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

Friday: 30 April 2010

At the Edge of the Woods  -  @ 08:45:27
Little surprises!

You can imagine how excited I was when I was walking down the little road to the first deck and spied red fifteen feet up in a young water oak just into the woods. And yes, it turned out to be a coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, the second I've found in our woods. This one seems to be redder, with no orange insides, as the other one has.

Remind me not to try to identify skippers.

Back at the blackberries, there were several species taking advantage of the flowers. This one is pretty clear - a silver-spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus, and we've seen these before, Jun 27 2008.

Skippers are in the family Hesperiidae, a kind of intermediate group between true butterflies and moths. Silver-spotted skippers are "dicot skippers," subfamily Eudaminae. They're called that because the larvae prefer a diet of dicots, especially legumes, while other skippers go for grasses and other monocots.

This one, on the other hand, has me perplexed. The photo, while catching the underside of the wing, isn't all that great, other than also catching the hairy head.

At first I thought it might be another dicot skipper, a Thorybes spp., some kind of cloudywing. The spot patterns don't really match, though, for any of the species.

It could also be an Erynnis, one of the duskywings, maybe a juvenal's duskywing. That would put it in an subfamily entirely, Pyrginae, the spread-winged skippers.

I'm just scanning through the organized photos of Bugguide, though, and not employing an sort of taxonomic knowledge other than that this one is definitely a skipper.

Thursday: 29 April 2010

Uncommon Sights  -  @ 06:38:44
I probably see a zebra swallowtail or two every year, but I've only reported on them once that I can find - March 21 2007. For one thing, they're fast and skittish, and seldom land for more than a few seconds.

This year is a little different. For one thing, the zebras, Eurytides marcellus, seem to be a lot more numerous. A couple days ago I managed to photograph two individuals despite their flitting about (thumbnails enlarge upon clicking). The individual on the left is fairly drab, with faded orange tail spots. The one on the right is much fresher, with brilliant red spots on the tail and clean black and white striping.

Then yesterday I ran across a zebra magnet - the blackberries are in full flower. Note the cute little green beetle (?) zooming in at the upper right (click for larger).

There were several individuals working the flowers (plus a lot of different other butterflies, bees, and wasps).

And a couple more clickable thumbnails, since who knows when I'll get another opportunity:

Another rare sight around here are monarch butterflies, however, unless I'm mistaken this is not a monarch (Danaus plexippus) but rather a viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus). Even with this long shot, the only shot I was allowed to get, the distinctive horizontal black stripe across the hindwings is visible.

Most people are probably familiar with the mimicry story - bad tasting monarchs are the model, and viceroys avoid predation by mimicking the monarch. This would be a classic batesian mimicry example, but it seems to have been called into question (abstract only). It seems that *both* species taste bad, and so the mimicry has a Mullerian strategy behind it.

Wednesday: 28 April 2010

Spring Food Plants  -  @ 06:21:04
One at a time, please. One at a time.

This is crossvine, Bignonia capreolata. You sort of have to be watching out for these, since they are normally flowering way way up. Then they look like this:

The trees along the floodplain on the new property are full of these plants, and I was able to find a small tree where the flowers dangled just above my head. They certainly have a tropical feel to them, and most species in the family are tropicals.

If you look closely at the image above (click for larger) you'll see a small hole in the rightmost flower. That's the work of a bumblebee, probably, avoiding its pollination duties and still snaring the nectar. There's a word for citizens like that.

As the USDA Plants page shows, crossvine has an eastern US distribution, more or less south of the Great Lakes.

Aside: my photo designation takes the first three letters of family, genus, and species names, so crossvine is bigbigcap. Cute, but the distribution map name is even cuter: bigbigcapmap. Sometimes things work out so nicely.

(Its thug of a cousin, Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans, is more widespread, found in all but a few western states and extending northward into Canada. Old climbing vines can be as thick as your arm.)

I've mentioned crossvine a few times, but for obvious reasons have only noted its flowers once, in 2008, May 2. It's worth noting that late date, or is this year's flowering just early? We've had both a much colder end of winter, and much warmer beginning of spring, than usual, and various species seem to be flowering both late and early.

