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

Wednesday: 30 September 2009

Dropping Below 50!  -  @ 07:41:33

Various responsibilities and irresponsibilities have occupied my usual walking time, but it does look like autumn has arrived. Yesterday morning was the first below-50 degF event.

Compared to last September, we've achieved temperatures below 50 degF earlier (45 degF this morning!), but had an extended period of temperatures warmer by 10 degF in the latter half of the month, at least at night. Most of that was due to the long period of rain and clouds that only just ended.

Of course, those to the north have experienced below-50 temperatures for awhile now and so aren't impressed, but the last three days here have felt great - dry, breezy, and cool. As we precede most of you in the spring, we lag you in the autumn.

Just the kind of weather to pull Microstegium in!

And that's one of the responsibilities that I've fallen behind in, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel now. That's good, because the plants are beginning to flower now, and I'm having to bag them rather than use them for mulch.

There have been more plants this year, the seventh, than I would have expected. I really don't think I did *that* poor of a job last year. Some of it's an illusion - the relatively fine weather this summer, preceded by a wet spring has promoted extensive growth and branching of the plants, so it just looks like there are more.

But in some places there really are more, and I think the same weather promoted the final germination of whatever seeds still remained viable, hopefully a last gasp. We'll have to wait until next year to find out if that's the case.

Thursday: 24 September 2009

Perfect Storm  -  @ 08:27:55
You can't have missed hearing of the flooding that occurred in northwest Georgia this past week. The traditional media concentrated on the drama and tragedy, and little was said about the cause or extent, other than that there was a lotta rain. I'm sure there is discussion about this in wonkier policy and related venues.

So out of curiosity I used the CoCoRaHS rain reports for counties in north Georgia to determine the extent of rainfall from last Friday through Monday. I averaged the reports and colored in the counties (note that the rain actually started the Tuesday before). In five counties there were individual reports that were in the 15-20" range, so I marked the county with a red circle. (The white counties were either not done or didn't have a cocorahs observer.)

That wasn't enough, though, so at this website I found population density data for 2008. Again I colored in the counties by their ranking - the six most densely populated counties in red, and so forth. That's the inset at the lower left.

You can't really read the county names, and that's ok. I also didn't bother to indicate the location of Atlanta - you can see exactly where it is in northwest Georgia - that large multicolored bullseye with red at the center.

The coincidence of most of the heaviest rainfall and the most densely populated counties is unmistakeable. As you can see, this wasn't just any rainfall event that covered a large region that happened to include the Atlanta metro area - the most intense rainfall practically targetted the Atlanta area.

Atlanta proper is a small portion of that colored area - the metro area is highly suburbanized and over 5 million people live there. Atlanta is a driving city - there is the Metro, but most people commute by car to work, not a few by a couple of hours one way. So with all the housing, the commercial establishments and their parking lots, and the enormous network of highways to get you from one to the other there is a lot of soil covered by impervious concrete and asphalt.

One figure puts the average soil impermeability at 10% of the surface area of the metro region. Within those red counties that figure goes up. Here, for instance, a set of case studies done on urbanization included one for the Peachtree Creek watershed area. An incredible figure of 35% imperviousness in 1968 is indicated - who knows what it is now, four decades later, and how much farther outward from the center a high degree of impermeability extends.

So it's not too surprising that there was flooding - there is simply little soil surface to absorb the rainfall, so not only must storm systems accomodate most of it but what is accomodated isn't socked away locally but dumped (along with attendant pollutants) into area creeks and rivers as a gift to downstream. It didn't help that, as indicated by one report, at least one storm system was plugged up and you can predict what happened because of that.

I suppose there is at least one additional factor that led to the results you saw: continually increasing population pressure has led to what must be at least nominally illegal and certainly inadvisable developments constructed on creek and river floodplains. That's just asking for exactly the kind of trouble that transpired.

Anyone who has followed the drought of the last few years has probably come to the conclusion that the Atlanta area has not done the best job in management of its water resources. Rampant population growth outstripped the water supply then and now, and the same thing led directly and indirectly to last week's problems. It will be interesting to see if they'll have any effect.

