Friday, June 29, 2012


The edge of a hail producing storm cell at sunset.
The lifting then supercooling of raindrops cause the formation of ice balls, also known as hail. This process can be repeated multiple times depending on the strength of the updraft. The once pea-sized pieces of ice may grow to sizes comparable to golf balls or baseballs by the time they drop to earth. The growth itself is classified in two ways: by wet growth or by dry growth. The process of wet growth occurs when water collides with a small piece of ice. The air temperature is below freezing, but not too cold so the water slowly freezes around tumbling ice particle eventually forming clear ice. In dry growth, the far below freezing air temperature causes the water to instead freeze immediately. This traps any present air bubbles resulting in a cloudy piece of ice. Hailstone may also contain layers which indicate the number of times the updraft lifted that particular piece to the storm top for more formation. While hail rarely causes fatalities, the damage from either the size or the amount can cause a number of issue.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

♂ Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Selasphorus platycercus
The Broad-tailed Hummingbird is a summer migrant in the subalpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains, and a year round resident in parts of Central America. While similar in characteristics to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the main distinguishing marks are the white chin and less luminous throat. In order to survive the cold nights, many small animals including hummingbirds, such as the Broad-tailed, enter a state of torpor. Torpor is a state of energy conservation characterized as a reduction in metabolism and lowered body temperature, sometime referred to as temporary hibernation. A number of factors can play a role in torpor offset, duration, and frequency.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Black Kite

Black Kite, Milvus migrans scouring a bushfire.
Widespread from Australia to Europe, but lacking in the New World, the Black Kite is argued to be the most numerous raptor species in the world. While most often seen in small groups or isolated pairs, events such as bushfires and plagues of grasshoppers brings flocks. A raging fire will attract Black Kites from a number of miles away as it provides a temporary abundance of food as prey flees the flames, although they will also feast on carrion. From a distance, the plumage looks almost black, but in reality is a dark brown.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fire and the Outback

Very recent burning in a volatile Eucalyptus Forest
Australia is no stranger of fires, from the western desert, to the tropics and bushland, to the savannas and eucalyptus forests. As with other environments, these fire adapt places rely on fire to promote a strong ecosystem from the ground to the surrounding life; however, Australia provides a unique insight not with just fire alone, but the relationship of the Aboriginal people with fire. For the Wik Monkan of Northern Queensland, burning off country was often started at the end of the wet season, ontjin, particularly during the start of the dry season, kaiyam, and sometime continued to the beginning of the wet season, turrpak. A great portion of the clan estates was burned each year. The burn pattern used for most areas is referred to as mosaic burning resulting from a combination of burning grass as it cures and the movement around the estates. Land management of Aboriginal country often was focused on resource management and social values, not necessarily for the promotion of biodiversity. One of the major reasons for the burning regimes was to aid in the hunt of anything from macropods to burrowed prey. The Martu Aboriginal of the Western Desert have used fire for the purposes of hunting to great effect.

Controlled burns by the university for human protection. 
As with most other ecosystems, there has been fire repression especially along populated areas, and land management under the guidance of the Aboriginal has been declining. As dry season starts, controlled burns are conducted near towns and around the perimeter of populated places such as universities as a precaution and for protection. With the continual concerns of global warming, recent research has looked at the relationship of wildfires to carbon output. There is strong support for the relationship between the net emissions and net sinks of areas with fire repression, and areas with annual burning.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fire and the Cerrado

Cerrado where ashes still remain on trunks from earlier fires.
The Cerrado is a tropical savanna where fires maintain a healthy ecosystem in one of the world's main biodiversity hotspots. This particular savanna is characterized as woody savanna, with grasslands containing little to no foliage, to dense tall forests. The soil is the most unique characteristic of this area, with low nutrients, depth,  good drainage, and full of oxisols giving a distinct red hue in part due to the high concentration of aluminum. When a fire spreads through the area naturally, it is usually classified as a surface fire. These fires do not consume much beyond live and dead grasses, plus thin-stemmed trees. While leaves in the canopy may be damaged by the heat, not all are killed and some plants have developed cardboard-like leaves to help resist fires along with thick bark. The reason for surface fires in this area is unclear, whether due to high water content of live fuel, the fast movement of the fires, or the height of the flames. The fires of the Cerrado have a number of effects, including a short duration of soil microclimate change, encouragement of new grass growth, intense flowering and reproduction of flora, and an increase in concentration of soil nutrients especially for the first three post-fire months. The temperature rise in the soil during the fire is not significant or deep enough to cause a loss of nutrients.