Crossvine is a very good citizen, without the invasive qualities of the native related trumpet creeper, or many of its other relatives. I mentioned the alien Princess Tree, Paulownia tomentosa, last year, and there are others that fit in the category Weed. Crossvine leaves are more or less evergreen, and only wilt a bit when it gets much colder than usual in the winter. A nice compilation of Bignoniaceae family can be found here, along with a cladogram(!), so you know it's good, mostly.

It's worth mentioning that crossvine flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, with just the right beckoning colors and funnel shape. Their long and early flowering time means food on days when it can still get punishingly cold. Early hummingbird arrivals have already been treated to our red and painted buckeyes, which flower even earlier. And tulip poplars are just starting to flower now, so that's a triple bounty spaced out reasonably well over a period of about a month.

It's not just hummingbirds - honeybees (and other bees) are also attracted to the same flowering species, and benefit in the same way. For honeybees here, the tulip poplars which are so abundant are going to offer the year's mainstay in nectar - tons of it will be collected and converted into honey.

(How does that work for us this year? We look with envy at our neighbor's three hives, two of which are quite strong, judging from the supers piled atop. They're going to produce a lot of honey this year. Our own are just starting out, so there are probably not enough workers to take full advantage. They will certainly do well in terms of colony growth, but maybe not well enough to produce a surplus. A queen can only lay so many eggs at a time, and only so many can be raised by a starter population.)

Tuesday: 27 April 2010

Waiting for a Chance  -  @ 07:06:32
I continued to check the patch of bare earth where the mining bees swarmed, the activity had stopped by April 23, maybe a couple or three days earlier. I don't know when it started, the business of males lying and hovering in excited anticipation beside the holes for newly emerging females, but it seems to have lasted at least a week.

Yesterday, when I stopped by, there was a small amount of activity, but it consisted of a few specimens of this golden critter:

In the previous link I had mentioned a cuckoo bee, Nomada, that also lies in wait, but this time for the laying female to leave the nest for fortifications of nectar and pollen that she leaves for the next laid egg. During her absence, the cuckoo steals in and lays its own egg, which will presumably develop first.

And that's what this bee is, Nomada imbricata. It's a fairly sizeable bee - in fact I thought initially it was a small yellowjacket.

It must be a productive lifestyle, with many victims, for there are a lot of species of Nomada, and in this subfamily Nomadinae of cuckoo bees.

Monday: 26 April 2010

Post Rain Puzzler  -  @ 05:01:48
The rain on Saturday was good to us. It was constant, other than a couple of brief hiatuses, and fell to the tune of 1.20 inches. It was the same storm system that brought tornadoes to Mississippi and Alabama, but was pretty gentle here.

I was walking along Goulding Creek and noticed this odd spiky assemblage of growths high up in a tree. A disease? It took me a minute or two after after examining the photo to figure out the puzzle (Glenn, about the same amount of time). I've actually seen it before, but not in such profusion.

Any ideas? Click the photo for a larger version.

Saturday: 24 April 2010

Batten Down  -  @ 13:23:59

Think we might get some rain? You never know, but the atmosphere is shifting around impressively and there's quite a bit of thunder already. All the better for our little Cypripediums.

El Dorado  -  @ 06:46:44
Rain began this morning around 4:30, and we're promised a considerable amount of it over the next two days. It's been dry, with less than half an inch in the last four weeks, and even before that only a scant amount. Storms today and tomorrow are predicted to be "severe at times."

My efforts at keeping track of our lady's slippers (Cypripedium acaule) haven't borne fruit yet, but they have borne flower. There has been no species that I have hunted for more specifically than this orchid, since I found my first ones fifteen years ago. Those were also in pine woods, but along another ridge a fifth of a mile away, separated from this one by extensive hardwood forest. I never observed them in flower again, although at the time I was stunned by the dozen or so clusters each sporting multiple flowers.

There are five plants there, and five flowers, probably opened up in the last two or three days. They're quite small, less than ten inches high. Judging by the short length of the stems, they have some way to go as those stems should lengthen.