Wednesday: 23 September 2009

Off They Go  -  @ 09:23:12

Yesterday I decided to release the hatchlings. Had they made their debut as scheduled, in the last week of August, I might have persisted in attempting to feed them. But they were not willing to cooperate, the time was short in allowing them to do what they had to do to fatten up or whatever it is they do before hibernating, and they just didn't seem happy in the terrarium I'd set up. They were attempting to burrow down, instead, and all in all it seemed reasonable to let them follow their instincts.

They seemed stunned for a little while to be let loose on a quiet stretch of SBS Creek, the upper third where there are few animal tracks or holes, in a location where the flow is placid, there's a little beach with a diversity of plants, and the banks slope gently toward wherever they might wish to go.

It didn't take long before they started looking around. They know not to make scampering movements when outdoors - there could easily be a nasty crow watching for them from above.

I had other things to do, but before I left one had already decided to take a little swim in the creek, paddling toward some Gratiola, and maybe that's what he or she really needed.

So it would have been nice to have built them up over a year or two to young adults capable of withstanding more challenges to their longevity. But it might have also been likely that I wouldn't have been able to sustain them, or otherwise really screwed up their schedules. Plus, there's also all the legal aspects of releasing kept box turtles back into the wild.

They did most of the work - they made it through fertilization and embryogenesis, and I put the exclosure over the nest until they hatched, which kept marauding snakes and possums and raccoons from digging the developing eggs up.

I didn't mark them. I didn't like the marking methods used (mostly for adult turtles). I considered a little latex paint but decided not to do that either, without knowing whether there were any problems that might arise in turtles this young. So I won't know what happened to them, and if I encounter one in a few years' time I won't know for sure if it's one of them.

Tuesday: 22 September 2009

The Birds and the Bees  -  @ 08:11:30
Six hours of periodically heavy thunderstorm activity delivered an additional 1.56 inches of rain to our house in Wolfskin last night, bringing the total to 6.20 inches since Wednesday morning. That's nothing compared to what has fallen in north Georgia and the Atlanta area in the last few days.

Athens, just 14 miles northwest, got over 3 inches of rain last night, with a total since Wednesday of 8.4 inches. This is only a third of what some west and northwest Georgia counties will have totaled by the time yesterday's results are posted at CoCoRaHS, amounting to half the annual normal in a week or less.

But we're here to talk about plants that employ mellitophily or ornithophily as pollination strategies! While *the* great metaphor for sex education, "the birds and the bees" doesn't dare to venture into the much greater horror that has united two great kingdoms of organisms, plants and animals, in their messing around with each other in ways that would horrify the puritanical, if only they knew. So don't tell them, lest they attempt to outlaw it.

Down to Goulding Creek, this lone cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis is an example of the latter - bird-loving, rather than the former, bee-loving. Birds (and in this area, hummingbirds) would tend to be attracted more toward reds and yellows, and tubed flowers. Bees prefer nontubed flowers of other colors, especially the kind of blue and yellow that reflect ultraviolet light. Of course there's a considerable slop, as both groups of animals are promiscuous, and I've seen birds and bees visiting flowers of opposing camps frequently. (Whether interlopers are as effective at pollination, though, is a different issue, and that's the only issue that plants care about).

We have at least three species of lobelias around here - cardinal flowers that produce red flowers, and a couple of blue lobelia species. It struck me as odd that such closely related species would produce such radically different colors, so I checked out the pigment situation. I wasn't successful in finding much out about Lobelia, but the above paper did address the general nature of floral pigment shifts.

The red color of cardinal flowers is so very red that it's sometimes hard to see if the petals are in focus. What is interesting here is that cardinal flowers are closely related to great blue lobelias, Lobelia siphilitica. The shapes of the flowers and other plant parts are not so different - in fact, the taxonomic keys that distinguish cardinal flowers from the other blue lobelias always start with the red/blue flower couplet.

