Monday, December 10, 2007

After the Final Project

I just sent off all the project work to our instructor. I had a devil of a time in the last week, what with the network being down at home, and being dicey at work. Every time I tried to upload work, the Internet connections would hang.

I learned a tremendous amount about my local environment. I now know where the watershed is, where the local nuclear plant is (not that far!), and what environmental issues face my community. I also made friends with local gardeners, and received help with plant identification and assistance in planning changes to the landscape.

One of the biggest lessons I learned came at a distance. In my former home in the Low Country region, I faced the prospect of a favorite tree entering its last years. The willow in the backyard is failing fast - it may not last another storm season.

So, I'm preparing to plant a successor to the willow. I have someone with more energy than I who will prepare the site, and I have given her permission to choose a tree.

I realized that I waited too long to replace the tree. I needed to plan for succession before it became an immediate need. As a result, the backyard will lose most of its shade for a few years, until the new tree takes hold. I've heard the folk wisdom - "don't wait until you're thirsty to dig your well". That also applies to gardens.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Planning for Next Year

I was walking around the yard today. I noticed the number of trees with broken, unhealthy, or damaged limbs. I'm going to print out a hard copy of my landscape map this week, and use it as a guide to marking trees for trimming, pruning damaged limbs, and cutting down species I don't want.

Management is a major part of the job. I've noticed the invasive species creeping into environments that don't ruthlessly keep them out. On my way home from church today, I noticed the damage caused by kudzu along major highways. I'm only a short distance from 21 Bypass (South Anderson Road), where kudzu has killed or caused significant damage to many trees.

Any new plants will have to be drought-tolerant, in addition to being shade-tolerant. We'll be making plant purchases with the recent water shortage in mind.

The Last Day of My Landscape Activity

I had an amazing discovery today - I found a fungus at the root of an oak tree in the back. I was walking the grounds again, and noticed some blackened protrusions near the base. I nudged it with my foot, and it broke off.

I feel fairly confident identifying it as conk, in scientific terms, DRYADEUS ROOT ROT (Inonotus dryadeus). It's common in oak trees (which this was), particularly where the tree has been damaged. It's often found following a wound caused by a lawnmower or other garden machine. It can injure the health of the tree, so I'll be keeping an eye on it in the future.

I took the photo below, using my MacBook's built-in camera. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to get a good photo using my QX3 Intel digital microscope. If I can capture a good shot, I'll add it to this post.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Preparing for Next Spring

This is the time of year land owners have to prepare for the next year:

  • Clearing the pathways. With so many trees, the accumulation of leaves has been heavy. It's partly a matter of clearing up enough of the landscape to comply with local ordinances, keep the neighbors happy, clear walking areas sufficiently to allow safe passage, and yet keep habitats available for all those living here.
  • Checking out the seed catalogs. I'm focusing on increasing the number of native plants.
  • Building the composting bin. We're planning to use the leaf litter as a base.
  • Cleaning and re-stocking the birdhouses. There are 3 on the grounds, and I want to offer different feed in each. I'll be monitoring them to see which is the preferred mix.
  • Marking trees and bushes for pruning. Some of the bushes are overcrowded in their location, and need thinning. Others are not in good health, and need to go. Many of the trees have dead limbs that need removing.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Won't You NOT Come Into My Parlor?

I took down the curtains (left by the previous owner), and found MAJOR spider webs. On one hand, I wanted to clean them out. But, I know that spiders keep OTHER bugs from taking over. So, I'm torn. As long as I don't see any Black Widows or other problem spiders, I'm going to move slowly on clearing them out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fall Changes

The leaves are largely down, cluttering the yard with their presence. That drives some people crazy, and they feverishly work to gather them up, and pile them on the street, for the refuse company to cart away.

Then, in the spring, they buy various mulches, soils, and such, to spread around the yard to help things grow.

I'm not sure I understand it.

I do clear the leaves from part of the yard. Just around the house, near the foundation, I sweep the leaves away. I do that, because, in my experience, undesirable wildlife will take up residence. I do want to keep the mice and such away, and so do work to manage the potential habitats that I consider too near the house.

OTOH, I put out seed in the feeders. I have several, and fill them regularly.

So, some animals I try to attract, others I try to keep away (at least from my immediate environment).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend

I won't be in town again until late Saturday - I'm very much looking forward to seeing the changes in my landscape then. Until then, I'm following the weather reports.

