Category Archives: Phenology

Sap Rising and Other Signs of Spring

Sap dripping from a fallen oak, Schenley Park, 5 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

6 March 2021

Flowers are pushing up their leaves and sap is rising in the trees.

On Friday the sap was rising so fast in this fallen red oak that it was dripping to the ground. The oak keeled over last year in Schenley Park leaving just one root in the ground. That root is still doing its job.

Sap rising in a fallen oak, Schenley Park, 5 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

With temperatures this week above freezing during the day and below freezing at night I imagine it’s still maple sugaring time in the Laurel Highlands. Sugaring ends when the buds open. They haven’t opened yet in Schenley Park (below).

Sugar maple buds are not open, Schenley Park, 5 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Other trees have swelling buds.

Trees buds are swelling, Schenley Park, 5 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Below, silver maple (Acer saccharinum) buds were about to burst when a squirrel gnawed the stems and they fell to the ground. Do squirrels nip off the buds to get to the sap?

Silver maple buds attempted to open, Schenley Park, 5 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile daffodil leaves are turning green in Schenley Park.

Daffodil leaves, Schenley Park, 5 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tulip leaves emerged on a busy street in Oakland where the deer can’t get them. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tulip leaves, Craig Street, 2 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

And there is mud.

The snow melted all at once last weekend and the Monongahela River rose high, flooding the Mon Wharf. On Wednesday 3 March it was sunny and 60 degrees, a great time for a walk … but not here!

Monongahela River receding from flood stage, Pittsburgh South Side, 3 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

When the river receded it left behind leafy debris and deep chocolate-pudding-like mud at South Side Riverfront Park. I tried to walk down there but I gave up before getting muddy. Others were not so careful. You can see deep footprints in the shade in the photo above (bottom left).

Closeup of debris and mud as Mon River recedes, 3 March 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s Mud Season in Pittsburgh!

(photos by Kate St. John)

Slow Melt, New Buds

Long shadows late in the day, 23 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

27 February 2021

This week was full of sunshine and days above freezing but the ice is slow to melt on Schenley Park’s gravel trails.

On Tuesday I wore ice cleats to walk the interior. It was a beautiful — though slow and careful — journey.

Clouds lit by the setting sun, 23 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Long shadows during the Golden Hour.

My very long shadow, 5:19pm, 23 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The waxing moon peeks through the trees.

Moon behind the trees, Schenley Park, 23 February 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday the trails were still icy (so we walked the road) but I found signs of spring on the way.

Daffodil buds on Bartlett Street, Schenley Park, 26 Feb 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Changing Into Summer Clothes

Common starlings in non-breeding and breeding plumage (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

23 February 2021

Cold weather will end soon in Pittsburgh with a high tomorrow of 60 degrees F(!) but even if the cold returns we know spring is on the way by observing our starlings.

In February starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) start changing into breeding plumage from spotted brown with dark beak and legs (left above) into iridescent glossy black with yellow beak and bright orange legs (right). From what I’ve seen, the beak starts first.

Even now, before they change into breeding plumage, they start to sing their wiry song.

By the end of March they’ll be wearing summer clothes, singing and flapping to attract a mate.

How far along are your starlings? Do they have yellow beaks yet?

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption links to see the originals)

Crow Update, Dec 14

Crows in winter (photo by Oliver via Flickr Creative Commons license)

14 December 2020

Now that it’s mid December Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock has chosen favorite roosts but continues to adjust the location in subtle ways, especially when it’s cold.

In October they switched sites abruptly — here today, gone tomorrow. In November they focused in Oakland and tried for Schenley Farms. On the 18th I watched the flock hover from four blocks away, then heard a distant BANG! a single banger firework. The crows made a U turn in the sky and didn’t come back.

This month the flock has split into several roosts including rooftops and trees at Bouquet and Sennott, at Fifth and Thackeray, and perhaps at University Prep in the Hill District. On 11 December I followed them to the Hill where I found them staging at Rampart Street, Herron near Milwaukee, and University Prep.

But I don’t know where they sleep. I plan to count them on 26 December for the Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count so if you see them sleeping somewhere let me know!

Meanwhile, the flock’s incursion into Oakland prompted this tongue-in-check tourism video by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy interns, posted on 20 November.

The crows and I recognize a lot of places in the video. ๐Ÿ˜‰

(photo by Oliver via Flickr Creative Commons license)

p.s. Last evening I found 3,000 crows staging at the back of Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park but it’s not where they sleep. I saw them leave.

Scenes Of The Week

  • Red leaves at Duck Hollow, 29 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

5 December 2020

Here’s a visual portrait of the past week, from a warm day at Duck Hollow on 29 November, to snow on 1 December, and yesterday’s awesome sky at Moraine State Park.

(photos by John English and Kate St. John)

Partly Cloudy?

Partly cloudy sky, Thanksgiving Day 2020, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Pittsburgh’s November cloud forecasts often leave me scratching my head. What does “Partly Cloudy” mean?

Thanksgiving Day was partly cloudy. See that tiny patch of blue, above? That’s the sunny bit. No, it did not rain.

