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

Monday: 31 May 2010

Fairhope One  -  @ 08:13:42
The last week has been taken up with either preparations or the trip itself to Fairhope, Alabama, to visit my parents. Glenn and I left early Thursday morning and returned last night. It's a 400+ mile trip, so a little grueling, mainly during the 80-mile circumnavigation around Atlanta.

Fairhope, shown below in the context of the northern Gulf coast, is located on the east side of Mobile Bay. Mother was born there, I was born across the bay in Mobile itself, and my parents ended back up there ten years ago, or so.

Here's the blowup of the red square inset above. On Friday, my parents took us out on their pontoon for an excursion that is detailed below. My parents have always had a boat of one sort or another - for decades increasingly larger sailboats, and have always spent a lot of time on and in the water.

We stayed in the eastern Weeks Bay area. Weeks Bay is a large but very shallow (a few feet depth) bay into which the Fish (1) and Magnolia (2) Rivers dump.

We started out at the landing (Start), and then went a bit upriver into the Fish River. We took off into Turkey Branch (which is probably actually the feeder below where I have it marked). Later we returned, then went south down Weeks Bay and up the Magnolia River, and we'll talk about that later.

Three of the four principles involved - Glenn, of course, and Mother and Dad. The buildings are a part of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. That link also mentions the Pitcher Plant Bog, across the river, and we spent some time there, later in the afternoon.

Just up the Fish River, on the other side of the bridge, booms are being set up on either side of the river. They're preparation in the event of oil incursion and will be connected together across the river in that event.

Pickerel weed, Pontederia cordata, was in flower along the edges of the middle route. Because of the geography, the salinity of the river water varies from maybe a little more than brackish in Weeks Bay itself, to increasingly fresh as you go upriver. Tides, though, small as they may be in the Gulf of Mexico, cause the salinity to fluctuate even upriver.

There are quite a few boathouses along Turkey Branch - some are considerably built out over the branch itself. We barely scraped by this one, and didn't go much farther upstream.

This haughty lady did not smile or wave either time we passed by her. She appears to be in her cups - perhaps that's the reason.

The oil spill has not yet reached Mobile Bay. This is NOAA's prediction for today, for the extent of the large portion of the spill (in blue shades). Since you know that the oil has come ashore all along the salt marshes east and south of New Orleans, you know that this map doesn't really show the extent of the pollution effects.

From NOAA's Ocean Explorer, a map of the extent of offshore drilling platforms - nearly 4000 oil and gas platforms. This is rather shocking. The vast majority (>90%) are in much shallower waters (<1000 ft) than the rig generating the current crisis, but I really had no idea how extensive the drilling was.

Almost equally shocking is the embarrassingly untimely narrative on that page. I should think they'd want to update that so as to not sound quite so smug. Under the circumstances.

Tuesday: 25 May 2010

Made at Glade  -  @ 06:47:19

I spent all day Saturday at Glade VFD, in extreme north Oglethorpe County, 20 miles away. They've been putting on the Mod 1/Firefighter 1 course for the last couple of months or so. As an added feature, they put on a Hazardous Materials Awareness course, in order to give both nascent and old firefighters some additional certification.

So they extended a general invitation to anyone who wanted to (re)certify. I'd never really had the formal hazmat awareness course so I went. As with most first responder courses, a lot of it has to do with what you aren't allowed to do. But other than that there's a huge amount of proactive information to process and get straight. And there's the ERG, the Emergency Response Guide, in four colored sections. It lists just about every transported chemical or mixture you can imagine, and the horrible things that can happen if there's a release. I amused myself by pronouncing them correctly, and drawing their structures from their names as we went through examples.

Here's a clickable composite of Glade VFD. Glenn did the stitching together of the four photos that I took. His work is really great and much better than my effort. If Glenn and I were surgeons, you'd definitely want him working on you - I'm the sort of who would leave the screwdriver inside.

You've seen some photos of Wolfskin FD, and Glade FD is another of our 13 volunteer fire departments. It's utilitarian, of course, but beyond that it's a very nice station, more spacious than ours. It has three bays - you can see two of them opened up to accomodate the thirty folks who took the course. The left side of the building (the B side) is a long kitchen/meeting room, and in back the kitchen opens out to the requisite barbecue pit. The building sits on a large piece of land, and there's certainly ample parking!

