Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Saturday: 29 September 2007

Shade Goldenrods  -  @ 06:27:03
Bow hunting season for deer started a couple of weeks ago and so the early mornings/late afternoons are out for walking in the woods now. Or at least I feel somewhat uncomfortable doing so.

I'm working my way up SBS Creek (or what's left of it) removing Microstegium. In contrast to everywhere else, the plants are growing more densely than last year, and the patterning of where they're growing tells the story. They're densest on the sand that got washed up during the flood of last March, and so the seeds have probably been washed down from the property upland of us above the creek. That makes it particularly important to get it all this year.
There are some colorful flowerings along the creek, however dry it might be. Not only is there Downy Lobelia, but there's also this yellow beauty.

I first found it several years ago, and pegged it as Zigzag Goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis, but a better look at the leaves makes it clear that it isn't that. Glenn agrees that it's most likely Bluestem Goldenrod or Wreath Goldenrod, Solidago caesia probably var caesia.

I can't begin to count how many photos I've tried to take of this plant over the years, and *none* of them has ever turned out well until this one. It just happened to be at the right angle and in the right patch of sun.

A couple of neat things about both of these species (and now I have to keep my eye out for some real zigzag : - )  ), unlike most Solidago, they grow in shady damp habitats, a nice example of speciation that extends range. And unlike most goldenrods they don't grow in dense profusion, but mostly as singlets. Of course that could be because they're not fully established, and I do know that the deer will crop them.

Best thing is that when I first found them several years ago, I only saw two plants along the length of the Microstegium-infested SBS Creek. Now there are hundreds all along the length.

BTW - the Connecticut Botanical Society has quite a nice identification table for goldenrods here. I suspect it is useful for much of the eastern US and Canada, although not, maybe, for western North America.

Friday: 28 September 2007

Predicting Drought  -  @ 08:33:20
There's nothing quite like writing about drought as I did yesterday, and then having a bunch of storms move through the area as they did last night. We only got a trace of rain though. Perhaps if I'd really gone out on a limb we'd have gotten a deluge.

You've probably heard or read in the mainstream media that we are potentially headed for a megadrought over the next decade to three decades. Of course, normal drought periods are roughly local, and some places may not suffer so, while others do. Question is, will your location suffer?

I ran across this very neat paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Pacific and Atlantic Ocean influences on multidecadal drought frequency in the United States (PNAS (2004) 101, 4136-4141, by GJ McCabe, MA Palecki, and JL Betancourt). It is available online, as are all PNAS publications, and I'll focus on it here.

A word about the PNAS, which is the publication medium of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. You hear a lot about Science and Nature, but PNAS isn't usually on the radar screen. Yet the Academy is the elite of the elite, and publications are usually very good and readable:
The National Academy of Sciences membership is comprised of approximately 2,100 members and 350 foreign associates, each of whom is affiliated with one of 31 disciplinary Sections.

University of Georgia, which is actually quite a good research university, has six members in the academy. To publish a paper, you have to submit it to a member, and members are each allowed five submissions a year (at least that was the case a few years ago).

Two quick reviews:
There are two ways to predict climate and weather. First, it can be done by first principles of physical science. Massive amounts of current data are inserted into Global Climate Models (GCM) and predictions are forecast.

Second, and relevant to the above paper, past climate can be dissected and analyzed by factor analysis or other statistical techniques. This is purely a phenomenological approach that uses past climate data to predict future climate.

Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. GCMs can potentially take into account climate change and can take into account anthropogenic influences, since they use real-time data. On the other hand they are subject to the limitations of the model itself, and the required sophistocation of computation is enormous.

Statistical analyses of past climate using factor analysis of past data cannot take into account anthropogenic influences, though they are much easier to accomplish and can still give broad indications of what may happen.

Second review: I'll be mentioning two phenomena - the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), for that is what the above paper concludes are the two major influences on drought on the North American continent. You can find my review of these two cycles Aug 2005, and that includes also the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which does not really figure in this discussion. You might remember that both the PDO and AMO cycle between positive and negative values, with positive values indicating warm portions of the cycles, and negative values indicating cold portions of the cycles. As the name implies, these cycles repeat in decades, rather than a few years.

The authors of the paper we're talking about took precipitation data for 344 geographical regions across the US for 1900-1999 and subjected it to factor analysis. They extracted three factors that account for most of the variation in the data. To make a long story short about 3/4 of the variation is accounted for by the AMO and the PDO, with the AMO accounting for most of it.

They then used these results to simulate and validate two past periods of drought in the US - the drought of the 1930s (1924-1943), and the drought of the 1950-60s (1947-1966). The correlations are very good, (and why wouldn't they be?) as you can see here (click for larger image):

They then simulated drought patterns for four combinations of PDO and AMO: a positive PDO and positive AMO, PDO+ AMO-, PDO- and AMO+, and PDO- and AMO-. Their conclusion was that a positive AMO, that is a warm North Atlantic, drives generalized drought, while the PDO determines where the drought occurs.

Under a warm Atlantic (AMO+), which began in 1995, and which we are likely to be in for the next decade or three, and with a PDO+, you get a 1930s-type drought, affecting the northwest US, the northern midsection, and the southeast US.