It was just about a week ago that I ran across the preflowering clump of plants. Rediscovered, really, since the original discovery was made last May 20, of what I think was another nearby clump that did not make an appearance this year. I could be wrong abut that.

With flowers like these, you might expect a sort of a trap - an opening at the top with downward pointing hairs announcing its intentions. Cypripedium employs deception - it's all looks and no nectar that might benefit an investigating pollinator, usually a bumblebee. Exit from the chamber lies only through a route that ensures pollination of the female stigmas.

The bumblebees aren't stupid though, and it appears that individuals learn quickly not to bother, but hopefully not before they've accomplished the orchid's intent. It's a thin line of success, though, with only a tiny percentage of plants successfully pollinated.

There may be some rationale to this - it seems that bearing fruit exacts quite a cost to the maternal plant. It is in fact referred to generally as the "cost of reproduction." The energy budget is complicated: the plant balances off the cost of producing nectar (which the plant foregoes) and seeds (which the plant minimizes by producing only the occasional fruit and seeds that contain remarkably undeveloped embryos, only a few cells in size).

Still there's this (pdf), and I think I might try it this year. William Cullina, and that link includes some nice documentation photos, btw, recommends a very limited hand pollination, and I've some experience with this. The limit is to hand pollinate only one plant in a clump. Hand pollination results in a high degree of successful fruit production, but other studies indicate that the maternal plant sacrifices growth in order to divert energy. That's why you only do one plant in a clump. Still, seeds are the only way the plants spread.

I notice from the USDA Plants County Distribution map that not only is Georgia at the southernmost extent of this species' realm (which extends into Canada), but Oglethorpe County is just about the limit. You have to be careful with those distribution maps, since they color in only the counties where reliable observations have been reported, and are therefore not sufficient negative evidence (Oglethorpe County is not colored in - perhaps I should report - but adjacent Clarke and Madison Counties are).

Our late April flowering date is an early warning. Farther north and into Canada, flowering dates can be late May and even into June. The preferred environments are acidic soils, either dry as you might find under pines in elevated locations, or wet as you might find in peat bogs.

Tuesday: 20 April 2010

A Few Steps Apart  -  @ 06:17:45
On Saturday, I was just about to descend into the steep gully between the two crests, and ran across this very nice trillium, in flower:

The odd thing about it is that the flower is white. I was pretty excited since it suggested the possibility of a species new to our property. That it isn't a new species doesn't diminish the pleasure, for it does appear to be a white morph of our usual Trillium catesbaei, bashful wakerobin or rose trillium. The leaves and the drooping, nodding flower with the curled-up petals sort of gives it away.

And then there was this, too: it seemed to be the first indication of a flowering rose trillium on the property, outside of one that I had transplanted close to the house at least five years ago. *That* one has flowered every year, a very handsome rose color We have plenty of rose trillium plants on the property, but I've never seen them in flower.

The things we forget. A search of the blog showed that just last year, on 27 April, I described a flowering rose trillium, just downhill and across the little dry creek from Saturday's find. That one though was the usual rose color, and a very nice plant it was.

I'll have to take another look at the current find in the next few days. It could be that the color which now appears to be white will deepen with age, but I've never seen our transplanted one undergo this sort of change.

UPDATE: The flower on April 26.

So there was that. And then I took a few steps and startled a basking kingsnake off his rock perch. Ensued a merry chase with the snake attempting to squeeze under first the rock, part of which you see below, a nearby log, and then finally and semi-successfully under a stump. Many blurry photos, but only this initial one turned out reasonably well.

This is the second eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) I've found - the first was last May 19 just downhill from the house (and far away from Saturday's find). I'll once again mention the Eastern Kingsnake Resource Site (apparently and sadly inactive) that consists, simply, of a huge number of captioned photos of eastern kingsnake finds contributed from a large number of eastern states and regions. The variety of patterning is pretty amazing.

I'm always pleased to run across any reptile, and particularly snakes of any sort.

Sunday: 18 April 2010

The State of the Green  -  @ 07:50:11
Everything that's going to be green is now green. The last to start up (and the first to go in the fall), black walnuts, are just now putting out their leaves.

