In Pittsburgh the winter solstice invariably arrives on 21 December, but the 21st never works for the autumnal equinox.
As an astronomical event, the equinox arrives everywhere on Earth at exactly the same moment but is expressed as different dates and times because of longitude and time zones. Hawaii’s equinox is on the 22nd while Paris and Johannesburg have the same date and time because of time zones.
23 Sep, 6:50AM UTC
23 Sep, 2:50AM EDT
22 Sep, 8:49PM HST
23 Sep 22, 3:49PM JST
23 Sep, 8:49AM CET
23 Sep, 8:49AM SAST
For most of the Earth this month’s equinox will occur on the 23rd. When it does everyone’s sunset will be exactly west, just like the photo above.
Six years ago, when spotted lanternflies were a new plague in North America, no one knew if they would destroy Pennsylvania’s forests but scientists assumed the worst and warned accordingly. However, they also conducted long term studies of spotted lanternflies’ effect on Pennsylvania trees and agriculture. For PA trees there is happy news: Spotted lanternflies are not a danger to Pennsylvania forests. There’s no need to protect our trees from lanternflies because they are not hurting them.
Penn State subjected four species of trees to four years of spotted lanternfly super-infestation by surrounding the trees with mesh nets that kept hordes of lanternflies inside. Silver maple, weeping willow, and river birch were barely phased by the bugs and did quite well in the third year of the study. The bugs’ host plant, the invasive tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), did not grow during the plague.
The study’s lead author, Kelli Hoover, concluded:
“If you have a vineyard and you have lanternflies on your grape vines, you should be very worried because they can kill grape vines,” Hoover said. “But if you’re a homeowner and you have large trees on your property and you have lanternflies on them, I don’t think you should worry about it.”
Yesterday an unknown visitor to Frick Park put sticky tape on some trees. Here’s what one section killed: 12 spotted lanternflies, 25+ pollinators (yellowjackets), 70 warbler-food insects (tiny flying insects). More beneficial insects died than lanternflies. Needless to say the tape has already been removed. (Click here to see how sticky tape kills birds!)
Sticky tape is bad and pointless. If you put it up, remove it.
Right now warbler migration is at its autumn peak in southwestern Pennsylvania but, as usual, the birds are hard to identify. Their fall plumage is dull and confusing, they move fast so we never get a good look at them, and we don’t get much practice because many of them are here only in September. And then they’re gone.
This year it dawned on me that the magnolia warbler (Setophaga magnolia) is super-easy to identify if all you see is its butt, as shown at top and below.
Note that the magnolia warbler is the only warbler with a white belly, white undertail coverts, white undertail and a large black straight-edged tip on the tail. It looks as if this warbler was dipped tail first in black paint.
On some juveniles the tip is dark gray but the pattern is the same.
So this view is the best way to identify a magnolia warbler.
Come check out Pittsburgh’s newest city park for an exclusive hike with Bird Lab Avian Ecologist, Nick Liadis, and Jared Belsky, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Ecological Restoration Coordinator, Hays Woods.
Explore Hays Woods like never before, while learning about native plants and trees and how regional birds interact within this dense urban forest. This adventure will incorporate a mixture of species identification and bird watching. Fall migration is the best time to catch sight and sound of the migrating birds overhead.
Hike leaders are Jared Belsky of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy who manages PPC projects on site (photo on left) and Nick Liadis of Bird Lab who bands birds at Hays during spring and fall migration (photo on right). Both have extensive knowledge of Hays Woods from hands on experience.
On Friday in Schenley Park the sun broke sideways through the trees to a large Ailanthus along the Lower Trail coated in lanternflies, sooty mold, and white mold (highlighted in yellow). The lanternflies were actively sucking on the tree’s sap.
Sunlight illuminated small bugs flying horizontally near the tree and something falling that looked like rain.
Uh oh! That rain is watery spotted lanternfly poop called “honeydew.” The honeydew is sugary and the air actually smelled sweet.
So stand back when you see a tree coated in sooty mold and spotted lanternflies. You won’t want to get rained on.
