Photo by Corey Husic

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring migrants - April 26th

Firsts for the season heard or seen this a.m. in Kunkletown, PA:
  • Catbirds
  • Wood Thrush (also going over Smith Gap on the Kittatinny Ridge)
  • Blue-winged warbler
  • Yellow Warbler (along Lower Smith Gap Road)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Phenology Notes - April 22-25th in Kunkletown, PA

The changes here in the southwest corner of Monroe County just north of the Kittatinny Ridge come later than they do in Bethlehem.  Because I drive to the Lehigh Valley for work each day, it is as if I get to observe spring coming twice!

Over the past few weeks, a male kestrel has been seen hunting over our field and perched in snags and trees along the edges of the field.  This past weekend, perhaps a gift for Earth Day weekend, a female appeared.  It would be great to have a breeding pair -- a first on our property since we moved here in 1995.  This species is in decline in the eastern U.S., so this would be a good sign.

On April 24th, the first Black-and-white Warblers and Ovenbirds appeared on our property.  The Black-and-whites show up along the edges of the woods and in our fruit trees while the Ovenbirds are in the forest.

Ovenbird (Photo by Corey Husic)
Today, we saw and heard the first Prairie Warblers of the season!  Black-throated Green Warblers have been seen as well.

Prairie Warbler (Photo by Corey Husic)

The Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Chipping Sparrows, House Finches and Goldfinches have been singing away today - joining the Robins, Cardinals, Phoebes, Crows, Tree Swallows, etc.  I saw barn swallows flying around and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird has been hanging around for a few days now.  (I first heard of one spotted in the Lehigh Valley - south of Easton on April 15th.)  The American Toads have been noisy all day as well.

Last fall when I brought in some plants that I store indoors for the winter, an unexpected guest came along for the ride - a Northern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).  He basically hibernated in the dirt all winter, sometimes opening his eyes when we watered the plant!  Over the weekend, Corey heard the treefrogs calling so he decided it was time to release our basement dweller.  He loved the warm humid weather and rain.
Our winter basement inhabitant (Photo by H. David Husic)
You can hear the song at

The violets are now in bloom all around the yard having first bloomed on April 22nd. 

On April 24th, the first Red Maple leaves were spotted (although still small) and the large Serviceberrys in the woods showed their first flowers and today, a day later, they appear to be in full bloom.  Our young Serviceberry planted near one of our native plant gardens is a bit farther behind.  The leaves are also starting to appear. 

Amelanchier sp. flower buds and first leaves

At their peak, I can look out at the Kittatinny Ridge from our deck and see the white "clouds" of flowers scattered along the ridge. This is not the case yet on the north side of the mountain.

Below are some additional pictures of our yard today, April 25th.

Our weeping cherry.  You can't hear them, but hundreds of bees and wasps are buzzing around the flowers.

The Solomon's Seal are up about 8 inches.

The hostas are up to around 5 inches.

The forsythia are reaching their peak and the spirea are getting leaves.  No sign of buds on the sour cherry yet.
While many daffodils began to bloom some time ago, these peach colored ones are later blooming.
Close-up of the weeping cherry flowers.

In the woods, the fiddleheads for hay-scented fern are up and around the house, the cinnamon fern fiddleheads are about a foot high.  The apple trees are starting to leaf out and blossom buds are forming.

I love this time of year!

Catching up on all the signs of spring - Part I

Between a very hectic schedule at work and then a week of traveling, I am way behind in writing about what folks have been reporting and what we have been observing.  I will start to catch up on that now.  Beginning last Wednesday, I was in East Lansing, MI where the weather was rather cold and dreary.  There, the red maples were only beginning to show flower buds and there were a few flower buds opening on the forsythia shrubs.  But overall, it looks rather gray and dormant there.  They had snow a few days before.  On Friday, I flew to Marquette, MI (where I grew up) and things were even further behind.  I awoke to 3 inches of fresh snow on Saturday morning!  The birds were what I would expect:  a variety of gulls around Lake Superior, crows and ravens, chickadees, house finches, and White-breasted nuthatches.  Spring is still a ways off there, although I noticed some yellow-green in the weeping willows.

