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

Tuesday: 30 November 2010

On the Crux  -  @ 11:06:10
I know things are getting weird when all of a sudden, at 11am, the windows are fogging up on the outside, and the house seems to depart the universe.

We do keep our house a mite cooler than most do in the winter, and for the last day or two outside temperatures have kept below 50 degF. So when temperatures outside start rising rapidly and suddenly in conjunction with 100% relative humidity, as they just did (11:05am), it's impressive how fast every window will become opaque. All that outside moisture in the air starts condensing on the cooler outside of the windows.

And that brings us to the tornado watches. They haven't reached us yet, from the west, but they will. Might be an interesting afternoon and evening.

Sunday: 28 November 2010

Narrowbanding  -  @ 07:13:50
One of our little volunteer firefighter annoyances - deadlines. Worse, deadlines for mandates from above. Compounding annoyances - deadlines for two completely different things that may be clear in the minds of some, but for whatever reason have not been made clear to others. Worst of all, lost opportunities.

There is a presumptive January 1, 2012 deadline that has to do with GFSTC, the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council. This is currently in draft stage and tightens up requirements for compliant fire departments in Georgia. We'll dispense with that for now.

Unfortunately, in business meetings discussion of that deadline has compounded confusion over something more important, and apparently imminent.

For non-Federal public safety users of radio communication, the NPSTC, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council is mandating "narrowbanding". The deadline for this is Jan 1 2013:
In December 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the requirement that all non-Federal public safety licensees operating 25 kHz radio systems in the 150-174 MHz and 421-512 MHz bands (the VHF and UHF bands) must migrate to more efficient 12.5 kHz (narrowband) channels by January 1, 2013.

(BTW, and also from NPSTC, here is a nice description of "narrowbanding." Here is another good summation of the mandate. The technical details aren't necessary to appreciate the frustration, though ; - )  ).

That 2013 deadline for everyone else comes for us in Oglethorpe County on January 1 2011. That seems to be because our county-wide emergency dispatch moved the deadline up, probably because much-needed changes to the transmission towers were going to be made (hurrah!), and it was decided to just do everything at once. I do believe that at least two or three folks understood this - it just got lost to me, anyway, in the conflation by the other deadlines. And if the significance was lost to me, who listens pretty carefully, it probably got lost to others too.

So "sometime in December" there will come a day being called "Reprogramming Day," when everyone brings down their radios and pagers for reprogramming to the new 12.5 kHz standard. I don't know how up to a two or three hundred radios and pagers over thirteen different fire departments are going to be reprogrammed all on one day, but that's for someone else to worry about. The reason we want to do this is that the county pays for reprogramming, provided it's done on that Day. (Apparently there will be a Makeup Day, also unscheduled.)

A few complications. Older pagers and radios may not be able to be reprogrammed. New reprogrammable ones will have to be purchased, and unless the reprogramming costs are rescheduled, they have to be purchased NOW. The county will not be paying for that.

Fortunately our Motorola CP200 and HT750 radios can be reprogrammed, although we have a number that must be repaired first, and that means NOW. I do know that the knocker radio, a Motorola CM200, can also be reprogrammed. I still need to check out our pumper and tanker radios, but for anyone else here is a list, from Railcom, of radios and pagers that can and cannot be reprogrammed.

Unfortunately for us, *this* poses a problem:
That's our pager, a Motorola Minitor IV, one of the more popular pagers. We have close to twenty of these, and they will not be able to be reprogrammed. No one else is going to want them (this is a *federal* mandate) and so onto the junkpile they go. We do have a couple of next generation Minitor V pagers, and those can be reprogrammed. We'll have to order eight more of these, and that's going to cost us over $3000. Plus, they have to be ordered NOW in order to be here by "Reprogramming Day," whenever that is.

And that lost opportunity?

Two months ago, we put out a newletter, a very good newsletter. We had several discussions about concrete goals, so as to use it for fundraising, but no one could come up with immediate goals. This rather major expense as a fundraising goal was never mentioned by those who seemed to understand it. I'm just going to assume that the decision for the county to move the narrowbanding deadline up came after the newsletters were mailed out, because otherwise it was not just a lost opportunity, it was an unnecessarily lost opportunity.

Saturday: 27 November 2010

After the Cold  -  @ 09:15:41
Here we have a very pretty lobelia that was still flowering profusely down to the creek a week ago. Before that point we'd had three nights of below-freezing temperatures - not much below, but still sufficiently freezing to freeze. The first cold snap was at the end of October with the rest rather evenly spaced, so we've had plenty of events up to this point. Such a flowering is an heroic effort, I think.

