Sunday, February 26, 2017

February Fakeout

The abnormally dry and abnormally warm temperatures this week lasted a lot longer than they have in past years. Having a spring-like thaw is traditional, days when mourning cloaks break out and harbinger of spring first puts on its green. But this week's February fakeout of 80 degrees, high winds, and no moisture was different. High fire danger ratings persisted due to low fuel moistures, high temperatures and humidities dipping into the 28% range. It reminded me of April. So did seeing buttercups and bluets in bloom.

Large colonies of blooming harbinger of spring existed along the bottomlands of the Niangua River this week. I wonder if the native bees that feed on the earliest of the wildflowers broke out during the hot days or if, like birds, they are triggered to move by other mechanisms like day length. Garter snakes and basking turtles were also out this week and I'm hearing Eastern phoeobes lately.

The 28 degree night and cooler temperatures are certainly welcome in late February, and we could use a decent snow as well. As Bill McKibben writes in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, nature is no longer predictable. Weather events and fluctuations are more extreme today than in the past. The timberdoodles are right on time and a lot of the native trees like the oaks don't seem to be tricked by the temperature (though I did see an aromatic sumac in full bloom this week, and a morel mushroom was reported from the far southwest county of McDonald this week). The days march on towards spring, and who knows, perhaps in coming years we'll see production of homegrown Tempranillo in North Missouri.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Great Backyard Bird Count: February 17-20

(photo credit John Foster from the GBBC website)The annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins on Friday as the kickoff to the long President's Day weekend. This fun event allows birdwatchers all over the world to submit bird checklists to eBird with real time results posted for everyone to see. One can track the state and county checklists, find out what bird species are being documented in your area or a favorite birding haunt. Sign up here before Friday! This four day event is really enjoyable, watching as checklists pour in.I will be in Louisiana submitting checklists from my dad's house and local wildlife refuges, so I may even log a Vermilion Flycatcher. But I'll be watching what's happening at home and throughout the Ozarks.

This week on the Great Backyard Bird Count website, you can comb through the 2016 results and make yourself familiar with the online platform before Friday when the count begins again. If you haven't signed up for an eBird account, it's a little cumbersome, but once you have an account, the GBBC results submission page will direct you with a simple link.

If you like to take photos of birds, the website also hosts a photo contest with prizes and a section where one can upload photos for everyone to see. Join in!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Settin' the Woods on Fire

As predicted, we witnessed ideal fire weather this past week. Fuel moistures were low, but not in drought in most areas, humidity hovered in the mid-30s% range, and winds were nice and calm. It has been several years since I brought my driptorch to four consecutive fires on four consecutive days. By Thursday afternoon, I was officially exhausted, but thrilled with all the fire on the ground. The Western Ozark Highlands were not the only parts of the region to see fire this week; throughout the state, crews took to the lines to implement this ancient natural disturbance, and with good results and no major problems.

With such mild winter temperatures this season, I was almost expecting to see some greenup in the ground flora. My post-fire patrols didn't reveal a lot of scorched green plants, just the thatch burned off. Mid-March will likely be too late to burn considering the collateral damage, especially if these warm temperatures persist. But this past week was ideal for burning. Next week looks as promising, but we might be getting a bit too dry for woodland fires. I noted three firewhirls while on Tuesday's fireline, but the fire moved so quickly it didn't burn to mineral soil, which is good in the event there were some sedges starting to pop up.

Woodlands interspersed with glades covered in rank warm season grass thatch tends to be what I like to burn the most. The almost predictable fire behavior makes it easy to tell when something may not be going right. This past week burned like clockwork, methodically, cleanly, and completely. I look forward to visiting these and other areas that saw fire recently when spring wildflower season starts in late March. I know what trails to take, what backcountry camping I need to do, and the exact places to find all of Missouri's rich floral diversity that inhabits our special natural places.