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

Friday: 30 October 2009

Inventory Made Easy  -  @ 07:54:03
Our new county commissioner sent out a letter informing the volunteer fire departments that we'd have to submit a 2009 budget for this past year, a 2010 budget for the upcoming year, and a full asset register (i.e., inventory) in order to receive 2010 funds from the county. These traditionally amount to $4500, which isn't a whole lot.

I suspect I may be in the minority (I'd bet the other fire departments are screaming) but we run a tight ship anyway, and I was rather pleased to see accountability required. It's a great opportunity to know what we have and what we're worth, and to constantly be vigilant that what we have doesn't become what we can't find. One fire department here found out the hard way what happens when you aren't watching things.

We have a great treasurer who is handling the budget end with his meticulous records of purchases in the past several years. That leaves the inventory.

The inventory template required serial/part numbers, item description, quantity and $value, and what I determined to be the most indicative requirement, location. We have five locations for equipment: our three trucks: the pumper, tanker, and knocker; and the station, and issued equipment.

Over the past week, I dabbled in an initial rough draft of categories and items. I listed my recollection of groups of items within each category - a trip down memory lane as I mentally opened each compartment of the trucks and mentally peeped into each corner of the station to locate items. (I sat at home at the computer while I did this. It's a zen thing.) I came up with five excel sheets based on location that we could work with, populated them with every item type I could recollect, and printed them out, one for each group of my soon to be victims, for I was not about to do this all by myself.

Occasionally we use training for building/truck maintenance, and this was a good opportunity to take advantage of seven smart people to do just about all the inventory in 2-3 hours. The $value still have to be assigned, and the station isn't quite complete, but we're 90% done. Lots of stuff was added to my rough excel sheets, I'd guess items are going to number between 500 and 1000, and I probably shouldn't project the final total value here. It's high. You wouldn't *believe* how much some of this stuff costs.

One problem was the assignment of serial numbers, which most of our equipment does not have. I chose a pretty simple system that identified the item category and its location. PC-10 meant a Coupling on the Pumper, in this case a 6" Storz to 5" regular male adapter. KT-18 was a Knocker Tool - in this case a Mcleod digging/raking tool. Everyone understood it immediately and with the sharpies and pens that Glenn brought along labelled everything without problem.

It's hard, though, to have to write on paper in a cool, increasingly humid late October night. For the occasion, Glenn purchased these wonderful cheap plastic clipboards, one for each group. Don't they look good enough to eat?

Everyone loved them. But the reason I mention them is something that was worthy of some discussion - dig those edge effects! We noticed them under the station lights - the edges practically glow. Jim identified the plastic as acrylic, and suggested that it was a sort of fiber optic effect.

I looked a little more into it. The material is probably poly(methyl methacrylate), which goes by a lot of names like acrylic, perspex, lucite. Ordinarily it would be colorless and transparent, but in this case pigments have been added.

The glowing edge effect is well known to artists and hobbyists, since acrylic is extremely easy to work with with the tools you'd usually use to work with wood. The fibrous polymer seems to be reason for the edge effect - it intercepts light and transmits it in a fiber optic fashion to the edges. In fact, acrylic is often used to construct optical fibers for directing light.

The brilliant tetris-like display at right is an assemblage of computer cases constructed out of acrylic, and illuminated by LEDs imbedded in the edges.

No, the stacked cases don't look anything like my bland computer case either. But now I'm thinking - what fun!

I tested the idea that it might be fluorescence, as some sellers claim. I viewed the clipboards in a dark room with an ultraviolet light. While there might be some, it's not very intense and I don't think explains the vivid glowing edges in a well lit room. Plus, the light emitted by fluorescence is usually light of a longer wavelength than that used to excite the material. I tested that with my green laser penlight. No, nothing other than green reflected/emitted from the yellow-green clipboard. From the pink clipboards there was an orange color emitted by shining the green laser on it, but it wasn't very intense.

I was extremely disappointed with the purple clipboard. I had expected great things. It looks like the pigment is just too concentrated to give the effect.

Nonetheless, it was a fun evening. As for the county commissioners, we're going to knock their socks off with our inventory.

ADDED: Oops - forgot. From a previous post a couple of months ago, lamenting the passage of the faithful Margaritaville:

Not having examined it closely, I had just assumed this was a really and truly neon sign. Glenn pointed out that it was nothing more than this same edge effect: a pink acrylic lettering construct, backlit by a simple white light. Huh!

Wednesday: 28 October 2009

El Nino Weather  -  @ 07:07:24

At 6am there was an enormous treefall somewhere down in the woods. From the sound of it, it seems to have brought down some additional trees. It ended with a huge thump that shook the ground. I'll have to see what that's all about when it gets light, but I suspect the usual large loblolly pine. They don't grab very deep into our relatively thin soil atop a clay substrate, and a heavy rain can spell the end for some.

This isn't the first such in the last couple of months. Yesterday's rainfall amount to 2.01 inches, bringing October's total so far to 8.54 inches. Added to September's 8.53 inches brings us to over twice the normal rainfall for the two months (about 7 inches).

