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

Sunday: 27 March 2011

Snap  -  @ 13:22:19
We've had four significant thunderstorms in the last 24 hours, with Saturday evening's resulting in about 30 seconds of soybean-sized hail and 2.5 inches/hour for 20 minutes. We're at a hiatus right now, after 2.39" total, but expecting more tonight and tomorrow.

A third thunderstorm came through midnight Saturday. I didn't hear a lot of wind, but this loblolly pine on the upper reaches of the floodplain got snapped off about 20 feet up.

It's not a dead pine (or it wasn't at the time, anyway). It is, however, a lone pine in an area of older hardwoods, and I suspect it wasn't very happy there. It was a fairly large pine, 50-60 feet tall.

This area sees quite a bit of this snapping off of trees. There are at least two others, hardwoods, within a couple hundred feet that have been similarly snapped off in the last couple of years, rather than uprooted. I suspect that the northwest winds get funneled across the floodplain and then intensified as the floodplain constricts into the long hollow that SBS Creek runs down.

Then, too, we could have a tornado touch down on the floodplain and not really know anything other than that it was pretty windy.

At 6am this morning, a *fourth* thunderstorm came through, with a lightning strike just south of the house and, just coincidentally, a page to Union Point Road for a tree on fire. The other two departments that were called were much closer so it was inevitable that we'd get canceled about the time we got to the station to get a truck.

What didn't happen was that I didn't get a text message for the page. Glenn and I had set up a gmail account for Wolfskin, and given the email address to Central (our 911). They supposedly email to the account, which uses a filter to forward the email to an SMS service, which in turn converts the email to a text message sent to relevant parties' cell phones - just Glenn and me at the moment while we're testing it out.

Since the email itself wasn't in the account inbox, it just didn't get sent. It was fairly predictable that the most likely fail would be that Central wouldn't get the email out. They manually type it out, and when things get busy I can see how that might not happen. They do have CAD (computer assisted dispatch), but either emailing dispatches isn't in its repertoire or no one knows how to make it happen.

It's not a big deal - mostly a gimmick that was intended to be a backup for pages when our pager or radio isn't informative, for whatever reason. The nice thing is that we have demonstrated that it works, and there haven't been any false positives (text messages that shouldn't be sent). Unfortunately, we now have a false negative. Rats!

Thursday: 17 March 2011

Return of the Bluets (the plant, not the dragonfly)  -  @ 05:33:47

Bluets are here! Scattered among the posts retrieved by using the term "bluets" are two actual posts on Houstonia, 13 April 2006 and 11 Feb 2005, although only the latter addresses this species. (The remainder of the hits are on dragonflies : - )  ).

Here's Houstonia caerulea, probably, azure bluets. It's possible, maybe even more likely, that these could be H. pusilla, tiny bluets - in Georgia we have eight Houstonia species. These tend to like sunny disturbed areas, and are very hardy. They're only a couple inches tall, and a quarter inch across.

USDA Plants lists 18 species of bluets found across North America, but not in most of the states west of the Rockies.

The many faces of developing bluet flowers, from early buds, middle right, to just about to open - that bonbon on the top left, to fully opening, top. At bottom, we even have some that have dropped their petals and are beginning to develop fruits.

This beefly couldn't be less interested in us - it's going after the bluets. And so now we know something that presumably pollinates them.

What tiny little wildflowers are popping up seasonally for you?

Tuesday: 15 March 2011

Bad Butterfly Photos  -  @ 04:59:25

It's been quite warm here in the last couple of days, although it seems we'll have a couple days cooling as rain and possibly thunderstorms move through the area in a bit. I noted yesterday that redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are now beginning to flower here.

These photos are worthy only for documentation purposes since I have not seen this butterfly before. I would not have even bothered except that I caught a glimpse of the orange tips, and that tells us that it's a falcate orangetip, Anthocharis midea, and a male at that. I'll try to get some better photos, now that I know what to look for.

The caterpillars specialize on plants of the mustard family, the Brassicaceae. And the spindly fruits of one of the cardamine species (bittercress) is what you see at the upper right in the photo below. I suppose they're considered to be garden pests, since they will opportunistically go after vegetables such as brocolli and cauliflower, also in that family.

Orangetips would not be uncommon here in the southeast this time of year. As one of the whites/sulphurs, they are frenetic things, never lighting for more than a millisecond or two. They're the most difficult leps to take photos of, without pinning them down.

