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

Tuesday: 29 June 2010

Again on the Ruellia  -  @ 07:06:54

These photos were taken June 13, opportunistically, since I was really after a fly on the Ruellia (wild petunia), and I wish I'd done a little better job on them. But they're sufficient to the task of documentation.

It's always an adventure to try to track down a beetle on Bugguide, and my beetle identifying skills are rudimentary at best. But these surely end up being in the Buprestidae, the metallic wood-boring beetles. There isn't a lot of doubt that they're in the large and complicated genus Acmaeodera, and mostly likely A. tubulus.

The larvae will bore into and presumably damage woody plants. But there are lots of predators on such miscreants, so that's all good.

They don't identify the plant in flower, but here's a gathering of the same species, and the flower they're eating looks to me like a Ruellia!

I hadn't noticed, but I did get one fuzzy photo, at least sufficient to show that that's what they were doing to my Ruellia, too ; - )  .

Ted MacRae at Beetles in the Bush has a nice entry on another species in the genus, but with comments about the difficulty of working out the large number of species. This is important in the southwest US, where the vast majority of the diversity is to be found.

Ha! Another good one.

Monday: 28 June 2010

Lookalike  -  @ 08:07:38

For the last two weeks I've been alert to the morning presence of a large, jet black insect. It's been extremely cautious and I'd only obtained fuzzy long distance photos. I knew it wasn't the usual dirt dauber or spider wasp types. Its behavior was different - it didn't hover about inquisitively, and it didn't flit its wings like those do.

It was pretty clear that it was a fly. At first I thought it was a robber fly, although it doesn't have a beard and those antennae are not robber fly antennae at all!

It is a mydas fly, Mydas clavatus, and that specific epithet means "clubbed," referring to the odd antennae.

What a fearsome beast! It mimics the appearance of the blue-black spider wasp, right down to the red mark on the abdomen. Despite appearances, there's a general consensus that adults don't eat, or if they do, consume nectar. Besides observations of nectar feeding, there's also the lack of mandibles in the mouthparts.

I've noted the fly five years ago, 25 July 2005, and need to add an update to that entry.

Fuzzy photo included just as evidence for the red spot.

Saturday: 26 June 2010

Cleaning out the Gutters  -  @ 07:14:42
Gene is disappointed that I didn't leave the ladder under the eaves.

But I'm an old hand at that cat trick - forget to move the ladder out, and, QED, in less than the time it takes to run inside for something and back, there will be at least one cat on the roof. Cats love ladders.

Below, some treasures found in the gutter detritus.

The four leathery reptilian eggs were actually white - the apparent patchy brown is just dirt. The eggs are too small to be rat snake, so one of our lizards is the most likely candidate. It's hard to believe that eggs of this size came out of a little anole, but that's the most likely candidate.

Audubon says that five-lined skink females guard the nest, so if so then that seems unlikely. However, Audubon also says that anoles lay only one egg at a time, which wasn't the case here, I guess, unless she returned to the same spot repeatedly.

[Added: well, that was a failure in logic. I had meant to add that through the miracle of the internets I had run across a lot of examples of multiple anole eggs found, which was the evidence that Audubon was not quite right on that. OK, now we're alright.]

So I put the eggs in a punctured plastic box half filled with the finer gutter debris, then covered them over and sunk the box into a sunny planter box outside the front door. I haven't put an enclosure around it, so I probably won't discover what they actually are.

We had a nice series of pulse storms develop around us late yesterday afternoon, sparking severe thunderstorm warnings in other counties (but not ours). They had merged into a benign mass of rain that fell to the tune of 0.17" for us, over a three-hour period. After 96 degrees yesterday, the fall in temperature and invigorating atmospheric activity provided a very pleasant evening.

Thursday: 24 June 2010

In Season Now  -  @ 07:35:16
Now and then I'm moved to take another look at favorite stops along Goulding Creek. I have now a much extended stretch of the creek that I can keep an eye on, so I do.

I'm fascinated by the changes, of course. They may be due to hard rains which shuffle the deck in places. Or they may come about gradually as the seasons change, and the difference between the way the creek looks here in winter and summer are profound.

Here's another rendition of one stop, not too far down Goulding, that I particularly like. There are a number of large rocks straddling the creek that provide a nice comparison point, along with the jutting treefall that I try to use as an obvious link to previous photos.