Back on March 18th, when I took a walk along the Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem with my students, the willows already had emerging leaves.  While I was away this past week, the willows in the Kunkletown area really leafed out and have that characteristic spring yellow-green color.

Spring green in Kunkletown, PA on April 25th.  Notice the weeping willow and aspen.

The amount of change over the past week has been extraordinary.  I supposed I noticed it more because I was away, but also from the over 40 reports I received over Earth Week!  In the next series of posts, I will try to summarize what changes have been occurring.

On April 3rd , Judy from Center Valley (along Saucon Creek), reported that her spring ephemerals were first emerging – see post from April 3rd.  Ten days later (April 13th), she commented on how cool and wet the spring is and sent this description: 
"The floor of the woodlot-creek edge is now completely carpeted with trout lily leaves. The wild ginger, May apples, black cohash and foam flower are waking up. The spice bush is in full bloom, as are the Dutchman’s breeches, twinleaf and bloodroot. However, the double bloodroot is not quite ready to show-off."

Judy’s observations come from what was once a hedgerow that abutted farmland (now a suburban development). She has lots of spicebush, Redbud trees, Wild Ginger, Trout Lily and other native species on the property. The dominate tree species is Black Walnut. They have worked hard to control invasive plant species (Multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, Bush honeysuckle, etc.) and have planted some of the native species.  They have deer browse, ground hogs, rabbits and

“other critters share our site with us, so there is pressure on the plants to survive. Unfortunately, this morning I was finding trillium that have already had their buds munched.  When we first moved to this location, we did quite a few plantings that were lost to deer or were unhappy among the walnut trees. The years have made us wiser and humbler and we rejoice when something makes it to bloom and sigh "well maybe next year" when they get digested by the wildlife.”

Aren’t those comments ones that PA gardeners and wildflower lovers are all too familiar with!

Judy’s pictures from the 13th show that the spicebush was about in full bloom.  From the weekend before (April 10th) a student had sent me a picture of spicebush from along the Lehigh Canal that was just about to be in full bloom and on April 13th, in Point Phillip (Moore Township), the buds were obvious but not yet fully open.

North of the Kittatinny Ridge, the Dutchman’s breeches were in bloom by April 13th, but the Bloodroot didn’t open until April 16th  (single flower); most opened this past weekend (4/24).  On April 16th, we drove down to Bucks County on Rte. 611 along the Delaware River.  On the steep wooded slopes along the west side of the road, the forest flower was carpeted with Dutchman’s breeches plants in full bloom.  I don’t think I had ever seen so many of these.  Apparently, the deer can’t do too much damage on such steep banks.  Unfortunately, as we were driving, there were torrential downpours and we were on a narrow, winding road, so couldn't capture this on camera.

April 15th, Judy sent the following:
A follow-up to the sleepy trout lily sent earlier in the week. We are having a great year for blooms. Sometimes they blend so well into the leaf litter that your eyes must be vigilant and your feet well placed, so as not to crush them. The plants are native to the property and are colonized down the stream bank. From what I have read, trout lily is an indicator plant for undisturbed areas. Since the Saucon Creek suffers from heavy erosion, we are lucky to have this existing community still in place. I do not see any similar colonies on the opposite side of the creek, where erosion has cut three feet or more into the bank. Each year the cut is deeper and someday some of the existing plants may no longer survive.
Thanks for all the wonderful observations and photos Judy!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recent sightings

Here are some recent phenological sightings from southern Monroe County:

April 20, 2011:
  • large push of raptors including Broad-winged and Red-shouldered Hawks and several Ospreys
  • first Northern Rough-winged Swallow of year; also large numbers of Tree and Barn Swallows
  • first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • first Common Green Darner
April 21, 2011:
  • first Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • first Palm Warbler
April 22, 2011:
  • leaves emerging on native Amelanchier and Viburnum shrubs

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring ephemerals and more

Each spring before leafout in our temperate deciduous forest, a group of herbaceous plants known as spring ephemerals bloom. These plants are no longer very common because of browsing pressure from deer. At Lehigh Gap Nature Center, we have introduced several of these to our habitat gardens. Some of these species bloomed on April 17 and 18.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was the first one I saw. It was blooming in the forest inside our deer exclosure on the north slope of the Kittatinny Ridge in southern Carbon County, PA.