I'd bet that both our rainfall and the Pacific storm (second of the season?) that blew in at the same time are explained by this figure from NOAA's ENSO Evolution.

A month ago the El Niño Southern Oscillation seemed to be weakening, but it's back and strengthening now. The Pacific jet stream in the figure above is way south of their usual pattern, and that's a characteristic of ENSO. As a result, cooler moist air moves over the continental US bringing rain and storms to the area at a time when it's usually fairly dry.

With El Niño expected to continue into the spring, we can expect considerable storm activity then, too.

Tuesday: 27 October 2009

Flu Update  -  @ 05:37:16
Illness has gained a foothold, or perhaps a toehold, in our house. How about yours?

Everyone who works with students is undoubtedly sitting on pins and needles waiting for whether the inevitable is that. A special policy for student absences has been developed that a doctor's excuse is not required for absences due to flu - just please stay at home. Even so there's the inevitable student who feels obligated to attend class while ill - admirable on its face but the source of the aforementioned inevitability. Students, the dear things, and bless their hearts, but walking and talking contagion.

So Glenn came home yesterday with a sore throat and congestion, but at the moment it seems that there is no fever. So that's good. We can do colds. He did get the seasonal flu vaccine, but not the H1N1 vaccine as yet. He has a fortuitous appointment with his internist today, for other reasons, so perhaps those matters can be taken care of.

Someone in the building I work in, several weeks ago, placed two devices in the lobby. They resemble parking meters, and for awhile they remained outside of my range of curiosity. If I thought anything about them at all they struck me as bubble gum dispensers.

Well, they're not. They're hand wash dispensers - you put your hand above the cup and a sensor dumps a measured amount of ethanol and detergent onto your hand, which you then use to wash your hands. You needn't touch any surface. The ethanol evaporates quickly, leaving your hands dry, but slightly sticky. (I understand that in some venues users have found that these make attractive, but not very tasty, cocktails.)

It's kind of repulsive, actually, and maybe a measure of my trust in the Machines that I'd allow a cross between a parking meter and a bubblegum dispenser spit up into my hand this foamy plop that looks like what the cats upchuck when they have nibbled on grass. I wouldn't let another human being doing that to me, would you?

Still, the students use them! They use them when they enter the building, as they pass them while they're working, and when they leave. At least some of them do. I don't know if they're in general use in all buildings throughout campus but they certainly should be.

I certainly use them, after every session, and as I'm leaving. I don't know if the concoction works but it certainly can't hurt.

Sunday: 25 October 2009

Under the Litter  -  @ 05:04:06

It was three weeks ago that the Strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus, was in its most spectacular stages of fruiting. Let's recall that image:

And by the way, I mentioned that the orange "seeds" above might actually be the fruits, and that the light coral structures would then be bracts. It would depend on whether we could find seeds inside the orange ovoids.

All the orange structures have now disappeared from the plant. Yesterday Glenn was poking around on the ground beneath the plant hoping to find some and under the detritus instead found these:

There were clumps of them everywhere, and they're the E. americanus seeds. No scale here, but trust me, they're smaller than what we now see were the orange fruits. The whole "strawberry" part is then an infructescence.

Although the fruits are brightly colored and presumably attractive to birds, I think we can reject that that is what happened here. Birds would have gulped them down, flown off, and pooped the seeds out hours later. And that might be what does happen to some fraction.

But not all - then we'd never see the seeds at the base of the plant. I think we can reasonably conjecture that uneaten fruits fell to the ground, where some small critter of an arthropod nature did a fine job of nibbling away the fleshy fruit, leaving the seeds in discrete clumps of four or five.

Not a very good dispersal mechanism, though. But maybe the plant benefitting by hinging its bets between birds pooping the seeds out, potentially into unfriendly territory, and making sure that at least some don't fall far from the proven fertile ground.

Notice also that these seeds have split, slightly. There even seems to be on one the pointy emergence of a radicle, the embryonic root structure. The seeds seem to be in some early stage of germination. In the wild, this does happen with some seeds. There is some period of growth which is arrested during the winter by some kind of dormancy, and then in the spring will resume.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here, except that we can always over-analyze something in the interests of blogging material.

Saturday: 24 October 2009

Other Ways  -  @ 07:05:40
Swampy got the photos from yesterday right. The top one is indeed a flower from Monotropa uniflora, Indianpipes, aka Indian Pipe, aka Ghost Plant, and probably a lot of others that evoke this spooky little emergence. This one I found at the bottom of the hollow where it was nice and moist. I visited without success two other places where I've seen them emerging.

Indian pipes and their relatives seem to fascinate any who are fortunate enough to encounter them. In my case there was just a single individual here, but it can be forgiven for the last few years of drought that have probably kept it from raising its little head. The last time I ran across an emergence was in 2004.

Above, from USDA Plants, is the range of Indian pipe. Unless you're in the driest part of the US/Canada, you stand a chance of finding one. That's a pretty broad distribution! Its relative, Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys) occurs even in some of those drier states. I wonder if some of that broad distribution is due to the plant's lifestyle? Let's find out.

