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

Sunday: 26 October 2008

Pretty Asters  -  @ 07:31:59
October is the time for certain favorites - Solidago (goldenrods), and Symphyotrichum, asters. It's a time when some homely little plant that you never noticed all summer sudden pops into clarity:

Glenn knew this one right off the bat - I had it down to two or three possibilities based on a field guide. It's Symphyotrichum patens var. patens, known as Common Clasping Aster or Late Purple Aster.

This particular specimen was all by itself, and probably had suffered cropping by deer. Normally it would be fairly bushy with many more inflorescences, but this 2-3 inch spread was all there was on this plant.

Clasping leaves, auriculate (ear-shaped) or cordate (heart-shaped), along with a general hairiness, would be the defining feature, in addition to the blue-purple ray petals, and not so many of them, along with smallish yellow or white disks.

It's not the only autumn aster we have - for a couple of weeks I've been admiring large, sprawling shining white clumps of what I guess are one or all of S. racemosum (Smooth White Oldfield Aster), S. dumosum (Bushy Aster), or S. lateriflorum (Calico Aster); I haven't stopped to check.

By the way, I notice that USDA Plants has a new and improved search. You can specify region (region, state, or province - yes, Canada has been included for some time now). While helpful in paring down possibilities, we've all noticed in the past that USDA Plants occasionally poorly represents the range of certain species, especially nonnative ones. I think these occasions are the exception and not the rule - this is an invaluable resource in many respects. But it's worth noting as a caveat.

We've talked about the Aster name changes before. That's why this particular species is no long Aster patens but rather Symphyotrichum patens. New world asters are now recognized as genetically (and otherwise) distinct from old world asters, and it's the latter that gets the easily pronounced precedent. That means it's the former that gets the tongue-twisters.

So how about that Symphyotrichum? It's not hard, not when you break it down. SYM (together, think SYMphony) + PHYO (to grow) + TRICHUM (hairs). It all hangs together somehow (hairs grow together), but I haven't quite figured out how it represents reality, even though the Flora of North America provides an invaluable resource for floral keying!

Saturday: 25 October 2008

Short Stuff  -  @ 06:40:36
I've now been logging rainfall daily to CoCoRaHS for six months. California joined the network this month. They don't have very many stations as yet, mostly centered around San Francisco and Sacramento area, a very surprisingly few in the Los Angeles-San Diego region, and a few in northern California (I count 12 - ha! We have more in Oglethorpe County!).

Yesterday I got email from a fellow Wolfskinaut asking if I could pinpoint incidents of lightning between August and mid-September for insurance purposes. Yes indeed - it was during the passage of Fay, August 25 and 26, when we had multiple tornado warnings here. I see the blog even records the times ; - )  .

This was neat. I've always wanted to see a reentering object. Periodically I spend a few weeks scanning through SpaceTrack alerts, and downloading elements to see if the orbit looks promising. This is the next best thing!

On September 29, the European Space Agency's Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) reentered the atmosphere. Clicking on the photo will take you to the ESA's ATV page with stills of the burnup.

There is a dramatic video of the entirety of the reentry. It was taken from a DC-8 aircraft so there's a little wobble but things get mighty interesting. One thing you'll notice is how long the video lasts - a reentering satellite can be easily distinguished from a meteor. The former is travelling at a few miles a second and is therefore visible for minutes. The latter can reenter at speeds of 40 miles per second and shows up in a quick flash.

Thursday: 23 October 2008

Fluorescence  -  @ 07:10:37
An odd topic, perhaps, but we all need to know how to spell the lyrical word fluorescence, could stand a review of the second law of thermodynamics, and doubtless need a respite from the relentless, though very exciting, election process. So let us dip, with merciful brevity, into the world of the physics of electromagnetic radiation, so that at least for today, October 23, we can honestly and heartily say: "Been there, done that."

There are few things more fun than playing with a green laser pointer, but one of them is having the cats chase the bright green light spot around, which they will do, helplessly, until they collapse of exhaustion.

But we've more important things to do here: we are in hot pursuit of an explanation for something that caught my eye one day. The green laser light was green on everything I shined it upon, until I chanced on one of our orange hunting vests. The light spot then was a brilliant orange with no hint of green to it. So let's get going; we've got fish to fry.

Here's a green laser light shining on an ordinary orange sweatshirt, nothing up the sleeves. The left image is underexposed, the right one is overexposed. The light is green, as you'd expect, and as you'd see on any ordinary white surface.

Now here's the same green laser light shining on a *fluorescent* orange hunting cap, which along with the vest is haute couture around here, these days.

The orange light coming back at you isn't because there are orange components to the green laser light. That green laser light is, by definition, monochromatic, which means that it contains only a single color: green. And not just fuzzy sloppy green, but the purest of green.

So how is it that orange light appears in the second set of photos? It wasn't there to begin with.

The answer is "fluorescence." The orange light isn't being simply reflected at all! It's being manufactured and emitted.

To start with, photons of different colors have different energies: blue is more energetic than green, which is more energetic than yellow, and in turn orange and red. These are the colors of the rainbow, in that order, and they spread out in such an order for precisely the same reason. An invisible ultraviolet photon would be more energetic than any photon of visible light.

Now in the first set of photos, the molecules in the pigments in the sweatshirt reflect back the green light in a normal, humdrum way. (Actually these particular orange pigment molecules do absorb the green light, but do nothing interesting with them. That we can see any green at all is because there are green pigment molecules there, but they are overwhelmingly in the minority, if such a concept is possible.)

The molecules in the pigments in the fluorescent hunting cap do something much more interesting: they absorb the green light, become excited, and then in a short time, a few billionths of a second, emit the light at a lower wavelength, a lower energy, orange. This is actually a demonstration of the second law of thermodynamics: TANSTAAFL. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch - energy is lost in the fluorescent process, so the light fluoresced is always at a lower energy than the light absorbed. To fluoresce, a molecule has to be able to absorb light in the first place, and then become sufficiently excited to emit light of a lower energy color.

