Category Archives: Phenology

A Big Year For Acorns

Acorns litter a sidewalk on Tennyson Ave, Pittsburgh, 27 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

1 October 2020

When Rob Protz mentioned last week that a pin oak near his home is producing more acorns than he’d ever seen before I started paying attention in my neighborhood. Yes, there are lots of acorns in Oakland. It looks like a masting year for red oaks in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Acorns litter the grass in Oakland, Pittsburgh PA, 27 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Oaks are one of many trees that irregularly cycle their fruit production to insure that predators don’t eat everything. They boom or bust by synchronizing seed production. White oaks have a bumper crop in 3 years, red oaks on a 4 year basis. The bumper crops are called masting years.

Acorns in the red oak group take two years to mature so those falling now were formed in the spring and summer of 2019, influenced by spring precipitation, summer temperatures, the last killing frost, and each other.

North Oakland has a lot of oaks (duh! it’s the neighborhood name) so of course we have acorns on the streets. They make a hollow “ponk” sound when they fall on parked cars.

Check out the acorn crop in your own neighborhood. Is it a masting year where you live?

p.s. In masting years you’ll see more acorn predators — squirrels, blue jays and deer — as we did in the big acorn year of 2013.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Woolly Aphids Wouldn’t Boogie Woogie

Woolly aphids that didn’t move, Frick Park, 25 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 September 2020

Yesterday at Frick Park I found woolly aphids that wouldn’t move. This was a disappointment because I expected them to boogie woogie (like this!). They had all the right characteristics. They were:

  • White and fluffy,
  • Clinging to narrow branches, in this case shrub-like tree trunks,
  • There was a black substance on the trunk below their colony, sooty mold that grows on their accumulated honeydew.
  • Bees and yellowjackets were feeding on the honeydew seep.

Here are two more photos showing them individually and collectively.

Woolly aphids that didn’t move, Frick Park, 25 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Woolly aphids that didn’t move, Frick Park, 25 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

I tried to get them to dance but they refused. I believe they were on alders so that would make them woolly alder aphids.

If you’d like to see them for yourself, look below eye level on slender trunks of shrubs next to Nine Mile Run about 20 steps to the left of the park bench that views the creek. Approximately here: 40.427685, -79.901373.

Maybe they’ll boogie woogie for you.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Porcelain and Primrose

Porcelain berry, Three Rivers Heritage Trail, 7 Sep 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

In September porcelain berry’s (Ampelopsis glandulosa) beautiful porcelain-like fruits show why the plant was imported as an ornamental.

Porcelainberry, 3 Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh, 7 Sep 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Unfortunately this Asian vine is terribly invasive, engulfing small trees and draping itself over large ones.

Porcelain berry drapes a hillside in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Some people call it “wild grape” but you’ll never see grapes on it. Just porcelain berries.

This month you’ll find common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) blooming in meadows, along roads and bike trails. The name implies that it opens only in the evening but I photographed these at midday. The flowers are 1-2 inches wide. The plants are hard to miss at six feet tall.

Common evening primrose, Eliza Furnace Trail, 7 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Common evening primrose buds, Eliza Furnace Trail, 7 Sept 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile, bug love continues. This pair of goldenrod soldier beetles (also called Pennsylvania leatherwing (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)) are perched on a flower in the Aster family while working to continue their species.

Spend time outdoors this week while the weather is good. Autumn is beautiful and all too short.

p.s. Thank you to Monica Miller and John English for correcting my bug identification mistake!

p.p.s. Did you notice that Pennsylvania is misspelled in the bug’s scientific name (only 1 ‘n’). This is not the only species with this misspelling. Can you name another?

(photos by Kate St. John)

Yellow Leaves, Seeds and Goats

Spicebush hints at autumn, Schenley Park, 26 Aug 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

29 August 2020

It’s beginning to look like fall is coming though it hasn’t felt that way. This past week was hot and muggy yet spicebush leaves are starting to turn yellow and many flowers have gone to seed.

Wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) now has long green bean pods.

Wild senna seed pods, Schenley Park, 27 Aug 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

How did these flowers transform into beans?

Meanwhile at Frick Park the goats and their guard donkey are back in the large enclosure at Clayton East, munching away at invasive plants. The black goat at the fence is eating mile-a-minute weed on the fencing. Yay!

The goats are back! Frick Park, 28 Aug 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

For more information about the goats see this month’s announcement. If you’d like to see the goats at work here’s a map of Frick Park’s Clayton area and the goats’ approximate location.

(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons; see the captions for photo credits)

Flowers, Fruit and Frogs

American bellflower, Duck Hollow, 13 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week brought lavender flowers, green fruit and an overabundance of frogs.

