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

Sunday: 28 April 2013

Spring in Northeast Georgia  -  @ 07:46:09
Perhaps from a different perspective.

(Click on image for somewhat larger version on new page.)

That's a view midway along Goulding Creek (unseen at right) of the floodplain on the new property to the west. Spring has certainly come, along with its bountiful supply of parastic arthropods.

In the past few years I've given up tromping through this area along about mid May. Even now it's a sea of lush grass and phorbs with a couple of higher islands of interest. Later it will be knee high or higher, a hot mess to push through, and it's at that point that I stop visiting the area and those islands.

So this year I'm armed with a swing blade and handsaw, and am spending an hour or so a day clearing a trail down the creek on the bank and then to Deck 2, one of those islands I mentioned.

At the same time I'm removing some invasive pests, especially privet (Ligustrum spp) and russian olive (Elaeagnus spp). I'm also removing, at least in part, a third one which happens to be a native. More on that later.

Saturday: 27 April 2013

New Kid on the Block  -  @ 09:18:53
Well, except that the new kid had been there all the time.

It's always fun to find a new plant that I've overlooked for years (in 2007, it was the small tree Silverbells, Halesia tetraptera, growing along the creek). I've come to expect it now and then, but still marvel that I can walk past a plant, or even dozens of them, for years and completely miss their novelty.

On Thursday, I was doing my usual 3 mile walk and discovered a new treat. It was east of the house, in the higher elevation mixed hardwood and pine area.

What you see above was really, from the ground, the only evidence of this Rusty Blackhaw, Viburnum rufidulum. All the other flowers were hidden atop the canopy of this 15-foot-tall tree, and were intertwined with the dogwood that had initially captured my attention.

At first, both Glenn and I thought of some kind of rose family species, a Prunus or hawthorn, maybe. Five petals, yes, but there are five stamens per floret and rose family members have large numbers of stamens. Eventually Glenn figured it out, and it was especially helpful to note that the leaves are opposite.

The "haw" part of the name does not imply that these plants are related to hawthorns. Hawthorns are in the rose family Rosaceae, not the honeysuckle family Caprifoliaceae, as these "haws" are. The stem "haw" probably just refers to a hedgelike growth, and not a related grouping of species.

The "rusty" part of the name comes from the reddish color of the leaf petioles (note opposite phyllotaxy!). I'm not sure what that little bump is, but it might be an aborted inflorescence. I detect it on several nodes in these photographs, so it's not uncommon.

The USDA Plants map above shows a broader than simply southeastern distribution for this species - it is found as far west as Kansas south to Texas, and north to Illinois and east.

The photo to the left shows bark that at first glance looks much like the dogwood that was closeby and interwoven at the canopy level. I usually expect a viburnum species to produce a spray of woody shoots at the base, rather than to form such a monolithic tree shape.

We've talked about viburnums before, most notably here, with regard to the native American cranberry bush. Most people probably think of viburnums horticulturally, and certainly they are, with decorative hybrids formed between mostly asian species. But North America has plenty of species of natives covering the continent except for three southwestern states, according to the USDA Plants entry for the genus. Common names don't just refer to "haw" or "viburnum," but also especially to "arrowwood," and include nannyberry, squashberry, and hobblebush, all of which are to be found in Georgia.

USDA Plants lists 39 species, but 3 of these are hybrids and nonnative. At least 10 are nonnative, but another 9 have no geographical placement and almost certainly are also alien. That leaves 20 natives in North America, and there are 12 in Georgia. Half of these are threatened or endangered. Interestingly, and especially because it's the honeysuckle family, no Viburnum species, native or nonnative, is listed as noxious or invasive.

Our neighbor on the east detected last year a small flowering tree that Glenn said is probably another rusty blackhaw. It's located about 30 feet into our property, and she marked it well. I'll have to run out there in between rain and thunderstorms today to see if I can find it.

Friday: 19 April 2013

Our First Prescribed Burn  -  @ 07:30:50
I mentioned on March 30 that three of us were busy building fire breaks around a 3/4 acre section of the fire station property, back of the station. We completed these on Friday April 12, with plans to conduct a prescribed burn on Saturday.

We didn't have a large group, but fortunately our experienced wildlife biologist across the creek joined us, along with his wife, our former chief. I called the Lexington Georgia Forestry Commission office at 8am, gave the particulars, and was given permit #306.

I had been a little concerned about whether GFC would be giving out prescribed burn permits on Saturday. The weather was lovely, but from a burn point of view had deteriorated somewhat. That day's point forecast predicted higher temperatures than previously expected (though still in the low 80s) and humidities dipping toward 25% and below in the late afternoon (25% is usually the trigger for fire weather). The winds were still predicted to be very calm, and perhaps that was the ameliorating factor.