One nice thing, and it was evident at the very nice lunch that Glade put on, is that there is some sense of community. It helps to have a kitchen and a large meeting room, and people come and go. I suspect that the station is often occupied and in use, and not only when there is a fire call.

(I did that composite of two photos. Not bad, considering that I hadn't actually taken them with the idea of putting two of them together.)

I did a little botanizing along the margins, but there wasn't very much to see. Some kind of twining legume, and a lot of yucky pasture rose in flower.

Saturday: 22 May 2010

Turtle Crossing  -  @ 03:31:34

Yesterday was a great day for laying eggs, if you're a snapping turtle.

This was the third of three storms that moved through the area yesterday. The first, around 8:30am, was fairly respectable, with several close lightning strikes. All in all we only got 0.60" of rain, but it softened the ground up nicely.

At about the time of the third storm, 5pm, Glenn was almost home, crossing the dip under which a small stream passes on its way to Goulding Creek (where else?), and spotted this medium-sized relic from the distant past.

He got out and trailed her a bit as she scurried off the road and up the little creek, apparently looking for a place to lay eggs. Look at those front legs, and that tail! She looks pretty smug.

I would doubt that this little feeder creek would have any locations along it sufficiently deep or broad to support her in the manner to which she'd like to be accustomed, but it might be just the thing for baby snappers. She's probably made her way up from Goulding Creek, which I'd guess is at least marginally suitable for her. The lake farther upstream might also have been her origin, in which case she had to go over the dam into Goulding, and then downstream some distance before turing left up the feeder.

Friday: 21 May 2010

Something New Every Day  -  @ 04:29:41
Maybe not everyday, but then some days double up on surprises, too.

Here we have a previously undetected Itea virginica, Virginia sweetspire.

I must have passed this five-foot shrub a hundred times. It's growing out of the bank in the upper part of SBS Creek, and yesterday it was in flower. It's in a group of wild azaleas, so without the aid of the nice racemes I overlooked it as one of the other guys.

It's an eastern US plant, as you can see from the USDA Plants map, and mainly southeast US, but does make it up just south of the Great Lakes region. USDA Plants says endangered in IN, and extirpated in PA, with no explanation for its absence in OH and WV.

It probably doesn't get quite the light it might like to have, but it's at least in the right place for moisture. There seemed to be just this one shrub.

The long "spires" are racemes of hundreds of tiny florets. At first I thought Rosaceae, and specifically black cherry, but those flowered quite a while back and the floret petals are not similar in shape. And here there are only five anthers per floret - rose family has many anthers per flower.

It's one of the many species that used to be in the Saxifragaceae, until the former family got broken up. Some place Itea as a monotypic genus in its own family, Iteaceae, and others put it in the Grossulariaceae, along with currants and gooseberries.

I walked a bit farther down the creek, and at a bend where the slope to the south becomes extremely steep, spotted this blue jar embedded in the soil. I've walked past this a hundred times, too.

Vicks has been making Vaporub for about a century, and it's been named that since 1912. There are plenty of examples of this 5.8 cm x 4.1 cm cobalt blue glass jar. I don't know when they went to plastic (blue, of course), so the jar could be just about any age. I doubt if the "56" embossed along with the name refers to the year - I suppose it could. Others have noted the 56, but none has noted a similar 57, 58, 59, etc. So it could be a formula number rather than a year number.

Somehow it fits in well with the numerous petroleum jelly jars I've found. Very pretty blue color!

Thursday: 20 May 2010

Guess That Plant!  -  @ 06:06:51

If you live east of the Mississippi, and south of the northernmost tier of US states, you're probably familiar to some extent with this plant.

The flowers are probably not the first thing you'd think about!

The wood is (or has been) used in making the implements of competition for several sports or games.

The family is fairly large, but almost all species are tropical or subtropical.

Wednesday: 19 May 2010

Yet Another Black Rat Snake  -  @ 09:33:45
I was ascending the very steep hill from the dry creek that runs between the two decks, and noticed the latter foot or so of a snake emerging from behind the tree. Great!

It was a black rat snake, of course, the species we have around here, and peeking around the tree on the other side rewarded me with this view. This was just downhill of the very point at which I encountered one of our eastern king snakes, the other day.

