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

Sunday: 29 July 2012

Midsummer in Wolfskin  -  @ 12:51:41
Yes, it's been much longer than usual between posts. The summer doldrums have come early for me. I could be noting that we've now crossed the midway point in our average summer, and are now on our way to average cooler temperatures. With highs today approaching 100F, this seems like a kind of a mythical prospect.

So, it's been a warmer than usual July, but we've also had (for the first time since last October, which was itself the first time since the previous March, 2011) more rainfall than average. It's no surprise, though, that the feeder creek stands largely dry, despite the rain. That's a measure of how profound our hydrologic drought is.
I made this chart of turtle activity with my own two hands. For each trip I make, I divide the number of turtles (0-4) by the trip time (2-3 hours), and for each month I average the activity over all the trips I made.

What's interesting to me is that July has turned out to be such an active turtle month, despite the increased heat. I expected a downturn in encounters. Perhaps it's the rainfall.

Here's the new box turtle I found on my Thursday trip. His patterning is very pretty. He was in the several acres that I added to the study area earlier in the year, so I can only use him as a mark, not a recapture and rediscovery. Notice the pine needles - I seldom find box turtles in piny areas. I don't think it's because they don't like them, more that if there are better alternatives then that's what they'll go with.

He was also a very active and unintimidated turtle. Turtles don't have much in the way of individual personalities, but how swiftly they withdraw into their shell is at least somewhat individualistic.

Not that it's easy to tell - you can make any turtle withdraw by approaching it quickly and handling it roughly. I've found that there's a threshhold below which you can distinguish an extroverted turtle from an introverted one.

For instance, I slowly approached this one, and then ran a finger down the center of the back. I grasped him as you see above, and slowly picked him up. Even more slowly I turned him over to photograph his very nice and distinctive plastron. You can see that nothing made him inclined to withdraw.

He's a very handsome turtle, and quite a young one, I'd guess, judging by the scute rings and lack of damage. Probably no older than most of the students I work with.

Notice his very long and thick hind claws, in the first and third photo, and compare them to the front claws. These long hind claws are a typical male trait, but a timid male is going to withdraw those feet very quickly, so it's not always easy to note. Also notice that he's been eating a mushroom. Amanitas are out in abundance now, and turtles seem to be able to eat these without harm. (Ironically, people who eat box turtles have gotten very very sick by eating one after it had itself eaten an amanita. Just deserts.)

Now there are other turtles that will withdraw no matter how gently I approached them. This was true of the next one I found on Thursday, Leo, who I've now found three times this year. He was eating a mushroom, too.

Here are my observations this year. Each bar represents the number of turtles found on a given trip. Red dots at the bottom mean that I didn't find any turtles on that particular trip. The green bars and red dots are beginning to make a sort of distinctive pattern.

Though I only made six trips in July, I found turtles on all trips but one. And that takes us back up to the top.

Sunday: 15 July 2012

New Fungus  -  @ 07:01:12

With all the rain we've had over the last few days, fungi have been emerging. This graceful manifestation is new to me:

It's almost certainly an eastern cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis spp., either S. spathulata or maybe S. crispa. Several older species names have now been lumped into one or the other of these two.

It was growing at the base of a loblolly pine, and the species is in fact particularly taken with conifers. Apparently it's edible and choice, and although I thought this was a respectably sized fruiting body, it's often much, much larger than this.

It looks superficially like one of the "coral mushrooms," and originally was placed into that family, the Clavariaceae. However the individual leaflike sections also look like 3-D "shelf fungi." On the basis of fruiting body microstructure, these fungi are now placed in their own family, the Sparassidaceae, in the order of polypores.

As always in cases of recent changes in systematics, there can be (will be) vehement disagreement, so take at least the assertive tone of the above with a grain of salt.

Friday: 13 July 2012

What a Relief!  -  @ 12:49:59
Two of them!

Over the last four days we've had quite a lot of rain, generally presented in a gentle fashion (although there was one lightning episode that I'll eventually get around to). Here's the CoCoRaHS map for yesterday's rain (colored numbers, first in each pair) onto which I've inserted the total for the last four days as the second number in each pair. My location is boxed. Athens KAHN official total over the last four days up to 7am this morning is 4.52".