For parts of the Cerrado, fires still have some freedom to rage as movement into this ecosystem is still relatively new. The development of Brasilia, the new capital of Brasil as of only 52 years ago resulted in an increase of population movement inward. Fertilization improvements for permanent agriculture have now made this ecosystem a place for human habitation, and therefore, highly threatened. One concern is the result of using fires in deforestation which may have a negative impact on the Cerrado. Unlike other parts of the world, too much fire may be more cause for alarm than the repression of it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fire and the Blackland Prairie

Controlled burning of protected Blackland Prairie
The critically endangered Blackland Prairie is but one of many North American habitats that rely on once natural fires to keep healthy. Eastern Red Cedar, also known as Juniper, is a native tree now classified as invasive. The historic fires once left little in the ways of woody vegetation after roaring through, but now plants like Juniper grow without constraint. The growth of these trees kill natives who no longer have access to light such as the grasses that live to burn.  The also have the indirect effect of causing worse allergies than would be historically present. The restoration of the grasslands, including the Blackland Prairie, which once covered the Great Plains, is an involved process, but certainly possible for landowners to achieve.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mountain Pine Beetle

Mountain Pine Beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae damage in Roosevelt National Forest
The Mountain Pine Beetle, while native to the forests of western North America, often goes through periods of outbreak that can cause massive damage and result in major consequences. These outbreaks can last quite long and damage much like the 4 million acres in Colorado. Climate and weather patterns are an important factor to the population of bark beetles such as the mountain pine beetle where severe freezes keep them in check, along with the natural woodpecker and insect predators; however, without consistent freezing, even a single mild winter can encourage a loss of population control. One result of outbreaks is an increase in intensive forest fires. There relationship between bark beetles and forest fires is complicated and two-fold: fire damaged trees are even more susceptible to infestation, and the forest structure and fuel source is changed. The long term consequences of this large change of structure are currently being research. This includes the impact on snow accumulation and subsequential snow melt. While characterized as a problem due to the socioeconomic impacts, it is important to remember that bark beetles have a purpose of which includes forest disturbances, an important factor of a healthy forest ecosystem. The wildfires also have an important role in the revitalization of forests allowing new seeds to be planted. Cause for concern arrives when the beetle damage becomes extensive and fires cannot run their course not only due to trying to protect homes and lives, but also because their repressed nature often results is more intensive fires than naturally occurring.

Wildlifes are a common cause of concern in modern society due to the disruption of a natural process in order to protect the people that live in the area. This disruption often leads to worse fires than historic fires of untouched wilderness. The relevant nature of this post to current events will be continued next week looking at three different ecosystems, the impact and importance of fires for those particular areas, and management for the areas.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Giant African Millipede

Giant African Millipede, Archispirostreptus sp.
The Giant African Millipede is one of the largest millipedes in the world. While currently common in captivity, this will soon decline due to new USDA regulations. Not to be confused with the carnivorous, stinging centipede, the millipede is a harmless detritivore. While there is a difference in the number of legs between the two, the millipede does not actually have over a thousand legs. The curling behavior of the millipede is common, especially when threatened. Many millipedes then spray out a defensive chemical that other species have been known to take advantage of in terms of both a repellent and a narcotic high. They may live up to 7 years and grow to over 300mm in length. There is more than one species of Giant African Millipede, of which it is nearly impossible for the untrained eye to tell the difference. Mites are commonly found on millipedes, but relatively unstudied to where it is still unclear whether the relationship is parasitism or mutualism.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Estes Park

Sunrise in Estes Park, Colorado
Nested between Rocky Mountain National Park, Roosevelt National Forest, and just over 30 km southwest of Fort Collins, the town of Estes Park, Colorado accommodates everyone from tons of outdoor activities, wonderful local shops, to ghost tours of a famous beautiful mansion. The mountain vista provides for beautiful scenery and photography at all hours of the day, and the range of wildlife found without searching is incredible.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Short Hiatus

I will be gone for the next week with little to no internet access. As such, I will not be posting anything this week, but I will return soon enough. See you in a week!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Painted Bunting: Song

Singing male Passerina ciris
The songs of the Painted Bunting are not quite like that of other members of the Passerina genus in North America. There is no repetition of syllables (notes), they sing more than one song, and the song sung has a structure to it. While hard to discern by hearing alone, when made visual these difference become obvious. The song of the Painted Bunting contains three parts: a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning of the song contains just a handful of short, almost chirp-like notes that are sometimes omitted completely. The middle of the song contains more complex syllables, rarely omitting any, and often containing more than four syllables. The end of the song is the most versatile, where notes can be changed, interchanged, or sometimes omitted.

A repertoire is a set of songs, the number varying per bird and species. The summer repertoire of the Painted Bunting can range from two to more than four songs. Within those four songs, there can be anywhere from two to more than twenty versions of one song as determined by the end notes. A single song contains on average around twelve to fifteen syllables. It should be noted that the song description is that of the Painted Bunting found in the central parts of the United States. Still not widely accepted, there is the suggestion not often followed to separate those Painted Buntings from the ones found in the east. If that is followed, then what I am describing is the song of Passerina ciris pallidior not Passerina ciris ciris. Research has not yet been published on the difference in song between these two.