Indian pipes, along with their cousins formerly placed together in the Monotropaceae, are not photoautotrophs like most plants, they're mycoheterotrophs. They've lost the capacity to do photosynthesis, and get their food from other plants via mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizal fungi are those that set up a mutualism with plant roots - the fungus extends the ability of a plant to suck up water and mineral nutrients, and the plant feeds the fungus the spoils of photosynthesis - sugars.

While Indian pipes and the like are often called plant parasites, it's really more the case that they are parasites of fungi, a nice little twist. The commentary here (pdf) is a neat essay on matters of this sort.

You can immediately see the adaptive changes that have occurred as a result of abandoning photosynthesis.

The leaves, no longer useful and in fact now detrimental, have been reduced to scales. There is no need to make chlorophyll, and that ability has been lost. If you were to dig up the plant, you'd find only the most rudimentary roots, specialized to make haustoria, which suck up what's needed from the host fungus. What you can't see is what has made this and other species that have gone this route extremely interesting to plant molecular biologists.

The plastid, that endosymbiotic organelle in all plants and which is the descendent of a cyanobacterium that swam up into an early eukaryotic cell, is degenerated. Plastids are more familiar in their guise as chloroplasts, but they do other things as well (store starch in roots, for instance). In mycoheterotrophic plants they don't develop as chloroplasts. In fact a lot of genes have been lost from the plastid genome - they're no longer needed.

An interesting little point - Though they are highly specialized, Indian pipes have a broad taste for the plants they parasitize, according to Karl Niklas (The Evolutionary Biology of Plants). They don't particularly care what trees species they associate with, and I've found them in both pine and hardwood areas. Perhaps this partly explains their great geographic range, and maybe another part is that by living most of their existence underground they are protected from the stresses of the world above.

What Indian pipes still do, and a good thing since we'd otherwise never see them, is to make perfectly functional flowers, chock full of stamens and with a lovely star-shaped pistil:

Here is a very neat dissection of the flower. The stripped down plant expends some energy in producing nectaries, so it is clearly signalling pollinating animals. It seems that bumblebees may be attracted to the flowers.

This link also shows the slitted fruits through which the tiny seeds sift when mature. Like many plants of the Ericaceae, the seeds are especially reduced, with very tiny embryos. When they germinate, they must quickly find a fungal host or die.

Indian pipes and their relatives are not the only parasitic plants around - the lifestyle has evolved independently at least a dozen times in as many families. Some have gone all the way in the manner of Indian pipes; others haven't quite made it (mistletoe), or are a more aggressive, truly plant parasite variation on the theme (dodder).

Friday: 23 October 2009

The Vagaries of October  -  @ 16:33:34
Last Saturday was predicted to be warm and sunny; instead it rained all the cool day long. Today was to have been a near 100% chance of rain all day; instead it was warm, dry, and breezy. A thoroughly pleasant late October day, but not at all an accurate prognostication.

(There were areas that have had rain - just not here. Yesterday I looked through the model projections at Unisys and was skeptical. In retrospect they were much more accurate.)

So to commend puzzling moments, let's do a couple that are making their presence known right now, and possibly in your own town. What do you think these little beauties are?

Vagary #1:

Vagary #2:

Wednesday: 21 October 2009

Everything That Rises Must Converge  -  @ 07:50:49
A week after the flood, a great deal of new sand has been deposited on each inside bend of Goulding Creek.

I can tell this is so by the sparse green atop the white expanse behind the large rocks in the center foreground. Before last week, that stretch would have been covered in vegetation. New land abuilding!

Of some interest to me is that the creek did not plummet to its original depth which would have exposed bottom rock in front of those large rocks. Even after a week it has remained higher than before last week's rains. This is our first indication that the water table is recovering to a noticeable extent. And it's running clear, too, always a nice consequence of washing away months of accumulated clay silt that forms the bottom in many places.

I'm not sure I ever followed up on the issue of last July's negotiations involving the use of the new property. The manager of the hunting club had asked us to continue to lease the new property during hunting season.

Glenn and he spent a few hours touring the 300 acres contiguous to our new 19, and had a very pleasant time doing so. In the end we decided to continue the lease for at least one more season. In return we asked him to bushhog the access roads and the two deck areas that had been previously kept clear of returning primary succession growth (blackberry, sweetgum, and pine).

He was glad to do this, of course, since it enhances the browse possibilities for deer and contributes to the general attractiveness of the property to hunters. Outside of deer hunting season, those areas are interesting insect magnets, especially for hunting dragonflies.

Mostly, though, it was good to discover that he's a proactive manager, that the hunting club is a well regulated small one, and that as a result he acts as an effective control on the otherwise larger number of wandering enthusiasts that we'd have to deal with. Campfires are not permitted, except in one communal location, suitably prepared, at the access point off Wolfskin Road. And the hunters are supposed to check in with their location on a pad kept at the access road, so we could, if we wanted, take a look and know when a location is being used. I suppose those are reasons for supporting him, since hunting is not going away.