Just because that's what we have along SBS Creek, I'm going with downy lobelia, Lobelia puberula. I look at the photo of the stems and accessories, and there's nothing really "downy" about them. But Glenn confirms this based on a couple high resolution photos, in preference to one or two alternatives. We have a throwaway comment that maybe our downy is a little different from other downies. This wouldn't be the first time!

Last night we went below 32 degF for the fourth time. It was actually our first real thirty degree plummet as a front moved through from several days of warmer than average temperatures. I checked last year - by this date we'd only gone below freezing once, but in 2008 by this time it'd been twelve nights. So by this limited criterion, this year we're kind of average for low temperature events.

Still, we have these very pretty swamp sunflowers, Helianthus angustifolius flowering their heads off, unperturbed by freezing weather.

American beautyberry fruits don't care about the cold - life in the warm zone is only a fond memory for them anyway, at this point. Callicarpa americana, from the time of its flowering to this point is a developmental icon - the earliest flowers clustered synchronously at the right in this photo, with the later ones opening up at the left days or weeks later. You can't tell it now, but that's exactly how the fruits developed and blushed into strident purple over the last month or two.

Are they good for anything? Well, not for humans, and so they fall below the radar. I've had a few emails over the years expressing skepticism that they might even be of interest to wildlife, but I've mentioned before that some sources claim they're important food sources for mammals and birds. If so, then they're major here - we have beautyberries everywhere.

Friday: 26 November 2010

Animal Vegetable or Mineral?  -  @ 07:54:54

Over the last couple of weeks I've been periodically pulling these photos up and trying to figure them out. They're of a large rocky exposure on SBS Creek - a very nice flat wash that the creek over many years gradually exposed. The rock face is largely covered over by fallen leaves at this point, but there's this rocky cap that's still exposed.

It's our usual kind of rock, headed toward sedimentary but still more along the lines of conglomerate - a weakly joined mass that can be pulled apart by hand in places.

So when I came upon it, it was encrusted by what looked like outgrowths of this white material. It was fairly extensive, but occuring only on this rock. If it's poop, it's a uric acid sort of poop excreted by a bird or reptile, and wow: did girl have a blowout? I guess so!

I don't think it's poop though. It doesn't seem splattered over the surface; rather, it seems to be emerging from tiny faults in the conglomerate. It's hard, but not difficult to scratch off the rock. Since then, two weeks ago, the encrustation has largely disappeared, and I'd guess it's been washed away by what little rain we've had.

And I don't think it's some kind of organism either. Lichen is one candidate, but I've never heard of a very temporary white lichen. Lichens don't just pop up - they grow over years.

Fungus is the only other possibility, and some of those round blobs do resemble the fruiting bodies of some fungi and slime molds, but again - none white and certainly not of a granular consistency of this sort. So it seems unlikely that this is an organism.

I'd guess this is mineral, although whether of biological origin or of some chemical reaction going on beneath the surface of the rock beats me.

Monday: 22 November 2010

Something Nice and New  -  @ 06:49:38
Thanks to the person who alerted us that after more than four years, BioVisions at Harvard has a new "Inner Life of the Cell" clip: XVIVO's "Powering the Cell: Mitochondria" (embeds get broken too fast: links at bottom).

When you see this logo, you know it's going to be good.

Inner Life, in 2006, was a broad, rollicking tour of a great many processes going on inside a lymphocyte as it senses and acts upon a chemical signal. It took a couple dozen viewings for me to get everything sorted out. It was great fun, and made me very happy.

Here was our hero then. In "Inner Life," it was this guy - the tireless kinesin motor protein, hauling its huge organelle load down seemingly endless microtubule highways.

"Powering the Cell" is a much narrower, but also much tighter story. Even if you know the characters and the plot you'll want to stay for the next showing, and maybe even the one after that. The artists used many of the same tricks this time around - a compelling musical score, sudden dramatic encounters, and just the right amount of license to make things work without clouding the story, and make me happy too.

The clear hero in "Powering" is the forever spinning ATP synthase complex, producing the energy molecules that are the heart of all the activity.

Sometime in the 90s, there appeared a cover on Nature or Science - can't remember which it was - that showed the first visualizations of ATP synthase. It's likely that those who'd been working in the field already knew what was going on, but even someone like me could look at the cover and say - "Those suckers spin!" I remember how delighted Glenn was - it doesn't take much to make us happy.

And so they do spin. They look like ungainly trees, but in this case the trunk and roots spin at 6000 rpm (a lovely visual piece of mischief), and that rotational energy is transferred to the canopy that makes the ATP.