With a PDO-, you get a 1950-60s-type drought, with the southwest US, southern midsection, and northeast US severely affected.

This figure is very illuminating as to the simulations produced in the four possible combinations, and I'll be referencing the panels below. On the left is a cold Atlantic - wet! On the right is a warm Atlantic - drought!

So the big question isn't really what's happening with the AMO - that's pretty obvious, barring anthropogenic influences that screw up everything. The question is what the PDO will do: it's right on the cusp, and it's been teasing us since the late 1990s. For us in the southeast US, if the PDO continues in warm phase, we'll see continued drought. If it swings into the cold phase, we may well see normal to wet weather. The northwest and north midsection US actually parallels our southeast experience in whatever happens.

Here's what's happening with the PDO and AMO. The plots below are my own, plotted with data obtained from the following sources: PDO, AMO, and ENSO. If you were to print out the above four panel figure to try to anticipate your drought conditions, then you'd want to keep an eye on the month-to-month numbers at the AMO and PDO references above.

Right now we are possibly going into a cold PDO phase (first thumbnail), and as I said, are on the upswing into a warm AMO phase (second thumbnail). I've also included the ENSO data plotted and linked to by the third thumbnail.

Again, the correlations and predictions above are based, not on global climate models, but on analysis of past data, with the assumption that the past predicts the future. We don't have much of an idea of how climate change is going to perturb these cycles. If, for instance, the thermohaline current that controls the North Atlantic temperatures should slow down, the AMO might drop into a cold phase unexpectedly, producing lots of rain in much of the US.

I'm fairly proud of these plots for rainfall and mean temperatures in Athens, covering the last 87 years. I normalized the data by subtracting for each month, the average over the period 1920-2007. Cursory comparisons with the PDO/AMO correlations are pretty much in synch.

The plot below is of normalized rainfall, relative to the long term average. The long-term drought since 1998 is obvious, as is the dry weather of the last two years. That would appear to be the AMO+ influence, with the PDO changing from negative to positive during this period. The similarly dry period of the 1980s is clear and with an AMO- with a PDO+ the above figure panel A has it right. There's the wet period of 1960-1975. That's AMO- and PDO-: Panel B is right on target.

And here's the similarly normalized plot of temperatures. The extraordinarily high temperatures of the 1920-1935 period are there, and the cold temperatures of the 60s and 70s, which coincided with a wet period. You can easily see the warm temperatures of the last three years. The focus of the paper we've been discussing has to do with drought, not temperatures so much, but the two are strongly correlated, at least here in the southeast. Drought and heat, wet and cold.

So what do you do? I'd assume that the AMO will remain positive and watch the numbers for the PDO.

Thursday: 27 September 2007

Just How Hot and Dry Was It?  -  @ 08:13:53
This should pretty well summarize it, in advance of the usual Month of September. Temperatures are indicated in Fahrenheit and precipitation in inches. The averages are between 1920 and 2007, which is not the way things are usually done - 1970-2000 is the usual average at this point, but my choice may be more honest.

Monthly Means
through Sep 25

If you prefer deviations from a 1920-2007 average, here they are, same units:
Monthly Deviations
June+3.5-0.6+1.4-1.80 (-45%)
July-4.0-1.5-1.7-1.40 (-29%)
August+9.1+4.6+6.4-1.93 (-47%)
through Sep 25
+4.6+2.1+3.3-2.99 (-87%)

We did have some relief in July, from heat, if not from a lack of rainfall, but all that went crazy in August and is continuing in September, with the average high likely to be more than 4-5 degF above normal. Although September is not yet over, there is no indication of any change in the forecast of the next four days and I bet we will end up with an extraordinarily mere 0.43 inches of rain. That would give us 21.3 inches of rain for the year to date, compared to 38.2 expected, just slightly over half normal. The extremely high temperatures of August and considerably high temperatures of this month add to the mix.

The next few months, through early 2008, do not look very good for us. I alluded in comments to the increasing confidence by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) view of a La Niña deepening in the equatorial Pacific, and this means continued dry conditions.

In idly reviewing the contents of the blog I thought it was interesting to come across this entry of Sep 2005.

Tuesday: 25 September 2007

Fall Spiders  -  @ 06:06:36
A whole slew of spiders seem to become prominent in the late summer - orb weavers of various species especially. By now the dirt daubers and other spider hunting wasps have disappeared (I haven't seen one in at least three weeks and they were *everywhere* a month and more ago).

This one has set up shop at head height on the front porch. It seems to be a tetragnathid of some sort - a long-jawed orbweaver. Admittedly it's not making much of an orb web, very messy. And it's tiny, about 5 or 6 mm body length. Otherwise I'd say it's a Leucauge (Orchard Web Weaver) or Plesiometa species, but those tend to be larger (and somewhat difficult to tell apart). So I'm puzzled.

Both of these are photos are of the abdomen - the spider was insistent upon hanging upside down and no amount of manipulation could manage a complete dorsal view.

