|THE COLDEST, SNOWIEST, ICIEST, LONGEST WINTER IN DECADES|
Monday, March 31, 2014
Sunday, March 30, 2014
|JUST OUT FOR A STROLL IN THE SUNSHINE...|
|...BUT DON'T THINK I'M AN EASY PICKUP!|
On the way to the recycle center yesterday we came across a skunk just strolling along the side of Townsend Road. Joan saw it first and I had to back up a ways to take these photos. Skunks don't see very well and we got quite close, but I rolled up the window and drove off when it turned around and began to raise its tail...a rather ominous sign.
Buddy wanted badly to make friends but had to be satisfied with looking out the window. I have had dogs sprayed by skunks and it is a most unpleasant experience. A tomato juice bath is the only antidote I know for the nauseating stench. Dogs, by the way, are the only animals dumb enough to attack a skunk; except for the great horned owl, which is reputedly its only real predator. Maybe the owls hold their noses.
Skunks don't really hibernate, but do become very inactive and stay denned up most of the winter. I have read that the females den together, but that the males are solitary. We did not investigate as to this individual's gender, although it looked rather pretty and dainty, at least for a skunk.
Remember the femme fatale lady skunk, Mizz Ma'm'selle Hepziba, in the old Walt Kelly comic strip, Pogo? Beautiful, flirty, but oh, so unapproachable!
Saturday, March 29, 2014
|AFTER THE STORM...YESTERDAY MORNING|
|LICHENS ON YOUNG SUGAR MAPLE TREES|
|LICHEN COLONY ON A YOUNG RED OAK TREE|
Taking Buddy for a run down Old San Road yesterday I was struck by the number of lichens on the oaks and maples, and how obvious they are in the bright sunshine and glistening snow. There are many, many kinds of lichens, epiphytes that grow harmlessly on the bark of tree trunks and branches, as well as on rocks. Those pictured are crustose (crusty) lichens; there are also foliose (leaf like) lichens, and others that look like miniature trees or shrubs. The beauty and diversity of these odd living organisms is striking, and they encompass their own, separate branch of botany. Although I have always found them fascinating, I have never studied them seriously. And that's a shame.
Lichens are a symbiosis between a fungus, which provides the growth substrate, and a blue-green algae, which provides the photosynthesis which nourishes the composite organism. There are also lichens which are a symbiosis of a fungus and a photosynthetic bacterium, that are very prevalent on the rocks along the shores of Lake Superior and other northern bodies of water. They are orange and yellow rather than green in color, making the rocks look as though they have been splashed with luminescent paint. Lichens are also very sensitive to air pollution, and their abundance can be seen as an indicator of good air quality, and their absence the inverse.
Lichens also live on conifer branches (I see them most often on spruce trees), occasionally so heavily encrusting them that some of the branches may die, but they are not parasitic in any way. These strange and lovely organisms should be accepted as part of the ecology of the landscape, as they are by and large not harmful, and provide yet another perspective on the economy of nature.
Friday, March 28, 2014
|BLACK-PHASE BALD EAGLE|
|NAMEKAGON RIVER NORTH OF HAYWARD|
Our trip down to Madison was uneventful, we accomplished our business readily and then decided to go the long way home, taking US Hwy. 12 northwest out of Madison to I 90-94 and on up to Hudson, Wisconsin, across the Saint Croix River from Minneapolis-St. Paul. The objective was to see large flocks of Trumpeter swans that for many years have overwintered there. That turned out to be a "wild swan chase," as the river and lake were all but frozen solid. Should have known.
However, all these perambulations gave us the opportunity to really assess the advance of spring in Wisconsin, from north to south and from south to west. I hate to tell you this, but spring is not as yet to be found anywhere in Wisconsin (I doubt even Milwaukee). The Wisconsin River was frozen solid everywhere we crossed until our last view of it around Portage, which is about an hour north of Madison. The state is still snowbound at least to Wausau, which is about mid-state, and then snow cover decreases until there was nothing but a few snow piles left in Madison, but it was still winter there, although finally getting above freezing during the day. We did see some open stretches of water on the Namekagon River around Hayward, but that was very unusual. And we saw a very large flock of turkeys in the same stretch along State Hwy. 63.
