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

Tuesday: 30 March 2010

Abandoned  -  @ 07:34:14

I found my third hornets' nest, abandoned as is usual after a summer's use. The first one was 80 feet up in a beech tree, along the upper reaches of SBS Creek. The second one was discovered later that winter, in early 2009 and on the new property, and also in a beech tree, though not quite so far up.

This one was on the hill just southeast of the house, in a sweetgum, about 40 feet up.

It's already beginning to achieve a ratty sort of appearance, but the beautiful wavy grain of its construction is still evident.

How long do these things last? The one I first observed in Dec 2008 was not there when I looked for it after the leaves fell in 2009, so at least a few months shy of a year. If it had been constructed and used in summer 2008, then they probably last just a year.

I did look for its remains, several times, on the ground beneath, but never found anything. I suppose it may have undergone a quick disintegration either on or off the tree. It may even have been of culinary interest to some passing animal.

I think I'm probably doing a reasonably good count of these things. In the winter my gaze is frequently upward and I'm always scanning the bare trees. (In the warmer months, I keep an eye on what I'm going to step on.) My count is iffy if hornets tolerate pines. So that would indicate that on 60 acres we always have at least a couple of nests, but the density is probably not much greater than that. So long as they're 40 or 80 feet up, our aerial yellowjackets are good neighbors and nothing to worry about.

The genus Dolichovespula has that "dolicho" prefix, meaning long or narrow. I found that there's also a fly family, Dolichopodidae, long-legged flies (charming examples here and here). The couple that makes up that name translates literally to long legged. I'm not exactly sure what "dolichovespula" indicates is "long" in the hornets, but "vespula" refers to the stinging wasps, so maybe it's just the insect itself that's "long."

Monday: 29 March 2010

The Silent Majority  -  @ 07:04:04
Everyone will be taking in the spectacular changes that occur around this time of year, as cold temperatures give way to warm. Trees leafing out, plants emerging and flowering; all this is true. There is also quite a lot going on that is neither large nor ostentatious.

Along the bottom of this slower moving portion of the creek is this brownish mass. The brownish mass is probably some kind of alga or cyanobacterium, and it's giving off bubbles as it metabolizes. What is in the bubbles could be oxygen, if the living mass is a photosynthetic organism.

Or it could be hydrogen sulfide, it it's iron-sulfur metabolizing. Someone who can smell would have to tell me what it smells like.

In the faster moving areas of Goulding Creek are communities of aerobic algae - the darker areas in the top right of the photo is where these are most concentrated.

Here are at least two denizens of the rocky bottom - a waving hairlike alga, and then a green encrusting alga (or cyanobacterium).

A closer look at the former shows the filamentous nature, and the individual cells. That along with the slimy nature of the "strings" suggests that it may be a Spirogyra species.

All of this stuff is happening in the transition between cold and warm. It won't go away entirely but will diminish considerably as things continue to warm. Some algal forms will succeed these. The canopy will fill out, and shoreline and water plants will encroach and block out sunlight and successfully compete out the algae.

What's making all this possible, I imagine, is a pulse of nutrients. Debris from the autumn has collected all winter, and the warmer temperatures are allowing the sluggish winter decay to take off like wildfire. This is releasing nutrients like calcium, phosphates, and nitrates into the water, and it's dinnertime for algae and bacteria.

It's not stopping there - those producers are providing a shelter for tiny consumers, and the nutrients are being mobilized upward into the creek's trophic levels. It won't be so long before the gaudy more noticeable plant and animal denizens are taking advantage of this bounty.

All the while, these small uncharismatic things are filtering and scouring the water coming down the creek, removing and sequestering nutrients that would otherwise make things unpleasant indeed. Each tiny cell is leaving a miniscule thread of water just a bit cleaner than it was a millisecond earlier when it washed over.

Sunday: 28 March 2010

A Cool Spring  -  @ 08:42:21

I sneaked a peek at the temperature anomalies for March, so far, and sure enough, it's been colder than normal by about 4-5 degrees here. That's a condition that's true for the southern US, but the north and northeast have been warmer by as much as 8 degF.

So while those northern areas are basking in the 40s, or lower, we're shivering in the 50s. Our impressions here in Georgia are of a late spring, but perhaps we're not so different from an earlier spring north of us. All brought to you by El Niño.

Yesterday's walk took me over the second deck where I caught sight of a brilliantly flowering hawthorn. I didn't take any samples for identification but it's flowering at the same time as the Rome Hawthorn, Crataegus aemula, and has the same general thornless appearance.

I see from that 2008 entry of Mar 14 that not only was it two weeks earlier when I photographed the flowering hawthorns but that Firefighter Weekend was to begin the next day. This year it's April 9-11, so it's late too. Not as late as it was last year, though, the first week in May, which coincided with the University system spring semester finals week and precluded my participation.

There has been an abundance of these large fat hairy flies. I was busy photographing this one, just above the creek, when something interesting happened.

There was a blur of motion, the fly decamped hastily, and this small fishing spider (probably Dolomedes tenebrosus) took its place. Unlike the other reps I've seen this one was quite small, smaller in body than the fly itself. What a feast that would have been, if only!

