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

Sunday: 25 September 2011

Turtle Growth Part 2  -  @ 05:33:56

One of the two questions I asked about turtle growth last month was: why scute rings give only a vague indication of turtle age. Counting the rings is said to be only valid before the turtle has acquired ten or so - after that rings get smoothed out, smushed together, and so forth. The interfering processes are rather ill defined, so I decided to try to do better here.

Here are 5-year before and after shots of the first pleural plate (or scute) on Ivan's left carapace. (Differences in color are due to different quality cameras and lighting, and especially wet shell in 2006 vs dry shell in 2011.) You may have trouble seeing the numbering or the rings - that's why you can click on the image for a helpful enlargement on a new page.)

First Unpleasant Fact: You have to look *really* hard to find any differences at all. I've numbered the 2006 view as best I can tell - there are 14 definite rings and a few subtle ones in between (box turtles sometimes put on more than one growth ring in a year). By the number of rings in the 2006 view, Ivan was around 14 years old.

I've similarly numbered the 2011 view, and can only report two subtle differences. Most strikingly, the 14th ring - the outermost one - has apparently disappeared. The reasonable interpretation is that Ivan has grown over five years, however slightly, and that ring has been pushed off the plate (or rather, smashed up against the others at the plate joins).

The second subtlety is that there *may* in the 2011 photo be the suggestion of a forming ring in the natal scute - the origin of the plate inside of the the ring marked "1". You'd expect this to eventually happen if the turtle, and therefore the plates, are growing.

What is most clear, though, is the absence of five new rings in the 2011 view. By that photo, a casual count would suggest Ivan is 13 years old, five years after he was 14!

Friday: 23 September 2011

Happy Autumn  -  @ 06:13:30

This has been a unique summer, within the last 60 years at least, and maybe the last 90. So we've been enjoying the last couple of weeks, when things have rather dramatically returned to normal for the first time since May.

I've been playing around with ways of visualizing our temperatures this summer, dropping details for clarity over long periods. We had only one, arguably two, periods of more than one day when high temperatures did not go over 90 degF this summer. Our average high of 94.6 for the entire sumer was the highest since 1920, and that includes the dust bowl years. We didn't have many record setting highs - we just had relentless unusual highs day after day.

It's very unusual, unprecedented really, to see high temperatures achieved day after day with virtually no interruption for months. So feast your eyes on our last two weeks. Although dry until the last couple of days, the temperatures have been very pleasant and their plots most esthetic:

A quick look back at the last four years: the high average has been above normal for all, but 2009 was the coolest. In contrast to one or two short periods with highs below 90F for this summer, 1/3 to 1/2 the summer did not exceed 90F. Last year, which I declared unusually hot still had five "cooler" periods. 2008 showed about 1/3 the summer with highs below 90F. A normal summer has its hot periods, but they're periodically punctuated with several days, even a week or two, of cooler weather. Not this year.

More about this later, but there was nothing about this unique to us this year. Summer highs persisted well above average from day to day for pretty much the entire southeast, ramping up alarmingly in the south central section of the country. Relentless heat for literally months. They *did* set records on a daily basis in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and other states in the surround.

Mushrooms have taken advantage of the last couple of weeks of relatively cool days, and the light rain since Wednesday has improved their lot in life. I've seen Pleurotus covering fallen trees in the last few days, and that's what these large emergences probably are. It's that "probably" that urges me to just enjoy their presence, and not give in to an impulse for a bon appetite moment.

With mushrooms come box turtles, and yesterday I discovered Ivan for the third time. I first found him April 2006 and was struck by his high density patterning of very distinct small spots. I found him next, within 100 yards of the first discovery, end of August 2008. And then within that same area yesterday, more than five years after our first introduction.

When I came upon him yesterday, I looked at that dense pattern of spots and thought - looks like Ivan! And it was - good ol' turtle.

It seems that it's been about this time of year that I've seen box turtles cavorting and chasing after each other. Might keep an eye out for that.

Sunday: 11 September 2011

Sick Computers, Sick Legs, and Drama  -  @ 06:35:52
While my computer was down over the past week or more, so was I, and so still am I, but all to the good, that's partly why I was able to catch a little drama yesterday.

