Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Bird Feeder Summary

Each month, we keep track of visitors to our bird feeders (or the crab apple that holds the feeders and the ground below).  While not as in depth as individual counts, it is still interesting to see trends and totals.  We have been keeping this data since the start of 2013, which gives us some fun numbers to watch.

  • A total of 48 bird species have visited our feeder in the four years of observation.  Many of these birds are not seed eaters, but birds that have just happened to forage in our crab apple, such as the six warbler species.
  • This year we had a total of 39 species visit our feeder.  The first time visitors were Brown Creeper, Golden-winged Warbler, Harris's Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, Pine Siskin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-winged Blackbird, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
  • The average birds at the feeder per month has gone up each year, with 2016 averaging over 18 birds per month.  (2013 = 12.8, 2014, = 14.6, 2015 = 15.5, and 2016 = 18.2)
  • Some birds have been less common at our feeder this year.  American Crow, American Tree Sparrow, Blackpoll Warbler, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, Mallard, Northern Flicker, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow Warbler had a lower frequency this year than overall.
  • Here are our 19 most frequent birds for 2016 in descending order: House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Mourning Dove, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and House Wren.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Deadman Peaks Trail Marathon

I didn’t take time (make time) to write about the Deadman Peaks Trail Marathon (DPTM) right away, but sometimes that helps to clarify thoughts. Overall, I was very proud of my performance during the race. Such a large part of racing a trail marathon is managing your mind and body and getting the most out of yourself on a given day on a given trail. The biggest changes about this race was the use of salt tablets and taking my camelback. After my experience of blacking out during the Rugged Red in Kentucky on a ninety degree day and then reviving with salt tablets, I bought some and took one an hour during Deadman Peaks. This seemed to make a difference, as I didn’t cramp up at all during the race, which was warm and very dry, very sunny, very windy, at a relatively high altitude, and with a respectable vertical gain and loss. The camelback worked out well, too. Granted, I would never say I was running fast, but I didn’t have any issues with it shifting or bouncing on rugged descents, or any abdominal cramping from carrying it. I felt like I drank constantly, having a sip of water at least once every five minutes. I refilled it at each aid station.

