Sights and Sounds of Spring in Central Pennsylvania

Yesterday the weather cooperated in the afternoon just long enough for me to get in a little gardening. The air wasn’t real warm, but a touch of sun here and there after the previous days of rain felt really good. The vegetable garden is too wet to turn over, but at least it’s cleaned up and ready for that task.

The sights and sounds of Spring are many, and here’s my list of new life stirring in the last couple weeks here in Central Pennsylvania.

  • Canada geese and snow geese flying high, going back up North
  • blue birds settling into a blue bird nest box
  • tulips sprouting their greenery
  • Snow drops Gaultheria sp. emerging and flowering
  • lily vegetation growing again
  • Great Horned Owl hooting to a mate just before dawn
  • grass getting greener
  • rabbits enjoying the returning sorrel in the garden
  • giant blue hyssop sprouting up its first purple leaves
  • catnip growing up from last year’s plants
  • parsley and oregano greening up
  • fennel regrowing from bulb left in ground
  • return of a pair of nesting Eastern Kingbirds
  • Crocus bulbs up and flowering
  • songbirds singly loudly in the early morning
  • False Indigo Baptista just now sprouting

The maple trees will be opening their buds any day now, maybe today. The last three days their buds have been getting bigger and more noticeable.

Spring is always welcoming on the long side of Winter. So far, we seen and heard quite a few stirrings of Spring.

How about you? What is your favorite Spring sighting?

Coltsfoot Heralds Spring with its Bright Yellow Blossoms

One of my favorite scenes in Spring is the return of the coltsfoot. Driving down most any country road in central Pennsylvania you can see these early “dandelions” before anything else is blooming.

Of course coltsfoot is an entirely different plant than dandelion, but many people will mistake it for such. Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, does look like dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, in that the yellow flowers have many rays, but that’s where the similarity ends.

The flowering stems of dandelions are thin hollow tubes, where the coltsfoot stems have noticeable scales.

Coltsfoot flowering with few leaves present.

Coltsfoot flowering along a country road in Pennsylvania.

When coltsfoot flowers its leaves are hardly noticeable as they are just beginning to be formed, whereas dandelion leaves are present before it flowers. A dandelion’s basal leaves are narrow, lobed or cleft and at ground level, while coltsfoot leaves are roundish, broad, held high and their shape suggests a colt’s foot. When flowering is over for the season coltsfoot leaves continue to grow until they’re larger than your palm.

Another similarity between the two is the white, fluffy seed head produced by the spent flowers. Pictures to come later.

I mentioned that coltsfoot is the only thing flowering now, but that is not quite correct. Maybe it’s the first noticeable, native flower. A couple of very small flowers are out now too, namely Pennsylvania Bitter Cress, Cardamine pensylvanica, and Purple Dead Nettle, Lamium purpureum. And the natives are being out done right now by the flower garden bulbs. Check out this nice purple and white crocus!

Purple and white crocus blooming.

Purple and white crocus blooming in the flower garden. Another crocus is about to come up, you can see its bud on the left at the base of its white-striped linear leaves.

Stay tuned for more flowering beauties and look around your neighborhood for what’s coming up!

Icy Rorschach on Wood

Today’s weather could be described as topsy-turvy. Starting out with light rain the snow was disappearing slowly until the sun came out later in the day. We don’t have much snow left now, but what remains is changing over from hard ice to a slushy mess.

High winds had the trees really swaying, especially early on today. I’m still surprised how much the trees sway without any leaves on them. I would have thought the surface area of just the woody parts would not be able to catch the wind so well. Their swaying in the wind can sound quite loud! I never knew trees could be so animated until I lived among them.

Up here on the ridge the temperatures at ground level must have been near freezing, especially in the shady areas. On the north side of the house, which is in constant shade, we might have crusty snow all winter long until a thaw occurs.

The wind and the cold together made for some pretty cold wind chill temperatures, so when I let the dog outside to do his business he wanted back inside real fast.

Can we go in now, pretty please?

Can we go in now, pretty please?

It was then that I spotted these wild flowers growing on the deck. Of course it takes a little imagination, but I think Rorschach would be proud. What do you see in these icy images?

Shepard's Purse

Shepard’s Purse.

Dragon's Fern

Dragon’s Fern.

Lone Coconut

Lone Coconut.

Mossy Lichens

Mossy Lichens.

Fleeting Spagnum

Fleeting Spagnum.

It took barely an hour for my little icy formations to disappear into nothingness. Be on the lookout for more surprises from Mother Nature!

Snowy Trees in the Pennsylvania Mountains Bring 2007 to a Wintery Finish

Last night we were promised 2-4 inches of snow and by all accounts the weather forecasters were right on target. We did get about 3 inches of flaky, heavy snow.

Up before the sun, which is pretty easy to do now that the days are so short, I went outside with thermals on to snap a few pictures. The light was really dim, but getting so ever slightly brighter with each passing moment. Had I any foresight into the beautiful morning sunrise I would have set up the tripod and time-lapsed a few photos before the sun came up. The gray sky gently contrasted with the white snow perched on the tree limbs. Dark tree trunks stood out in the white and gray, winter woodland scene.

Snowy trees in the early morning light.

Snowy trees in the early morning light.

The snow is a bit like the ice we had a couple weeks ago as it is sticking to everything – at least until the wind picks up or until the sun starts shining.

Snow sticking to the tree limbs as seen from below.

Snow sticking to the tree limbs as seen from below.

It is a very still morning with only a crow silently drifting overhead. Its blackness moves in sharp contrast to the newly fallen snow on the tree limbs. Sometime in the night or early morning a fox had passed this way as told by the tracks it left behind.

