Monday, January 31, 2011

Tree Year 2011: American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) #2

Photo taken on January 19, 2011.

This American Persimmon I'm observing for The Tree Year 2011 has had a very hard life in recent years:

2007:  We had a very late hard freeze.  The persimmon had already bloomed and set fruit.  All fruits were killed by the freeze.  All our trees suffered that year.  Most were blooming or had bloomed, and a few were even beginning to leaf out.  All that tender growth was killed by the low temperatures.  There were hardly any fruits, nuts or other seed forms that year.  As I remember it, only the hickories escaped damage and bore nuts because they'd not yet bloomed.

2008:  As if to compensate for not bearing fruit the previous year, this persimmon tree was loaded with persimmon fruit in 2008 -- too loaded.  Several limbs broke under the weight of ripening persimmons.

2009:  A very bad year of all of the trees on our place.  We had a severe ice storm in late January.  No tree escaped damage.  Many we stripped of branches, snapped in two or fell and were uprooted.  It's not an exaggeration to say that the woods on our property will not look the same within my lifetime.  Considering all the damage, this persimmon came through the event in fairly good shape, only losing several more branches.  Branches lost in 2008 and 2009 are the reason for this tree's very asymmetrical shape and prolific new branch growth.

2010:  Close to normal, though our summer was very hot and dry.  The persimmon bore fruit and there were no obvious signs of ill effects caused by our hot, dry weather, but I'm sure the dry conditions added to the tree's load of stress.

2011:  I will observe, photograph and see what happens.

Celebrate a tree in 2011.  It's easy:  Observe, photograph, sketch, discuss and share with other tree huggers.  Please click the logo above for participation details.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

Although our winter is far from over, we've experience a couple of those unseasonably warm days. Friday the temperature made it up to 70°F. I saw several honey bees, especially in our compost. I suppose the bees (like humans) are drawn out of their hive by this warm weather, and are searching for flowers which they will not find. I don't know if our compost contains sugars the bees can actually use, but the bees are especially attracted to the citrus peels it contains.

(Editors Note:  A reader explained these bees are out of their hive on a cleansing flight.   When the weather is cold, bees "huddle together around the queen (and the honey.)  They slowly rotate from the outside to the center so that no one gets too cold.  At the core of this cluster of bees, workers shiver their bodies and raise the temperature of the cluster as high as 95 Fahrenheit, but just outside the cluster, the unheated portion of the hive may drop below freezing."  When the weather warms the bees "make a cleansing flight to eliminate their body wastes. Honey bees never defecate inside their hive. This is one of their behavioral traits that serve to help prevent disease from spreading through the colony. "  Bees also perform a variety of routine maintenance and housekeeping tasks on the hive on warmer days.  Please check out the two sites I've linked above for more information.  Thanks for cluing me in about cleansing flights , Sue!)

The photo above shows three of the characteristics that help identify this insect as a female (worker) honey bee. One of these is a pollen basket.  Female bees (queens and workers) in family Apidae (honey bees, carpenter bees, bumblebees and several lesser known groups) have specialized structures called pollen baskets (corbicula) used for temporarily storing collected pollen so it can be transported back to the nest/colony. The pollen basket is a smooth, concave structure surrounded by long, stiff hairs located on the tibia of the bee's two rear legs. As the bee visits flowers, she accumulates pollen all over her body. She uses her legs to aggregate the pollen and transfer it to her pollen basket. It may look as if a bee simply has hairy legs, but some of those hairs (setae) are actually combs and brushes used for transferring pollen. The pollen is combed, pressed, compacted, and transferred to her pollen basket. Honey and/or nectar is used to moisten the dry pollen so it will stay in place.  In this photo, her pollen baskets are empty because there are no blooming flowers for her to visit.  A photo of a honey bee with a full pollen basket is here.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

SkyWatch: A Rip in the Clouds

Nearing sunset:  A rip in the clouds let sunshine leak through.

1/28/11:  Thanks to D. B. Echo for pointing out that what I photographed is probably a sun dog.  Sun dogs are sunlight reflected off ice crystal in the upper atmosphere.  They can occur any time and anywhere, but are always 22° away from the sun and at the same distance above the horizon as the sun.  All those criteria are correct for this photo.  (Please see Wikipedia for a more complete explanation and more photos.)