But the best part of the trip was seeing the black-phase bald eagle (above photo) around Mercer on the trip down to Madison. This bird was still a juvenile, by what I have read probably a three year old. Younger juveniles have primarily mixed brown and white feathers, and the adults have brownish body plumage. The black phase usually, from what I have read and seen, does not usually have distinct white plumage on head and tail, and its beak and eyes would not as yet be yellow. This was a spectacularly beautiful eagle and we were fortunate to have spotted it while driving. We did make a U-turn to go back and take photos.
He clasps the crags with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunder-bolt he falls.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
|WHITE SPRUCE WITH SEVERE NEEDLE BURN|
|...CLOSEUP OF DAMAGE|
Monday, March 24, 2014
|FREEZING FOG..MAKES ROADS AND WALKS QUITE SLIPPERY IN PLACES|
|GROVE OF SNOW-LACED NORWAY SPRUCE|
|THE DEEP SNOW MAKES THE TOP WIRE OF FENCES ALMOST INVISIBLE ...|
|...SO IT IS QUITE IMPORTANT TO OBEY THE SIGN...|
|...WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH IGNORED|
A magnificent grove of Norway spruce, Picea abies, occupies most of the block between Ninth and Tenth Streets and Wilson and Manypenny Avenues. They are quite beautiful laced with the latest snowfall. They were planted by naturalist and good friend Andy Larsen when he was a boy, and his grandfather owned the land.
The snowmobile trails on the outskirts of town have some rules and regulations, which are often ignored. The admonition to stay on the trails and the warning concerning barbed wire fences is a particularly important one this winter, as the snow is so deep it is often level with the top wire of the fences. Running into barbed wire on a snow machine is a fate to be avoided.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
|MORE PROPANE FOR MADELINE ISLAND|
|TRANSFERRING PROPANE FROM TANKER TRUCK TO SMALLER DELIVERY TRUCK|
It has been only a week since the last tanker truck of propane arrived at the ferry landing destined for Madeline Island, and I find it rather amazing that another shipment was needed already. It certainly has been unseasonably cold.
There was a discussion as to whether the big tanker could safely cross to the Island on the Ice Road, but it was all theoretical and the transfer was made to the smaller truck, which itself is rated at 23,000 pounds fully loaded, certainly no lightweight vehicle. If I were the diver I would keep the door open during the trip across the ice.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
|NEEDLE BURN ON WHITE FIR...|
|...CLOSEUP OF DAMAGE; |
NOTE UPWARD SWEEP OF NEEDLES ON BRANCHES, WHICH IS TYPICAL OF FIRS)
Friday, March 21, 2014
|PUSSY WILLOW BUDS ARE BEGINNING TO OPEN|
|THERE IS OPEN WATER NOW BEYOND MADELINE ISLAND|
(as viewed from the top of Washington Ave)
I checked out the native pussy willows, Salix discolor, at the beach yesterday and the buds are beginning to open, the white fluff inside now clearly visible.
The crows have been very active of late, and this morning I saw one flying with a twig in its beak, obviously engaged in building a nest.
We were surprised yesterday to see that there is now a huge expanse of open water east of Madeline Island, where there was nothing but ice and snow only twelve days ago. The Ice Road won't last much longer.
Spring is reluctantly arriving.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
|A GAP IN THE ARBORVITAE HEDGE...|
|...AND LOTS OF WINTER BURN ON THE DWARF ALBERTA SPRUCE|
|THERE'S A RHODODENDRON GARDEN UNDER THERE SOMEWHERE...|
|...AN AZALEA POKING THROUGH THE SNOW|
Thursday, 29 degrees F, wind WNW, light with stronger gusts. The sky is overcast, the humidity is down to 72% and the barometer is up, now at 30.01". At least it isn't snowing on this, the first day of spring, or ziigwan, as our neighbors would say in the Ojibwe language.
By all accounts this has been a rough winter. Just how rough won't be apparent until after the snow melts and we can really examine the plants. Not that it hasn't been plenty rough on heating bills, water lines and roads. But plant-wise it's a little early to tell, although some things have obviously taken a hit, such as the arborvitae (Thuja occidentals) hedge in the back yard, which has many plants bent over by the snow load. I hope they're not actually broken, and I have learned over the years not to try to brush the snow and ice off of heavily laden trees and shrubs, it invariably does more harm than good.