Although they don't treat Lobelia specifically, intragenus shifts in pollination strategy is the subject of an interesting paper by Thomson and Wilson (pdf). They emphasize mutations that affect floral phenotype, and especially "loss of function" mutations in the biochemical pathways that produce floral pigments.

It's worth looking at the composite of photos in the paper, which shows pairs of related species, one of each pair that is mellitophilous, and the other that is ornithophilous. It seems that a simple mutation can convert one to the other, usually in the direction of ornithophily.

Here's a little figure I adapted from one presented in the above pdf paper for documented conversion of flower color in morning glory. I don't know whether these same exact biochemical pathways occur in Lobelia, but it seems likely that something similar happens. Cardinal flowers are the only species in Lobelia, around here at least, that produces red flowers - all the other relatives have blue flowers.

So at least in some closely related pairs, blue flowering plants will normally utilize both pathways, resulting in blue or purple flowers, and presumably attracting bees. If a mutation occurs in the blue pathway at any of several points, less blue will be produced, and more red. A mutation early in the blue pathway results in a flower with all red. This would be a small genetic change that would result in a large shift from one pollinator (bees) to another (birds).

Here's another (unreferenced) point of view: a pleasant little article (word document) from William Cullina. It seems more likely that both the blue lobelias and red cardinal flowers are ornithophilous. The reason may have more to do with a different set of pigments that result in blue and red, but more importantly the lack of pigments that result in invisible (to us) ultraviolet reflection that bees like so much. So they're probably not a great example for the model.

Monday: 21 September 2009

Back When It Was Dry  -  @ 06:49:34
What remarkable weather we've had for the last five, soon to be six, days! Here alone we've had 4.6 inches of rain over that period - that's rainforest weather, and other locations have had twice that. Yesterday alone two CoCoRaHS stations in Gwinnett County near Atlanta have reported 8.21 and 9.60 inches for the day; they have totaled 15.6 and 16.8 inches for the five-day period! That's 1/3 of the annual rainfall right there. Daily records were set in Macon, Athens, and Atlanta, at least. At least four counties have closed their schools for today.

Oddly, our two creeks have not particularly risen here other than enough to restore a normal flow. This may be a result of their origins - SBS Creek originates here, so is not fed by creeks farther upstream, and Goulding Creek's flow is slave to the impoundment upstream.

The pattern of weather has been odd, too, with directions of rainfall moving switching from west to east in the course of a day. Much of the southeast has been under a massive flow of wet air from the Gulf, and I get the impression that this sea of moisture has been at hair-trigger for any disturbance that catalyzes condensation, regardless of where it comes from.

If you're lucky enough to be in southeast US, you'll have probably seen Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus) in flower for the last few weeks. Really, that's about all there is to recommend the southeast US during the last half of summer, so don't feel too left out.

In early June I posted photos of the vegetative rosettes of elephant's foot. They've since entered reproductive mode, throwing up these stiff hairy inflorescences adorned with electric lavender flowering heads. That's great dichotomous branching there, guys!

Here is a cluster of four flowering heads at different stages, emerging from the protective triangular shield of the three hairy bracts. Elephantopus is in the Asteraceae family, and the relationship to sunflowers is clear despite the tiny linear ray petals.

Butterflies are charmed by the flowers too - here's an uncooperative Eastern Tailed Blue.

Saturday: 19 September 2009

Identifying the Box Turtles  -  @ 08:58:36
But first:

We've had cool, rainy days since early morning Wednesday, after no rain at all for the previous 18 days. Long periods of gentle rain, punctuated by occasional heavy showers have compelled rest and relaxation.

Over Wednesday through 7am this morning it's amounted to 2.32 inches (Athens official 2.25 inches). Normal average over that period would be 0.36 inches. One station in Macon reported 8.72 inches, and that didn't include Friday! The weekend through Monday looks to be more of the same, and I have no complaints at all.