If we could live, very briefly, in the nanosecond world (10-9 seconds) and were able to very very quickly shine and then turn off the green laser light, we'd see the green pulse and then we'd see darkness. Shortly after there would be, palinlike, a brief wink of orange light.

In the real world fluorescent pigments are constantly deluged by white light of all colors. The orange sweatshirt and orange hunting cap are indistinguishably orange, even though the cap is fluorescing all the while. You can demonstrate this by shining ultraviolet light on the two materials. Since you can't see UV (unless you don't have lenses in your eyes - then you can see UV as a brand new color!), it doesn't interfere with the fluorescence of the hunting cap.

These photos were taken at the same exposure time (1/50 sec), using a blacklight (ultraviolet) in the dark:

The cap fluoresces bright orange in comparison to the shirt. But under the very energetic UV light, it seems that there are some pigments in the shirt that respond by fluorescence to UV, but would not to the less energetic green laser light. Not too surprising - many materials respond to the much higher energies of UV, though they would not to the more impoverished visible photons. This is why blacklights are so entertaining, and it's also connected to the reason Einstein won the Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect in 1921.

There's also phosphorescence, the glowing of pigments for seconds, minutes, or even hours after you've turned off the light, but these are forbidden transitions, and must wait for another day!

Tuesday: 21 October 2008

Transitions  -  @ 06:44:34
Some local observations and predictions, and then a quiz. No, a totally unrelated quiz that will set off Twilight Zone music in your mind.

We have, I think, marked our transition from summer to autumn. It happened during the 0.86-inch rain we got Oct 17-18. That was the first rain followed by a sharp decline in fair weather temperatures. And so the last couple of nights have been close to mid 30s (in Athens, haven't quite broken 40 yet). That's an indication to me that warmth from the south is no longer great enough to counter cold from the north. (Since it all comes in waves there's no promise that this will be sustained, of course.)

Notice that Oct 8-9 temp-fart: that was due to rain (2 inches worth!) but it was not succeeded by a drop in temperature. That's the signature of a summer rain - just not enough of a cold front that might overwhelm southerly warm front temperatures.

Question is, here, when will trees start turning color in earnest? They certainly haven't yet.

Last year it was just prior to about Nov 11. After looking at the temperature drops last year in October, I see that similarly cold temperatures were achieved at about the same time as this year. But rainfall, in short supply then, was not accompanied by a drop in temperature until much later.

So the hypothesis is that if what we require for a color turn is simply cold temperatures, below 40, say, then those were achieved in 2007 Oct 15-16, about the same time as now, and we'd expect color turn at about the same time, Nov 11.

On the other hand if we require subfreezing temperatures following a rain then that was achieved last year Oct 25, and this year the predictions are for continued warm beyond that point, well into next week if then. So color changes would be delayed.

We'll just have to wait until after the first week in Nov to be sure.

Now for the quiz, which I have to attribute to another observant individual whom I shall name later so that you don't peek (you may have already run across this - be honest if so!):

When was the last time that a WINNING Republican presidential ticket did NOT include either a Nixon or a Bush?

I think you'll be surprised, and feel free to make of it what you wish!

Update: the Bums got it, and who could be surprised? What could it mean? It's like finding cookie and candy shops festooning a street formerly known for strip bars and massage parlors. Or vice versa, maybe.

Anyway - it came indirectly through the prolific and ever-readable Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly. Who saw it first at ... EEEEEEKKK ... Mark Halperin of Time Mag Mag. Sorry about that - the Timese Machine* itself!

*(Thanks *again*, Joan.)

Sunday: 19 October 2008

Our Weekend at Catching Up  -  @ 04:56:21
It's been a busy, but important weekend, mostly concerned with taking care of business, and that business having to do with fire department stuff. Since Saturday was the first "real day" of hunting season, and since there was a considerable roar of gunfire about, it's all out for the fluorescent orange from now until Jan 1.

Thursday night training was donning turnout and SCBAs. Like so much else this is one of those repeated exercises that we have to do periodically, and always turn out to be well worth it. It's easy to gradually forget how to put things on. We spent the majority of the evening re-familiarizing, and training one new individual, but the final hour or so was spent in timing the donning. The goal is two minutes, which I did manage, but we have one hotshot who did it in 1:45 minutes.

There are variations but essentially the procedure is: turnout pants and boots are already incorporated, with the boots inside the pants, so all you have to do to begin is to open the bag, and step into your boots, pull the pants up, and pull the suspenders (yes, suspenders!) over your shoulders. That's how we all do it - so much so that I've been walking about with a piece of rock in my boots for the few weeks since it's such a pain to remove the boots from inside the pants to turn the boot upside down and then get it all in gear again.

The coat goes on next, zip it up. Nomex hood down around the neck, gotta do that before all the heavy duty stuff goes on.

Then it's the SCBA, and there are numerous straps and buckles there. The hotshot likes to throw the BA cylinder over his head - I'm more staid and put it on over my shoulders like you would a jacket. Some considerable time is spent in finding the straps and buckles and securing all those, as well as tightening everything up.

Then there is the face mask. That's another detailed thing. It goes over your face and head, and the straps have to be tightened, then the nomex hood pulled over the top. The cylinder has to be turned on, and the system activated. Hope you've enabled your switch to tank air, otherwise you take a breath and there is no air. Sudden claustrophobia!

The rest is adjustment, for the most part. Closing up the coat at the neck, pulling down the back hood over the collar, then it's the helmet, strapping it, and finally putting on your gloves. That's all supposed to be done in 2 minutes, no more.

The record for Georgia is a woman firefighter who does all this in 42 seconds.