This seemed to be about the best place to try for an under the canopy shot. Only by looking into the last of the pines along the ridge, and past into the real canopy of hardwoods that lifts way above the long hollow can you get such a broad and long introspective. Anywhere else and the clear space for viewing has diminished to just a small distance.

There are at least now a couple of places where the view is less obscured. This is one of the two decks, the high points. They haven't been mowed, and won't be, but they were disced last fall. I guess the more proper word would be "crest." I'm standing, with as much grassy field behind me as in front, as the field will give way to forest, and then fall 80 feet or so down to Goulding Creek. Ahead of me, and about center, is the little used access road.

At the edge of the other deck, or crest, I noted last 7 April 2009, the discovery of eastern bluestar Amsonia tabernaemontana. I'd been looking out for these, and on Friday I rediscovered them. Last year there was only one flowering plant; this year it looks like at least a half dozen, with quite a few more younger plants that aren't flowering. Looks like they're at least nine days behind last year's.

It's the only occurence I've found of these plants, and given the disturbance that created the deck, or crest, I'm not sure how they got there. Perhaps the seeds were produced by a population many years ago and lay under the soil until uncovered when the deck was cleared and uncovered them.

Finally, and I've been watching out for these too, the pink lady's slippers, Cypripedium acaule, that I found last year, 21 May 2009. Then they had already flowered and the failed fruits were all that was evident. Now they're just about to flower, so I'll have to visit them each day or so until they do.

Last year's two or three plants were in the middle of a small clear space under the pines. This cluster of five plants is not in the same location - I'm sure of that - they're emerging quite close to a couple of trees. So there may be more than just one group of the orchids in the area and I just haven't found the original discovery.

Saturday: 17 April 2010

More Mining Bees  -  @ 05:24:07

Getting back to the mining bees of yesterday, there was some special stuff going on.

Something is emerging from this hole, and several bees are waiting to see what happens. Interesting about the one on the right. The back of the thorax is fairly bald, which is different from most of the others in these photos. For most the back of the thorax is pretty much covered with hairs.

I think Dale, from comments yesterday, is right. I can't tell males from females here, but I'd bet the waiting bees are males, and the emergent is a female. I suppose that would make this a nest from last year.

One neat thing about these bees is that their faces are so hairy.

I'm still going for Adrena in the mining bee family Adrenidae, but it's a very complex genus subdivided into nontaxonomic "genus groups," and hundreds of species in North America. So I'm not going to get any further than that, especially with these photos.

So what is going to happen now? If this is the emergence of last year's brood, then there will be matings and each female will dig her own little hole. It will go straight down about 18 inches, and there will be little side chambers where eggs will be laid. The female will forage for nectar and pollen, and those provisions will be stored along with the eggs. I'm not sure if there's only one generation a year here, but either way that's pretty much the end of the synopsis.

Because the mining bees are so diverse and abundant, and because they forage flowers, they're a very large driver of pollination in all sorts of plants, wild and crop. There is also mention that they emerge and become active earlier in the spring than honeybees, so in colder climates are *the* major pollinator of early spring plants.

Apparently there's a genus of kleptoparasites, Nomada (cuckoo bees), which specialize on Adrenidids. I gather they'll lay their eggs in the brood chambers, and that those eggs will hatch earlier, allowing the klepto kids to use up the provided food.

Here's a nice little writeup about adrenidids.

Friday: 16 April 2010

More GC Mysteries  -  @ 07:14:45

Do you see five bees in this photo? Look for their shadows.

I don't normally take pictures just of the ground, but the above was the only one of several dozen where there were bees in the focal plane (and something anneliddy poking up out of the ground).

This is an area of about 20' x 10' on the edge of the bank above Goulding Creek. You can't see them, but there are hundreds of small bees flying about, a few inches above the ground. Back and forth, endlessly. I never see them rest. (Note, btw, beaver snag upper center.)

This is now the third year, same time of year, that I've seen this phenomenon of hundreds of bees haunting this exact same place. I haven't seen it anywhere else.

I can only guess at what's going on. Perhaps they're a species of miner bee, maybe Andrena. The general nesting behavior is solitary, but nests are built close to each other. Perhaps that's what's going on.