It's an interesting experiment. We'll see how it works over the next ten weeks.

ETRMC, Flannery O'Connor

Sunday: 18 October 2009

No More Weatherman  -  @ 08:35:38

Our best indicator that we're proceeding into winter:

Tonight we have our first frost. A little early, perhaps, but falling on the heels of a wet period just like winter is supposed to be here.

When I was growing up, we didn't have the internet. It hardly seems possible now, but it is true.

So as kids we'd get up in the morning with little or no notion of what kind of weather the day would bring. I don't think I paid attention to weather prognostication until I was in my thirties. Was there any reason to, really? Certainly not in terms of accuracy or timeliness - there was a reason for the arguable sentiment, "the weatherman is always wrong."

Now, of course, you can get an instant picture of the weather anywhere in a few seconds, and there have been quite a few times when I've been informed of rain by computer before I realized it by looking outside. Now there's a disconcerting and telling experience.

Yesterday at 7am Glenn called down from upstairs, "hey, it's raining." I looked at the radar maps from several sites, and there wasn't a hint of it, nor would there be for several hours while we steadily accumulated moisture. There had been no prediction of this - Saturday was supposed to be sunny to partly sunny. The light rain and drizzle didn't stop until 11pm last night, having delivered 0.31 inches.

It was a very odd and very rare total failure of a remarkably reliable resource. Given the opportunity, I am *always* attuned to the state of the weather. It's as though I scorned for three decades the paltry weather information available for being too sparse until the 1990s when I could make a much better job of it myself.

Or maybe it's an age thing. Do ten-year-olds have a favorite set of weather websites? Most of the twenty-year-olds I work with certainly don't seem to have much awareness of weather, unless it's a big event. Someday I must take a pop poll - how much rain falls in north Georgia in a year?

Saturday: 17 October 2009

Sensible Seasonal Styles  -  @ 06:07:05
It's that time of year again, and if you waited until now to choose your autumn ensemble, it's still not too late. Here are some tips to help you get started.

"Real" deer hunting season starts here in many counties in north Georgia today. That's with conventional firearms; deer hunting by archery and primitive weapons has actually been going on for over a month. Season continues until January 1, so this is a serious investment. Pay attention.

So today is when you really have to start wearing your fluorescent orange if you go out in the woods or backroads. That's 500 square inches or more of visible orange (about 2 feet square). "There ought to be a law," and there is! For hunters it's a legal requirement, and nonhunters would have to be fools to not be wearing it when venturing into areas frequented by hunters.

Think of it as a fashion challenge. With so many possibilities to choose from these days, there really is no reason for any woods walker not to hike stylishly. "Be sexy, be *smart*!"

And because you deserve it, a True Story from the Dream Operator himself, David Byrne.

Friday: 16 October 2009

Large Charismatic Autumn Spiders  -  @ 07:29:05
Yes, there's a spider at that door, just slightly left of center. By morning, there's a spider at every door and window that keeps a dim nightlight on. We've learned long ago to duck when exiting and entering the house in the early morning. I guess we could keep the house totally dark inside, but I don't really mind. If we wait a bit, she'll take her web down and tuck it neatly away in some cranny where she'll wait out the day.

You know it's really autumn when the Neoscona crucifera starts making her nightly webs. While they certainly are fine with being as low as the doors, we also see them stringing their webs thirty or more feet into the sky, between trees, and that would earn them the name "arboreal orb weaver."

Everything about her habits seems to suggest an avoidance of predators, and the nighttime web building is just one of them. Another is that you don't really see them all that much until we're past the hot temperatures that spider wasps seem to like so much, and then they persist through some remarkably cold nights.

I find that I've treated this large charismatic araneid before, so I won't go into details.

Yesterday we were called at 6:30am to a three-vehicle accident about eight miles away, and that occupied most of the morning for us. They wanted us for our fantastic portable lighting system, but by the time we had to route around the detour it really wasn't needed. Instead we pulled the pumper across the the main highway and blocked traffic from continuing along that route into Athens.

It was a really bad accident, with three fatalities resulting from collision of a light pickup truck with a flat bed carrying empty chicken cages. The cab of the flatbed was accordioned into the embankment, and the pickup wasn't recognizable as a vehicle at all.

Forestry brought their six-wheel gator, and that was the only way of transport in the drizzly wet from the bottom of the embankment to the waiting ambulance. I was grateful to be at a distance. I really don't know how those folks do it.

Wednesday: 14 October 2009

Care to Waste Some Time on a Rainy Day?  -  @ 09:21:23
Whether or not you're looking for a casa, let me send you to Lovely Odd finds in Real Estate Listings. I ran across it yesterday (thanks MarkH!) and spent two hours until I had to sign off at page 15 in order to go to work.

It was without evil intent that I passed the URL on to a my friend Dianne, and during a free half hour at work we laughed til the tears ran down our faces.