Another repeated exercise - Saturday was recertification for CPR. Certifications expire after two years, and four of us were due. As has always been the case the recertifications are comfortable, low-key, and companionable. Our previous round did not treat the new standards for CPR that were approved in 2005, so this one was important. Lots of changes, mostly in terms of substantial simplification of CPR procedures. Since I haven't done any emergency CPR since the last round, two years is a pretty good time to be refamiliarized with all this.

In fact, at least two changes are worth mentioning. The point at which you should exert pressure with the heel of your hand is now much more easily defined. Visualize a line from the throat to the knob near the sternum. Now visualize a line connecting the nipples. That's your target (for infants, it's slightly below that).

Second thing: the former routine was 15 compressions, followed by two breathings, for adults. The compressions are to keep the blood flowing in the absence of a heartbeat, now considered to be the most crucial goal. It's now known that the blood doesn't get flowing until about the 15th compression, which under the former standards, does precious little good to stop at that point. Instead, the new standards are to go for 30 compressions before giving two breaths.

So, in short, 30:2, not 15:2, for adults. Frequency, more than 60 per minute. That's pretty fast.

One other thing, the AED, the automated external defibrillator, about the size of a good thick book:

These devices are now at close availability in schools, airports, and other public buildings. Basically all you have to know is to open the damn thing up with a touch to the yellow latch with the arrow pointing to it. When you do the electrode pads are there, waiting for you to grab hold of them.

It talks to you from that point on, and tells you exactly what to do. You don't even have to worry about whether to perform the shock - once you have the pads in the right places (and it tells you how to do that and tells you if you did it wrong), it will either perform the shock if it's warranted, or tell you to push the button (depending on the model), for it is doing an EKG on its own. If it performs the shock (and it will tell you to clear beforehand) it will tell you to continue CPR if necessary. They're pretty amazing. It helps to know some ancillary stuff, like wiping away sweat and removing chest hair, but they're amazingly self contained.

One bonus - this round also got us our recertification for basic first aid. In a lot of ways, including gruesome photos and discussions of why you never remove a helmet from an injured bicyclist or motorcyclist (I'm not sure I even want to tell you about this, but you can probably guess), the first aid section of the retraining was more interesting than the CPR section.

To round things off there was a 16 wheeler overturn near Maxeys this morning at 1AM. Kept listening to see if our VFD would be called, but it wasn't. This particular gruff dispatcher who never repeats a dispatch didn't call a fire department to the scene immediately, as he should have with a vehicle accident. Instead, at 2AM Maxeys FD, our neighbor to the south, was called to prepare a landing field for a helicopter airlift. That delay gave them precious little time to get out of bed if they're not monitoring, get to the station, get going, and make it to the scene. And there was some traffic considerably later suggesting that they were having trouble finding it.

Not a lot, you know. Just community organization stuff that's like being a mayor of a small town, only she claims she has actual responsibilities.

Thanks but no thanks.

Saturday: 18 October 2008

Mid October Activity  -  @ 05:29:36
We got another autumn rain, falling throughout a cool day in the mid-60s, accruing to 0.85 inches before tapering off in the late evening.

But before that, were a couple of Papilio polyxenes caterpillars, Black Swallowtail, feeding on Ruta graveolens, common rue. I have, I see, not yet observed an adult black swallowtail around here.

Looks like it was around the first of September when I saw my first adult Giant Swallowtail, P. cresphontes, examining this very plant and engaging in suspicious behavior. But those larvae, the "orange dog" or bird poop larvae, never look like these. Popular plant!

I should have been more observant, and I would have seen earlier stages. They're way different from the later ones. I don't know if these will have time to emerge as adults this autumn, or will overwinter instead.

And then I got only the briefest chance to photograph this odd little (3-4 mm) insect, fluttering close by, and then gone. At first I thought it might be a fly, perhaps of the Ulidiidae, or picture-wing flies. Many species carry their spotted wings like this.

But now I'm pretty sure it's not even a fly. Looks like there are four wings here (digital blowup upon clicking). The rear pair are much smaller but spotting on the front pair is seen through them, and there looks to be a distinctly different connection to the thorax.

It's hardly fair to ask this, since the thing was there and gone, and I wasn't able to get a frontal shot with a view of the head. But still, anyone recognize this little mystery?

UPDATE: Bev suggested leafhoppers in comments, and there's a spookily perfect match here, Euklastus harti.

Wednesday: 15 October 2008

Spiders for Obama  -  @ 06:26:58
This is pretty silly, and the video itself is ornamented beyond my rather simple tastes, but since spiders are fairly popular with me it is marginally appropriate:

Now, it's entirely possible that this whole thing could have been staged, but to what purpose? To snag the vast voting block of spider lovers? Seems unlikely, and more probably would alienate the larger block of arachniphobes. Obama would never make that mistake deliberately, and McCain would never think of it.

Still, I'm charmed by the substance of it. People do go bonkers over finding a spider on them, and Obama didn't. I'm not entirely sure that his flick was all that gentle, but he wasn't jumping around screaming about it like a ninny. Good for him. I imagine Sarah Palin, without a helicopter and AK-47, would have been in hysterics, and McCain? His reaction would have elevated Palin to the Presidency.

I would have liked to have seen Obama take a closer look - my guess is that the spider is one of the Salticidae, one of the jumping spiders, and certainly as charismatic as they come. A closer view would have been a sweet one, and that it didn't happen with this fuzzy video convinces me that this was not a shameless plug for pro-spider votes. Besides, wouldn't a cuddly kitten shot have made the point much more effectively?

The above video is simply silly. The Onion offers some delectable video goodies, including this one:

Precocious Youngster Sells Cookies To Buy Attack Ad

Ha! I know people, much older, who have not accumulated the wisdom of little Emily! And she clearly understands the market.

Whether or not you liked these is not important to me: here's some more:
Portrayal of Obama as Elitist. Here in Georgia, we know the value of rednecks.

