Sunday, July 11, 2010

July Watershed Sampling

My son and I do water sampling in a nearby stream for the Four Rivers Watershed Watch. The stream that we sample ultimately feeds into the West Fork of the Clarks River. We have had a dry summer and as of last week, we expected to find nothing but stagnant pools in our stream. However, we received a significant rain just days before sampling and the stream was flowing reasonably well for this time of year.

We always measure the pH, dissolved oxygen, and water temperature.

The sample we take in July is specifically for the presence of E.coli bacteria. The analysis is performed at the Hancock Biological Station, which is a field research facility located on Kentucky Lake and operated by Murray State University.

This is what we have to walk through to get from the road to our access point on the stream. The machete is always much needed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Is the New Madrid Fault at Fault?

Was the source of what are commonly refered to as the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 really in the Wabash Seismic zone of Southern Illinois? This was indeed initially reported on our local NPR station, WKMS.

WKMS, along with other news outlets on "the wire" reported:

New research by U.S. Geological Survey scientists is casting doubt on the long-held idea the New Madrid Fault Zone in Missouri's Bootheel unleashed a series of devastating earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. In a new study, the researchers say the culprit may have instead been the Wabash Valley Fault Line that runs through southern Illinois."

Later, WKMS updated the story with a correction. In the updated story, Dr. Susan Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey states that in actuality, her
article introduces evidence that the smallest of the three New Madrid earthquakes might have come from the Wabash Valley zone of Southern Illinois and Indiana. She states, "...which would sort of make it a triggered earthquake, triggered by the New Madrid activity. But there's no question that the sequence was overwhelmingly in the New Madrid seismic zone. So the idea that, 'Oh we were wrong and the activity was in Illinois', that's just not what the study ever said."

Thus, from this statement, Dr. Hough clarifies that her report did not imply that the 1811/12 New Madrid quakes really occurred in the Wabash Valley, but that the Wabash Valley quake was perhaps triggered by the New Madrid quake.

At this point, I thought that the misunderstanding had been clarified but the report goes on to quote retired Murray State University professor Lynne Leasure who says, "That's one of the relatively newer ideas, that it might be remotely triggered. There was a possibility that one of the earthquakes in this series might have occurred in Southern Illinois. They do have surface evidence of sandblows. And the sandblows are very common in southeast Missouri from this event."

She seems to be saying that one of the earthquakes in "this series", that series being the New Madrid series, might have occurred in Southern Illinois. What does the "it" refer to in "it might be remotely triggered"? The New Madrid quakes or the Wabash Valley quake?
It is not clear but let's assume that she is referring to the Wabash Valley quake.

Now the report goes back to Dr. Hough, who states, "The January main shock... I can present evidence for why the Wabash valley is a plausible source. But the truth is that we really can't constrain the location of that event. It could have been in Western Kentucky. It could have been in New Madrid. But the observations just aren't as strong."

Huh? So now Dr. Hough does indeed suggest that the source (trigger) of the main January shock commonly attributed to the New Madrid Fault was actually in the Wabash Valley...or even possibly in Western Kentucky! I am confused. What triggered what?

The problem here does not lie in the uncertainty of Dr. Hough. Developing theories on what happened in 1811 from current data and analysis with something as complex as the inter-relationships between adjacent geological faults and seismic zones is challenging scientific work. Further, I honestly do not believe that either Dr. Leasure or Dr. Hough were as unclear as this report suggests. I think it is really just a case of sloppy reporting. Here is a suggestion for all of you budding journalists. If you initially release a story with incorrect information. Please be sure that your correction is does not further muddy the waters.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Morning Surprise

I was on my to get the newspaper in the morning and stumbled upon this fellow on the driveway. On this particular section of driveway, there are wooded areas on either side. He was apparently getting his blood moving from the residual warmth of the pavement as he moved from one wood to the other.

From the greenish yellow tint on the tip of his tail and his length (~18 inches), I could tell that he was a juvenile Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen). They are known to us their tail to lure prey such as frogs and insects. As they grow older, the tail darkens in color.

This is only the second time that I have seen one on our property. About 12 years ago, I spotted an adult, and again, it was on the driveway early in the morning. They generally prefer wooded areas where they remain fairly secretive, and we are not active in the woods during the summer due to the proliferation of Poison Ivy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Dreaded Japanese Beetle

It is that time of year when the dreaded Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica) ascends upon us. I had my first sighting of some today. I say "ascends" because they live as larva in the soil and after they pupate, they emerge as adults.

They play havoc with a number of plants, eating the flesh of the leaves while ignoring the veins. In the vegetable garden, they will concentrate on any bean species and they also like blackberries, though they will not harm the fruit.
I have noticed that they like to eat taller leaves rather than those closer to the ground when given a choice. For example, if pole beans are available, they will virtually ignore the bush beans. In my yard, I have noticed that they also have certain preferences. Roses seem to be their favorite including the invasive Multiflora Rose. They also gravitate to my Japanese White Birch and Japanese Maple. They loved the Chinese Elm prior to its demise in the aforementioned ice storm. They don't seem to like any of the native oaks or maples. They go completely crazy over the wild grapes as well.