Just to balance off those wretched photos, here's one of developing red maple seeds, from yesterday.

Monday: 14 March 2011

Sourdough Piroshki  -  @ 07:51:37
We have a rainy day coming up tomorrow, so I'll be doing a modification of these sourdough treats produced a couple of weeks ago.

These are piroshki, or at least that's what I called them many years ago when I started making them occasionally. They're stuffed rolls, stuffed with whatever you might want. I suppose we might call them mini calzones, although the technical definition of a calzone isn't quite the same thing. Others might call them pierogi, but again the technical definition of a pierog being made of unleavened dough, boiled or fried, doesn't quite fit.

Those above were the last ones that finally turned out well sealed after baking. The majority, with several attempts at sealing, piercing with a fork, etc., were perfectly fine but opened up during the baking:

The trick to keeping them sealed was not to wet the edges of the flattened piece of dough after putting a spoonful of stuffing on, nor was it to pierce the top of the dough to let out steam before baking. The trick was to turn the sealed top upside down on the cookie sheet. (The glass pan is just for accumulating the baked product - it wasn't used for actual baking.)

I used the basic sourdough protocol outlined here, with 7 cups bread flour and 2.5 cups water added to the 2c freshly proofed starter, and that made 42 rolls. I've taken to a kneading (by hand) time of about ten minutes, which seems sufficient. I didn't do a cold rise, but rather let it rise in the warm for a few hours before making the rolls.

The construction is pretty simple - take a moderate pinch of dough and flatten it out to an oval the size of the palm of your very lightly floured hand. Put a spoonful of stuffing on the top of the flattened oval, and then bring up and pinch the edges sealed. Then place the construction sealed edge DOWN on a nonstick cookie sheet. (I've taken to wiping the sheet with a very tiny amount of oil and dusting with cornmeal.) As I accumulated rolls, the first sheet of 14 got 30-60 minutes of extra rise time before baking.

Bake at 425 degF for 20-25 minutes. (You may have to fiddle with this.)

There will be a tendency to take too large a pinch of dough. Nothing wrong with that, except that you'll probably have a much more bready roll, with a tiny core of stuffing. If you imagine this volume of dough (9 cups) producing 42 rolls divided among three cookie sheets, you'll get a better idea of how much to pinch off for each roll.

Stuffing (see update below): whatever you imagine might work well in a bread vehicle. My last round was ground beef, tomato, and onion. This time around I think I'll do sausage, mustard, and onion, and probably won't sautee the onion ahead of time. I've been thinking about chopped cabbage for some texture, but what works well in an egg roll or wonton may not be so great in a bready setting. Vegetarians will have their own preferences, of course. Make the stuffing spicier than you might tolerate if you were to eat it alone - the bread tends to soak up flavor from the stuffing. Keep it fairly dry - it's a mess to try to seal off the edges of the roll if the stuffing is too wet. And make at least three cups of stuffing - that gives you a good heaping tablespoon for each roll.

Of course, the stuffing can go in an entirely different direction - toward a dessert or sweetroll kind of thing.

It's true that these do take a bit more time to construct than it takes to simply plop the dough into a loaf pan. But the process picks up speed as you work, and theoretically these will last a two-person household for a week - long enough that if you're paranoid you might want to freeze half. In practice they tend to be popular enough to survive less than that theoretical week.

UPDATE: I was pleased with the latest effort. I emphasize - be generous with your stuffing prep - for dough of this volume, you'll need at least 4 cups, and more likely 5, of stuffing. I started with 1 lb hot sausage (though not hot enough for my taste, so I added quite a bit of dried crushed peppers), 4 cups coarsely chopped cabbage, and when that was rendered along with the other minor volume ingredients had just about 4 cups stuffing.

So here is what I did: browned the sausage and drained it - 2 cups recovered. Did a quick (4 minute) stirfry of 4 cups coarsely chopped cabbage, one large onion, and six cloves garlic - about 2 cups recovered (the cabbage volume reduces about 50%). Added 2 tbsp dry mustard, a couple teaspoons each of no-salt, black pepper, and sage, a tbsp of red vinegar, and one egg to help hold it together. Very spicy and somewhat sweet - I think the cabbage contributed most of the latter. I didn't quite have enough stuffing for the 9 cups dough I made up. I'm really pleased with the cabbage - I may cut down the stir fry by a couple minutes though to retain a little more crispness.