Bush Tours America to Survey Damage Caused by His Disastrous Presidency . And we want to be fair and balanced here, and so in all fairness I think that this is going to be a seminal video well into the far future.

McCain's Economic Plan for Nation: Marry a Wealthy Beer Heiress. If only I'd thought of this. Not only do I like McCain's helpful website, but I appreciate his approach to rejecting government giveaways of wealthy heiresses. You must do this on your own.

And finally, because Georgia was the victim of early Diebold electronic voter trials in 2004, something I experienced myself as I handed that little disk to the pollworker, there's this gem:

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Tuesday: 14 October 2008

The Spiders of October  -  @ 07:36:23
We're in for a heat wave over the next few days. The green line below tells the story, and on Wednesday we may break the 88 degF record high set in 1931:

October is one of those crazy months where the temperature swings during the course of the day and night can be as high as 50 degF. The result of this, if you're sitting in a chair at midnight with star maps on your lap is that the evaporation during a hot day like Wednesday will likely all be condensing onto your lap by midnight. October nights can be soakingly wet with dew.

In the middle of that plot of temperatures during the early October month you'll see the day or two of hardly-varying temperature. That was when we got our day or two of nearly 4 inches of rain.

And so beginning in autumn and continuing through winter, we have our most extreme temperature swings. You can see this in the wild zigzags of last winter, compared to more even temperature swings of summer here. This is a characteristic of the southern US, when we can have January or February daytimes that hit the high 70s and then plummet to subfreezing temperatures at night.

We have two reigning spider species right now, but this autumn the one I'm seeing the most of is Neoscona crucifera, Spotted Orb Weaver. It's our Charlotte, whom E.B. White made famous, but the real Charlotte was Araneus cavaticus. I'm sure Charlotte is local to us, but we don't have Barn Spiders right around here that I've seen. We make do with marbled and spotted orb weavers, and it's not such a bad thing - they're big, dramatic spiders who will send a thrill up any arachiphile's leg, and a chill down any arachniphobe's. This year, I've been watching our N. cruciferas since they were little babies, back in late spring.

This pretty one has been spinning her web nightly across the kitchen door, on the outside. She's remarkably clever and successful here - the dim kitchen light that we keep going attracts moths and katydids right into her web, and at least once or twice during the night she gets lucky, and catches an enormous meal. Otherwise it's the little midges and other flies, tiny moths, the hors d'oveours, and several times I've watched her pounce on one of these tiny morsels, and suck one of them up within a second or two. Just a midnight snack.

In the bad old days, way way back in the early to mid 90s, there weren't web pages - hypertext markup was just being invented - but there was Usenet. Usenet is anachronistic now, blandly and boringly black and white textual, and as outdated now as men's hats after 1960. But it's still a going concern and sometimes I revisit a few of the old newsgroups: soc.motss, rec.gardens,, sci.astro, But flashy webpages have largely relegated this elderly function of the internet to a dusty corner frequented by cantankerous old farts.

(Those who slummed Usenet back in the days will remember this hoary old warning that your "newserver" software presented you with as you breathlessly awaited to confirm a post, just before you decided to type y/n:
This program posts news articles to thousands of machines throughout the entire civilized world. Your message will cost the net hundreds if not thousands of dollars to send everywhere. Please be sure you know what you are doing. Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? y/n

Thousands of machines, throughout the civilized world! How delightfully quaint! "Hundreds if not thousands of dollars," how many times did Glenn and I gleefully quote this!)

It was on misc.rural that I recall a newly explanted city resident who was upset about all the spiderwebs that were woven about her country house at night. What could she do about them - insecticide? It was extremely annoying to her that she would walk outside in the morning and have to deal with all those sticky webs in her face. Properly, the suggestion was that perhaps she didn't fit in, that she get herself back to the city, where such magnificent spiders don't live anymore. That would solve her problem, and her spiders' problem, and everyone would be happy. She wasn't gracious in her responses, and that, too, was characteristic of Usenet. How little things change!

Our pretty female above is only one of many now spinning their webs in the cool autumn nights, and they will continue to do so for a couple of months, at least. They are to be found not just in kitchen doorways, where I insist and Glenn humors me that we should duck down low so as not to disturb. If only the city woman so upset by the orb weavers who cluttered her immediate area in the night would wait a bit, she'd have realized that the orb weavers carefully take down their webs at dawn and then tuck them away and retire to a quiet spot to wait again til the next night.

(In fact, that's exactly what she's done in the time it took me to wrap this up and post it. The sky is light, but the sun has not yet risen. She's politely taken down her web and sequestered herself in a corner of the door frame, for the day. What a good neighbor!)

The ones not so lucky as to commandeer a fabulous kitchen door are far up in the trees, constructing a web fifty feet off the ground and in the early mornings you can see them suspended precariously in the air.

Last night I noted one, a mere 20 feet off the ground, with a web spun in the river birch close to the house, but also with a structural strand that was attached at the same level to the house eaves, 15 feet horizontally away. Now how in the hell did she manage that?

Idly googling Neoscona crucifera, I ran across Spider Joe's account of his experiences with this species. It's always nice to see that someone else understands.

Monday: 13 October 2008

WTF  -  @ 06:46:22
Please pardon the language.

Paul Krugman has won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics. As explained here, there's no diminution in the quality of the recognition because it's a "memorial prize." Rather, it's a category that was added after Alfred Nobel's assignments. It is usually referred to as the Nobel Prize for Economics.

I've been reading Paul Krugman now for a number of years, for his very understandable economic analyses. How close to the mark he is I have no idea, I just found his writing to be extremely readable and informative. At the time of this writing even that entry on wikipedia has not yet updated to include this news.

When I saw, in comments in dKos, that he'd won the prize, I thought it was a joke. Not that a joke was necessary to explain Krugman's expertise, but more in the lines of "could it be?"