Here we were just exiting winter. At that time, Feb 28, I used a version of this photo along with another taken a month earlier to enjoy the mechanical changes in the creek flow brought about by the pile of detritus on the left, deposited during a recent heavy rain.

There hasn't been much change in the shape of creek flow since then, although the creek levels are down somewhat now. But the seasonal change is enormous. What was then an open sunny stretch is now closed in almost completely by green canopy. The tall herbaceous perennials you see at upper left on the other side of the creek are mostly crownbeard.

It's more obvious in other stretches how much the creek has dropped - not a huge amount, but enough to expose this pleasant gravel island deposit, flanked on both sides by a split in the creek stream. Here is where you'd go to look for artifacts that might have washed down and accumulated. Its ephemeral nature is reflected by the lack of plant growth, although you can never be too sure of that. Things do change.

A while back, I did a little wave analysis of this section, when it was fully covered by water. Now the creek trickles alongside a nice long, flat rock bottom outcrop. A couple of weeks ago it was coated with spring algae, but much of that has now died and scattered, exposing the pretty rock bottom.

The three photos above have been lightened significantly beyond reality. The canopy, now fully in place, casts a dimness throughout much of the creek walk. It also cuts off the flow of air, and as hot and humid as it has been, this is not a cool breezy walk. It has its pleasures, but they aren't to be found in relief from the heat.

Wednesday: 23 June 2010

Fungus Among Us  -  @ 06:53:52

We've been consistently 4-8 degF above normal averages most all of June, with such high humidity that it seems that dog days have started two months early. It's really awful - that Bermuda high has settled upon us like a sucking vampire. The good thing is that with high humidity, brush fires are suppressed, so there have been very few such fire calls this month, and none for us.

Perhaps it's the humidty that has encouraged the appearance of some large fungi in the last week or so.

This fairly large, dirty white blob is emerging from a fallen white oak branch. It looks like it might be white jelly, Tremella fuciformis, aka snow fungus and others. It's rather large for a wild emergence, but from my amateur perspective there's not much else it could be. Here (scroll about 1/3 down) is one of several photographs that show similar large emergences.

We've seen species of Tremella before, here. Witch's butter (T. mesenterica), a yellow jelly, is one of them.

If that's what it is, it's not just edible - it's choice, and considerable medicinal values are attached to it. It's one of the species for which cultivation has been attempted, and Tom Volk has a nice story about that. Apparently early attempts failed because sterile inoculations onto appropriate substrate (like the white oak log here) refused to grow. The key was that this species doesn't consume the wood directly, but rather consumes some other fungus that consumes the wood. Cultivation requires that you set up not just the right inoculum of white jelly fungus, but also an ecology consisting of that and some other fungus that is attractive to white jelly.

We've also had an outcropping of our beautiful chanterelles, likely Cantharellus cibarius. The last time I saw fit to mention them was 27 August 2006, so either those were late or these are early. Or chanterelles are easy.

I played around with the flash in the following photos of a dozen or or so apparitions. These were under the canopy, and it's fairly dark under the canopy. Using ambient light tends to wash out everything, since the surroundings transmit as much reflected light as the objects of interest do.

Here I've used the flash, set the aperture to a nice 1/f=8, and then adjusted the exposure time until I'd produced a fairly dark photo in which the mushrooms themselves glow against the darker surroundings. Usually I don't like flash, but this time it worked very nicely to increase contrast.

Tuesday: 22 June 2010

Plants Puzzle  -  @ 06:21:59
These should be fairly easy to get. At the very least the flowers are very typical of their respective families. Both are to be found in the eastern US, as natives, although they probably don't get into the extreme north of this range.

We've talked about this one before. Found in full sun, this particular plant was making flowers, but accompanying plants were not. The last time I found one was in early August, so maybe they're just very early.

The flowers are typical of a portion of the family. From the Lepidopteran Hostplants Database, looks like the plant provides food for the golden-banded skipper (Autochton cellus) and the Zarucco duskywing (Erynnis zarucco).

There were hundreds of these tiny flowers littering the ground along the bank of Goulding Creek, and since I know the plant is elsewhere in modest abundance they should be all over the place. Again, the flowers are very typical of the family, although it might be a little unusual to actually see the plant in flower. We've also talked about this one, in two other incarnations.

The plant is host to caterpillars of regal moths (Citheronia regalis), among others more nondescript leps. And of course it's also very important around here to one other insect.