At any rate, we were given the permit, and we got going with a plan I'd jotted down. I've added to it with some postburn data. Now, although all of us have participated in some wildland fire control, and several of us in prescribed burns, this was the first time I'd planned and set up for a burn.

I called 911 to alert them, although they're able to access GFC's website to discover permitted burns when concerned folks call in. And we put our large sign out front, alerting passersby that we were conducting a "control burn" (like "boil peanuts") and that they should not call 911. Those were nice touches that made our 911 sheriff's office happy.

The plan to the left shows the rectangular burn area just north of the station.

North is up, and the wind was primarily coming from the northwest. I had wanted that in order to blow smoke into the 300 acres of uninhabited land to the east, and not back to the few houses on the left and across Wolfskin Road.

There are two long dirt roads that run parallel to the long dimension of the property. We positioned the pumper most of the way down the right-hand road, and the tanker in back of the station. We ran two lengths of hose from each engine to protect all sides of the property (and the properties on the other side of the access roads!).

I decided against the drop tank at the upper right. Would have added another 2500 gallons of water, but also prevented emergency exit of the pumper in the event of an emergency.

Here's the setup before we began the burn. This is one of the two hoses that ran 150 feet (three lengths) from the pumper on the east access road. Just to remind you, it was a lovely day.

Below is our worthy pumper on the east access road. Glenn was the pump operator here. We're facing south, so the above hoses run right into the property, and the second set run unseen 300 feet (six lengths) south behind the pumper. The photo was obviously taken after the burn started, but as you can see the smoke is blowing in the desired direction, away from houses and toward unimproved land.

We had a similar arrangement with the tanker on the other side of the property.

So we started our burn with a drip torch at the northeast corner, the most downwind part of the property, just inside the fire break. On the plan above, this is marked by a circled "1". This was also inside the 1/3 or so of the property that had thinned pines on it. We really needed to get this area burned today, since burning under pines would be banned for the season in a few days.

We watched that begin to slowly spread, and then started spots down the east break, in the area marked "2". This set up a "back burn," which is started at and burns at the break and slowly upwind against the wind. With this, you're extending the fire break safely, and making a much wider burned area that fire cannot easily cross.

That's Charleen, there, below, who worked with Glenn and me in making the fire breaks over the last two or three weeks. And our wildlife biologist advisor.

After a bit of that, we further extended the back burn southward down the fire break, always burning backward into the wind. And we started a parallel burn toward the back burned portion. All marked "3".

That's Phyllis in the foreground, our former fire chief. She's standing in the fire break, with a hose running in front of her.

At this point, we had a nice line of fire down the break, burning backwards into the wind. I took this panorama (click for larger image on new page) of three or four single photos. As you can see, the wind reversed direction on us for a few minutes - it should have been blowing to the right. It was no problem, even if it had been sustained, as we had already begun the spot ("4") and headwind ("5") burns in the center and left (west) side of the property.

One of my favorite single shots, this one shows exactly one of those headwind burns on the left (west) side of the property. This time the wind is cooperating with us. The unburned strip on the right is our fire break that we worked so hard on. Now it's a very nice path that circumnavigates the property. Did I mention that it was a lovely day?

Here are a few panoramas of Saturday's festivities. I spend a lot of time on these, and have figured out a *nearly* foolproof method of getting evenly lit photos. The rapidly shifting fire and smoke taxed even that method, and there are a couple of flaws in the stitching.

Clicking on each opens a large image in a new page.

These two are my favorites, especially the top one, below, taken looking approximately north, about midway through the burn. On the left, you can see the fire break, with Charleen monitoring that portion. The fire is blowing toward the very first, already burned fire breaks.

And below is the result, a few days later, more or less taken from the same angle and direction. The unburned branches and small felled trees tell you that our burn was not too hot, because it didn't burn freshly cut vegetation. However it did burn branches and trees that had fallen or been felled in the previous two years.

Glenn and I especially will be interested in seeing whether seldom seen fire resistant plants come up in the next year or so.

This one is actually the last photo of the day. Unseen to the right is the station, and the tanker was our protective resource here. A hoseline runs toward us and down the access road to protect that area. We're all just relaxing, more or less, since the burn is just about done ("7" on the map at the top) - Glenn would prefer a chaise lounge. Apparently we slowed down quite a bit of traffic on Wolfskin Road, as drivers paused in curiosity.

So in the end it was a burn that worked just about perfectly. Our preparations were adequate to keep us from getting anxious at wind direction changes, and the day's weather was just about perfect for the event. No mistakes were made, and our safety features were way beyond what were needed. Still, I really was scared to death something would go wrong, but that's just me.

The next day, Sunday, would have been terrible. The wind would be coming from the east, which around here is a promise for gusts and wind direction changes. And it would be lightly raining by late morning or early afternoon.