Now this may not strike you that way, and that's ok. When I got home last night, I sent Glenn to the website - well, I didn't *send* him, but I told him the URL. Here's what I found about the difference between Glenn and me, and so don't feel bad if you are as humorless as he, because you're probably just as nice:

I noticed he wasn't laughing a whole lot, and then realized he wasn't reading the headers and captions, much less reading the comments. He was going to the actual listing to find out what the price was, what the house looked like, etc. If it was especially outrageous, why, he'd just scroll right past. He enjoyed it, because he got past page 15 last night apparently, but for completely different reasons. I guess we could use the word "literal" to describe him, so as to avoid the word "humorless," and leave it at that. Why can't we all just get along?

Here is a teaser. What sane vampire would not snap this up?

I admit, I'm hooked - I'm now on page 29. It's the occasional appearance of Chair that does it for me. I have several of Chair's cousins around in various degrees of dilapidation. Ours is apparently a listing that would send any Chair to drink.

I've added the RSS feed to my newsreader. Screw the daily inspirational "Message from the Universe."

Tuesday: 13 October 2009

In the Middle of the Wet  -  @ 09:15:31
Between 4am and 3pm yesterday we had 3.95 inches of rain. That's an average of 0.36 inches per hour maintained over 11 hours, but there was at least one time when the intensity was up to 2.5 inches per hour for 30 minutes. The delivery was very homogeneous over an area from Atlanta to Athens, so most folks here got a similar amount. We expect more rain starting tonight through Friday, so things could get interesting.

So let's look at the results, as we have on several occasions. This was the first time a very heavy rain ended during daylight hours, so I went out immediately after the rain stopped and took a tour.

I'll go easy on the large photos; the smaller ones are linked to larger ones if you care to take a look.

Troll Rock, in the middle stretch of SBS Creek, is always something to watch. Normally it's there, a huge rock exposed from top to bottom. It wasn't quite completely awash, but it was close. It will be scoured clean after this.

Some thumbnails, left to right: the first is the small waterfall over Troll Rock. Maybe we should call it little niagra from yesterday. Here, water is coursing down from points south.

The rest of the thumbnails are from water entering from the east, close to the house. The second is of extensive pooling below the house; that water enters a small ditch and then falls into the big gulley. Below all points SBS Creek serves its feeder function. It didn't overflow its banks.

I do like my comparison photos. These are the usual points of observation that I have made several times. The first pair is of yesterday (left) and Mar 2 2007, when we had an overnight rain of 4.5 inches.

I've stood at this point, somewhat downstream from the above set, quite a few times. Again, the left is yesterday. The right is a composite of dry conditions, and then during the Mar 2 2007 flood. The dry condition is closer to normal.

Just for fun, let's throw in the large volume that flowed through the same point last March 2 2009 after the snow. The arrows point out the landmarks in the set above. Not quite as big a flood!

Of course none of this compares with the Sep 2 1989 flood, which actually did go over the banks and which our neighbors kindly provided the photos that appear in that link. More than 11 inches were delivered that day.

As an aside, I was returning up the ancient roadcut when I came upon this. Someone else was having a good time, too. I always hesitate to post a stinkhorn, since it results in a flurry of hits for months after on how to kill stinkhorns. This one was particularly elegant. It must have been recently emerged, since it hasn't produced its spore-bearing slimy collar. I'm not sure which Mutinus it is, but it's probably M. caninus, dog stinkhorn.

Tom Volk has a funny article on it, and the people who go to pieces over it.

Monday: 12 October 2009

More Rain  -  @ 07:42:39
It started here a little before 4AM and we've had over half an inch by 7AM. A little letup on Tuesday, but the prediction is for continued rain through Friday.

Since I'm doing the Oglethorpe County CoCoRaHS weekly reports this morning I notice that the very Atlanta counties that were deluged a few weeks ago have already gotten 1-2 inches of rain. I wouldn't be surprised if this is in the news in the next few days.

As an important addendum to yesterday's post, I noticed that the Microstegium vimineum heads are now shattering, Oct 11. That's the term that's used for when the infructescences begin dropping their seeds. It's one of those traits that geneticists try to breed out of cereal crops like wheat and barley, so that the heads can be fully harvested. Native Americans did a great job with maize (what we call corn, which is what other nationalities call other grains) - the ears don't drop their seeds at all!

Of course what we think of in cereals as a seed is botanically an entire fruit, so that a corn cob has a coupla hundred or so fruits on it. Just saying.

Sunday: 11 October 2009

Year Seven Microstegium Report  -  @ 05:47:47
It's time for the Year Seven Annual Report on the Microstegium vimineum eradication. It turns out that the last report was also made on October 11. And I thought I was behind, this year.

I'll actually have a little picking up and checking to do but the bulk of it is complete. And I was a little late - although I use the weeds earlier in the season as mulch, they're too far in the process of making seeds now to do anything but bag them, and I have five large garbage bags at the moment.

Here's the map, but it became too cluttered to try to put all the numbers from four years. So this year I'm just going to indicate by big red numbers the location headers that appear in the accompanying table.


The green sprackling indicates places that I neglected through triage this year, and last (it doesn't indicate that there's Microstegium there - just that I didn't canvass it). The big red numbers correlate the map locations to the table entries. In the table, I've bolded numbers where there have been apparent increases in plants pulled.