So you have it all here, in just a couple minutes: a view of the inner mitochondrial membrane upon which the forest of ATP synthase molecules sits along with the electron transport proteins pumping the golden fireflies of protons from one side of the membrane to the other. And you have those fireflies darting back through the trunk, spinning it in the process. Those fireflies are water behind a dam, driving the turbines to produce the power. That's the old analogy, and it's still startlingly appropriate.

No doubt those tiresome unpleasant people from four years ago will crawl out once again from underneath their rocks - the same ones who nitpicked the previous work. No brownian motion, they cried. The scene would be much more cluttered. The time scales aren't the same from scene to scene. The molecules don't move randomly. And it's dark inside the cell - how can we see all this.

Oh please. For centuries scientists and educators have simplified diagrams and explanations to make things more understandable. You should see the scribbled drawings I make on paper when I explain this a half dozen times each semester. In my mind, I can see these marvelous things going on, knowing all about the brownian motion and the time scales and the clutter, but why on earth would I add all that crap? In my mind, this is extraordinary beauty, and how fine to see the efforts of others who think so too. This is just more of the same on a much grander scale; a perfectly legitimate approach to making an explanatory tool. Absolutely cool.

So take a look: you should be able to get to the video from here, or here, or from XVIVO.

Sunday: 21 November 2010

Sixth Annual Restoration Run  -  @ 03:58:11
Last year it was Glenn and I who took the bright red WVFD pumper to slow down traffic for the Fifth Annual Restoration Run in Crawford. This year's Sixth Annual Run, for the restoration of the Railroad Depot in Crawford, it was Fire Chief Ed and I who moved the pumper around. We spent the morning driving first to Smokey Road for the 5K run, and then for the 15K run to Crawford-Smithonia Road at Hargrove Lake Road, as we did last year. This year we stayed the full time at the Hargrove Lake Road, and Crawford VFD, probably, took care of the Old Mill Road placement.

It was 35 degF when we left the station at 6:45am - last year it was 39 deg, and the previous year it was apparently 28 deg. Historically it's never rained the day of the race, although the day after, last year, we did get 1.24".

Since last year's posts covered everything in detail, I'll just present a few of the highlights. Here's one non-negotiable:

And a little bit of local color, discovered impaled on the yard sale sign at Hargrove Lake Road, where all today's photos were taken.

We had a little bit of drama when Bad Dogs erupted out of a yard at the bottom of the hill. First they attacked the lead car, and then they went after the first two runners. State patrol was there within a couple of minutes and had a little talk with the owner. (It was fairly hazy, and that shady scene was a quarter mile from us at a bad reflective angle from the sun, hence the rather poor photos).

This gentleman, a distant third at the 7.5-mile mark where we sat, won first last year, when his shorts were blue (same shirt though!). I seem to have failed to get the number one and two runners at this point, but they were the ones attacked by the dogs in the previous photos.

Sunday: 14 November 2010

Return of the Bees  -  @ 06:58:19
But first the plant. This little plant, a perennial standing about two feet tall now that it's put out flowering branches, is a Prenanthes, or rattlesnakeroot. I transplanted it several years back from the SBS creek area, where it seldom flowers. I'm guessing that either the deer crop the emerging flowering branches, or the lighting under the canopy is just not right.

For whatever reasons, it does flower in this spot, which is generally much drier but probably just a little better lit. I originally thought it might be "gall of the earth," P. trifoliata, from the basal leaf shapes, but Glenn says no. I'm guessing he thinks it's "tall rattlesnakeroot," P. altissima.

The flowers are not particularly spectacular even at their prime, which these are just past, but they certainly are interesting to these little friends.

We've probably seen these little bees before, at least once back in late October-early November 2008. At that time they were all over bushy asters, late purple asters, and goldentop.

Quite a queue of little bees awaiting their turn at what seems to have been targetted as a rich source.

I'd thought these were Halictus spp., or sweat bees, before, and I still think it's likely that they are, although I won't go closer than that. There are some mining bees of the Andrenidae that bear a resemblance, and so they might be those.

We certainly know about the mining bees, which got thoroughly documented in April of this year. Now that I look at those, that particular species doesn't really resemble these so much, but who knows what can happen in the course of seven months.

Saturday: 13 November 2010

Blue  -  @ 05:15:08
We have a couple of other blues still in flower - late purple aster, Symphyotrichum patens, and some downy lobelias, Lobelia puberula, are still hanging on down to the creek.

