Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Wild Comes Home

Lonely Fawn
Does the Call of the Wild get a little too close to your urban home at times?  Maybe a skunk under the porch or a spindly-legged fawn in your back yard.  Here is a new service which you may want to jot down for future reference.

From the Missouri Department of Conservation
 The Bi-State Wildlife Hotline is now officially available for callers in Missouri and Illinois. This free service is available for police, animal control, conservation centers, nature centers, animal rescues, public health departments, etc. to refer wildlife conflict calls to, effective October 1, 2011. Citizens calling in regards to any species of wild animal in need can call the hotline to get information, assistance, and local contact information to address their specific concern and circumstances. Citizens can reach the hotline via telephone at (636) 492–1610 or online at www.wildlifehotline.com The hotline is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The Wildlife Hotline was put together by a group of wildlife rehabilitators in the Missouri and Illinois area to offer citizens free advice and assistance with wildlife conflicts. When citizens call the hotline they will be connected with a wildlife specialist who is available to answer their questions, or refer the citizen to someone who can. Our specialists are volunteers who either are working for a wildlife rehabilitation center currently, or have in the past, and have been educated and certified by the NWRA or IWRC as rehabilitators. We have specialists that are located in Missouri and Illinois, from many different counties, and who are knowledgeable with mammals, birds of prey, songbirds, reptiles, waterfowl and all domestic animals vs. wildlife conflicts.

The Bi-State Wildlife Hotline (636) 492–1610 was created to address a variety of wildlife issues:
· Wildlife Conflicts – property damage, evicting wildlife, nuisance wildlife, coexistence issues.
· Orphan Wildlife – breeding seasons, reproductive educational information, reunite strategies to get babies back to mom.
· Rehabilitation Referrals – referring ‘finders’ to the proper, licensed rehabilitator for truly injured or orphaned animals, dispatch services for true wildlife emergencies.
· Educational support to inform callers of the legalities of keeping wildlife as ‘pets’ and improper rehabilitation, legalities of trapping, releasing, and controlling nuisance wildlife, and offering humane alternatives.
· Sick animal reporting – Distemper raccoons, possible rabid reports, down deer in road, etc.
· Rapid Response Services – skunk stuck in dumpster drain pipe, bird stuck in storefront ceiling, fox stuck in culvert grate, rescuing distressed wildlife in emergent need of help

Currently, the majority of wildlife calls are referred to conservation departments, animal control, humane societies, and sometimes even police and fire departments. These entities are often times undermanned, or unable to field such calls in the peak seasons. Many animal rescue organizations feel frustrated that they cannot assist callers with wildlife issues, especially when an animal is suffering and the caller is desperately trying to find help. Our hope is to offload these calls from these places and offer a knowledgeable wildlife specialist to assist in these matters. Over time, citizens will learn that it is inappropriate to call places like 911 or the fire department for an issue with a wildlife issue. Please feel free to refer those callers to the Wildlife Hotline at (636) 492-1610 or our website at www.wildlifehotline.com 

As rehabilitators, past and present, we know all too well that many wildlife orphans can be avoided if ‘finders’ attempt to reunite babies with their natural mothers quickly and correctly. Often times, wildlife rehabilitation centers are closed in the early morning or late evening and cannot offer citizens assistance with this at the time that it is needed. The hotline’s purpose is to fill that needed gap, and in turn cut down on the numbers of orphans that need to be rehabilitated each year.

For instance, eastern cottontail rabbits are very small and very young when their mother leaves them and moves on to have another litter. Citizens often feel the need to intervene with these small, adorable juvenile rabbits. In reality, these animals need to be left alone in order to develop the skills they will need later in life to survive. Sometimes callers find a nest of rabbits in their yard and they move the nest to another location so they can do yard work or let their pets out in the yard, etc. Mother rabbits will never find that nest of babies again, as they have no scent, and no tracking abilities to return to their nest. The Wildlife Hotline would instruct those callers to use an upside down wheelbarrow on top of the nest so that family pets cannot get to it, but mother rabbits can. When callers realize the fate of those rabbits if the nest is moved, oftentimes they are very willing to accommodate however they can especially when they find out that the babies will only be there two weeks at maximum.