Monday: 21 June 2010

Corn Shuck Flies  -  @ 06:54:55
That's what we'll call them for now, since I haven't yet been successful in finding a match.

The good news is that we now have an Oglethorpe County farmer's market "Oglethorpe Fresh" opening up on a limited basis on Saturday mornings in Lexington. There are such things around here, but they tend to lie at a considerable distance from us, and that sort of defeats the purpose.

Glenn took advantage of it, since he was actually a seller that day for the bee club, and brought home twelve large, perfect ears of corn. He shucked them on Saturday afternoon and we put the shucks in the compost pile. I noticed that pretty much immediately there were numerous flies appearing just before dusk, and they reappeared on Sunday morning.

These are not tiny flies, but rather perhaps a half-centimeter long. They spend most of the time flying over the debris but do land occasionally. I gather that they're attracted by the volatiles coming off the torn vegetative material and that they're more interested in mating and laying eggs than acquiring food themselves.

They don't like the direct sun, and as soon as it hit they disappeared. They returned in the evening, but at least in the early morning I was able to use the flash and play around with the manual settings to get visible if not very sharp photos of them. These were short exposure (1/320 second) moderate aperture (1/f=about 8 ) - flash just never seems to give the resolution that direct sunlight will.

It's the eyes that I don't find a match for, and you'd think they'd be markers for something. Large black eyes with polygonal red pigmentation in front - very striking!

Except for the eyes, the closest I can find at the moment is that they might be Clusiids, druid flies. The elongated yellowish bodies fit reasonably well. These have small knobby antennae on the lower part of the face rather than the top. They seem to have a frontal suture, and there's that white triangular marking between the lower parts of the eyes.

I did manage to catch one on the wing. Look how it throws its front pair of legs up into the air!

There was quite a bit of this going on.

Handsome little flies, although those eyes are very odd.

Friday: 18 June 2010

False Alarm  -  @ 06:03:03

After an early morning walk down to and along the creeks yesterday, I emerged around mid morning and was a little startled to see what from a distance looked like smoke emerging from the back deck.

I quickly realized what was going on, and it's not combustion. The rain-soaked deck the previous evening had just encountered the blazing sun, which was vaporizing the moisture. Which in turn was condensing back into fog in the cooler air above the deck.

A few years ago, on a summer day, I was driving back from Tennessee, and descending the Cumberland Plateau into the even hotter and more humid lower elevations. The air conditioner in the car started blowing out clouds of white vapor. Very alarming for a minute or two, but the same process.

Wednesday: 16 June 2010

Events of the Day  -  @ 08:32:52
First, thanks to Swampy for pointing out that the fly on the Ruellia is a bee fly. Great catch - I'm familiar with the very odd graceful Bombylius bee flies, like this one, but had never seen the much clumsier one in question before.

Last year we had a massive infestation of tent caterpillars. This year I saw only a single individual. Last year I saw very few robber flies - this year they seem back to normal in variety and abundance. And last year there were few biting deerflies, but this year there are many and they come right up to the house.

And so robber flies are your friends. Here's a species of Promachus, a robber fly. I've seen P. rufipes of the red legs, but that's not what this is. However there are enough lookalikes to where that's as far as I can go, really.

[An update: Mike at Iowa State, in comments, suggested that this might be a Triorla interrupta. My photograph is not good enough to be sure of that, but if so it would be a new robber fly. I'll have to keep a watch out for it, and thank you, Mike.]

This one was loitering on the front stoop, and I was being pestered by a deerfly while trying to take photographs. It didn't take too long before the robber fly started darting around me, going after the deerfly. I don't think he ever caught it, but remember, robber flies are your friends.

Finally, 1.73" rain last night! Very interesting development in an otherwise unpredicted foecast. Our hottest day so far, with temperatures just breaking 100 degF in the afternoon, and quite humid. I guess I had heard of pulse storms, but had not cemented the term with experience. A pulse storm is a single cell thunderstorm that quickly grows and then collapses. Here's a vivid animation that shows the evolution of different sorts of thunderstorms.

At any rate, many tiny pulse storms ignited in the early evening from central Georgia into northeast Georgia, grew in place for awhile just like in that above animation, and then merged into a large rain mass moving eastward throughout the night. That last step may not have been typical of pulse storms.