Bloodroot is also blooming in our habitat garden, where it is well established.

Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) was also in bloom near the bloodroot.

In our bog garden, Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) was also beginning to bloom.

In addition, our locally common, Pennsylvania endangered Wild Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia) are beginning to bloom all over the refuge. This specimen is in our rock garden wall.

Finally, the tree swallows are pairing up and selecting nest boxes. They will be nesting very soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Phenology Note: April 17, 2011

Several spring ephemerals have started blooming like these dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).

The flowers of dutchman's breeches are some of the first native wildflowers of spring.

Not long after the dutchman's breeches start blooming, the flowers and leaves of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) appear in damp woodlands areas.

This weekend, the earliest "fiddleheads" of the ubiquitous hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) poked out of the leaf litter.
Off the forest floor, the leaves of serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) are bursting from the buds.

In the wettest areas of the woods, the bright green skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) are beginning to emerge from the damp soil.

Growing alongside the skunk cabbage, these turtlehead (Chelone glabra) shoots are pushing through the wet ground.

Another common plant species of wet areas is spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  The small, yellow flowers dot the branches of this small, woodland shrub.  In southern Monroe County, these began blooming this weekend.

 A close-up of a spicebush flower.

Although lots of flowers and plants are showing big changes this time of year, it is also important to take note of the animals inhabiting these same areas.  This Mourning Cloak butterfly stopped for a rest in the sun before continuing along the wooded path.

At the end of the recent warm days, the woods have been filled with insects, which are food for hungry predators like this bat that was found flying along the edge of a forest.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Today, the weather warmed to the mid 60s at Lehigh Gap and the butterflies responded to the sunny weather.

The first three species were seen on the wooded south slope along the Woodpecker and Appalachian Trails at near the Osprey House at Lehigh Gap in northern Lehigh County, PA. This female Lucia Azure was brilliant blue as it flitted among the dead leaves and was difficult to see when it landed with its wings folded. This is a "new" species, as formerly this would have been called a Spring Azure.

A little farther along the trail, a bright, winter form Eastern Comma appeared.

 This was followed closely by a Mourning Cloak and a dozen or more of these bees. Spring was definitely in the air today.

Last Sunday (April 10), Dave Levandusky took this photo of a Palm Warbler at the Kittatinny Ponds at Lehigh Gap Nature Center. This is usually the first warbler species to be seen this far north in spring.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Annual Favorite

Each spring, Trailing-arbutus blooms along the road to my house. Oddly enough, it seems to grow best along the old road cut we made 32 years ago when we built our house. We have a one-third mile road that we built to reach the house, and it is lined with such beauties as mountain laurel, sheep laurel, and blueberries under the power line. The trees are cut out every five to eight years, so the area is always open to sunlight, but somewhat shaded by the shrubs. On the shaded road cut slope facing north is where I find numerous beautiful lichens, mosses, running-pine, and Trailing-arbutus (Epigaea repens).

Trailing-arbutus is a creeping evergreen shrub with leathery leaves. It flowers in early spring, before leaf out on the trees. Its blossoms are ½” wide tubular flower with spreading petals. The flowers often occur in small clusters and are quite fragrant (although I can no longer seem to smell things like this very well).

Trailing-arbutus leaves and blossom

Nearby I found another favorite – Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), another creeping vine-like shrub. It also has evergreen leaves that are reddish this time of year, and some of the bright red berries are still hanging from the plants. I remember my grandfather showing me these and encouraging me to taste the waxy berries in fall when their teaberry taste was at its peak.