We also take calls regarding conflicts with wildlife; e.g. skunks/moles/groundhogs digging up gardens and yards, opossums living under porches, raccoons living in the attic and chimney, squirrels destroying property and nesting in gutters and eaves. We have different solutions for each of these issues, and we offer humane solutions as an alternative to pest control. Often, citizens cannot afford pest control services, or they do not wish to harm the animals. If necessary, as a last resort, we can refer the caller to the proper wildlife rehabilitation center to get assistance for the animal, if injured or truly orphaned. The hotline can assist callers in reaching the proper people to pick up and dispose of sick animals, as is the case with distemper raccoons and foxes, and possibly rabid animals. Animal Control agencies usually will not take these calls, or assist in these cases, so it has fallen on the rehabilitation people in many areas to handle these calls, though it depends on the county involved. Bite cases still must be reported to the proper animal control departments, which we can assist callers in finding contact information for. Note: The hotline will be instructing callers to seek medical attention for bite incidents, and file a bite report with their county’s animal control department regardless of the risk category.

In addition, we offer referral contact information for callers to get in touch with the right center for their needs. For instance, many rehabilitation centers do not take in deer, so if a caller is truly in need of fawn rehabilitation, we can refer them to the proper place with the correct permit to accept the species in question. Many times, the caller is not in need of rehabilitation services, they simply need to be educated to understand why there is a fawn under their porch all day. Our joy comes from having the caller wait and watch as Mom comes back to get their fawn at the end of day, knowing that without our assistance, that fawn may have been transported to a rehab center and essentially stolen from her mother.

Our hope is that through this free, public service, citizens will learn how to peacefully coexist with the nature that surrounds us all. We can only achieve this through education, and this service intends to reach that goal, while providing the public with a one-stop solution for all wildlife issues, big and small.

If you would like more information on this topic, or need to contact Angel Wintrode, please call (636) 233–0289 or email ang...@wildlifehotline.com

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Timeline from The Economist-Click to enlarge
The daily news provides lots of stories highlighting the changes that we humans are making on the planet we inherited.  Many of our actions are having adverse impacts on other species, our water resources, and the fertility of the soil.

Some ecologists have proposed a new name for our age, the Anthropocene, which highlights the dramatic changes we have made in the ecology of the planet in our short time of dominance.  There is a lot of discussion about whether this era began with the Industrial Revolution's dramatic increase in the use of carbon based fuels or even earlier with the hunting pressures and increasing use of fire over the last 10,000 years.  Certainly this relates to the Sixth Extinction which we are experiencing.

There are opposing opinions regarding whether these changes warrant naming of a formal unit of geological time to follow or replace the Holocene (meaning "entirely recent") which labels the last 10,000 years.  Anthropocene (Greek,  anthropo- meaning "human" and -cene meaning "new.") moves the emphasis to an era of human influence.

Earlier this year, the Economist.com reproduced an excellent article from their magazine which reviews some of the evidence.  Why should we care about this pedantic topic?  Because we need to weigh the changes we are making in our environment and the potential risks to future generations.  Whether you accept it or not, it pays to understand the ramifications of the "new human" era.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Early Pollution

Rio Tinto- "Wine-colored River"
Faced with a constant barrage of stories about EPA, fracking, oil pipelines and salmon swimming upstream against human impact, it is easy to think that pollution is a modern phenomenon.  There is strong evidence of worldwide "industrial" pollution with sulfide and heavy metals extending back 4,800 years.

Barry Yeoman's article The Mines that Built Empires* is a fascinating look at the history of the Rio Tinto mines in Spain.  Mining began in the copper age, dated by a 5,000 year old hammer head, used to extract copper ores such as malichite and azurite.  Subsequently the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans maintained massive mining operations for lead, silver and copper which peaked between 70 and 160 A.D.
Hammer Head 3000 BCE- Archeology Magazine

Back to the global pollution, ice core studies from Greenland in the 1990's show massive lead pollution during the peak Roman mining period.  The cores found that 70% of the lead had the "chemical signature" of Rio Tinto lead.  Smelting the ore in large furnaces released its heavy sulfide content in the form of sulfur dioxide, a residue which remains with us to this day.  Much like oil, when these ancient deposits are brought to the surface, their chemical components don't sink back from whence they came.