Monday: 24 September 2007

Off to Bed  -  @ 08:47:47
With regard to the ongoing WWW:

I've spent much of the wee hours of the morning winding up the writing of emails and sending them off to various functionaries and heads of state. This is the culmination of a couple of weeks of reading through massive and strangely uninformative codes and statutes and rules, and I said I would do it, and I did. I did it, I think, with southern grace and style, combined perhaps with a northern firmness. I'm going to take a nap now, and if anyone needs to contact me they can leave a message and I'll return a call as soon as I've revived.

I'm clearly not meant for this sort of stuff. I have too much of a sense of grays, of consideration of the other side, and cannot be ordinarily impelled by black and whites. This is particularly frustrating since undoubtedly anyone from the other side reading this will be (and has been confirmed to be) irate in response. So be it - maybe that's a step in the right direction for me.

This msword document, included as an attachment to aforementioned cover emails, will show you exactly what I mean. It's pretty reasonable, I think, and has been sent to Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Department of Natural Resources, several environmental NGOs, and a few other lucky recipients. It's a followup to many many phonecalls made over the last month, sometimes repeated, sometimes returned, and sometimes not. There are a couple that I'll send out a hardmail printout to.

And so, good night! Or good morning, as the case may be.

Sunday: 23 September 2007

Penultimate Microstegium Report  -  @ 07:13:33
About an hour ago we entered autumn, and so happy Autumnal Equinox to all.

I notice that in last year's greeting, I had a little something to say about the Microstegium eradication of 2006. Yesterday I collected 952 plants within the fence boundary of the house area. Note the difference in numbers, less than a thousand compared to 10K last year!. That's been generally true this year, anywhere from 1/10 to 1/100 of last year's numbers.

Coincident with the remark in the above post, yesterday I was also looking for flowers. This looks suspicious, a spearlike terminal growth, with a peculiar basal swelling.

However, as I unrolled it, it simply appeared to be an older newly emerging leaf enclosing a younger emerging leaf (below). No telling though what might be yet within.

I notice that last year on Sep 27 I still hadn't noticed any flowers, which is good since I still have some pulling to do.

And then on Oct 12, when I more or less declared the 2006 season over, I didn't mention flowers but my memory is that they were present by then.

If there's anything good to be said about the drought, it is that I have seen quite a few patches of desiccated, dead or dying Microstegium, especially in drier upland areas. I was still a little surprised to see such large healthy plants as in the bucket at top, since the shade and moisture loving monster was growing in an area that has certainly been as dry as any other place in the upper elevations of the property.

Saturday: 22 September 2007

Lazy Saturday  -  @ 07:45:14
It's not Friday anymore but we haven't had a cat photo in a good long while.

Squit is now firmly in the geriatric class at the age, we figure, of twelve or thirteen years. Despite this he's an extraordinarily robust and healthy cat. He moves a little slower these days, but that's about it. This position is fairly classic for him, and not to be tolerated for long when wearing shorts, but that's how he likes it.

You can probably tell that he's part siamese and part tabby, with the scandalous tabby markings but colored in what is probably seal point. He comes complete with the blue crossed eyes.

Glenn had the camera yesterday so I wasn't able to get photos, but we did have some odd turkey vulture behavior. I first noticed one sitting in a snag about thirty feet above the gate to the parking slips, and then another behind that one in a loblolly pine. They were impervious to my activities below, although they did keep an eye on me. And then they sat there for well over four hours in the afternoon, apparently doing nothing.

Friday: 21 September 2007

Cunning  -  @ 06:21:01
The other day I was examining the growth of Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia Creeper, on the wall of the firehouse.

The adventitious roots flatten at the tips to a disc shape, and then secrete a mucilaginous pad to glue the plant to the wall.

I've run into the occasional person who hates this plant, but can't find much evidence that it's truly invasive within its range, which is east of the Rockies. We certainly have a lot of it. It's one of our half-dozen or so most common vines (if you lump all the Smilax species together as one), and in the fall, which is rumored to be going on right now, the leaves turn a vivid red.

I recalled vaguely that there was a Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth, but had no idea that the plant hosts larvae of so many species of the Sphingidae. HOSTS, The Lepidopteran Hostplants Database lists *ten*:

Amphion floridensis, Nessus Sphinx
Darapsa choerilus, Azalea Sphinx
Darapsa myron, Virginia Creeper Sphinx
Deidamia inscripta, Suddle Sphinx
Enyo lugubris, Mournful Sphinx
Eumorpha achemon, Achemon Sphinx (photo at Bugguide taken by TF23!)
Eumorpha pandorus, Pandorus Sphinx
Eumorpha satellitia, Satellite Sphinx
Hyles lineata, White-lined Sphinx (wow!)
Sphecodina abbottii, Abbott's Sphinx

Compare that to Creeper's invasive close relative, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Boston Ivy. HOSTS only lists three lepidopteran species hosted, two of which are Abbott's and Suddle Sphinx.

Thursday: 20 September 2007

Flower Spider!, and Updates  -  @ 07:05:49
Since I've spent so much time trashing this summer's weather, I should say that the last few days have been wonderfully comfortable (though still completely dry). Temperatures in the lower 80s, gentle sunshine, nighttime temps in the lower 60s, and very clear night skies have been a welcome relief.

