Winter was so long and cold that it’s been hard to predict when the birds will arrive and the flowers will bloom, but suddenly this week we are out of winter’s grip.
What else can we expect to see outdoors, now that Spring is springing? Here’s a brief phenology for March.
- Ducks, geese and swans visit our lakes on migration.
- First-of-Year red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, killdeer, tree swallows, phoebes and meadowlarks arrive from the south.
- Large flocks of robins poke through soggy lawns and sing at dusk and dawn.
- Peregrine falcons court and lay eggs. (Yes, we have seen courting!)
- Blooming later this month: coltsfoot, forsythia, snow trillium, harbinger of spring and violets.
- Frogs and salamanders will be courting and mating. Listen for spring peepers and wood frogs. Be careful not to kill salamanders that cross the road at night!
- It’s Mud Season and Jacket weather. No more winter coats!
Have you seen these signs of Spring yet?
Yesterday I heard my first red-winged blackbird! Soon they’ll be singing from the cattails, as in this photo by Bobby Greene.
(photo by Bobby Greene)
(*) definition of Phenology from Google: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.
Speaking of First Bird of the Year, who’s the first bird to sing in your neighborhood? Have you heard any singing yet?
In Pittsburgh most birds stop singing in mid summer, though a few late-nesting residents keep it up until autumn. They’ve been silent for months now.
A few hardy souls sing in January. The First Singer in my backyard is usually a Carolina wren who pipes up just before dawn. On a good morning his voice echoes off the hills and prompts competing wrens to respond.
… But this is not a good morning. We have freezing rain today.
Even on a good day he’s silent within 15 minutes. I’ll know it’s spring when he sings all day.
(photo by Gregory Diskin)
Red, green and gold holiday decorations are brightening Pittsburgh’s gray December days.
Nature paints with these colors all year long.
Chuck Tague photographed an orange sulphur butterfly on a cardinal flower in mid summer.
Christmas in July.
(photo by Chuck Tague)
This long Columbus Day weekend is a good time to get outdoors and enjoy the fall colors, especially in the forests north and east of Pittsburgh.
Steve Gosser photographed this beautiful scene in October 2011.
(photo by Steve Gosser)
Throw Back Thursday (TBT):
In a few days it will be September. Plants and animals are changing as fall approaches. What will we see outdoors in the month ahead?
Phenology is the study of the times when natural phenomena recur. Back in 2008-2009 Chuck Tague and I collaborated on a year-long phenology series for western Pennsylvania. His website held much more information than mine but, alas, it disappeared when Apple discontinued web.me.com. My series remains as a collection at the Western PA Phenology tab at the top of this blog.
What can we expect in early September? Click here for the phenology forecast.
(photo of turtleheads by Tim Vechter)
It seems odd that a plant would have green flowers but a surprising number do including jack-in-the-pulpit, northern green orchid and ragweed.
In mid-June I found a blooming Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) that I nearly missed because the flowers didn’t stand out. The top two had already gone to seed and those in bloom were camouflaged in a greenish yellow way.
The bottom whorl of leaves caught my attention. It’s typically five to nine long leaves (this one had seven) suspended a foot or so above the ground. Only the blooming plants have the smaller top whorl too.
I tried to take a picture of this arrangement but even my best photo is confusing. The small flower whorl blends in with a second plant behind it even though the background is beyond the mossy log.
Having paused to take a photo I knelt down to see the flowers. This perennial is pollinated by insects, probably flies. The color green makes sense for flies as they don’t need fancy red, white, yellow or purple to be attracted to the plant.
Indian cucumber root earned its common name when Native Americans taught the settlers that the edible root smells and tastes like cucumber. People still dig and eat it today, thereby destroying the plant. It’s endangered in Illinois and Florida.
Though not threatened in Pennsylvania, I won’t say the exact location of this flower. Only that I found it in the Laurel Highlands, an area encompassing 3,000 square miles.
(photos by Kate St. John)
While it feels like it’s been raining forever, last weekend’s weather was sunny and so were the flowers. Here’s a selection I found at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve and Friendship Hill National Historic Site on Saturday and Sunday.
Above, a very close look at Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), also called Star Chickweed. The flower is only 1/2″ across and it has only five petals but they’re so deeply cleft that they look like ten.
Below, inch-long Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve. I love how they change color as they open.
Toad Trillium or Toadshade (Trillium sessile) is rarely seen from this angle because the plant is only four inches tall. (I got muddy taking this picture.) The dark, closed petals look boring from above but graceful from the side. Perhaps they open like this so the pollen can disperse more easily. It’s dusting the leaf at front left.
Today’s April showers will bring May flowers. It’s hard to believe that May begins tomorrow.
(photos by Kate St. John)
Last week Pittsburgh’s trees took on color and shape after a long brown winter.
A week ago the redbud trees had closed pink buds that made their branches look magenta from a distance.
Now the flowers are open and the trees are lighter pink.
Meanwhile the hillsides have changed from uniform winter brown to individual, spring-green trees as seen from Downtown on Saturday.
The earliest colors are usually pale green flowers.
If you haven’t been paying attention, your nose knows the trees are blooming. Welcome to pollen season.
(photos by Kate St. John)
Spring is getting a boost on this warm and sunny weekend but we still don’t have blooming cherry trees, dogwoods or hawthorns. If you look closely, though, you’ll see one native tree has small red flowers.
Shown above are the male flowers on a red maple. The sepals and petals are only half as long as the stamens that stick out to catch the wind or tap the backs of bees. The flowers are a favorite with bees but red maples are so versatile they can be pollinated by both insects and wind.
Individual red maple trees can have all male, all female, or both sexes of flowers. The female flowers have no “fuzz” because they have no stamens (of course).
Look closely to see the tiny flowers.
(photo by Kate St. John)
At last the crocuses are (or rather… were) blooming in Pittsburgh, though not in my yard.
Yesterday was a sunny and breezy day with a high of 50F. I took a long walk in Schenley Park and found nothing blooming except a small selection of snowdrops and crocuses at Phipps Conservatory’s outdoor garden.
Today it has already snowed a little, tonight will be 15F and the cold will continue through Tuesday so these flowers won’t last.
If you want to see spring in all its glory visit the Spring Flower Show, indoors at Phipps Conservatory. Theirs are the only flowers that have put in more than a brief appearance.
(photo by Kate St. John)