Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Apr 22 2015

A Symbiotic Relationship

Boxelder blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

Boxelder blooming, 17 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Warbler migration is ramping up and we’re already craning our necks to see them.  Up to now it’s been easy to find birds in the leafless trees but that’s about to change.

In Schenley Park the box elders burst into flower and leaf last week (above), the Norway maples opened last weekend, and the oaks and hickories are blooming now.

Here’s a red oak twig on April 19 just before the buds burst.  Who knew they could grow so long!

Red oak buds about to burst, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Red oak bud about to burst, 19 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Inevitably the warblers gravitate to the leafy trees where they’re hard to find, prompting the common complaint, “The leaves are hiding the birds.  I wish the leaves weren’t there!”

But if the leaves weren’t there, the birds wouldn’t be either.

Insects time their egg-hatch and larval growth to take advantage of leaf out.  These tentworms appeared in Schenley Park when the choke cherries opened their leaves.

Tentworms on a choke cherry branch, 18 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tentworms on a choke cherry tree, 18 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Leaf out brings insects.  Insects bring warblers.  It’s a symbiotic relationship between birds and trees.

Blackpoll warbler gleaning insects from a boxelder (photo by Chuck Tague)

Blackpoll warbler in a boxelder, eating a caterpillar (photo by Chuck Tague)

The trees are probably happier than we are to see the warblers arrive.

 

(tree photos by Kate St. John.  Blackpoll warbler by Chuck Tague)

 

No responses yet

Apr 19 2015

Now Blooming

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Sessile trillium, Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Toadshade (Trillium sessile), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

As I mentioned yesterday, spring wildflowers are now blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Here’s a sample of what Dianne Machesney, Donna Foyle, and I found in our outdoor travels last week.  Check the captions for the flower names, locations and dates.

  • Toadshade or Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) is found in rich woods.  The dark red flower holds the petals shut.  In my photo there are two Virginia spring beauties that hadn’t opened on that cloudy day.
  • Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is also found in rich woods.  The flowers are small with faint pink details.  They don’t open until the sun comes out.
  • Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is an invasive import that does well in rich damp woods.  I’ve seen it in Schenley and Boyce-Mayview Parks. Dianne saw it at Enlow Fork.
  • Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) is another import, a non-invasive garden plant that’s escaped to the wild.  I’ve seen it planted in Schenley Park.  Dianne photographed it at Enlow Fork.
  • Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is an import that doesn’t care where it grows.  You’ll find it everywhere once you start to look.  Up close its flowers are intricate.  From a distance the leaves have a purplish cast.
  • Horsetail (Equisetum) is a “living fossil” plant, the last species of a class of plants that dominated the dinosaurs’ forest.  Some were as big as trees. Today they are coal.  Visit the dinosaur exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to see what they looked like.

 

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Horsetail (Equisetum), Youghiogheny Rail Trail near Buena Vista, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Horsetail flower spikes (Equisetum), Youghiogheny Rail Trail, Buena Vista, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Donna Foyle)

 

(photos by Kate St. John, Dianne Machesney, and Donna Foyle)

5 responses so far

Apr 06 2015

Yellow Throats and Bloodroot: What to Expect in April

Published by under Phenology

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Steve Gosser)

Spring is off to a slow start this year.  Last month I predicted coltsfoot would bloom in March but it didn’t appear in Schenley Park until April 4.  Since the city is always warmer than the countryside I’m sure many of you are still waiting for coltsfoot.

Despite my poor March prediction I’m going to make one for April.  Maybe spring will “catch up” this month.  If so, you can expect to find…

  • The earliest warblers arrive in early to mid April before the leaves open.  Look for yellow-throated warblers and Louisiana waterthrushes along the streams and creeks.  Yellow-throats walk the high trunks and larger branches of sycamores.  Louisiana waterthrushes walk the stream edges bobbing their tails.  Both sing loudly to be heard over the sound of rushing water.
  • The purple martin scouts are back.  Very soon, perhaps today, the swallows will return — tree, northern rough-winged, and barn.  By end of April we’ll have gray catbirds, blue-gray gnatcatchers, ruby-crowned kinglets, and hints of the big migration in May.
  • April is woodland wildflower time.  Walk in the woods to see bloodroot, spicebush, spring beauties, hepatica, harbinger-of-spring, spring cress, twinleaf, violets and more.  The bees and flies are out visiting the flowers.
  • Pollen counts will rise by the end of the month when the tree flowers bloom.  Those that rely on wind pollination (oaks and pines, for instance) will make allergic folks miserable but all of us will enjoy the downy serviceberries and flowering cherries.