I'm reasonably certain that the above fly is a tachinid, but other than the golden "neck" ruff and hairy endowment, I can't get it much closer than that. Elsewhere I photographed another example that gives a better impression of the hairiness. The clickable enlargement shows a comparison between the two - though they may be different tachinid species, the wing venation is just about identical.

Tuesday: 23 March 2010

Continuing Signs of Beaver Activity  -  @ 08:10:28

There have been more signs of beaver activity, and a returning behavior interesting enough to mention.

A month ago I posted about a relatively large sweetgum across the creek that had been chewed on:

That was just downstream from a site of considerably greater activity, in January.

It was about two weeks ago that I noticed that the sweetgum had finally been felled, chewed through, and there it lay otherwise fully intact. That was the first interesting thing - that the beaver had returned to finish the job, after a couple of weeks.

Yesterday I noticed that they had returned again and fairly thoroughly demolished the tree. The branches have all been chewed off, and the main stem of the tree had been sheared in at least two places. It looks like there was at least some effort to drag or push a portion over the bank.

Unrelated, but as you can see, that portion of the bank, which sits up about 5 feet above normal creek level, is in a state of active erosion. The creek curves outward toward the bank, there, and the bank feels the full force during flooding.

Sunday: 21 March 2010

On the First Day of Spring  -  @ 05:45:41
While today and tomorrow plummet to highs that are twenty degrees cooler during the day, along with the promise of significant rain and possible pyrotechnics, Friday and Saturday were beautiful and warm. Yesterday the temperatures almost broke 80 degF. The pager crackled all day with instructions for First Responders and EMS to be en route to the rescue of people who had fallen into holes in creeks, and to the rescue of people falling on harder surfaces, hurting and breaking ankles and legs. People who were being powerfully impelled to helplessly do silly things on the first day of spring. It can't have been anything else.

It was just about the magic hour of the vernal equinox when I ran across this patch of trout lilies. I didn't call 911/Central ("First responders and EMS, need to be en route to check out the first trout lilies of the year!")

With flowers of such yellow and patterning, bearing such nicely counter-colored anthers, you might expect pollination by bees. Apparently at least one related species has been well-studied and is pollinated by bumblebees. It is here that I ran across the word oligolectic.

Oligolectic bees are those that specialize in pollinating certain plants. They are called oligoleges, and are the monogamists among the promiscuous. It's unclear whether the pollinators of trout lilies are oligoleges, but it's a fine word nonetheless.

The genus including trout lilies (or fawn lilies) is Erythronium, related most closely to tulips. The USDA Plants page tells us that just about every state, except Nevada and Arizona (sorry!), has at least one species of Erythronium. The Pacific states have more than a dozen, quite a few limited to California (of course); the southeastern states have four species, the central south US states at least a couple.

Surely you should be getting out (carefully) to see if you can find whichever species inhabits your area.

Friday: 19 March 2010

The Spring Time  -  @ 06:19:47
The trout lilies, Erythronium umbilicatum, that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago are in bud. All four plantings have come up now, although only one leaf is present at the sunnier grassier Goulding Creek spot. They seem to have recovered from last year's transplantation in the shadier leaf litter spots.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is now up, and within the last few days.

It's a good thing that I've noted their presence almost each year since 2003 (for whatever reason, I didn't mention them last year). I've been able to recover the following data on photographic observation. Since they'll flower for at least a couple of weeks, where they are in the flowering date range isn't always clear, but here are the dates of posts for each year.

18 Mar 2010Feb cold, Mar coolFeb normal, Mar low normalEl Nino, buds
2009 no obsFeb high normal, Mar normalFeb low normal, Mar very wetENSO neutral
14 Mar 2008Feb warm, Mar normalFeb low norm, Mar dryLa Nina
15 Mar 2007Feb normal, Mar warmFeb low norm, Mar dryEl Nino
12 Mar 2006Feb low normal, Mar low normalFeb normal, Mar dryENSO neutral
9 Mar 2005Feb normal, Mar normalFeb normal, Mar high normalEl Nino, buds
4 Mar 2004Feb cold, Mar very warmFeb normal, Mar very dryENSO neutral
5 Mar 2003Feb normal, Mar normalFeb normal, Mar normalEl Nino

Although the blog did not exist in 2003 and early 2004, the 2005 link does mention flowering in 2004 (Mar 4) and 2003 (Mar 5).

By these data it looks like there is a range of emergence from as early as Mar 4, perhaps a little earlier, through about Mar 16, so about two weeks. And this year would be on the late end of the range, for no apparent reason other than perhaps a colder than usual February.

I think the apparent progression that would imply that bloodroot has been flowering later and later each year is artifactual. A two-week range is pretty narrow, especially considering that only two observations (2010 and 2005) can be assured of having caught the bloodroot at the bud stage.

Still, those two certain bud dates are a week apart, with the only difference being that this year February was particularly cold and Feb 2005 was not.

Thursday: 18 March 2010

Now In Season  -  @ 08:37:57
I pulled off my first tick of the year, yesterday. Nothing strange about that - around here ticks never really go away, and when it's warm come out to play. You can get one any warm day of the year if you stand still long enough.

From Washington University in St Louis, MO, Diana Lutzan presents us with an informative PR piece that describes the research of ecologists Brian F. Allan and Jonathan M. Chase, molecular biologists Robert E. Thach and Lisa S. Goessling, and physician Gregory A. Storch.

