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.
Yesterday I found these buds about to burst in Schenley Park.
Yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) are one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring, unfurling their dramatic palmate leaves. They’re such a welcome splash of green that I photograph them nearly every year. This is the first time I noticed the bud at this stage. I didn’t expect it to be red.
Over the years my buckeye photographs have documented the vagaries of spring in Schenley Park. In cooler years — such as 2015 — the buds weren’t this far along in mid-April. Here’s a closed bud on 15 April 2015.
In hot years — such as 2012 — the buds opened weeks ahead of schedule. This buckeye was completely leafed on 19 March 2012.
This year appears to be a “normal” spring … whatever that means these days.
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Garlic mustard and goutweed leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Early blooming coltsfoot, 17 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Hairy bittercress, purple dead nettle and garlic mustard leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Forsythia beginning to bloom, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring is coming at a good pace this year. Unlike hot years, such as March 2012, there’s time to appreciate each new leaf and flower before the next set appears.
My photos above show a selection of leaves and flowers at Schenley Park this past week. Most were taken on March 28 but the real surprise was coltsfoot blooming on St. Patrick’s Day. That flower hid for ten days and appeared again last week.
Unfortunately, all of these plants are alien and some are invasive. Their ability to spring ahead of the local plants gives them an advantage all year long.
Click here for that same honeysuckle branch, bud-to-leaves on March 11, 16.
Last week I found fluffy drifts on the sidewalks in my neighborhood. They’re the airborne seeds of London plane trees (Platanus × acerifolia), planted in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s because they’re tolerant of air pollution.