Category Archives: Phenology

Seen On Laurel Mountain

Canada warbler, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

15 June 2024

During spring warbler migration I try to see as many species as possible as they pass through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Unfortunately, I missed some of my favorites this year, most notably the Canada warbler (Cardellina canadensis), so Charity Kheshgi and I went to Laurel Mountain last Sunday to find them on their breeding grounds.

The air was filled with veery (Catharus fuscescens) songs when we arrived at Laurel Summit State Park.

We thought we’d be able to see at least one of the two Canada warblers we heard singing along Spruce Bog Trail, but not. However, we got lucky on the Picnic Trail when the bird pictured above and below approached us making his warning call.

Canada warbler, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Here’s an example of what he sounded like:

There was plentiful shade in the forest, but that made the birds harder to see. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) is nicely lit but still in the dark.

Ovenbird, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

We found other delights on the mountain. A tiger swallowtail butterfly sipped nectar from pitcher plant flowers at Spruce Bog.

Tiger swallowtail at pitcher plant flowers, Spruce Bog, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pennsylvania’s state flower, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), was in bloom.

Mountain laurel in bloom, Laurel Summit State Park, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

This trillium gone to seed showed well in dappled sunlight.

Trillium gone to seed, Laurel Mtn, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

We heard more birds than we could see, ultimately tallying 24 species in our checklist here.

Now Blooming: Pretty Invasives

Orange day-lily, Three Rivers Heritage Trail near Herr’s Island, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 June 2024

Between the glory of woodland spring ephemerals and summer’s splash of native field flowers, June has fewer blooming natives. On a walk yesterday along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail near Millvale I found a host of pretty flowers, many of them invasive.

Orange day-lily (Hemerocallis fulva) is native to Asia and well established in Pennsylvania. You’ll see it blooming in ditches, along railroad tracks and in gardens. It pops up in so many places that it has at least 10 common names. Orange day-lily is considered invasive in Pennsylvania because its tubers create thick clumps that crowd out native plants in sensitive habitats.

Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) is listed as one of the world’s worst invasive species. Right now its flowers have just opened in southwestern PA. By the end of summer the flowers will be in long, sweet-smelling racemes, a favorite of bees and butterflies.

New flowers on Japanese knotweed, , Three Rivers Heritage Trail near Herr’s Island, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Crown vetch (Securigera varia), native to Eurasia and Africa, is in now full bloom. Read about its invasive qualities here.

Crown vetch in bloom, Three Rivers Heritage Trail near Herr’s Island, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

What’s that popcorn-like smell? It’s poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and it’s in bloom. You won’t want this plant anywhere you find it. Here’s how to get rid of it; expect a multi-year effort.)

Poison hemlock flowersWhite sweet clover flowers, Three Rivers Heritage Trail near Herr’s Island, 9 June 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

(all photos by Kate St. John)

Puzzling Objects Seen This Week

Leaf-out reveals the browseline, Schenley Park, 5 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 May 2024

This week I photographed a few puzzling objects for the record.

When I took a photo of Full Leaf trees in Schenley Park on 5 May I noticed something newly visible in the presence of leaves. Can you see it?

Look at the center of the photo where the path disappears in the distance. Above the path is a gap that allows you to see further under the trees. The gap flows to the right and follows the contour of the hillside. That’s the browseline, the cumulative effect of too many deer eating at the same location over and over.

I saw a native(!) honeysuckle this week. Pink with fused leaves, it’s called limber or glaucous honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica).

Limber or glaucous honeysuckle, Moraine State Park, 7 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Was this a cattle egret at Moraine State Park? If so it was a rare bird! Nope. It’s a white bag.

Cattle Egret at Moraine State Park? (photo by Kate St. John, 7 May 2024)

On 3 May a leaf-footed bug appeared to walk across the sky.

Leaf-footed bug walks across the sky, 3 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

During the Pittsburgh Marathon Dippy the dinosaur watched near the halfway mark.

Dippy wears black and gold for the Pittsburgh Marathon, 5 May 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

What puzzles will we see this week?

Tigers and Tents

Eastern tiger swallowtail in PA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

9 May 2024

We’re more than a week into May now, so it’s likely you’ve seen the tigers and tents that first appeared in late April. If you haven’t, here’s who they are.

Tigers

I first noted tiger swallowtails at Enlow Fork on 25 April but I remember seeing one earlier in Schenley Park. When was your earliest tiger swallowtail?

Find out more about them in this vintage blog: Flying Tigers

Tents

Tentworms in Schenley Park, 25 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

I saw the first tentworms on 30 April in Frick Park, but it seems this is not a big year for them. I haven’t seen many other tents. Did you know that tentworms are a favorite food of yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos? Have you seen a cuckoo yet?

