Photo by Corey Husic

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heading to Doha

For the fourth year in a row, I am headed to the United Nations conference on climate change with a small delegation from Moravian College. We will be blogging, and to kick off COP18, I have posted the first entry for 2012:
In the 2007 report (the 4th assessment report) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), authors noted the value of phenology as an indicator of ecological responses to a changing climate.  At the meetings in Doha, IPCC members are slated to provide a number of updates that will be published in the 5th assessment report.  I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Autumnal Equinox

I have been away from this blog for too long.

I noticed today the early tinges of color in the trees along the mountain as I worked on a sustainability project for campus. I had forgotten that today was the autumnal equinox, the start to my favorite season. And then I stumbled on this passage and thought it perfect for the day.

A hidden fire burns perpetually upon the hearth of the world.... In autumn this great conflagration becomes especially manifest. Then the flame that is slowly and mysteriously consuming every green thing bursts into vivid radiance. Every blade of grass and every leaf in the woodlands is cast into the great oven of Nature; and the bright colours of their fading are literally the flames of their consuming. The golden harvest-fields are glowing in the heart of the furnace.... By this autumn fire God every year purges the floor of nature. All effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up. Everywhere God makes sweet and clean the earth with fire. ~Hugh Macmillan

My friend, Drew Lanham, posted this on Facebook today: “Happy Fall Y'all! 'Tis the season for chasing migrating warblers and wary whitetails. As summer relents to autumnal senescence, embrace the pace of things slowing down, moving on and storing up. It is my favorite time of year!”
What do you like about the autumn season?  What changes are you seeing (and when and where) that signal this fall season?  There are many phenological events to be recorded!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Welcome back to the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Towards the end of this past week, I noticed the first reports of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the state.  Bright and early this morning, a gorgeous male in fresh plumage was atop of our weeping cherry illuminated by the sun.  Another was singing in the woods behind our house.  This species is the herald for a number of other returning neotropical songbirds, so this coming week should bring some good birding.

After the mild winter and unusually warm weather in March, we have had much cooler weather recently in April and the spring advance has slowed.  Thus, I was curious as to how today’s arrival of the grosbeak compared to the trends we have been following. Below are the graphs plotting data from long-term records donated to the Eastern PA Phenology Project (Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon, and Monroe Counties) and from analysis of eBird data for the entire state.
Our bird today was pretty much right on target based on the trends for sightings north of the Kittatinny Ridge. 
First Day of Arrival of Rose-breasted Grosbeak
(Eastern PA Phenology Project Data)
Compiled by Anna Meola

First Day of Arrival of Rose-breasted Grosbeak
(All of PA data from eBird)
Compiled by Anna Meola

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nature on the Move?

The iConservePA program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has been producing short videos for the Science Afield series that illustrate both the impact of changes in our environment and the important roles of citizens in observing and understanding these changes.  A new episode was recently posted that discusses the interrelationships between climate change and species important to the Commonwealth.  Science Afield, episode 2 - Nature on the Move?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Comparing two years

Here are a few dates for phenological observations at Lehigh Gap, Lehigh County, PA in 2011 and 2012. Note that last year we had a warm spell in February, then a colder March, but still had an early spring for some things. This year is really unusual.

First Cabbage White butterfly
April 4, 2011
March 12, 2012
First Tree Swallow
April 4, 2011
March 14, 2012
First Trailing Arbutus (at Sheep Mountain, Franklin Twp, Carbon County, PA)
April 9, 2011
March 22, 2012
First Field Sparrow song
April 11, 2011
March 19, 2012
First Serviceberry Blossoms
April 21, 2011
March 23, 2012
First Maple flowers open
April 4, 2011
March 15, 2012

It has gotten cooler and little more seasonable lately, but now we are in drought. If that lasts, it could have significant consequences. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Earliest Migrants

Although today is only March 1, a number of bird species have started migrating north. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans) migration is underway and the earliest songbird migrants will start returning to the region in March. Species such as Fox Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers usually show up for the first time during this month. American Woodcocks have also been seen and heard displaying in many brushy fields and wet woods in eastern Pennsylvania.