Last week, my computer caught a particularly nasty trojan, and coincidentally blew its power transformer when my big brain* told me to plug it back in after a thorough cleaning and reorganization of the Little Office Under the Stairs. There was quite a satisfactory spark. I didn't realize the full extent of the damage until the next day.

Last week, my big brain* apparently told my left leg to do something it shouldn't have, and in response my left leg apparently pulled beyond an acceptable limit the rectus femoris, or some other of the rather critical set of large muscles in the front of the thigh, and also during the same cleaning/reorganization episode. I didn't realize the full extent of the damage until the next day.

It's scary how you can get a virus or trojan, without even realizing it until you start getting flurries of uncontrollable popups, and google starts redirecting you to nastysites. It's also scary how you can suddenly find yourself immobilized and in great pain a day after your big brain* treacherously commands an activity which you cannot pinpoint at all after the fact.

So I'm keeping off my feet as much as possible, and trying to stay in the few positions that keep the affected muscles as quiet as they can be. It's been a week of pain that I would rate second only to gall bladder attack, but that was episodic and brought on by killer stroganoff, and this is ongoing and brought on by nothing discernible. Last night I dreamed that the entire front thigh muscle had come loose and was falling red hot down below my knee. I had turned over in the night onto my stomach, and that's a no no. I woke up and reassured myself that everything was still intact, and got myself into position on my left side, oddly the only position that relieves the left leg pain.

Things do seem to be getting better now, in tiny incremental steps. A little better range of motion, which I do not pursue, and a little longer periods of quiet between tantrums.

My computer came back with 400 MB more ram and works three times faster. I'm holding my breath. Who knows?

So that's what I was doing yesterday, sitting on the front step and working through Vonnegut, who makes me feel happy*.

I caught a flash of motion, and looked up to see a cardinal fly low over the path, and *very* close behind it, a reptilian head cruising rapidly, extended about eight inches above the ground. It looked just like the baby Alien, in Alien, as it scoots out of the room after having emerged from Kane's chest. I got up and hobbled over just in time to see the latter half of a medium size snake crossing the path. Its pursuit of the cardinal was hopeless by now, but it caught sight of me and altered its own flight path right into the Hyla Pond, where it submerged.

Now the Hyla Pond is small, only about 8' x 10', maybe 3' deep, and currently well grown in Elodea, which the frogs love. I settled down to watch, and sure enough, in ten minutes, a head popped up and raised itself a few inches above the surface. It gradually surfaced fully atop the ditch weed and revealed itself as a beautiful, shiny, red-bellied water snake, Nerodia erythrogaster , probably three feet long. It started up the side of the pond, and then decided to stay in the water, cruising back and forth on the surface for several minutes. It was at that point that I decided to let the poor thing alone and get about its own business.

This isn't the first time that we've seen a red-bellied water snake on the ponds - I watched a similarly sized one four years ago, July 5 2007, sunning itself on the rock in the middle of the Bufo Pond. For all I know, this could be the same snake, although yesterday's seemed more slender, possibly shorter, and a lot more skittish.

Here's something I didn't tell you: as I watched the snake plop into the pond the first time, I noticed this floating atop the water. I hung it up to dry. That's a foot-long ruler.

It's not the first time we've seen a large snake skin - we began seeing these around the ponds in 2005, and even then thought that it might be a red-bellied water snake, although we were not to spot the candidate that large for two years.

It seems likely that the cast of yesterday belongs to the very shiny snake I watched, else we must invoke *two* large snakes haunting the ponds in front of the house.

And if that isn't nice, on this day of days, then what else is?*

*Courtesy of Kurt Vonnegut.

Saturday: 10 September 2011

The Month of August  -  @ 06:26:09
It's The Month of August, Number 67 in a series, better later than never! I'd say the word for August was hot, but that word has just been so over used lately.

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. The high and low temperature anomalies can be had on a new page by clicking on the image below.

Much of the US was warmer than normal, especially the south, southeast, and much of the west. Only the northwest and southwest Pacific corners were cooler to any significant degree.