They've been following the emergence of new tick-borne illnesses for a couple of decades now, and have traced the origins of three such diseases. The results - the diseases seem to be carried by lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum, a primarily southeastern tick, and are correlated with white-tailed deer populations. Two of the diseases, one of which is ultimately quite serious unless treated, are caused by Ehrlichia species of bacteria, and the third is caused by Borrelia lonestari, a relation to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. That one causes a severe bullseye rash, but is not as virulent as Lyme disease.

Without getting into the rather elegant molecular biology and technical difficulties, DNA is extracted from individual tick blood meals and then challenged with animal and bacterial probes. These identify the animal that served as the source of the last blood meal, and the bacteria that are carried by the tick from that meal.

The diseases have probably been around for a long time but are becoming more frequent in areas where white-tailed deer populations have increased dramatically. It seems that lone star ticks are particularly enthusiastic about white-tailed deer, which become the animal reservoir for the bacteria, that the ticks as vectors enable for crossing between species. (Wild turkeys are another lone star tick favorite.)

Forest management practices may be another culprit, and not just because certain practices encourage white-tailed deer populations to grow. Prescribed burning results in new plant growth, which both feeds the deer and gives the ticks a jumping off point by which they can more easily grab onto passing animals. And the lack of predators further encourages deer populations to embiggen.

Not much to do about it, except the usual: adopt practices that discourage ticks from latching on, and when (not if) that doesn't work, monitor yourself for ticks and remove them as early as possible. Fortunately lone star ticks are large enough to see easily, unlike the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) that carries Lyme disease. It's probably good to be able to identify the tick - the lone star tick looks just like its name - it has a white spot on the back. The other tick of concern is the dog tick Dermacentor variabilis that can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

If you find a lone star tick (or any tick, really), you want to keep an eye on the bite location for a week or two for unusual rashes that appear around the bite site.

You might also expect to encounter ticks more frequently under certain conditions. Are you seeing deer more frequently? That's special, I know - the sight of a deer fills most with warm fuzzy feelings - but it might also be the sign of population pressure. Is your area in a drought? Large populations of deer will move into suburban areas in search of food, dropping their loads of ticks as they go, and they're going to get hungry after a time.

There are larger lessons that go beyond this special case. First, this isn't something that has to do specifically with climate change. It has to do more with a generalized environmental change shaped by a change in food sources (or lack thereof), and that in turn may be traced back into popular forest management practices (in this case, prescribed burns), and eradication of predators. Second, white-tailed deer aren't the only possible reservoir. The sudden increase in populations of any warm blooded animal should be a cause for suspicion. After all, the bubonic plague in the 15th century was associated with changes in the populations of rats, the warm blooded reservoir at the time. And finally, it's not just ticks that transmit disease. In the case of bubonic plague it was fleas. But mosquitoes also are also vectors, for instance, and we saw a similar thing awhile back, with West Nile virus, in which the reservoir seems to have been birds.

Tuesday: 16 March 2010

Playing Detective  -  @ 07:40:38
I was looking through some artifacts that I've found over the last 20 years, and ran across this moroline bottle. It's an eight-sided bottle that a quick search discovered is a frequent find. Moroline was yet more petroleum jelly, a competitor of vaseline.

The bottle is considerably taller and a bit wider than the previous one. I bring it up here because it provides the most exact date of occupancy of this property that I know of.

The bottom of the jar sports the typical Owens Machine label I referred to earlier. It's a sort of a pre Y2K thing.

The Owens-Illinois Glass Co began marking their bottles to date them, but used only one digit, the right-most one, during the decade of the 1930s. (They also added the stippling that helped prevent sliding of the jar, and simultaneously obscures the labels.) Then, in 1940, they realized that one digit was no longer going to define the year properly, so they put a period after the rightmost number to indicate bottles made in the 1940s decade. (Eventually they went to two digits, postponing the dilemma until (along with everyone else) the year 2000).

The 3. shows this was made in 1943. The leftmost 7 identifies the glass plant that made the bottle, in this case the plant in Alton, Illinois.

Mark asked in comments if we knew of any previous house site on the property. I haven't written about it explicitly before, except as a side comment now and then, but the short answer is, yes, there seems to have been, and I suppose it was here at least in the early 1940s.

The area we find the most artifacts in is indicated by the red rectangle in this portion of the property map, to the southeast of the house. The arrow will show the direction of the next photograph, and the letterings refer to landmarks within that photograph.

This photograph is in the direction of the arrow, roughly southwest, and looking toward the steep bank that leads down to SBS Creek in the Troll Rock area. Here we find the largest concentration of daffodils, planted in three or four patches (D). The lettering on the sides and bottom refer to landmarks out of sight but in that general direction: S = kat sematary, W = well, and H = our house.

The numbers 1-3 refer to pieces of metal that I've placed as the first three thumbnails below. 1 and 2 are flat pieces, and I find a fair amount of this in various sizes. It's thin sheet metal, and it lies flat on the ground, covered over with a thin layer of soil and litter. Some of it is apparently quite large - number 1 is a non-rightangled corner of a much larger piece. Number 2 is a foot-square piece that I pulled up. Number 3 is a long piece of trim, or something like that, that still lies mostly atop the ground. And Number 4 is a pile of brick that I've made, of pieces that I occasionally find. The bricks are solid, btw.