The name Rio Tinto came from the wine colored acidic river which runs through the area.  Originally thought to be due to extensive run off of mining contamination, we now know that the colors are natural and existed long before mining began around 3,000 BCE.  Kenyon.edu reports that the average pH of the river is 2.0 and it carries naturally high concentrations iron, copper, and zinc.  It has even been studied by NASA, exploring the  unique organisms which eat its iron and sulfide which have implications for studies on Mars.

*Archeology Magazine, October, 2010.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Whooping Cranes

Adult and juvenile- Click to enlarge
Jeff Cantrell sent us these pictures of Whooping Cranes, taken by Becky Wylie along Shoal Creek in Neosho.  The youngster is banded and even has an antennae and transmitter.  In Jeff's words:
"Two whooping cranes took a “lay-over” less than a mile north of Neosho this early morning with Canada geese for traveling companions.  An adult and its young foraged along the crop field north of Neosho with little care to truck traffic on the highway or geese and crows sharing the field."
As usual, Bob Korpella of our latest Master Naturalist class has beaten me to this story.  Read more at his Freshare.net.
For a story on efforts to raise and breed whooping cranes, see smithsonianmag.com.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Killing Borers with a Girdle

Emerald Ash Borer- USFS
By now you probably have heard of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an insect that is spreading across the US from Michigan where it was accidentally introduced, probably from packing material on a shipment from China.  It is killing ash trees and threatens to wipe them completely out.  As ash trees are a common urban planting as well as a source of wood for baseball bats, this news is disturbing.

Ash borers attack the tree by laying their eggs under the bark.  The larvae then tunnel around under the bark, effectively cutting off the tree's circulation.  As they arrived in the US without the predators that keep them under control in China, they are thriving.

Researchers in the Hudson Valley of New York are now experimentally releasing three types of Chinese wasps known to attack the borer's larvae or their eggs.  This approach has to be monitored carefully to be sure that they don't have a similar effect on our beneficial native insects.

They also are trying a unique approach to reduce the EAB numbers.  They are girdling selected trees, removing 18" bands of bark to weaken the tree.  EAB tends to proliferate in damaged trees and they hope to concentrate the larvae in these trees and then destroy the trees with their larval nursery.

While these experiments go on, our only protection in Missouri is the distance the EAB requires to move from tree to tree.  The biggest risk is in accidentally importing diseased wood, allowing the beetle to migrate through several states.  This is the reason we urge everyone to not transport firewood from other areas.

Story derived from an article in the the Wall Street Journal, available to subscribers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Slime Beneath Our Feet

Slime Mold - New York Times
My fungal friend, Dr. Mark Bower, was kind enough to sent me this article on slime mold from the New York Times.   Reading that sentence probably fills you with envy.  Stay with me as it does get better.

The words slime mold* produce an immediate "Yuck" response but they are actually incredible amoebas that live in the soil.  Some are individual while others collect into masses that are able to communicate and spread in an organized fashion.  A few species can actually develop a slug-like body.

Japanese researchers put slime mold in a maze with food sources at the ends.  The molds extended tentacles down dead ends only to retreat and try another path (video example).  Within four hours they were feasting on the food.

Researcher Andrew Adamatzky has a hobby of challenging them to create highways.  He placed pieces of their food on the largest cities on a map of Spain and Portugal.  The mold spread out, then withdrew, leaving tentacles to these cities which matched the actual existing highways. (video of Tokyo subway example)

"Dog vomit" slime mold- Wikimedia
A species called Dictyostelium form a slug-like society of amoebas which can respond to starvation by crawling out of the soil and sticking to the foot of an animal for transportation.  Some of their component amoeba will even devour pathogenic bacteria that threaten the colony, transporting them outside where they die with the attacker.  This suicidal behavior benefits the colony but not the individual.  The details of these and other stories are in the New York Times article.

You probably wonder how you could find a friend who would send you an article like this.  If you want to find others who find these nature subjects fascinating, look into the Missouri Mycological Society (MOMS)** or other like organizations around the world.  You will find your views of nature extending like...well, you know.... a slime mold.