Huge flocks of Snow Geese have been moving north over the past few weeks. Hundreds of thousands of these northern breeders winter in the farm fields in the Lehigh Valley every year and pass through much of northeastern Pennsylvania on their way north. Canada Geese have also been on the move.

Late February marks the beginning of waterfowl migration, which not only includes geese, but also numerous species of ducks like these Common Mergansers.

Wood Ducks are another species that I have noticed returning to the region. This species is a fairly common breeder, but it often disappears during the winter. This male Wood Duck was found in the pond where a Gadwall (left) has spent much of the winter.

While not a bird or much of a migrant, be on the lookout for the Mourning Cloak butterfly over the next few weeks. A few have been sighted during the recent warm days (mostly in the southern counties), but not in large numbers.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

February Flowers

In eastern Pennsylvania, February is not usually considered a month when many flowers begin to bloom. However, the unseasonably warm temperatures over the last week and a half have caused many early-blooming species to emerge. Many of these species are flowers that will begin to flower as soon as there is an extended period of warm weather, so the bloom time varies greatly from year to year.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) - this species was blooming around this time last year as well. Warm weather usually causes the flowers to develop, although it takes several warm days for the flowers to actually open. Although the flowers are not yet open in the photograph, these flowers began to open on February 26.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis sp.) - With several days of sunlight, this flower is now in full bloom. This species began blooming last year around February 18, which is about the same time I first saw these flowers emerge in 2012.

Bird's-eye Speedwell (Veronica sp.) - This flower has actually been blooming through the entire winter. The flowers open in the sun, but close during nights and during colder days. This species grows very low to the ground and is easy to miss.

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) - This species is not quite ready to bloom, but a closed flower is visible amongst the basal leaves.

Bittercress (Cardamine sp.) - This flower could easy go unnoticed, as the small flowers grow very close to the ground in weedy areas. I found several hundred of these tiny plants blooming in my yard this week.

Crocus (Crocus sp.) - This is a very common early-blooming flower that can be found in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, purple, pink, and white. Last year, crocuses did not start blooming in Kunkletown, PA until March 3. This year, the first flowers were seen on February 19.

Purple Dead-Nettle (Lamium purpureum) - This species is a common weed of gardens and lawns. This is the earliest I can remember seeing this species blooming. The flowers can sometimes be similar in color to the leaves, so if you find this plant, look carefully for flowers, as they may be hidden.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) - Today (February 26) I found the first open flowers of this wetland plant in Kunkletown, Monroe County. The combination of red, yellow, and green on these unusual flowers make Skunk Cabbage and easy species to spot. (Photo from 2011)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Year two of the Eastern PA Phenology Project begins

I have been receiving reports of birds singing, new sightings of birds that were away for the "winter", and many have noted that it even now smells like spring.  I know what they mean, but cannot put that into words.

Today, a large flock (4000+) of snow geese and flocks of Canada geese were heading north over Kunkletown.  It has been a delight to see the snow geese for several months in the Lehigh Valley, but there numbers are decreasing and they seem to be more restless, perhaps preparing for the trek northward.

For comparison, here is what we posted last year on February 19th:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birds singing

This morning on my daily walk with my dogs at daybreak, I heard a Northern Cardinal singing. Yesterday, I heard a Mourning Dove. These are the first bird songs of the season that I have heard for these two species. They seem to be thinking spring.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The winter that hasn't been

So let’s start today’s post with some weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA for Allentown, PA comparing the average monthly temperature for fall and winter 2011/12 vs. the 1981-2010 averages for these months:

September '11:          67.3⁰F vs. 64.3⁰F
October '11:               53.8⁰F vs. 53.1⁰F
November '11:          46.6⁰F vs. 43.3⁰F
December '11:           38.4⁰F vs. 32.9⁰F
January '12:               33.3⁰F vs. 28.5⁰F

The annual average for the entire year of 2011 was 53.2⁰F vs. 51.7⁰F. 