I haven't indicated all the locations of the large flat metal pieces, and I haven't disturbed them. I discovered them first in the early 90s with a ponderous ancient metal detector, and the only other disturbance I've made was in the area of the daffodils, where I found a number of common artifacts. I suspect that one of the reasons this area remains generally clear of trees is due to the ground being covered by these sheets of metal.

Here is a panorama view of the same area, taken from the south side looking north to our house, which you can just make out (H).

I suppose this doesn't have to be an old house site. It might have just been a general dump. However the presence and concentration of daffodils certainly seem to reflect deliberate plantings, and there is a well (it could be a midden, but that would still argue for a nearby house site).

And there are also little pieces of glazed pottery and other homey touches that also argue for a house site. One odd little thing is that the destruction seems to have been rather thorough.

Sunday: 14 March 2010

Urchin Shows How It's Done  -  @ 05:40:54
The front deck sits about twelve feet off the ground, and is accessible only through the upstairs doors. There's no ladder or stairs. There is only one other way down, and only one of our cats has ever learned to go down that 6x6 supporting post. Many go up and find themselves stranded, but only one comes down.

Are you ready, Urchin? (No kidding, I asked him this, and he said yes.)

Cats have three things against them when it comes to climbing down from an ill chosen position. Their claws are hooked only for going up, nimbly at least, so they can't climb down headfirst. They have excellent depth perception, which means a height is pretty intimidating. And since they have to come down butt first, they can't see where they're going, which doubles the tension.
This is the hardest part - taking that first step. Would you care to dive headfirst into a descent that is ten times longer than your body - fifty or sixty feet? I didn't think so.

The left paw is going to grab hold of the horizontal beam, while the right paw maintains a hold on the floor of the deck. Unfortunately I just missed that split second when Urchin swings himself 180 degrees around.

Oh - did you miss that part too? The boy grabbed hold and swung his body around while holding on with only one paw, the right one, as far as I could tell.

I believe the left photo caught the tail end of it, though. At that point he's hanging on by his right paw only, although the hind feet are coming into play.

And then there must be the initial transfer of the two front paws from the floor of the deck and the horizontal beam to the post, and that's a bit tricky, but not as hard as the first step.

Smooth sailing from this point on. Note the audience.

Elapsed time, less than ten seconds, which is excellent for both of us!

Saturday: 13 March 2010

Another Jar!  -  @ 07:33:24
Yet another jar. Unlike the one I found (or, rather, found me) a few days ago, this one came to my notice several weeks ago after the last big flood down Goulding Creek. It ended up in the middle of the creek at the roadcut, embedded in a sandy wash. I'm not sure why I didn't take a look at it earlier - I did dismiss it as a likely baby food jar - but at last I did recover it a day ago.

The obvious clue here is the embossed name of the company, Chesebrough Manfg. CO. CD. A nice anachronistic touch is the hypenated "New-York." Further searches easily show that this is a jar that once held Vaseline, the main product produced by Mr. Robert Chesebrough, and his manfg co. There are quite a few queries from folks who have found this jar, and so it is not at all an uncommon find, and that wouldn't be too surprising, given that it's Vaseline!

Chesebrough merged with Pond to become Chesebrough-Pond in 1955, so presumably this jar without the -Pond addition predates that. (There was a time that I would have thought 1955, my birth year, was recent.)

What was interesting was the comparison with the fairy ring jar. The two are, within a millimeter of height, exactly the same dimensions, and the screw necks are exactly the same. Both are machine-made, so post 1910. Of course, the fairy ring jar lacks the embossing.

What is different are the bottoms of the jars, both in terms of manufacturing and in labelling.

I went to the excellent website on Historic Glass Bottle Identification, suggested in comments by Dave, to the previous post. The section on bottle bases was helpful, although I'm not sure I completely get the manufacturing arcana.

As I pointed out a few days ago, the fairy ring jar (on the right, above) does have a label on it, with five characters that are difficult to make out. This could be an Owens Machine label, in which case the last two digits (42) would indicate the year of manufacture. If only I could make out whether the middle character was the "diamond O-I marker."

The vaseline jar (on the left) has no label at all on the bottom. However, it does have what looks like a "valve or ejection mark," that 1.6 cm diameter circle you see, and which the fairy ring jar lacks. These would be common on early half of the 20th century wide-mouth bottles made by a press and blow machine.

There is also at least one additional concentric ring on the fairy ring jar, and the rings are distinctly off center, being closer to the wall of the jar at the bottom, in the photo above. They're fairly well centered for the vaseline jar.

And that's about as far as I can take it. 1910-1950's, probably more like 1930s, 1940s.

Of course, the vaseline jar might have been sitting in someone's medicine cabinet for 50 years and just got thrown out.

Thursday: 11 March 2010

Rainy Days  -  @ 06:58:02
A little bit of color this morning - a red velvet mite, Trombidium spp., industriously scampering along the bark of a black walnut, earlier this week when it was warm and sunny.

These are arachnids, of course, and the resemblance to a tick is pretty clear. The adults don't attach to anything. The kids do - but apparently only to other tiny invertebrates. I found it first noted here, where the photographs show it more clearly: unlike in other arachnids where the eight legs are spaced more or less evenly down the length of the body, the legs in red velvet might are paired closely, with two pairs in front and two in the rear.