Over the summer I've run into a couple of crab spiders (Family Thomisidae) including this apparent Xysticus, and then a week later this hairy little crab that Bev at Burning Silo suggested might be a Dictyna spp.

Last night around 11pm, sitting out on the front stoop after work, I noticed this little spider climbing onto and then around a hanging pot on the deck:

Finally, a *real* flower spider, this one apparently Misumenoides formosipes, or White-banded Crab Spider. Very typical pose, and the very long front two pairs of legs tag it as a crab spider (also Family Thomisidae). The green siding on the cephalothorax and the reddish dots on the back of the abdomen are invariant in other photos of the species, but the dot patterning on the sides seems to vary in photos. The mask over the eyes also informs the identification (which as always, could be wrong!).

This species is a genus related to Bev's Misumena vatia, the elegant little Goldenrod Crab Spider. I haven't seen one of those yet, but the goldenrods are just beginning to flower so I'll keep looking (of course they can be found on other flowers too).

A month ago, an issue came up when I ran across one of the Pisaurids, or Nursery-web Spiders. I noted that I was confused about the identity of two Pisaurina species. That has apparently been cleared up at Bugguide, with the spider featured in the above Niches entry being tagged as Pisaurina mira, and the other spider in question called by implication (though my photos were frassed) Pisaurina brevipes.

In WWW news, Monday a reporter from the Athens daily paper called to set up an interview with the three of us mainly involved in the lake-creek dispute. He was intrigued by a letter to the editor of the local weekly, the Oglethorpe Echo, that we wrote and had published a couple of weeks earlier. On Tuesday we met with him and took a tour of the creek a couple of miles downstream from the lake. On Wednesday the article appeared with Glenn on the front page of the actual paper. I probably would not have chosen the provocative article header, but otherwise the content was neutral and fair. Nonetheless it did provoke at least one quick angry response from a lake resident.

We continue to do emailing and phone calling and have generally zeroed in on two agencies that should definitely be involved: Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and its parent agency Georgia Department of Natural Resources. We keep running into the rather astonishing assertion that the 35-year-old dam has been operating without a permit (presumably under grandfathering) since 1972, and was never really inspected until a couple of years ago. Whether this is correct or not remains to be seen, but at least one DNR official has publicly alluded to this in the above article.

And we take the Official Code of Georgia to bed each night, going over mind-numbing Rules and Statutes. Currently GAEPD Rule 391-3-6-.07 (pdf) seems to apply, but notice that it addresses *obtaining* a permit, with the requirements expected. We're in the odd position that while the dam should clearly be expected to comply with the spirit of the requirements, which include downstream releases, its lack of a permit seems to exempt it!

Tuesday: 18 September 2007

Thermal Imager  -  @ 05:29:54
Pretty good on the guesses. I guess you can't really call it a camera, since one of the things it doesn't do is to actually capture an image, and that's too bad. I had to hold the thing at arm's length and shoot with the other camera at the viewer to get these:

That's a cat on the left and the coffeepot on the right, a bit blurry but more due to my camera juggling than anything.

One of the neat features is that you do get temperature readings. The green cross wasn't centered on the radiator well enough to get the full reading. The little transformers at the end of computer plugins generally get up to 110 degF, and the fluorescent bulbs up to 130 degF.

Searching in smoke-filled rooms (and not for politicians, Pablo) is possible, and you can adjust the sensitivity if the room is hot. But mostly what we've done is use it for searching during walkthroughs after a fire for hidden fires inside walls or above ceilings or below floors. I've been playing around with it here looking for electrical hotspots, and when we get some cool nights want to look for thermal leaks on the outside of the house.

Admittedly it's extremely rugged, but surely they must come cheaper than this one did, somewhere around $10K, as I recall.

I suppose night vision amplifying low levels of visible light might be more useful, but I've always wondered how the operators handled a flashlight beam in the face.

Monday: 17 September 2007

Gadget  -  @ 05:34:52
This is an extremely cool device (I do not own it).

What is it, what does it do, and why is it useful?

Saturday: 15 September 2007

Post Humberto  -  @ 04:42:24
I see that Mark in northwest Georgia got 1.76 inches of rain yesterday. We only managed 0.3 inches on top of Thursday's non-Humberto related 0.1 inches, but we're not complaining. Thursday afternoon especially was accompanied by a terrific lightning and thunder display.

By 7:30pm, nearing sunset, it was pretty much all over, with the trailing edge of the rainfall passing over us heading northeast:

The setting sun, casting its rays through the lifting clouds in the west onto the heavy cloud cover to the north and east, painted the scene with the most baleful set of changing yellows and oranges for perhaps half an hour. Unfortunately the distinctly lurid green of the vegetation didn't come through on the photograph, but the sky is about right.

Not that we need a reminder of this summer's temperature excesses and rainfall deficits, but this one works.

