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

Saturday: 30 June 2012

Yesterday  -  @ 09:05:53
As it turns out, yesterday's high was 109 for Athens. That's an all time high, as far as I can tell, and not just for June 29, but for any day. And we might just beat that today.

This is almost as exciting as getting eight inches of snow. Let's watch!

Friday: 29 June 2012

Hotter Than It Should Be  -  @ 19:18:22
The high pressure ridge apparently responsible for the extremely hot weather over much of the central US finally got here. Forecast is for temperatures in excess of 100F for several days, with tomorrow possibly hotter than today.

KAHN reported a high of 108F (left) - won't know until tomorrow if that measurement survives to set a new record. Out here, right, we just touched 106F, briefly.

108F has been recorded in Athens only four times: Jul 12 1930, Jul 21 1926, Sep 8 1925, and Jul 19 1913. (Out here we saw 108F in August 2007, but the Athens temp for that day was only 105F.) 107F has been recorded five times.

I didn't bother going to look for box turtles (but I should have - that's negative evidence, rather than just assuming they won't be out).

Today, I believe, was like a great winnowing of every car that could overheat and catch on fire. There were half a dozen vehicle fires in the county, including one garbage truck. Two vehicle fires set brush fires. We didn't get any such calls, but we did get a false alarm call.

It was hot, but not terribly uncomfortable. As you can see above, humidity was pretty low (for us).

UPDATE: Today's high predicted to be 110F. That would be an all time record high for us.

Wednesday: 20 June 2012

And Now, Summer  -  @ 07:11:18
Which for us usually coincides more with the first of June, and not the 20th, so we can use the calendar summer JJA. Makes things so neat.

But regardless, Happy Summer Solstice, apparently occuring 7:09pm tonight, EDT. Irony takes many forms, and let's explore one or two.

It's not often that an event so conducive to contentment, like our fine cool June weather, happens. I had to look back through the data to realize how hot June has been since 2008, and before. So far this month there hasn't been a day over 90 degF, and even over 80F has been unusual until the last few days.

Here's the anomaly plot from the Climate Prediction Center for the US for the month to date. Our area of northeast Georgia is 2-3 degF below normal (which is probably 5-10 degF below what we've experienced over the last five years in June).

Things are in change mode, though, for us, and for the first day of summer we may actually get temperatures into the low to mid 90s. It will remain to be seen, but even if the rest of the summer were to be horrible hot, I'd be grateful for the last couple of weeks.

From the look of things, others may differ considerably in their opinions of the first half of June!

(BTW, there may be a reason for this pattern of weather, but regardless of that connection, it is the case that the Arctic summer ice is already at the lowest it's been for this date. And the last few years have climatologists' jaws dropping.)

Monday: 18 June 2012

Blue Suprise  -  @ 06:27:20

We've had a fairly abundant burst of fungi in the last few weeks, all much earlier than I've noted in previous years. The beautiful Caesar's Amanita (American version) has emerged at least two months earlier than I've noted before, in mid to late August. Same for our lovely peach-colored chanterelles. Granted, suggested times of appearance in guide books like Audubon are very very broad (July-October, e.g.), but we're a month ahead even of these times.

Another fairly common mushroom emerging right now is Lactarius. It's a diverse genus, with a lot of superficial lookalikes, many of which look like this:

This unidentified Lactarius has nice, steeply angled gills, and the top of the cap develops a deep cuplike indentation. You can identify Lactarius species by breaking off a bit of cap or stem. It will bleed a white fluid, and there's where the genus name comes from, as well as the common name, "milky."

Indigo milky, Lactarius indigo, while shaped like the above generic species, is different in a very obvious way. I found this one yesterday, the first one I've seen. Just like a Lactarius, except that this one bleeds blue:

Tom Volk tells us that these are edible, which may not be true of Lactarius in general. The genus contains members that also range from unpalatable to poisonous.

There are a number of mushrooms that are white or at least not blue, but when broken or bruised, quickly turn a blue color. That's a colorless compound becoming blue when exposed to the air and oxidized.

Indigo milky is blue all the time!

They are fairly large mushrooms - about the same size as the buff-colored cousin.

Saturday: 16 June 2012

No Means No  -  @ 06:55:57
This first half of June has been very cool, with temperatures peaking in the lower 80s most days. We had three inches of rain last week. It's been quite a turn around since our very warm, dry spring.

Though there may be a reduction in turtle activity over the last two or three weeks, it might not be as much as I was estimating earlier in the week.