This type of information can be found at

The last I heard from the WNEP meteorologists (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area), we are on track for having a winter with the least amount of snow in at least 60 years.  The freak snowstorm in October technically didn’t occur in “winter”.  There are deficits in snowfall around the country, but parts of Alaska and Europe are experiencing unusually heavy snowfalls compared to their norms (whatever that means any more).    A good source of information about weather patterns, changes, and extremes around the globe:

Forsythias blooming -- at the end of November?
Wonder what the spring bloom will be like?
Photos by Judy Krasnicke

So what happens in nature when the temperatures have been unusually mild and the snowfall almost non-existent?  Going back to November, I had reports of the forsythias blooming from Saucon Valley up to Scranton.  Throughout the late fall, there were numerous reports of dandelions (even at the end of December) and flowers on Creeping Phlox (11/22 in Easton), ground ivy (end of December in Bethlehem), and Hellebores (Bethlehem).

Confused plants -- note the dates
Photos by Judy Krasnicke
In mid-November, there were reports of skunk cabbage emerging in the Lehigh Valley.  Such early reports have continued with reports of blooms on January 1st from the PPL Riverlands and Bottomlands along the Susquehanna River to plants emerging in Sciota (Monroe County, north of the Kittatinny Ridge) on February 3rd.

Emerging Skunk Cabbage
Photo by Corey Husic
Today (February 5th), the buds of the aconite and snowdrops were almost open.  Last year, they opened on February 18th and that was early for north of the Ridge.  Snowdrops have been blooming in Bethlehem for over a month.  Several people have reported that the daffodil plants have emerged by several inches.  The tiny-flowers of the creeping speedwell (a Veronica) have been blooming throughout our yard since December.

Bald Eagles will stay around as long as there is open water for them.  They have been reported in Wyoming County into early January and again this past week.  Last weekend we saw them flying along the north edge of the Kittatinny Ridge.  The snow geese have stayed at Green Pond and the surrounding flooded fields since that area hasn’t frozen over.  The swirling flocks in early morning and late in the day are quite an awesome sight, especially when the sunlight hits them just right.  It is worth the drive to see the shimmering rows of pearls rising and twirling over the fields or flying in large flocks overhead.  The forty year Pennsylvania winter population of snow geese has increased almost 270,000 % according to data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (a thank you to Greg Butcher from Audubon for this information).  This rate of increase is significantly higher than the continental trend.

I have had several reports of Black Vultures north of the Kittatinny Ridge from Monroe to Luzerne Counties.  Over the past forty years, the winter population of this species has increased in the state by about 83,000%, again rising at a rate higher than the continental trend.  We have also been seeing Turkey Vultures north of the Ridge over the past two weeks.  While it is not unusual to see vultures in the Lehigh Valley and southward over the winter, it is quite unusual north of the mountain.

According to the PA Birds List Serve and eBird, there have been reports of American Woodcocks (January 4, 2012 in southern Chester County; January 7, 2012 in Berks County, January 8, 2012 in Schuylkill County; and January 31st in Pottsville).  We expected to hear them hear when the temperatures hit the 60’s this past week, but didn’t perhaps because we got home from school and work too late in the day.  Be on the lookout for Woodcocks and let us know when and where you see (or more likely hear) these.

On January 31st, a Gray Catbird was reported in Wilkes-Barre.  And yesterday, at the Eureka Road Pond near Snydersville, a pair of mute swans was observed, with the male going through some mating ritual behaviors.

Yesterday, my retriever brought me something in his mouth.  It turned out to be a frog (probably a wood frog)!  We suspect it came out when the temps reached the 60’s earlier in the week, but didn’t survive the cold night.  Very strange.

Last year, we planned to launch the Eastern PA Phenology Project around March 1st.  We had mild weather in February, and soon realized that events of nature often associated with spring were already happening.  With the even milder winter weather this year, there should be all sorts of seasonal changes to report on.  We invite you to participate in the project.