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

Saturday: 30 March 2013

Goings and Comings  -  @ 09:55:47
Yesterday I coupled a trip to the station with my usual walk. I was curious to see how long it took and how far it was through the woods. The station is at the bottom of the blue pathways in the map to the right. The rightmost peg at the top locates the house. By road, the trip is about 2 miles and 4 minutes.

I took the right most path directly to the station. It's 1.1 miles and 31 minutes. So not the fastest way to get there!

The station at approach from behind. While there is a rough access road through the property I walked through, I was mostly in the woods between the road courses.

We're clearing a few years' primary growth on some of the station's land in back. We're planning to do a prescribed burn to get it done, and we'll combine training with the preparations and execution of the burn. Below, left, I put in another 60 feet of firebreak yesterday.

Above, right, and looking behind: on Thursday during training three of us put in 100 feet of firebreak.

I just worked an hour or so and then started back home, walking the more leisurely path you see on the left on the map above. Here are the pools lying at the bottom of a depression, between the two parts of the access road. Nothing special looking about them, but it's early yet.

The more leisurely route took me to the westmost point and then back east along Goulding Creek, and up SBS Creek and back to the house. It's a good 3.1 mile walk.

Friday: 29 March 2013

This Unusual Week, Reviewed  -  @ 09:21:43
So it was a most interesting week, and that's not even including the fire hydrant as station mailbox post.

This week I found that the US Supreme Court can take a clear issue and avoid addressing anything really substantive about it. As someone said, approximately, the discussion and arguments were so *small*.

That was the 70s. Incidentally, I kept that cartoon, clipped from the FSU Florida Flambeau, all these years. Don Wright, the cartoonist, was and still is an astute observer of the times. He had some fabulous Watergate cartoons - the Rose Mary Woods 18.5 minutes erasure scenario was one of the best I've ever seen, although I've never been able to find it again. With his strong lines, bold caricatures, and pinpoint understandings, he brightened many of my breakfast mornings in the FSU student union cafeteria.

Since I'm not a lawyer and since I don't follow SCOTUS business except during the usual times of the year, I'm not going to get into analysis of the hearings. Others say the same thing, and then they follow it up with exactly the analysis they said they weren't going to make. But not me.

What? Oh. Well, *OK*.

I'll at least report a vague consensus of what I've come to understand from a good bit of reading since Tuesday. It's a more pessimistic view, but I'd be surprised if anything more unpleasant came of this week's hearings.

Anthony Kennedy will be the swing vote, because as we all know, he swings both ways. He won't be able to decide on California's Proposition 8 case, argued on Tuesday. Therefore the lower court decision, that it's unconstitutional to California's constitution, will stand. LGBT Californians will be able to get (and stay) married. It's unlikely that any broader decision will be made, affecting other states.

The Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA will at least be largely invalidated, but for the wrong reason. Section 3 prohibits the feds from giving benefits to same sex marrieds regardless of a state's position on marriage equality. That's what Ms. Windsor was complaining about. Anthony Kennedy will cast the deciding vote to declare Section 3 unconstitutional, but on anti federalism grounds, rather than equal protection. Section 2 is up in the air. That's the part of DOMA that says that states need not recognize same sex marriages performed in other states where it's legal to be so married. If states' rights considerations inform Kennedy's vote, it would seem that he wouldn't touch Section 2. (Still he's not a complete ideologue, and he has shown a kind of a sympathy toward civil rights for gays in the past.)

Remarkable in both cases was the disinclination of the State of California on the one hand, and the United States executive branch on the other, to defend either case.

Most of the substance in the arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday was crap and ignorant chatter, mostly generated by Antonin Scalia, who is consistently good at one thing: derailing a discussion. Ruth Bader Ginsberg made some good points and a clear effort to move the discussion into the realm of fairness and equal protection. So did Elena Kagan. Did anyone hear anything from Sotomayor or Breyer? I was shocked that Clarence Thomas didn't say a word. John Roberts could emerge as a supporter on the liberal side on at least the DOMA case - he surprised us on Obamacare. He is a smarmy slimy corporate creature who you can count on for one thing: he wants his place in history, and marriage equality is going to be the future history.

I'm glad I wrote the post I did on Tuesday. I did it risking the possibility that those who really feel strongly about the traditional institution of marriage would be offended. It seems that most understood that my scorn was something I decided long ago, and that I had decided that perhaps it needed re-evaluating.

