 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The warm weather will continue next week. It’s (still!) time to get outdoors.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Not Much To Show For A Rainy Week

A raindrop at every bud, Yellow Creek State Park, 28 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

1 November 2020

Much of last week was rainy so I don’t have much to show for my adventures outdoors.

On Wednesday I took two wet photos at Yellow Creek State Park, above and below.

Raindrops on rose hips at Yellow Creek State Park, 28 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Thursday it rained all day, depositing more than an inch from the remnants of Hurricane Zeta. I did errands in the car.

On Friday the rain paused at dawn for a beautiful sunrise at Duck Hollow … and then it rained again.

Duck Hollow sunrise, 30 October 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Today it will rain again. Sigh.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Yesterday Morning in Schenley Park

Witch hazel blooming in Schenley Park, 25 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Sunday morning 25 October 2020 three of us braved the suddenly cold weather and were rewarded with lots of birds and witch hazel in bloom.

Though we saw only 23 species bird activity was intense at the wetland near Panther Hollow Lake. A large flock of robins fed on fruit and bathed in the creek. White-throated sparrows poked through the underbrush, woodpeckers fed on fallen logs and ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in the trees. (Our eBird checklist is here.)

None of us had a camera so Joanne Tyzenhouse contributed this ruby-crowned kinglet photo she took in the spring.

Ruby-crowed kinglet (photo by Joanne Tyzenhouse)

Despite the cold weather I’m glad we went.

p.s. I forgot to take our picture so you will have to imagine what we looked like.

(photos by Kate St. John and Joanne Tyzenhouse)

Sunrise and Heat

Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 18 October 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

24 October 2020

Last week there was frost in the suburbs on 17 October. This week 23 October was unusually hot at 78-80 degrees F (26C) in Schenley Park. I had to wear summer clothes yesterday but will wear warm clothes tomorrow when it’s 38F. Join me at 8:30am at Bartlett Shelter in Schenley Park. Wear a mask.

Though it felt like July this week I found some beautiful autumn scenes in Pittsburgh.

Above, the sun rose red at 7:34am on 18 October for 11 hours of daylight. Today we’ll have only 10 hours 45 minutes of cloudy light.

Frick Park was golden yellow on 21 October.

Frick Park, 21 October 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The Panther Hollow Bridge cast a shadow on Schenley Park’s trees yesterday morning, 23 Oct.

Schenley Park, Panther Hollow Lake, 23 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. You can tell it was a hot week in Schenley by the presence of algae on the water’s surface.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Fall Color at Its Best

Sassafras leaves, Schenley Park, 10 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week was a spectacular time for fall color in the Pittsburgh area. Schenley Park was especially beautiful as brilliant red sugar maples gave way to subtler sassafras, ash, buckeye and sweet gum.


Ash leaves, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Subtle violet tinge of ash leaves, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Buckeye leaves, Schenley Park, 10 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sweet gum leaves, Schenley Park, 10 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

By Tuesday the brightest red leaves had fallen to the ground. The forest shifted to yellow.

Fallen maple leaves, Schenley Park, 13 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bridle Trail, Schenley Park, 13 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Falloon Trail near Westinghouse Shelter, Schenley Park, 10 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Lower Panther Hollow Trail, Schenley Park, 12 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Nature’s Bird Food and Other October Delights

Rose hips, Frick Park, 3 October 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This October there are plentiful fruits and seeds for migrating birds in Pittsburgh. Virginia creeper, porcelain berry, and rose hips (above) provide food for cedar waxwings and robins.

Pine siskins invaded southwestern Pennsylvania this week! Many of you are reporting them at your backyard feeders while natural food sources, such as arborvitae, have created pine siskin hotspots. Siskins force open the cones with their sharp beaks and pick out the seeds.

These arborvitae cones were on the ground at a pine siskin hotspot. Three stages are pictured: Top = Spent cones as much as one year old, Middle = Opened cones that were emptied by pine siskins, Bottom = a mix of closed, opened and spent cones.

Arborvitae cones that fell on N Dithridge Street thanks to pine siskins, 9 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The huge acorn crop in Schenley Park is attracting many blue jays, squirrels and chipmunks. Here’s what the ground looks like below the oaks at Bartlett Shelter.

Many, many acorns, Bartlett Shelter Schenley Park, 7 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

In other delights October trees, sky and shadows are spectacular.

Fall colors, Schenley Park, 7 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Long shadows, Schenley Park, 7 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Fall color in Frick Park, 6 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dead hickory points to the moon, 8 Oct 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s a good time to be outdoors.

(photos by Kate St. John)

September Ends With Signs Of Fall

Fallen leaves at the Botany Hall fountain, Phipps Conservatory, 30 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Signs of fall increased this week as late September gave way to October.

Fallen leaves floated on the bubbling fountain at Botany Hall, Phipps Conservatory. Leaves on Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) began turning yellow.

Joe-Pye weed, Lower Nine Mile Run, Frick Park, 2 October 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is red.

Poison ivy, Ferncliff Peninsula, Ohiopyle, 28 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Queen Anne’s lace (Darcus carota) now holds its seed capsules in a bundle, each one with tiny spines that cling to passing animals, including humans.

Queen Anne’s lace seed head, 30 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally, parasites take advantage of late season leaves. The red oak leaf below has two kinds of parasites: tiny galls and (I think) a fungus.

Oak leaf with galls and fungus, 29 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather is beautiful … after today’s fog burns off. Don’t forget to get outdoors!

(photos by Kate St. John)

(*) The fountain in front of Botany Hall is my very favorite because it invites me to lay my hands flat on the water’s surface. It bubbles up gently from a central pump and drips over the edge.