We first observed them here around 5 years ago. They seemed to grow in numbers the first 4 years. I placed traps out in two locations within our 3 acre smallholding. The traps use a pheromone to attract the beetles. When they land on the piece holding the bait, they drop into the bag. The traps must be carefully located. If they are too far from their favorite plants, they will not be drawn to the traps. If they are too close, the traps will draw them to the plants as well. During their peak activity, I would regularly empty a full bag every day at each location.

Our land is surrounded by woods and I began to wonder if I was not simply doing more harm than good with the traps. Was I drawing more beetles from the woods? So last year I did not put up any traps. Not only did I not see as many beetles on their favorite plants, I did not have to empty those nasty bags every day! I have since discovered that a University of Kentucky study indicates that the traps do draw more than protect.

They can be controlled in the larval stage with application of the bacterium milky spore
. However, it can take several years of applications to eradicate them. Further, to do so on 3 acres would be too expensive and finally, they can simply fly in from any neighboring area.

I have also noted that the moles have been quite active this year. This is usually an indicator of an increase in grubs. I hope that the grubs that they were feasting on are not Japanese Beetle larvae! I will keep you posted as the season progresses.

Here is a distribution map in case you are wondering if they are heading your way.

Baby Bluebirds

This picture was taken on May the 12th. The clutch of 4 young Eastern Bluebirds haves since fledged. They are usually found sitting on a high pole in the garden from which they swoop down for their insect prey and then return to their perch. I enjoy listening to them talk to one another whilst I am tending the garden. Comstock writes, "There is a family resemblance between the voices of the bluebird and robin, a certain rich quality of tone; but the robin's song is far more assertive and complex than is the soft, "purling" song of the bluebird..."

The Eastern Bluebird is the state bird of Missouri and I never observed one during the 22 years that I lived there. Here in Kentucky, they are quite plentiful. Although the migration maps show that they winter here, I do not recall seeing them between mid-November and late February.

Non-native House Sparrows and European Starlings are notorious for their attempts to commandeer the nesting box and one must be observant and vigilant to keep them at bay. One must also clean out the box after the young birds fledge as one can often get a second brood. It is a good idea to gently wash the inside with some soap and water to remove the feces and any mites that may have taken up residence.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Beginnings...but first....

I have decided to reinvigorate this blog but before I begin again, I must mention a very important event that occurred that greatly affected our area ecologically.

In January of 2009, we had an extremely severe ice storm. We had two days of consecutive rain in which the temperature hovered right below freezing. This resulted in a 1 inch coating on all plant life. The damage to mature trees was quite significant with many losing well over 50% of their leaf mass. During the second night of rain, one could hear large branches cracking and crashing at a rate of one every 3 to 5 minutes.

We were without power for 12 days. While I wish that we had done more to document the conditions with the ice in place, we were spending most of our daylight waking hours simply doing what was needed to, cleaning, keeping pipes from freezing, collecting ice for the refrigerator, heating water for bathing and keeping the fire going to keep the house warm, as well as clearing trees from the driveway. I was concerned about the creek behind our home flooding due the amount of tree tops that had fallen into it, thus my son and I spent an entire day cutting and clearing limbs.

During the 3 months that followed, I spent all of my free time running a chainsaw while the rest of my family dutifully carried nearly 4 tractor trailer loads of small limbs in the process of cleaning up our 3 acre smallholding. We kept everything over 3 inches in diameter for firewood, and the rest was piled for the county to remove.

We are surrounded by woods but within our actual our yard, I was forced to cut down (1) River Birch, (1) Weeping Willow, (1) Silver Maple, (1) Red Maple, (2) Yellow Pines, (1) Chinese Elm, (1) Scarlett Oak and (1) Eastern Red Cedar.

Pin Oaks, White Pine, and White Spruce did well. Being largely symmetrical, the branches were able to fold down like an umbrella without putting undue strain on the trunk itself.

Last spring, I planted (2) Willow Oaks, (1) Red Shumard Oak, (1) Pin Oak, (1) Bald Cypress, (1) River Birch, and (1) Eastern Redbud
in the yard area.

After 18 months, one can see the results on the damaged trees. Instead of the normal series of spreading branches which form a crown of foliage terminating in the spray, one sees the new growth sprouting along the main branch lines, as seen on this 60 ft. tall Sweetgum and Black Oak.

Interestingly, it is the oaks that have responded with the most vigorous shoot production, and unexpectedly, the red maples are the slowest.

The extent of the damage to the trees is still not known. I expect that more will die in the coming years due to the loss of leaf mass and disease. Though this area rarely experiences forest fires, I am concerned about the potential for them in the next 3 years while the wood is still dry. I cut up all of the limbs in the woods within my property boundaries so that they were all laying on the ground thus accelerating the decomposition process but as you can see in this picture of the woods behind my property, there is an enormous amount of fuel on the floor.

On a positive note, it allowed much more sun into our 1/2 acre front wood that lines our driveway . I had been attempting to get some seedlings going in that area with little success. Last spring I planted 60 seedlings of various native varieties in that area including Service Berry, Scarlet Oak, Black Oak, Southern Red Oak, Dogwood, and Shag Bark Hickory. But to be honest there are many more small seedlings popping up on their own. Unfortunately, the increased sunlight has also promoted the growth of the Honeysuckle and Poison Ivy, which is something that I will have to address.

You may view more pictures of the ice storm here.