Some of my feelings about traditional marriage are informed by the times I grew up in. I encountered the most resistance to being gay in the 70s and 80s. There was a growing sense of community during those times. Ronald Reagan and HIV derailed a lot of progress, but I think both the man and the disease might have generated a focus that conservatives now regret.

Most of the support I had was from gay people, as you'd expect, but I certainly had support from straight people too. Yet, at that time, most probably would have drawn the line at gay marriage. I couldn't generalize that those people were worthy of scorn, because they had proven themselves otherwise. But I could at least scorn the traditional institution of marriage, and that's where I left it. Now, as I reconsider, I think the swelling support for marriage equality can instead allow me to recognize and condemn those who don't support it.

In the 70s and 80s, I saw employment security, federally recognized civil unions, and getting rid of vice laws as being the reasonable goals of gay rights (as we called it then). Until the 90s began to unfold, it didn't really occur to me that actual marriage and the freedom to serve in the military would be the focus, and for some time I wasn't comfortable with that. It wasn't that I was uncomfortable with the desires, but with the strategies, which I thought would lead nowhere. I was totally wrong about that!

Gradually I have realized that marriage equality and the right to serve in the military were worthy goals, much more honest as demands than my weaker and more timid substitutes. The military issue has been swept away, to no one's detriment, and all reasonable people predicted that it would harm nothing. Remarkably, it's just a matter of time before the marriage issue will be past us too, regardless of the SCOTUS decisions. Georgia will take awhile, but it too will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Someone else wrote it, but I thought it was a good summation - the Christian right wing evangelicals are whining about having their rights taken away by all this. Fine. What's actually happening is that the Christian Right's unreasonable strangehold on marriage law is being loosened. Finally.

Tuesday: 26 March 2013

This Unusual Week  -  @ 10:29:17
I loves me some Jay Bookman, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I've been reading him regularly for some months now, and it's good.

Even if it weren't that he's writing in Georgia I'd like him, but I'm especially glad that he has that perspective, here, in the state that I have a love/hate relationship with. He has a good sense of history, both recent (as you'll see in the above link) and in general. Also, music : - )  . But mainly he just seems to be a kindly but no nonsense, factual sort of guy, with a passion for fairness, and I can deal with that.

This is an important week, with two gay-related cases on the SCOTUS docket. As you know, I don't talk about this sort of stuff much, although I don't hide it at all. Long ago, as you'll see in just a moment, I decided that fait accompli was the way best way to do things.

I came out to my family just about 40 years ago, and just about at that time Harvey Milk said (and I didn't know that at the time) that was just about the most important thing I could have done. I didn't find out what he'd said until many years later. Here's what he said, a little later in 1978:
“Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”

Yeah, I know, some of you won't know who Harvey Milk was. It's time to find out. If you were alive and aware then, you'll know what Dade and Eugene were. Dade was Miami, and Anita Bryant. If you were alive and not aware, then that's a precious piece of history that is as entertaining as any you'll see right now.

Admittedly, I sort of screwed the thing up, but 18-year-olds are inclined in that direction. I never gave in, I'll say that for myself. That's fait accompli! And in two years I graduated and was off to Athens, Georgia!

What I did find in the 80's, and then the 90's too, was that there was so much mean-spiritedness about gay people *maybe even getting married* that I came to hate and despise the idea of marriage. Isn't that odd? Isn't it odd that the last thing I was led to believe could possibly happen, would be the thing that would come about as the thing that I came to scorn and hate?

I am going to have to reach my own accomodation to the possiblity of marriage, the thing that I thought could not possibly happen, as withheld from us by the people who hated us the most. Glenn and I have journeyed through 34 years with very few people ever asking how long we've been together, and even fewer noting the round-number anniversaries. Journeying through life is not that hard, even though it is. Day follows day, and year follows year. Bad things happen, and so do good ones. Sometimes bad things are as hard to get through as good things are. This is no different than any two people ever find happening to each other.

Here's what's different: suddenly, we finally had to decide our anniversary date. I don't remember why, but it was a few years back. We really never even thought of it for nearly 30 years. I think it was that we were so beaten down we didn't even think we deserved an anniversary date. Certainly no one suggested that we did.

