Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Jan 01 2013

2012: The Year In Review

Nature was busy and interesting in 2012.  The weather was hot, stormy, dry, and sometimes wet. This brought exciting developments in the natural world.

Here’s a month-to-month roundup of my favorite high points with each photo linked to an article about the event.  Some link to my blog, others link to information on the web that I didn’t point out at the time.

 

  • January: Snowy owls were abundant in the northern U.S. into March. (photo by Shawn Collins)
  • February: The warm winter prompted a massive Canada goose migration on February 27 in eastern Pennsylvania, New York State and Ontario. (photo by Chuck Tague)
  • March:  Pittsburgh’s temperatures averaged 11.9 degrees above normal with some days 20 degrees above normal. Spring wildflowers bloomed 4-6 weeks early. (photo by Kate St. John)
  • April: There was a mass migration of Red Admiral butterflies in mid-April. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
  • May: Birds who wintered in the U.S. migrated early but the warblers were right on time. (photo by Bobby Greene)
  • June: A new peregrine family was confirmed at Tarentum, PA when their nestlings appeared on the bridge. (photo by Steve Gosser)
  • July: Drought! (photo from NOAA NWS)
  • August: Every year I count nighthawks passing my home during their August migration.  Every year there are fewer.  Sadly, 2012 was no exception. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
  • September: Arctic sea ice at its lowest extent ever. (photo from NOAA)
  • October: Hurricane Sandy brings unusual birds to western Pennsylvania. (photo by Jeff McDonald)

  • November: A surprising number of western hummingbirds visit Pennsylvania: rufous, calliope, Allen’s (photo by Scott Kinsey)
  • December: Evening grosbeaks visit Pennsylvania after decades of absence (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

 

Happy New Year!

 

3 responses so far

Nov 04 2012

The Trees Are Bare?

Lots of the trees are bare now that Hurricane Sandy came through Pennsylvania.  But not everywhere.

Here, the trees look wintry in Schenley Park on November 1.

But just around the corner the view from Panther Hollow Bridge is mixed.  The large sycamore is bare — see the ghostly white bark? — but the red oaks still show off their russet tones.  (These pictures are dark because it was raining. It rained every day last week.)

 

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, winter comes earlier.

Here’s a picture from the Quehanna Wild Area taken on October 13.  Three weeks ago most of the trees were already bare in this part of Clearfield County.

What’s it like where you live?

(photos by Kate St. John)

 

 

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Oct 06 2012

Fall Color

The maples are changing color in Schenley Park. The weather is changing too.

If you haven’t turned on the furnace yet, you’ll need it tonight. Fall is here.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 06 2012

Golden Yellow

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Have you ever noticed how many things are yellow in the Spring?

Many warblers are yellow — it helps them hide among yellow-green leaves.  Many flowers are yellow — their pollinators are attracted to that color.

Golden ragwort (Packera aurea) is yellow too.

It’s blooming now in western Pennsylvania.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Apr 29 2012

April Apples?


Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) got their name because they bloom in May.

Last Wednesday, April 25, I found the first ones blooming in Schenley Park.  This feels very early but my records on Mayapple blooming times are sparse and unreliable.   :(

The ones in Schenley may be three weeks ahead of schedule.

Perhaps they should be called April-apples this year.

(flower closeup by Dianne Machesney)

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Apr 24 2012

Toadshade

Published by under Phenology,Plants

This flower never cares if it rains or snows because it never opens.

Toadshade or Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) has a stalkless flower of three, small, dark red petals that always remain in the closed position.

Sesslie trillium is usually found in clumps because the plants sprout from rhizomes.  Its true leaves are papery coverings on the rhizomes.  What we call “leaves” are actually three bracts.  Sometimes they are mottled with dark spots as in the photo at this link.

Those in the know say Sessile trillium smells foul to attract its fly and beetle pollinators.

I have never approached close enough to smell it, but I wonder…  Do toads wait in the shade beneath sessile trillium to nab an unsuspecting fly?  Is that why it’s called toadshade?