And apparently, that's a yes. That's a BBC link - but I got it confirmed just now through NPR, Nice Polite Republicans. Apparently the rest of the fabulous US media is still asleep, no surprise there.

Heartiest congratulations to a great explainer, even though that's not what he won the Prize for. It's also nice in a much lesser way to have it confirmed that I am capable of recognizing quality.

UPDATE: Ha! Within 10 minutes after checking, we now have this wikipedia update. In many ways, I love wikipedia:
In 2008, he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

I should also point out that for over a year The Bums sent me a copy and paste of Krugman's writings, which I read avidly. That was because the New York Times foolishly placed him and other columnists behind a subscription wall, and to their detriment it took them that long to realize how foolish it was. So thanks to Robin and roger.

UPDATE II. CNN still hasn't taken note of this, more than half an hour after I took note. Instead they have this front page photo, which we've now seen in innumerable incarnations for the last two weeks: the pensive, unhappy, frightened... well... thief. The photo appears an hour before the opening of the stock market, so you can make of that what you will (i.e., stock photo):

UPDATE III. Well hell, NPR noted this two hours ago, blogs have been on it for longer than that, and CNN still has nothing to say about it. Way to go, traditional media.

UPDATE 1V. Hours later, and CNN doesn't yet have anything about Krugman. Still, they're peddling the panic. This fellow is practically peeing in his pants, even though he's merely covering his mouth. Do you feel his pain?

Sunday: 12 October 2008

Pretty Green Moth  -  @ 05:25:46
This very pretty moth has been making the rounds lately, in the cool evenings and mornings of early October. There's one on my Evolutionary Biology text right now! Looks like it's gone to sleep ; - )  .

Actually it's probably been around for some time but as this site shows, the coloration can be seasonal and temperature dependent. It's possible that I simply haven't noticed it until now. And it's not large - this is no Luna Moth. It's maybe a centimeter across, about half an inch. But it's very green.

Looks like a Nemoria lixaria, Red-bordered Emerald Moth, to me. It could be N. bistriaria, Red-fringed Emerald Moth. As the above Bugguide page shows, it's hard to tell the difference. There are other green moths scattered among several families but none really resembles this one.

It seems that there are several things that offer clues to this one. The four tiny black pigmentation spots. The deep red fringe along the edges of the wings. The spots along the abdomen, fringed in red. And the curvy, rather than straight, white lines that mark the interior of the wings.

Bugguide never fails, one way or the other. This time I just searched for "green moth." There are quite a few green moths but the presentation gave an immediate hit.

The first link tells us that larvae feed well on oak, sumac, vaccinium, hypericum, and red maple, but declined the offer of sweetgum. Oh well. A page at that site shows the larvae. This is a Geometrid moth, inchworms, by reputation. The larvae of this species don't resemble what we usually think of as an inchworm - they look much more alarming!

Saturday: 11 October 2008

Year Six Final Microstegium Report  -  @ 07:30:40
It's time for the Year Six Annual Report on the Microstegium.

From last year at this time:
This is one of the two subjects you can be sure I'll always come back to. Just so's the first one isn't neglected, looks like high temperatures will continue this coming week, with a high in the lower 90s predicted for Tuesday. If so, we could break some 87-year records this week. And no rain, of course.

The high temperatures and low rainfall of last year are certainly not the case since a few days ago. And so we come back to the report this year, too.

This is Year Six of the Microstegium vimineum eradication project. I'm more or less declaring its annual end, although like last year and the year before on Oct 12 there's still a bit left to do, checking a few places over again, and so forth.

Here's the map , with 2006 numbers in green, 2007 in red, and the new 2008 numbers in blue. Click on it for a more readable version.

The green sprackling indicates places that I neglected through triage this year. Much of that is upland, and the drought these last two summers has worked for us in at least one respect. I've noted that plants in this area are small and desiccated, and are not producing flowers. So I'm tentatively ignoring them, for the most part. Similarly for the orange areas, except that I will go over those areas in the next few days, being careful to bag the plants since seeds, though still green, are close to maturity.

As I mentioned last year, the flooding March 2007, and its aftermath here, washed down huge numbers of seeds, apparently. Last year it took three times the time as 2006, and 14K plants compared to 2006's 6K, along SBS Creek. This year, not so bad, we're back down to 7.6K, and I must note that that includes three areas that I sprayed and did not count last year.

As I also mentioned last year
I completely gave up on the banks of Goulding Creek. I think that as long as the plant is infesting upstream of Goulding Creek, we'll never get rid of it there. After all, if so many of the folks upstream are bereft of the understanding of nourishing a downstream watershed, the idea of wildly invasive plants certainly isn't going to appear on their radar screens.

Here's the table of statistics continued from last year:

YearPlants PulledGallons SprayedHours

Just to continue to mention, even though I did not use herbicide this year:
Gallons Sprayed" refers to glyphosate at about 0.25%, half to a quarter the usual recommended dose. And just to repeat myself again, redundantly, no I did not and do not like using it. And yes, it was necessary for the first three years. And fortunately the Microstegium is very sensitive to it. I only applied it when the plants were a lush, tall, monoculture so that the droplets were generally caught by the foliage. And the time of application is such that most other plants have died back for the season anyway. This is all in keeping with the notion of Integrated Pest Management.

One interesting note: Jenn, of Invasive Species Weblog, forwarded me the request from a fellow, Luke Flory, of Bloomington, Indiana, who has been working on Microstegium for a few years. He's requesting seeds from various locations, and in the next day or two I will be collecting those. Among the interesting things is that the terminal flowers produce chasmogamous (open pollinated) seeds, while the lateral flowers along the stem don't open and therefore produce cleistogamous (self-pollinated) seeds. He's only interested in the former, and would like samples of about a third of a sandwich baggie volume. His website is here, and you can contact him.