Do you know what we decided? The date on the check when we moved into our rental house, February 1, 1979. That represented a kind of commitment, soulless though it was. Straight people don't have to make those kinds of decisions, but there really wasn't much else. That kind of sucks, frankly. A few years ago, I tried to find the check, so as to frame it. I wasn't able to find it, and in a way I'm kind of glad I didn't.

I still want to hate marriage as the thing that legitimizes who we are. I despise it because of the hateful people who held it up to me for decades, telling me I couldn't have it, and continued to withhold it for all those years. I need to find some reason to believe that marriage is really as good as they tell me it is.

So, we'll see.

Monday: 25 March 2013

First Emergences  -  @ 09:12:24
So I now have three reasonably reliable years of observations of first emergence* of box turtles. I call them reliable because in these three years I was doing documented walks without box turtle observation prior to the first discovery. In other years, first discoveries were made in April, and even May, but I had not been paying close attention these years so turtles could certainly have been out.

So here's what the weather was like in the weeks leading up to the March 19 first discovery this year. We did have some warm days above 60 degF, just prior to the discovery, and it had rained in the previous couple of days. Temperatures had been above 50F during the day for 12 consecutive days.

(I'll point out here that just after the first box turtle this year, the temperatures got cold again. We had a copious 2+ inch rainfall the last couple of days. That drove the temperatures down, so I don't expect to see more box turtles out. They've surprised me before, though!)

Last year the first turtle was observed March 20, but in that incredible March we'd already had 20 days above 50F, 6 days of which were above 80F! And yet the first turtle still emerged around the usual time of March 20th despite all that warmth for all those days.

I couldn't say the rainfall had been particularly encouraging either, in 2012. There had been a small amount in the previous few days, but it would almost certainly have dried up quickly in that heat.

Nothing special about 2009 - overall intermediate between this cold year and 2012 very warm year. And the first turtle was still observed March 22. That date was also well after the previous rain, and in March it's shocking how parched things can get just a few days after a rain.

So tentatively I'd conclude that a significant emergence occurs in this location around the first day of spring, March 20, pretty much regardless of the prior weather. I'll allow as to how you probably wouldn't see a box turtle out if the day was below 50F. The prediction to be tested from now on is that after March 20 the first ones will have awakened and will be ready to take advantage of warm days thereafter.

* I say first emergence, but concede that there could have been a box turtle or three out earlier than these dates. I contend that number is below some threshold I call significant. If I'm walking 2.5 miles and scan 10 feet on each side, and find one turtle, that's equivalent to one turtle in 6.3 acres observed. That would be 0.16 turtles per acre, or alternatively, a little under 1 turtle out and about on the 25 acre study area. I'm calling that my threshold.

Sunday: 24 March 2013

Puzzles of the Third Kind  -  @ 07:41:46

This post is an example of dozens that I have written almost to completion, and then never finished.

This one is actually from February 27 of this year. I was walking along the roadette, and spotted a moving object way, way ahead of me. This photo doesn't do it justice how far ahead it was, but ok:

I took several quick photos in succession, before it ran into the woods. They're sort of the level of quality you might have seen in photos of Bigfoot. The first photo below certainly reveals typical squirrely behavior, along with the typically bushy tail. I would say this animal was significantly bigger than our usual gray squirrel:

Below, not so much squirrel-like behavior, but oddities may be insignificant, of a nature that we ourselves enjoy when a candid photo is taken, usually by a traitorous acquaintance, at moment of vulnerability:

The squirrels I see around here are almost exclusively (with the exception being this encounter, and one other) the eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis. I'm conflicted as to whether I'm seeing a melanistic gray squirrel, or a fox squirrel, Sciurus niger. This one looks too dark even for a fox squirrel, but it was quite sizeable.

Apparently melanistic gray squirrels are rare (2011) in the southeast US, south of Virginia.

Saturday: 23 March 2013

Yes or No?  -  @ 09:49:26
Always the Question, when it comes to Spring.

Polystichum acrostichoides, Christmas fern, a fine plant that is opening up everywhere east of the Rockies.

It's engaged in circinate vernation, which opens up even more question marks.

I love fiddleheads.

Thursday: 21 March 2013

First Box Turtle  -  @ 10:51:38

On Tuesday I found the first box turtle of the year. He was a few feet from Goulding Creek enjoying what was then the warm sunshine.

March 19 is, by one day, the earliest I've found a box turtle. Last year, my first one was March 20, and in 2009, it was March 22. (Other years I wasn't paying close enough attention.)