And right next to that, I found a patch of Hair-cap moss with the sporophyte stages that will form the capsules full of spores growing on top of the green moss plants.

Hair-cap moss

I then went to check on the spicebush in a nearby hollow and found that the buds are swelling and will open soon. With 80ยบ temperatures predicted for tomorrow, these will be bursting soon.


NexRad and bird migration

In the last post, I mentioned that migrating birds can often be picked up by radar meant for monitoring precipitation and other weather conditions.  Well, in the region of Pennsylvania and New Jersey tonight (April 10th), there isn't precipitation, but there certainly seems to be a lot of migrating birds!

You can see the large migration imagery in the center of Pennsylvania.  The radar images shows a coastal storm that is now over New England.

Phenology notes from April 8 - 10th

Ian (from the Delaware Canal State Park) sent in a picture of the status of serviceberry buds from the Giving Pond Recreation Area (Upper Black Eddy, PA):

Amelanchier sp. (Photo by Ian Kindle)
From the Center Valley area Carolyn (a Master Gardener) writes that, as of Friday, the twinleaf is up an inch or two:
I wasn’t familiar with this spring ephemeral but it is lovely and has an interesting story:  This is a plant that needs ants to open the flowers. 

Paps (from Tuscarora State Park) tells us that:
While clearing leaves off the trail (the Spirit of Tuscarora Trail at the park) the following was seen. Fiddle heads of Hay- Scented ferns, leaves of Canada Mayflower, one inch sprouts of Fly Poison, and many cotyledons of Jewel Weed. Usually see Osprey migrating through at this time of year and today I saw it. This one appeared to have a band on its’ leg. Encountered the seasons first Wood Toad and Garter Snake. I’ll be checking the vernal ponds to see if the Wood Frogs have laid their eggs on Sunday.”

In Kunkletown on Saturday (4/9) we had the first Wood Ducks, Brown Thrashers, Pine Warblers, and Chipping Sparrow, as well as the first Eastern Comma (butterfly) of the year.  We also had a visiting Eastern Meadowlark, although it wasn’t the first of the year.

Last weekend the coltsfoot on Chestnut Ridge were opening; on 4/9, there were a lot of plants in bloom.  These are much later than the first ones we saw on the south face of Kittatinny Ridge (Smith Gap) back in February (2/28).

Did you know that when migrations of birds are at their peak, the flocks can be picked up by radar?  At night, you can check out (for our region the Fort Dix link works well).  Last night there was evidence of a lot of migrating birds heading into south Jersey.  As you can see from the Cape May Bird Observatory blog, they are starting to see the migrants:

We have been monitoring the movement north of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the two sites below.  Based on the information provided, we set out a feeder today.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer):

From Tuscarora Township, Bradford County:  Peeping started Monday night (4/4), the frogs were silent Tuesday, and then were loud again on Wednesday (4/6).

From Beaumont, Wyoming County: a few Spring Peepers called for the first time on Wednesday night (4/6/11).

These reports illustrate how "signs of spring" gradually move north.  I received a report of Spring Peepers at Middle Creek on March 13th, but don’t know if that was a seasonal “first” or not.  In our area, the reports were varied (March 12th-18th in areas around our property in Kunkletown, in the SE corner of Monroe County, just north of the Kittatinny Ridge).  The peeping at our pond started quite a bit later (April 3rd) than at these other areas very close to us.  Perhaps this represented a migration to our pond from surrounding areas for breeding.  But in the northern counties the first "peeping" was several weeks later most likely reflecting differences in temperatures between the areas.

I received an email today from someone who said that they had always been told that spring peepers have to "freeze up" or be silent three times before it gets warm.  Have others heard this piece of lore?  Is there any truth to it?  This is an important thing to pay attention to in the future.
The gardeners use phenological events in nature to guide planting.  Apparently, when you hear Spring Peepers, it is time to plant peas (  Where I live, that would be about right.