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus)

The Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) is primarily an insectivore, but it's also the only warbler that eats large quantities of seeds, primarily those of pines.   During the winter, it often joins mixed flocks of birds.  Among our yard birds, we see it at both the sunflower seed and suet feeders.  At the sunflower seed feeder, the Pine Warbler is probably foraging for bits of broken sunflower seeds left by other birds whose beaks are more suited to cracking open a sunflower seed.  However, Cornell Labs says it can open seeds "by placing them in bark crevices and hammering with bill."

Depending upon whose range map one consults, the Arkansas Ozarks are either within the Pine Warblers year round range or right on the edge of both a year round and migratory range. Some Pine Warblers live year round in the southeastern US.  Others breed in the northeast and migrate south during the winter.  The key factor is habitat.  Pine Warblers require pine trees.  Our woods are mixed hardwoods and pines.

I've never seen a Pine Warbler except during the winter, but that proves nothing.  If it were still here during the summer, the warbler would be nesting and foraging for insects high in our pine trees and I'd be unlikely to see it.

While the Pine Warbler superficially looks something like an American Goldfinch, there are also many obvious differences:  Bill shape, body shape, wingbar placement, etc.  The Hilton Pond Center website discusses these difference in detail complete with photographs.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cuckoo Bee (Nomada sp.)

"B" is for Bee
(Please pardon my lack of originality)

In this case, a cuckoo bee in the genus Nomada.  The cuckoo bee was given its common name because it evolved the same kleptoparasitic practice as the European Cuckoo and North American Brown-headed Cow Bird.  A female cuckoo bee does not provide for her offspring.  Instead, she lays her eggs in another bee's nest.  Her eggs hatch early and the cuckoo's larvae eat the other bee's provisions.  Some cuckoo bees kill the other bee's eggs.  Others leave the eggs for her larvae to eat.  Cuckoo bee larvae often have large mandibles to facilitate eating other bee's eggs.

Cuckoo bees are not seen visiting flowers as often as other bees.  Since she does not need to gather provisions for her own offspring, the female cuckoo bee only nectars often enough to take care of her own energy needs.  She lacks a pollen basket, scopa or other pollen collecting body hair common to most bees.  For this reason, cuckoo bees are often mistaken as wasps.  Likewise, among bees, cuckoo's are poor pollinators.

Instead of nectaring, the female cuckoo spends much of her time flying low over the ground searching for nests of other bees.  Once she locates a nest, the cuckoo waits for the host species female bee to leave, then enters the nest and lays her own eggs.  Most cuckoo bees parasitize nests of just a few bee species (2-5), but some are very specific and only parasitize nests of just one other bee species.

(A preview of coming attractions:  "M" is for moth.  The small moth sharing the strawberry bloom with the cuckoo bee is a Sedge Moth in the family Glyphipterigidae.)

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Golden-eye lichen (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus)

Cilia surrounding the apothecia on Golden-eye Lichen

Lichens are not a single organisms.  They consist of an alga and a fungus living together in a symbiotic association.  The fungus provides the structure (thallus).  Because it can conduct photosynthesis, the alga contributes the nutrients that support both organisms.  Reproductive methods among lichens are varied.  In one method used by the Golden-eyed lichen, the fungal component engages in reproduction independent of its alga partner.  It forms cup-like apothecia in which spores form and and from which spores are distributed.  These spores will not produce another lichen because they only contain the genetic information of the fungus.  For a lichen to result, they must recombine with the alga.

This appears to be another Teloschistes chrysophthalmus.

Identifying lichens visually is usually difficult to impossible.  Many can only be positively identified by chemical analysis.  However, the apothecia on the Golden-eye Lichen seem to be distinctive.  They are the feature giving this lichen its common name, a distinction most other lichens lack.   (If anyone believes my ID is wrong, I'd appreciate a correction.)  These lichens were on the bark of a persimmon tree.

Sources and more photos:
Oklahoma State University
Irish Lichens

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tree Shadow in the Snow

Right after our last snow we got a few brief moments of sunshine before the sky clouded back up again.

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Female Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus)

Female Purple Finch on the window sill.