I ran across this two for one presentation on Thursday.

The male on top isn't having much success. The female has closed up completely, and if you look carefully at the male's right rear leg, you'll see that it's been caught in her shell. Oops!

He can't actually climb down, not without ending up on his back. Not only that, but since he can't get his leg out, he also can't withdraw into his own shell. What a mess! What part of "no" do you think he didn't understand?

Those were two new turtles, never before seen, and there has been an influx of new turtles into the initial study area over the last few weeks. You can see it in the rise of population numbers from the last week of May onwards:

That's a plot, by the way, of the estimated population size based on two ways of handling mark and recapture data. The numbers along the x-axis are just the turtle encounter numbers (I've encounted 42 turtles so far this season).

The population size estimate fluctuated wildly for the first 15 encounters, or so, and then it stabilized at around 40 turtles at the end of April. At the end of May, the population estimate started to rise again, and I think this is a real result. Of the seven study area turtles I've seen since May 29, four have been new and all have been female (the other three have been seen before, this year). No males until Thursday, and this one doesn't count since he's in the new study area and can't be included in the population size estimates until next year.

So I'm thinking that there might be migrations of mainly females into (and perhaps) out of our study area. Given the time of year it might be due to a search for nesting sites. If this is so, then I'd expect that in a few days or weeks I'll stop seeing new females, and may not be seeing any of the last four again as they do their thing and then leave.

(This might be the first of two well defined migrations of box turtles during the active season. You might recall that last October I saw something similar, a sudden increase in the number of turtles I'd never seen before. At that time I speculated that turtles searching for hibernacula might be returning to old favorite locations that they don't inhabit during most of the active season. I'll certain be watching for that again this year.)

Monday: 11 June 2012

Going Back to Sleep?  -  @ 06:29:46

Here's a presentation I've come up with to show the activity of box turtles from month to month.

Each green or red appearance is a turtle hunting trip. If one or more turtles were found, then there is a green bar. A red dot at the bottom indicates a trip with no turtles found. (Trips were typically 2-3 hours. In March and April, these were 2+ miles. In May and June the distances have declined to 1+ miles, but it takes the same length of time.)

So it's pretty easy to see that the March and early April appearances were not part of any sustained emergence, but rather early appearances. Only in the last week of April was it that a trip was almost certainly likely to net at least one encounter.

Second, a May burst of activity seems to have declined somewhat by June, although as of June 10, we've only had a week or two of evidence for this assertion. It's a little odd, though, June hasn't been a particularly stressful month, weather-wise, even compared to May. And although you might think turtles would welcome the aftermath of a nice rainfall, I typically find no more and possibly even fewer turtles after a rain, compared to a hot dry day.

One last thing - the numbers on any given trip are even at best, rather small. But with current mark and recapture experiments indicating 45-50 turtles on 20 acres (+/- 10), finding 4 turtles on a 1-mile walk (2 acres observation area) is possibly reflective of 100% activity. Finding one turtle would then indicate 25% activity, but this is where the low numbers plague us.

Saturday: 9 June 2012

Watching for the Beggar-lice  -  @ 06:59:59
Let's say you wanted to learn a little plant taxonomy method and madness. If you were in the Eastern US, east of the Rockies, that is, you could then do worse than to pick the genus Desmodium, or beggar-lice, or beggar-ticks, or ticktrefoil, or stick-tights. There are probably as many variations on the name as soda, or pop, or co-cola, as older languishing southerners might say. Everyone knows what you're talking about though - it's the plants that make those flat hairy seeds that stick to your socks.

(You could do this anywhere, and with any group of plants, but my choice of Desmodium is made on the basis of its homely characters and diversely (but not ridiculously) challenging speciation. Doubtless there are western analogs to this group of leguminous plants.)

For Desmodium, that's one of the first things you'd learn - the fruit is called a loment, which is really just an indehiscent segmented legume. How deep the segmentations, how hairy, and so forth, are a portion of the keys that allow you to enter the world of the 76 nearctic species of Desmodium that are listed in USDA Plants.

Why else Desmodium? Well, it turns out to be a fairly important wild animal food, probably both for browsing (large mammals) and seeds (quail and other birds, small mammals). It's a legume, so it nitrifies the soil. It has pretty flowers! Some species are a pretty ground cover. And it's something everyone who goes outside knows about, even though they actually know nothing about it, and you can help them out!