32 degrees, partly cloudy - sounds a lot better than the weather we're having in Cleveland. I've been bundled up, both indoors and out, for days.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Autumn in SC

This year in Rock Hill is a riot of color. My neighborhood is aflame with reds, yellows, oranges, and such. The weather conditions are perfect for fall leave color changes - dry, followed by cool weather. If it's too humid, or not cool enough, the leaves won't show such a dramatic change. The first year I was in SC, it was unusually wet - mucho hurricane activity, and relatively warm. I thought the color changes (or, rather, the lack of them) were the norm.

This year, I'm seeing the more customary color changes. It's been quite interesting to see the color changes of different tree and bush species. As far as I can tell, more of the members of a single species change color within a fairly narrow spectrum. As many of these species are new to me, it's been a revelation.

The evergreens are more evident, now that the deciduous species aren't masking them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

GIS Overview

I found a site that provides the occurrence of species by location, and displays a map. It's a widget (hot-keyed small application), used mostly by Macs.

I'm going to have to spend some time learning how to use this tool, but I can see that it has some applications for my classes. I've used GPS in the past, and would like to teach students how to integrate the science and the social studies better.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What is a Naturalist?

I've spent much of this class trying to learn more about the community's around me, and, in some respects, I have felt a failure.

Other participants can confidently identify species, knowledgeably discuss the life cycle of organisms, and uncover minute specimens from habitats I would unthinkingly bypass. So, I have followed behind, trying to play catch-up, competing with fellow students who started a light-year ahead of me.

And, often, failing, at least in my eyes.

I'm terrible at bird identification. They usually move too fast for me to focus. By the time I'm looking in the right place, they're gone. I'm usually wearing my reading glasses when the cry goes out “look, over there”. By the time I've secured the glasses, and turned around, it's “hasta la vista, baby!”

There are only a few birds on my list, and most of them are almost impossible to miss (cardinals, crows, hawks). The remainder are those I am familiar with, as the birds also are seen in Ohio, my native state.

I'm even worse when it comes to identifying bird songs. I have tinnitus, a constant hissing sound in the background of my world. I can't hear the higher pitches, even with amplification. If I could just persuade the little darlings to “mike up”, I'd be fine.

I've had the most success with trees. I have a number of oaks in my landscape, and they are relatively easy to identify by the shape and other characteristics of the leaves. Still, I find them easier to identify once they're dead - like a pathologist, I'm most comfortable with the formerly-living. Once off the tree, I can examine them up-close, even putting them under the microscope or hand lens. After our second trip, I surprised myself by the ability to spot a loblolly, even at a distance. Part of the improvement is that I spent enough time to make the distinction between various types of conifers.

I've been working too many long days - in the last month, I've seldom reached home before 6 pm. That has limited my useful time outside; it becomes dark too soon, and I can no longer make out details.

But, I have found other attractions than sight identification. I have learned to recognize the rustling sound the local rabbit makes as he scampers across my front lawn. Always from the north part of the property to the south; always following the same path. I've never seen more than one at a time.

The various insects make their presence known at night.

At first, in the dark, it seems very still. After dinner, the local car traffic is less; although, as I sit there, I can make out even distant traffic.

After a while, I can hear movement in the bushes; sounds that I wouldn't even have noticed, seem very loud. Sometimes, if I sit there long enough, I can see small movements. It's hard to sit there very long without moving, but it's worth it.

I've been planning to take my telescope out for some star-gazing. Unfortunately, when I've had the time, the weather hasn't cooperated. Cold isn't the problem, overcast skies are. I may have to wait another few weeks, when the cold means less moisture, and viewing is better.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Enjoying a Different Ecosystem

I'm in Myrtle Beach, enjoying the SC2 conference. This year, I'm focusing on Chemistry sessions. I've collected copious posters and stuff. It's nice to be out of town, and knowing that I don't have to go to work tomorrow. By Monday, I'll be ready to take up my life again, and march forward.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fire Ants - Die, Die, Die!

I love most of God's creatures. Even the ones I don't particularly enjoy, I recognize they have a place in the ecosystem.

I make an exception for fire ants. I just discovered them on my home territory, and, as far as I'm concerned, they can die a quick and grisly death. I still have the scars from my first experience with the monsters, and I hate them with a passion.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Home Again, At Last!

After a VERY long trip, I'm home again. The Clemson Forest field trip was fascinating, but I'm exhausted.