I know, let's talk about baby box turtles! Huey, Dewey, and Louie? There has been no further emergence from the exclosure as of this morning, so three may be all there will be. There's no evidence that there were any more eggs laid, in which case we had 100% germination.

Here is a composite of the carapaces - in contrast to all the many photos of adults you've seen over the years, there isn't much to distinguish these three. While these might be baby markings that are not permanent, it's possible that these are in fact the adult patterns, similar only because these three are sibs. Notice the prominent ridges along the spine of the carapaces. It's odd to see plates with no scutes!

Below, same three in order. In contrast to the uniform carapaces, the plastrons show distinct differences. That's a bit of a revelation, since looking at adult plastron patterns isn't something I usually do, the carapaces being so distinctive.

The numbers are their weights, yesterday, in grams. The apparent size differences are a result of resizing the images - ignore them.

However, I do routinely photograph the plastrons of discovered adults, mostly to establish sex of the turtle. I grabbed a random twelve and arranged them in a composite from uniformly light yellow (upper left) and gradating to uniformly dark (bottom right). There is quite a range!

I'm still wondering about the date of the actual hatching of these guys. I included the weights in the second composite above in case some expert sees those weights as an indication of age. I imagine that hatching may have occurred as much as two or three weeks ago, and the hardness of the ground during the first dry half of September prevented their emergence. The near absence of yolk sacs supports this idea - they were absorbing it during this interval.

But it was a close thing! Without the fortuitous rains that started on Wednesday, they might have ended up entombed and starved to death before hibernation set in. In fact, I've run across one website that suggests pouring water over a nest site on the 75th day if it's been so dry as to harden the ground.

That brings us to the question of what to do. "Survival of the fittest" does not move me at this point - if they've made it through embryogenesis and development and have emerged on their own, then what follows next is mostly statistical mishap through encounters with some nasty raccoon, possum, large bird, snake, or whatever. I'd like to skew these statistics.

But I don't think I could or should do it inside for both practical and personal reasons. Personally I've no interest in keeping box turtles as pets but I would like to give these a good start. Practically we don't keep the house warm enough for them to overwinter in an active state and we don't care to keep it cold enough to maintain a hibernation state. The compromise is emerging to feed them up over the next few weeks, noting their exacting nutritional needs. If I can get them to start eating in the next week indoors, I'd then transfer them to one of our larger specially prepared grow boxes for protected outdoor hibernation over the winter. If I can't, then early one rainy morning no later than early October, out they go, and best of luck.

Friday: 18 September 2009

Three  -  @ 11:00:09

Just to add a few quick photos to the previous post:

Actually, there are three baby box turtles, so far, and in fact that's all the eggs I saw last June, though I speculated there might be more underneath. In between the deluges I ran up and took them out of the exclosure. For the moment I have them in an aquarium turned terrarium that I had prepared a couple of months ago.

The requisite quarter. Everyone does this, apparently.

One had no detectable yolk sac at all. Another, just the barest indication, and this one had the most remaining. It leads me to wonder if they hatched some time back and waited until a good heavy rainfall before emerging. It's surprising that it's been 98 days since laying, when the incubation time is 70-80 days.

We Have a Hatching  -  @ 09:40:17
As I've done faithfully several times a day, I checked the exclosure yesterday for the anticipated hatching of the box turtles whose mom laid the eggs on June 12. As usual, nothing.

Just a bit ago, I checked and there are two babies scampering around in the rain. Very cool.

That would make it 98 days incubation time. That's a good bit above the 70-80 days expected for the southern US, and I was beginning to think that either the eggs were infertile, something had gotten to them despite the exclosure, or they had tunneled out.

More later.

Monday: 14 September 2009

Update  -  @ 07:07:13
We seem to be back, more or less. The computer has returned, and in much better shape for the most part. It needed a new power supply, which afforded one nice consequence: the main cooling fan was intrically linked to the old power supply and after a couple of minutes sounded like a 747 taking off, continuously. That was fixed, and it's very nice having a quiet computer.