Yes, it's true that last year was the warmest March on record, 20-30 degF higher most days, and that this last six weeks this year have actually been a bit cooler than normal. Nonetheless, that seems to have had no effect on the date of first appearance. I'm beginning to think that estivating/brumating box turtles count the days until spring, at least here, and pay relatively less attention to thermal pulses from the upper world.

Lest you think I've been unobservant and am drawing unwarranted conclusions, I've made 46 two to three-mile trips since Jan 2, with a total of 104 miles, and it was only on Tuesday that I saw the first box turtle.

I went through the photo album and recognized this turtle from last May 19. At that time he had the lack of shell clarity that I've been told has to do with a relatively benign but somewhat disfiguring fungal infection. A kind of athlete's foot for the turtle.

Interestingly, he's still got it.

On that day, last May, I found him a few feet from Reuben, who happened to be the first turtle I found last year on March 20. Wild coincidence, or what?

This turtle also holds the record for greatest distance traveled since the previous sighting. Last year I found him just up the hill from the large rock in the middle of SBS Creek.

On Tuesday I found him about 1/3 mile away, and he must have gone up and down two significant hills to get there. (The thick blue lines are from a previous walk I made, recorded by the tracking app. Pay no attention.)

As you know, upon the second sighting I name the turtle. This one is going to be Magellan.

Tuesday: 12 March 2013

Along the Roadcut  -  @ 07:52:32

One of the hunting club members who uses a portion of our property for seasonal hunting had an old bag hung on this sweetgum to guide him into the woods to his deer stand. It's been there a couple of years now. It hasn't done any harm so I've left it there.

I don't know what possessed some animal but a few days ago I noticed that while the bag was still intact and hanging, the insides had been ripped out, scattering foam rubber pieces all over the road.

Yesterday the bag itself was ripped to shreds on the road. Well, I needed to do a trash pickup anyway.

UPDATE - turned out there were 134 pieces of foam rubber and shredded fabric to be picked up. And yes, I did count - are you really surprised? Besides that I got about 15 pounds of trash. Most of it was actually along the road connecting two parts of our property. So I guess technically I was trespassing, but I paid a reasonable toll for it. It sounds like a lot, but it was a bottle or can here and there along 2.7 miles, so actually not bad at all.

Sunday: 10 March 2013

Spring Forward, OR, Sisters Doing It For Themselves  -  @ 11:48:04
Did you remember to set your timepieces ahead an hour? Did you have to? I now have only two clocks I have to reset - all my others do it automatically.

A few years ago both my computer and cell phone informed me of what they'd done, and properly so. Now, holding me in electronic contempt they don't bother doing even that. They just do it. I expect that others will be making the discovery that younger folks don't even know what the time change is. The poor little chicks will be a little bewildered at how tired they are, or how much darker it is in the morning or evening than the previous day, but all their devices will be as sisters doing it for themselves. Deal.

So it was that I was thinking of the signs of spring, which we imagine are predictable and continual. For us down here in the southeast, a break in the weather is not very informative, as we can have extended periods of warm days and nights at any time during the winter. I usually watch for a change in the behavior of the organisms around me, and the more startling, the better.

That rules out box turtles, which might have been your first guess if you have been a reader of this blog, casting about. After all, if I'm a one-note song, that's what it's about. Although the first box turtles I've found have, coincidentally or not, appeared within a day or two of March 21, the traditional first day of spring, those are early risers and I often won't see those or others until the second or third week in April. That's too late.

Daffodils, which are not native, and cannot know our ways, are among our first spring flowers, and can flower as early as January. This is clearly not spring - if you pay attention, daffodiloids have a huge range of flowering times - they've been bred that way.

I have written about something I call "the greening," occurring sometime around April 8, 2006, or April 2, 2007. Well, then again, after March 28, in 2008. Or before March 10, 2008.

I think the resolution is what I here called High Spring, a full arrival into exclusively warm days, sometime around the end of April and the beginning of May. There is also the beginnings of the change that lead to that, which around here are indeed in the first to second week in March. I must also factor in that much of this greening conversation took place seven or eight warming years ago. Last March was befuddling - at 10-20 degF above normal highs, for several weeks, I wasn't the only one confused.