And the dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica') in the herb garden, which are no longer 'dwarf', have experienced even worse winter burn than usual. The needles often burn from wind and snow-reflected sun, but they recover with a flush of new growth.
Some plants will actually benefit greatly from the deep snow cover. The Rhododendrons and azaleas (both are in the genus Rhododendron, but the Rhododendrons have broadleaf evergreen foliage and azaleas are deciduous) are happy as can be under the snow. Only one azalea is poking through, and the buds on it look quite viable.
The perennial garden will fare well also, with plenty of insulating snow cover, little or no frost, and lots of moisture from the melting snow.
So, on the one hand..., but on the other hand...
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
|WINTER RETURNED TO THE NORTHLAND WITH A VENGEANCE YESTERDAY...|
|...AND TO THE ICE ROAD|
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
|COULDN'T HURT, I GUESS...|
|...THAT'S PRETTY MUCH WHAT IS HAPPENING|
The church on Hwy. 13 south of Washburn has an intriguing message posted on its information sign: "Pray for a slow melt down." Can't argue with the sentiment, and actually that's what we have been getting for several weeks now, so one might assume their entreaties are being answered. Anyway I guess their efforts couldn't hurt.
Another week or two of similar slow melting and we shouldn't have too many flooding worries (absent a repeat of last year's April and May storms that dropped about five feet of late snow on us).
We'll keep our fingers crossed as well.
Monday, March 17, 2014
|NORTH BRANCH OF PIKES CREEK IS RISING...THINK TROUT!|
|DEER ARE LOOKING FOR HERBS BENEATH THE SNOW|
|MAPLE SAP IS RISING|
|AND THE BEARS ARE WAKING UP|
Things are waking up though, coming out of the winter doldrums. The North Branch of Pike's Creek is beginning to look like a trout stream again; we are seeing deer looking for fresh forage every day now, the maple sap is flowing and the bears will soon be prowling about. Hope ours aren't as hungry as the Russian Bear that has come out of hibernation and is gobbling up Ukraine. Time to put my pistol in my coat pocket when out in the big woods, I guess.
President Obama, please do not wander about in the Russian woods unless you do likewise.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
|BEAVER POND AND DAM AT HEADWATERS OF THE NORTH BRANCH OF PIKE'S CREEK...|
|...LOCATED IN A MARSH ALONG VALLEY ROAD...|
|...LOOKS LIKE THE BEAVERS ARE BECOMING ACTIVE|
|AMERICAN BEAVER, CASTOR CANADENSIS|
Sunday, 9:00 AM. 7 degrees F, up from 4 degrees earlier. The sky is clear, the wind NW and calm. The humidity is up to 82% and the barometer is also up, to a quite high 30.60". There will be a full moon tonight, in Ojibwa it is called onaabani-giizis, Hard Crust on the Snow Moon, which is an apt description of March conditions. It was nearly as light as day last night, with the almost-full moon and clear skies.
Coming back from the Recycle Center yesterday we drove from Hwy. 13 north of Red Cliff to Compton Rd., which becomes Valley Road and connects with Hwy. J. There is a marsh along that route that is the headwaters of the North Branch of Pike's Creek, which flows into Lake Superior just south of Bayfield. There is a beaver dam and pond in the marsh that appears to have an active beaver population. It looks to me like the beavers have been out and about in the snow around the stream and dam. We will make it a point to watch for them and try to get some photos.
I find beavers very interesting, but they can be extremely damaging to trees and other woody vegetation and they often are trapped for that reason as well as for their fur, which can be quite valuable if the market is high. We have at least one active trapper right in the immediate area and the beavers may not last long. In general I have no objection to the elimination of animals doing economic damage, but I do hope these are left alone.
I sure do like watching beavers.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
|ICE ROAD ADVISORY|
|PROPANE TRUCK TOO HEAVY FOR TH ICE ROAD|
|COLLECTING SAP FROM COURTHOUSE SUGAR MAPLE TREES|
|CLOSEUP OF SAP COLLECTION BAG AND SPILE|
The Ice Road is now closed to all but local traffic. This is an advisory only and is not enforced in any way, and is meant to keep the road useable by residents for as long as possible. The unofficial projection is that it will be open perhaps another week. The major portions of the road have very deep ice, but the approaches to land on both ends are becoming noticeably soft and wet. The Ice Caves visitation will probably not last much longer either, although I suspect this weekend will be another mob scene. I have heard that the local EMTs have been making an average of two dozen emergency runs on weekends, mostly falls and exposure.