The Windows XP operating system was corrupted, though, and had to be replaced. This resulted in several unexpected problems, which I go through so you don't have to.

First, the replacement was barebones XP, without Office or other bundled programs, except Firefox. That means I'm without Excel or Word, and I use them constantly. I'll have to find an installation disk and try to load those. My suspicion is that the new Windows installation will not allow that.

Second, all other programs that I've installed through the last four years were gone. That included Paintshop Pro and Photoshop (essential for photo workups), FTP, a couple of astronomy-related programs, a basic programming language, and so forth. Again I should be able to install these from old installation disks.

Fortunately, the "cloning" onto the new hard drive did include all the files within their folders that I had created, as long as the files weren't saved under the directory of the program itself. That included text files of all my blogs, hundreds of word documents, thousands of photos. It was just extremely good fortune that I seldom saved created files within the directory of the program used to create them.

So why not use the backup, you ask. After all, isn't that what it's for? Well, for one thing, the backup would be of an operating system that was corrupted, so that's not useful. Also, you don't just transfer, say, the folder containing Excel, and expect it to work. There are a lot of connections to the new OS system that have to be made, and other than the words "registry" and "settings," I have no real idea what these are. Using the backup is an all or nothing affair when it comes to re-installing bundled software, and it might not work even then. So there may be some extra files on the external backup that didn't make it through the "cloning" process, but by and large the backup was relatively useless to solve this problem.

One last thing - viruses. There were six viruses identified. I have had McAfee antivirus software for the last two years, and have faithfully allowed downloading of updates (usually two or three times daily) and scanning of the system. It clearly didn't work perfectly, if this is true. (On the other hand, folks who don't use antivirus software at all would probably have thousands of viruses after four years of operation.)

So it's a headache, but at least it's a manageable one. The noise reduction was itself just about worth the price.

So here's my advice, and I think at least parts of it may be valuable irrespective of whether you have a mac or a pc, or whatever your operating system:

1. Check your backup drive. See if it's backing up bundled programs like Excel, Word, or any others that you might have personally installed. Don't expect them to work if you have to reinstall them manually from a backed up source.

2. Save your installation disks from any previous purchase! Create a folder that contains downloaded exe files from which you have installed special interest programs, especially if you paid for them! And if you paid for them, write the validation number down somewhere.

3. Your programs like Excel, Photoshop, and so forth will try to seduce you into saving created files into the program directory. Don't do this! Create a folder(s) outside the program directory and store all documents, photos, and other files there instead.

4. Don't expect your expensive antivirus software to work perfectly. For what it's worth, the guys who fixed the computer recommended and installed instead four pieces of security software: AVG Free 8.5 for viruses, SuperAntiSpyware Free Edition, Spybot, and Ad-Aware. I've no idea what to expect, but I'll see how things go.

Thursday: 10 September 2009

Farting Around  -  @ 10:07:31
I'm kind of enjoying going to the Joe Wilson website. Since his self-immolation last night during the joint session, his website has gone from several versions of "website under maintenance" to a completely blank page, and now to a fancy congressional seal with the advisement: "SEAL Joe Wilson Due to exceptionally high traffic, this site is temporarily unavailable. Please come back shortly.."

OK, I will. Like in five seconds.

When you live in Georgia, South Carolina is only one of three other states that you can hope to better.

Oh yes, "the character of our country." I think that phrase is going to stick with me for quite awhile. It seems to sum it all up.

Monday: 7 September 2009

Deer and Ticks  -  @ 08:34:33

Robin and Bev both had an interesting extension in comments to yesterday's post on white-tailed deer - that of tick borne diseases, especially Lyme disease.

Robin's comment had to do with whether we might see a decline in Lyme disease here, as white-tailed deer seem to decline a bit in population. It's complicated!

I've gone through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, which has tons of interesting statistics. The causative for Lyme was clinched about 1987. It's a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium, when present, is carried in the east mostly by the black-legged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. West of the Rockies it's carried by a related tick species, I. pacificus. Ticks need not harbor the bacterium!