Friday: 10 October 2008

Wet Days  -  @ 09:03:38
So here are the results of the effects on Goulding Creek from what amounted to our fabulous 3.84 inches of rain on Oct 8-9 (it fell over 22 hours):

Not a lot of difference above, from a few days ago. A bit more water flowing, and of course it's rather dirty.

Here's what we saw from 4.1 inches of rain (it fell over 16 hours) on Mar 1 2007. Essentially the same amount of rainfall.

And so what's the deal? I did a little data crunching and I think I can speculate on the answer. I reject the possibility that Lake Oglethorpe upstream released water on the Mar 1 date but did not in the last couple of days. While I don't show photographs here, our little feeder SBS Creek parallels these results. Yesterday afternoon SBS Creek had new standing water, scant though it was, where there was none the day before, and there was no real flow to it. You can see from the Mar 1 2007 photographs that SBS Creek was roaring.

Here's the previous 70 days of rainfall from late Dec to Mar 1 2007: 13.76 inches. And in the last 70 days before today? 9.03 inches. Perhaps most importantly, evapotranspiration in the last 70 days will of course have been 10-20 times higher than that prior to Mar 1 2007. Even now daytime temperatures and trees are sucking water up out of the ground, while from Dec to Mar we simply have little uptake of water at all.

Put simply, the (essentially) same amount of rain fell over a >50% longer period of time two days ago, and the soil was a lot, lot drier. This is good news, really, it means the last two days of fallen rain was able to do some recharging, it didn't simply fall onto the ground and rush into the creeks and rivers. But analyzing this is also useful - it provides some very useful benchmarks that predict when flooding will and will not occur.

Yesterday Glenn had his 5-year sigmoidoscopy, a delightful ritual that if nothing else involved our fine friends Roger and Bill in carting Glenn back after the ordeal. (Two benign polyps, good news. He recovered well and experienced no discomfort during or after the procedure.)

So Bill and I took a good walk along SBS and Goulding Creek and now we have the ninth new turtle of 2008, 081010f, a female, and she looks healthy and happy. Bill was delighted with the discovery. He said, "It's been years since I've seen a turtle," and could there be a sadder statement than that?.

The usual documentary thumbnails.

It isn't sad that *Bill* has failed to observe a turtle in many years - he's a very observant person. But he does live in Athens, and the ever-increasing sprawl means that box turtles are no longer welcome. He doesn't see them because they're no longer there, not really, not in any stable and sustainable way.

If there are turtles there, they won't be for very long: they will either be crushed under cars or shredded by lawn mowers, for even in parks they will stray into danger, eventually. Truly, the absence of box turtles is an indicator of how inimical humans, and their blithe ways of living, are to other forms of life.

Thursday: 9 October 2008

Rain  -  @ 07:05:42
What is this wet stuff, and why is it falling from the skies?

Since yesterday morning at 5AM we've had 3.77 inches of rain. It didn't stop all day yesterday and there were a couple of significant thunderstorms with downpour after 4pm yesterday. Then a new event passed over us, with pleasant thunder, beginning at 4:30AM.

So, wow! I'll have to take a walk to see how this has affected the creeks, later today. The last time we had rain like this, it was 4.5 inches of rain on March 1, 2007. Gracious, I'm glad I document this stuff! I don't expect the creeks will look like that - the soil is so dry, but maybe.

(If they do look like that it will mean that Microstegium seeds may have washed downstream again. That would mean another wave of invasion next spring.)

Wednesday: 8 October 2008

That One  -  @ 07:34:33
Warning: Stridency ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

I wasn't able to listen to all of the debate last night because of work, but I did get some of it at least. Glenn soldiered on with the bingo drinking game by himself but I was neglectful in photographing the results before the cats had scattered them into disarray. There were an awful lot of pennies on the board, though, and I heard an awful lot of "my friends," which someone suggested sounded more likely if you replace "my friends" with "you dumbasses." Certainly the patronizing tone of "you've probably never heard of Freddie and Fannie, Oliver," was cringe inducing.

It seems that more than just Glenn noticed and were livid at McCain's incomprehensible, physical, and verbal dismissal of Obama as "that one." I'm at a loss to understand how anyone, regardless of age, could be so clueless as to the dogwhistle meaning of "that one." The observation that "Senator McCain just doesn't get it" sounds about right to me.

Too sensitive, you think? Relax, blue-staters. I live in Georgia. I'm around red-staters all the time. I've heard dogwhistles. That, "my friends," was a dogwhistle.

Still, it's possible to take a callous mcnasty and turn it to your own ends. Here's some lemonade from some clever unknown person (who offered it free of charge).

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's another:

Tuesday: 7 October 2008

Close Encounters  -  @ 06:59:55
Something interesting seems to have happened a few hours ago. A newly discovered space rock, 2008 TC3, was predicted to enter the atmosphere over northeastern Africa at 2:46am, UT (late evening Monday night, EDT). I haven't yet uncovered any record of what must have happened eight hours ago, but since the body was a few feet to a few meters in diameter it probably provided quite a light show.

I note that in January I wrote a post about how it is that most discoveries of new near-earth asteroids are made just hours before their closest passage. So it was with this one. It's just a good thing it was only a few feet in diameter!

My penultimate day of pulling Microstegium provided a close encounter of the signage kind. Sometime in the last couple of days someone went down SBS Creek, stapling signs up on the trees. Creeps me out, a little. You can look down the creek and see these signs (center of photo):

And here's the stapled up paper sign. It faces toward our property, warning us not to trespass. Since that is its direction of message, it does nothing to warn hunters leasing the adjoining property to not trespass onto ours, unless they just happen to look back.

Unfortunately, the signs are stapled up to trees that are up to 500 feet within our property, warning us not trespass onto our own property.

What you see below is one of the signs, against a backdrop that includes all of our property. In this post the property line of contention is that between the red overseas-owned "Consortium" property, and the green "our property." The signs are posted well within the green, by hundreds of feet. In fact, in the map figure in that post, the signs are posted along the blue line that marks our little creek. That makes me cranky.