As is usual with this species, it had frozen upon noting my presence, rather than scampering off as quickly as possible.

I had a long stick for probing areas of higher vegetation before walking into them, and ran it gently down the latter half of its body. The snake took a course down that length of its body, doubling over without alarm to follow the stick. After a time, it tired of the game and nonchalantly sauntered off into the woods.

Rat snakes are charming, and are the snakes I will most often run across and have mentioned a number of times before. They're great climbers, not requiring supporting structures en route as other, poorer climbers do. They also seem to get into houses, and we've had at least one crisis in the neighborhood when one was discovered in someone's home.

We certainly have a lot of them, but I suspect my encounters are more frequent because of their diurnal preferences, coupled with their freeze response. It's a good feeling because their presence probably means there are plenty of other more nocturnal, retiring species around.

What follows might be of interest, but experience tells me that it won't be to most. Nonetheless, I strive to understand naming because it reveals an understanding of evolutionary relationships, and I'm afraid this is a group that is in flux in that regard. I should qualify that I merely dabble in this area, although I think I'm pretty close to the mark. Those with more expertise can correct me as they wish!

Traditionally our black rat snakes, along with other geographical sister species, are in the genus Elaphe. Ours are more specifically Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta. This is likely to change, if it hasn't already, although you'll see that designation in field guides for years to come, I'm sure. Most, or all of the New World rat snakes will likely be renamed as the genus Pantherophis, and that will be done to distinguish them as evolutionarily distinct from the Old World rat snakes, which retain the name Elaphe, by virtue of precedent.

We've seen this before, pretty much exactly the same thing, in the plant world, with New World and Old World asters. All were traditionally classified under the genus name Aster, and I wrote a little on this quite awhile back. Eventually, it was simply no longer possible to pretend, not with DNA evidence staring us in the face, that New World asters were in the same group as the Old World asters. Therefore, Old World asters retained the genus name, and New World asters took on new nomenclature - Symphyotrichum, Oligodendron, Eurybia, and so forth. The New World asters have simply diverged too much in the last tens of millions of years of separation from the Old World ones to be able to keep them together.

Name changes are frustrating to a lot of people, of course, but systematics is a vibrant and robust field that now demands that names reflect evolutionary relationships. As DNA, in particular, has provided more and more of the evidence that pinpoints phylogeny, regrouping and renaming becomes inevitable. It's a hard world.

And so the Elaphe can no longer include the New World rat snakes. Here's why:

This is a highly simplified and annotated cladogram, based mainly on DNA analysis. The full diagram would be more convincing, but you'd have a lot less patience with it.

The problem is one of monophyly, the goal which modern systematics attempts to achieve with a naming system. A monophyletic group is one whose members trace back to a common ancestor ALL of whose descendents are in that group.

If we were to continue to call our New World rat snakes Elaphe, then the common ancestor with the Old World rat snakes (node 1) would also include the group (New World king snakes) that we now know are much more closely related to our New World rat snakes than they are to the Old World ones. This just isn't done, and so the New World rat snakes must change their name. Old World rat snakes get to keep Elaphe, by precendent, and the New World rat snakes take on a new genus name that does not dispute monophyly with their king snake relatives. Node 2, then, represents the New World colubrids, which includes the two genera in the above figure (plus a few others).

So our black rat snake will likely be referred to as Pantherophis obsoletus. How do you pronounce that? It's not so hard when you spy that suffix "ophis," referring to "snake." Panther - ophis. Pantherophis would then include all other New World rat snakes previously in Elaphe, plus corn snakes (also previously Elaphe). As an added headache, the specific epithets must change gender to match the new genus, so Elaphe guttata becomes Pantherophis guttatus. : - ) 

(What I've simplified here is a part of a more complicated argument. The taxonomic notes here, post 2008, add a few wrinkles, if you care to delve into it.)

Here are some other references, in temporal order. The list may not be complete, but certainly gives a good idea of the decade (plus) debate:

Heise, et al. (1995) "Higher-Level Snake Phylogeny Inferred from Mitochondrial DNA Sequences of 12s rRNA and 16s rRNA Genes". Did it start the argument? Probably not. This is a much broader examination that includes all present day snakes, not just the groups I've mentioned here.

