Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fire Weather Forecast (a note from Springfield NOAA's Drew)

My favorite part about attending the Fire Academy was not seeing all of the horrifying wildfires out west from the vantage point of firefighters in their fire shelters, or even the fun calculus behind fire behavior, which is admittedly pretty fun. Several years ago, I was fortunate to have a section of my class taught by the meteorologist at Springfield NOAA, Drew. He came to the class (and daily to his job) with an understanding of fire behavior in Missouri's fuel models. If I could take a week-long course on fire weather taught by Drew, I'd return to Fire Academy every summer. Unfortunately, it was only a morning session. He's an entrancing meteorologist, and also a very powerful one who issues Spot Weather Forecasts; he can make or break your wishes for prescribed fire on a given day, and his forecasts are never couched in some irrational fear of responsibly applied fire.

When Drew sends out little notes to his prescribed fire mailing list, all of us in my circle pay close attention--he knows what those fuel moistures are up to and how the combination of wicked south winds and plummeting relative humidities can quickly result in the potential for spotting or wildfires. Springfield NOAA also knows the difference between someone wanting to burn brush in a fescue pasture in mid-April with winds gusting to 30mph and a professional technician wanting to burn a tract of Ozark woodlands in Fuel Model 9. Unfortunately there are certain fire departments that don't consult with Drew and will examine one criterion, wind, before issuing burn permits. Want to burn cedar slash when there are 10 inches of snow on the ground? You probably won't get that permit if the winds are approaching 10mph. It's actively raining and it has been for a month? 1000 hr. fuels wouldn't burn if you brought a blow torch to them? If those winds are 10mph, you won't get a burn permit. (We've actually tried just on a lark.) However, today we received a note from Drew about Thursday's potential red flag conditions:

Increasing s-sw winds will start to kick in today over southeast Kansas and western Missouri with continued low humidity and continue tonight with very poor humidity recovery tonight. The stronger winds will spread east into much of the area by Thursday morning. All this will occur with strong high pressure moving off to the east and the approach of a front from the west. Some initially modest low level moisture may start to shift into the area on Thursday with winds beginning to diminish late in the day. Expected conditions will be close to Red Flag criteria Thursday with the winds easily exceeding criteria, especially from southeast Kansas into southwest and central Missouri. RH values may be somewhat marginal for the issuance of a warning depending on how fast moisture returns. But This next front will not likely barrel through the region with strong winds like the last one did last Sunday night and in may actually stall out for a time close to the Missouri and Arkansas state line late Thursday night into Friday. Some light precipitation may occur at times Friday and over the weekend.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pileated Masterpiece

I finished up my winter bird surveys last week, this year marking the eleventh year in a row I've visited this one site with 12 different locations and natural community types. We've had some great years in the past with 70 red headed woodpeckers in one chert woodland and literally hundreds of brilliant Eastern bluebirds on the crest of a ridge. This year's survey was fun, with the first winter count of 32 great blue herons in an old rookery site and at least 60 black vultures mixed in with 40 turkey vultures all sunning on a high cliff face.

With temperatures hovering around 15 degrees in the spring valley and the early morning sun barely up, our first stop was quiet. We picked up the golden-crowned kinglet we always find there, and the spring branch was rich with ducks of all kinds hanging out in the warm 56 degree waters. But along the walk, I saw the most awesome dead tree that a pileated woodpecker had been ripping apart looking for ants:

Pileated woodpeckers are truly charismatic creatures--large in size, a call that resembles a rainforest-dwelling creature, and their loud banging on trees as they excavate nest sites and hunt bugs. Their nest holes can also house swifts, owls, ducks and bats. And pileated woodpeckers aren't shy around suet feeders, either, so most rural Missouri bird feeders usually see these birds up close in the backyard.

Further down the trail, we saw a tree with concentric rings of holes around it, the work of a wintering woodpecker, the colorful yellow-bellied sapsucker. Roughly 8 feet up the tree, the top of the tree had fallen off with a very clean cut. On the ground was the fallen top of the hickory and at the site of the cut were clean concentric rings of sapsucker holes. The bird had worked the tree over so persistently that he chopped it down!