Friday: 14 September 2007

Killing All Cows!  -  @ 05:43:51
It's probably a little repetitive presenting this colorful little montage of Dasymutilla occidentalis, Southern Red Velvet Ant or Cow-killer, especially since I've already posted on the species here last May and here June 2006. However, they've been abundant since mid-May, and I've seen literally dozens of them scurrying about the ground on the floodplain in search of bumblebee nests as I've been pulling Microstegium in the last few days.

D. occidentalis isn't the only velvet ant species I've seen this summer - there have been quite a few other representatives of somewhat less shocking appearance, but I've failed to photograph any except this related genus, last April. I'll probably forever now associate them with extremely hot dry weather.

Around the house, sitting on the front stoop, I quickly become aware of one prowling about the front area and it becomes the object of uneasy concern. They move so *fast*, and seem blithely but unerringly to include me in their random walk at some point.

Such activity! They must expend huge amounts of energy, for they seldom stop and are quite large, more than a centimeter in length. Apparently the adults drink nectar, but I've never seen this and certainly we've not had the resource handy this year.

And by the way, this photograph and the accompanying remarkable shots at Bugguide gives me a good idea of one reason they're called cow-killers.

Wednesday: 12 September 2007

More Watershed Stuff  -  @ 10:09:24
A few days ago, Glenn purchased the sitename and a separate account for it on That will be the new homepage for a Goulding-Moss-Big Creek watershed page, and you can find it here. It's only in its early stages of construction, but the intent is to make it a neutral site for links to and repositories of relevant information. There will be a blog (more insanity), and the plans are for GBM Watershed folks to be able to register and write articles which need not be approved by anyone. And yes, that certainly includes the Lake Oglethorpe residents too.

From my experience in writing a fire department blog, I suspect this will be a slow grower without much input from the outside, but that's ok.

So much watershed stuff will end up there, but in the meantime we've been doing a lot of work on that and mapping has been a large part of it. You've seen versions of a lot of stuff below, beginning with the original watershed post quite a long time ago, but now I'm casting it from the point of view of a specific agenda. It may be that our discoveries and approaches will be of use to others involved in similar concerns.

From a rather old (ca 1990), highly modified pdf file of our county originally found here, here's Oglethorpe County, plucked out of the larger geographical context in which it is normally surrounded by five or six counties. To the northwest is Athens-Clarke County, with about 15 miles or so separating the center of the green inset from the center of ACC.

I blew up the green inset above, our part of Oglethorpe County that includes much of the watershed area, and added numbers that refer to previous blog entries. Numbers 1-3 indicate the three creeks that eventually come together to form the downstream Big Creek (where are the imaginative folks who don't get to name these things?). #4 is Lake Oglethorpe, #5 is our place in the scheme of things. #6 is where Goulding crosses Blacksnake Road and quickly merges with Moss Creek (named for Mr Moss, I presume, not as we might otherwise hope). #7 is the point of the recent hike, and also indicates where the third creek emanating from Clarke County, Big Creek (again with the lack of imagination), comes in. It also runs under Wolfskin Road here. #8 is the point we walked on that hike, and also the site of the old mill. And #9 is where all this enters into the Oconee River, which flows way south into the Altamaha River in south Georgia.

Some time back, we learned of the existence of the tax assessor webpage, and talked about that here. I captured screen frames of that and merged them together to create three parcel maps, marked by the green insets above, along the part of the watershed that interest us the most. From left to right there's the north Goulding headwaters, the Lake Oglethorpe area, and the south Goulding all the way to the Oconee River.

Only the latter thumbnail links to a larger image of the south Goulding Creek parcels. There are no people names here and the numbering system is my own. I do have excel files for each of the three regions with parcel owners, addresses, parcel category, and so forth, but that's not going to be made publicly available here (though I don't mind sending it to responsible parties - it's all on the internets, after all).

Finally, I think it's really neat to look at the topography between major creeks. This is a capture from Microsoft's Terraserver, for the area. I've tarted it up with red lines indicating high elevations, or ridges. The difference between high and low elevations in this part of Georgia is only a hundred feet or less, but it's sufficient to isolate creek systems from each other. And those are identified in red letters. A big ridge, for instance, runs between Goulding and Barrow Creeks, separating the two until they come together at the Oconee River at the end of the run.

And it's also kind of neat that the roads, identified in dark blue lettering, primarily run along these ridges, with some exceptions that always demand a bridge at the bottom of a traverse. All this makes good sense, of course. So in the end, it's really Goulding Valley, separated from Moss Valley to our northwest, and Barrow Valley to our southeast. Something tells me this is ecologically important.

I should point out that you don't see Lake Oglethorpe on the topo maps. This is generally true of artificial lakes. You see the creeks or rivers that once ran through the area, but not the lakes themselves, unless they are natural lakes.

Monday: 10 September 2007

Winding Up Big Creek  -  @ 05:58:02
A little update on the WWW: A few days ago I noted that the vote on whether to release water to the downstream watershed had surely ended by Friday Aug 31, and that we had not been informed. As it turns out we did receive a letter from LOA on Sep 7 postmarked the previous day, and the vote was 68:8 against, with two absentions. A bit better than I was predicting, and certainly the Board deserves credit for keeping us informed. I still think a couple of members of the Board are contemptuous of us, but some were in favor of the previously described experiment as were at least some of the households, and I shouldn't paint everyone with such a broad brush, as I've tended to do.