I can’t describe the feeling one gets standing here in the middle of the woods, early in the morning before the sun is up, listening to the stillness…there is a feeling of being surrounded or closed in, but in a nice, warm hug kind of way…reverent, still, awesome.

A new day is dawning! To all our friends, far and wide, have a happy new year!

Imagine yourself standing in the center of this picture. No sound – the stillness is awesome. It gives you a feeling of being close to God.

Happy New Year! From our mountain home in the woods.

Happy New Year! From our mountain home in the woods.

Quisp says,

Quisp says, “How do you like my White Pine Christmas Tree? I think it’s just perfect for my long winter’s nap!”
Happy New Year to All!
May Your 2008 Be Full of Christmas Spirit All Year Long!

Icy Trees Sparkle in the Sunlight the Day After a Winter Storm

Winter is off to a great start here in Central Pennsylvania. Snow from last week is gone and has been replaced by ice…everywhere! I find it amazing that every branch, every tree trunk, every pine needle is coated with a thick layer of ice.

The boughs of white pine trees are bent to the ground with the weight of ice on every limb.

The boughs of white pine trees are bent to the ground with the weight of ice on every limb.

How did the ice manage to coat every square millimeter of these pine needles?

How did the ice manage to coat every square millimeter of these pine needles?

Icy hemlock needles and pinecones.

Icy hemlock needles and pinecones.

Star magnolia blooms and branches covered in ice.

Star magnolia blooms and branches covered in ice.

The evergreen leaves of this rhododendron look really unhappy with their new coat of ice.

The evergreen leaves of this rhododendron look really unhappy with their new coat of ice.

Every single tree limb has a coating of ice!
Every single tree limb has a coating of ice!

Every single tree limb has a coating of ice!

Sunlit icy trees.
Sunlit icy trees.
Sunlit icy trees.
Sunlit icy trees.

We’re giving thanks that we did not lose electricity with the cold winds that knocked off much of the pretty tree limb icicles. When the ice came down with the wind it was like very loud rain drops as the pieces of ice hit the icy snow below.

Just beautiful in the sunlight! The sunlight really shines on the icy tree limbs.
Just beautiful in the sunlight! The sunlight really shines on the icy tree limbs.

Winter Starts in the PA Mountains with a Little Snow

Second snow fall this season brought some cold artic air. At eight o’clock this morning the temperature was 11 degrees F and the wind chill was a mere 2 degrees. The kind of cold that you can feel in your nostrils.

Where were my gloves?? I could really have used them while I broomed off the walkways. No shoveling for me.

Anyway, here’s a couple pics for my southern friends who have yet to see any snow this year.

Crisp, snowy and cold morning in the PA mountains.

Crisp, snowy and cold morning in the PA mountains.

Snowy cones.

Snowy cones.

Can't believe the greenery hasn't died back on this butterfly bush!

Can’t believe the greenery hasn’t died back on this butterfly bush!

Snowy butterfly blossoms.

Snowy butterfly blossoms.

It’s so cold and dry that the snow squeaks underneath your feet. The powdery stuff is the can’t-make-a-snowball-wish-I-had-a-sled-kind-of-snow. But no matter how cold it feels while warming up the car, you can’t be as chilled as these Amish folk!

The doors are closed tight, but unless there's a hot potato under your frock you gotta be cold!

The doors are closed tight, but unless there’s a hot potato under your frock you gotta be cold!

This gal surely can't wait to get home to her kitchen fire!

This gal surely can’t wait to get home to her kitchen fire!

I think Shubert has the right idea - find a sunny spot and curl up!

I think Shubert has the right idea – find a sunny spot and curl up!

At least one flower pic today…the Christmas Cactus, or Easter Cactus depending on its time of blooming, is starting to open its showy blossoms.

glossy christmas cactus
glossy side christmas cactus

Canadian Juncos Herald the Arrival of Cold Weather – Winter Approaches!

This morning I saw my first Junco!

It’s a realization that cold weather is here to stay for a while when the juncos arrive in late autumn.

The Slate-Colored Junco, Junco hyemalis, is a cute little bird that flies down from Canada to spend the winter in the lower 48. Whitish chests, beaks and outer tail feathers are quite noticeable on this little sparrow-sized bird.

Males are dark, slate-colored and the females are a duller, brown color. The lack of eye rings or wing bars make them appear black and white or brown and white.

We usually see a group hopping around on the ground looking for food, but once in a while one will visit the bird feeders. I especially like their “junco shuffle”, the way they hop forward and scooch backward to move around the fallen leaves in search of a morsel.

The Juncos fly back north for their spring breeding season, and so, when the juncos disappear in the springtime we know our flowers will soon be blooming!

First Freezing Temperatures Last Night in Central Pennsylvania

The growing season has officially come to an end for 2007.

We had a hard frost last night. Lost a basil plant and a few pepper plants from the garden, but the lettuce was protected enough by the old storm windows we placed around the lettuce patch.

I think the bear was looking for something to munch when he/she visited us last night. Looking for food and eating it is about all they do this time of year. The hunters are out shooting up the small game, so the bears are probably moving around a bit more than they might without the hunters’ presence.

I’m sure the bear was here because a heavy planter, which is about a two foot cube, was knocked over on its side. On closer inspection we saw where a claw had punctured the plastic tub.

The dog went nuts this morning when he went out first thing and there’s no doubt he picked up some of that garbage-like bear purfume that was lingering. Not that I detected it, of course!

Without the windows open as it’s too cold now, I’m not sure when or how we’ll see that bear again but you can be assured that we stop and look out the windows every chance we get!