Sycamore Trees Line the River

Here we are anticipating the arrival of Spring-like weather. Late winter snows have covered the ground, but the sun that is stronger now is having an easier time melting the cold, white stuff. Snow has pulled away from the buildings yet there are still a couple of inches with a hard crust laying all along the ridge tops. Mountain ridges, that is.

Down in town, literally, there’s no snow to be found at the level of the Juniata River in Millerstown about 300-400 ft. in elevation. Mountain ridge tops in the area are typically 800-1200 ft. in elevation so they’re a few degrees colder at this time of year.

Flower blooming, which a lot of us use to judge that it really finally IS spring, may differ by some days when comparing sites with a few hundred feet difference in elevation. The only way to know what’s blooming out there is to go and look.

I was curious to see if skunk cabbage was blooming down near the river so I took a walk at the Millerstown Area Community Park. Photos were taken there on 15 March 2013. Up and down the park I walked but I didn’t spot one little hood poking its head out of the ground.

There’s been a lot of activity with respect to improving this area park, like asphalting walking paths, installing park benches, and erecting an amphitheater. I wondered if the land near the river was groomed because I swear that I saw skunk cabbage there years before. So, that will be a topic for another post.

Sycamore trees by the river.
Sycamore trees by the river.

Finally, I did see one of my favorite trees and that was worth the ride. Actually, several American Sycamore trees were standing tall right next to the river.

The American Sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, is a have-to-be-near-water kind of tree. It’s tolerant of poorly draining soil, meaning it can have its roots stay wet. American sycamores are found in the eastern United States, especially near streams and rivers and their flood plains.

Why do I like sycamores? Their angular leaves are huge and immediately identifiable, their seed balls break open to release a whole bunch of seeds that travel on the wind, and they have really funky-looking, unique bark.

Light smooth spotted bark of the sycamore tree.
Looking up a sycamore tree with its light, smooth spotted bark.

The bark of the sycamore peels off in sheets and pieces to reveal white patches of the inner bark. The overall feel and look of this tree’s bark is smooth and it appears splotched with shades of grey. The light-colored bark helps to identify this tree from a distance. Note the half-dozen sycamores in the upper photo. Knowing this little factoid can help one find water because that’s where the sycamore grows – near water.

Animal Activity Tells Us It’s Spring

Spring has sprung! At least the animal activity we’ve been seeing, and hearing, tells us that the old groundhog got it right. Recent snowfall and cold blast aside, the temperatures promise to creep up this month.

We’ve now passed Meteorological Spring, which was on March 1st. Meteorological spring is based on temperature and it follows Meteorological Winter, which is defined as the three coldest months or December, January and February. Meteorological spring is made up of the months March, April and May. Of course there are meteorological summer and meteorological autumn months, too.

The first day of spring that most of us recognize is known as the Vernal Equinox and it starts Astronomical Spring. The vernal equinox is one of two days of the year when the Earth’s axis points neither toward nor away from the sun – the other being the Autumnal Equinox. Both equinoxes produce days with equal minutes of light and dark. Days get longer in during Astronomical Spring, which lasts three months, until the third week in June when Astronomical Summer begins.

We see there are several ways to define Spring, but no matter what terms we use we have only to observe nature for a while to see what’s happening in the real world. Observing animal activity will verify Spring has sprung. Here are some of the activities we’ve seen and heard in central PA:

  • We’ve seen the seagulls fly up the river and drift back down several times a day. Kind of a lazy way to fish or is it just plain fun? The seagulls can be seen in cornfields picking up seed instead of a Kmart parking lot hoping for popcorn. During winter we don’t see many seagulls, if any.
  • Snow geese are flying north in big flocks. Sometimes you can hear them and never get a glimpse of them. Their muted honks tell who’s flying home.
    Snow Geese
  • Owls can be seen during the dim light of day, perhaps on a cloudy day or in the shade of a mountain. We saw a Barred Owl a couple of weeks ago near the river in an old forest. Prime habitat for this hunter. He didn’t care that we stopped in the middle of the country road to gawk at him hunting for his owlets’ supper.
  • Took a tick off the dog just yesterday. The first one this year. Sometimes he brings one home in winter, but now it’s definitely time for the tick guard.
  • Topping off my list of spring animal sightings were a pair of squirrels caught doing the “twirl”. I wasn’t surprised to see these squirrels chasing each other up and down and all over a white oak tree, but I was surprised to see how they eventually hooked up. The female grabbed onto the tree trunk about halfway up the tree with her head pointed toward the ground and the male mounted her from behind. They did this twice that I saw with a lot of chasing and limb running in between attempts. Sorry, no photos!

At our location it’s a little early for much plant activity, so we’re looking and listening for signs of Spring by tuning in to the Animal Kingdom. So, what have you seen in the way of animal activities that show it’s Spring?