Utiger et al. (2002) "Molecular systematics and phylogeny of Old and New World rat snakes, Elaphe Auct., and related genera (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae)" Russ. J. Herp. 9, 105–
124. Essentially recommending placing corn and all rat snakes into Pantherophis. Haven't found a URL for this one.

Crother et al. (2003) Herpetological Review, 2003, 34(3), 196–203. Suggests retaining Elaphe for New World rat snakes, pending further information.

Collins and Taggert (2008 ) "AN ALTERNATIVE CLASSIFICATION OF THE NEW WORLD RAT SNAKES (GENUS PANTHEROPHIS [REPTILIA: SQUAMATA: COLUBRIDAE])" Suggests Mintonius as western fox snake, and Scotophis as the new name for the midwestern group of New World rat snakes.

Pyron and Burbrink (2009) "Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae)" Phylogeny based on three nuclear genes. Adds to the previous DNA evidence from mitochondrial DNA.

Monday: 17 May 2010

Geezer  -  @ 07:17:54
The previous post promised something more interesting here.

I had just stepped back from photographing the female, yesterday, and just a few feet away there was another box turtle that I had overlooked. Here they are, as I placed them, the two of them together, female on the left:

The one on the left is the female, and the one on the right turns out to be a male. He's also the oddest box turtle I've seen in more than thirty documented. His carapace has only the remaining vestiges of colorful markings left, and the usually smooth carapace is much rougher, even flaking and cracking in places.

At first I thought that maybe he'd just been mucking about in Goulding Creek, but no - this looks to be a turtle of great age.

Scute rings are not an accurate representation of age. There may be more than one, or none, formed in any given year. And if you just look at the scutes atop the carapace, they don't seem all that much different in number (although the texture is certainly different, and the rings are much less distinct and much more difficult to count on the male).

Let's look, instead, at the margins of the carapace.

Here are a couple of composites (click pics to enlarge) of the female on the left and the male on the right. The first one is from the front. On the male, you can with difficulty make out the details of the markings, but they're obscured by the growth rings on each scute. And if you look at the bottom row of scutes, you see that whereas the female has very few rings, the male has a large number of them.

Here they are from the rear. Same thing with the bottom row of scutes - lots of rings on the male, very few on the female. While the female has a small degree of bulging on the scutes just above the bottom row, the male's counterparts have bulged outward considerably.

I've seen what I would have thought of as some old turtles. There's Sylvia, for instance, and another female that I found a couple of years ago. Both show what you would expect to indicate age - indistinct patterns, and lots of growth rings. These are the indicators you'll find in hits for "old box turtles," when searching.

What I haven't found in searching is a notation of the scute rings on the bottom row of scutes, and I haven't seen any mention of the curious bulges of individual scutes that I see on the rear portion of the male's carapace. This male seems to go way beyond the usual qualitative indicators for age.

Here are the usual documentary thumbnails:

First Box Turtle of the Year  -  @ 06:34:19

At last, the first box turtle of the year, a pretty female, 100516f. I ran across her about 3/4 of the way to the westernmost point of the new property, a bit back from the dropoff to Goulding Creek. She was actually the first of two discoveries, but I'll deal with the second more interesting one in the next post.

It was just past noon, on a cooler but still fairly warm day. The thunderstorms promised for Sunday and Monday did come to pass later in the early evening!

I haven't seen her before, but that's not too surprising since I have only begun to sample the population on this twenty acres.

The usual documentary thumbnails:

The second one shows that despite the red eyes (a less reliable sex indicator) she's a female by virtue of a flat plastron (more reliable).

Thursday: 13 May 2010

Mystery Plant  -  @ 07:03:28
But to start with, here's a panorama, looking north through the floodplain above Goulding Creek through about 90 degrees (click to larger). The creek is on the left, and we're looking straight ahead along a line paralleling the creek. At far right, a couple hundred feet from the creek, you can see the brown that marks the end of the floodplain and rise of the hills.

We had 0.11 inches of rain on Monday afternoon and evening - not much, but it was cool and stayed on the ground through the night. On Tuesday it was moist and humid, with cool but not too cool temperatures, and I thought I'd use the morning to search explicitly for box turtles. That floodplain looks like prime territory.

Well, I scoured it pretty well, and other places too, and I found not a one. And I haven't seen any at all this year. That's fairly unusual - I've seen them as early as March, before, and they're certainly out and about now.