Learn more about these social insects in this vintage article: Tents

(photo by Kate St. John)

Spring Update: Where Are We Now?

Oak tree in bloom with dangling pollen flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

1 May 2024

Since our last spring checkup six weeks ago, Pittsburgh has galloped into summer. Last weekend we had July-in-April weather with official highs of 83°F and even higher in town.

Pitt peregrine Carla felt the heat at 10am on 29 April as she shaded her chicks and gular fluttered (panted) to cool herself off.

It’s hot at the Pitt peregrine nest, Carla shades the chicks, 29 April 2024, 10am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Pittsburgh is not alone. In a wide swath of the U.S. from Iowa to New York spring was 20+ days early this year. In Pittsburgh nearly half of April was more than 10°F above normal while we had only one cold day at 12°F below normal.

U.S. Daily Spring Index Leaf Anomaly, 1 May 2024 (map generated by USANPN Visualization Tool)

So what temperature should we expect if we’re only 20 days ahead of schedule? April 29th ought to have been like a normal 19 May but it was way beyond that.

The heat prompted the trees to leaf out early and flowers to bloom ahead of schedule. Maples and buckeyes are in full leaf now and our oaks are at flower+leaf stage as shown at top. The leaves are hosting food for birds in the form of tiny caterpillars, so …

Migratory birds are taking advantage of the south winds and early leaf out. Since 27 April we’ve seen our first scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, indigo buntings and warblers.

Charity Kheshgi has been documenting our good luck with warblers at Frick Park. Notice the size of the leaves in her photos!

p.s. And where am I? Right now I’m at Magee Marsh a week ahead of The Biggest Week in American Birding. I don’t expect to see the swarms of migratory birds that will be here next week (I’m leaving on 3 May) but I’ll learn what happens before the people show up and why everyone waits until next week. 😉

(credits are in the captions)

Seen This Week at Enlow Fork

Fire pink, 25 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

27 April 2024

Last Thursday four of us made our annual pilgrimage to Enlow Fork on the border of Washington & Greene Counties(*) to look for wildflowers and birds. We saw carpets of blue-eyed Mary as well as fire pink, wild geranium and dwarf larkspur in both blue and white. (Can you see the tiny spider on the fire pink petal, above?)

Hillside of Blue-eyed Mary and wild blue phlox, Enlow Fork, 25 April 2024 (photo by Barb Griffith)
Wild Geranium, 25 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dwarf larkspur white form, 25 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Record-setting rain in the beginning of April left flood debris in the valley. Donna Foyle photographed the fallen trees that nearly hit the pedestrian bridge.

Enlow Fork flood debris, 25 April 2024 (photo by Donna Foyle)

I tried to capture the water-swept mud and flood depth by photographing debris stuck in the trees. The high water mark here was up to my chin.

Enlow Fork flood debris, 25 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The floodwaters swept freshwater clams from their homes leaving their empty shells among the flood debris.

Dead freshwater clams were among the flood debris, 25 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

We didn’t see many birds at first, perhaps because it was so cold. By the time we were ready to walk back it had warmed up enough to see my First Of Year Baltimore oriole, rose-breasted grosbeak and scarlet tanager deep in the woods.

Scarlet tanager First of Year, Enlow Fork, 25 April 2024 (photo by Donna Foyle)

We also saw or heard seven warblers including Louisiana waterthrush, common yellowthroat, northern parula, redstart, Nashville, yellow and yellow-throated warblers.

At one point I put my bright hat (on top of my sun hat & headband) in case a distant wood thrush would notice. The thrush did not, but I earned the name “Golden-crowned Katelet.”

Golden-crowned Katelet, Enlow Fork, 25 April 2024 (photo by Donna Foyle)

We had a great day among pale spring leaves and blue-eyed Marys.

Kate St. John, Donna Foyle, Donna Collett, Enlow Fork, 25 April 2024 (photo by Barb Griffith)

Next week will be much warmer. Bring on the birds!

(*) Where is Enlow Fork?

The Enlow Fork of Wheeling Creek forms the boundary between Washington and Greene Counties in southwestern PA. When we say “Enlow Fork” we are referring to the northern section of PA State Gameland #302 on both sides of Enlow Fork creek. The Gamelands (unpaved) parking lot is at this pin drop: https://maps.app.goo.gl/uzw42KqYZexLP4AB6.

(credits are in the captions. Thanks to Donna Foyle and Barb Griffith for contributing their photos)

Seen This Week

Wild blue phlox, Cedar Creek Park, 15 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 April 2024

Do you ever feel frantic in the Spring?

This week in Pittsburgh the highs were always above 60°F and three days were in the low 80s. Migratory birds came in a rush midweek while early-blooming flowers went to seed. Spring came so quickly that I couldn’t keep up. It’s enough to make you frantic.