Here’s more about sooty mold.
p.s. Don’t worry about honeydew dropping from buildings and utility poles. The lanternflies aren’t eating there so they aren’t pooping either.
For nearly 30 years ultralights have been used to establish safe migration routes for endangered geese and cranes as they are reintroduced to the wild.
In 1993 ultralight pioneer Bill Lishman, along with Joe Duff, conducted the first ever human-led bird migration by guiding a small flock of young Canada geese from Ontario to Virginia. His experiment proved that young geese imprinted on an ultralight will follow the aircraft and learn the migration route. After leading the birds just once, in one direction, the geese knew the route and returned on their own in the spring.
Christian “Birdman” Moullec was the first to do it in Europe when he guided lesser white-fronted geese (Anser erythropus) from their future breeding grounds in Sweden to new wintering grounds in Germany in 1999. He has since led red-breasted geese (Branta ruficollis) and many other species.
Nowadays, to raise money for his conservation efforts, Christian Moullec offers tourists ultralight flights with the birds.
Pittsburgh’s bird migration forecast looks great for three days in a row. Last night through Friday night will see a huge passage of birds overhead with excellent birding opportunities today, Friday and Saturday.
Here’s what migration radar looked like at 5:00am this morning.
Lots of species left recently but most of them were shorebirds. Since Pittsburgh doesn’t have a shore we rarely see those listed below. Occasionally a lesser or greater yellowlegs is reported but don’t expect to find one now.
Here’s a quick summary of rapid departures as of 14 September 2023 in a screenshot from BirdCast. Note that cedar waxwings are here right now but will rapidly depart around 27 September. Yellow-billed cuckoos on the list because I always hope.
Peak Influx: What will we see this week? Warblers!
For the Upper Midwest and Northeast region, 13 to 17 September is the peak of warbler migration.
They aren’t very smart but they know what they like: warmth and vertical objects.
If you haven’t been to Downtown or Oakland lately you’re missing an insect phenomenon. Our plague of spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula) is quite attracted to tall buildings and utility poles, especially when it’s hot.
Like moths to a flame, spotted lanternflies are visually drawn toward and seemingly captivated by vertical objects such as utility poles …
[They] turn and land on the poles when they are less than about 10 feet away. They remain on the pole for many minutes, even hours, while crawling up toward the top to try to take flight again.
However, a large proportion of those launching themselves from the pole are drawn back to the pole, which serves as a sort of “visual magnet” from which the insects cannot escape for a while.
On hot days I see thousands above me, puttering toward the buildings, tapping along the structures as they try to find a place to land.
The bugs cling and fall off, leaving drifts of lanternfly carcasses on the ground below.
There’s a theory that the bugs like vertical objects because they are such weak fliers that they have to climb up and relaunch on their search for their host tree, the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). According to Penn State Extension, they “land on buildings for warmth, height and other unknown reasons.” After all, who can know the mind of a lanternfly?
Fortunately we can learn from Philadelphia where their spotted lanternfly plague hit in 2020 (during the pandemic). Here’s what happened at a taco shop on the ground floor of a high rise.
Note that Philadelphia had their lanternfly plague in 2020 and now, three years later, they are wondering where all the bugs have gone. I’m sure we can expect 2-3 summers of this nonsense. Certainly by 2026 spotted lanternflies will just be a bad memory in Pittsburgh.
Purple milkwort (Polygala sanguinea), above, is native to North America. “The genus name Polygala comes from the ancient Greek “much milk”, as the plant was thought to increase milk yields in cattle.” I have no idea if this works.
Pilewort (Erechtites hieraciifolius) is a member of the Aster family that grows easily in disturbed soil. Quirky Science says the “reported uses include the treating of hemorrhage, dysentery, skin diseases, and cholera. It is a purgative and emetic. The name suggests it is good in treating piles (hemorrhoids).”
St. Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum), imported from Europe, is so-named because it blooms in June and was traditionally harvested on St. John’s Day, June 24, to adorn homes and ward off evil. It is an herbal treatment for depression and has been planted nearly worldwide.