So in view of our rainfall last night, and the highest temperatures so far this year, here's what we've actually seen so far this year (blue) with last year 2009 in red.

The dots are the actual recorded measurements. The lines are 25-point running averages, so they don't indicated absolute temperatures, but rather point to peaks and dips around the normal. At the tail end of the blue line you can see the heat wave we've been enduring for the last couple of weeks.

We also made it just over 100 degF yesterday, and the red dots show that we never went above 97 degF last year. We still have awhile to go til humpday, which I usually peg for around July 31.

Here is the CoCoRaHS map for our area, reports made so far this morning.

Monday: 14 June 2010

On the Ruellia  -  @ 06:41:09
The wild petunias, Ruellia caroliniensis, probably, are doing well this year, popping up in abundance to display their pretty ephemeral flowers early each morning.

They're attracting a number of insects, including this very handsome small (0.5cm or less) fly.

I'm not sure I have it even narrowed down yet. I'm guessing a tachinid on the basis of the hairy/spiny abdomen, but the intricately patterned wings, which are held out and not folded, are a little problematic. Two other families of flies that exhibit wing patterning are picture flies and signal flies, but they tend not to have the hairiness, and more resemble wasps or ants in body shape.

For those expecting, as is usual, red eyes, the dark purple with green highlights is soothing.

So for the moment, I'm a little stumped, but what else is new?

[Update: Swampy had a brilliant identification - a bee fly. That had not occurred to me at all, and it looks like that is what it is. A Bombyliid, and perhaps one of the Conophorus. I appreciate that insight.]

And, oh yes, it's hot. A high of 99 degF today - no real rain in the forecast. That may not seem that hot to some, but it's coupled with a 50% relative humidity.

Sunday: 13 June 2010

Surf Your Watershed  -  @ 07:30:00
Now and then I feel the urge to explore watersheds, and EPA's Surf Your Watershed makes it easy to find yours, and its connections to nearby watersheds. Finding your watershed allows you access a huge amount of information, including water quality, water use, maps, and local groups who share your enthusiasm.

You should start with their definition of a watershed:
"A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place...Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. In the continental US, there are 2,110 watersheds; including Hawaii Alaska, and Puerto Rico, there are 2,267 watersheds."

Now you should use your zipcode here to locate your own watershed (within the US). I took a look at Oglethorpe County, and had not before appreciated that it straddles (but does not contain) three watersheds.

From that second link, Oglethorpe County is outlined in red. The website's code numbers for each watershed are in blue, and I've written in the names of the watersheds in green. Water in southwest Oglethorpe County, where we are, drains into the Upper Oconee River watershed. There is a ridge to our northeast, and water on the other side flows northeast through the Broad River watershed. And the Little River Watershed drains much of south Oglethorpe County separate from the other two.

That brought up the idea of a triple point, the point at which three watersheds connect. A triple point is a special place - from that point, falling rainfall may go in any of three directions, into one of three different watersheds. Above, I've circled the ones I can see in green, and one of the green circles is within Oglethorpe County itself. Let's take a closer look at this area of south Oglethorpe County.

The broad green lines mark my positioning of the midpoints of the beginnings of creeks and streams travelling in opposing directions, and so they define (approximately) the boundaries of the three watersheds that converge at the triple point in Stephens. We are in Wolfskin, with our house marked by the green circle at upper left.

It shouldn't be too surprising that many major roads, the red lines, follow the ridges that define the upper elevations of watersheds. That's not to say that you can't have roads elsewhere - there are plenty of those, but such roads have to have bridges, and can get into trouble if they are diving into a watershed.

Above, and below for the terrain map, I've marked with a red dot one of several places where we can get into trouble, if we're responding to a fire in that area in the left part of the figure. Even within that "Barrow Creek mini watershed", Hutchins-Wolfskin Road runs for the most part along ridges when it can, but it must dive down at that red dot. If it's been raining significantly, we have to take the fire trucks up past the top of the figure, into Crawford, and down the red/green Union Point Road/77!

How about quadruple and higher order points? Yes, but only by concidence. The triple points are a required consequence of three finite areas adjoining each other.

There are probably mathematics that provide a proof for this, but just drawing out some possible configurations, I suspect that there must be at least two triple points for any watershed, and that there can be no fewer than two watersheds adjoining any given watershed. (I'm not sure about small islands - it may be possible for there to be only two watersheds on a small island.)

