Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monday Phenology: December 5, 2011

Posted by Kirk
Those of you listening to the podcast get to hear me refer to "the fall" as a "month" instead of a season. I must be tired. Enjoy. 

Wake up people. Just because the sun rose at 7:35 AM this morning and was already set by 4:31 PM giving us only 8 hours 56 minutes and 39 seconds of sunlight is no reason to hibernate. Well maybe it is but remember these two key points if you decide to enter a state of hibernation over the next few months:

1) In some species, up to 60% of the population dies while hibernating
2) If you don't survive the process, we get all your chocolate. 

Nature's Week in Review:

Monday was a nice day. This unseasonably warm fall has been nice though I know farmers are hoping for some precipitation. Long range forecasts at this point look scant for snow. 

Tuesday I saw a few gulls hanging out at Har Mar mall during my morning commute. I found myself wondering when I would see the last of them. Certainly their numbers are lower already. At work we reviewed motion activated camera shots of raccoons defecating on our deck steps. Make no mistake, raccoons are what we in the business like to call "proud poopers." They drop scat as a signal and they love to do it on top of fallen logs or for some reason, the back steps to the nature center. What we found really fascinating though was that in between the shots of the raccoons were a bunch of empty photos of the steps. Why did the camera go off? Closer examination revealed a mouse coming by to eat seeds out of the raccoon scat. Lovely. I know all love coprophagy (the eating of poo) and want to see this so I'll try to post up the photos as soon as I can this week.

Wednesday, swans were flying in the morning and lakes were frozen over at work in the morning. High predicted was 38 but only got to about 36 at least out at the nature center. The ice stayed on the lakes so we're calling official "Ice On." There are still larger area lakes open though. I measured an inch of ice off the dock on Terrapin Lake.

Thursday I woke up to very light snow on the ground. So cool to see all the animal tracks again after so many months. You forget how active all the animals are at night. I saw a gull fly over Hwy 36 so they are still around. In all fairness, some will stick around for a long time after all the others have left.

Friday I took the day off from work and headed out of town with my wife and son for two days of waterslides in brainerd, Minnesota. I would have recorded some phenology but I was too busy giggling with delight as I sped though dark tunnels on waves, stood under thunderous crashing torrents of water and soaked in the hot tub. Phenology? What phenology?

Saturday you surely all felt the shorter day right? Saturday was a big day ironically due to how short it was. On Saturday we only got 8 hours, 59 minutes and 19 seconds of sunlight which was the first time we'd had fewer than 9 hours of sunlight in a long time. We won't get back to 9 hours until January 10th. I spent the day driving home from Brainerd, Minnesota. While smaller lakes were completely frozen over there were still ducks and geese on the larger lakes that had some openings. The Mississippi River is still largely ice free as well.

Sunday my suspicions about open water were born out when I took a look at the birding listserves. There are still many good species such as gadwall and canvasback being seen on larger lakes and the Mississippi. The Old Ceder Ave bridge site seems to be turning up good species this week as the few spots of open water around the metro are causing waterfowl to converge into a few locations. There were also more reports of snowy owls across the state. We're witnessing the beginning of an irruption from Canada. I had some interesting conversations about this phenomenon this past week. Someone asked me on Twitter why Great Grey owl and Snow Owl irruptions don't happen at the same time. I think the assumption is that a hard winter makes it difficult for both species to find food. While the snow is a factor, the population dynamics of their prey species has more to do with the cycle of their irruptions. Snowy owls eat lemmings while Great Greys eat almost exclusively meadow voles. When the prey population crashes, the birds head south. This is the common story but it seems there is evidence something else is at play this year. My co-worker Paul was telling me that the reports out of Canada are that the lemming population hasn't crashed, it is at an all time high and has been for a year or so. There is so much food that the snowy owl population is booming and the younger birds are having to head south in search of territory. Indeed, many of the reports I'm seeing are of young owls. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The week ahead:
Even the larger lakes are going to have a hard time battling the cold as we head toward lows approaching zero toward the latter half of the week. Waterfowl that remains will continue to concentrate in the existing open water making for some fun birding. Check out the MOU-Net and MN-Bird list serves for recent sightings. Watch out for more snowy owls as well. People are reporting them across the Northern United States.