The sunrise was gorgeous and cold last Wednesday when a group of us decided to walk at Jennings in Butler County. We saw few birds but there were ice heaves, buttress roots on an elm, and the seeds of old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii).
When old man’s beard is in bloom it’s called virgin’s bower, transforming it from a young woman to an old man in a matter of months.
My friends who live north of the city have not seen many dark-eyed juncos at their feeders this winter, but juncos are definitely present at the Frick Park Environmental Education Center. Charity Kheshgi posted photos of our recent trip to Frick.
I know it’s only 12 January but a starling told me on Tuesday that spring is coming soon. I could see it in his beak.
Most of the birds that spend the winter in Pittsburgh wear the same colors all year long. Blue jays, chickadees and red-tailed hawks don’t change their look from winter to spring. European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) do make a change but it’s subtle.
In winter they live up to their name with “starry” spotted feathers, dull dark pink legs, and gray-black beaks. When spring comes their spots wear off, their legs become brighter red and their beaks turn yellow.
Last Tuesday I saw a starling whose beak was turning yellow, though still black-tipped like the one pictured below.
His ultimate goal is this glossy crisp appearance.
Starling beaks usually start changing in February. Is spring coming sooner than usual or is that starling ahead of the game?
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
The end of the year was a weather yo-yo from warm-ish winter to bone chilling cold to 60 degrees yesterday. Photos from the last two weeks span Pittsburgh and Virginia.
Above, a pastel sunrise on 14 December in Pittsburgh was followed by above freezing weather. It was so warm that by the 17th I found a bench gnome in Schenley Park and blooming trees at Carnegie Museum.
That evening it dipped below freezing and stayed cold through sunrise on the 21st. The blossoms did not survive.
And then it got Nasty cold.
To avoid the coming winter storm we drove to Virginia on Wednesday the 21st. On Thursday it poured, on Friday it turned sharply cold.
Finally on Saturday in Virginia Beach the temperature reached the mid 20s in the afternoon so I took a walk and found a young male common yellowthroat with bright yellow throat, olive back and shadow mask (sample photo at left). A warbler (!) had survived the coldest night of 13 degrees F and was gleaning dead insects from the sunlit grass. He was on the path in the photo at right, but of course we cannot see him.
Often in winter Pittsburgh has overcast skies all day and clear skies at night. When the transition happens at sunset we see clear sky approaching from the west but it arrives too late for us to enjoy the sun. We have 10 minutes of sunshine and then it’s dark. I call this The Gleam At Sunset.
Why does this happen so often? Does Ohio have lovely weather all day that only reaches us at night?
Pittsburgh is well known for overcast skies in winter but you may be surprised where the clouds come from.
Lake Erie plays an extensive role in our cloud cover and, as long as it isn’t frozen over during the winter, it serves as a local moisture source that plagues the region with clouds. … Most places have clear blue skies after a cold front passage, but when we have northerly flow off of the lake we have cloud cover.”
Buffalo, New York has Lake Effect Snow. I like to think that Pittsburgh has “Lake Effect Clouds.”
Mixing and the Boundary Layer
When the air is well mixed (wind and/or rising warm air, falling cold air) it creates a defined line between the clouds and the rest of us below. In winter and early spring this mixing happens while the air is heated during the day.
During the winter and early spring, often times we observe a well-mixed boundary layer (we call this boundary layer coupling). When the atmosphere is coupled/mixed, the top of that mixing height is where we observe a cloud base [i.e. the bottom of the overcast deck]. You may even feel gusty wind during the day that supports the notion of a mixed atmosphere, when strong wind aloft is transported to the surface through this means.
The cloud base remains well defined while the air is mixing. It falls apart when the mixing stops at sunset.
At night, wind gusts typically subside as the surface cools and the atmosphere becomes decoupled again in tandem with sunset / loss of daytime heating. At decoupling you may lose your mixing height and essentially dissolve your cloud cover.
On Tuesday morning, 15 November, I found beautiful fruits on my walk in the neighborhood: Red berries on invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus), purple berries on native American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and dusty blue fruit on invasive English ivy (Hedera helix).
It began to snow so I hurried home and was glad I was indoors when it came down fast. It looks peaceful in slow motion at the end of this video.
The snow stuck to the grass, parked cars, and the Pitt peregrine nest …
… then melted overnight as the temperature rose and low clouds moved in.
By Friday most leaves were gone and the only green shrubs in Schenley Park were invasive plants: Bush honeysuckle in this view …
… and bamboo near the railroad tracks.
Tonight the temperature will drop to 19 degrees for a very cold start to the new week. Brrrrr!
Biennial gaura (Gaura biennis) and honeysuckle vine were both blooming in pink. Interestingly, gaura flowers bloom white and fade to pink, while this non-native honeysuckle starts pink and fades to white and then yellow.
Don’t be fooled by the camera’s perspective. Gaura flowers are very small compared to honeysuckle.
Late August colors came in orange, yellow, purple, gray and green in Frick Park and Moraine State Park.
Above, squash(*) blooms on a fence in Frick.
Yellow daisies without petals are actually tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), native to Eurasia.
The deep purple of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is never true to color in my cellphone photos. Instead it looks redder than expected because the Pixel 5 Photo app apparently overcompensates for the camera’s blue bias. All cameras have problems with purple, described in this vintage article: Not Truly Blue.
This velvety bright orange mushroom in Frick deserved a photo on 25 August. Jim Chapman re-found it the next day and identified it as northern cinnabar polypore (Trametes cinnabarina, a.k.a. Pycnoporus cinnabarinus). By then it was already darker orange than this.