So that's one relief, after so much heat. And so it was that I figured this morning would be a very good day for turtles - cooler and wet, lots of delicious slimy things to eat. I only saw one, of course, but it was a good one - first sighting of Ivan this year:

He's the 50th encounter I've had with a turtle this year, and I've been wondering where he's been. I saw him several times last year, and he was the last turtle I saw, in mid October. He was one of the first turtles I ever cataloged, and then rediscovered for the first time in 2008.

I found him within 50 feet of his position last October. He was way up above the creek on a steep bank - I wasn't even walking in that area but was examining it visually and just happened to see him. I'm sure he was glad to see me. His spottiness and very prominant beak told me who he was immediately.

And also because I've been watching out for him, much as I do for Sylvia. I was a little worried at not having seen him. Bad things can happen to box turtles during hibernation, and they just never reappear.

Monday: 9 July 2012

No Box Turtles Here  -  @ 06:41:45

So far in July we've had 2 days of high temperatures in the 100s and the remaining 7 days in the 90s. So it's been a couple of weeks since I've been turtle hunting, particularly since that hot weather actually began in the last week of June. There was no reason to think that turtles were doing anything other than lying under litter, dozing away the heat.

Still, in order to cross your i's and dot your t's you should compile negative evidence as well as positive. The insidious alternative is to begin to make assumptions and think them to be supported. So I ventured out late morning yesterday for several hours between 11am and 1pm. You see, I even waited until it was really getting hot.

And found four box turtles, at temperatures of 90-92 degF. So much for assumptions.

I've seen all these turtles before, which is something of a relief, after a long series of new discoveries. Above, left, is Reuben, who I saw this year for the first time. Reuben was enjoying a little swim in the creek. In fact, Reuben was dashing upstream trying to get out of my range of vision before I saw him.

Reuben was the first turtle I saw this year, in March. I've seen him four times since - this is the fifth time. He's wandered around quite a bit. I used the photo of his plastron because it is very distinctive - the moment I see this pattern of very dark marginal splotches I know it's Reuben. Again. The odd thing about Reuben is that I've seen him five times this year, but never before this year.

Above, right, is Katherine, who was a foot or so from SBS Creek. I found Katherine for the first time last October, and then have rediscovered her three times this year. Like Reuben, she gets around. She has terrible damage to the front part of her carapace, with apparent tooth marks, in one case puncturing the margin.

Leo, below, was originally discovered in May this year, and the is his first rediscovery. Can you see him in the photo? He was way across the creek, half buried, just a few feet upstream from Katherine. I was pleased to have spotted him, since I think he had already spotted me and was busy digging in. It's encouraging to imagine that I spot most of the turtles who are within that 10-foot radius around me.

Pablo, below, was first discovered in May 2011. Yesterday was our first reunion, and he was wading contentedly in a deeper pool of SBS Creek. He's a rather small turtle, and at first I thought it might be Ernest until I got a look at his plastron, which was mostly a featureless yellow.

The vast majority of my searches yesterday were conducted well away from the creek, and I didn't find any turtles there. All the turtles yesterday were found either wading in the creek (two) or within a foot from the creek (two). I think that's likely meaningful.

Ordinarily when I'd see four turtles randomly on my route I'd say that it was a good indication of a high turtle activity day. But in this case, the creek looks like it's a turtle magnet, drawing in many, most, or even all of the active turtles. So perhaps only a few of the total number are actually active. My assumptions may not have been so wrong, after all, just in need of adjustment.

Friday: 6 July 2012

The Month of June  -  @ 07:02:40
It's The Month of June, Number 77 in a series. June was mild for a lot of (other than those in the central US) and then in the last week turned brutally hot.

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

The high temperature anomalies were found primarily in the central US, this time around, with the most unusually hot weather in the eastern Rockies with parts of CO, WY, and NE up to 6-8 degF above normal. The Atlantic states, the Southeast, and especially the Pacific States all received normal or cooler than normal weather.

Until the last few days in June, of course!

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

Much of the US is under drought conditions this summer. The fourth named tropical storm of the season, Debby, brought relief to much of Florida, but had little effect elsewhere except possibly to have drawn in the incredibly hot weather of the last few days of June. Only the northeast and northwest US got extensive amounts of rain.

For the Athens, GA area:

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

Most of June was relatively cool for us, with high temperatures seldom exceeding 90 degF. We had some promising amounts of rain after the first week, and then nothing the rest of the month. High temperatures averaged out to a cool 87.4, compared to 88.8 normal high. We had 4 days more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (4.8 normal), and 7 days more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows (4.8 normal).