They're not aggressive or defensive - I've walked right through the area without getting hit. But I do try to go around it. I'll have to keep an eye on this on a daily basis to see how long this continues.

Wednesday: 14 April 2010

Now and to Come  -  @ 08:19:28

If you're out and about, and live around here or north of here, you might start looking for a couple of white flowering species.

Here is giant, or star chickweed, Stellaria pubera, a more flamboyant relative of the much more common alien chickweed, S. meadia, that infests gardens and plantings about now. This year the giant chickweed flowering is in unusual profusion:

I've observed the flowering of this plant since I first took notice of it in 2007. Nothing out of the ordinary except perhaps for an early flowering last year.

7 Apr 2007, 11 Apr 2008, 30 Mar 2009, 13 Apr 2010

I was very excited three years ago to discover silverbells, Halesia tetraptera, flowering along Goulding Creek. Last year I discovered massive colonies farther downstream on the new property, and more than likely that's where you'll find them. I noted that the population extends halfway up the slope, invading much drier woods. For some reason I never mentioned them in 2008.

4 Apr 2007, not mentioned 2008, 7 Apr 2009, 13 Apr 2010

Coming up:

I've been keeping an eye out for these Goulding Creek fish, in their mating mode. Haven't seen
yellowfin shiners Apr 11 2008, identified here, as yet.

Last year I found a single emergence of eastern blue star, Apr 6 2009, and I've scouted the area several times in the last week or so, but still haven't seen them.

Last year there were a lot of rat snakes, Apr 5 2009.

Coming up, pipevine swallowtail caterpillars, April 30 2006, on their favorite food, pipevines, Aristolochia macrophylla aka A. durior, in flower at about the end of April.

By now I should have seen box turtles, but haven't spotted any yet. It could be the dry weather of the last few weeks that has them prowling about only in the very early morning when I haven't been walking around.

And of course there are tulip poplars, Liriodendron tulipifera, and flowering was observed May 20 2008. That's *way* after the early May flowering I mentioned yesterday, and though I've referred to tulip poplars *many* times, I've seldom taken the trouble to observe flowers of this tree. They're way up in the air, a hundred feet up, and outside of casual notice. The honeybees will know it though - they're the major food source around here and will constitute the bulk of any honey produced before real summer. After that, there is no real major contributor to honey - a whole lot of things, but no single plant adds so enormously.

Tuesday: 13 April 2010

High Density Development  -  @ 08:01:08

Welcome to the newest five thousand Wolfskin citizens. In a few months there might be a hundred thousand.

The beginnings of this were just about ten months ago, and needless to say it did not happen then. But Glenn kept up with the bee club, and yesterday took possession of three nucs. Maybe they're not exactly nucs, but at any rate a frame of bees that includes a queen, in a regular size box.

The boxes transported well in the back of Glenn's truck, with only duct tape stretched across the hive entrance to keep the bees in. I carried them over to set them on the concrete block, and other than taking photos, that was the end of my participation. (Well, alright, I did mow the field area and get rid of volunteer sweetgums and such.)

Oh yeah, I made the sugar water too. That turned out to be probably unnecessary at this late date, but feeding them can't hurt. The second hive body is just to accomodate the sugar water container. It will be replaced by a super with frames of empty foundation, and between them a queen excluder screen. That keeps eggs from being laid in the cells that you want filled only with honey.

Glenn pulled the duct tape off and arranged it in different patterns to identify the hives. It's probably not necessary, but it helps to orient the bees to return to the right hive.

The bees should be happy. They were amazingly gentle. I had half expected an alarming flurry of activity when Glenn lifted the covers off, but maybe there are so few workers that instinctively protecting the queen by keeping close to her occupies the attention of most of them.

Glenn learned a few interesting things from the fellow who supplied the nucs. One was, and we had already come to this conclusion, that with the cold February and March temperatures, a lot of flowering during that period had been delayed. Then with the very warm temperatures of the first week in April, everything flowered at once. The result was a major honeyflow in the last two weeks.