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

2 responses so far

Apr 22 2012

Cream Violet

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Here’s a beautiful flower you can find in the wild.  It goes by many names — Pale Violet, Cream Violet or Striped Cream Violet — but it has only one scientific name:  Viola striata.

Dianne Machesney found it blooming at Buck Run last weekend.

 

If you live in Pennsylvania go look for it early today.  The weather will soon become awful.   I heard the word “snow” for tomorrow!   :(

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

p.s. Fill your bird feeders!  The birds will need extra energy to wait out the storm.

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Apr 10 2012

Out of Synch

After stunningly warm temperatures in mid-March, Nature hit the pause button and produced lower than normal temperatures for more than a week. That hasn’t been enough to halt the onward march of plant development.

Trees are leafing out four weeks early and the insects that eat them are hatching too.   Tent worms are a case in point.

Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) feast on trees in the Rose family, especially wild cherry, apple and crabapple.  Last summer the female moths laid their egg masses on the branches of host trees.  The eggs remained dormant all winter and then, just as the hosts’ buds began to swell, the eggs hatched and the larvae began to spin their tents.  In the past this happened in early May.

This year I saw the first tiny tent on April 1 at Moraine State Park.  A week later I found this much larger tent crawling with activity.

Most birds won’t eat tent caterpillars because they retain cyanide from the host plants but cuckoos eat them with relish.

Black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos spend the winter in South America and time their arrival to coincide with the emergence of eastern tent caterpillars.  A few yellow-billed cuckoos have been seen in the Gulf Coast states but the bulk of them aren’t in North America yet.  The leaves and tent caterpillars are four weeks ahead of schedule but the cuckoos are not.

What will happen to the cuckoos when the tasty caterpillars they expect to find have retreated to cocoons?  What will happen to our trees if this causes an excess of caterpillars?

Nature is out of synch.  Some things can cope, some cannot. We’ll just have to wait and see.

For more information on climate change’s effects on bird migration listen to this interview with Powdermill’s Drew Vitz on The Allegheny Front.

(photo by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Apr 09 2012

New Leaves

Published by under Phenology,Plants,Trees

Over the weekend I hiked in both Greene and Allegheny Counties where I concluded there are more leaves on the trees near Pittsburgh than in the rural areas south of us.

I suspect that’s because Allegheny County is more densely populated, has more pavement and heated buildings, and thus is slightly warmer.

Sugar maple leaves in Greene County were still in the bud on Saturday but I found these newly unfurled leaves at Barking Slopes on Sunday.  They’re four weeks ahead of schedule.

I love how red and wrinkled they look.

It won’t be long before they’re green.

(photo by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

Apr 03 2012

Fire Season

Spring is fire season in Pennsylvania.

85% of Pennsylvania’s wildfires occur in March, April and May, not because it hasn’t rained but because it’s windy and the old leaf litter provides a lot of fuel before the new leaves are out.

In Pennsylvania almost all wildfires are caused by people, so from March 1 to May 25 DCNR prohibits open fires in the State Forests.  This burn ban is instituted every year.  Even so, wildfires burn 10,000 acres annually in Pennsylvania.

Spring is also the time for controlled burns to clear the fields for planting.  If you fly across the U.S. on a clear, windless day this month you’ll see the smoke of controlled burns across the country.

Fire is the “natural” solution for clearing large fields when it’s impractical to till the old plants into the soil, but it’s not welcome near residential areas because of the smoke.  In western Pennsylvania I can tell that farmers often use herbicide because I find stark brown fields in April, surrounded by bright straight lines of green plants along the edges.

I’m not wild about herbicides.  If it weren’t for the smoke I’d prefer fire except …

Sometimes controlled burns go out of control as one did last week in Colorado.

Be careful.  It’s fire season.

(photo by Richard Chambers of a controlled burn in Statesboro, Georgia via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

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