I set up the Flickr account. I sent the information to Karen; when I get some time tomorrow, I'll post a message on signing in and posting your photos.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fern Identified

As I was walking the grounds, I noticed the above fern, and was very happy to realize that I recognized it as a Christmas Fern, which I first saw at Caesar's Head.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bunny Alert!

As I was walking to my car this morning, I saw a flash of brown. From the movement, it has to be a rabbit. I'll have to consider that when planning next year's vegetable garden.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

On the Patio

I finally made time to set up chairs on the patio. I need to find an inexpensive table, sturdy, but not too heavy, to use as a base when I go outside. I think if I'm able to set up my computer, it will make it easier to manage outdoor blogging.

The picture above was taken with the MacBook's built-in camera. One BIG advantage is that it makes no noise. I've been trying for several weeks to take a picture of the birds that nest in the bushes along the left front of the house. No luck so far, and my vision is not that good that I've been able to find out what they are. I need to set up camp in the front yard, with binoculars, and wait. Sooner or later, I should be able to get a good look at them.

Time is the BIG constraint in this. I've not been able to make it home early enough in the day to get much time outside. By the time I get home, it's usually near dark, and we've yet to eat.

Today, I'm sitting, enjoying the sounds. Although it's a quiet neighborhood, when I focus on the noise, it seems to overwhelm me. Among the sounds:
  • Planes overhead at a distance
  • Cars - about once a minute. And this is on a Sunday. They are not right outside my door, but the sound carries from about a mile or so down near the highway.
  • Birds - many are fairly high up n the trees. The sounds include cawing, chirping, and a kind of trilling. As I listen, I can begin distinguishing between the sounds.
  • Dogs - we have some prodigious barkers.
  • Motorcycles - they seem to be around more on the weekends.
  • A train - we're a few blocks from a train track, but I can hear it clearly in the distance.

    I just took a video of a squirrel in a tree. It appeared to be sending a threatening message - possibly at me, since I am the only other large organism in the area.

    [Due to technical difficulties, I'm going to have to upload the squirrel video later]

    Daddy-Long-Legs abound near (and sometimes inside) the house. I've mostly left them alone, occasionally moving one away from the door.

    I just spotted a hawk flying overhead. That's the second one today (the other was a few blocks away, at our church parking lot.

    Their flight is a wonder of efficiency - they bare move as they soar through the air. They seem to be able to catch even a slight updraft, and minimize their energy output.

    The silvery shimmer of webs runs through many of the paths of the grounds. So far, I've left them mostly undisturbed, except as I needed access to other parts of the grounds.

    Today, I walked around, familiarizing myself with the back part of the grounds. I'm beginning to know where to look to find life.

    What I just saw took me by surprise. I saw a small (sparrow-sized) bird, black head, white front, small beak. I was so astonished that it was so near, I just saw there, watching it. Completely forgot about my camera.

    I've seen several moths fly by close just now.

    I'm back inside, grading, and have just looked through the Sibley book for the bird.

    Nada. Zilch. I'll try later on the web.

    3:04 pm - I'm reasonably certain that the bird is a tree swallow. The head appeared black, but it could have been a very dark blue-green. It's one of the few common varieties with a white underbelly.
  • Thursday, October 18, 2007

    A New SC Science Resource

    I found A Natural State, a site on KnowItAll, where artists of various regions in SC provide examples of their work, and write about the influence of nature in their region on their artwork.

    Sandlapper Magazine is available online.

    Teachers can give their students a preview of nature field trips via NatureScene.

    RiverVenture allows students and teachers to remotely explore the rivers of SC.

    The RiverVenture Journal includes videos of SC's river resources.

    The above fern is one I'd like to identify. It seems to be a little less stressed by the lack of water than some of the other plants. I may want to take a cutting, and cultivate it indoors under a grow light. If it propagates well, it would be nice to begin replacing plants that aren't handling the drought with one that appears to be better suited.

    Saturday, October 13, 2007

    Finally Some Time in the Field

    I've been captive to the indoors for almost a week. By the time I left my school at night, it was already dark.

    It couldn't be helped, but that didn't make it any easier. By this weekend, I was starved for time outside.

    I started late this afternoon with a stroll around the grounds.

    I can't wait for the spring - magnolias are a favorite of mine. As a non-native, I'd never seen one until I moved south two years ago. It wasn't until near the end of the school year that I saw one in bloom for the first time.