And at least from USDA Plants, the genus contains no noxious species in the US, something that might seem remarkable from the point of view of anyone who gets a zillion seeds on their socks. But remember that it's not always all about *you*, and the word "noxious" certainly doesn't apply to a plant genus so useful in other respects.

Georgia is specifically listed by USDA Plants as having 23 species. I figure at least ten, and possibly as many as eighteen, might be found on our property. None, for us, should be non-native (there is only one non-native Desmodium species in Georgia, and only six overall). So I'm sort of casually setting about to learn them. Long ago we identified the shrubbier Desmodium paniculatum, panicled leaf ticktrefoil.

Here's a new one that didn't really need the key. It's our earliest flowerer, Desmodium rotundifolium, and from the name you can tell it must have round leaves (or leaflets), and so it does! Much more so than most Desmodium species, and that's what caught my attention. The stems trail along the ground, vinelike, and that's also different from most beggar-lice. It is how it gets its common name - prostrate ticktrefoil.

I've only found this in one place here, a few feet up the bank on Upper SBS Creek - just a patch of plants covering the ground.

There are many Desmodium species with much more localized ranges. D. rotundifolium is found over at least a third of the US and Canada. (From the Desmodium USDA Plants page.)

See the nice pink pea-like flowers! There are surely some differences to be found among the Desmodium species. Most of the business part of the flower is in the keel, the lower set of petals under the banner (the upper two fused petals). If I didn't already know this was D. rotundifolium, I'd need to look at the stamens. They might be monadelphous or diadelphous (stamens fused into one or two structures, at the filament), and that would be an early key character.

This was just a fortuitous flower and fruit shot, with one flower head on, and the other showing its better side. There's also a developing fruit - the loment, with a seed developing in each segment. There is no stipe, that is, a lengthy stem that connects the loment to the calyx, and that's another key character.

These plants used to be in the genus Meiobomia. That apparently violated some dusty rule, and Desmodium was chosen to replace it. But it turns out that the species in the southeast US (at least) cluster into five non taxonomic groups, and one of these groups is very distinctively different from the other four. If it should be determined that those differences are sufficient, then the first, smaller group would continue to be Desmodium, but the other four groups would again be given the old Meiobomia genus name.

In our case, we have species represented in all five taxonomic groups. Other than D. rotundifolium, no other is flowering yet, but there are a large number of populations of unidentified species I'm watching out for.

Tuesday: 5 June 2012

Discoveries Along the Way  -  @ 05:43:18
One of the nice things about scrutinizing an area for box turtle populations is that there are a lot of fringe benefits. Here we find something that has escaped our attention for a decade or more, Lysimachia ciliata, or Fringed Loosestrife. Just one or two flowers, among a fair number of plants, but I'd never run across this in endless treks through this area. Yet there it was, yet another little surprise given up on the banks of SBS Creek.

The USDA PLants range shows a species that is very widely distributed, the largest range of all 42 neartic Lysimachia species.

Of those 42 species, 36 are native. Four or eight are continental or broadly regional in range. What is especially interesting is that 19 of the Lysimachia species are found on the Hawaiian Islands, and I imagine that's a source of endless entertainment for fans of adaptive radiation.

Of the six nonnative Lysimachia species, only two are noxious. One is L. vulgaris, garden yellow loosestrife, and many might recognize L. nummularia, or creeping jenny.

The flowers of this plant are reflexive, that is, they point downwards at the ground:

A consequence of this is that human fingers or thumbs have to be a part of the photo in order to see the busy upper flower side.

Fringed loosestrife is usually much more charismatic than my pathetic little flowers. I couldn't even get you a picture of a larger wholesome plant. They may not be in the best place - although shade tolerant, this colony is under a fairly thick canopy. But too, most of these plants had been cropped down to six inches, and that might also explain the poor flowering.

Ironically, just 50 feet away and bedded down in a tiny hollow was this bit of mass herbicide in the making cute overload:

It played the game of "if I can't see you, then you can't see me." Mom was probably somewhere around, probably browsing plant victims such as the very ones we are talking about here. Whatever the case, Bambi was gone from its hollow by a couple of days later with no sign of any violence.

I should say that the Lysimachia genus of loosestrife plants bears no particularly close relationship to the extremely noxious Lythrum genus, which includes the worst of the worst, purple loosestrife. They just both use the common name loosestrife, but thanks to science, we know how unrelated those two groups are. They're both dicots, and that's where the relationship ends. No more related than oaks and roses, or soybeans and cactus, or sharks and giraffes. Maybe less so.

