Category Archives: Phenology

Crow Update, Dec 14

Crows at dawn, Melton, UK (photo by itsnogame via Flickr Creative Commons license)

14 December 2020

Now that it’s mid December Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock has chosen favorite roosts but continues to adjust the location in subtle ways, especially when it’s cold.

In October they switched sites abruptly — here today, gone tomorrow. In November they focused in Oakland and tried for Schenley Farms. On the 18th I watched the flock hover from four blocks away, then heard a distant BANG! a single banger firework. The crows made a U turn in the sky and didn’t come back.

This month the flock has split into several roosts including rooftops and trees at Bouquet and Sennott, at Fifth and Thackeray, and perhaps at University Prep in the Hill District. On 11 December I followed them to the Hill where I found them staging at Rampart Street, Herron near Milwaukee, and University Prep.

But I don’t know where they sleep. I plan to count them on 26 December for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count so if you see them sleeping somewhere let me know!

Meanwhile, the flock’s incursion into Oakland prompted this tongue-in-check tourism video by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy interns, posted on 20 November.

The crows and I recognize a lot of places in the video. 😉

(photo by itsnogame via Flickr Creative Commons license)

p.s. Last evening I found 3,000 crows staging at the back of Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park but it’s not where they sleep. I saw them leave.

Scenes Of The Week

  • Red leaves at Duck Hollow, 29 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

5 December 2020

Here’s a visual portrait of the past week, from a warm day at Duck Hollow on 29 November, to snow on 1 December, and yesterday’s awesome sky at Moraine State Park.

(photos by John English and Kate St. John)

Partly Cloudy?

Partly cloudy sky, Thanksgiving Day 2020, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Pittsburgh’s November cloud forecasts often leave me scratching my head. What does “Partly Cloudy” mean?

Thanksgiving Day was partly cloudy. See that tiny patch of blue, above? That’s the sunny bit. No, it did not rain.

The official NWS forecast Sky Conditions ought to shed some light (copied below). Though the cloud cover percentages are fixed the names are flexible and disappointing. Mostly Cloudy has two definitions (see italics) and Cloudy is an anemic word for Pittsburgh’s really Overcast skies.

National Weather Service Sky Conditions

Sky ConditionOpaque Cloud Coverage
Cloudy / Overcast88% - 100%
Mostly Cloudy / Considerable Cloudiness70% - 87%
Partly Sunny / Mostly Cloudy51% - 69%
Mostly Sunny / Partly Cloudy26% - 50%
Sunny / Mostly Clear6% - 25%
Sunny / Clear0% - 5%

Something was brewing in the sky below. Would it be Mostly or Partly Cloudy … or Partly Sunny?

An hour later it was calmer and “Mostly” something.

What would the weatherman call this sky condition (below)? Mostly Cloudy? Cloudy? Overcast?

Cloudy? (photo by Kate St. John)

While pondering the answer, look for four crows among the clouds.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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)