Except for the stream (5), I believe the bolded numbers, especially for the house area (1) and the fairy ring area (2), can be attributed to one of two things. The most likely is that the plants were simply much larger than in the previous three years. This is likely due to the milder weather and greater rainfall, but the upshot was that it was hard to know when you were pulling a single plant. So my estimates are likely to be exaggerated by as much as 2-4 fold. (They don't call it Japanese stilt grass for nothing!)

I wouldn't be surprised though if there actually were larger numbers, and again because of the especially wet early spring and mild summer. We'll have to wait until next year to be sure but I'd bet that some very old seed lying dormant for years did germinate, and represent the last of the seed from the pre-2003 infestations.

The stream (5) is exceptional. In March 2007 it flooded substantially, washing large numbers of seeds from other people's property upstream. This was reflected in 2007's larger number of pulled plants along the banks. They were also where you would expect them - especially along the outward banks of the twists and turns, where deposition of sand is the greatest.

I'd already said a couple of years ago that I'd given up on the lower banks of Goulding Creek. Too much flooding brings new seed down from upstream every other year, and it's hopeless. Not so with SBS Creek, the feeder stream, and I'll continue with that. The appearance and proliferation of other native grasses, blue stem goldenrod, downy lobelia, and soapwort has made this a priority to maintain.

Eventually though, we're going to get a major rain and flood that will indundate the floodplain (areas 9 and the lower part of 8 ). We call this the floodplain area, and it is, but it's high enough above the creek that only extraordinary flooding reaches it. Still, such flooding will sow the entire area with fresh seed and we'll have to start over again. But I've already mentioned the abundant stands of desirable crownbeard and bearpaw, and this year I saw quite a few individuals of ladies' tresses orchid (Spiranthes) putting out flowers. I've also seen a lot of rattlesnake plantain orchid, and you can't have too much of that!

Saturday: 10 October 2009

Birdfood  -  @ 05:08:22
The mockingbird is back.

That may seem like a strange nonevent to an urban or suburban dweller who probably sees (and hears) all too many of them. But our immediate location, closed in by the woods, is not favored by mockingbirds. There is too little open grassy area, I suspect. The same is true for blue jays, which we seldom see and which are equally shy, believe it or not.

But twice during the year - a couple of weeks in the spring, and then again around now, a single mockingbird will make an appearance. In the spring it's interested in the old crabapples that have persisted (and probably fermented) through the winter. Right now it seems interested in fresh dogwood berries, and I'm certain I've never seen such an abundance. They began to turn red a couple of weeks ago.

You might recall, back in April, that I counted the dogwoods (Cornus florida) on the property. The number was 542, give or take. I tend to take them for granted, but I'd guess they're going to represent an important bird food supply in the next few weeks.

Thank goodness for the Forest Service's fire effects information website (FEIS). It has just about everything you'd want to know about the ecology (fire or not) of forest plants. In the case of dogwoods, the plant puts its energy into stuffing the fruits with lipid (fat), rather than sugars. Gram for gram, that's twice the energy extracted with the same effort in eating and digestion. To humans, the dogwood berry is bland. I have no idea how birds find it.

The FEIS also brought up two sets of terms that interested me. They used the word "phanerophyte" to describe dogwoods: "projecting into the air on stems with resting buds more than 25 cm above soil level". This would include trees and shrubs. There are other categories that constitute the Raunkiær plant life form classification system. Well all right!

The FEIS also presented the term "seral", which I was only vaguely familiar with. A seral community is one that is partway between the messy pioneer community, and the ultimate climax community.

And speaking of words, I was awakened last night around midnight by our Oglethorpe County dispatcher, who announced a 10-50 (that's a vehicle accident), fortunately outside of our district, since that meant we weren't called. He distinctly said that "caller says the driver seems to be etiolate." I know the botanical definition of "etiolated:" seedlings that have been grown in the dark and are leggy and pale. But it seems that it can also be used to mean pale, weakened, and unhealthy. What an admirable use of vocabulary by our own Central!

UPDATE: Glenn informs me that I misheard. It wasn't "etiolate," it was "ETOH." This is the standard chemical shorthand for ethanol, and it's also an acronym for "extremely trashed or hammered." It seems that I learned two things rather than just one!

Friday: 9 October 2009

Disclaimer  -  @ 06:20:43

I promise that when I wrote yesterday's post I had no inside information.

Thursday: 8 October 2009

Nobel Weather  -  @ 07:22:15
It's that time of the year again!

For a week or so, there's an announcement each day on a Nobel award. This year it was physiology or medicine on Monday, physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday, and literature today. We still have economics and peace to go!

I would guess that with the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, the awards go largely unnoticed. The simple fact that the Nobels are as yet mostly uncommercialized should be sufficient proof of that.

I think they're a pretty cool way to celebrate intellectual achievement, and goodness knows there's not much that comes in a public way of attaboys and you go girls for that. Yes, I suppose that they're subjective, occasionally politicized, some bad choices have been made, and that there's a legitimate element of disgruntlement, but that goes with the territory of awards. By and large this is an uplifting week that should elevate everyone.