For much better photos of fringed loosestrife, see Connecticut Wildflowers, which gives a nicer presentation of features than I was able to provide.

Another fantastic set of photos both whole and microscopic are at Brian Johnston's page on ciliated loosestrife. He does an especially nice job of documenting the curious curling behavior of the yellow petals in early flowering.

Sunday: 3 June 2012

The Month of May  -  @ 05:31:29
It's The Month of May, Number 76 in a series. For large parts of the country, May was the sixth month in a row, since December, with higher than normal temperatures. And dry, dry, even with the curious appearance of tropical storm and depression Beryl.

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

The high temperature anomalies extended eastward from their mid continental position in April, all the way to the Atlantic, in May. Ohio seems to have had the highest anomalies in the east, with the southwestern states of NM, AZ, UT, and NV similarly up to 6-7 degF above normal.

(Keep in mind that these are anomalies. It doesn't mean that Ohio was warmer than Georgia, or for that matter, Montana. Anomalies are much more interesting and informative than absolute temperatures.)

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

The northern midwest continued a second month of at least normal rainfall, in most cases. There was little relief in the east, and the southeast, especially with the effects of Tropical Depression Beryl along the Atlantic coast. Florida peninsula got a little relief in most places, but only an abundance of needed rainfall in the northern 1/3. The southern and southwestern states were not only hotter than normal, they were also drier than normal.

We're only beginning to hear about our "extreme drought," but here to tell us more is Mr precipitation anomaly for the last 365 days:

As you'd expect, looking for anomalies over the course of the year usually finds very little - weirdness tends to average out. That's where surplus and deficit really stand out, and you can see how much of Georgia, and a good bit of SC and FL are persistently in considerable drought condition. Similarly for parts of the south and southwestern states, and even the broader areas in the south from coast to coast can only otherwise boast average rainfall.

For the Athens, GA area:

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

We had a period of relatively cool weather in the middle two weeks of May, but temperatures were high in the first and last weeks of the month. Rainfall amounts were scanty, but they did occur more frequently than during most of the spring.

Our high temperatures averaged out to 84.4F, 2.6F above normal 81.8F. Means and lows were similarly high, repeating April's moderately hot 3 degF anomaly. We didn't break any records in May, this year:

We had 11 days with high temperatures greater than one standard deviation above average (4.8 days is normal). We had only 2 nights greater than one standard deviation below the average low, where 5.7 such nights is average. This, too, topped April's extreme results in both directions. It even came close to those of May of 2011.

Here is the end-of-month histogram that shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from May 1948 on:

As was also true for April, there were only limited categories that significantly differed outside the norms. For May we had significantly more days with temperatures in 90s, and significantly fewer with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. This continues the trend of the last year or two where high average temperatures are not achieved by a few extreme events, but by a much larger number of atypical but not unusual highs.

Interestingly, May's low temperature ranges did not deviate significantly from the last 64 years of lows.

We continue our dry weather, with only the tinest letup. 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 more rainfalls here in Wolfskin, amounting to 2.19", but in Athens the total was higher, 2.67". While either would have been way below normal for May *last year* (3.94"), the Athens rainfall *this* May approaches the average *this year* (3.00") very closely. What very interesting thing do you think has happened?

One implication, at least, is that it now appears we've entered a climate regime where we actually do have something of a dry season, and it occurs in spring.

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? It says that for the next week we can expect cooler than normal temperatures here in Wolfskin (i.e., the Atlantic and Pacific coasts), and warmer just about everywhere else. After that, and for the next three months it will be warmer than usual in much of the US, and especially in the south and southeast.

Precipitation will continue to be lower than normal for the next month, and then after that an equal chance of normal rainfall, at least here in the southeast. This is pretty much what it said last month, and so it continues to promise at least normal rainfall, but once again a month down the line.

ENSO stuff:

Finally, the folks at CPC have a version of PDF or HTML that is much different from their previous presentations, but at least it's there and the link isn't broken.

La Niña has ended, officially, as of last April, and impacts are expected to continue to wind down. It is not expected that we should see a second La Niña reappearing, as it did last year.

The US Drought Monitor continues to have us in extreme to exceptional drought, depending on where you are in Georgia. Only in northwest and along the top tier of of counties is it merely abnormally dry or normal. There is little expectation of relief, and to underscore that, what you have just read is exactly what was written in The Month of April.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for April is available, and scroll down for a Year to Date summary for each US region. The summary for 2011 regionally, nationally, and globally is also available.

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