    Even after the blooms dried up, the magnolias provided cover for other organisms. They are, however, quite eager to spread, and will take over readily any empty space.

    Other pushy plants are below:

    Monkey Grass will colonize, given a chance.

    So will ivy. This year, I've chosen to allow it free roam. With drought conditions, it seemed better to allow a little temporary overgrowth than leave soil uncovered. Although I've found that most of the grounds have adapted to the lack of water, the mosses have taken a hit.

    When we first saw the house in July, what part of the ground that didn't have grass was covered in mosses. At that time, they were moist and green. As can be seen above, most have dried up. With the water restrictions, I'm hand-watering any vegetables, and letting the rest fend for itself. I've left the dropped leaves and clippings as mulch cover for now. That has helped with water retention.

    I'm noticing many of the shrubs and trees appear stressed. Bugs are chomping down vigorously, and one of the trees has some brown spots on it. I'm assuming that's not healthy.

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Testing out a possible background for the blog

    What is This Spider?

    It's not that clear in the picture, but the spider is green with red markings on the abdomen. The nearest match I could find was the Green Lyssomanes - but the picture in the identification book shows white markings, as well. This one didn't have those. I found it in its web in the Low Country region this last weekend.

    Bird Sounds

    I've found a site with digitally recorded bird sounds - not just their songs, but also the sounds they make as they move around. The author, Doug Von Gausig, has compiled a large variety of animal sounds that have to be heard to be believed.

    Despite spending a LOT of time lately outside, and listening to birds, I'm afraid I may be hopeless about being able to identify birds by species, using sound identification. My hearing is impaired; I have both some dimming of ability to hear high-pitched sound, as well as tinnitus.

    What is tinnitus? Wikipedia has a failry decent explanation
    Tinnitus can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. It is usually described as a ringing noise, but in some patients it takes the form of a high pitched whining, buzzing, hissing, humming, or whistling sound, or as ticking, clicking, roaring, "crickets" or "locusts", tunes, songs, or beeping.[3] It has also been described as a "whooshing" sound, as of wind or waves.[4]
    In my case, it's a hissing sound, similar to static on a radio.

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Time to Restore My Soul

    I've been thinking about the missing ingredient in my life, and I've decided that it's not making time for the things I truly enjoy. I tend to make and follow a tightly-wound schedule, trying to cram in all that I can.

    The trouble is, that schedule doesn't include recuperative down-time. What I mean by that is time that's not "owed" to a worthwhile activity, time that's not "killed" with entertainment euthanasia, time that allows me to quietly observe and enjoy my natural surroundings.

    I bought a house recently, that is in the midst of an acre of mixed vegetation. Literally within steps of any door, I can be surrounded by a staggering variety of species, in all kingdoms.

    My goal this month is to invest at least 20 hours exploring and enjoying my territory. To make sure that I do, I'm going to set up a backpack. I'll leave a hand lens, field guides, a camera, observation book, pens and pencils, and some light protective gear (poncho, sunglasses, etc.). I'll leave it near the door, so I'll have the materials and equipment ready to go, when the opportunity arises. I want to make it as convenient as possible to fulfill my goal.

    I've been documenting my territory and working on my landscape map. Below is a picture of one of the many mosses - I'll be scraping a sample later this weekend, and looking at it with the microscope at school. I have a QX3, so I'll examine it, and take a picture with the microscope. I've been researching moss, fungus, and lichens - with luck, I'll be able to identify it. If not, I'll bring a sample on our next field trip.

    Here's a picture of the property from GoogleEarth. I'm going to be using my GPS to walk the perimeter of the property, and mark the coordinates. It should be useful in creating the landscape map.

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    Clemson's Master Naturalist Course

    I've decided to set up my course work online. I already blog, so this is a comfortable form for me.

    This blog will be dedicated to the main part of the course - Mapping the Landscape. I've chosen the landscape around my house, as it is approximately 1 acre of mixed terrain and vegetation. My territory contains shaded, sunny, cultivated and wild habitats. The former owner was an avid gardener, but the property became somewhat neglected in recent years. I've spotted multiple birds, as well as locating some of the many nests prior tenants left behind.

    The bird feeders were empty and mainly inhabitated by spiders.

    As can be seen in these pictures, the holly and the ivy are crowding out all other plants. My plan is to find species native to the Piedmont area, and start a replanting program that promotes a more varied and healthy landscape, and better habitats for other wildlife.