*   The basics on slime mold are covered in Wikipedia
**  Missouri Mycological Society  or MOMS Springfield Chapter
 2012 research update.  

Extreme Makeover Creates Extreme Burden

Editors Note:
 It is not uncommon to find plants in the garden section of big box stores that are inappropriate to plant because of invasive characteristics or their inability to survive in our climate.  Local garden stores and professional landscaper designers consider the local zone and soil in making planting decisions.  Matt Boehner, one of our Master Naturalists, volunteered in Joplin on the Extreme Makeover project and shares his experience below.

Extreme Makeover creates Extreme Burden

Sago Palm- Wikimedia
First, I will state that fully comprehending the physical and emotional loss that the families in Joplin and Duquesne have been dealt is beyond imaginable and I send my sincerest prayers and best wishes of good fortune on to each and every person and all others adversely affected by the May 22nd tornado.

As a landscape architect, we take an oath of integrity to protect the health, safety and welfare of our built and natural environments. I maintain this oath through a dedicated practice with clients through responsible planning and design, details, specifications, and a strong passion for education within the community through various volunteer activities. As a volunteer on site with the recent “7 Homes in 7 Days” with Extreme Makeover Home Edition in Joplin, I was personally enriched to witness the miraculous efforts of thousands of people from all over the world joining together to help complete strangers take a few steps farther in that healing process. I was also, slighted, at least professionally, for a complete lack of erosion control or sediment fence, sod being placed on slopes greater than 3:1, and inappropriate plant material being installed to complete the “themes” of each home. During a break, I wandered through the makeshift staging area for the landscape material; Desert Marigold, Red Fox Sedge, Mexican Petunia were just a few of the identification tags that caused my stomach to churn, but none more than that of Cycus revoluta, or Sago Palm.*

I am not sure where to begin with how much this plant does not belong in Southwest Missouri. I spent several years in Arizona and Southern California and am very familiar with the Sago Palm, in fact, I used it quite often in commercial and industrial applications. Although common in some residential applications, its use is limited due to the well publicized information on the toxicity and the dangers it poses to pets and children. Luckily in this case, the sago palms will brown out and die shortly after the first frost, which should be in a few weeks, so that threat may never be an issue. But, the majority of other inappropriate plant material and misuse of landscape materials not surviving to be around for the airing of the 2-hour special in January may even create a larger public relations issue between the families and the community.

Over the next few months, as redevelopment really begins on a larger scale, the rest of Joplin will look at these “Hollywood” homes as icons of recovery. However, if the majority of this new landscape is dead or dying within the next few months due to inappropriate selection and application, these seven families may be scrutinized as ungrateful and irresponsible. Are they expected to cover these costs or are they given an annual/monthly allowance for replacement and maintenance? Turf grass and irrigation repairs alone could easily surpass four-figures for each property. Will neighboring homeowners and businesses take more or less responsible steps in redevelopment? Will the city governments be able to step in and provide the necessary oversight to ensure quality, or simply approve the minimum that code allows to just get rebuilt? Will another reality television show come in to “Make it Right”?

Ignoring the landscape as an integral component of development and redevelopment is fairly common in our region, but that attitude is changing as communities are becoming more conscious of their neighbors, both man-made and natural. The practice of sustainable site development has vastly grown throughout SW Missouri over the past few years as information and availability of sustainable site planning, design, and construction techniques become more available. There may not be, nor should there be an easy solution, but as anyone that has experienced any loss knows that the healing process cannot come overnight by simply waving a wand or moving a bus. Physically, it will take Joplin and Duquesne years to recover; emotionally, it may never truly heal. Hopefully, with the help from the surrounding area, both will become better communities defined by a heartened resiliency and a sense of place that forever remembers what happened on May 22nd, 2011 at 5:34pm.

