Saturday, February 28, 2009

If you don't like the weather, just wait a day.

Nothing like watching the early spring weather swings. One day it's approaching 80 degrees; the next day it's 20 degrees with snow on the ground. Oh well, at least the cold swings are getting shorter! During the latest warm spell, we had a few more flowers burst open in the front yard including purple and white crocus and purple dwarf dutch irises. Here are a few pictures of the flowers before the snow on Friday, and one picture after the snow this morning.

This is the earliest we've had our dwarf dutch irises come up. In a flower bed next to these, we planted native dwarf irises which aren't even peeking out, yet.

Dwarf dutch iris after the snow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Oh Draba

I'm always on the lookout for nature's minature wonders, and every since I took a flowering plant taxomony class as an undergraduate, I keep an eye out for tiny flowering mustards in the early spring. During the course, our professor took us into a field next to a forest and asked us what plant species were flowering around us. I looked down and spotted a small white mustard in bloom. Looking around, I could see the plant in bloom everywhere, and I thought, "Here is a species I didn't know about." I mentioned seeing the blooming plant to our professor, and he asked me to look closer at those little plants. Turns out, there were about 7 different species blooming right there! I was shocked because while I initially grouped every plant into one species, with a little knowlegde, I discovered a diverse group of organisms living out their lives below my feet. I've remembered that lesson every since, namely that knowledge alters your scale of perception and understanding, and the natural world around you is much more complex than initial observations would suggest.

Ever since that course, I've been on the look out for Draba. Draba is a tiny, white flowering mustard that blooms in early spring. Aldo Leopold, in Sand County Almanac, had this to say about Draba.

"He who hopes for spring with upturned eye never sees so small a thing as Draba. He who despairs of spring with downcast eye steps on it, unknowingly. He who searches for spring with his knees in the mud finds it, in abundance."

Of course, it's been awhile since I took that flowering plant taxomony course, and I'm beginning to forget some of the plants I once knew. Imagine my excitement then, while I thought I found Draba in my backyard! I snapped some photos and got out my taxonomy books to figure out what species was growing in my backyard. The more I looked, the more I couldn't determine what Draba this was (and I began to get a sneaking suspiscion that the plant in my backyard was not actually Draba, but something different). After an hour or so of working through my plant keys (yes, I am actually that geeky), I disappointing realized that what I had in my backyard was Cardamine hirsuta. Cardamine hirstua is common weed species found in disturbed areas and is native to Europe. Oh well, it was still neat to understand a little more about the wildlife in our backyard, and I'm back on the hunt for Draba.

Cardamine hirstua growing in our backyard. I still had to get down on my knees in the mud, and I found it plenty abundant. But, definitely not Draba.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Barred Owls and Rainbows

Some days, I just don't look forward to the training runs for my next half marathon. Today, was one of those days. Since the ice storm, I've had to switch up my normal running routes because there are still downed branches and trees on the trails I usually use. So, I've been running a paved trail, called Mud Creek Trail. The one drawback to Mud Creek Trail is that it goes under Business 71 (or College Ave) just south of the Northwest Arkansas Mall, so there is always lots of traffic. I'm not a big fan of running near major roads because I just don't like the thought of inhaling all that exhaust while I'm running hard. Luckily, Mud Creek Trail has every quarter mile marked off, so I can get most of my training runs in by using shorter sections away from the Business 71. It does mean that I run the same 1/2 mile section over and over and over, again.

As I said, I wasn't looking forward to today's run which was a mile warm up, 4 mile tempo run, and a mile cool down. Did I mention it was also raining?

I was wrong, though, and it turned out to be a great run because of a series of natural distractions I got to enjoy. Along about mile 2, the light began to fade as the rain was about to intensify. At that point, a Barred Owl began calling out with its, "Whoo cooks for you, whoo cooks for you, whoo cooks for you alllll". This call was returned by another Barred Owl a short distance away. Unfortunately, I couldn't seem either of them in the trees. These two owls called back and forth and mixed in a series of their "monkey" calls for most of the next half mile and back making that section of the run seem really short.

Starting into mile 3, the rain slacked off from the west, and I could see that the sun was going to break through for a little while. When it did, it created a complete rainbow that I watched for most of mile 3 and 4. For a short time, the sun was intense enough that I could see a small section of double rainbow on the left side. I followed that rainbow back and forth just enjoying the view. Finally, the sun went behind the clouds and the rain picked back up. But by then, I was finished with my run. Heading out before my run, I had really contemplated skipping it. I'm glad I didn't.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Early indicators of spring!

This morning, I walked outside and discovered a yellow crocus about to bloom in our front yard. While crocus aren't native, I love these little flowers because of their optimism for spring. They push out of the ground, even while it's cold, and then burst open on the first warm day. In our front yard, we've planted several different colors including yellows, purples, and whites. Each color blooms in succession with the yellow ones coming out first. Here is a picture of the first spring flower of our yard.

After spending the morning hanging out with some friends over breakfast, I got my chainsawing gear together and headed over to my mom's house in Gentry. Gentry in a small Arkansas town ever farther north and west than where we live in Fayetteville. I spent the rest of the day, cutting brush. At dark, I began to hear on the wind, a very familiar sound. The spring peepers are already calling!!!! As I finished up, I drove over to a place in town that is a remant wet prairie. Every year at this spot congregates spring peepers, American toads, southern leopard frogs, chorus frogs, and (at least in the past) crawfish frogs. Today only spring peepers and an occasional southern leopard frog were calling. For me, the sound of spring peepers signals the change of seasons, and I love to sit in the dark and listen to a chorus. I'm not sure if I stuck my head out of a burrow and saw my shadow whether I would think there'd be 6 more weeks of winter or that spring was just around the corner. But with crocus blooming and spring peepers calling, I'm optimistic, and I'll be keeping an eye out for spring. Below is a video I recorded with my camera. The picture isn't good because it was dark, but I was more interested in recording the sound of the spring peepers. You'll also need to ignore the sound of a car driving by.