You might predict that the number of triple points would increase in the mountains, and decrease in the southern coastal plains of Georgia.

Here, for instance, is Fannin County, again outlined in red. There are five watersheds that Fannin County overlaps. I count nine triple points, three of which fall in the county (or rather, on the county line).

Here's the approximate topography of the area. I don't think my white circles are in exactly the right place - I just guessed, so ignore them. But you can see from all the hilly and mountainous topography that you have a lot of watersheds here, and therefore a lot of triple points.

You might ask (and should!) just how arbitrarily these watersheds are drawn, for if they're totally arbitrary then the triple point is not much fun, anymore.

The answer to that is that these are legitimate watersheds, but that they are limited in size by selecting an endpoint. The EPA watersheds are (somewhat) arbitrary in terms of their endpoints. Here, for instance, is the Upper Oconee watershed, probably a couple of thousand square miles drained by the Oconee River and its tributaries. The little red circle approximates the area of southwestern Oglethorpe County in the first two figures.

But the Upper Oconee watershed is ended at the Fall Line around Milledgeville, while the Oconee River moves on into the Lower Oconee watershed. And even that endpoint is (somewhat) arbitrary - it is ended where the Oconee River joins the Altamaha River.

You could demand that all endpoints had to be in the ocean - here, the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. But if you did, there would be just a few very large watersheds perhaps involving multiple states. Good at the multi-state policy level, but not so interesting to local communities where the enthusiasm for protecting a watershed is generated.

Or you could go the other way. You could, if you wished, draw watersheds at smaller scales than EPA does. For instance, in the first map of south Oglethorpe County above, the entire area between Hway 77 and Wolfskin Road is its own mini watershed within the much larger formal EPA drawn Upper Oconee River. It's the Barrow Creek mini watershed, a name I just gave it! You'd draw that watershed if you wanted to terminate it at the entry of Barrow Creek into Big Creek. Then we have the Goulding Creek watershed on the other side of Wolfskin, and the Moss Creek watershed on the other side of Black Snake Road. On the other hand, if your endpoint was the entry of Big Creek into the Oconee River, then your much larger watershed would include all three of those creeks and the land they drain.

Looking a little more micro, each little feeder creek is its own watershed, too, on a smaller scale. And I might point out that if you did treat every feeder creek as its own watershed, then you'd have lots more triple points within the larger formal watershed, however few of them would be very dramatic.

And at the largest end of the scale, some purposes would have you consider the watershed of the entire Atlantic seaboard!

So these watersheds on the Surf Your Watershed EPA website are not arbitrary, they're real. They're just not the only way to draw them. It all depends on where you want to end them. At Surf Your Watershed, the endpoints have been defined in such a way as to be able to manage watersheds easily at a regional scale (multiple counties). This is also a nice way to invite citizen involvement at a multiple city level.

If I treat the area between Wolfskin Road and Highway 77 as the Barrow Creek watershed, then that's a way to involve several communities within a county. The Goulding Creek watershed next door has its own small number of neighborhoods and communities within its natural boundaries.

I should end this by pointing out that you can't keep getting too micro without losing definition. If I treat our little feeder creek as a micro watershed emptying into Goulding Creek, then the next feeder creek a half mile downstream of Goulding would define its own micro watershed. But there are areas in between that empty directly into Goulding and are not a part of either micro watershed. Things can become fuzzy if you get too micro.

Saturday: 12 June 2010

And It's Not Even Summer Yet  -  @ 12:24:30

Is it really so wrong to take advantage of a poor hot cat offering her helpful tip in 95 degree weather?

Sophie wants you to know that it can be 500 degrees cooler six inches off the floor.

Little Problems  -  @ 06:18:57
For the last few days we've been having some intermittent problems, encountered frequently, with accessing the internet. I suspect they're local to our Windstream ISP - we can't see beyond that connections time out and the DNS server is occasionally broken (that's the local part). Ability or inability to access changes frequently. But maybe it's a broader problem, so if you've been having trouble reaching Niches, well, so have I!

Let's hope they iron out their problems soon, whoever they are.

Wednesday: 9 June 2010

Fairhope Four  -  @ 07:14:12
Here are a few last Fairhope photos, this time from a couple of visits to Fairhope's central public promenade, the Fairhope Municipal Pier.