The big red blog centered around TX, OK, and KS continued to occupy much of the weather attention in August. Temperatures there were up to 10F higher both night and day, and rain avoided the area again.

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

Dry weather and continued drought continued across the southern states from TX to FL but it was highly scattered in the deep southeast. The big red blob above also coincided with continued drought, although some surplus of rain does seem to have fallen in central TX. A strip of western states from AZ northward were received virtually no rain at all in August.

For Athens:

Here is a plot of our temperature swings in August, along with precipitation amounts as experienced in Wolfskin:

The unusual number of days with 90+ high temperatures in May, June, and July marched inexorably on in August, with 30 days receiving 90+ high temperatures (the odd one out received a high of 89). On August 3, we actually did finally break a record with 102F, beating out 101F in 1953. But it was the persistence of high temperatures that tied us for first place, with 2007, in the number of days in August with 90+ temperatures.

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

Our high temperatures were much higher above August's average 90.0, by 5.1 degF. This isn't record breaking, but similarly to June our 95.1 degF average high ranks up there: the third highest since 1920. In August it was only 1983 (95.3) and 2007 (98.2) that beat us out. Similarly we had 5 days 100F or above, tying 1983 for second place since 1948 (2007 had 13 such days in August).

In August, there were 13 days more than one standard deviation above the norm (4.9 days normal). We had zero nights more than one standard deviation below normal (4.4 nights is normal).

The degree of persistance of daytime high temperatures since May is unprecedented. As of the end of August, in the 123 days since May 1, 98 days reached 90 degF or above. Since June 1, it's been 85 such days, out of 92.

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.

We had only one period of real rain in August. The plot below, of Athens data, shows a lower total than we got in Wolfskin. We had 1.99" here in Wolfskin, Athens official rainfall was 2.44", and the average is around 3.8" expected for August.

The neat prognosticator largely failed in its predictions for April and May, and were so-so for June and July. It did a little better for our anomalous August warmth, a little worse in predicting more rain than we got.

Perhaps more interesting is that it predicts essentially normal temperatures and rainfall for the next month, maybe the next three (however, see below about La Niña).
ENSO stuff:

The ENSO PDF update at this page still chokes on download - wish the Climate Prediction Center at NWS would get that fixed! The power point option is ok, though.

A second straight La Niña is possible this year: La Niña ended in February, after a nearly year-long manifestation, and normal ENSO conditions have been in effect, just in time for hurricane season! ENSO neutral conditions remained through our northern hemisphere summer, but the current prediction is that we will have one of those odd returns to La Niña conditions in the autumn. Truth is, atmospheric conditions (and La Niña-like weather patterns) never really left us.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for August is now up, and addresses the high temperatures this calendar summer. Unfortunately the Southeast Regional Climate Center hasn't updated their entry yet.

Tuesday: 6 September 2011

Hiatus  -  @ 06:47:16
Robin and Roger's inquiry prompts this: things will be a little delayed as my faithful computer that holds all my files recovers from terrible injuries. I've relied on my cell phone for internet connection until last night when Glenn was able to bring home a laptop.

The first was a rootkit virus that appeared last week - insidious. It prevented my antivirus software (which failed to recognize it, HMMMM,)or any other antivirus software from operating. It seized google and redirected links from any searches to nastypages.

It was only with a tiny amount of satisfaction that I zapped it when I plugged the computer back in after a (nonrelated) housecleaning frenzy. There was a big spark, and the transformer was toast. Well, that decides whether we try to deal with the virus ourselves or get some outside professional help. Labor Day has intervened, and so we're only able to get started on recoveries now.

So many things - the longest stretch of 90+ temps this year, since records were kept. Chi-squares skyrocket. Up there with the dust bowl 1920s-1930s, and everyone knows about Texas, Oklahoma, and surrounding states this summer.

Tropical Depression Lee was a disappointment - the absolute river of precipitation that flowed for two days to the northeast missed us by 50 miles. We had a tornado warning last night at work, and a modest amount of rain, but certainly not the 3-5" that was predicted.

Things should eventually get back to normal.

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