Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Phenology

Phenology - the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena

It is usually colder overnight in the valley of Bull Creek which runs North to South.  The sun hits the valley floor an hour later than the surrounding plateau and goes down an hour earlier.  This morning it was 18 degrees while it was 26 just a few miles away.  The good news - frost flowers!

They covered the sides of the road and the edges of the field, looking like someone scattered toilet paper along the ground.  They will continue to "bloom" with each freezing night until the ground freezes hard.  In 2011 we saw frost flowers on 40 mornings.  Look for Verbesina virginica, white crownbeard, the best source, along roadsides and fields early on a freezing morning before the sun reaches them.  They also occur on ditany and skullcap as reported by Ruby Ball,

These aren't the only treat on a frosty morning.  While frost flowers are created by supercooling of water in the roots of the crownbeard, plain old frost is also a beautiful sight, especially when the sun first hits it before it can melt.

Woodchucks are supposed to be asleep in their nests.  Hopefully that will include those that have been eating up our garden all summer and creating break-a-leg holes in the ground covered by thick grass.  I previously enjoyed seeing them run across the field but now that they are undermining all of the dirt floor under our 110 year old barn and threatening to collapse it, they have lost their charm.

"Alas, poor Yorick, the barn he'd fell."
They have a number of common names including gopher, ground hog, ground squirrel, land beaver, marmot, pasture pig, prairie dog, wood chuck and whistle pig.  The skull looks like an undersized beaver, its fellow member of the order Rodentia. 

Young walnut - click to enlarge
There are a record number of walnuts this year, making walking hazardous.  Even our young trees planted in the riparian area are now loaded.  Red oak acorns continue to rattle down on our deck with each gust of wind.  Persimmons are plentiful and now fully ripe. If only we could have said as much for the pawpaws.

Female black bears have been storing fat to feed the young born during the winter and will be denning soon.  What a great system, delivering their cubs in their den and sleeping through most of the early nursing without having to get up at night!

Other November things to look for:
  • Insects are starting to cluster up in protected areas for warmth.  Box elder bugs will soon be clustered in the firewood piles and invading our houses. 
  • Polistes red wasps are patrolling the house, looking for a crack to nest in for the winter.
  • The  cricket chorus is slowing down for the winter.  The last voice to be heard is Jay's jumping bush cricket whose brief buzzing call announce the beginning of winter. 
  • Stick insects are now clinging to the sides of our house.  After spending the summer feasting on the leaves high in the trees, the wind, falling leaves and temperatures are dropping them to the ground where they optimistically start climbing up again.
  • Time to get out the bird feeders.  The best of the berries are already starting to disappear and available insects are rare so birds need alternate food sources, especially high energy sources like peanut butter/seed wads and suet cakes.

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