That was unexpected, and the second result was that for other more established colonies there were a lot of swarming incidents. Why a colony decides to swarm still has a mystery about it, but in this case a sudden increase in bee population combined with an unexpected surplus of honey, and the colony decides to reproduce. You'd have to really be on the ball to detect the emergence of new queens that a swarm must have when it leaves. The usual expectation would be that swarming would be something to watch out for later in the season.

I'll have to take the binoculars with me on a walk today to see what stage the tulip poplars are in, for they are the really major source of nectar around here. In the 1980s, when we kept bees for a few years, tulip poplars flowered during the first week in May. That gives these three guys a couple more weeks to get their numbers up, and I'm sure they'll be busy doing that.

Monday: 12 April 2010

Text to be Added  -  @ 08:52:15
I didn't think I'd wait until Monday to update, but firefighter weekend intervened with a trip down to Forsyth, GA. Glenn and I took different classes this year - mine was Training Operations in Small Departments, the first offering of this course at GPSTC, I think. It wasn't a bad course, and provided a lot of food for thought in terms of developing training and minimizing liability. Liability issues, usually at incidents, were a major focus, and training and documentation are key to minimizing them.

Since liability issues for mistakes made at any incident always come back to training, it's the Training Officer who ends up shouldering the responsibility for addressing and providing defense against any litigation. And I'm the Training Officer.

As I passed the next in an endless series of handouts over to the person in front of me, I said, "Here, have another handout. More bad news for Training Officers." That got a laugh.

Fortunately we've been training more or less adequately, and the documentation has been good for the last few years. And the course pointed us in the right direction for making necessary modifications.

Mystery. Maybe I'll find out today.

Updated 100412: Oh well, I didn't find out "today," but maybe I'll find out today.

Not a mystery.

Updated 100412: Pablo got these right - mayapples. Another ephemeral annual treat that I can seldom resist photographing. This is a medium smallish colony which features a medium size beech overlooking. The dry creek that runs between the two decks occasionally flows water through the area. Just uphill, in the direction you're looking in both photos are much much larger fields of mayapples.

Thursday: 8 April 2010

On the Beach  -  @ 06:33:41
Our high temperatures for the last seven days have been 15-20 degF above the average high of 70 deg. We broke 90 out here three times, and also broke a high record with 88 deg(official) on Monday. Left to unofficial observations, nearly every day would have been a record breaker. With breezes attendant on most of these days, there have been brush fire calls in one part of the county or another, and two were sufficiently close to prompt us to a level of readiness.

The abnormally hot weather, though, reminds us of the capriciousness of the atmosphere, and all that was compounded for the past week by our first major male gametophyte release. Oaks, birches, sweetgums, and hornbeams have all been busily doing meiosis.

I'm fortunate in having very few allergies, and pollen is not one of the one or two (cats, of all things, and horses, if you wish to know). I attribute a lack of allergies to a childhood in which I was allowed to get close to as much nature as I wanted, and I wanted; to eat dirt if I wanted; or at least I was not imprisoned in a pristinely antiseptic, cleaned environment. A sort of an early rustic desensitization program.

I'm not sure I ever ate dirt, but certainly neither of my parents ever came rushing out in a panic to stop me from contemplating it. Although there was one incident, when I was four or five years old, at 410 Congress Street in Hot Springs, Arkansas when I took a dump in the bushes back of the house, and a neighbor observed me. Telephone call apparently ensued (5-1339, in case I got lost, but it served just as well for informant purposes). I distinctly remember doing it, and as distinctly remember Mother telling me, without hysterics, that that probably wasn't a good idea.

Wasted yellow pollen coats every surface with a slightly gritty dust, and baby powder is not necessary after the bath. It's impossible not to wonder at the monumental effort of producing so many tons of futile fertility. Without rain to wash the stuff away it's easy to imagine a dusty yellow world through an apocalyptic lens.

All that comes to an end today as a day of rain begins, the first in nearly two weeks. High temperatures will be back to normal over the next week, and fungi of all sorts will feast on prodigious quantities of wetted pollen. Hurrah for the cool. Hurrah for the fungi!