Now, a few last flowering plants along the Big Creek upstream area:

All along the creek there were patches of milkweeds in flower. Of the 70+ species of Asclepias mentioned at USDA Plants, it's probably worth noting that only two are non-native and even those are not considered invasive.

This one is probably either Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, but could be Purple Milkweed, A. purpurascens. Although Georgia has a fair number of species of milkweeds, you really have to go west to get into the great diversity of them.

The butterfly, and of course the insects were all over these flowers, - I'm pretty sure it isn't the dark female form of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus. It may be one of the many forms of Spicebush Swallowtail, P. troilus, but this photograph isn't really good enough to tell, and the individual looks a bit ravaged.

There was quite a bit of Ludwigia growing right in and emerging from the cracks in the rocks in the middle of the creek:

Ludwigia, and I'm not sure which species this is, is a relative of Oenothera, Evening Primrose, and goes by the names Seedbox or Willow-primrose. Of the 33 species listed at USDA Plants, most occur in Georgia (with only one invasive non-native). It's fairly easy to recognize with its four bright yellow petals and distinctive fruits although some species have five petals.

Finally, an old favorite, Allegheny Monkeyflower, another lover of moist areas. I was a little surprised to find Mimulus ringens in such a shady environment, but the many plants there were doing pretty well:

This was relatively easy for us to identify, since we only have a couple of the 90+ species of Monkeyflower. The vast majority are found west of the Rockies. Opposite leaves are helpful to identification. The flowers do sort of resemble a monkey's face, and like other members of the family Scorphulariaceae, are snapdragon-like, with wings and landing pads.

Saturday: 8 September 2007

A Few Big Creek Organisms  -  @ 06:36:23
We've been a bit starved for flowering plants here, this summer, and we did run across some nice ones on Wednesday's hike.

As well as a number of orb weavers, including this one - probably a Marbled Orb Weaver, Araneus marmoreus.

At first I thought it might be a Cross Spider, Araneus diadematus, but probably not. Marbled Orb Weavers are probably our signature spider for late warm season and will last through the fall, eventually becoming enormous and stringing their webs into and between trees high high off the ground.

Here's a larger view:

They weren't exactly everywhere, but here and there I did spy a patch of Cardinalflowers, Lobelia cardinalis. They're probably escapes from deer predation, since they were usually in an isolated, steep or rock-protected location. And yes, they really are that red. USDA Plants shows them in all but the nortwesternmost tier of states, so I'd bet they're found well into Canada as well. A plant we can all enjoy.

We also saw their close, blue relatives. There are a number of obscure, similar species but I'm going with Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica. This one's range is a little more restricted, east of the Rockies.

I didn't catch the occupant of this flowering branch until I'd looked at the photo. Must have been a fairly large spider, but probably not enough info to identify it.

They may be nonnative and considered noxious in Arkansas and Arizona, but I still like seeing Small Red Morning Glory, Ipomoea coccinea, aka Redstar, twining its way through the underbrush in a sunny spot.

Morning glories are in the family Convolvulaceae. There are 68 species of Ipomoea, morning glories, listed by USDA Plants, and every one of them are tagged as noxious. Looks like about third of them are nonnative.

Friday: 7 September 2007

Light at the End of the Tunnel?  -  @ 07:58:53
The forecast as viewed today looks a bit better than when viewed yesterday, a reminder that things can change quickly. Still no significant rain predicted for the next week, but the predicted temperatures have at least been lowered from the mid-90s to the lower 90s.

That's the view from one of the four barrels of Double Bridges Bridge, where we started our hike down Big Creek on Wednesday. I suppose it's something of a viaduct, but an inglorious though impressive one, really just a culvert. Folks driving down Double Bridges Road probably don't realize they're passing across a bridge of sorts. That particular road, at about the point marked #2 in yesterday's entry used to pass farther west, but the two bridges that spanned the confluence of two creeks were abandoned and the road was moved.

You'll notice the pile of detritus in the form of fallen logs accumulated at the upstream end. There's much, much more and as he does with trash that passersby dump on Double Bridges Road, The Unknown Firefighter also takes care of this accumulation so it doesn't block water flow. Quite a marvelous fellow he is.

Here are three of the four barrels that constitute this understructure. That apron should be well underwater, and you can see the watermarks on the walls of the structure that show where normal levels are usually.

As it turns out this is where we also fill the firetrucks, from a hydrant close by on the road above. Last night would have been our usual First Thursday business meeting, but the chief and assistant chief were both out of town and so it was cancelled. So Glenn and TUF and I had an impromptu training session to determine if we could pump from the hydrant stream as it enters the pumper engine. (The results were not entirely successful, but we delineated and defined the problem and Glenn and I think we know what happened.) In testing all this out we had to put the water somewhere, so probably 12,000 gallons of water were sprayed into this part of the creek.

As you can see, it really needed it. This is the only really nasty part of the entire 5-mile stretch of creek that I'm familiar with at this point.