Right after the start, heading into the sun.
Race day, I woke up at five am to see the 53ers off at six am and to get ready. (The ultra runners started at our finish line on the north end, ran to the south end, and back to the start finish. We were driven to the south side, and just ran north to the finish line.) I almost underestimated how long I would take to get ready, with all my gear. (I took a hat, bandana, sunglasses, compression sleeves, shirt, running underwear, shorts, compression tights, socks, shoes, belt with camera and food bag, and camelback. Pretty high maintenance.) The shuttle busses left at 6:45 (there were only two). I had a nice talk with my bus mates on the 45 minute drive. The sunrise was very pretty driving out. The temperature was something under 40 degrees (some reports said 39, or 37, and the bus thermometers said 32), but I decided not to bring anything warm. (I didn’t want to have to drop any gear, plus I knew I would be fine once I started running.) I stayed on the bus until five minutes until the start to stay warm. Most people did not.
Cholla, juniper, and an old windmill
The race start was pretty low-key. I waited until almost everyone was past, and then fell in line. I counted 17 people, but I think I heard that about 20 started. I really wanted to run my own race and not get caught up in anyone else’s adrenaline. That wasn’t too hard with only 20 people. I just let people go on by if they wanted to. I wasn’t sure how the altitude would affect me. The race elevation varied from about 6300’ to 7400’ above sea level. The only thing I noticed was that it took a little more energy on the ascents. From the start, I was in love with the trail and scenery. The trail didn’t just skirt interesting terrain, it dove right in, crossing gullies, climbing through draws, up onto promontories, and along ledges. I took hundreds of pictures, and over 15 minutes of video. The trail was rugged and remote. There were signs of abandoned ranching operations, and some old dirt ‘roads’, but no real signs of civilization. Occasionally, we would catch sight of the big highway far across the Rio Puerco valley to the east, but that was it. I ran with a guy named Bill from Kalamazoo for a while at the start, and then with a guy named Glen and a lady named Stacy. I was generally with someone until the first aid station (AS1), but afterwards, it was rare to see someone. I wanted to make sure I took advantage of the aid stations. I timed myself at one and had a stop of three minutes. I tried to eat and drink as much as my body would allow, especially salty snacks. The temperature from the start to the first aid station was very comfortably cool with a bright sun. I was happy for the sunglasses then, and all day.
Working my way up Deadman Peaks
From the first aid station, the trail climbed up the Deadman Peaks. (I didn’t realize that was what they were at the time). It was a good climb, but it had a nice view. It was completely open here, and must have been quite different in the intense afternoon sun. It wasn’t too long into the second leg (AS1 to AS2) when the first south-bound 53er passed me. He was looking awesome, and had only had a two hour head start on us marathoners. A second guy was only two minutes behind him. After leaving the Deadman Peaks, the trail followed the west side of a canyon north. In general, I could usually see Bill from Kalamazoo up ahead, and sometimes Stacy. I even passed them once, with them repassing me eventually. (There is absolutely no competitive nature to this at this point of a race. In general, you keep track of where everyone is, in case of emergencies.) I felt like I was in a good groove on the second leg, running a bit of level and the down hills.
The view off of the side of Deadman Peaks
The second aid station came up quickly. The first two were pretty close together and close to the start, with a big gap between AS2 and AS3. Again I really refueled here. I had passed most of the south-bound 53ers by this time. (Only 20 or so started, and only 13 finished.) The super-friendly aid station volunteers told me that the most scenic section was up-coming, up on La Ventana Mesa. Most of them seemed like pretty avid hikers, which was essentially what I was. (I felt like a hiker who occasionally ran.) The volunteers were right, this second section was spectacular. Dramatic overlooks, slick rock, the trail twisting around hoodoos, and through ravines. The trail was very well marked. (Too well marked according to Stacy, who knocked down some cairns that seemed extraneous to her.) Cairns (piles of rocks) marked the trail wherever it was rocky enough to make them. Fence posts with white tops marked them in the few miles on the northern half where it wasn’t rocky enough. I didn’t have much trouble seeing the trail. I did have to stop and look a couple times, when the rock piles blended in, or when the trail made a sudden bend on bare rock. The day started heating up on section three. There were times when the rocks sheltered from the breeze that it was positively warm. Up on the mesa tops, there was a wonderful breeze that kept it from getting too hot. (Drying out was a different matter. I had to drink frequently.) Coming down from the mesa, I caught sight of tents and cars in the distance. Not sure how far I was seeing, I thought it might be the finish line. It wasn’t. It was AS3. Aid Station 3 was in the center and bottom of a wide, dusty, sagebrush-filled valley, very different than the rocky mesa. In general, the trail ran straight as an arrow here, following fence posts, and with little of interest.
Scenic canyons
Aid Station 3 was the last ‘full’ aid station. There was one more aid station, but that was only a water container on the mesa. Cuba, the name we gave to the little stray dog who hung around the camp, was there to greet me. He had run to the aid station with the 30k racers, and then stayed at the tent, getting himself into mischief. (He stole some ham from a sandwich while I was there. The night before, he had shredded my handkerchief and ran off with my sandal.) Again, I ate a bit, hitting the pickles and oranges hard. The next mesa, Mesa Portales, loomed over the aid station. Feeling good, I headed off up the trail. I had heard that the climb up onto Mesa Portales was the biggest and most impressive climb. Indeed, I could believe it, as I watched it grow as I approached. About 24 minutes out from the aid station, I passed a marathoner heading back to the aid station. He was not feeling good, and was heading back to be safe. I understood how he felt, from previous races. The trail didn’t immediately climb the mesa, but started bending around it to the east and gradually climbing. Then it made the steep ascent. It wasn’t that bad, though. Or at least, it wasn’t too me, since I was feeling decent. I passed one 30k racer, and caught sight of Stacy in the distance, briefly. The mesa top was a wonderful place. It was breezy, with the wonderful scent of pinon pine, juniper, and sage. It was an island in the sun that felt somehow very cozy. The trail on the top was comfortably sandy, and mostly sloped downhill very gently, perfect for a loping jog. I filled up at the water stop, and started on the last leg. It was not long after the water stop that the 53 mile winner passed me. I congratulated him. He looked amazing, running with energy. He ended up finishing with a course record 8:35 for 53 miles. (The next finisher was more than an hour and a half behind him! 8:35 comes out to about 9:43 minutes per mile.) The trail started to descend more rapidly from the mesa. I caught up with Stacy and we chatted for a while. We knew that after the trail came off the mesa, it hit a dirt road for the last two miles. I left Stacy shortly before the dirt road, and tried to keep up a decent pace. I could see another runner far in the distance, and tried to reel him in. Those last two miles took a while, but I kept running in spurts, which is one of my gauges of a good marathon. I never caught the other runner, but I did manage to get in under seven hours, and never hit a wall.
Heading north along a canyon edge towards AS2 with Bill in the distance.
Mom and Dad were waiting for me at the finish line. I had been able to see their trailer parked there for a good while. They congratulated me, and then headed out. I was looking forward to sitting, eating, and drinking. Stacy finished right after me. I love hearing everyone’s stories and seeing people finish. The second 53er finished a little after me. 6:57:56 sounds pretty slow, and it is. That is roughly a 15:45 minute per mile. But I was happy with how I handled the altitude, trail, my muscles, my energy, and mental attitude. I walked whenever I wanted to, and I stopped to take pictures or video whenever I wanted to. I made sure not to pressure myself with any time expectations early. At least until the end, I didn’t even have any stomach issues, and those were minor. It was also very encouraging to get the monkey of Breakneck Ridge off my back. It was also fun to camp in the desert with everyone before and after the race. I might have been able to push a little more, but often pushing a little bit can cost you more than you gain in the long run. Plus, I had a good time.
Looking east off La Ventana Mesa
Looking northeast off La Ventana Mesa
Looking southeast off La Ventana Mesa
Running on the slickrock
One of the little draws on section 3
More slickrock
Everywhere looked like the set of a western
A cool hoodoo
Looking down from Mesa Portales
Nice fall color on the scrub oaks
More fall color along the sandy road
I liked the bands on the hillside