Here's one thing I think of when I think of winter changing into spring. The photo was taken just a couple of days ago, when I saw the little beech in a particularly nice spot of sun:

I love those leaves - many beech trees keep their leaves all winter (*), and then at some point post winter they drop last year's leaves as the new ones come in.

So for me, one of the signs of spring is when those leaves get squeezed off, to make room for the new ones. It makes for a whole new look to the forest, and in a short period of time.

So for you, what signs of spring make for huge differences in perception? I don't necessarily mean just the appearance of a single plant, like, say, redbuds, but something that alters the landscape in a very short order? Or even something that alters your feeling, like the resurgence of ticks?

*We have other deciduous species that keep their dead leaves all winter. Blackjack oak and some hornbeams (aka ironwood, blue birch) come to mind.

Friday: 8 March 2013

Negative Evidence  -  @ 09:34:56
This may be the most *apparently* content-free plot I've ever posted.

Or is it? I've been thinking of box turtles, still snoozing underground.

Sorry about the passive voice, but it's still true that I've seen it said that on warm winter days reptiles in brumation may emerge to bask in the sun, or maybe grab a bite to eat. Well, I've hiked our 60 acres in 39 trips since Jan 2, a total of 85.5 miles over 57 hours. There have been some pleasant, warm days, and I've seen no box turtles as yet. In fact, yesterday and the day before were both pleasant and sunny, perfect basking days, and I at least expected to see a rat snake or two.

So the plot isn't content-free at all. It's negative evidence, which is often considered boring and inconsequential, but that's only when taken out of context. I am here, with evidence, to refute the notion that box turtles emerge with reasonably measurable frequency during the winter. I think my 85 miles constitutes some measure of reasonable in a climate that produces some degree of warm.

Today, of course, will be the day that I will spot one, after having made such a statement. But in any event it's only a couple of weeks until the historically earliest sighting, of Reuben, on March 20, 2012.

Monday: 4 March 2013

The Month of February  -  @ 12:18:09
It's The Month of February, Number 85 in a series.

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

Quite a hodge podge of temperature anomalies in February. The US West warmed up in a few places while the rest continued January's cooler temperaures. Much of the South and East continued warmer temperatures, especially Texxas and New England. The Atlantic States into the Southeast were just slightly above (or below) average February temperatures.

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

In February, dry conditions continued to creep northwards in the southwest with virtually all of California receiving very little rain. In contrast broad swaths of excess precipitation marked the Central and Southeast US. Elsewhere in the East at least average precipitation manifested.

For the Athens, GA area:

Here is a plot of our daily temperatures excursions in February, along with precipitation amounts as experienced in Wolfskin. In December and January we had higher than normal temperatures; in February we returned to the cold weather expected for February. We also had quite an extensive amount of rainfall!

The average monthly temperature for February was 45.2 degF, almost 2 degrees below normal, with the high and low temperatures equally below normal. We had 1 day more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (4.7 normal), and 4 days more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows (5.3 normal).

Despite cold temperatures and plenty of rain, we recorded no significant snowfall (a tiny amount fell early morning last Saturday).

The monthly histogram below shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from February 1948 on. This time around there are no significant deviations from the average number of events in any category, except possibly a higher than average number of 31-40 deg lows - i.e., just verging on more than the usual number of cooler nights. Almost remarkably average!

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, and that rare blue color at the end shows we got above 1 standard deviation of surplus of rain.

Our total out here was 6.82", and in Athens (shown here) it was 6.36". 4.48" is normal for February, so we were above normal, and overall have had quite a wet winter.

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? It got it right for us here in the southeast last month. It's telling us more rain for the next couple of weeks, tapering off to normal levels over the next month or three. Cooler temperatures too, until the 2-3 month mark when the east US becomes abnormally warm.

ENSO stuff:

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.

As of Mar 4, ENSO neutral conditions continue, and are expected to remain neutral through Northern Hemisphere spring.

As of Feb 26, the US Drought Monitor now has none of Georgia (or the southeast) in exceptional or extreme drought. Parts of Florida and central-south Georgia are in moderate or severe drought. Otherwise the February rains helped out quite a bit. Still, much of the US continues to be under at least moderate drought classification, with a lot of the southern and central regions in the country in severe or extreme drought.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for January is available. More excitingly, the annual report for 2012 regionally, nationally, and globally is now also available. Revisit your favorite moments of 2012: storms, tornados, drought, shitty snow packs, wildfires, and Isaac and Sandy!

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