The word since early Wednesday morning is wet and rainy. The volume hasn't been huge - only an inch or so since it started - but it's been more or less relentless and will continue through at least Friday.

I spent the rainy day on NOAA's weather site. It's arranged in a sort of arcane way, but eventually you can find a US outlook map. Click on a state, such as Georgia, and you should be getting toward a river map of the state with the hydrologic stations (rivers and lakes) marked. The stations that update remotely are themselves clickable so that you can see the river changes without much delay.

Our closest hydrologic station is the Oconee River Near Penfield, not too far south from us. I ornamented the map of the area, which includes us, marked as that tiny red property map in the upper left. Goulding and Moss Creeks join to make Big Creek, which joins with Barrow Creek before dumping into the Oconee River above Penfield. And that constitutes the watershed for much of our corner of the county.

Here are Penfield's data for the rise in the Oconee River by 3:15 this morning:

The source for the Oconee River is not too far north of us, so it's not nearly as big as it will get a couple hundred miles south of us. It had a normal flow of 1400 cu ft per sec early yesterday morning, but last night around 6pm it began to rise from 6.9 feet. Since our rain really got going around 10am yesterday, there was a delay of around eight hours before the pulse was evident.

These are not particularly large numbers. As the historical crests inset shows, it achieved nearly 27 feet in Dec 1919 and Mar 1929. For our little event it is expected to reach flood stage around 7pm tonight, and continue to rise through Saturday morning before falling back down.

Oh - and NOAA's flood risk assessment for this spring is up.

Wednesday: 10 March 2010

Airing Clean Laundry  -  @ 04:24:13
It was just a bit over four years ago that the fire department received and issued brand new turnout gear. That was just the tip of the iceberg that was funded by a FEMA grant. Lots of folks who hadn't been seen in quite some time miraculously showed up to receive their issued equipment, and not just a few of them quickly faded away again.

The dirty laundry part was triggered last year, in part, by a county-wide requirement for an inventory. As much of a hassle as it was, I was pleased that we had to do it. And it has seen an asymptotic approach toward a finally very satisfactory completion. It also underscored that we had a lot of "inactive" firefighters who had to be contacted to turn in their "inactive" equipment.

So it's been a painful task, over the last year, to have to ask for equipment back from the eight or nine "inactive" firefighters. Just getting the process going was painful - you don't want to have to admit that an investment in training and camaraderie has come to an end. But ultimately we agreed that in the last two years we've had over 30 fire calls, 25 business meetings, and 70-something training meetings, not to mention any number of special events. We have a website which I update monthly with our calendar, store information on, and write a post whenever I can - no one is lacking for schedules if they care to look. And if after that a firefighter hasn't been seen in two years, "inactive" isn't the right word. "Former" is the right word. "Always welcome to return" is the right phrase. But at $ome point "turn in your $gear$" i$ the way it mu$t work, if you get my drift.

Some of the returned apparel will not have to be washed, because it never really got used, and thank goodness for that. Other turnout was used just enough to impart that special odor that you really don't want to bequeath to the next recipient. Nor do you want to store it away with all the others, for precious scents would meld in that special and probably irreversibly clinging blend of aromatic volatiles, eau de Wolfskin. Are you with me here?

No one who turned their equipment in cleaned it - no surprise there - and so I decided that that had to be done. This is the first round of about seven or nine more to come.

And now we have the clean laundry part: don't they look happy and carefree there, bouncing jauntily in yesterday's fine warm breeze?

What we have here are four bulky heavy items that constitute two loads. Liquid detergent, no bleach, air dry (which I would do anyway). Glenn found just the right stuff.

There is a reason you see four items for a pair of pants and a jacket. Each has an outer shell, which is what you see from the outside and which everyone instantly knows; and an inner lining, which very few see and even fewer care to get to know.

The outer shell certainly gets dirty, but it's honest, clean dirt that everyone can be jolly about, for it denotes activity (see the knees). Granted that there is an odor there too - smoke and phosgene - but it's not a *personal* odor, if you know what I mean. The inner lining is what has absorbed the special sauce. The lining and shell are joined together with a cunning maze of snaps and velcro, and that will be my next task - trying to navigate that. And then they get folded away and it's time for the next bag.

I do think I will reserve a part of tomorrow night's training meeting for asking everyone in attendance to take a bag, clothespin their noses, and uncouple the inner and outer portions preparatory to cleaning. What a fine way to remind everyone of what they don't have to do!

Tuesday: 9 March 2010

Findings of the Week  -  @ 06:35:25

Just about everyone east of the Rockies will be reporting memories of a particularly cold winter this year. But I have numbers.

In honor of our breaking 70 degF yesterday, for the first time since Nov 15 2009, here is how I know it was cold.

Since Dec 1 we have gone below 32 degF a total of 59 times, compared to 47 times last winter during the same period. (Even so, only twice out of those 59 times did wetness coincide to produce a measureable amount of snow. However often it may get cold enough, or wet enough for snow, that's how rare it is for both to appear at once.)

How many times have we gone above 60 degF? This winter, since Dec 1, 14 times. Last winter? 35 times.

And what about that 70 degF benchmark? This winter, 0 times up until yesterday. Last winter, 14 times.

On Sunday afternoon I was reading on the back steps and caught a glint of light from way out in the fairy ring. I moved my head one way and the other to find the glint appeared only in a small range of movement.