In this photograph, the property line is way way back, over and beyond the ridgeline you can see. Again, in case it wasn't clear, that sign is telling *us* that we shouldn't trespass any farther.

This hasn't happened for a couple of years and I thought maybe the company that owns and leases the adjoining property had finally gotten a new map that showed that we purchased extra land ten years ago. It seems that that this not the case, now.

Anyway, I ripped down seven signs, yesterday, and the task will be to put up twenty or so signs along the actual property line, facing the *other* direction, warning hunters away.

(FYI - I understand how this happens, and it's just some guy doing his job and outfitted with inadequate property line info. We actually have good relations with the manager of the 360-acre land leased by the overseas company, and will be talking to them about this, without rancor. The main goal is to stop hunters at the actual boundary, and notify them not to be shooting in the direction of private ownership. The actual property line has already been fortified with signs, but perhaps inadequately so for this 3-month hunting season period.)

Oh yes, and by the way, I came upon a very fine, medium size black rat snake sitting (sic) upon a log, sunning itself, as I did the penultimate day of Microstegium eradication, yesterday. How pleased I was to see it. I prodded it, and it sort of shook off its limbic thoughts and made a desultory effort to scare me off with a vibrating tail. But we were both ok with the encounter, no one really got upset, and it really was a handsome snake.

Monday: 6 October 2008

Gas Shortage Report  -  @ 05:54:09
A few people have asked about the gas situation here in Georgia.

It's been interesting for the last several weeks, starting a few days after Hurricane Ike made landfall. I had filled up on that Wednesday, and fortunately did not require gas until last week, as I seldom drive beyond going to and from work. But I do pass a couple of gas stations on the way and these were always either completely out of gas or packed with cars filling up or waiting in line. Prices generally sat at $3.99.9 the entire time.

On the occasion last week when I had to fill up for the first time, I stopped at after 10pm and though the pumps were all in constant use I didn't have to wait in line. There was a note attached to each pump requesting the limit of purchase to $30. As I'm a good citizen, I put in $29 and something and then looked over at the next pump as I got back into the car. The fellow in his giant jeep was busy filling at least half a dozen gas cans as well as his vehicle, and had already reached $75. My guess: he's voting for McCain.

Otherwise my evidence is anecdotal: students were exchanging information on which gas stations had gas, and a number were not driving because their cars were empty. Our fire chief had a planned family trip to Dallas, driving, and reported that they encountered no such situations anywhere along their route through Alabama, Mississippi, Lousiana, and Texas, and nowhere was gas as expensive as in Athens.

Glenn reported, a couple of weeks ago, that between his arrival for shopping elsewhere, one deserted gas station was being supplied. Upon completing his shopping, he looked over and the station was crawling with cars waiting for the pumps. Whether by word of mouth or by internet, people are discovering where gas is available within minutes of its delivery.

The situation seems to have improved since last week. Yesterday I noted the gas stations I pass did not have waiting lines, and the price had gone down ten cents.

Apparently the problems were somewhat local to Georgia and Tennessee; and the reasons inscrutable. Tennessee got over it fairly quickly, was my understanding, but Georgia's problems went on for several weeks because our governor Sonny (cluck-cluck) Perdue apparently failed to request some sort of intervention measures. Instead he touted the usual line: it was the drivers' fault for all this for "topping off their tanks." And then he was off for a week-long trip to Europe, where it would be nice if he'd just stay. As I say, the explanations and helpful suggestions were inscrutable - nothing has really made sense.

But it did remind me of the early 70s during the Arab oil embargo, the long lines and high prices (fifty cents a gallon!), and the thuggish behavior of individuals. While this episode may have been localized, and due to distribution interruptions, I suspect that before long we're going to see more of this.

Sunday: 5 October 2008

The Month of September  -  @ 05:07:29
Out of idle curiosity I checked to see how far back these "months of" go. It seems that though under a different title the first one was presented 2 Feb 2006 and the first with the continuing "Month of" title Mar 18 2006. Since I haven't missed any "months of" it looks like this is the 32nd such post. Derivative, yes, but still.

And so here is the 32nd in the series: the summary of the month of September, for the United States and Athens, Georgia. The weather in places proved to be fairly interesting this month, mostly due to Hurricane Ike although it didn't affect us here in Athens much.

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 September above or below the average for September over many years, plotted in colors. The anomalies are in Fahrenheit.

After rather cooler temperatures in the eastern US in August, September returned to warmer than average conditions, although not extremely so. Much of the west, excepting the northwest, continued its considerably warmer than average temperatures from August. The US midsection from the extreme south to north bisected the country with much cooler than normal temperatures in September, and this seems to have been the rule for much of the summer.

From the (click through to the monitoring maps from the left sidebar) National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean precipitation anomalies for the US over the month of September:

The US midsection continued its seventh month of normal to above average rainfall in September. The western states returned to very dry conditions, while California continued its drought. Hurricane Ike's influence through Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and points northeast is reflected in the swatch of bright green. The southeast, except along the Atlantic from South Carolina north dipped back down into drought after a relatively wet August driven by Hurricane Faye.

For Athens:

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of September in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the 17 years 1990-2006 (black dots), 2008 (green line), and 2007 (red line).

September was dry, but not so hot, especially compared to 2007.

We had a few days of warm temperatures at the beginning of September but they were balanced out by cooler than normal weather in the latter half of the month. It gave us an average high of 83.5 degF, just a degree or so above average.

We were more than one standard deviation above the mean high daily temperatures on 6 days in September, compared to an average 4.3 days per September, and that's pushing significance. Perhaps what tilts the scale is that we had 7 days with lows more than one standard deviation below the average. We've had wonderfully cool nights, dipping below 50 for the first time at the end of the month.

