After beautiful fall foliage in late October, the landscape faded to brown this week. All the colors were in the sky.
Friday’s sunrise was spectacular for good reason. “Red sky at morn” meant rain was on the way. Fortunately. Even with yesterday’s precipitation we are 6.81 inches below normal for the year.
Wednesday’s sunset was muted by comparison.
By now the native trees in Pittsburgh are all brown or bare, so why are there still yellow and green leaves in Schenley Park?
Invasive alien plants are tuned to the climate and daylight levels of their homeland. Those that originated further north than Pittsburgh, Japan for instance, see our November daylight as if it were October back home. Thus invasive honeysuckle bushes are still yellow-green and Norway maples still cling to their yellow leaves.
This virburnum retains its pinkish-green leaves for the same reason.
The sun’s low angle showed off two Agaricaceae mushrooms among fallen leaves in Hays Woods.
Yesterday I found a tree on stilts in Schenley Park. This black locust germinated on top of a log on a rock. As the log deteriorated the roots found soil on either side of the rock. Years later there is a significant gap between the trunk and the ground.
Warbler migration is over and waterfowl migration has not yet reached Pittsburgh so at times we seem to be in a birdless state. The Monongahela River at Duck Hollow was in that condition at yesterday’s Duck Hollow outing — a dozen mallards and 1(!) Canada goose — but we found a few good birds in the thickets.
When we arrived the sky was brilliantly blue with some russet trees on the hillsides. Our group of five was so small that we didn’t do go-around-the-circle introductions and I forgot to take a group photo.
One golden-crowned and three ruby-crowned kinglets bopped around us as we looked up this hill.
Best birds of the day were five purple finches (Haemorhous purpureus) — one male and four females — that were too far for a photograph, so here’s one from Wikimedia. We parsed out the females first: Very brown stripes on chest, wide white eyebrow, brown face, brown head, notched tail.
Then we saw the lone male (again this photo is from Wikimedia). House finches were nearby for comparison. Here’s how to tell the difference –> Purple and House.
Later a northern mockingbird came close for a photo, this one by Charity Kheshgi.
Songbird migration is quiet now and birds, when they’re found, are in mixed species flocks.
On 7 November, Charity Kheshgi and I encountered agitated golden-crowned kinglets, tufted titmice and dark-eyed juncos but it took us a while to find what they were upset about. This red morph screech-owl was hiding above our heads in a small oak.
An exception to the mixed species flocking rule is our “murder” of crows. My guess is that Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock is 90% American and 10% fish crows, but who can tell? They look alike.
In late afternoon crows stage in the trees in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, then head west at sunset. 6,000 to 10,000 pass by my building on their way to the roost.
At sunset black birds in a darkened sky are impossible to photograph but it’s another story at sunrise. Click on the photo below for a closeup of crows in the brightening sky.
Leaves littered the ground this week and the air was filled with the sound of leaf blowers. 🙁
Most of the trees were bare in Schenley Park by Friday 10 November.
And finally, a reminder that the rut is still in progress and deer are crossing roads. This duo showed up at a Squirrel Hill polling place on Election Day at a place surrounded by roads. So watch out.
Throughout October Pittsburgh’s city neighborhoods had not experienced a freeze, even though it was felt in the outlying areas. That changed on the first two days of November with a whisper of snow. We still had fall colors before the freeze. There are brown leaves and bare trees in our future.
At top, landscaping plants are often bred to maximize fall color as seen on a cultivated witch hazel on 28 October.
The oozing “sweat” beads on this polypore mushroom are just the right color for autumn.
Heavy mist on 29 October clung to ornamental grasses at Phipps Conservatory.
Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) was still blooming last week. Alas, it’s invasive.
Fall color’s peak in southwestern Pennsylvania used to be around the 12th of October but climate change has pushed it later, closer to the 21st, as you can see in the PA fall foliage prediction for 19-25 October.
This week I found bright leaves on red maple trees, at top, and yellow on buckeyes and hickories.
Frick and Schenley are dominated by oaks whose color will peak in the next two weeks. Meanwhile their few red maples turned red from the top down and have lost their leaves in the same order. The maples are gorgeous up close but you can’t see them from a distance because the tops are bare.
Tomorrow night the northwest wind will bring migrating birds overnight and patchy frost on Monday morning.
Bees of all kinds are attracted to deep purple asters beside the Westinghouse Memorial pond in Schenley Park. The honeybee, above, is hard to see near the flower’s orange center.
At Duck Hollow, yellow jewelweed still has flowers as well as fat seed pods. Try to pull one of the pods from the stem and see what happens.
On 28 September I explored the slag heap flats near Swisshelm Park where (I think) solar arrays will be installed. Because the slag is porous the flats are a dry grass/scrub land where this shrub would have done well except that it’s been over-browsed by too many deer. It looks like bonsai.
Deer overpopulation is also evident by the browse line at the edge of the flats.
On 26 September at Duck Hollow I encountered an optical illusion where Nine Mile Run empties into the Monongahela River. It looks as if this downed, waterlogged tree is damming the creek and that the water is lower on the downriver side of it. This illusion seems to be caused by the smooth water surface on one side of the log.
We found a tiny red centipede crossing the trail at Frick Park on 30 September …
… and a puffball mushroom outside the Dog Park.
On 27 September hundreds, if not thousands, of crows gathered at dusk near Neville Street in Shadyside before flying to the roost. I thought this would happen again the next day but they changed their plan and have not come this close again.
Sometimes sunrise is the most beautiful part of the day.
These photos don’t give the impression that it’s been abnormally dry, but precipitation in Pittsburgh is down 6″ for the year. Almost 2″ of that deficit occurred in September. The Fall Color Prediction says our leaf color-change is later than usual.
If you’ve been waiting to hear the elk bugling in Pennsylvania, now’s the time to make the trip to Benezette, PA.
In September and October Pennsylvania’s elk (Cervus canadensis) are in the rut, their annual period of sexual activity. The bulls gather harems, pursue the females, antler-spar with other males, and “sing” a bugling love song.
Like white-tailed deer, male elk grow new antlers every year but these cervids are huge. Males are 25% larger than the females and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds with antlers that can span five feet.
Consequently it’s a bit surprising that the bugle is such a high-pitched call. Its bell-like echoing carries far in the woods and fields.
Have you seen white fluff blowing in the wind lately? The fluff is not from dandelions. At this time of year it’s from pilewort.
Pilewort (Erechtites hieraciifolius) is a native plant in the Aster family that looks very weedy, even ugly. At two to eight feet tall the flower heads on the tips of the branches look like seed pods because they barely open to expose pistils and stamens. To appreciate the flower you need a magnifying glass. Its beauty is microscopic.
It doesn’t take much wind to set it going. Do you see the flying fluff in this closeup? Look for the tiny yellow arrow in this photo and the one at top.
Why is it called pilewort? The common name literally means “hemorrhoid plant.” Penn State Extension explains.
Native Americans used American burnweed [pilewort] to treat rashes caused by exposure to poison ivy and poison sumac. Medicinally, it has also been used as an emetic and to treat dysentery, eczema, diarrhea, and hemorrhoids. It has been used to create a blue dye for wool and cotton and, despite its intense flavor, can be eaten raw or cooked.
Pileweed’s other common name is American burnweed because it grows easily after brush fires. It loves disturbed soil and is easy to find by the side of the road, in churned up gardens, and in urban areas. In this age of bulldozers, roto-tillers and garden digging, pilewort has many opportunities to germinate.