It was the last two days when everything went crazy. Temperatures spiked to 110 degF, with 107, 108 and 109 high temperatures common everywhere in the area. These set not just local records for the day, but for the month and in one case, for ever (109F).

Here is the end-of-month histogram that shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from June 1948 on. It just emphasizes normalcy for June 2012, with no category falling outside of the error bars of the average. Possible exception is the 100+ Highs category, where 3 such days falls outside of the 0 +/- 1 range.

We continue our dry weather, with only two events of rain during the month. 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.

Our total out here was 3.40", and in Athens it was 2.95". 4.18" is normal, so once again we're below the average.

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? It says that for the next week the South can expect cooler than normal temperatures, 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.

Precipitation will is a little complicated to describe for everyone, but at least in the southeast the next three months shows at least an equal chance of normal precipitation, and above normal over the next week or two.

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.

Temperatures in the western Pacific are starting to increase enough above average that there's a 50% probability of an El Niño developing over the next few months. This might provide some relief from drought and heat this summer, as well as helping to suppress hurricane development in the North Atlantic. However at the same time, global temperature averages increase in an El Niño and decrease in a La Niña, so in the long term we might have the hottest year on record ahead of us.

The US Drought Monitor continues to have us in extreme to exceptional drought, depending on where you are in Georgia. In fact, most of the US is now under at least abnormally dry or moderate drought classification, with a lot of the country in severe or extreme drought.

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

Tuesday: 3 July 2012

Fire Fail  -  @ 06:48:14
In the previous post, I wrote: "Then too, I'm just a little uncomfortable taking photos of the actual events, especially if they involve vehicles or people's houses."

To amplify a little, I'm really not sure where to draw a line, so I err on the side of making a mistake ( : - )  to commit an historic misspeak by the blessed(ly forgotten) Virginia Trotter of long ago UGA fame).

And in this circumstance it probably would have been ok to have photographed the burning house, which was spectacular in its intensity. It was unoccupied and I don't even know if it is owned by anyone with sentimental attachment.

But there's also the example thing - take out a cell phone and take a photo or record a video and it encourages others to do so, perhaps under circumstances that really are not appropriate. Look at me - yesterday's photos were prompted by watching someone else with their cell phone.

Here's such a circumstance that I would not like to emulate. Ok, it's a joke, from fail blog, and I think it's a very funny setup. I actually know people like this, though I've never seen a firefighter do this, and I don't do so much as even play bridge with such people. Especially bridge. The setup photo is funny enough to hit all but the most block headed that there are situations where vanity photos aren't just self revealing in an embarrassingly bad but harmless way.

Look at the glasses. The *dude* is not just having a picture taken of him, he's taking it of himself. This is like what you put on craigslist personals lol:

Monday: 2 July 2012

Fire Call Yesterday  -  @ 13:16:58
Yesterday was supposed to be a little cooler than Saturday (107F, previous record 103F) and, of course Friday (109F, previous all time record 108F). The most official record I can find for Sunday was 108F, but the usually reliable local personal stations were reporting up to 110.

Weather Underground's historian has a two part article on this week-long heat wave that moved across the country. Here's the second part, on the southeast. And yes, the derecho that whipped through the northeast and Atlantic states was correlated with this heat wave.

Yesterday was reminiscent of August 10 2007, the last time we had heat like this. We were called to an all-department wildland fire emergency in north Oglethorpe County.

This time, too, we had a fire call for a structure fire just before 1pm and it lasted until 5pm.

The staging field looks a little empty now, because several trucks are back to Double Bridges Road to the hydrant, to get water. Ultimately there were seven departments and Forestry represented with eleven engines, and a couple of brush trucks. The truck on the extreme left that you can just see the back of is nursing another truck that is in turn nursing the attack truck at the house that you cannot see.

Charleen is returning with her load of water. She and I brought two trucks, and made three trips for water in the tanker, or pumper. It was very very hot.

No pics of the burning house, sorry. It was fully involved when the first firefighters arrived, and the idea was to just keep the fire from spreading to the woods and fields.

Then too, I'm just a little uncomfortable taking photos of the actual events, especially if they involve vehicles or people's houses.

The good thing that happened was the strong wind that blew through the area in the early evening, and dropped the temperatures 20 degrees in a half hour. Later, we had thunderstorms that dropped 0.36" of rain, the first we've had in over two weeks.

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