August provided us with little rain beyond that induced by Fay, and without a tropical storm in September Athens only got 2.14 inches (here in Wolfskin we only got 1.09 inches). Still, it's better than the 0.53 inches we got September 2007.

The green line shows our actual rainfall, the red shows the average accumulation expected. The black dots are rainfall over the last 19 years, the vast river of peach shows the standard deviation. It's unusually broad because in this month and surrounding months we either do or do not get rain from tropical storms.

We were below normal for most of the month, and ended with slightly over half normal.

We are now 26.51 inches below normal levels since Jan 2005, more than a half year's worth of normal rainfall.

The US Forest Service provides us with this interesting site, the MODIS Active Fire Mapper. Pick your region and then select from either a jpg or pdf presentation of active and recently active fires. For our part of Georgia, I cropped this map, where the red square is approximately Oglethorpe County, the red circle is approximately Wolfskin District, and the yellow spots indicate 2008 wildland fires. For those of us sitting with pagers, we knew there were an awful *lot* of fires up there around Sandy Cross and Vesta.

(The Moderate Resolution Imagining Spectrometer is an instrument aboard two satellites in polar orbits. They view every location on earth twice a day. They're not just used for firemapping like this but for a host of climatic events.)

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. It currently predicts (for us) that average temperatures and average rainfall will continue for the next month, at least not accentuating the drought. That still doesn't take us out of severe to extreme drought, though. Our drought outlook, however, is for persistence.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update tells us that sea surface temperatures in the central and east equatorial Pacific have returned to ENSO-neutral regions. ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to prevail through 2008.

Finally, and to reiterate the link way above, NOAA has a neat State of the Climate product. By clicking on the year, such as 2007, you can get to monthly and even weekly reports and zero in on regional descriptions that are much nicer than my own.

Friday: 3 October 2008

Is It Really October?  -  @ 08:14:10
With tonight's low temperature a bit ago at 43.8 degF (six degrees lower than Athens, 15 miles away!) we're now well into cooler weather. Daytime temperatures have occasionally spiked into the mid 80s but mid 70 is the more frequent encounter. It's why I love October!

You might recall that I've been trying to document 6 or 10 times a day the temperatures at Wolfskin and in Athens, since Jan 1. With a few lapses due to absences from the area, I've been very diligent here. Here's what we have so far (clickable for larger image):

This morning's low puts us at the equivalent of the first couple of weeks in May. There are a couple of other interesting things about this picture.

We did get over 100 degF a few times, but never for very long. A period of a few days in early June, and then again in late July and early August, but otherwise it's been a fine summer, a little warmer than average after June, but not abnormally so.

If you compare the green connected dots (Wolfskin) with the unconnected black dots (Athens), it's pretty clear that it's not fun living in a city. Athens this year typically had hotter temperatures during the day and, more importantly for comfortable sleeping, at night.

It has remained dry, though, and with the exception of traces of rain a couple of times in the last few weeks, it's been dry, with only 1.09 inches here in September. Nothing predicted for at least another week, for if we have a dry season it's October and part of November.

The Microstegium pulling is nearing its end for this sixth year, and I'll have more about that in a few days. I'm bagging the plants now, since they're flowering and seeds are developing, but the heads aren't shattering yet so I'm ok there. I've taken the camera every day but I've seen nothing to offer in the way of photographs that I haven't posted on before.

SBS Creek is just about completely dry along its entire length, but you've seen that before. I've been delighted with the growth and flowering of our downy lobelias, and the blue-stem goldenrods provide a lovely contrast along the creek banks. But you've seen all those before, too. Prenanthes trifoliata, Gall-of-the-earth, is actually flowering in a number of protected places along the creek and that's interesting. Normally the deer crop the inflorescences and flowering doesn't occur.

We did play the drinking bingo debate game again last night. Palin got the pennies and Biden the nickels, and I didn't change very many of the target phrases, although I should have - many of the phrases were poorly chosen. (Does anyone really think Palin would have fallen into the mistake of repeating "thank, but no thanks?" It would have been cute for Biden to have used it, though!) Still, a couple of towers appeared on the board (we never did make Bingo though!):

Worth mentioning: Palin imagines herself an energy expert, but since I am one I'll suggest that she exaggerates the contribution Alaska can make to domestic oil, and that natural gas is NOT clean: it still emits new carbon dioxide when burned. The "we gotta clean up the planet" assertion was embarrassing, especially in view of her assertion that humans weren't responsible for climate change.

Biden made many references to the effects of deregulation, Palin, not at all. And why would she? We're in the mess we're in right now because of that, and it wasn't surprising that Palin couldn't respond adequately to it. Clearly it makes her "ill."

Palin mentioned "maverick" at least five times, and nothing could be further from the truth, of course.

I added the mangled "nucular" because its epitomizes for me the beloved idiocy of the last eight years. Palin: "nucular" ten times.

Not a huge amount of bingo significance otherwise, but of course the misinformation and cute perkiness abounded, even as only heard on the radio. Unlike others I won't give her points for managing to sound articulate; I expect that from a vice-presidential nominee, and she just barely managed to produce something that resembled it. That, of course, is easy to do when you decide not to answer the question.

In the end Palin forfeited the debate when she casually informed the moderator that she wasn't going to abide by the rules her campaign agreed to. Instead she was "gonna talk right to the American people," and would therefore not necessarily answer the question. Well, folks, that sure makes it easy to run your mouth and say nothing, doesn't it? And that of course is what she did. The moderator should not have let her get away with it, should have informed Palin that if she turned this from a debate into an undisciplined forum, she'd do it at her peril.

Enough of that. Wanna read something nice? Here's Anne Lamott on how much Molly Ivins would have loved this campaign. For those who already understand why I loved reading this, enjoy. For those who don't, get some balls and read it. Molly would have eviscerated Palin, and left behind a pile of moosemeat. And Molly wouldn't have done it from the safety of a helicopter, either. I sure do miss Molly.

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