Perhaps a trip to the beach is in order - in this case, Goulding Beach. Much is happening, but my attention was drawn to a brilliant piece of mica, a tiny mirror propped just so that it could reflect the bright sun.

I played with the camera a bit. With the spot light meter viewing the sand, the surroundings in the above photo look fairly normal, and the reflective mica is brilliant.

With the meter viewing the mica piece itself, the beach is cast into darkness. Much tinier pieces of mica become evident.

Six-spotted tiger beetles, Cicidela sexguttata! They love the heat and hot sand, and were out and about and up to no good, probably.

It was my memory that they were early, on April 4, but not so. Here I noted first observations made on May 18 2006 (certainly not indicative), Apr 9 2007, and Mar 23 2008.

Monday: 5 April 2010

Everything Here You Have Seen Before  -  @ 07:17:46
But don't worry - you won't remember them.

Here are some old early springtime friends. Be watching out for them - they might be cruising your neighborhood.

I have a general reluctance to post something on any other but an organism that I have not seen before. Usually I overcome this. Sometimes it's because, like here, a reappearance or a seasonal first is of interest. Sometimes it's because I like the photo. But the biggest reason is that people forget. Sure I posted something nifty on boxelders three years ago but no one is going to find it anymore. "It's sooooo 2007," as someone once said.

One of the nice things about the new property is that the floodplain sports a different kind of community - one dominated by boxelders, Acer negundo. Boxelders, which are maples, are nothing special - in fact, they're sort of trashy, but these were making some lovely staminate flowers.

The drooping stamens are arranged in clusters, or fascicles, and in retrospect I count five flowers here. The anthers are in two colors - a younger red which is full of pollen, and the dehisced black anthers, slightly older and dropping or having dropped their load.

Very nice presentation. Tho a little loud for my tastes, I have students, bless their hearts, who display more than these do. I mean, really they do.

It doesn't shock me, trust me, I'm a biologist. But though I don't worry, there's always the children to think of, right?

More demur are these Trillium cuneatum var cuneatum, Sweet Little Betsy, aka sweet little bloody betsy (!), which aren't little at all. Here's another reluctance - not to take particular note of anything that we've introduced. In this case I've committed two misdemeanors - that one, and I've done it twice, too. But I was a little surprised to see that the last post was in late March, 2005, which meant these were planted in 2004, much earlier than I would have thought. So they've survived and prospered now for six years, in several places, and worth mentioning though "it's sooooo 2004."

One of the nice things about working with grad students is that they sometimes do propagation research with seeds collected elsewhere, and when they finish they want to offer their products to a caring home. That's how these came about.

These flowers are more my style - very attractive, but not ostentatious. A little coy petal flip, opening up the view to the business end inside. There is another variety of this species, T. c. var luteum, which puts out yellow flowers.

And the first dragonfly of the season, observed yesterday. I'm going with ashy clubtail, Gomphus lividus, which we've seen before, 17 April 2008. And yes, I know, "that's soooo 2008." This one lacks the dorsal abdominal yellow striping, so I may be wrong about the species. But it may also be a teneral, just emerged from its former horrific preincarnation as a ravenous child. Now it's a ravenous adult.

Sunday: 4 April 2010

Best Redbuds Ever  -  @ 06:53:43
I know people who think that the Eastern Redbud is hands down the winner in the early spring flowering tree category. I don't know about first place, but they're certainly up there!

That's how most people see redbuds - as individual landscape trees. And they're certainly nice in that setting, and not only in spring. The leaves, held horizontally, show a striking edge effect when the tree is viewed as a whole.

Cercis canadensis is a legume, of course, with pealike flowers. Normally there will be a pleasant purple spray, most often on the sparse side, but this year they're screaming.

Unless you visit the woods, though, you're not likely to see this - purple smoke drifting downhill. It's an ephemeral demonstration of the concept of forest understory.

I presented a calendar of first appearance for bloodroot a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that I've mentioned redbuds each year, so here is their own calendar for the last few years. In some cases, first appearance is a best guess.