Matt Boehner, RLA, ASLA, CSI
Landscape Architect

* Sago Palm can occasionally grow in an area as cool as Hardiness Zone 7b.  Joplin is in Zone 6a, further north and too cold for its survival.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rodent Whiskers

University of Sheffield
Ever notice the whiskers on a rat in the cartoons?  Unlike those of men, they aren't just a fashion statement but serve as their primary tactile organ.  By "whisking" them back and forth they explore objects, lightly touching them, generally without bending the hairs.  The closer they are to the object, the less they move their whiskers.  High-speed video studies from the University of Sheffield have shown they move them over a surface in the same way we use our fingers.*

A new study by the same group has now shown that a South American marsupial which is thought to be related to some of the earliest mammals shows a similar behavior.  It suggests that whisking by these early evolving mammals, which were primarily nocturnal, gave them an important advantage over the more common reptiles of that period.

The team is now developing robots with whiskers that can navigate without vision.  They would have potential in search and rescue operations where smoke and dust precludes vision.  An interesting idea as long as they don't teach them to chew our electrical cords.

How do rats sneak through small spaces?  These and other answers are at ratbehavior.org
Science Daily 2007

Friday, November 18, 2011

Snow Birds

The Dark-eyed Junco featured in today's Springfield News-Leader was my mother's favorite bird.  It shows up in late fall and hangs around the bird feeders until spring.  Although not particularly dramatic in appearance, its feisty little hops and struts make for outdoor entertainment through the window on a blustery winter day.

The article states that "The bird is common throughout its range, although some studies show it could be experiencing a slight decline because of habitat changes in its nesting range."  How do they determine that there is a slight decline in a common bird species population?  This was a good question to ask Charley Burwick, the Springfield Master Naturalist bird brain in residence.

He tells me that in addition to biologists that study specific species, much of the data comes from citizen scientists like you and I.  Country wide counts conducted yearly can compare the numbers of all species seen.  If there is a trend of declining numbers of a species compared to other common birds, this provides good information on the population in general.

Here are the major surveys which involve birders.
The sites above also show past results which can be used to determine regional and national trends.  While some bird species are in decline, the birders numbers are trending upward.  They can be spotted by their binoculars, their posture with their necks thrown back, their constant movement and the characteristic excited cry, "There is another (fill in the blank)!!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy Rattlesnake- Click to enlarge
Connie Johnson shared these remarks when she brought pictures of a Pygmy Rattlesnake to the last MN Chapter meeting:
 "Western Pygmy’s are small pretty rattlesnakes with a tiny rattle. Our personal observations show that they are most apt to be seen from the first of September to the middle of October.   This may be due to the temperature and light changes that encourage them to move toward their winter dens.
 This photos were taken on my farm road on a cool morning in the middle of September 2011.  Usually these snakes are pretty docile and don’t crawl away unless they are disturbed with direct contact.   This snake allowed me to get quite close for these photos and did not move his body although he carefully followed  me with slight head movements.  I was very respectful of his “space”.

Tom Johnson’s book, Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, tells us that this snake ranges in length from 15-20 inches long and is the smallest species of rattlesnake in North America.The color is described as brownish gray with small dark brown and black blotches.  The head has a distinct black stripe which angles from the eye to the corner of the mouth and the belly is dusky cream with irregularly spaced transverse bars."
The Western Pygmy Rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius, is found in the southern counties of Missouri.  It has an orange to almost pink stripe along its spine.  These slender snakes seldom reach 24 inches so their markings and the tiny rattle require close inspection.  Don't depend on hearing their faint high frequency rattle which sounds like a grasshopper.  

Although usual shy, they can occasionally be more aggressive.  Their bite can cause lots of pain but isn't likely to be fatal.  I know of one man who received multiple bites when he picked several of them barehanded out of a wood pile.  He ended up on dialysis from the accumulated toxin.  Bad decisions can produce bad results.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Human Community

"What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails..."

Mitochondria- Wikimedia
Not quite true but substitute bacteria and you are on the right track.   These thoughts were stimulated by an interesting article we came across in the NAMA newsletter*.  Not Just Kingdoms But Communities by Susan Goldhor**  is a thoughtful brief essay on our relationship to the biological world.  I have posted a copy at Google Docs.

It is now generally accepted that the mitochondria in our cells are of bacterial origin, specifically proteobacteria.  Without plunging deeply into the biology, the current endosymbiotic hypothesis suggests that bacteria were taken up by a cell (endocytosis- a common phenomona) and subsequently not only survived but reproduced within the cells as they divided.