I found American bellflower (Campanula americana) blooming along the Duck Hollow trail with some plants reaching six feet tall. My close-up, above, shows how the pistils avoid being fertilized by their own pollen.

American bellflower, Duck Hollow, 13 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) always has a bad hair day. At Schenley Park a long-legged insect stopped by for a sip (top right of flower).

Wild bergamot, Schenley Park, 12 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

In July the unripe fruits of white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) are green. This fall they’ll turn dark blue.

Fringetree fruits, Schenley Park, 12 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Panther Hollow Lake, which is actually the size of a pond, pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) is blooming …

Pickerelweed, Schenley Park, 16 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and there’s a serious overabundance of bullfrogs. Here are just a few examples.

Young bullfrogs, Schenley Park, Panther Hollow lake, 17 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Young bullfrog with tail, Panther Hollow lake, 17 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Young bullfrog in a wavelet, Panther Hollow lake, 17 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
How many bullfrogs can you count? Panther Hollow Lake, 17 July 2020

Herons don’t nest at Schenley Park but may visit for some easy prey. Where’s a great blue heron when you need one?

(photos by Kate St. John)

Insects Seen and Unseen

Aphids on Helianthus, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

12 July 2020

It’s easy to find insects in July.

Aphids in Schenley Park are expanding from plant to plant along the gravel trails, sucking the juice out of Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus).

Yellow hawkweeds (Pilosella caespitosa) are attracting bee-like insects.

Wasp or bee on hawkweed, Schenley Park, 6 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And some insects are unseen but have left evidence behind. Can you see two kinds of insect evidence on this crabapple tree?

Insect evidence on crabapple, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Two Kinds of Bottlebrush

Eastern bottlebrush grass, Schenley Park, 8 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 July 2020

This week I found two bottlebrushes in Schenley Park.

Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) is a native perennial bunchgrass that grows in partial shade, often at the edge of forests. This one was exactly where we should expect it, glowing in the sun by the Bridle Trail.

Meanwhile the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) by Panther Hollow Lake showed off in a last hurrah. They were spectacular from a distance on 9 July but up close the lowest flowers on each spike were faded and brown. Their show is about to end.

Bottlebrush buckeyes at their peak, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week in Schenley Park

Cultivated St. Johnswort at Westinghouse Fountain, Schenley Park, 3 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

There was plenty to see this week in Schenley Park even though the weather was hot.

My best visit was on Thursday morning when my friend Andrea convinced me to come out at 7:30a. I’ve been missing a lot by sitting at my computer until 9am. Best Bird: Louisiana waterthrush! Waterthrushes don’t breed in the park but they stop by in transit before and after breeding.

Best flowers this week include the bright yellow flower (above) near the Westinghouse fountain, a cultivated variety of St. Johnswort (Hypericum).

Teasel (Dipsacus), an invasive alien, has not bloomed yet but the flower buds are visible between the spikes.

Teasel flower buds not yet open, Schenley Park, 2 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is in full bloom.

Yarrow in bloom, Schenley Park, 2 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) bloomed this week. On 30 June they were starting from the bottom.

By 3 July they had nearly made it to the top.

Stop by Panther Hollow Lake or the area across the road from the Westinghouse fountain to see the bottlebrush buckeyes.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Happy Fourth of July!

This Week in Schenley Park

Spotted joe pye weed, flower buds in leaf axils, Schenley Park, 26 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week I found buds and bugs in Schenley Park.

Spotted joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), above, has buds in the leaf axils but when it blooms the showy flowers at the top attract all our attention. This year I’ll have to watch for the side flowers as well.

Enchanters nightshade (Circaea canadensis), below, blooms from the bottom up and has plenty of buds yet to open. The lower buds in the photo are on a different branch.

Enchanters nightshade, Schenley Park 21 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bugs are quite evident now but they are difficult to photograph because they move(!). Below, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) appeared to be rubbing its abdomen on the bird dropping. Was it ovipositing?

Silver spotted skipper on a bird dropping, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Aphids are not plentiful this year — yet — but it’s only a matter of time. There’s only one winged adult in this photo but the juveniles will grow up, sprout wings, and fly to other Helianthus plants to reproduce. It won’t be long before I think there are too many.

Aphids on Helianthus stem (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally, some bugs are never seen but we know they were there … as this leaf attests.

Insect damage on a leaf. No insect visible (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Reindeer Are Off The Clock

Reindeer at Svalbard (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t know about you, but I often check my watch or cellphone to find out what time it is. Do you ever wish that the time of day didn’t matter? It doesn’t matter to reindeer.

Reindeer live in daylight all summer and darkness all winter so they threw out their daily internal clocks a long time ago. Find out how they did it in this vintage article: They’re Off The Clock.