Best I can tell, it's actually the tiny nymph that is most likely to bite humans, and at that stage the tick nymph prefers mice as a host. So while deer are important in completing the life cycle for the tick as an adult, that may not be where most of the direct infections of humans are coming from. (By tiny, I mean tiny. The tick is hardly detectable visually unless you are very specifically screening for it. I do so regularly, for reasons of avocational hazard, but even then it's easy to miss until it has dug in and produced a bit of itching. We have about a 1:1 ratio here of deer tick to the much larger dog tick, at least where I hike.)

The other thing is that the occurrence of Lyme disease in the southern US is fairly low. Georgia only sees about 10 cases a year (0.2 per 100,000 per year). The disease is up to 50-500 times more frequent in some northeast states, including NH, CT, and DE. So simply because of this low frequency in GA, we're not likely to notice an effect.

This is a sort of topsy-turvey distribution: usually we think of arthropod-transmitted diseases as being more common in the warm south than in the colder north. There could be any number of explanations: are mice more common in the northeast US? Are the transmitting tick species more common in the northeast, or do the southern populations not harbor the bacterium? Hard mast forests are an important link, in that they feed both rodents and deer. Land use, especially the incursion of urban areas into forested areas, might play a role. Or maybe it's just that the bacterium prefers colder weather to warmer weather. Perhaps as an emerging disease it made its entrance in the northeast US and is simply in progress. Maybe it's all of these!

(One very odd statistic comes from the Georgia Division of Public Health website: In 1989 reported Lyme disease jumped from 10 cases per year to nearly 600. After falling back in the next year or two to less than a quarter of that, the occurrence settled back into about 10 cases per year where it's remained since. Explanation? Here's a possibility: in 1987 the proof of the connection between the bacterium and its vectors was made, and it seems possible that many misdiagnoses due to public anxiety might have been made. At that time, diagnosis would have been mainly symptom matching, and not through more sophistocated tests such as DNA. Lyme exhibits a huge range of symptoms, and misdiagnosis can easily be made. That year might be a fluke due to false positives that were quickly corrected.)

Bev mentioned Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and I had just been looking at the occurrence of that. It's also caused by a tick, generally the much larger dog tick, Dermacentor spp. Although it was "discovered" in a western state, it seems to have always been the case that it's more common in the southern states than in the north or west. The states with highest occurrences are SC, NC, OK, AR, and MO; to a lesser extent WY, MS, TN. But those highest rates, 1-1.5 per 100,000 per year, are on par with the lower rates of Lyme disease - RMSF is just a rarer disease even where it's most common. In Georgia, for instance, where the disease is at mid-level occurence, it is diagnosed at about the same frequency as Lyme - 0.1-0.8 per 100,000 per year.

All neat stuff - and there is a lot accessible on those pages about symptoms, treatment, and prevention. Best prevention? Just examine yourself after going out into the woods, and before doing so, take the usual precautions to discourage ticks from latching on.

Sunday: 6 September 2009

State of the Deer  -  @ 06:58:47
The computer is still in intensive care, so there are some recent photographs that I can't get to and which escaped the last backup. More than likely the hard drive, if necessary, can be cloned so if so I'm not likely to lose anything, especially given that I have all but the last month backed up.

Brian Creech's article for the Athens Banner-Herald on our old fire pumper, the Margaritaville appears here, but you knew all about that.

On Thursday, I was stung by some Polistes wasp. She wasn't P. annularis, the aggressive paper wasp, but more than likely P. perplexus or P. metricus. Whatever, it hurt. It was entirely my fault - I picked up a book bag without looking and she happened to be occupying the space that my hand intersected. It was only later that I realized I hadn't killed her in a fit of pique, but rather took the book bag outside and flicked her into space.

I'm not allergic to local insect venom, but that doesn't mean I don't have a reaction. It was a full 48 hours later that the swelling began to decline. And that swelling was interesting too: It manifested on the back of my hand rather than at the site of the sting itself at the base of my ring finger and resulted in the disappearance of my knuckles. Very odd feeling!