There are probably several reasons for this stagnation. No flow from the above portion of the creek, except through underlying soil, probably results in a high nutrient load. But it doesn't help that the lady who owns the frontage you're looking at goes on a periodic "roundup spree". From her riding mower she travels about the margins of her property, spraying glyphosate along that entire perimeter, including the tops of the banks of two creeks that merge just below her property. You can see the dead vegetation atop the bank in the above photo, and it undoubtedly increases erosion and sediment runoff into the creek below. And just viewing the old pasture from the road, you can see the perimeter of death surrounding it.

Now, a mystery. Biotic or abiotic?

These deposits just happened to be on the walls of the culvert, as well as along the ceiling, about five feet up. But I also had noticed them on large rock outcrops farther upstream, and again 3 feet or so above the water.

Any ideas?

UPDATE: Thanks to FC who recognized them as the remnants of Dobsonfly egg masses. Unlike other insects with an aquatic stage, like dragonflies, dobsonflies lay their eggs on land and the larvae drop into the water. Some more info here.

Speaking of structures, we discovered this fine old springhouse set into the bank opposite the mill mentioned yesterday, at the end of our hike down Big Creek. It stands about 4 feet tall, and peering through the mesh you can see into the accumulation basin, which still holds a volume of completely clear spring water.

Thursday: 6 September 2007

A Walk Down the Watershed  -  @ 06:52:29
The matter of the watershed and upstream dam continues, occupying much time. While the LOA Board hasn't notified us of the vote on releasing water (votes were counted a week ago, and this is just another indication of the contempt they hold for us), we did hear of a 70:5 household count, against release, midway through the voting period. So I think we can assume that there will be no release of water. The heavily skewed vote against doesn't particularly surprise me - the Board made it abundantly clear that they were going to present the matter to the residents in a manner designed to scare them that their lake would be drained forthwith.
Yesterday morning, after a couple of hours pulling Microstegium, I returned to a phone call from one of our compatriots in this matter, The Unknown Firefighter (to whom I've referred before in the anonymous manner in which he prefers to remain). He proposed a hike along part of the watershed that I had not seen yet, as a change of pace, and so we spent the next four hours straddling noon happily wading up and down several creeks.

The map at left shows the GMB Watershed, along with the impoundment. Glenn and I hold frontage on Goulding Creek at the point marked #1, about 0.8 miles below the lake. Somewhere around 2 miles farther down, Moss Creek joins with Goulding and we met there at about point #2. Shortly thereafter Big Creek joins, and runs under Wolfskin Road, and thence south for about 3 miles. At lower left, Barrow Creek, separated from our GMB Watershed portion by a north-south ridge, joins with Big Creek. And in short order that runs west into the Oconee River, at the point marked #4.

We began our hike up Moss Creek northward from point #2 on the map above, and did not quite make it to Moss Cemetery before returning. The creek bed is generally rockier, with more in the way of large rock outcrops forming the banks of the creek. Oh - we were joined by TUF's three large, happy dogs. This one is just as pleased that he doesn't have to wade, but the gravel bed he's running on should be underwater.

A couple of thumbnails along Moss Creek, and then we'll head south under Wolfskin and down Big Creek:

There are a few intervening photos at point #2 on the map above that I'll present tomorrow, but south of the Wolfskin bridge Big Creek picks up considerably. For quite some distance the banks are relatively gently sloping and the rocky outcrops become more numerous. They too should mostly be under water.

We didn't get much more than half a mile down Big Creek, but did get as far as the old mill, closed down in the 60's after at least a half century of operation. This bridge led to the mill a bit farther downstream, and I've marked that as point #3 on the map.

It's no longer useable by vehicular traffic, I assume, and in any event there are no longer any roads that approach this area. The property is owned on either side by two neighbors, and so access to the area is in practice restricted. You can tell this is true by the lack of trash and vandalism.

Just beyond that bridge the banks become much steeper, and mountain laurel abounds. Mountain laurel is usually found farther north in Georgia, but apparently the environment along this part of Big Creek is perfect for it.

And just beyond that the Big Creek bed is entirely a rock outcrop, and this is at the point of the mill which would be to the right in this photo:

The first thumbnail below shows the same point in the photo above, but looking upstream. Just a thin sheet of water flowing down the rock slope connects the two large remaining pools.

The mill was really too big to photograph from the creek, and too overgrown with poison ivy, crossvine, and trumpet creeper to get an impression of, but it's a very large structure. The second thumbnail is of the side of the mill with the creek downhill on the right.

We cut across a couple of pastures and through the woods to return back to Wolfskin Road and point #2. It was quite a morale booster to get a good look at the downstream watershed along Big Creek and to marvel at the differences in topography. It's as lovely and dramatic an area as I've seen around here, with its fairly deep isolated pools and broad sheets of rock. I haven't presented any plant photos here, and those will have to come later.

Tuesday: 4 September 2007

Number Eight  -  @ 05:39:38
I've been documenting our population of eastern box turtles for several years, as the most visible reptile species we have, and have on one occasion rediscovered one. Yesterday, while pulling Microstegium, I found this new male, number four, partly burrowed under a small fallen tree near the northwest edge of the property:

Nice to see another one, the second this year, given the terrible heat and lack of rain. I notice that last year around the beginning of October I found a female wading in SBS Creek. As you know, they don't even have that small relief this year, as the creek has been dried up for over a month.

