Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday Phenology: July 4, 2011

Posted by Kirk Mona
Brace yourself sun lovers, the downward slide has begun. The sun rose at 5:31 am this morning and will set at 9:02. That may be a whopping 15 hours, 30 minutes and 51 seconds of daylight but we're losing close to a minute every day. We've lost about 7 minutes since the summer solstice. It sure felt like summer this week with high temperatures, lots of sun and humidity. This is what we dreamed of in February.

This past week:

Monday I took kids down to the lake for a geology class and saw that the beavers were doing a good job maintaining their dam. They are keeping the water about two feet higher in Terrapin Lake as a result of the dam. I estimate that it is holding back about 750,000,000 million gallons of water. That's no small feat! Go beavers!

Tuesday I spent the day at Lilydale Regional park but instead of being focused on phenology I was focused on Geology teaching kids about 450 million year of fossils. I found a fantastic horn coral, a really nice Lambeophyllum profundum. Since it has been dead for almost half a billion years though it hardly counts as phenology. I can tell you that the Poison Ivy is is full effect this summer at Lilydale.

Wednesday morning I noticed the bull thistle is in full bloom in a pasture near work. It is considered a noxious weed but it sure is beautiful to see a large grouping all bloom at once. I'm not sure the holsteins were as impressed as I was.

Thursday I noticed a bee flying around by my back door. It looked at first glance like it was carrying a caterpillar. I watched closely as it flew down to a small hole in my wooden deck railing and went inside. Moments later it emerged again and another bee came back heavily laden with more cargo. They weren't caterpillars at all but rather rolled up leaves. It seems I have a leaf cutter bee nest in my railing. They are docile bees with a mild sting and only sting when handled.

Friday it was crazy hot. Out at work my summer campers and I kept a close eye on the thermometer and around 2:30 or so in the afternoon the heat index reached a maximum of 114.7. I looked around online and didn't find any higher readings anywhere in the metro.

Saturday the leaf cutter bees were still at it and by nightfall there was also a small pile of sawdust near the exit hole. They only excavate rotten wood so they aren't harming the deck. They are important pollinators and a native bee. Interestingly the larva overwinter and do not hatch out until next spring. I'll have to watch for that. While the bees are welcome to stay, I did have to evict four separate paper wasp colonies from my yard. Man they are tenacious and in full on nest building mode this week.

Sunday I spent some time watching a female American Goldfinch gather thistle seeds from my yard for nest building. Goldfinches nest much later than other song birds as they build their nests from thistle seed and must wait for it to ripen. The bird seems to be nesting in a nearby Ginkgo tree. I'm glad all that thistle I can't seem to get rid of is going to some good use.

What to watch for this week.
If you haven't seen the goldfinches gathering seeds for their nest you haven't missed out. A lot of thistle is just barely starting to go to seed so there's plenty of time to witness this event this week. Speaking of seeds, watch for cottonwood trees to dump massive amounts of wind-borne seeds this week. The weather should cool off a bit and be in the 80's. There will be a chance of thunderstorms on Tuesday and possibly Friday/Saturday. Saturn is in the West-Southwest skies just after sunset all this week as is the waxing moon. Both are cool targets though binoculars though the moon will be bright so a pair of sunglasses will help you see more details.

~Kirk

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