The official NWS forecast Sky Conditions ought to shed some light (copied below). Though the cloud cover percentages are fixed the names are flexible and disappointing. Mostly Cloudy has two definitions (see italics) and Cloudy is an anemic word for Pittsburgh’s really Overcast skies.

National Weather Service Sky Conditions

Sky ConditionOpaque Cloud Coverage
Cloudy / Overcast88% - 100%
Mostly Cloudy / Considerable Cloudiness70% - 87%
Partly Sunny / Mostly Cloudy51% - 69%
Mostly Sunny / Partly Cloudy26% - 50%
Sunny / Mostly Clear6% - 25%
Sunny / Clear0% - 5%

Something was brewing in the sky below. Would it be Mostly or Partly Cloudy … or Partly Sunny?

An hour later it was calmer and “Mostly” something.

What would the weatherman call this sky condition (below)? Mostly Cloudy? Cloudy? Overcast?

Cloudy? (photo by Kate St. John)

While pondering the answer, look for four crows among the clouds.

(photos by Kate St. John)

The Trees With Leaves Are…

Yellow leaves and bare trees, Schenley Park, 23 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

24 November 2020

By now all the leaves have fallen in the Pittsburgh area. Or have they? There are still a few trees with bright yellow leaves in Schenley Park — Norway maples.

As their name implies Norway maples (Acer platanoides) were imported from Europe where their native range extends further north than Pittsburgh.  Our short November days are the same length as those they experience in October back home.  The sun will be up for 9 hours and 39 minutes today, 24 November, in western Pennsylvania.  Thatโ€™s the day length on 21 October in Oslo, Norway.

Right now our native trees are bare or retain just a few yellow leaves at the very top (tuliptrees) or dried brown leaves overall (oaks and beeches).

Because non-native plants are out of synch with our seasons late November is the best time of year to see them in the landscape.

The trees with leaves are aliens!

Fun fact: Pittsburgh’s latitude is very far south of Scandinavia. Did you know we are on the same latitude as Madrid, Spain?

Quiz: What North American city is nearly the same latitude as London, England? The answer is surprising.

(photo by Kate St. John)

Sunrise, Ice, First Snow

Sunrise, 19 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 November 2020

Last week it was again both cold and warm.

At dawn on Thursday morning, 19 November, sunrise lit the clouds after a clear, cold night. Ice had started to form on Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow Lake. It was 6 degrees below normal on the day before.

First ice on Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 19 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Two days earlier we had our first daytime snow in the city.

By Friday 20 November the temperature was 17 degrees above normal(*).

No more ice.

(photos and video by Kate St. John)

(*) The normal average on 20 November is 41 degrees F in Pittsburgh.

A Week of Summer and Fall

Lichen at Moraine State Park, 13 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

14 November 2020

This week in Pittsburgh began with several days of summer and ended with autumn frost. The scenery was beautiful and well worth the time outdoors.

Above, lichen clings to a dead hemlock at Moraine State Park along the Muddy Creek Trail. Below, as of Thursday 12 November 2020 the trees were not bare in Schenley Park.

The trees are not bare yet in Schenley Park, 12 Nov 2020 (photo by Rick St. John)

But this one is.

Dead tree, blue sky, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Ginkgos rapidly lost their leaves in the rain on 11 November.

Ginkgos dropping leaves in Schenley Park, 11 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Many fruits and seeds.

Porcelainberry ripening, Schenley Park, 12 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Goldenrod gone to seed, 9 Nov 2020, Churchill Valley Greenway (photo by Kate St. John)

Can you tell me what plant this is? I found it at the base of red pines at Moraine State Park along the Muddy Creek Trail. Is it parasitic?

Wrinkled club fungus, Moraine State Park, Muddy Creek Trail, 13 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

UPDATE 14 NOVEMBER 2020: Master gardener Dianne Machesney says this plant is Wrinkled club fungus (Clavulina rugosa). Judy Stark put my photo into iNaturalist and the app said so, too. Wikipedia says it is edible.

It’s colder now but there’s still time to get outdoors.

Outdoors is the safest place now that COVID-19 is spreading exponentially in the U.S. Pittsburgh Public Schools have gone fully remote again. Please wear a mask.

(photos by Kate & Rick St. John)

Outdoors in Warm November

7 November 2020

Pittsburgh’s weather has been down-and-up from 30 degrees F + snow on Monday to 70 degrees F + sun today. By the end of the week it was fun to spend time outdoors.

On Friday I noted that most trees in the City of Pittsburgh still have leaves but few were as colorful as the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), above, in Scheney Park. American goldfinches moved among the leaves searching for seeds in the sweetgum balls.

The return of warm weather reactivated insects who were hiding from the cold. On Thursday a leaf-footed bug walked up our living room window.

Leaf-footed bug, 5 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

White-tailed deer seem to be everywhere, especially in the city parks. The rut is in progress so the deer are less wary of people and cars. Meanwhile small trees in Schenley Park show new damage after bucks rub the velvet off their antlers.

Buck rub on an understory tree, 6 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some trees have the perfect defense against such assaults. Large thorns adorn the trunks of honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos). No buck rubs here!

Honey locust thorns, Schenley Park, 6 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

The warm weather will continue next week. It’s (still!) time to get outdoors.

(photos by Kate St. John)