But those are warmer early autumn plants and are on their way out. Our only gentian, soapwort or harvest gentian, Gentiana saponaria, is just coming into flower. It likes it cold, and seems to wait until about the time of the first frost.

I first found this species down right next to SBS Creek on 25 Oct 2006. I noted them again 24 Nov 2007, and although I apparently didn't post on them in 2008 and 2009, I did see them elsewhere on the creek.

They do suffer arthropod demolition on the leaves, don't they?

Yesterday's walk offered me two plants in a new location, opposite the waterfall over Troll Rock on a periodically flooded bank. The location is relatively protected from the deer, which will browse the tops of the plants. I would guess that some plants I found last year farther up the creek produced seed that were washed down to this point.

Those petals will not open - the flower will stay "bottled up," which is another common name for the gentian.

The 300 acres to our west has been the location of timbering activity over the last six weeks. I haven't been able to get over there to see how things are going, since it's now well into hunting season and that area is the realm of the hunting club until January 1. But from Wolfskin Road, and a little area that I've scouted from the fire station (the opposite boundary of the 300 acres), they've done a good job in thinning the pines. Over the next five years there will be many places where sun-loving annuals and perennials will pop up.

The theme is "blue" after all, and when I noticed the photo of companion Gene peering out at me, it seemed appropriate to include it. A little creepy, maybe, and it was beginning to get dark, hence the flash, but he was just playing the usual game.

Tuesday: 9 November 2010

Making the Change  -  @ 09:41:40
So after twenty years, my primary email address,, comes to an end on Thursday November 18, at the end of the regular business day, or so I was informed by the IT twit who cut me off without notification in August. My primary email address, , will be the new one.

I've spent the morning notifying categories of frequent correspondents spanning the range of rainfall measuring, two blogs, fire department folks, friends and family, athletic department colleagues and students, and I figure some are going to fall through the cracks. More subtle are the preferred email address changes that must be made on everything from cell phone accounts to National Fire Incident Reporting System account to the online store to the several University of Georgia points of email identification. There is a lot of stuff that accumulates after twenty years of using only one email address! I'll set the forwarding at plantbio to the new address, but there's no guarantee that they'll actually retain that setting.

I should be grateful that the account was restored for the subsequent three months. The plantbio department head asked me to justify my existence, which I did in an email reply at the time. She didn't reply back, so I've been in limbo not exactly sure what to do (but not exactly wanting to inquire, either). And I should be grateful that the IT person finally got a little smarts about notifying people before he cuts them off.

"What goes around, comes around." I usually think of that when there's nothing I can do about petty little tyrants like the occasional IT person, all too many department heads, and other minions of the club. I have this sneaking suspicion, though, that some of them are so disgusting that not even karma wants to deal with them.

Sunday: 7 November 2010

Red  -  @ 08:43:48
Our temperatures went below freezing last night, probably while we were at a call to a vehicle rollover on Wolfskin Road at 1am (fortunately not a very serious injury, other than to the vehicle). We got back at 1:58am EDT, two minutes before the time changeover that would have meant a NFIRS data entry nightmare. So happy standard time to everyone! May you get home in the evening before it gets dark, and don't text while you're driving unless you want your last contribution to our civilization to be "kthxb...".

But these colors have developed before the first freeze. Autumn presentation has been muted, to this point, possibly due to unusually warm temperatures persisting through the autumn season so far.

First up, sourwood, a quiet tree that you might not even know you have, except at this time of year, when it develops without fail brilliantly scarlet leaves. (As I pointed out in spring, the other time you'll notice is when the thousands of tiny flowers fall to the forest floor.) It's especially apparent because the white and red oaks that are more abundant around it have not yet changed.

Red maples aren't called that because of autumn foliage, but they might as well have. Again we have the white oaks that haven't yet changed. Some of our red maples turn a pale yellow, and I should take a closer look at them because they might be chalk maples, instead.

For the second year, dogwood berries have developed successfuly to the end, despite the sustained heat and humidity this summer. Yesterday, and then again this morning, the mockingbird was enjoying the berries on these dogwoods close to the house.

I say *the* mockingbird, because we've never seen but one, and for several years he's always been around for awhile at this time, and then again in spring to battle the robins for the tea crabapple pomes that remain. I say *he* because I don't know if it's male or female - can you even tell with mockingbirds, without dissecting them?

(It might surprise you that such a "common" bird would appear so singularly, but the environment here is just not to the liking of birds that prefer large open spaces.)

Friday: 5 November 2010

Dinosaur  -  @ 11:34:58

One of the forgotten corners of the house. No hate - in fact, Glenn mounted this trophy where it is so we wouldn't have to move it around when we cleaned the counter or dried dishes. We have priorities and this corner is just not one of them, and so that's why the landline goes there.