I marked the location in my mind, and went to take a look. I found this cute little jar, converted into a tiny terrarium. It was winking at me! I guess it was just under the surface and was exposed sufficiently by the heavy rains we've had this past autumn and winter.

It doesn't look all that special, although there is something special about it winking at me. It's a screw capped jar, and it has two seams that go all the way up to the rim, so it's post 1910 and machine made. It's 4.0 cm up to the bottom of the neck, and 6.1 cm overall height. The inside diameter is 4.0 cm, and the i.d. of the neck is 3.0 cm. The glass is 0.25 cm thick. So it would hold about 50 mL, or just under a quarter cup.

It does have five characters on the bottom, but they're not very distinguishable. Depending on which way I look at them, or what the focused light on the soil inside looks like, they could be 2?6?2 where the first ? might be a 7 or lower case f, and the second ? might be a 6 or a 4. In any event nothing comes up with any combination on a search.

This isn't the first time I've found little artefacts here and there. I detailed some of them here, and here. Sometimes I find them in SBS creek after a rain (I always watch for these on my walks), and sometimes on the ground, partially unburied. I don't expect much from anything I find in Goulding Creek, for it might have been thrown into the creek upstream at any time. But when I find something on the property, or in SBS Creek, there's practically no other way for it to have gotten there other than to have been left long ago.

Monday: 8 March 2010

Mayhem  -  @ 05:03:16

During my walk a couple of days ago I came upon this little scene. As you know, I occasionally find such reminders of strife in the world.

At first I thought, poor Woody, but pileated woodpeckers do not have feathers like this, as the Feather Atlas clearly shows. (Yes, I know Woody wasn't a pileated, either!) Yet they are of a size - the ones that I've so artfully arranged below are a foot long.

It turned out to be an easy identification.

Sunday: 7 March 2010

Witches Broom  -  @ 08:45:01
Actually Witch's Broom - but the captcha doesn't like apostrophes.

I've been walking a little farther afield, west and south into the 300 acres owned by nonresidents. The walk takes me a quarter mile farther down Goulding Creek, and then south up the next feeder creek, which is analogous to our own SBS Creek. More about this later, perhaps.

About halfway up the feeder creek I came upon this area in which odd balls of intricate growths popped up in the canopy. They look like bird nests, but they're not.

We've seen this before, toward the end of April a couple of years ago, in the State Botanical Gardens. At that time in the season it was clear that the growths produced greenery as well as mere twiggery. Bev suggested then that they were tumors, and it seems I let the matter slide.

I think that diagnosis is about right, though. What you see here is an insane proliferation of shoots emanating from a point on the branch of this hornbeam. It wasn't just hornbeams - white oaks were also involved.

This seems to be a syndrome called Witch's Broom. This can have multiple causes, but one common one is infection by a fungus, Taphrina betulina, and related species. The fungus seems to alter plant hormone levels to cause a proliferation of shoots from the point of infection.

In the tips of plants, and trees too, the plant hormone auxin reigns. As with most plant hormones, auxin has a lot of effects, but one is to inhibit the production of shoots, that is, branches from the buds that form next to each leaf. Auxin is produced at the tips, so its effect is strongest there and declines as you move down a twig. This is known as apical dominance - it demands that a plant put its energy into reaching for the sky. Pruning the tips of a plant to encourage branching is just a way of removing the influence of auxin.

The plant hormone cytokinin acts in a lot of ways, but here it acts in opposition to auxin - cytokinins encourage shoot formation. Cytokinins are produced, at least in bulk, from the roots, though, so their effect is negligible at the tips of a plant, normally.

Apparently what this fungus does is to produce cytokinins, or to encourage the production of cytokinins near the tips of a tree, and apparently it does so very effectively. It wakes up just about every possible shoot-producing meristem, nullifying the soporific effects of auxin and causing a massive production of shoots. And so you see the witch's broom.

There is a multitude of amazing things you can do with plant hormones, and a lot of what we call pathogens know how to do it.

Saturday: 6 March 2010

Shagbarks and Fish  -  @ 05:49:04
On Thursday night at training, Phyllis noted that she had read the latest entry on the shagbark hickory treefall. She suggested that we see if we could salvage some twigs and take a good look - a regular shagbark (Carya ovata would be uncommon around here, and a southern shagbark (C. carolinae-septentrionalis aka C. ovata var australis) would be even rarer. In one sense it doesn't matter - the tree *isn't* anymore. But in another sense it's of historical value and although I never saw it produce fruits, if it did those fruits could easily be distributed downstream from its position close to Goulding Creek and result in progeny all along the creek.

Just to get everything in one place, the first post here was a little over three years ago - two photos of a portion of the tree while it was still intact Dec 2006. At the time I had, on the basis of leaves on the ground at that time, decided it was not a shagbark, but rather an old specimen of our odd shaggy white oaks. It was also at that time that I detailed the puffball emergences from the base of the tree.

A few months later, May 2007, I photographed the green leaves from the ground, and concluded that it was indeed a shagbark hickory. And then in Jul 2008 the tree fell.

I was able to salvage some twigs, and used Ron Lance "Woody Plants of the Southeastern US - A Winter Guide" to ascertain that it was a hickory. Glenn took a close look at the twig key and along with photos here and here determined that it was C. ovata and not the Southern Shagbark.