Winter birding is such a treat, especially when all the cedar waxwings show up on cedar trees and denude the evergreens of their pale blue berries. Birds in winter are remarkably easy to see with the leaves off the trees. We're in winter for the long haul now, but the days are growing longer ever slowly and in a couple of months we'll start seeing the early reports of Harbinger of Spring in the woodlands.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January is Norton Month

As a loyal consumer of Missouri's dry red wines, I receive a monthly email newsletter from the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. For the past couple of years, they have assigned a varietal of Missouri wine to each month. For example, in the hot summertime, they will promote a fruity white wine, one that pairs well with grilled food and is light enough to drink in the garden. So, too, bitter cold January has been designated as Norton Month, a time to celebrate the warmest, richest dry red wine Missouri offers. For years I've collected Nortons, knowing that they tend to age well for at least five years, sometimes up to ten years or longer. I share Missouri Nortons as gifts, sending them all over the country either as an introduction to a new grape or a reminder of what fabulous wines Missouri can produce. While many other states are producing Norton wines, Missouri's ring out as some of the finest.

My fellow Norton Wine Society member, one of the Norton Wine Travelers from balmy South Carolina, has through the years compiled the ever-burgeoning list of Missouri Norton producers. Just as winemakers themselves are distinctive by their own right, Nortons are highly variable throughout the state thanks to rich terroir, oak and steel preferences, age at the time of release, the entire winemaking process, and so forth. With approximately 90 Missouri Norton producers listed below, January is a great time to start sampling.

  • 7C’s Winery; Walnut Grove, MO
  • Adam Puchta Winery; Hermann, MO
  • Albonee Country Inn & Vineyards; Independence, MO
  • Apple Creek Vineyard;Friedheim, MO
  • Artesian Springs Winery;Park Hills, MO
  • Augusta Winery; Augusta, MO
  • Balducci Vineyard;Augusta, MO
  • Baltimore Bend Vineyard; Waverly, MO
  • Belvoir Winery; Liberty, MO
  • Bethlehem Valley Vineyards; Marthasville, MO
  • Bias Vineyards; Berger, MO
  • Blumenhof Winery; Marthasville, MO
  • Bommarito Estate Winery; New Haven, MO
  • Branson Ridge Winery;Branson, MO
  • Buck Mountain Winery; Doe Run, MO
  • Bushwacker Bend Winery; Glasgow, MO
  • Cave Vineyard; Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • Cedar Lake Cellars; Wright City, MO
  • Chandler Hill; Defiance, MO
  • Charleville Vineyards; Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • Chateau Kinori; Puxico, MO
  • Chaumette Vineyards & Winery;Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • Claverach Farm and Vineyards;Eureka, MO
  • Cooper’s Oak Winery; Higbee, MO
  • Counts Hollow; Salem, MO
  • Crown Valley Winery; Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • Durso Hills Vineyard & Winery; Marquand, MO
  • Eagle’s Nest Winery; Louisiana, MO
  • Eagle Pass Winery; Poplar Bluff, MO
  • Eichenberg Winery; Cole Camp, MO
  • Fahrmeier Family Vineyards; Lexington, MO
  • Fence Stile Vineyards; Excelsior Springs, MO
  • Heinrichshaus Vineyard & Winery; St. James, MO
  • Hermannhof Winery; Hermann, MO
  • Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery; Platte City, MO
  • Keltoi Vineyard; Oronoga, MO
  • La Bella Vineyards; Wellington, MO
  • La Dolce Vita Vineyard & Winery;Washington, MO
  • Ladoga Ridge Winery; Smithfield, MO
  • Les Bourgeois Vineyards; Rocheport, MO
  • Lindwedel Wine Garden; Branson, MO
  • Little Hills Winery; St. Charles, MO
  • Louis P. Balducci Vineyards; Augusta, MO
  • Meramec Vineyards; St. James, MO
  • Montelle Winery; Augusta, MO
  • Montserrat Vineyards; Knob Noster, MO
  • Mount Pleasant Winery; Augusta, MO
  • Mountain Grove Cellars; Mountain Grove, MO
  • Noboleis Vineyards; Augusta, MO
  • Oak Glenn Vineyards & Winery; Hermann, MO
  • Oovvda Winery; Springfield, MO
  • Peaceful Bend Vineyard; Steelville, MO
  • Persimmon Ridge Winery; Barnhart, MO
  • Pirtle Winery; Weston, MO
  • Red Fox Winery; Urich, MO
  • River Ridge Winery; Commerce, MO
  • Riverwood Winery; Rushville, MO
  • Robller Vineyard Winery; New Haven, MO
  • Rolling Meadows Vineyards; Warrenton, MO
  • Rothbrick Winery; Jackson, MO
  • Sainte Genevieve Winery; Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • Sand Creek Vineyard; Farmington, MO
  • Serenity Valley Winery;Fulton, MO
  • Seven Springs Winery; Linn Creek, MO
  • St. Francois Winery; Park Hills, MO
  • St. James Winery; St. James, MO
  • St. Jordan Creek Winery; Beaufort, MO
  • Stone Hill Winery; Hermann, MO
  • Stonehaus Farms Winery; Lee’s Summit, MO
  • Sugar Creek Winery & Vineyards; Defiance, MO
  • Terre Beau Vineyards; Dover, MO
  • Thousand Oaks Vineyard; Patton, MO
  • Three Squirrels Winery; St. James, MO
  • Tower Rock Winery; Altenburg, MO
  • Traver Home Winery; Willow Springs, MO
  • Twin Oaks Vineyards; Farmington, MO
  • Tyler Ridge Vineyards; Springfield, MO
  • Van Till Farms; Rayville, MO
  • Vance Vineyards; Fredericktown, MO
  • Viandel Vineyard Home; Mountain View, MO
  • Villa Antonio Winery;Hillsboro, MO
  • Weingarten Vineyard Winery; Weingarten, MO
  • Wenwood Farm Winery;Bland, MO
  • West Winery; Macon, MO
  • Westphalia Vineyards;Westphalia, MO
  • Whispering Oaks Vineyard;Seymour, MO
  • White Mule Winery;Owensville,MO
  • White Rose Winery;Carthage, MO
  • Yellow Farm House;Defiance, MO
  • Friday, January 03, 2014