But enough of that, let's talk about deer.

Along about 1970, it was very rare to see white-tailed deer in north Georgia. There were many changes taking place at the federal executive and legislative level, environmentally, changes that gradually accumulated interest. Those who were around at the time know what I'm talking about - Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, EPA, all the legacy of the nixon administration. And all so socialistic and left wing that they probably could never be passed today. Such is the ironic impasse we have come to - that nixon could manage to get environmental legislation passed that cannot be accomplished today.

For at least the past ten years, deer have been omnipresent here - apparently the deer population peaked in the mid 90s, although locally they were pests up until a couple of years ago (and I have written about that periodically). When Bambi is looking in your kitchen window trying to figure out how to get in to eat the hanging houseplant, or up on your front porch doing so (and yes, these things have actually happened), you know there are too many deer for resources to support.

Certainly a part of this has been the long term drought that has been going on since the late 1990s. What's a deer to do? Get food wherever it can. And so there was seldom a season when we didn't have every single plant in the house area cropped to the ground.

But starting last year I began to notice that it was becoming an infrequent occurrence to actually have a deer enter the yard. And now, even wandering into the woods, it's much less frequently that I encounter them. I'm beginning to see some plants that I'd never have seen before actually making flowers. Around the house this year, the several species of native sunflowers we have have actually not been ravaged, and are flowering.

An alternate explanation for our local area comes from the fellow who manages the 300 acres of land to our west. Apparently pulp prices have dropped considerably in the last year or more, and consequently timber holders are not bothering to harvest trees from their tree farms. Harvesting and replanting generally creates open browse space, so that's been in decline. The deer, therefore, are going elsewhere, if not actually declining.

All of this is anecdotal evidence and speculation, and incomplete at that. Still, a survey of hunting websites for northeast Georgia (I go there so you don't have to) suggests that the decline has not gone unnoticed by others as well.

Some counties have modified hunting schedules, or archery-only, in particular urban counties. Even if they don't, dense human populations make deer hunting inappropriate, and there's one right next door - Athens-Clarke County. Deer have become quite bold, and I see more driving in to work in Clarke County than I do in Oglethorpe now. I wonder if urban dwellers are seeing, not a decrease in deer encounters, but rather an increase.

Here is a PDF (long) of the 2009-2010 hunting regulations. To summarize for our area, Sep 12-Oct 9 is archery only; Oct 10-16 is primitive weapons; and Oct 17-Jan 1 is conventional firearms.

Thursday: 3 September 2009

Georgia Number One  -  @ 09:30:27

It's not often that Georgia can be #1.

As long as I'm waiting around in limbo, I may as well point out the CDC update for H1N1 (swine flu) for the last week in August.

Of all the lower 48 states, Georgia has "widespread" H1N1, the highest assessment. (The next rung down is "regional.") Widespread flu in August. Imagine. And it's nearly all H1N1. That's what we get for starting classes a week earlier than others, I suspect, and as I prognosticated a couple of weeks ago.

Scuttlebutt has it that there are around 50 UGA students diagnosed and sent home. Home off-campus. If they live in a dorm they must go HOME, to wherever they come from.

rip  -  @ 08:55:18
My computer has died, sometime last night. It didn't have medical insurance through its employer so we're hoping at least for a resurrection of its hard drive. In the meantime I'm limping along with Glenn's, grateful that I kept all my passwords in a little book which THEY say you should never do. Never listen to THEM. If I had, I'd have never been able to have logged on to Niches to write this.

So things might be a little slow until we hear the prognosis to decide whether a resurrection is possible, or whether a new computer is in the works.

Fortunately I did back up the hard drive a couple of weeks ago so there will (assuming everything goes as it should) be a minimal amount of loss of work in the last two weeks.

I also hate Glenn's keyboard.