Here’s a taste of Spring to come.

Bloodroot blooming at Cedar Creek Park, Westmoreland County, 19 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bloodroot at Cedar Creek Park, Westmoreland County, 19 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Spicebush in bloom, Schenley Park 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spicebush in Schenley Park, 13 April 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s a good month to be outdoors.

 

(photo credits: Yellow-throated warbler by Steve Gosser.  Bloodroot and spicebush by Kate St. John)

p.s. Yellow-throated warblers are southern birds that are expanding their range northward. They’re in southwestern PA but not northern … yet.

2 responses so far

Apr 03 2015

I See Change

Leaves unfurling weeks ahead of schedule, 25 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves unfurling, 25 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

On a global scale, 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded but climate change is complicated on the local level.  In Pittsburgh we’ve changed into yo-yo extremes.

Pittsburgh’s last two winters were colder than normal but three years ago it was really hot.  Spring came six weeks late in 2014 and six weeks early in 2012.   This photo of leaves opening on March 25, 2012 is impossible during this year’s cold spring.

I noticed the changes in 2012 but wouldn’t have remembered them if I hadn’t taken a picture.  That’s the beauty of keeping a nature journal and it caught the attention of climate journalist Julia Kumari Drapkin.  She noticed that local experience of climate change is ahead of the science curve and often raises interesting questions so she decided to flip the typical reporting model and founded the iSeeChange crowd-sourced almanac.  Everyday observations and questions now become radio stories.

Fast forward to 2015 and iSeeChange has radio partners across the U.S. and in Africa.  The Allegheny Front joined last month so now western Pennsylvanians can record what we see and ask questions about what’s going on in our area.

Last month I signed up for iSeeChange as a quick way to record the signs of spring.  In Pittsburgh it’s been cold and variable (click here for the Allegheny Front’s story) but the weather’s different out West.  Colorado is hot and already has mosquitoes!

You can contribute, too.  As Julia says, “Everyone’s an expert in his own backyard.”  Click here to join the iSeeChange almanac.

Post your observations. Upload photos and sound clips. Ask about what puzzles you.

Outdoor changes are always interesting.  Maybe yours will be on the radio.

 

Listen to The Allegheny Front in Pittsburgh on WESA-FM 90.5 every Saturday at 7:30am and on other stations in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia at the times listed here.  You can also listen any time online at The Allegheny Front.

(photo by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Mar 31 2015

More Deer, Less Moose

Moose and deer (both photos from Wikimedia Commons)

What happens when the interval between spring thaw and leaf out gets longer?  Fifty years of detailed observations in New Hampshire’s Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest tell the tale.

In New Hampshire, where snow covers the ground all winter, spring thaw is a welcome event that finally exposes the soil.  Weeks later after lots of warm air and sunshine the trees leaf out.  In between these two events the sun warms the soil, the plants emerge, and wildflowers bloom.

Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest has kept detailed records of temperature, precipitation, snowpack, plants, animals, birds and invertebrates for more than half a century. An analysis of the data, published in BioScience in 2012, showed that the forest is getting warmer and wetter and the interval between spring thaw and leaf out has increased by 8 days.  Climate change is separating spring’s above ground (air) responses from the soil responses.

In the post-thaw interval severe cold events freeze the exposed soil and kill plant buds and invertebrates. This threatens some deciduous trees (yellow birch and sugar maple in New Hampshire) and birds find fewer invertebrates when they return from migration.  The record shows the mix of plants and animals is changing.

There are even changes in large animals.  For the past 50 years the snowpack has declined, an outcome that favors deer over moose and that seems to be happening at Hubbard Brook.

More deer, less moose.  If you write it down now you can see the trend later.

Read more here in Science Daily, December 2012.

 

p.s. It should be “More Deer, Fewer Moose” but I am quoting one of the articles and happen to like the ungrammatical juxtaposition.

(photo of moose by Ronald L. Bell, USFWS via Wikimedia Commons.  Photo of deer by josephamaker2018 via Wikimedia Commons. Click these links to see the original images.)

2 responses so far

Mar 30 2015

Early Flowering Signs of Spring

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Harbinger of Spring, Cedar Creek, 29 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite this month’s cold weather yesterday’s outing* to Cedar Creek found two early-spring wildflowers.