Sunday: 13 March 2011

Harbingers of Spring  -  @ 08:14:06

Spring has been coming along nicely, here. Warm days, with an understandable exception during last week's very fine couple of days of bountiful rainfall. Goulding Creek, which has its moods, is as good an indicator as any of the pleasant bright weather on any late afternoon recently.

So what is in flower? The usual suspects, and the photos below were taken a week ago, on Mar 6. Along the roads we see lots of wild plum, and in the woods we have hawthorns in full flower now. These are what have emerged as my indicator plants. There may be others, but of the natives this is what I watch for.

I'm labelling these as Rome Hawthorn, Crataegus aemula. It looks like this year they may be flowering a week ahead of last year.

The trout lilies, Erythronium umbilicatum, that I planted two years ago are now emerging and starting to make little flower buds. Last year I noted buds on 19 March, so we may be a bit early this year too.

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, emerging on March 6, so in the early range this year. I actually have a table of observations of first appearance (or best guesses) here.

I didn't notice the little attending flower crab spider until after looking at the photos.

It's not in flower, yet, but the leaves of our painted buckeyes, Aesculus sylvatica, are emerging now. I note that at least some plants were at this stage 13 Mar 2008.

The painted buckeyes present a conundrum that I've noted before. We seem to have two distinct populations that leaf out and flower at different times. Again this year, some buckeyes are in full leaf right now, while others maybe right next door may just be showing swelling buds.

And how about redbuds, Cercis canadensis, one of our indicator plants? From this table presented last year, I have them pegged as appearing here in the last half of March, usually during the last ten days. In Athens, they may well already be opening up - here, not yet. Expect them any day now, with the greater likelihood toward the end of the week.

Saturday: 5 March 2011

The Month of February  -  @ 06:45:44
It's The Month of February, Number 61 in a series. The word for February is "change." A large number of us in the east flipped from cold to warm, while a good bit of the west, the reverse.

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

In January, most of the west had warmer than usual temperatures, and in February those conditions reversed. Much of the eastern US experienced its own reversal, with much warmer than normal temperatures during the latter 2/3 of the month. The central US continued to enjoy colder than normal weather.

We find the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's precipitation plots here. Other than the green spreading a bit into the northeast, the plot looks much like last month's. Parts of the Pacific coast improved their situation, with brown turning to green in places.

For Athens:

For Athens, our December temperatures had averaged 7-8 degF lower than normal reflected in both daytime highs and nighttime lows, the latter breaking records on two occasions, and with 3.5" snow in late December. January was also cooler, but not nearly so extreme, and had its own load of snow. The third snowfall of the winter fell in early February, which continued somewhat cooler than normal.

Then we had the big change. Temperatures in the latter part of the month rose into the high 60s and low 70s. Here is a plot of our temperature swings in February, along with precipitation amounts:

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of February in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the years 1990-2009 (black dots), 2011 (green line), and 2010 (red line).

On Feb 27, we matched a record high of 79 degF previously seen in 1962. We had 9 days more than one standard deviation above the norm (4.9 days normal), and 4 nights more than one standard deviation below normal (5.3 nights is normal, so this is not significant).

The figure below shows the Athens precipitation 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 February, we started out with a surplus after several rains and a snowfall, but were then without rain for two weeks as the temperatures became warmer and warmer. In the end Athens received 4.72" precipitation, just above normal. Same was true for Wolfskin, which finished out the month at 4.81" liquid equivalent, and for February 4.39" is normal.

Checking back at this neat prognosticator, our local area is predicted continue colder and wetter for a week or two more, and then for the next three months to go to the more typical warmer and drier La Niña influence in the southeast. With the Arctic Oscillation now gone positive, it's even possible the prognosticator will be right.

ENSO stuff:

La Niña is expected to continue into Spring 2011, but gradually weakening to ENSO-neutral conditions. You can find here what this might mean for you.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for January is now up, and so is the State of the Climate for 2010. February should be appearing soon. Detailed explanations for weather events occurring during November(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.

Tuesday: 1 March 2011

First Storm  -  @ 08:08:10

Our first storm of the year, last night. It brought 1.03" rain in the early evening, along with tornado watch from mid afternoon on. There was lightning, thunder, occasional torrents of rain. A modest event, but impressive enough in February. February is still winter by the calendar, but you couldn't tell it from our weather the last few weeks - on Sunday we matched the record high of 79 degF in 1962, and those warm temperatures have been the rule over the last 14 or 15 days.

People around here are complaining of sunburn.

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