Sometimes we think Pittsburgh is boring in January but there’s still a lot to see outdoors. On New Years Day I joined the Botanical Society of Western PA for a walk in North Park. Here’s what we found.
Above, black privet berries (Ligustrum genus) stand out against the sky. Privet, an invasive plant, is found at the old farm along Irwin Road. The house and barn no longer stand but ornamental trees and shrubs remain, including the Ozark witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) we always trek to see. Our hike leader, Richard Nugent, said it will bloom pink in February. Here’s a bursting bud.
Unusual trees caught our attention, some with burls, others with holes. Two of the best are pictured below.
We also saw and heard red-tailed hawks circling overhead. (example photo below)
In January they claim territory with lots of circling and screaming. Here’s what they sound like. No, that is not the sound of an eagle.
During winter expect the unexpected. There’s more to see than you’d think.
(plant photos by Kate St. John, red-tailed hawk photo by Melissa McMasters via Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)
Squirrels were busy in Schenley Park this week. Some are so black that they look like a black hole in the landscape. Despite his color he’s just an eastern gray squirrel.
This particular eastern screech-owl has been spending the winter in Schenley Park since at least 2015-2016. I saw him on Christmas Eve but my cellphone photo was too poor to use. Here’s a photo I took in January 2017.
Don’t forget to spend time outdoors in late December. There are still cool things to see.
(*) Spores definition from Google dictionary: Spores are minute, typically one-celled, reproductive unit capable of giving rise to a new individual without sexual fusion, characteristic of lower plants, fungi, and protozoans.
A week ago I received a message from the USA National Phenology Network that hemlock woolly adelgids would hatch very soon in Pittsburgh and the southern Appalachians. This is worrisome because the nymphs are the active phase of this forest pest.
Originally from Japan, hemlock woolly adelgids (Adelges tsugae) kill eastern hemlocks in 4-20 years by locking on where the needle meets the stem and sucking the lifeblood out of the tree (closeup at top).
The adults are sedentary, attached to a tree. The nymphs, however, are tiny and mobile. They blow on the wind and hitchhike on clothes, equipment, birds and animals. They spread very easily just after they’ve hatched.
The message above says “You should see active nymphs” but you won’t. At 1/100th of an inch they’re smaller than a grain of sand, almost microscopic. And yet, their effect is devastating.
Hemlock woolly adelgids have already killed up to 80% of the hemlocks on parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Shenandoah National Park. They are eating their way through the Great Smoky Mountains, shown below, and they’re killing hemlocks in Pennsylvania.
We won’t know how far they’ve spread this spring until they reveal their presence next fall when the females deposit woolly egg sacs on the undersides of hemlock branches.
Spring is popping in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here’s what to look for in late April.
Branching! Great horned owlets are growing up fast. At the earliest nests owlets will walk on nearby branches before the leaves come out. Dana Nesiti photographed this yawning owlet in early April.
Nest building: Songbirds are building nests especially American robins, song sparrows and Carolina wrens. House sparrows flutter by with cellophane for their nests.
Migration: Blackbirds and tree swallows are here. Gray catbirds are coming soon. Also Louisiana waterthrush, yellow-throated warbler, hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kinglet, blue-headed vireo, brown thrasher, blue-gray gnatcatcher, pine warbler, northern parula, chimney swift, barn swallow and house wren. See them on an outing with the Three Rivers Birding Club.
Trees: Flowering trees include redbud, downy serviceberry, cherry and more. “Leaf out” comes in early May.
Butterflies: Spring azures, cabbage whites, eastern commas, orange sulphurs, red admirals.
Turkey season: Be careful if you hear a turkey calling; it might be a hunter. Spring Gobbler hunting season runs from the last Saturday in April through all of May. Junior hunters get a one-day early start on the next-to-last Saturday (April 20).
In late April, spring is happening fast. Don’t miss it!
This week the hillsides turned faintly red as red maples (Acer rubrum) bloomed across southwestern Pennsylvania. The city’s maples bloom sooner than the suburbs so I’ve had a preview of what’s to come.
In Schenley Park the ground under some red maples is carpeted with fallen flowers (above) while others retain flowers that are setting seed (below).
That’s because red maples are sexually complicated. They are polygamodioecious which means some trees have only male flowers, some have only female, and some have both (i.e. hermaphroditic). And they can even switch back and forth:
Under the proper conditions, the tree can sometimes switch from male to female, male to hermaphroditic, and hermaphroditic to female.
What’s blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania this weekend?
Yesterday’s joint outing of the Botanical Society of Western PA and Wissahickon Nature Club found a lot of spring flowers at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, 6 April 2019.
Hepatica was blooming in shades of white, pink and blue. In the photo above, the leaves aren’t visible so I can’t tell if this plant is round-lobed (Anemone americana) or sharp-lobed (Anemone acutiloba) hepatica.
Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was blooming along the valley trail. Did you know this plant is in the Carrot family?
Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) covered the hillside beyond the last bridge …
… and spicebush’s (Lindera benzoin) tiny yellow flowers were a nice surprise.
Most of the spring beauty was not in bloom but we found Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), a specialty at Cedar Creek shown below.
This bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was bright white by the bike trail. Its leaves are barely visible, clutching the stem, while a garlic mustard leaf tries to photo-bomb the bottom corner.
CORRECTION ABOUT BUCKEYES: Last week Stephen Tirone investigated the buckeye buds in Schenley and Frick Parks and learned that these are yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) not Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra). Though Ohio buckeyes are more common in the wild, Pittsburgh’s parks are not “wild.” Schenley and Frick Parks were landscaped with ornamentals when the parks were established more than 100 years ago. Yellow buckeyes are often planted as ornamental trees and may be hybridized to produce showy flowers. So, yes, these are yellow buckeyes.
Spring is fire season in Pennsylvania. 85% of our wildfires occur in March, April and May.
There’s no drought in Pennsylvania right now, nor in most of the U.S. — as shown on the map below.
But you don’t need drought to have a fire. All you need are dry conditions, fuel, and a spark. In Pennsylvania we have all three in the spring: low humidity, gusty winds, and lots of old leaf litter drying out in the sun. The spark comes from people.
98% of Pennsylvania’s wildfires are caused by people and most of those are caused by people burning debris. On a sunny windy day those fires blow onto dry grass and escape to the wild. In April 2016 more than 10,000 acres burned in Pennsylvania.
Yesterday the fire danger was high in our state because the weather was so nice — warm and sunny with gusty winds. Across Pennsylvania people were out doing yard work. Some were probably burning piles of debris. I haven’t heard if there were any fires. (The fire danger is lower today, 4 April 2019, because the weather changed.)
If you live in a place that allows outdoor trash burning be careful out there! Spring is Pennsylvania fire season.
(photo of fire from Wikimedia Commons (actually a prescribed burn). Maps from US Drought Monitor and U.S. Forest Service Wildfire Danger Forecast; Click on the captions to see the originals)
Note: Allegheny County does not allow outdoor trash burning.