The pier has been around in one form or another for over a century, and a public gathering place probably for much of that time. We paid nightly visits along with a multitude of folks, at sunset, and Glenn and I walked out a couple of times during the heat of the day. It really is a promenade, with folks exercising walking out to the end and back, people fishing, and others just sitting along the sides watching everyone else walk by.

(Clicking image gives you enlargement of the plaque.)

There is a marina and the Yardarm Restaurant about halfway out the pier, which juts a quarter mile into Mobile Bay. None of our sunset visits netted a fantastic sunset - the air was too hazy - but if we'd stayed late the last night we'd have been in the middle of an impressive thunderstorm.

If the haze weren't there you could see the skyline of the city of Mobile across the bay.

A quarter-mile out, the pier divides into a T, where you'll find most of the fishing enthusiasts. Actually, they camp out all along the pier, and there are stairs periodically leading down to sea level platforms for fishing and crabbing.

The pelicans aren't normally this friendly, but this one knows a good thing. It's waiting for some generous fishing person to throw it an unwanted fish - preferably not saltwater catfish. At first I edited the gentleman out of the picture, and then I found this article from two years ago. I think this might be *the* Mr. Blevins, who the pelican meets on a daily basis, and insists on perching next to. No Mr. Blevins, no pelican, and we just happened at the right time.

I ran across this webcam page, and the camera is a very nice one which updates every half-second or so. It allows you to control the zoom and the pan, and it's a good sensitive camera. Pull out, and you'll get a good impression of the park area. Zoom in and you might almost be able to see the pelican at the end of the pier. Not quite, but close.

I captured the photo at 5:30am local time this morning.

Tuesday: 8 June 2010

Notes from the Neighbors  -  @ 07:33:19
Yesterday marked the first full week of summer semester classes (they began on Friday - why, oh why, but they nearly always do). It's going to be a very busy summer, with courses normally spread out over 18 weeks compressed into 8 weeks. This is always a shock to the system.

Our neighbors, who know of my passion for box turtles, reported the discovery and photographs made on May 31, along their drive, of three turtles discovered as they took their evening walk. It's not often that you get images of two new turtles, one of which is in a family way, and a rediscovery, so what a delight it was.

I compared each with the 31 box turtles I've documented over the last few years.

Box turtle #1 was a pretty thing. I don't find many that have such a superabundance of yellow markings, and it was easy to tell that there was no match to any of the ones that I've found.

Another new turtle, and a nice find! Turtle #3 is clearly a female! She's preparing the way to lay her eggs. They made a great photograph of her.

My similar discovery, of a different female laying eggs, was June 12 of last year, so a difference of 12 or 13 days in the great event. A 70-80d incubation period is expected in the South, which would have placed last year's hatching around August 21-31, a similar prediction for our neighbors' clutch would target the second or third week in August, say August 9-19.

However, our hatching last year occurred at around the 98-day mark, 18 September 2009, and that would predict a hatching date in the first week of September for our neighbors' clutch.

Box turtle #2 is a rediscovery! Below is their photograph of her last week.

I found her on Oct 9 2008. I don't think there is any doubt about it, comparing her with the composite I put together a year and a half ago.

Very roughly, there is a distance of perhaps 1000 feet between the 2008 spot, and our neighbors' discovery. Putting those locations on the opposite sides of a circle with a 500-foot radius suggests that she's active within two acres of territory at a minimum. That's not outside the usual territory size, but of the three other rediscoveries I've made she's certainly travelled the farthest! She was also about 50 vertical feet above her position in 2008.

Very nice discoveries and I certainly thank our neighbors for sharing them with us.

Sunday: 6 June 2010

Visitors in Black Cloaks  -  @ 10:07:09

There were three vultures sitting on the railing of the south deck this morning when I walked out. That's unprecedented.

Some investigation is in order, and someone with functioning olfactory senses is going to have to do it.

All the cats are accounted for, anyway.

Friday: 4 June 2010

Guess What?  -  @ 07:04:51
Another black rat snake!

On Wednesday morning, Glenn called me shortly after leaving to alert me to a fairly large snake crossing the driveway, up by the road. I raced up with the camera and caught up with it a few feet from the drive. It's about five feet long, and was in traveling pose.

It's another rat snake, of course, and you must wonder how many photos I'm going to post of these. Since I can't tell one from another, we'll just have to check out their behavior and document that!