That is enough science for now.   I suggest you read Not Just Kingdoms But Communities. Just one page long, it is rich in insights.   Part bacteria, part virus, you may be what your cells ate- billions of years ago.

* North American Mycological Association
** NOT JUST KINGDOMS BUT COMMUNITIES Condensed from Musings by Susan Goldhor Boston Mycoloical Club ,Bulletin, Vol 66 #2, 2011 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mormon Fritillary

One of the joys of our organization is getting to play "Stump the Master Naturalist" with friends.  The odds are with them usually, but today was a rare exception.  I am posting this to show the power of some of our online resources.

An old friend and amateur nature photographer, Joe Motto, sent me this picture with the message, "Shot this image in British Columbia. Can you ID him for me?"  Since most butterflies can't fly across the continental divide, I knew it wasn't going to be anything I had ever seen. 

His picture looked somewhat similar to the Great Spangled Fritillary,  Speyeria cybele, but that is an eastern species.  With my half-vast knowledge of lepidoptera (and a high-speed internet connection) I identified this western species as what I think is a Mormon Fritillary, Speyeria mormonia

Great Spangled Fritillary
Knowing that it was so close to our fritillaries in appearance and form, I went to butterfliesandmoths.org/.  Using their "Regional Checklist" feature on the top banner, you can find all the listed species for "Canada-British Columbia".   Selecting the genus Speyeria brought up the picture to the right.

Mormon Fritillary - BoMoNA

It isn't usually this easy, but it does serve to illustrate that there are a lot of tools available to us amateur naturalists, even of those of us who lack Joe's gift for photography.

You can see some of his remarkable pictures at naturescapes.net.  We had the pleasure of traveling to Africa and Borneo with Joe and his wife, Joy, and I can attest to the saying, "It takes a village to carry all his camera equipment." 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tractor Repair 101

John Deere pack rat nest- Click to enlarge
I had to have my tractor repaired because it was rapidly leaking diesel (3 gallons over night!).  As I called today to see if it was repaired, my loving wife said, "They probably found a packrat nest under the hood and it had chewed up the hoses."  I smiled tolerantly at her wifely simplistic diagnosis.  A man knows that there are any number of reasons for a leak, including plugged filters, defective valves and a loosened thingy under the motor. 

While I pondered the complicated fuel system of a tractor based on my half-vast experience, the mechanic then answered the phone.   He reported excitedly, "You should have seen the packrat nest under the hood!  It was so big that we took a picture of it.  The rat had chewed the line out of the fuel tank."

The term packrat commonly refers to our wood rats in the genus Neotoma.  There are eight different Neotoma species in North America.   Although they are the size of the Norway rat, model for many cartoons and comic strips, they lack the sharply pointed nose and scaly tail.  They have lovable big eyes, soft, fine fur, and large ears with whitish feet and bellies.

Although they enjoy building nests under our deck, in our barn, or even our tractor), they usually eat outside unless food is available in the structure.  In our case, it had been chewing into bags of corn we were using to trap feral hogs.  Linda Ellis has had her car rewired multiple times due to her rats taste for wiring insulation.

They are also known as trade rats as they not only bring colored or bright shiny objects to their nest, but they will at times drop one object to substitute it for another found along the way, effectively trading them.  Ours seem particularly enamored of orange electric cords, small screw drivers, alligator battery clips and anything attached to a piece of equipment valued at over $30.  The good news is when I lose something, the rat gets the blame.

This wasn't the first visit rats have made to our tractor.  Some years back, I put bright red rectangles of bar bait out in the back corners of the barn to kill the rats.  A few weeks later my neighbor borrowed the tractor and kindly checked the oil.  He found four strips of bar bait neatly lined up on the top of the radiator where a rat had deposited them, leaving tiny foot prints in the dust.

When we bought our creek house it needed some repairs.  The carpenter found a packrat nest in the eves which included 12 stick ball point pens, a girl's school picture and a plastic handled paring knife.  I don't know what it had in mind but felt we should report it to the sheriff as some kind of pervert.  Ever since, Barb sleeps with a gun.

icwdm.org shows range maps and discusses control measures.
Thanks to Larson Farm and Lawn for the picture.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

An Ah Haw Moment

Recently I had an "ah haw!" moment.  Actually it was more of an "Ah- a haw!" moment.  It was when I discovered that the "flowering dogwood" in front of the cabin is a rusty black haw, Viburnum rufidulum.  Unfortunately I had pointed it out to a group of teachers studying forestry at Bull Creek and the instructor Robert DeMoss* very politely corrected me.