I was doing some weeding around the yard, and discovered these little blue pretties, popping out among the infesting strawberries.

It's a trailing plant, with alternate leaves, roughly toothed, with small (1cm) flowers of five blue petals. Surely this should be easy to identify.

The single flowers are borne on long pedicels emerging from the axils.

The petals are fused at the bottom, as are the sepals. There are trichomes on the stems and leaves (click for larger).

Here's a closer look at the flowers. A glance might have caused you, as it did me, to believe that these flowers were actinomorphic, that is, radially symmetric with all parts equal.

Not so, these flowers are actually zygomorphic, that is, bilaterally symmetric. All petals are not created equal - there are two types. The upper two, at noon and three o'clock, do not produce the green pigment that the bottom three produce, and also nestle that curious little protruberance. Glenn took a look and said that those are five gray stamens fused into a cone surrounding the style.

(Actually, it's even more interesting, developmentally. The green pigment is a marker for something, it looks like. It is made fully on the middle petal of the set of three in which it is made. But on the two flanking petals, it looks like it is only made on the proximal side of the blue midvein.)

It remains a mystery, at the moment. It reminds me of a very primitive violet, but I haven't found anything along those lines. Glenn has sent the photos to a taxonomist colleague, with a description, but no conclusions yet.

We'll have to update with an ID later, but any guesses are as good as ours!

Sunday: 9 May 2010

Young Whitetails  -  @ 08:00:16

I've had little to present about dragonflies this year, and that's certainly a change from the last year or two. I've no doubt that there are still some undiscovered species around, but maybe few enough that my persistence isn't up to ferreting those last few out.

(I should also point out that I've yet to see my first box turtle this year, not that I've been seeking them out, but still. Yet the luna moths have been everywhere for the last couple of weeks. These are not non sequiturs!)

Still, I do attempt to photograph any dragonflies I do see, and have a backlog from over the last few weeks. The photos have all been a little less than satisfactory for identification, and dedicated posts. However, I like them otherwise, so here they are.

Let's dispense with this one, taken April 17, of one of those clubtails, I guess. Probably (once again) a cocoa or ashy clubtail, Gomphus lividus or G. hybridus. We've seen these before, exactly two years before.

On April 23 this one perched briefly on a Smilax vine, just long enough to get a couple of odd photos. At first I thought it might be a prince baskettail, Epitheca pinceps, based mainly on the wing patterns. For some reason I didn't focus on the eyes at all!

It's almost certainly a female common whitetail, Plathemis lydia. The females have three evenly spaced pigmented regions on the wings. Female whitetails can be confused with twelve-spotted skimmers, Libellula pulchella, but there's a nice discussion on Bugguide about this.

The anterior (front) stripes, terminated as we move forward by the dot just left of the center stripe and under the eye, has been noted to occur only in the whitetails. There's a nice composite showing the distinguishing pattern in the two species.

I liked this photo from April 26, poor as it is for identification. Again, I thought it might be something different, based on the broad dark pigmentation in the middle of the wing, along with the spots at the body end of the wing. Two spots per wing!

But it turns out that male whitetails are different from the above females in just this way. This male has not yet developed the whitening of the abdomen that gives the species its name.

So I think both of the above encounters are with whitetails. They're certainly common enough - lighting upon rocks and logs close to the house just about all summer long - but they're hard to figure out when they're young. Just as a matter of records, I've posted about them 16 Jul 2006 and 11 Apr 2007. And now that I look at it, I'm thinking that the "twelve-spotted skimmer" I noted 9 May 2008 may also have been a whitetail.

Friday: 7 May 2010

Followup  -  @ 10:03:11

On April 26, I took another look at the Trillium catesbaei that I found on April 17. The odd thing about the trillium was that the petals were close to white in color. The usual distinct rose color was missing, for the most part.

Here it is nine days later:

There is a deepening of the extremely faint color that could be seen a week before, but it is still much much lighter than the usual shade.

I had a thought that this might be Trillium rugelii, illscented wakerobin or southern nodding trillium, but those anthers are "thin and purple," and this plant's anthers are clearly not that.

So I'm still going with a flower color variant of T. catesbaei. And other than the notation of at least two color variants here, this is where I'll end the story.