Why did we want to do this? Partly it was a training exercise that I thought really needed to be done. But mostly the larger part of the property had been clear cut, with a lot of debris left on the ground. After two years a good bit of blackberries, sweetgums, and other primary succession growth had come up. It seemed like, and was, a good way to accomplish two things at once.

In the end, we want to put a new fire station on this property. The pathway to that goal is not clear, but that's no reason not to use the property as training every 2-3 years for prescribed burns. The result will be an interesting and beautiful grassy backyard, with likely fire-selected wildflowers.

Monday: 8 April 2013

Pollen Time  -  @ 07:57:12

Pollen seems much more abundant this year. Water oaks started a couple of weeks ago, and white and northern red oaks this past week. The loblolly pines look like they're about to release. Everything is yellow, including the cats.

Including the spiderwebs! This can't help the stickiness of the poor orb weaver's web. Looks like it will be going hungry for awhile longer.

Coincident with the water oaks flowering was a nasty little cold. It hung on with me for ten days, going through a perplexing array of symptoms. I've never had pollen allergies before, but started to wonder if that was the problem. If so, then I'm not now responding to the ongoing oak release. People with allergies to one oak species are usually allergic to them all.

Thursday: 4 April 2013

The Month of March  -  @ 08:05:12
It was The Month of March, Number 86 in a series.

Below is the usual temperature anomalies product, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Displayed is the mean temperature anomaly. Click on it and you'll get the high and low temperature anomalies on a new page.

In most places, temperature anomalies didn't change very much from February's, other than to intensify. The US West remained warm over much of the region, while the east settled into much colder temperatures. The high and low anomalies suggest that the cold pattern was due much more to colder days than to colder nights. For the West, the opposite was true: nights were much warmer than usual while days were just somewhat warmer than normal.

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

The dry conditions of February continued in the West, while the rain surpluses seen in the central and eastern US dwindled. Most locations received just normal rainfall at best, and Florida, North Carolina, the Gulf Coast, and the northeastern states were especially dry.

For the Athens, GA area:

Here is a plot of our daily temperatures excursions in March, along with precipitation amounts as experienced in Wolfskin. In December and January we had higher than normal temperatures; in February we returned to seasonably cold weather. Cold weather intensified in March, with the average temperature much below normal for much of the month. Rainfall was about average, with one or three good heavy rains.

The average monthly temperature for March was 48.9 degF, 4 degrees below normal. The average high was 6 degrees below the normal average high of 66.2 degF, and the average low was 2-3 degF below the average low. We had 1 day more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (4.9 normal), which was the same result as in February. We had a remarkable 11 days more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows (4.9 normal). This March was the 8th coldest March for the Athens area since 1920.

Here are the low temperatures in March, this year (green), last year (red), and record lows (blue).

We did break by one defF a daily low record of 28F set on March 27, 1913. Much of the time we stayed below the average. Compare with the red line of last March, when we had the warmest March on record!

The monthly histogram below shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from March 1948 on. The error bars are just plus/minus one standard deviation, which I arbitrarily set as the limits outside of which are "significantly" anomalous.

While March was quite cold in its average temperatures, most temperature ranges were just within the range of variation indicated by the error bars. Worth noting though is that nearly *all* the ranges were just within variation. There were *just* significantly fewer 70-79F highs than normal, and *just* significantly more highs less than 60F. Same with the lows - in fact, nearly all the ranges are *just* inside or outside of one standard deviation.

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 the mustard color shows a few days when we were significantly below normal rainfall.

Our total out here was 4.19", and in Athens (shown here) it was 4.35". 4.43" is normal for March. We ended up just about normal, and that was mainly due to one or two heavy rainfalls in the last few days of March.

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? In terms of precipitation, it's been right over the last two months, and is still telling us more rain for the next couple of weeks, tapering off to normal levels over the next month or three. Its temperature predictions have modified somewhat: higher temperatures than normal begin *now* and continue over the next three months.

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 April 1, ENSO neutral conditions continue, and are expected to remain neutral into the Northern Hemisphere summer.

As of Mar 26, the US Drought Monitor now has none of Georgia (or the southeast) in exceptional or extreme drought. There is just a little bit of central Georgia in abnormally dry conditions. This is generally true of all the eastern US, although the Florida peninsula is are becoming problematic again. Otherwise the March 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 February is available. And last year's annual report for 2012 regionally, nationally, and globally is now also available.

Tuesday: 2 April 2013

Sylvia  -  @ 09:54:41

Yesterday's walk took me down to the east floodplain, as most do - that's on the always visit list. Look who I saw!

Yes, it's Sylvia, the first box turtle I rediscovered and named, here, Oct 2006.

This is the seventh time I've found Sylvia, since 2006. Last year I found her three times. She has almost always been within a few tens of feet of where I found her yesterday. She was about a hundred feet away on the other side of the road cut once, but that's the farthest I've found her from this location.

Always good to see Sylvia.

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