This one was a little more skittish than previous ones. He (or she!) didn't like me running my hands down the lower half of his body. He vibrated his tail in the leaves - really gave us the full show.

Very nice strike pose. His head followed me around wherever I moved. You'll notice that this is one of our forms with much more visible patterning than some of the others we've seen. (Not, however, as beautifully patterned as this one was, two years ago April. That link, by the way, entertains a possible explanation for the patterning forms.)

Although certainly well fed, this one's eyes are just a bit clouded, so it might be contemplating a shedding in the near future. This might be why the skin coloration is a little dull.

You know it's going to be a good day when it starts out with a nice big snake.

Thursday: 3 June 2010

The Month of May  -  @ 07:18:56

It's The Month of May, Number 52 in a series. The extreme pollen event of April ended as rain moved through along the first part of May. In general, May was warmer than usual, and depending on where you were, wetter or drier, even between places just ten miles apart.

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

As in April, the eastern half of the US experienced hotter than usual temperatures in May, while the western half intensified its cooler than normal temperatures.

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

Dry weather in the southeast during March and April gave way to scattered normal to above normal rainfall (but see below). New England largely continued its drier than normal conditions, while points south along the Atlantic seaboard states got some relief from a dry April. Dry conditions limited to Arizona in March expanded throughout the southwest in April, extending eastward into Lousiana. The northwestern quarter continued to get normal, or wetter than normal rainfall.

For Athens:

For Athens, we continued a warmer than usual trend, but mostly because nighttime lows were higher than usual. Rainfall was extremely heterogeneous in May.

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of May 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 no high records in May, but nighttime lows were 4.3 degF higher than normal (daytime highs were 2.7 deg higher than normal).

We had 10 days of high temperatures that were at least one standard deviation higher than average, and the usual number of such days is 4.9. That's pretty significant. We had only 2 nights below the standard deviation for our usual lows, compared to 5.5 such nights, and that's probably significant in the other direction. This was a pattern almost identical to that in April.

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.

While this figure shows lots of blue, which means surplus, it's for Athens, which got 5.89" of rain (3.86" normal for May). Yet 10 miles away, we in Wolfskin got 3.03", a clear deficit. This was due mainly to three deluges in Athens that hardly affected us out here. There's similar chaos throughout the counties surrounding.

Last month I presented this entry, from NASA's Earth Observatory image of the day, of the Gulf oil spill, taken less than a week after the initial explosion. The month of May brought us continued expansion of the surface oil, which is all we see in the composite below (click image for larger).

The left image is the one presented last month; the right one is already more than two weeks out of date (there are more recent images in the Natural Hazards archive at Earth Observatory, but they lack landmarks that place the surface oil into perspective).

Over the last few days, oil has now been reported coming ashore along the Mississippi and Alabama coast and barrier islands. The Florida panhandle is expecting to see the incursion next. And the extremely disturbing tongue moving southeastward through the Loop Current is headed for the coral reef rich southern Florida tip, and then out into the North Atlantic.

And of course all we see here is surface reflectivity from satellite. We see nothing of the plumes that are said to exist beneath the surface.

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 hotter than average temperatures and average rainfall. The long term (three months) continues to suggest warmer than usual temperatures, and average rainfall. Our summer will be a bit warmer than usual, with perhaps average rainfall.

After ten months of El Niño, NOAA's weekly ENSO update tells us that we're now giving way to neutral ENSO conditions. The "evolution since 1950" shows that this has been a fairly strong El Niño event - not so strong as the 1982 or 1998 events, but at least as intense as any in the last ten years. There is some possibility of dipping down into La Niña conditions in the second half of the year.

Relive your favorite weather events, courtesy of NOAA. NOAA has a neat State of the Climate product.

Wednesday: 2 June 2010

Fairhope Three  -  @ 07:56:29
Yesterday's sign for the Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog reads, approximately, "Joint project of the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, NOAA, and the Alabama Department of Economics and Community Affairs, Coastal Programs." The Reserve itself, which encompasses 6000 acres of estuary "in and around Weeks Bay and Mobile Bay", has its own website, along with an overall brochure (PDF). The brochure shows that this Reserve project is one of 26 nationwide NERRS (National Estuarine Research Reserve System) projects. There's also a very neat management plan (PDF).

The pitcher plant bog is a small part of the overall Reserve project. Outdoor Alabama has a section on the pitcher plant bog, along with an informative brochure (PDF) that goes into some of the more striking plants in the bog. More photos of the seasonal display of bog plants can be found here.