Eric Rensel, the Natural Resource Specialist to Park Region 1 (office at Parker Dam State Park in western Pennsylvania) has shared some phenological records from northern Clearfield County for us to compare with eastern PA.

Here are his records for first hearing spring peepers going back to 1995.

First Dates for Spring Peeper Calls in Clearfield County (Eric Wensel)
Some fun facts about Spring Peepers (see sources below):
§       Northern Spring Peepers spend the winter burrowed into soil or under logs and leaves. 
§       As a biochemist, I loved learning that they survive the freezing temperatures of winter by producing a sugar alcohol (glycerol) that serves as an anti-freeze preventing the formation of ice crystals in their cells!  They thaw and come out of hibernation when warm temperatures return in the spring.  Isn’t that awesome?!
§       The peeping in spring is from the males trying to attract a mate.  Anyone who lives in a heavily peeper-populated area knows how loud the males can be especially on warm nights.
§       There are different calls when males fight; a lower-pitched trilling whistle is made if one male moves in too close to the territory of another.  I wonder if anyone has witnessed frogs fighting.
§       The females reportedly choose their mate by the quality of the call.  (I can’t hear differences between the calls except for volume and the frequency of repetition.) Some reports say that the frogs that call the loudest and fasted are more likely to find a mate.
§       The females lay between 750 and 1300 eggs in small clusters attached to submerged vegetation.  Thus, the frogs must live near pools of water.  Breeding occurs between March and June (April is the main month).
§       Afterwards, they disperse to woodlands and swampy areas and live relatively solitary lives.
§       Tadpoles hatch in 4 to 15 days; metamorphosis occurs between 45 and 90 days after hatching.
§       They can climb but prefer to be on the grown or burrowed in the dirt.  I am convinced that they sense vibrations on the ground.  Whenever we quietly try to sneak up on them by our pond at night, they stop peeping.  When we walk away, they start up again.
§       Little is known about their lifespan, but it is unlikely that most live longer than 3 years.
§       One report says that they travel an average of 6.1 to 39.6 meters in a day.  Are there mini radio-collars to track these frogs?!
§       The Spring Peepers eat small insects and other arthropods including springtails.  But a number of things also will eat the peepers (snakes, larger frogs, fish, birds, etc.).  They are somewhat camouflaged so that probably helps to protect them.

Some references:

Friday, April 8, 2011

More phenology notes from the first week of April

April 8th:  Started with hearing the first Eastern Towhee of the season in Kunkletown.  This week was the first time we heard the “Pheeee-bee” call of the Eastern Phoebe although we have seen them around. 

Eastern Phoebe (Photo by H. David Husic
The Tufted Titmouse song “peter peter peter” has become a common sound now.

Tufted Titmouse (Photo by H. David Husic)
In Bethlehem today, I saw hyacinths in full bloom today and tulip buds very close to opening.  Some gardeners told me that their spring ephemerals were now up and close to blooming.  With the pending warm up to the 70’s and 80’s, they worry that the bloom time will be short-lived.
The first report of groundhog sightings I received was from 3/13/11 in a field near Kresgeville (Monroe County).  I saw the first one as road kill between Klecknersville and Point Philip on 4/7/11.

On April 7th, I received the first report of a Great Egret in the area – in a puddle along the road near Gremar Road (Northampton County).

Great Egret (Photo by H. David Husic)
The red maples are now in full flower in Kunkletown.

Paps reporting in from Tuscarora State Park (April 3rd):
"During this weekends visit to Tuscarora, to clean up the trail, I saw my first Kingfisher of the year. The Spicebush buds are starting to swell...Colts foot are blooming at several places...Marsh Marigolds are starting to emerge...Small groups of Ruby Crowned Kinglets were seen."

Ian reporting in from the Delaware Canal State Park (April 6th):
"I have heard that people are catching adult male shad in the Delaware as of last week, but I haven't yet confirmed a start date for the run this year."

With the pending warm up, things should being to change rapidly over the next week. Get outdoors and let us know what you observe!