Thursday: 6 May 2010

Honey Bees and Glenn (especially Glenn) are Idiots  -  @ 06:00:00
You may remember on 13 April the installation of four-frame nucs (nuclear colonies) into each of three, ten-frame brood boxes and the use of an empty brood box on top of each of them to enclose a sugar syrup feeder within the hive, the best place to put a feeder in order to prevent bees from other colonies from trying to rob it.

Each colony contained, in the bottom brood box, the four interior frames of brood, bees, and queen from the four-frame nuc and on each side there were three frames containing only foundation, which the bees would have to draw into comb and fill with brood, nectar, or pollen. Four frames full and six frames to fill in the bottom box. And on top of this nicely set-up home was an empty box. See the second image of the 13 April post if this does not make sense.

Obviously I did not remove the empty box in time. The picture is of the worst of the three colonies. I have the inner cover opened 80 degrees like the cover of a book and we are looking into the book with the spine in the back. Comb is hanging from the bottom of the inner cover into the top box. Comb is built up into the top box from the top of the frames in the bottom box. The comb contains uncapped and capped honey and uncapped and capped brood. The six virgin frames in the bottom box are virtually untouched. Only portions of two of the twelve sides have been drawn out into comb.

comb drawn into empty, top brood box

On the plus side, the bees were very gentle. Looking at several images like the one here, I detect no bees in flight. And no other evidence that they were at all disturbed by my intrusion. Also on the plus side, no evidence of queen cells in the other two colonies where I could get a better look at the frames in the bottom box, so they at least are not ready to swarm. Good brood patterns in all three colonies, the queens are doing well.

I will have to prevent the queen from laying in the top box and as honey is capped and brood emerges from the wild comb, remove it and fill in the top box with virgin frames. To encourage their use in the other two colonies, I interspersed a few of the virgin frames in the bottom boxes with the nuc-derived frames. I made no attempt to tease out any of the frames in the bottom box of this, the third colony. I also added three or four virgin frames to each of the top boxes.

I suspect this third colony is preparing to swarm. I would have to look for replacement queen cells in the frames below and destroy them and hope I did so early enough to prevent the present queen from taking off with a swarm. If I did that and she left anyway, then hopefully she will leave behind young enough larvae (called 'eggs' in the trade) for the remaining bees to rear as new queens. Down time without a laying queen would be at least 20 days.

Tuesday: 4 May 2010

On the Viburnum  -  @ 09:04:05
Yesterday's storm, an offshoot of the titanic Tennessee deluge, moved from the west into Georgia as a 50-mile wide band of rain stretching north and south. While it flowed rapidly to the north, it moved v e r y slowly eastward over us. It was a storm, not because of lightning or wind, of which there was very little, but rather only in the sense of its previous effects elsewhere. It was impressive nonetheless, certainly pleasant, and that 50 mile wide column took nine hours to pass over. We ended up with 1.64 inches of rain - a healthy amount, certainly, even a little unusual, but not unprecedented by any means.

One odd thing was the heterogeneity of the storm, especially in its first hour from around 7AM yesterday. It looks like a small tasmanian devil of a raincloud spun up northward to the west, just before the column of rain got to us. We have enough submissions at this point to give you an idea.

Points in Athens-Clarke County just 10 miles west of us (that's me, 1.64") got an inch more rain, and just 20 miles north, twice as much rain. The 1.40" in the center is the county seat, Lexington, about 10 miles from us, by road. The 3.19" in the upper left is the Beaverdam area, the 1.23" rightmost looks like just south of Goosepond - you've heard all these names before, and surely you have a fine list of local color of your own.

From CoCoRaHS entries, so far this morning:

But before the rain, there was the viburnum. We've done the viburnum before - this one is supposedly American cranberry bush, Viburnum opulus var americanum, and we've talked about that identification here. Its flowers are a little odd - arranged in a nice umbel whose outer florets have large showy petals, while the inner florets have petals reduced to a tenth the size. At least the inflorescence looks like an umbel at the bottom but it seems to become corymbish farther up.

It must put out a powerful scent, especially in the sun. On one side, the sunny side, the flowers are awash in insects. On the shady side, the equally attractive flowers are ignored.

No identifications here - most inflorescences were distant, or the subjects were compromised in some way.