28 Mar 2010Feb cold, Mar coolFeb normal, Mar dryEl Nino
22 Mar 2009Feb normal, Mar normalFeb low norm, Mar very wet ENSO neutral
23 Mar 2008Feb warm, Mar normalFeb low norm, Mar dryLa Nina
est mid Mar 2007*Feb normal, Mar warmFeb low norm, Mar dryEl Nino
16 Mar 2006Feb low normal, Mar low normalFeb normal, Mar dryENSO neutral
21 Mar 2005Feb normal, Mar normalFeb normal, Mar high normalEl Nino
20 Mar 2004Feb cold, Mar very warmFeb normal, Mar very dryENSO neutral
2003 mentionedFeb normal, Mar normalFeb normal, Mar normalEl Nino

*mentioned as winding down 5 April 2007 (on this date 2010, they're at peak).

We entered a new weather regime a week ago - a persistent high pressure has been sitting over us keeping rain away and temperatures high. We've been flirting with record highs - in the mid 80s - each day since Wednesday, and it looks to continue in that way until Thursday afternoon. All that has meant very low (for us) relative humidity in the afternoons. There have been brush fire calls each day, though none for us in Wolfskin, as yet.

Friday: 2 April 2010

The Month of March  -  @ 07:59:47

It's The Month of March, Number 50 in a series. As in January and February, the word for March here was cold - not quite so cold, but cold nonetheless. We had a little bit of snow on Mar 2, adding to the four inches we had in February.

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 March above or below the average for March over many years, plotted in colors.

Unlike the huge blob of cold anomaly that hung over much of the US east of the Rockies in February, it was mainly us in the south in March that got mildly cold weather. In the northern half of the US (and way north of that) the weather was way above normal. Again, El Niño and to some extent the Arctic Oscillation are the cause.

You'll like this entry from NASA's Earth Observatory image of the day for Mar 25. It shows global temperature anomalies for each month of Dec, Jan, and Feb - a remarkable series with an excellent writeup.

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

Things were a little drier in March, for most of us, although Florida and New England got a little wetter.

For Athens:

For Athens, cooler than normal temperatures prevailed in March. What rain we got was skimpy, for the most part.

Here is my plot of low temperatures for the month of March 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 April 1 almost broke a record high of 87 degF set in 1974. But that's for the month of April!).

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 5.0. We had 5 nights below the standard deviation for our usual lows, compared to 4.8 such nights, not significant. Still, this was our third month of colder than usual temperatures, but mainly due to cool days rather than cold nights.

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.

For the first time in six consecutive months of surplus, we had a deficit of rainfall, just 2.39 inches, in a month that normally expects 4.9 inches. No blue in this figure! Even a little bit of mustard at the end. That actually puts us at 12.81 inches for 2010 to date, when 14.20 inches is normal.

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 and May shows us with average temperatures, and over the next few weeks 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. In mid March, another Kelvin wave propagated eastward across the central Pacific, intensifying the El Niño again (Earth Observatory has the story here). El Niño is now expected to last into summer, so get ready for 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.

Thursday: 1 April 2010

Booboo  -  @ 09:02:51
Yesterday we tried a small prescribed burn.

It got a little out of control, sure, but the photos turned out very nicely. More later!

Thank goodness we had the foresight to check the wind direction - our house was ok!

"Chins up," we say, to our neighbors to the north, and well, yes, the east and west, and let us know if we can help! From here on out Niches will be documenting the richness of the recovery.

Fools Day  -  @ 08:22:16
When I heard that Google had changed its name to Topeka, this morning, I thought - the internets have brought April Fools' Day to a performance peak. No more, let us hope, the tiresome pranks from extremely awful people whom we all endured in the younger days: you have a smudge on your cheek - hahaha - April Fools!

So in just a couple of short hours I've run into RealClimate's latest scientific contribution. Congratulations!

And more locally, some clever person just signed up on our Oglethorpe County forums with the name of the fire chief who a couple of years ago allegedly embezzled $38,000 from his fire department and hasn't been heard from since. "Say what?," I thought, and then a few minutes later it hit me. A nice touch was that he used another fire department's engine (not us, dammit!) as his avatar photo.

At least I think that's an April Fools' joke. It is, isn't it?

Anyone spot any other clever jokes du jour?

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