Purple Finches are one of our winter birds.  Most years we have them; some years we don't.  2011 is a good year for Purple Finches.  The brightly colored, reddish-purple males give this species its common name, but I haven't been able to get a male to pose for photos yet.  Besides, I think the striking brown and white patterns on the female are attractive too.  You can see photos of males on the Cornell Labs site.

Cornell says, "Purple Finches breed mainly in coniferous forests or mixed deciduous and coniferous woods. During winter you can find them in a wider variety of habitats, including shrublands, old fields, forest edges, and backyards."  At the feeder, they prefer sunflower seeds.

The best shot of a female Purple Finch's back  I've been able to get thus far.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sweet Gum in the snow

The Sweet Gum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua, stands stately between our house and vegetable garden.  Today it is collecting snow,  the songbirds lite in it on their way to and from the feeders.  There is a Cardinal in the lower left hand corner.  (Guest post from Jo Smith.)

Celebrate a tree in 2011.  It's easy:  Observe, photograph, sketch, discuss and share with other tree huggers.  Please click the logo above for participation details.



Wednesday Afternoon's Sky

Wednesday afternoon was beautiful in the Arkansas Ozarks.  I took this shot of my neighbors pasture while on our afternoon walk.  It's hard to believe we have a 90% chance of snow on Thursday.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

We have American Goldfinches year around, but have many more during the winter.  They are one of our most common feeder birds.  When the Goldfinches start really getting into their breeding plumage in the spring, most head north.

"The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards. American Goldfinches can be found at feeders any time of year, but most abundantly during winter."  (From The Cornell Lab of Ornithology where there are many more photos and more information about these beautiful little bird.)

I'm not much of a birder, but I believe the top photo is a male and the bottom a female.  If anyone with more experience disagrees, I'll be glad to make a correction in this post.  Both birds were at the feeder hanging outside our dining nook window.  Many people feed thistle seeds to Goldfinches and I'm sure the birds enjoy them, but our Goldfinches have never refused the sunflower seeds we feed.  


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)

The claws on the front feet of this critter leave little doubt it is 
well adapted for digging.

Nine-banded Armadillos live in my world -- or do I live in their world?  Neither of us is native to the Ozarks, though armadillos have inhabited the Earth much longer than humans.

The Nine-banded Armadillo's ancestors lived quite comfortably in South America until around three million years ago when the formation of the Isthmus of Panama allowed them to start moving north.  They've been heading north ever since.  Armadillos were first recorded in south Texas in the early nineteenth century.  Many researchers thought the dillers' northward migration would be severely limited by cold weather.  Armadillos have a slow metobolic rate, little fat and lack the ability to regulate their body temperatures as well as most mammals.  However, Nine-banded Armadillos proved to be much more adaptable than early researchers thought.  By 1995 the species had become well-established in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, and had been sighted as far afield as Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. A decade later, the armadillo had become established in all of those areas and continued its migration, being sighted as far north as southern Nebraska, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana.  (There is also ample evidence humans introduced armadillos into several southern states where they thrived.) (Source:  Wikipedia)

That I was able to take these photos during the middle of the afternoon, illustrates one of the  Nine-banded Armadillos' adaptations to colder temperatures.  They are normally nocturnal, but when the weather is cold, dillers remain in their underground burrows all night and come out to forage during the warmer parts of the day.

The bands on the Nine-banded Armadillo's carapace
are the basis for its common name, but it can actually have between
7 and 11 bands.  I only count eight bands on this individual.

Armadillos are primarily insectivores.  They dig up and eat a wide variety of bugs, larvae, grubs, etc.  However, stomach content analysis has show dillers will eat pretty much any small critter that doesn't get out of their way, including small reptiles, amphibians and birds.  Their digging behavior often makes armadillos unpopular among gardeners and those dedicated to having beautiful lawns.  I have no interest in maintaining a convention lawn, but do find it exasperating when a diller "tills" a well-mulched vegetable garden bed.