    Christmas Bird Count Season

    My winter bird surveys will have to be delayed this week with Monday's temperatures reaching a high of only 3 degrees F. I'm anxious to get out on a sunny day to find kinglets and hermit thrush, and the interesting waterfowl that hang out in a 56 degree Ozark spring. On On December 14, 2013, a snowy and cloudy day in mid-Missouri, 55 birders of all levels of expertise fanned out across the area to participate in my area's 51st Annual Christmas Bird Count. The 12 teams of birders had veteran leaders who were familiar with their areas, well aware of such details like the best place to find winter wrens and Virginia rail. Weather conditions were not optimum for the count, with the skies socked in with heavy clouds, frozen ponds and the early rounds of the area's first ugly snow and sleet event. Nevertheless, the seasoned birders documented 95 species of birds that day, only one shy of 2012’s 96 species.

    Even though the species count was very similar, there were quite a few differences between the two years’ counts, including the absence in 2013 of pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches. Cedar waxwings were not as commonly detected in 2013 compared to 2012, with only 230 total this year compared to last year’s 1,490 individuals. In 2012, no group detected either ruby-crowned kinglet or golden-crowned kinglet; they were back this year with Area 5 and 2N finding all 6 golden-crowned and Area 5 finding both ruby-crowned kinglets. Coots were also not as prevalent this year compared to 2012 with only 10 seen in 2013 compared to 140 in 2012. However, 2013 was a great year for sparrows! This year we doubled the number of white-crowned sparrows from 55 in 2012 to 106 in 2013. Swamp sparrow occurrences also increased from 64 last year to 229 in 2013, and 356 American tree sparrows were seen this December, compared to 117 in 2012.

    One group found a the year’s only golden eagle along a trail, a rightful cause of much excitement during the final tally. Eight of twelve count circles saw bald eagles that day. Area 1S was responsible for the only Northern bobwhite quail this year, with 9 total. 1S also documented 198 horned larks in 2013. Area 7E found the only canvasbacks, two individuals, for the whole count, and Area 6 discovered the only Virginia rail this year. Area 5 was responsible for bolstering the numbers of swamp sparrows with 117 individuals counted. The 2013 Christmas Bird Count may be one of the first counts in many years in which no feeder watchers participated.

    As in years’ past, all of the data will be housed on the official Christmas Bird Count website for all to see. If you’ve always wanted to participate in a Christmas Bird Count but can’t bear the thought of braving inclement weather, we can always use eyes on backyard bird feeders to add to our winter bird data collection!