Rusty black haw bud **
My problem in identification you might say stems from the stem and the trunk.  The bark at first glance looks like the very distinctive flowering dogwood bark.  Dogwood leaves are currently a bright crimson color, while this tree's leaves were a little less intense red.

The branches were opposite, just like a dogwood.  You may recall "MAD Buck" as a mnemonic reminder for opposite branching trees (Maple, Ash, Dogwood and Buckeye).   I was taught "MAD Cap Buck" which includes Caprifoliaceae family, its viburnum genus including shrubs and small trees like the black haws.  Just when the "Cap" started to pay off, some %$#&amp// botanists have decided to move viburnums into the Adoxaceae family.  Try using that word in a sentence!

The really distinguishing characteristic is the tree buds.  The flowering dogwood bud is onion shaped while the black haw has a flame shaped bud, rusty in color with a tiny white band around the base, reminiscent of a ring-necked snake.  The nice thing about trying to identify understory trees is that the buds and stems are available, unlike mature oaks and hickories.  In addition to avoiding snap judgements, I need to start paying more attention to those budding thoughts.

There is a good description of the rusty black haw at wildflower.org.

*Robert DeMoss is a forester with the NRCS out of Ozark.
** Missouriplants.com

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall Videos

Recently Larry Whiteley sent me pictures of a bear sitting in a deer tree stand.  Deer stand sounds like it would be for deer which lack the ability to climb.  The bear apparently did not recognize that the stand was reserved for hunters and it obviously didn't have a deer permit.  I mentioned the pictures to Jay Barber and he told me about a video he had seen of a bear climbing up onto a tree stand- with the hunter in it!  Here is the youtube.com video.

On a more relaxing note, this video was sent to me by Gala Solari.  It shows a murmuration of starlings in Ireland, a shape shifting flight of thousands of birds seemingly flying patterns for the sheer joy of being able to do so.  No one knows why they do this spectacular acrobatic display at the onset of winter, let alone how they avoid collisions. 

Murmurations like this are seen annually in Europe.  Starlings are native there and their numbers have actually been dropping off lately in Great Britain.  We on the other hand have them in large numbers without the joy of the murmurations.  The closest we come to this sight are sunset flights of migrating birds such as purple martins and chimney swifts and winter gatherings of red-winged blackbirds.

Enjoy.  Video details are at huffingtonpost.com.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Frost Flowers- 2011

Ice Ribbon
Once again the frost flowers of autumn are amazing.  Every year around this time the first freezing temperatures create ice in the thin stems of the frost weed a.k.a. white crown beard (Verbesina virginica).  The ice is squeezed out through long splits in the stems, creating thin ribbons.  Some years these are delicate thick ribbons at the base of the plant.  Another year they may produce a series of "petals" radiating all around the stem like icy pinwheels. 

This year's "blooms" are the tallest we have seen.  The first hard frost on Saturday morning produced icy ribbons two feet up the stem, a striking sight of glistening white where there had been only dull gray stems before.  We walked along the driveway, photographing them as the sun's beams first let them glow.  After their brief moment of glory, like Icarus having flown too close to the sun, their icy "wings" melt like his wax and the drops fall to the ground.

Single stem split in fourths
The next frosty morning produced an encore, with ribbons now extending three feet up the stems.  This time the stems were split wide open leaving thin columns to support the dead heads for a few more days.

During the growing season, the crown beard and its fellow frost weed, yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternafolia) are unremarkable looking with tall winged stems, large leaves and small flower heads, rather like plain sisters of a sunflower.  They grow on roadsides and fence lines in the neglected soils.  I avoid mowing these strips, knowing that their brief moment in the sun will be worth the wait.

Past Posts are from  November 2010 and December 2009.
More detailed science is available these sites:
- biosci.utexas.edu 
- http://my.ilstu.edu, /~jrcarter/ice/diurnal/