A previous post shows an armadillo litter out foraging.  (Armadillo litters are always identical quadruplets.)  Other sources of more information than you ever really wanted to know about these unique critters include Mammals of Texas, Biogeography of  the Nine-Banded Armadillo and Armadillo Fact File.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Melting: Snow Removal the Old Fashioned Way

Sunshine and temperatures in the upper forties lead to much snow melting on Friday.  Above is the worst section of our driveway.  It never receives any sunshine.  With a little weight in the rear of the bed of our little pickup truck, I'm pretty sure we could make a trip out, but since we have no where we need to go, we didn't try.

With the low angle of winter's sun, even a slight change in the road's tilt or direction can make a big difference in whether or not it receives sunshine and melts the snow.  Above is the beginning of the section shown in the top photo.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Tree Year 2011: American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) #1

January 13, 2011

This American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is one of the two trees I've chosen to celebrate in 2011.  It's a "yard tree", growing just outside of our vegetable garden.  Choosing a yard tree has advantages.  Observing and photographing  will be easy.  Also, this persimmon and I are old friends.  We've known each other for the past twenty-five years.  The disadvantage is that it will be impossible for me to photograph this old friend without including a lot of yard and garden clutter.  So be it.  The tree is more important than the clutter.

Persimmon facts:  Persimmons are members of the ebony family (Ebenaceae).  There are about 200 species of ebonies worldwide.  Most are tropical.  Persimmons are the only member of the ebony family native to North America.

Celebrate a tree in 2011.  It's easy:  Observe, photograph, sketch, discuss and share with other tree huggers.  Please click the logo above for participation details.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Afternoon Walk In The Snow

Jo and Rusty heading home on our afternoon walk.

We got a little bit of snow on Sunday, only a couple of inches.  Since then, we've enjoyed mostly sunny days, but our temperatures have remained mostly below freezing.  Not much of the snow has melted.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nature Notes: Frost Flowers

From a previous post:  Frost flowers occur when the air temperature is below freezing but the ground remains unfrozen.  Here in the Ozarks, that is a fairly common wintertime event.  Our ground never freezes deeply and usually thaws between cold snaps. Some dried weed stems continue drawing moisture up from the ground.  A frost flower forms when water inside a plant stem freezes, expands and is extruded through cracks in the stem forming thin ribbons of ice. Air bubbles trapped in the ice make it appear frothy white. The extruded ribbons of ice are often much more petal-like than the ones pictured here.  Because the stem cracks are irregularly  shaped and the ice pressure inside the stem varies over time, the extruded ice curves and bends.  Like snowflakes, no two frost flowers are ever alike.

Not all plants form frost flowers.  Two of the more common ones that do are yellow ironweed (
Verbesina alternifolia) and white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica). In fact, white crownbeard also is commonly called frostweed.

Another previous post featuring frost flowers, including the shot used to illustrate frost flowers on Wikipedia.

Editors Note (1/13/11):  I'm honored that the frost flowers in this post inspired the following poem by Kris Lindbeck.

You woke up
to frost flowers:
dry weeds
becoming miracles
over one cold night.

Thank you, Kris.

(You can follow Kris on Twitter or visit his blog Haiku etc.)

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A Little Snow in the Ozarks

Snow began around four o'clock on Sunday, 1/9/11.  Continued until around midnight.  Accumulation around two inches.  Was a dry, powdery snow.  All in all, with only our couple of inches of snow, we came out of this winter weather event in much better shape than most of the south that's to our east.

One of our wood racks with next winter's wood.

Stump I use for splitting wood.

Shed and walnut tree.



Sunday, January 09, 2011

Round-headed Apple Tree Borer (Saperda candida)

The round-headed apple tree borer (Saperda candida) takes 2-3 years to complete its life cycle. Adult beetles are 1 inch long and brown, with two white longitudinal stripes on its back. Larvae overwinter in various stages feeding on sapwood and heartwood. Pupation occurs in late spring of the second year, and emergence begins in early summer.  Females lay eggs under bark scales, in crevices, or in tree wounds. After hatching, the larvae feed beneath the bark for a while before entering the wood.  Feed on dead or dying trees and rarely on healthy trees.  Trees become weakened and heavy infestations can kill a tree in one season. Members of the rose family are favorite hosts of the round-headed apple tree borer.  Found mostly in the eastern US and Canada.  (Source:  The Morton Arboretum)

Round-headed Apple Tree Borer Larva

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