Monday, January 29, 2018

January's Fire Season

We are experiencing longer daylengths in Missouri now that we're past Christmas and the winter solstice. With longer days, one would think fire season would avail itself, at least for smaller units that could result in consumption of leaf litter in a short period of time. However, we've gone from too wet to too windy to red flag conditions like an erratic teenager testing out head meds. Despite the recent rain and snow events, Missouri is still largely in abnormally dry and drought conditions. See the Drought Monitor Rating Map here.

After a little smattering of rain and relative humidities hovering around 40%, we decided to conduct a test burn on a small- very small -patch of woodland of oak leaf litter and scattered forbs. Around 2pm, the fire moved well across the landscape but colleagues in other fuel models, especially grassland fuels, had a hard time containing their fires as the sun started setting. Usually when sunset falls in January, fire behavior calms down, but instead 1,000 hour fuels were smoldering and threatening wildfire conditions in advance of the next morning's winds. Missouri is so far behind on acres treated with fire, all because of the changes in the fire weather and climate. The unseasonably warm fall didn't allow for fire with high winds, incredibly dry fuels. Here we are in winter when we can traditionally polish off a few small units before sunset, but it's still so dry, so windy. When the official fire season begins, I think it will be rapid fire pacing to accomplish all of these burns before green-up begins. If we can't even burn these tiny units in January, I worry that March and April will result in highly flammable conditions across the Ozarks.

Even as recent as ten years ago, one could walk out the door, look at the flagging tape for wind direction, feel the crunch of the leaves and call a good fire day. We don't see that anymore. Everything is extreme. It's extremely dry, extremely windy, and we're witnessing either extremely low or high humidities. When we fall behind in prescribed fire implementation, biodiversity loses. Fingers crossed for good fire weather this winter.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Winter Birding

My eBird lists are few and far between. This year I promise I will add more to my eBird account, but in the meantime, I'm busy tallying up the results of four Christmas Bird Counts and three winter bird surveys. It's been a cold couple of weeks with birding beginning at 7am some days and 7 degrees. Yesterday's birding trip in the Outer Ozark Border must have been the most clement with temperatures reaching 17 degrees. Heatwave!

Winter birding is probably the best activity for beginning birders. There is only a finite amount of species that avail themselves during winter months. Yesterday in an open grassland setting, I was able to have clear views of American tree sparrows, about 6 of them, and never before had I witnessed such great views. The gray V on the chest was clearly visible--they're kind of like the winter version of the chipping sparrow with the rusty cap. We also saw four red-headed woodpeckers, and 24 other species. It's nice birding in the winter because there are no leaves on the trees and the birds are much easier seen. I try to recruit novices during winter months precisely because winter birding is so easy.

With the end of the Christmas Bird Count last week, we may start seeing migration of our feathered friends. National Geographic magazine listed 2018 as the Year of the Bird, coinciding with the 100th Anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a protective measure that is slowly being undermined by our national political scene. But next up in the Citizen Science realm is the Great Backyard Bird Count! This event occurs during President's Day weekend in February and includes realtime tallies across the country. It's a fun event and I'll be participating by not only visiting my local state park but also my yard, hoping for more diversity than I've had lately. My bald male cardinal is a regular visitor, and I don't have starlings, but I have a homogeneous assortment of white throated and exotic sparrows with a few doves and a black capped chickadee. The downy woodpeckers have worn out my suet feeder so I keep that restocked, as well. Nevertheless, there are some feeder watchers with pine siskins and purple finches and a much greater diversity of species. Yes, I'll be in a native environment for the Great Backyard Bird Count. If you're interested in birdwatching, now is the time to get involved. Birds are easy to see without leaves on the trees and the species count is low. But so rewarding. When I fill my birdbath with warm water every morning, I call it "giving them coffee." I connect with my backyard birds and with all of them I encounter in the woods.