From USDA Plants, the county distribution map of shagbark hickory (the regular one). Shagbarks occur through the eastern US and into Canada, but they become uncommon by the time we're in the south Piedmont of Georgia. In these distribution maps absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the tree has been documented for Oglethorpe County (marked "O") at least.

So that takes care of that, except that I'll be watching out a little more closely in the immediate area, and especially along the mile of Goulding downstream, for possible progeny.

Now on to something completely different, except that it too is a followup to an occasional interest that has never really taken - fish!

Now and then I've fantasized about cataloging the small fish that live in the little feeder creek, SBS Creek, that runs through the long hollow. I've even tried netting some but they're too fast for me. I've made some crude minnow traps but that came to nothing too.

I was particularly excited to photograph these very handsome spawning fish in April of 2008, rutting along a gravel bottom in Goulding Creek. Jeff, Phyllis's husband, identified them a few days later as yellowfin shiner Notropis lutipinnis (another photo here). He was quite pleased with the find, noted that he'd observed the spawning himself, and wrote a column about it along with the photo for the Oglethorpe Echo.

So yesterday I idly photographed a few resting fish in SBS Creek. The images are poor but I do think I could do better. I've added a lot of contrast to get rid of the cloudiness so the colors are not necessarily true, but the two longitudinal blue lines on either side of the back are. The first group image is a clickable link to an enlargement. The fish themselves are only two or three inches long - I've never seen anything larger in SBS Creek.

Thursday: 4 March 2010

Transplants  -  @ 06:33:05
Well, this is nice. I was suspecting this a week ago when I saw one leaf, but now there are several fine speckled leaves emerging:

It's a little patch of dimpled trout-lily, Erythronium umbilicatum. I planted them late last March, in four patches, in several places that seemed to be likely habitat. Here's the map I presented then, and the four blue dots are the patches. The open blue circles are the two patches that are showing half a dozen leaves at the moment. The blue stippling shows the location of the parent colony along Moss Creek, north of us:

I'll be looking intensively in a couple of weeks along Goulding Creek, as the plants come into yellow flower but I've not yet found them in our little Goulding Creek valley before. The source of these plants is the Moss Creek watershed, just north and over the Black Snake Road ridge that separates us (erroneously marked here as Arnoldsville-Goulding Creek Road, but that's another story). Former Fire Chief Phyllis gave Glenn a tour and permission to dig some up last year.

These plants are spring ephemerals, enjoying early bright but friendly sunshine before the above canopies fill out. They'll flower, fruit, and be gone before May, I'd guess. I'm not sure what the fruiting status will be. It could be that they are clones and self-infertile, reproducing mainly by asexual stolon propagation. I run across a few internet references (here, and here, for instance. These are suspiciously similar to the extent that they both state the close relationship to Tulipa. So they probably amount to one cribbed source, as will then be my derivation (but at least I cite the references)) that suggests that populations with few flowers reproduce asexually; those with more flowers reproduce sexually. Word of mouth was that the Moss Creek population was flowering abundantly.

That's ok, but it might also be nice to find some that have been isolated from the parent colony for awhile. Anything I find along Goulding Creek might fit the bill. Or, perhaps, across and south down the ridge upon which Wolfskin Road rides. Those would be Barrow Creek plants. If I found any such plants, I'd transplant them close to the Moss Creek plants, and the two sets might be interfertile.

Wednesday: 3 March 2010

Turnout  -  @ 08:32:49
So how did the weather end up?

With satisfaction, for the most part. The snow hardly accumulated at all here - the cold just didn't quite make it. But the falling snow was very nice on Tuesday, and it continued for much of the day. It just didn't accumulate. Still, the university did close at 2pm, which was just about the time the major precipitation stopped. And so I got the evening off, which was nice.

We really were at the southernmost edges of the event, but it's proper that UGA should have closed. Things were more extreme to our west and north - who could have predicted? It's not that all too many people don't know how to drive in snowy conditions down here - it's that they don't know they can't drive. I know this because *I* don't have the experience of driving in such conditions.

(Whether true or not, I am led to believe that in Finland winter drivers are the best because they are tested with their brakes disabled. Seems like a remarkably good idea.)

Anyway, by this morning it was all gone. Probably a little slick in places on smaller roads outside of Athens, since we got a few degrees cooler - 29F early this morning - but looks to be on a normal schedule today.

And that, by the way, is it for work for ten days. We have a week off for spring break beginning on Friday. Since my responsibilities end tonight, I get a few days extra.

Tuesday: 2 March 2010

Forty Days and Nights  -  @ 08:24:01

We're waiting to see what the weather does. Right now we've had light rain since midnight, and it feels cold to us, though it's only 39 degF. However, temperatures are expected to drop throughout the day and if moisture input holds up, rain changes to snow after noon, into the afternoon, and up to midnight tonight.

UGA has always maintained a passive-aggressive policy of announcing closures, at least since the late '70s. So at this time, there's no word on the webpage or radio, and there won't be until an announcement is made at the last moment. While it's certainly understandable from the point of view of the university, which wants to complete its day if at all possible, it's also true that a lot of folks, like about 30,000 of them, would like to plan for exam schedules, child pickup, bread and milk, and beer (!) if necessary. We'll see!

