Photo by Corey Husic

Monday, April 21, 2014

Phenology Notes: April 21, 2014

One of the interesting things of living north of the Kittatinny Ridge and working south of it, is that I get 2 sets of all things spring! The difference can be amazing, even though the distance between Bethlehem and Kunkletown is about 20 - 23 miles. So in the southeast corner of Monroe County, the star magnolia (Magnolia stellate) are just coming in to peak bloom. The cold temps from a week ago (4/14) turned the tips of some of the petals brown, but most are in good shape. The ones in Bethlehem were nailed last week, as were the flowers on other species of magnolia. I was saddened by the hope of an amazing peak bloom on Monday morning, only to see the flowers in ruin the next day. By the way, remember the year without a winter 2 years ago? The magnolias in Bethlehem were in full bloom by March 20th!

Magnolia stellate
We had a harsh winter and many things this spring are late. We now await the toll that the frigid temps took on our landscape plantings. Today, the first flowers of our weeping cherry in Kunkletown opened; they peaked in Bethlehem last week. These are flowers that never last long enough for me, but the tree will attract countless bees over the short time period that it is blooming.  Did you know this tree is in the Rosaceae family?

Prunus subhirtella and Bombus sp. 
This was at 7:00 pm, just before "bedtime" for the bee.
Buds on the apple trees are forming. The flower buds on the lilacs are also now quite obvious. The National Phenology Network follows a cloned variety of lilacs (Syringa sp.) quite closely: For a bit of information on the 50 years of monitoring these, go to

If you follow the weather, you will notice that we now get pollen alerts with the forecast. The maple (Acer) trees are past their peak bloom, but look up at the top of aspen (Populus) or sweet birch (Betula lenta) trees right now and you will see the source of the cream and yellow "dust" on your cars. As you are looking up, it is a good place to find migrating birds early in the morning too.   And if you have Tulip Poplars (Liriodendron tulipfera) around, look up and see the greenish-yellow flowers forming.  Despite the name, these are not poplars, but in the Magnolia family.  Yes, common names are problematic.

Ooh – and I just heard the first of season “squeezy, squeezy, squeezy” of a Black and white Warbler!

Some bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) flowers hiding amongst the Pachysandra

Assorted Narcissus sp.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I know we are in the throes of winter, but...

Believe it or not, for the last three years, during this upcoming week in February, the aconite started blooming in my garden!  This year, the poor plants are buried under a few feet of snow.

But there are a few signs of change that come  with the longer day length.  Last week, almost right on cue, I heard the first "Peter, Peter, Peter" of the Tufted Titmouse.  In addition, I heard a male cardinal doing its song "Purdy, Purdy, Purdy, chip".  Both sexes of the cardinal sing, but I actually saw this particular male at the top of a tree in our field singing away.  Given the cold weather and continual snow we have been having in eastern Pennsylvania, I am curious as to what cues make these two species think it is time to sing to the ladies?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Phenology - kind of

An ode to August

An early morning walk through 18 acres

of bergamot and late-blooming butterfly weed,

Asclepias tuberosa.

Mixed in were some yarrow and the earliest goldenrod,

a Solidago, but which species I don’t know.

Remembrance of grandma’s farm;

a reminder that summer is beginning to fade.


Butterfly wings laden with last night’s rain,

too heavy to fly yet today.

But with the promise of sun and 80 degrees,

a fulfilling nectar feast awaits.

The spider webs are not hidden today,

heavily outlined by pearls of dew.

The bees were already starting their work of the day.


My retriever is happy to chase the scents,

some from new colonies of baby rabbits.

Is this batch number 2 or 3 this season?

Last year there were fewer, but more groundhogs.

Brood #2 of the barn swallows greeted me this morning

from their nests on our barn beams.

Parents return from the fog with food.


It is quite lush and green for this late in the summer,

a sign of lots of rain.

Lots of insects for the birds and bats,

the tick numbers are temporarily down.

I enjoy the quiet solitude, but can’t help but think

that soon, like the birds that will be heading south,

my oldest son will migrate to college.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Phenology and environmental change in our national parks

See this report about phenology from the Great Smoky Mountains:

If you visit any national parks this summer, you might ask the rangers what changes they have noted over the past several years or decades.  And share what you learn!

While not phenology, rangers from  the Grand Canyon talk about the increase in pine beetles and express concern about increasing demands for water. 

In the Grand Tetons, snow pack was down this year, so many flowers in the sagebrush flats were blooming earlier than usual ,and the elk had dispersed from the lower elevations sooner than usual.

Soon I will be in Alaska where I am sure to hear about receding glaciers in the Kenai Fjords region.   Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Another set of observations about changes in our seasons.

This new essay in the May/June 2013 Orion is written by my friend Sandra Steingraber and is worth a read:

While I will never be able to write like Sandra, this reminds me of my post from last winter (that wasn't):

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What do the bird watchers know and a lot of other questions

A bit on citizen science and some other interesting tidbits of information can be found in this opinion piece from the New York Times:

Phenology data, from Pennsylvania and from other locations in more northern latitudes, tell us that many bird species are arriving earlier in the spring than they did 40 or 50 years ago.  The results are the same regardless if trained scientists or citizens are reporting their observations over the long term.  The difference is that scientists typically publish their data in peer-reviewed journals; citizen scientists publish (or crowd source) their data in public databases such as e-Bird maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (see

What we don't yet know is how this early arrival impacts the ability of birds to find food after a long migration.  Are their spring food sources -- mainly insects -- hatching earlier?  We know that the fuel reserves of birds can be largely depleted after their long flight; we don't know if they are able to sufficiently replenish their energy needs.  If not, how is this impacting the health and survival of neotropical migrants -- our long-distance athletes? 

And if spring arrival of birds and the emergence of insects are no longer in sync, what is happening to the population of insects?  The trend has been for milder winters.  Bats are in decline.  And both of these two observations lead to more bugs.

Do the birds find shelter if the leaves on trees and shrubs aren't unfurling earlier?  The earliest plants to leaf-out are typically woody invasive plants.  Are the birds o.k. with these new types of temporary shelter?  Birders create list of the birds they see on a given day at a given location.  But they typically don't report the habitat conditions, so we don't really know.

Is there a competitive advantage for the "early bird"?  Perhaps, but we don't know if the worms are available.  These squiggly animals also migrate, but do so vertically through the soil.  (This migration was described by Edwin Way Teale in his 1951 book North With the Spring.)  Contributors to Journey North can track spring observations of earthworms (see, but I don't know of anyone linking these data with that of the timing of bird arrivals. 

Do the birds build nests and lay eggs earlier?  If so, is there a greater risk that a cold snap will diminish their reproductive success in a given season?

So many questions.  So many birders and nature lovers/observers are needed to help us find out more information in our changing environment.