Here is the compilation of the videos I took during the race.  It is over 15 minutes.  Sometimes it is shaky, so be forewarned.

Here are the results.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Morgan Monroe Ecoblitz

Last Saturday I joined the botany team for their monthly foray into the backcountry area of Morgan Monroe. It is fun to learn new plants, refresh old ones, and spend time with other botanists.

Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana)
Great Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum muehlenbergii)
Long-awned Woodgrass (Brachyelytrum erectum)
Starry Catchfly (Silene stellata)
Pretty Sedge (Carex woodii) is rhizomatous with a purple base.
Bosc's Panicgrass (Dichanthelium bosci) had a downward pointing beard at the nodes.
Dittany (Cunila oreganoides)
Broad-leafed Sedge (Carex platyphylla) was a glaucous blue-green on the slopes.
Carex virescens had fuzzy perigynia and a long spike.
Carex virescens had a fuzzy sheath.
Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys)
Heart-leaf Hedgenettle (Stachys cordata)
Sanicula trifoliata (Large-fruited Blacksnakeroot) was trifoliate, with large, bristly fruit.
Swan's Sedge (Carex swanii) has fuzzy perigynia and short spikes.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) had bright red berries.
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Sundew Prairie III

Xyris torta - Slender Yellow-eyed Grass 
The yellow-eyed grass was very common in the open sand.

Rhexia virginica - Virginia Meadow Beauty
I found the leaves before I found the flowers. I knew they were familiar, but I couldn't place them until I saw the bloom.

Lythrum alatum - Winged Loosestrife
There was much more of the native loosestrife present, which was a nice change from many places.

Juncus brachycarpus - Short-fruited Rush
The JUNBRR seemed to be getting the galls pretty frequently.

Polygala polygama - Purple Milkwort
The purple milkwort was a little past blooming. The two types of flowers are evident in the picture, with the small, cleistogamous ones down near the ground level. It took me a bit before I identified this flower, including the hint "the family starts with P".

Campanula aparinoides - Marsh Bellflower
I hadn't seen this little flower in a while. Sure feels like Galium aparine, very rough and catchy.

Oenothera pilosella - Prairie Sundrops
This was a new flower for me. I thought it was quite good looking.

Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern

Drosera intermedia - Spatulate-leaved Sundew
The sundews have really taken off and spread. It is hard to walk in places without stepping on them.

Veronica scutellata - Marsh Speedwell
I enjoyed seeing this little speedwell.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Herping Eglin at Night

Kelly took Kirk and I out to see his research area at Eglin. We went a little before sunset to get some birding in, and then stayed to see what we could find in the marshes after dark. The birding was glorious in the day, but the night was magical. Chuck-wills-widows and Barred Owls were calling, in addition to all the frogs.

Two-toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma means)
We waded through an emergent marsh under a powerline corridor. The water wasn't too deep in most places. We found some Grass Pickerel and some frogs. We were looking for Sirens, but we never found any. Kelly did find us a Two-toed Amphiuma, though. I had never seen one, so I was excited. The photos of him are not ideal, but we could see him helplessly flailing his legs.

Two-toed Amphiuma (Amphiuma means)
These eel like salamanders can get pretty large. There are reports of almost four feet long individuals. This one was much smaller. An old name is 'conger eel'.

Eastern Mudsnake (Farancia abacura abacura)
After a while of looking, we had about decided to wrap it up. Kelly went back to look at something, and came back with this gorgeous Mudsnake. Calling it a mud snake might be an appropriate description of where it resides, but does nothing to describe its appearance.

Eastern Mudsnake (Farancia abacura abacura)
This snake also had a very unique feel to its scales. Even after it dried, it feel as smooth as snot. Maybe that is where the idea that snakes are slimy came from. We held it for a while, and then watched it swim off in the marsh.

Eastern Mudsnake (Farancia abacura abacura)
Eastern Mudsnake (Farancia abacura abacura)
Northern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
Of course, we kept our eyes open for Cottonmouths (aka Water Moccasins). We each found one. This was the smallest one and the one that Kirk found along the fence. It had the nice yellow tail of a juvenile. Kelly's Cottonmouth was the biggest, and we respectfully admired them safely.