It's not that we don't pay attention to calls on the landline, it's that there's increasingly less and less reason to. The only reason we pay $40 a month for it is so that we can pay the additional $40 for DSL. If not for that, it would be gone and so would the house spiders that protect it.

I just erased 45 messages, since the beginning of October, for there was no reason to bother with them - we have caller ID and we have absolutely no inclination to answer calls we don't recognize. That there were only 45 messages, with 2/3 consisting of recordings of the dialtone, well, this tells you that Georgia wasn't of much interest to robocalls, and we aren't of much interest to telephone soliciters. The marvels of technology even allow me to hear the computer voice tell me who's calling, so I don't have to jump up and look.

Our mail carrier tells us that we have less junk mail than anyone else he delivers to in our zip code area, and how do we do it? (Short answer - we've worked at not existing to the craptacular outside world for many years now.)

BUT, if in the very slim event that you called and never heard back, send me an email.

Thursday: 4 November 2010

The Month of October  -  @ 07:29:57
It's The Month of October, Number 57 in a series. The word for October is *seems*, as in "October *seemed* fairly normal." Did things *seem* normal to you over the last month? Let's find out.

This time, they're hiding the usual temperature anomalies product here, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

One of the oddities about October was the disparity between maximum and minimum temperatures, and so it seems appropriate to expand this section.

In large parts of the south, nighttime lows were cooler than normal, while daytime highs were higher than normal. The result was a mean a degree or two above normal, for this part of the country. It was a little odd for us here, since in much of the summer, this disparity was reverse - very warm nighttime lows and somewhat warmer than usual daytime highs.

West of the Rockies, the disparity was reversed from the southeastern experience, as it has been much of the year. There, daytime highs were anomalously cool, while nighttime lows were in many places much warmer.

It all averages out to the mean temperature anomaly over October. Much warmer average temperatures throughout the west (except for portions of the Pacific coast), and somewhat warmer temperatures in most of the rest of the US eastward, with the exception of Florida.

For much of the eastern half of the country, these warmer mean temperatures continue the trend for the seventh month in a row, since April. Much of the north central and west had sharply warmer temperatures than experienced for much of the year.

Of course it's October, and while the anomalies may look garish, it's been generally pleasant, and so these things get overlooked.

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

Dry conditions had been more common east of the Rockies in September, and this trend deepened for much of the east in October. No tropical activity really influenced precipitation directly during October, as it did when Nicole opened up a plume of precipitation along the Atlantic coast in September.

And once again, precipitation inverted west of the Rockies, with bright green swaths dominating almost the entire west. The west from California south would have felt some relief from the very dry conditions in September.

For Athens:

For Athens, we continued for the seventh month in a row a warmer than usual trend. Our high temperatures averaged 4.6 degF higher than normal, however our lows were a degree or two below normal. Our average was just a little above normal.

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of October in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the years 1990-2009 (black dots), 2010 (green line), and 2009 (red line).

We broke no low or high temperature records in October.

We only had 7 days in October that were more than one standard deviation above the mean high (4.6 days is normal). We also had 7 nights in October that were more than 1 SD below the mean low (5.5 nights normal). Neither is a very high number beyond usual, but both together paint a picture of extremes at both ends.

As in September, most of October low in humidity: the low temperatures at night are testament to the transparency of the atmosphere and low humidity during most of the month. It was, on balance, an extremely comfortable month, which of course made it *seem* normal.

The figure below shows the Athens rainfall 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.

In October, Athens received much lower rainfall than is normal, 1.42" (normal 3.19"). That official figure, though, is quite atypical of most of the surrounding area - here in Wolfskin I had 3.22", so almost exactly normal, and other portions of Oglethorpe County and even Clarke County had quite a bit more rain than the official figure.

And now we come to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks:

Nothing has really changed for us: the long term (three months) continues to suggest somewhat warmer than usual temperatures, and average to mostly below average rainfall. This is the typical La Niña in the southeast, and so far in September and October it has been fulfilled.

ENSO stuff:

No changes other than a continued deepening of La Niña: NOAA's weekly ENSO update tells us that we're now experiencing La Niña conditions, and we're expected to continue these into Spring 2011. Scroll down to the bottom of that update for temperature and precipitation map forecasts through the winter.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for September is now up - October should be appearing soon. Detailed xplanations for weather events occurring during September (or whatever month is current) can be found for the several sections of the US under the National Overview. There are many interesting weather- and climate-related items to be found here.

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