Tuesday: 1 September 2009

The Month of August  -  @ 08:01:02
It's The Month of August, Number 43 in a series. After a hot June and a cool July, August turned out to have a higher average mean temperature, but not by all that much. Here at the end of summer, the temperatures at least have been rather pleasant. I gather that they have been more extreme at both ends of the spectrum elsewhere!

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.

Once again the northern tier of states from Montana to the Great Lakes were unusually cool for at least the sixth month in a row, this month by 3-4 degF below normal. The northeastern states finally got a little more heat, 1-3 degF above normal. Otherwise there were not so many spots of extremes - Texas, New Mexico, and central California had some hot spots.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is keeping their precipitation plots here, this time.

Once again, except for a few spotty areas, the Pacific states, and with some exceptions, most of the area west of the Rockies, had subnormal rainfall. Most of the southeast was at least normal, overall, and in quite a few places above normal. Once you get into South Carolina and east North Carolina you start to see some ugly brown. For the most part areas east of the Rockies had normal to above normal levels of precipitation in August.

For Athens:

Athens was just a bit warmer than usual, by about 2.6 degF during August.

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of August in Athens. (It seemed appropriate to present high temperatures this time.) As usual, the black dots are for the 18 years 1990-2007 (black dots), 2009 (green line), and 2008 (red line).

Our temperatures were fairly high for the first 11 days of the month, and then they dropped to average for the remainder. We broke no records, although we came close on Aug 11.

This time around, we had 5 days of high temperatures that were at least one standard deviation higher than average, and the usual number of such days is 4.9 - no difference. We had 6 nights below the standard deviation for our usual lows, compared to 4.2 such nights, so slightly cooler.

To look at only the official KAHN rainfall you might have guessed we were in a very severe drought (indeed for the entire summer, we do have a slight deficit of rain, but not to the extreme according to the official figures from KAHN). If you look at three dozen reliable CoCoRaHS reports from surrounding counties, the official KAHN single measurements are a distinct outlier.

The figure below shows the Athens data which are official for our area. As usual 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. Official Athens rainfall remained below the average, and stayed that way throughout the month, but only once fell slightly below the standard deviation over many years.

I wrote, in June, about the totals for June rainfall: Athens officially got only 1.66 inches of rain, compared to 3.94 normal inches, well below 50%. Here we got 3.20 inches for June, still below average but not by that much.

A similar situation repeated in July, with official Athens rainfall only at 1.25 inches, while most of the surrounding 35 CoCoRaHS stations dispute this figure. Here we got 3.94 inches, still below the 4.31 inches officially considered to be normal, but more than three times the amount official for Athens.

Once again, official August figures for rainfall in Athens are for 2.70 inches, compared to 3.78 inches normal. Yet here we got 3.49 inches, and averaged over 39 stations in seven counties surrounding Clarke County the average rainfall was 3.57 inches. Slightly below normal, but no station reported rainfall as low as that that has been recorded officially in Athens.

Earlier I wrote about the folly of basing offical estimates on only one station, here. To elaborate on that for the course of the last three months, the official rainfall for the Athens area is extremely misleading, and for the third month in a row. Overall official Athens summer total claims 47% of normal rainfall. Over the 32 reliable stations in Clarke and five other surrounding counties, the 3-month summer average is 67% of normal, ranging from 58% to 74%. Right here in Wolfskin, just twelve miles away from the official station, we had 87% of normal summer rainfall over the last three months.

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. El Niño is going to be having an effect now, and you might want to check that out.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update has not changed since last month. We're now in an El Niño, and that it is expected to intensify well into winter 2009-10. Expect a southerly jet stream bringing storms to the south. This month I really recommend taking a look at that page (it will change, but for now it's good). Toward the bottom it gives a series of great pictures of what kind of temperature and precipitation deviations to expect over the months of autumn and winter. An early snow for us? Let's hope!

Relive your favorite weather events of the year 2009, courtesy of NOAA. NOAA has a neat State of the Climate product. By clicking on the year, such as 2009, you can get to monthly and even weekly reports and zero in on regional descriptions that are much nicer than my own.

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