I note that most of my goldenrod photos seem to be made during the month of October, so it may be premature to judge, but it seems like I don't even see the usual goldenrod plants at this time, nor the late summer asters that usually abound. There's no doubt that flowering has been minimal all summer, as evidenced by the lack of blogging on plants in general. I don't think it's likely that such perennials have been catastrophically killed by our extremes this year, but they seem to have decided that reproduction just isn't worth the expenditure of energy. Better to channel it to the roots and hope for the best next year.

One of the good things about pulling Microstegium for a couple of months is that I'm forced to look very closely at a large portion of our 40 acres, while I literally walk every square foot. I'd probably miss such things as the box turtle without this.

A few other thumbnails, nothing special, just for documentation:

Monday: 3 September 2007

Again the Glitch  -  @ 08:38:54
Sometime before 8pm last night the site went down again. Same problem, max_questions exceeded. So I implemented the second hack, adding three ficticious users which should quadruple the limit.

Doing a little searching found this (you needn't follow that link if this isn't your interest - no pretty pics there!):
Most users will never notice this limitation, however there are some programs out there that are very unconservative with their queries. Forums (AKA: bulletin boards, message boards) such as phpbb and CMS's (Content Management Systems) such as phpnuke are typically the greatest offenders due the large number of queries and the rapid click through rate.

So this isn't exactly what you'd call growing pains, as no growth is involved. It's just some query programs that don't behave responsibly and deluge you with queries.

Saturday: 1 September 2007

The Month of August  -  @ 05:28:49
Here's the monthly summary of the climate of the month of August, here in Athens and US-wide.

The drought and high temperatures continue in many parts of the country, particularly the southeast and the southwest. Here's a summary, at least for our area:

For Athens, August 2007 was not just the hottest August since "record keeping began in 1898", it was the hottest month, period. We had an average daily high of 98.2 degF, approached only in July 1993 with an average daily high of 98.1 degF, and in July 1925, 96.9 degF. There were 13 days with temperatures of 100 degF or over, a record approached only in August 1925 with 9 days, and July 1993 with 10 days. On two days this month my personal observations indicate that we came to within less than 1 degF of matching the highest temperature recorded, 108 degF. Officially we broke 110-year historical records on nine days. Officially we got only 47% the amount of rainfall average for August, are at 60% for 2007 to date, and 61% since Jan 2006. I've probably mentioned all this before ; - )  .

In all fairness, summer 2007 has not been the hottest Athens has seen. With an average temperature during the Jun-Jul-Aug period of 92.6 degF and 13 days of 100+ degF, it is only the eighth hottest in 110 years. The record still goes to 1925, with an average temperature of 95.9 degF and 22 total days of 100+ degF. In order from high to low: 1925, 1931, 1993, 1933, 1924, 1954, 1930, 2007.

From the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean temperature anomalies for the US. That's the difference in the average temperature for this August above or below the average for August over many years, plotted in colors. The anomalies are in Fahrenheit.

Much of the country's midsection was hotter than normal, and by 6-8 degF in northern Alabama, western Tennessee and Kentucky, and contiguous areas. The Pacific Northwest was 2-4 degF cooler than normal for August.

Combine this with the much lower than usual precipitation for most of the country receiving warmer than normal temperatures and you have the continuation since 2006 of rather harsh, dry conditions. Again from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean precipitation anomalies for the US:

For Athens:

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of August in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the 15 years 1990-2005 (black dots), 2007 (green line), and 2006 (red line).

Officially the high for the month was 106 degF on August 22, but August 9 and 16 reached 105 degF. Temperatures were 1-2 degF warmer out here in Oglethorpe County on those days.

Besides the record-breaking hot temperatures, in the end there were an astonishing 23 days in August at least one standard deviation above the 17-year average for that day; far above any other year except for the 26 days significantly above average in July 1993. There are usually 4.9 days significantly above average in August. There were no days when the lows were at least one standard deviation before the average low.

Here is the plot for our monthly accumulation of rain here in Athens for the month of August. The red line is the average over the last 18 years of August, and the river of peach defines the standard deviation range. Blue areas would mean significantly above-average; mustard areas are significantly below. We just edged into the 1-standard deviation zone at the end of the month. Athens claims 1.72 inches rain this month; out here we got 1.30 inches.

Of course, the rainfall accumulation for the full year is important, so here it is, way below even the 1-standard deviation zone. And we are just getting into the dry season, now, SON.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update: After sea surface temperature anomalies in the equatorial Pacific dropped below normal in March, they returned to normal state in April and remained that way throughout June and July, perhaps slightly below normal. Indications still insist on a trend toward a weak La Nina in a couple of months. Usually these sorts of extreme dry and high temperatures would reflect a deep La Nina in the equatorial Pacific. Not this time. We are in ENSO-neutral conditions and so we did it all by ourselves ; - )  .

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