On Monday we went to Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County where we found many of the flowers I’d seen at Barking Slopes. Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) was in full bloom. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), that bloomed in Beaver County on 31 March, had gone to seed. There were so many flowers that I had little time for pictures.

Bloodroot gone to seed, Cedar Creek Park, 15 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

There were some stunningly clear days this week but the partly cloudy ones were more interesting, especially at sunrise: Duck Hollow on 15 April and Oakland on 19 April.

Sunrise at Duck Hollow, 15 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 19 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Thursday 18 April Charity Kheshgi and I saw great birds in Frick Park.

The trees in town began the week with tiny pale green leaves; Some ended the week with large dark green leaves. American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) was blooming yesterday in Schnley Park.

American bladdernut flowers, Schenley Park, 19 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) had immature green flowers on Tuesday and mature dark red flowers on Friday. The flowers use their purplish-red color and a fetid smell to attract flies and beetles, not bees.

Pawpaw flowers, Schenley Park, 16 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

That frantic feeling will disappear in the next two days when spring slows down. There’s a Freeze Watch tonight and tomorrow morning.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen Last Week

Coltsfoot gone to seed, Frick Park, 9 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 April 2024

Last week was so full of news, from peregrines to floods, that I had to skip my usual “Seen This Week” report. Meanwhile Spring isn’t holding still. Wildflowers are blooming and the early ones have already gone to seed. Here’s a selection of my best photos from last week, April 8-11.

Above and below, three photos from Frick Park. All of these are alien and some are invasive but they are pretty.

  • Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), at top, is found in disturbed soil.
  • Speedwell’s (Veronica persica) tiny flowers bloom in fields and lawns. A dewdrop dangled above this one from a blade of grass.
  • Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) is abundant along creeks and river banks including Duck Hollow and Nine Mile Run. Very invasive, but pretty, which is why it was imported as a garden plant.
Eyebright, Frick Park, 9 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Lesser Celandine, Frick Park, 8 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Thursday I visited Barking Slopes for just an hour before the rain chased me away. Even though I didn’t have much time I saw more than 15 species in bloom including:

Large-flowered Trillium, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring Beauty, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Trout Lily, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Blue Cohosh flowers, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Large-flowered bellwort, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Star Chickweed, Barking Slopes, 11 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is here! Get outdoors so you don’t miss it.

(all photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week

Bloodroot blooming at Independence Marsh, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 April 2024

This week March went out like a lamb and April came in like a lion.

After photographing garden flowers on Easter morning I traveled out to Independence Marsh in Beaver County. I did not find my target bird, rusty blackbirds, but I did find spring flowers: Dutchmans breeches, cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot (above) and the first tiny bloom on shooting star (below).

Early bloom on shooting star, Independence Marsh, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

As soon as March was over, things went wrong. I should have known when I saw this troubled sky of mammatus clouds on Saturday, 30 March. Not a good sign.

Mammatus clouds presage a week of rain, snow and graupel in Pittsburgh, 30 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

It rained and rained and rained on April 1-3, setting a record of 2.68 inches on April 2. Streams and basements were hit hard while the rain was falling. The rivers rose, as shown at at Duck Hollow on 4 April with the Monongahela River at parking lot level. (more flood photos and videos here)

Duck Hollow parking lot — A River Runs Through It — 4 April 2024, 7:19am ET

Later that same day, Thursday 4 April, the temperature fell and so did graupel.

Graupel falls o n4 April 2024 (video by Kate St. John)

Today it’s cold but the precipitation has finally stopped.

Meanwhile ….Remember those beautiful tulips I posted last Sunday, Easter morning?

BEFORE –> Tulips on N. Neville St on Easter morning, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

And remember the deer I saw between two highrises in Oakland on 24 March?

A deer browsing the garden at a highrise in Pittsburgh, 5:30am 24 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Well, the two met up and the tulips did not fare well.

AFTER –> Same tulips eaten by deer on N. Neville St as of 2 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

That was on N Neville Street. Here’s N Craig Street.

BEFORE –> Tulips in front of a highrise on N Craig St, Easter morning, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
AFTER –> Tulips eaten by deer on N Craig St, 4 April 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Deer damage has come to the “asphalt jungle.”

(photos by Kate St. John)

Easter Flowers

Tulips on Easter morning in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

31 March 2024

Easter is early and so is Spring. Tulips are blooming in my city neighborhood.

Tulips on Easter morning in Oakland, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tulips on Easter morning in Oakland, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Tulips on Easter morning in Oakland, 31 March 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Want to see more flowers? Phipps Conservatory’s 2024 Spring Flower Show will be quite busy today. If you haven’t seen it yet, get there soon. It runs through 14 April 2024.

2024 Phipps Spring Flower Show theme

Happy Easter!

(credits are in the captions)