It's also a great way to shoehorn into learning, not just about a world changing achievement, but the sometimes colorful personalities that would otherwise go unnoticed. I was aware of the great story of telomeres and telomerase, but I suspect many weren't until Monday. And I didn't know the interesting story of Elizabeth Blackburn, who jointly received the prize in physiology or medicine for her work in that area.

In 1993, Kary Mullis received the prize in chemistry for development of the polymerase chain reaction. I may have my differences with Mullis, but there's no doubt that he's a colorful character. And there's no doubt that PCR has impacted our civilization in innumerable ways.

Two years later Sherwood Rowland shared the prize in the same field for elucidating the reactions with CFCs that were destroying the ozone layer. Something of a success story came out of that!

My own personal favorite has to be the story of Barbara McClintock, who won the prize for physiology or medicine in 1983. Besides being quite the maize geneticist, she showed the existence of transposition, by which genes move about in the genome. It took three decades for her work to be recognized.

There are a lot of stories, and you could spend a lot of time browsing through them. Wikipedia is a great place to start. I also enjoyed Randy Cohen's New York Times piece on "Taking Back Nobel Prizes". The extensive comments are worth reading, too.

Monday: 5 October 2009

Revisiting the Rain Event  -  @ 08:08:03
A couple weeks ago I wrote a little piece on the dramatic rainfall that north Georgia and surrounding areas received September 15 through September 24. You'll recall that that event led to up to nearly two feet of rain falling in some parts of Atlanta, causing extensive flooding.

The flooding has since been characterized in the traditional media as a 100-year flood, and even in some places a 500-year flood. Now that amount of rain is truly huge in any event. But still, I suggested, extensive development and paving of surfaces in the most-affected counties had at least some degree of complicity through runoff and the inability of storm drains to handle it.

Two obliquely related reports have caught my attention.

First, on Friday last week, NPR's All Things Considered had a piece by Georgia Public Broadcasting's Susanna Capelouto that explored an area near La Grange, GA, 60 miles downstream of Atlanta. Artificial West Point Lake, which rose four feet during the rainfall event, is coping with a massive influx of trash and pollutants (chemical and biological, in the form of fecal E. coli) as a result of the exit of the waters from Atlanta.

The piece quoted David Stooksbury, Georgia State Climatologist, as pointing out the role of development and surface impermeability in contributing to this:
"Areas that 30 years ago were enforced or pasture land are now paved over as roads, driveways and parking lots. This hard surface causes the rain to run off much more quickly into our creeks and streams and actually increases the amount of flooding that occurs."

Second, Dale Hoyt, who comments here occasionally, kindly forwarded to me an Oct 1 New York Times Environment Section article by Cornelia Dean. It doesn't address the flood, but rather the southeastern US drought of the last few years.

Can that drought [and inserting myself here, even the heavy rainfall in late September] be explained by anthropogenic climate change? And the article's answer is no, although it only addresses the drought. The article references a study (pdf) on the southeastern US drought by Columbia University Richard Seager at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, as well as drought specialist Douglas Le Comte at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

The drought itself is not unprecedented - the most that could be said is that it was the worst since the 1950s. But there have been worse droughts recorded. [I'll insert myself here too - ten days of heavy rainfall isn't unprecedented, either, and there have been worse recorded.]

The article cites the effects of the drought, which I've documented for our little area here and in larger terms have resulted in such things as lawsuits by the states of Florida and Alabama against Georgia for holding back water in order to feed Atlanta. Those effects are due primarily to demographic effects, as Georgia's population (concentrated in the Atlanta area with its 5+ million people) has grown from 6.48 to 9.54 million people from 1990-2007.

In other words, population growth and development here in Georgia have exceeded the ability to cope with uncommon but by no means unprecedented weather events.

We could probably say similar things about the effects of the flooding in late September - a much more ephemeral weather event than the three-year drought. In both cases the effects had more to do with poor planning and rampant growth and development.

The NYT pieces is an interesting little article, but it gets a little muddled about two different causes and their hypothetical connections to a clearly observable event. This may be why it sounds like it's saying that the drought event wasn't caused by climate change - actually it is sort of saying that. I'd equivocate just a little bit by pointing out that a better statement would be that we don't know, just like we don't know about Hurricane Katrina. Whether violent climate events themselves become more common, and whether that is due to anthropogenic climate change is something I suspect we won't be able to address for quite a long time.

Just to dress it up a little, here is my latest rendition of the state of the water deficit in the Athens area. The blue line is the most important. It shows the cumulative deficit which began its decline around January 2006, and now amounts to about two feet less rain over what we'd expect over the last nearly five years. The last data point includes the recent rain event, and places that heavy rainfall in perspective.

Sunday: 4 October 2009

Hard Working Cat  -  @ 08:01:04
I missed Gene's sixth birthday, sometime back in May or June. He made his first appearance here back in February 2005. He still behaves like a kitten with an unusually long attention span, and if given the slightest opportunity will trail me on any walk I care to take.