Bright afternoon sunshine encouraged the wildflowers to bloom but it washed out the colors on the forest floor.  We all searched hard to find this Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa).  Here’s a poor photo of the entire plant with an oak leaf for scale. It’s tiny! One leaf is sufficient to hide it.

Harbinger of Spring (photo by Kate St. John)

 

We also found a lot of Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale) in bloom but I had to be shown each flower because I couldn’t see them in the glare.   My best photo is of the one I stepped on.  Oh how embarrassing!

Snow trillium, 29 March 2015, Cedar Creek (photo by Kate St. John)

 

* This was a joint outing of the Wissahickon Nature Club and the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania.  Feel free to join us as we explore the flora and fauna in western Pennsylvania.  Click here for Wissahickon’s 2015 outing schedule (page 3 of the pdf) and here for the Botanical Society’s calendar.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

No responses yet

Mar 29 2015

Let The Leaves Begin

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Incipient forsythia leaves, 25 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of bush honeysuckle leaves about to open, 25 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

In my neighborhood bush honeysuckle is the first to show leaves in the spring.  Last Wednesday these tiny leaves broke the bud.  I was excited!  Spring was here!

Not today. This morning it’s 17F degrees and it was so cold yesterday that it set a new record.

The wind will swing from the south today and warmer weather is coming this week.  Let the leaves begin.  (Please!)

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Bush honeysuckle is an alien invasive from Asia so its internal clock is out of synch with our seasons.

p.p.s  This morning’s walk in Schenley Park will be brief so we don’t freeze.

No responses yet

Mar 26 2015

Spring Moves North …

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Red tulip near Burlington, ON, 21 May 2014 (photo by Laslovarga via Wikimedia Commons)

The first crocuses bloomed in Pittsburgh last week but the rest of spring is taking its time.  Until today the month of March averaged 3F degrees below normal.  (Yesterday’s brought it up to -2.6.)  With that kind of track record, when will Spring get here?

Two years ago I wrote about the rule of thumb that “Spring moves north 13 miles a day“and showed how to watch it online at Journey North’s Tulip Test Garden.  I even used the rule of thumb to predict that the tulips would bloom at Clarion Area Elementary School’s Test Garden in Clarion, PA on April 20, 2013.

Was I right?  I looked up Clarion’s 2013 Tulip Test Garden results which said the tulips bloomed on April 22.  But … April 22 but was a Monday that year.  Maybe the tulips bloomed on Saturday, April 20 while the children weren’t at school to see them!  (The vagaries of data collection…)

Let’s try it this year.  Click here to read about the Rule of Thumb so you know how I’m doing this.  Then I’ll estimate …

On the 2015 Tulip Test Garden Map Durham, NC’s first tulip bloomed on March 20.  That’s 362 miles or about 28 days south of Clarion Area Elementary School (they’re participating again this year), so Clarion should bloom on April 17.

April 17 feels too early but we’ll see.  By the end of April we’ll know if “Spring moved north 13 miles a day” in 2015.

 

p.s. A big flock of American robins sang in the dark this morning in my neighborhood.  One more Sign of Spring!

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  This tulip was photographed by Laslovarga on May 21, 2014 near Burlington, Ontario.)

No responses yet

Mar 20 2015

Today, Stonehenge At Home

Stonehenge (photo from Wikimedia Commons in the public domain)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT) is a day late in honor of the Spring Equinox.

During today’s sun event there will be a Stonehenge effect in my neighborhood.

Click on the link to learn how the position of our houses causes Stonehenge At Home.

 

(photo of Stonehenge in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

One response so far

Mar 19 2015

The Crocus Report

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Crocuses at Phipps, 18 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ta dah!  We’ve reached a milestone in The Signs of Spring.  It’s time for the crocus report.

Yesterday morning the crocuses at Phipps Conservatory’s outdoor garden were just about to pop open.  The bright sun warmed the mulch and after another hour they had opened halfway.  I can say with confidence that they bloomed on March 18.

Crocuses opening at Phipps (photo by Kate St. John)

Is this late for crocuses?   I checked back through my blog posts, linked below, to collect their blooming history in Pittsburgh’s East End:

So … though this winter has seemed very cold the crocuses are not delayed too, too long.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. They may have bloomed during Monday’s heat but I didn’t walk over to Phipps until yesterday.

7 responses so far

Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