Let's see what we saw on May 28.

The extensive pitcher plant bog boardwalk encircles a large central area, and then takes off (center left) and splits northward and westward through the pines toward the Fish River. All of this area, and a lot more outside the encirclement, is periodically burned to remove hardwood saplings that would otherwise take over. Burn marks are apparent on the larger pines, and it looks like it's been several years since the last burn, judging from the sweetgum, tulip poplar, and other hardwoods beginning to shoot up. The soil is wet with shallow standing water in a lot of places.

The big feature is the carnivorous plant species, of course. Here's white-topped (aka crimson) pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla. The upper structure is the flower.

Here are pale pitcher plants (aka yellow trumpets), Sarracenia alata, with a little S. leucophylla bottom right:

There are more pitcher plant species in the bog, but these were the most apparent.

You usually think of sundews (Drosera) as being tiny rosettes of oval leaves with the sticky droplets atop tentacles studding the small leaves. This one, Tracy's sundew (aka Gulf Coast sundew), D. tracyi, has long filiform leaves, also with the sticky tentacles, of course. It was in flower!

Very striking was this expanse of what initially looked like odd white asters of some kind. They're not.

They're actually white-topped sedges (aka sandswamp whitetop), Rhynchospora latifolia. What look like white flowers are actually white bracts (probably called something else in a sedge, but never mind). Once we got a good look at the culms beneath we knew this had to be a sedge (sedges have edges!). Glenn figured it out right off the bat. Very unusual to see such coloration in a grassy kind of plant.

Farther down one of the boardwalks, my mother spotted these pretty blue asterlike flowers, in deep shade beneath a pine canopy. I'm not sure this portion gets the burning that the open field area does. I searched the plant list for the Weeks Bay Reserve, but this one isn't on it. It's Stokes' Aster, Stokesia laevis, and that was my immediate thought when I saw it, believe it or not. A lot of photos will show it as pink, but there are blue forms. The leaves are long and lanceolate, with a prominent white midrib. This is a very nice plant.

Nearby was some dodder. The plant list shows this as Cuscuta campestris, but the name now appears to be C. pentagona, fiveangled dodder.

Dodders are parasitic plants that have generally lost their leaves and ability to make chlorophyll. They latch onto other plants and suck out their stuff. Somewhat interesting here is that the tips of the twining plant are a little bit green, and have vestigial shoots.

This part of the boardwalk ended at the Fish River (just across and a bit upstream from where we put in the pontoon boat, two posts ago). Not only can you get to the pitcher plant bog from the road, but you can also dock your boat and get to it from the river!

So if you ever generalized Alabama as heedless of environmental concerns, you should probably change your mind. This is a fantastic resource.

Tuesday: 1 June 2010

Fairhope Two  -  @ 07:26:38
The second half of our pontoon trip took us south down Weeks Bay and then up the Magnolia River (map from yesterday's post).

The river originates mainly from a spring at its head, so upstream of a certain point there is probably little fluctuation in level. It always amazed me to see lawns continue right down to the river's edge.

The white house with the red roof, center left above, was at one time when I was a kid the only house on this peninsula - now called "Holk's Point." The reason that it's called Holk's Point is that there are a lot of Holks there. It turns out that these are my cousins - mother's sister married into the Holk family, and we made many a visit to Magnolia Springs when I was growing up.

My cousin Bob Holk is a city council member, but just by coincidence I guess, is also a Magnolia Springs volunteer firefighter. Baldwin County is a *huge* county, and firefighting is done by volunteers. Much as in Oglethorpe County!

From the point of the photo above, and on, the river narrows and is flanked by nearly complete coverage of riverside homes. There were always houses along the river when I was growing up, but not quite so dense a coverage. The bridge up ahead marks the origin of the river.

We did a lot of swimming in this river, and were horrified by our cousins' tales of the giant gar that lived just across the river.

Most of the docks or boathouses have a mailbox, and they get their mail via USPS boat. It's more of a tradition now, that the residents don't want to give up.

This one probably doesn't get much mail anymore.

We returned to Weeks Bay and back to the landing at yesterday's bridge. After loading the pontoon back, my father suggested we cross the bridge and visit the Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog on the other side of Fish River. This proved to be an excellent idea, and I'll present those photos tomorrow.

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