A couple of days ago I passed by this favorite place, which you see in the photo below as it looked on Jan 18. It's a little ways during the walk down Goulding Creek toward the more distant west point of the property. You see it here actually looking back eastward upstream, and the creek is a little fuller than usual forty days ago.

Large rocks in the creek are not a common feature in our alluvial area, and so I especially like this little place for that. I've also admired the gravel beach in the foreground, which in warmer season gives way to a small pool between the rocks that you see below. There are a lot of herbaceous perennials that have established themselves atop the rocks, the gravel beach, and along the edges of the pool that sometimes becomes isolated from the rest of the creek. Up until now there's been no problem in walking down there and getting into it.

Compare it to what it looked like a few days ago, on February 27. While it's true that about seven inches of rain fell in that forty days and forty nights, it's been quite dry for the last couple of weeks, and so the absolute level of the creek is about the same. I've marked the changes with colored arrows.

Seems to have been a treefall within the last month (white). More interesting is that at the same level of creek the gravel beach is gone (yellow). But the main thing that I noticed a couple of days ago is that the rock arrangement that formerly produced an amphibious environment is now in the middle of the creek. It's not that the rocks have moved, but that the flow of the creek has.

The culprit seems to be a pile of debris (blue) that has caused a large pile of sand and gravel to accumulate just upstream, as well as downstream from the debris pile. This has moved the flow rightward, and indundated our idyllic rock pool on a semipermanent basis. More, and as shown just to the right of the yellow arrow, the fine gravel beach has simply been washed away.

All these changes are about as trivial as it could be, in the larger scheme of things. But I notice them, and have a lot of fun trying to figure them out. I expect that in six months, we'll see something entirely new here. I'd really hate to be a poor plant trying to figure out where the hell to grow.

Monday: 1 March 2010

The Month of February  -  @ 08:35:15

It's The Month of February, Number 49 in a series. As in January, the word for February here was *cold*. I know that's not the case everywhere!

This time, they're hiding the usual temperature anomalies product here, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Below is the difference in the average temperature for this February above or below the average for February over many years, plotted in colors.

February brought many of us an extremely cold anomaly, 5-7 degF lower than normal, for much of the eastern US, excepting the Great Lakes region and the New England states. For much of the west temperatures were 3-6 degF *above* normal, something you know very well if you were watching the winter olympics this past month.

Two things explain this - El Niño and the Arctic Oscillation. Here's something interesting:

The figure above is from NOAA's ENSO Update PDF. The left panel shows temperature anomalies during the historical Jan-Feb-Mar season due to El Niño over 13 moderate to strong El Niño events. The right panel shows the frequency by which such anomalies occur. Compare it to the first figure for weird temperatures in February. The cold blue you see spread across the southern states occur with high frequency, and certainly match the anomaly in the first figure above for February. What's different is the extreme cold in February for the northern midwest. That's not predicted by the El Niño figure, and appears to be due to a bizarre Arctic Oscillation that this winter has poured cold weather into the eastern US repeatedly over the last month or two.

We find the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's precipitation plots here these days.

There's a lot of green over west Texas and east New Mexico, fading northwestward through the Rocky Mountain states. Most places got normal rainfall - even *we* did this past month!

Now look at the same El Niño composite for historical ENSO years, and compare to the above.

I find two things interesting about this: first, how closely the composite resembles the February rainfall in places where there was normal to above normal rain (the California coast is a slight exception). But look at the area of dryness above Appalachia and extending toward the Great Lakes - it so closely corresponds to the brown bruise for February that it's almost spooky! What is it about that area - it's like a strange attractor!

For Athens:

For Athens, cold temperatures prevailed in February, and although El Niño winter temperatures can vary, this is classic. I suspect the Arctic Oscillation exacerbated this for us. Over the next month we can expect severe storms on occasion.

Here is my plot of low temperatures for the month of February in Athens. (It seemed appropriate to present low temperatures this time.) As usual, the black dots are for the 18 years 1990-2007 (black dots), 2010 (green line), and 2009 (red line).

We broke no records, although nightly temperatures during much of February were remarkably cold. We had a tiny warm break toward the end of February, and are now in more or less normal winterish temperatures.

We had 0 (zero!) days of high temperatures that were at least one standard deviation higher than average, and the usual number of such days is 4.7. But as in January, we had 13 nights below the standard deviation for our usual lows, compared to 5.0 such nights, and that's worth mentioning. More, we had our second month of a long consecutive series of very cold days and nights (for us) than in quite a long time.

Big news, of course - we got 4 inches of snow on February 12. Though we had a heavy rainfall in early February , we ended up at just about a normal February average, after five months in a row with large excesses.

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.

The blue emerged as surplus early in February, and then leveled off for the latter half of the month - we ended up with just about the average. In fact, the last ten days have been dry enough for us to have had red flag fire days for several days running. For the Dec-Jan-Feb winter season we've had about 19 inches of rain, about 6 inches above normal for the season.

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. El Niño is dancing all over us now, and you might want to check that out. The view into April shows us continuing notably cooler temperatures, and higher than normal precipitation.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update has not changed since last month. We're still in an El Niño event of continuing strength. It has leveled off for now, and is projected to last through spring 2010, and possibly into summer. Here we can expect strong late winter and spring storms with lots of tornado watches.

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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