The propane supplier on the Island is running out of propane and a tanker truck was at the Bayfield dock today, too heavy to cross the ice. The last I saw, it was waiting to transfer the propane to smaller trucks that can safely cross the ice.
Someone has tapped the large old maple trees at Bayfied's Old Courthouse (now Park Service headquarters) to collect sap for making maple syrup. I assume it is a school project. The bags were still empty when I took the photos, indicating that sap is not as yet flowing. The bag system looks to me to be clean, neat and efficient. As long as taping is properly done and the spiles (sap spigots) are removed at the end of the season no harm is done to the tree.
Friday, March 14, 2014
|DEER ARE EMERGING FROM HEAVY WINTER COVER|
Lake Superior water levels should rise considerably with all the snow melt, and in addition the lake has been mostly frozen over and will remain so for some time to come, greatly reducing evaporation, which lowers water levels in an open winter.
Yesterday we saw five deer along Nevers Road on our way to Tetzner's Dairy to get milk and ice cream. As the weather warms and the snow melts they will become increasingly visible, moving out of winter yarding areas to find fresh forage.
Wednesday's Urban Forestry Council meeting at the capitol in Madison was filled with interesting information, some of which I will pass on. The harsh winter will probably hold down some insect populations, such as Gypsy Moths and Emerald Ash Borers, but insects are so fertile that even under the worst conditions enough of the population overwinters that their numbers can soon return to normal. Twenty-one of Wisconsin's 51 counties are now under EAB quarantine.
A report was made on Leed certification of "green" buildings (those which pass stringent environmental standards of energy and water use, recycling, carbon emission and sequestration, etc.), which sounds like a good goal for all new or reconstructed building projects. How could anyone object to such obviously virtuous standards and results?
Ah, but as with any sales pitch, it pays to read the fine print and ferret out the unintended (or at least undisclosed) consequences. In order to reach the highest levels of certification, a "green" building must be constructed of so-called local materials, i.e., produced within a five-hundred mile radius of the building site. Who could argue with that, as it supports more-or-less local industries and labor?
I could, and here's why. I won't even argue the fact that it may increase the cost of the building significantly, and of course finance costs and real estate taxes as well. My main objection to so-called local input requirements is that if everybody, everywhere adopted these draconian standards, interstate and international trade would be decimated and everyone, everywhere, would suffer.
Case in point: Wisconsin's forest products industry adds approximately nine billion dollars to the state economy yearly, over 12% of the state's annual GDP. Approximately 2 billion dollars of forest products are exported annually to China alone. If environmentally "enlightened" Chinese adopted Leed standards, Wisconsin would loose that $2 billion dollars a year and drive the struggling forest products sector into further decline. Add to that the fact that the wood products sector supports many highly paid jobs and established private sector businesses, and that decline is at the expense of the struggling middle class.
The environmental movement is rife with this kind of myopic mischief, and it is sucking the entire nation further and further into decline.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
|WISCONSIN SNOW COVER|
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
|RED MAPLE TREE BUDS...|
|...BEGINNING TO SWELL NOTICEABLY|
The melting continues, and as welcome as it is, it is also problematic. The streams will soon begin to overflow their banks, and ice dams on roof edges and valleys will cause leaks and water damage inside buildings. And to add insult to injury, the city tells us that the warm weather and melting actually drives the frost deeper into the ground, requiring us to keep our water running at least a pencil-diameter stream until further notice, to keep water lines and sewers from freezing. As though to emphasize the point, two more water line freeze-ups occurred in town yesterday.
On the bright side, it is time to start watching the red maple buds swell. They won't bloom for perhaps another six weeks or more, but they are none-the-less true harbingers of spring, which I have watched wherever we have lived. They are beginning to swell quite obviously now.
We are on our way to Madison this morning for an Urban Forestry Council meeting at the state capitol. Each spring we make the pilgrimage while the legislature is in session, so that I can meet with our state senator and representative to inform them of local issues in urban forestry. This year we will thank them both (Senator Bob Jauch and Representative Janet Bewley) for their support of our recent, successful grant from the Forest Service to plant 142 or more street and park trees in the Chequamegon Bay communities.