Above and below, a pretty little fly so coated in pollen that identification isn't possible for such as me. Maybe a syrphid, its face is taken up mostly by its huge eyes. Nice banding pattern on the abdomen! It didn't care to look at me, though.

This clumsy little beetle seemed to know what it was doing. Perhaps a flower chafer, it is drinking deeply from one of those reduced inner flowers.

And finally, these tiny flies were in constant motion, seldom landing (and this one that did was quite some distance away). You can tell how tiny it is as it stands dwarfed by the anthers of a reduced flower. I think I've seen this species before - perhaps a wasp mimic. The red elongated abdomen and big femurs seem like characters I'd have noted in a past post, but nothing comes up on searching. Nice fly, though!

Sunday: 2 May 2010

The Month of April  -  @ 08:38:31

It's The Month of April, Number 51 in a series. The word for April here was hot (for April), dry, and POLLEN. Events conspired in the release of wind-dispersed pollen all at the same time, and it was fairly spectacular.

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

Our cold weather from March, here in the southeast, gave way to hotter than usual temperatures in April. The northern part of the US from Montana eastward continued and intensified its warm anomaly. The western portions of the country continued and intensified its colder than usual temperatures into the Rocky Mountains.

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

The dry weather that started for us in the southeast in March, continued into April, and expanded its range throughout much of the eastern US. Central and southern Florida continued its normal to wet trend (along with cooler temperatures). With the stark eception of Arizona, the western half of the country got a lot more rain than normal.

For Athens:

For Athens, much warmer than normal temperatures prevailed in April. As in March, and more so, what rain we got was skimpy, for the most part.

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of April in Athens. (It seemed appropriate to present high temperatures this time.) As usual, the black dots are for the 1920 years 1990-2009 (black dots), 2010 (green line), and 2009 (red line).

We broke the high temperature record of April 5, 1988 (87 degF) with a high of 88 degF. We came pretty close to breaking records on four other days in the first week of April.

We had 11 days of high temperatures that were at least one standard deviation higher than average, and the usual number of such days is 4.7. That's pretty significant. We had only 2 nights below the standard deviation for our usual lows, compared to 5.4 such nights, and that's probably significant in the other direction. The tendency was for days to be hotter than usual, with some carryover into nights. I can tell that from my open windows and ceiling fan use.

In fact, with 78.1 degF average high temperatures (73.0 degF normal) this was the fifth hottest April for us since 1920, and the two hottest above us were just a tenth of a degree warmer.

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 20 years, the vast river of peach shows the standard deviation.

As in March, we had a deficit of rainfall in April, 1.86", or slightly over half of the normal 3.35". April is pretty variable, so we stayed within the river of peach, though mostly in the benthic regions.

This puts us at 14.64 inches for 2010 to date, when 17.55 inches is normal.

It's time to show our five-year tracking of cumulative rainfall here in Athens. As usual, the blue line is the most instructive, as it shows the difference between what we should expect since January 2005, and what we've had. After five months of steady increase from a 30" deficit to a 9" deficit, we've fallen back down in the last three months to a 14" deficit.

While not directly weather related, there's this entry from NASA's Earth Observatory image of the day for Apr 25, a week ago, so the current state of the disaster is now much much greater. The link shows a second blowup that puts into perspective the size of the ships that are supposed to help take care of this. There are subsequent photos, so get thee to Earth Observatory.

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. The short term view (several weeks) shows us with average temperatures and perhaps above average rainfall. The long term (three months) suggests warmer than usual temperatures, and average rainfall. Our summer may be a hot one, but not a superhot one.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update has not changed since last month. We're still in an El Niño event, but it's slowly giving way to neutral. El Niño is now expected to last through spring.

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.

Saturday: 1 May 2010

De gustibus non est disputandum  -  @ 11:45:50
If it's Saturday, this must be ambrosia.

It's what's for dinner.

Just a reminder that the usual impression of butterflies daintily sipping nectar for sustenance neglects the broader range of their tastes for things not infrequently disgusting.

It's an interesting pile, and I'm not sure what it might be from - there are what look like bits of wood and stems in the amorphous mix.

Limenitis arthemis, Red-spotted Purple (our version of the White Admiral). From Butterflies and Moths of North America:
Adult food: Sap flows, rotting fruit, carrion, dung, and occasionally nectar....

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