For the most part I discourage this by taking off from whichever side of the house is opposite his (though sometimes this doesn't work), or locking him up inside. I really don't want to encourage independent adventures.

But for the last week or so I've been pulling Microstegium closer to home, so he's been welcome, though he starts to nag about going back home after an hour or so. This was at the end of three hours of work.

If anyone knows why cats prefer to face a blank wall when they sleep, please let me know.

Or maybe they don't. Maybe the wall was facing him. If so, then he seems to have somehow persuaded it to look the other way.

Saturday: 3 October 2009

New Autumn Fashions  -  @ 04:58:58
Strawberry bush (aka, a lot of other names usually oriented around "hearts-a-bursting"), Euonymus americanus, has been making quite a display over the last couple of weeks. We actually have a lot of these plants scattered about, but most suffer deer deprivation.

Or did until last year. This particular plant close to the house had been perpetually cropped by deer to a 3-inch twig with a few leaves. With the decline in deer population, it has grown to about 3 feet tall, and put out lots of flowers in the spring. The flowers are inconspicuous - these are the fruits and seeds.

Although it may be threatened or endangered in a lot of areas, if you're lucky you can find it in this range, from USDA Plants. There are 14 species in Euonymus and only four are native. The others are fairly egregiously invasive and used extensively as horticultural plantings.

The fruit is a warty capsule that splits along five lines to reveal the seeds. I'm not quite sure how to describe the surface of the fruit - I count 84 terms for surface descriptions in JG Harris and MW Harris Plant Identification Terminology. "Papillose" might do it, or maybe "papillate," for the size of the projections.

*NOTE* Actually the more I think about it the orange "seeds" may be the fruits, with the pink warty things bracts. I'll have to think more about this.

I was trying to figure out the RGB color name for the fruits and seeds. Closest I can come is "light coral" for the fruits, and "orangered" for the seeds. Definitely not the usual combination for your daily ensemble, but it seems to work here.

Note that "orangered" is one of those words that can be pronounced different ways. Besides "this fruit is orangered," it could be "I took the blue ball and orangered it with paint," or maybe "I am either happy orangered." "Unionize" is another such word: most will take it as labor associated, but to me it means to take an ion and make it neutral.

Don't eat the seeds. They contain various glycosides that are unkind to humans in large quantities. Apparently though, the bark and seeds were used medicinally by Native Americans.

Friday: 2 October 2009

The Month of September  -  @ 08:33:31
We're recalling The Month of September, Number 44 in a series. From the look of things it was a month of extremes just about everywhere.

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.

This time around, in contrast to the previous six months, the northern tier of states from Montana to the Great Lakes were unusually warm by up to 6 degF above normal. That was also true for the Rockies westward. The northeastern states continued the 1-3 degF above normal that they experienced in August, as did much of the eastern US. And then there's that cold center in the central US, with 2-4 degF cooler weather covering TX, OK, MO, and KS.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center seems to have finally stabilized the location of their precipitation plots here

It seems that you were either in drought or flooded, in September. 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 northern third of the US, excepting portions of SD and ND were unusually dry. I've lost track now of how long this has been going on.

If you didn't like that, you could have come to the south! Most of the south, excepting FL and eastern NC and SC had rainfall off the scale. There just isn't enough green in the real world to depict it.

Misery is in the heart of the beholder - if you wanted to be miserable you might have gone to the western US which combined temperatures up to 10 degF above normal with less than 25% normal rainfall. Or perhaps you'd be unhappier in Kansas, with patchy excess of rainfall and temperatures 6 degF below normal.

For Athens:

I dithered about whether to show a plot of high or low temperatures, and in the end it was just the case that September in Athens was nothing remarkable, temperature-wise.

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of September 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).

Temperatures this year paralleled those last year in September. We broke no records, although it got colder earlier toward the end of the month.

This time around, we had 1 day of high temperatures that was at least one standard deviation higher than average, and the usual number of such days is 4.4. We had 7 nights below the standard deviation for our usual lows, compared to 5.6 such nights, so it's hard to say that that's significant.

The remarkable thing about September was the rain, of course, lots of it! That's been the subject of a previous post, so I won't go into it here except to say that while it was welcome, and not too excessive in our area, it was an extreme event in the Atlanta area.

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.

Official September figures for rainfall in Athens are for 9.86 inches, compared to 3.53 inches, close to 3 times normal. Here in Wolfskin we got 8.59 inches, Oglethorpe County averaged 7.9 inches. It's a good thing, because I was running out of mustard-ugly pixels. Look at all that blue!

Have I mentioned that we had a lot of rain in September? It was the fourth highest level of rainfall in 90 years according to official Athens records. The highest, with over ten inches, was in September 2004, but that was due to a remarkable series of tropical storms that passed through.

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. The current 1-3 month option shows us having unremarkable weather, but perhaps you have something to look forward to.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update has not changed since last month. We're now well into an El Niño event of modest proportions. It hasn't intensified as previously expected, but it is still projected to last well into winter 2009-10.

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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