Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring comes to the country – at least in places!

March 9th, 2010

Its been a crazy year for weather so far, even more than usual. A strong El Ñino may help explain the pounding of the California coast by intense rain and snow storms. At the same time the South and the East have had some of the more impressive snowstorms in recent years. So it all depends on where you are, which is exactly what we are expecting with climate change. Change is the norm, but exactly how it might change seems to depend on where you are and a lot of specific details. Everything is connected.

Anyway, as I write
this it is snowing heavily here in town, even though yesterday it got up to 50 degrees, and on Sunday the whole town of Missoula, Montana seemed to go crazy in celebration of spring, with shorts, tee-shirts, ice cream stands overflowing with people, as the mercury reached a searing 60 degrees – our warmest day in 2010 so far. Of course the Rockies are famous for crazy weather. High elevations, low moisture, and the effect of large mountain systems on airflow can lead to abrupt changes especially in Colorado and Wyoming. But even Montana is doing pretty well on this score. I was actually supposed to be helping an elementary school start a budburst project this afternoon – but mother nature took care of those plans.

Blueberries in flower in Alaska on Feb 14th?
-- Highlights of 2010 Observations so far...

The most amazing reports so far are from the West coast. We had a report of early huckleberries in flower, and salmonberries (related to raspberry) sending out new leaves in
Southeastern Alaska (Sitka), in February! Normally this occurs in early April. As you may have read or heard about, Alaska has had an amazingly mild winter. Several times in January temperatures were more mild in Anchorage than in many cities on the West coast, Midwest or East. There was no snow on the ground when I was in Ketchikan, Alaska in February as well. Hazels were in bloom in Lacey, Washington on Feb 19th. On February 22nd we also had a report of ornamental cherries in bloom near Seattle! All quite early.

As you would expect we are also beginning to get reports of flowers and first leaves from plants in the southern part of the country. Many chaparral flowers are in bloom in coastal California right now, and Taiwanese cherries were in bloom in Baton Rouge, La on Feb 23rd. Expect amazing flower displays on the California coast this year in response to all those rainstorms.

Even in northern cold areas you should be able to start seeing signs of spring soon. We have reports of hardy shrubs and trees such as hazel, and alder putting out catkins (their compact cone-like clusters of tiny flowers) and dispersing pollen. Even here in Montana mountain alders started dispersing pollen on March 4th, and aspen flower buds are beginning to open (the pussy willow stage, see photo). Many of our early wildflowers put out leaves in the fall which turn red during the winter. They are now mostly turning green and starting to grow. So in another week or so we might see the first spring flowers.

As you would expect we still see spring as coming a little slower than normal in many places in the East and Midwest. Last year, for example we had reports of red maples starting along the Gulf Coast in mid January, and up towards the central Midwest in February and early March. We still do not have any reports of red maple. These trees are common ornamentals across the country so please send in your data if you find any in bloom. Species like this are particularly valuable for the budburst program since we can compare them across the country. Red maple flowers are a good indicator of the beginning of spring.

So far (as of April 2nd) we have reports of dandelion from California, Alabama, North Carolina and Washington state. Early bulbs such as crocus, and daffodils have been reported from California north to Seattle, and as far north as Clayton, Wisconsin in the Midwest. The first Forsythia was reported on Feb 11th in Georgia.

Please also post other interesting signs of spring in your area. We have reports of honey bees in Virginia on Feb 21st, and today we have a report of wasps flying in southern Indiana. Even here in Montana we had lots of flies in flight yesterday (before the snowstorm!).

This should be a very interesting year to see how plants and animals respond to our crazy weather, especially so we can compare with future years. Many of you are already reporting signs of spring. Please keep them coming, both as posts to our Facebook page and as reported observations on the Budburst website. Please help us document these interesting patterns with your observations!

New Developments for 2010 Budburst Season
Look for a new look to the Budburst webpage in coming weeks, and many new features. We also will be providing more information for teachers and schools using budburst. We are also working with UCSB and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Ventura Field Office in developing materials for making observations of native plants that are common to the chaparral region in coastal California this year. So if you live in this area please look for plants you can monitor including species such as lemonadeberry, blue elderberry, black sage, California fuchsia, sticky monkeyflower, and blue-eyed grass.

For Your Reading List

Summer World
A couple books came across my desk this month that I thought would be of interest to Budburst. The first is a wonderful book by a talented and fascinating writer/illustrator/naturalist. Heinrich is a biologist with many interests, but most well known for his writings on bird behavior. He is the author of “Trees in my Forest” which should also be of interest especially for those of you living in the Midwest or northeastern U.S., as well as “Mind of the Raven”. Anyway his latest book is, of course about summer, and in particular the many interesting things he has learned about the season with his students up around his cabin in Maine. But he also has a few introductory chapters in this book on the transition from winter to spring. He describes for example explorations he and others have done in trying to figure out how common trees and shrubs determine “when it is time”. Clipping off twigs every few weeks from winter to spring, then putting them in a sunny warm spot you can learn a lot about how plants vary in their cues as to when to put out leaves and flowers. Highly recommended. Also see what matters most

Early Spring
As mentioned in the NPN participant newsletter in March. Amy Seidl’s new book “Early Spring” is a beautifully illustrated book describing the many ways in which springs in New England have changed in recent years. It should be of general interest to Budburst participants and in particular those of you living in the Midwest or East where changes in the phenology of many of your common species are described.

Paul Alaback

Photos (all by Paul Alaback):

Top - view from my backdoor today (March 9th)

Deer - (March 9th) Looks confused doesn't he? He is not the only one. White-tailed deer in our back yard.

Aspen bud -- during the sunny weekend this aspen, the European variety (Populus tremula) started opening its flowering buds. It will probably be several weeks before it reaches the first pollen stage. Our native aspens (Populus tremuloides) also opened their flower buds last week.

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