Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monday Phenology: January 30, 2012

Posted by Kirk
Feel that sun! The sun rose to a beautiful day this morning at 7:35 AM and set at 5:17 PM. The day was 9 hours, 41 minutes and 51 seconds long. We're gaining 2 minutes, 29 seconds per day.  

Perhaps more important than the length of daylight is the angle of the noon sun. At its highest point, the sun rises to a height of 27.4°. Compare that to the solstice when it was 21.6°. That's only a 6° difference but you can feel it. That's the same angle of sun as on November 12th. The angle will change quickly now. By the end of February we'll be at 37.1°.

With my cold this week, I'm holding off on the podcast so you'll have to actually read this week's phenology.

Nature's Week in Review:

Monday was a beautiful snowy day and it finally started to look like winter. It wasn't a big snow, perhaps three inches at the most but it made a difference. I spent the evening at Birds and Beers hanging out with birders, meeting new people and sharing stories. An expired parking meter and an impending earache ended my evening early but it was nice to see everyone.

Tuesday the usual bird suspectes were out and so were the mammals. A fresh coat of snow is wonderful for tracking wildlife. I don't think I mentioned in the past update that I saw a least weasel last week. I've worked at the nature center for ten years and while I'd seen their tracks before, I'd never seen one in person. The cute litle guy was hiding in a wood pile. They are awesome little predators and they win my award for the cutest animal in the woods.

Wednesday I had the day off from work in preparation for Saturday's big Winter Blizzard Blast event at work. I wish I could say I was tired in the morning from staying up watching the northern lights we were predicted to see. When I recorded last week's podcast I said we had a good chance of aurora Tuesday night and the prediction was for clear skies. Alas, the clear skies didn't pan out and we were completely socked in. On the bright side, it didn't matter anyhow as the show was over by the time night fell. The CME from the sun that was to cause the aurora hit at 9:00 am CDT and the resulting geomagnetic storm had mostly subsided by the time it was dark in North America. The storm did reach a k-index of 5 which means it would have been visible in Mid-latitude states like Minnesota if it had been dark. The good news is that the sun is still very active and there are likely to be more flares and CMEs from the sun in the coming months.

While driving around on Wednesday I happened to notice the shoreview transmission towers in the distance. They are each a little over 1,400 feet tall making them some of the tallest structures in the state. They are almost twice the height of the IDS tower in downtown Minneapolis. The towers are painted in alternating bands of red and white to make them more visible. What caught my attention was that the entire upper halves of all three towers were completely white. The towers by law have to be painted with alternating red and white sections. I believe on these towers each section is 200 feet in length. The upper sections are painted so I'm assuming the all white tops were the result of  some sort of frost effect caused by a differing air layer starting around 700 feet up. Very interesting to see.

Thursday I saw my first pheasant of the year. I'd heard them much earlier. This was my 41st bird species for Minnesota this year. There have been some unusual birds around town like a Townsend's Solitaire, Varied Thrush and a number of gull species but I've been content to watch for the locals.

Friday morning there was a nice sun pillar then light snow came on in the afternoon. I didn't get out much during the day but I did see the results of the winter golden eagle survey. Volunteers counting overwintering golden eagles long the Mississippi River in Southeastern MN and Western Wisconsin counted a record 125 birds!

Saturday was our Winter Blizzard Blast at work and I spent much of my time on the lake. The ice was 14 inches thick and we put an underwater video camera in the lake to show the public what fish are down there. We felt safe on 14 inches of ice but there can be a lot of variation and I know several lakes have been closed to vehicles due to thin ice. Putting your truck through the ice is an expensive lesson to learn. According to the Minnesota DNR, you need 12-15  of ice to safely hold a full size truck. 14 inches is kind of iffy in my book if my vehicle is on the line. Shoreline springs, currents and other factors can greatly reduce thickness in lakes so now's not the time to be driving on unknown ice. You only need 4 inches of ice to support a person so lakes are generally safe to walk on but still exercise caution. With the camera and sampling methods we saw lots of activity under the ice from fish to macroinvertebrates.

The week ahead:

Black bears are giving birth in their dens this week. Owls laying eggs depending on where you are, a little earlier to the south, a week or so later in the North. I haven't seen any springtails yet (snowfleas) but with the warm weather they should be out this week.


Gene Vermillion said...

I always enjoy your posts. Thanks.


Kirk said...

Thanks Gene. Glad you enjoy them. Thanks for reading.