Last night (October 29th) the moon was full and visible, initially through a light overcast, which then cleared a bit, revealing a very marked ring around the moon, at least twenty times the moon's diameter. I was a bit chilled by that, recalling:

"Then up and spake an old Sailòr,
Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.


"Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!"
The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he."

Which is from Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus " where indeed a hurricane is in the offing. And, we have had a sailing ship go down in the great storm, the Bounty, sunk off North Carolina with one crew now confirmed dead and her captain still missing. At least most of the crew were saved, unlike the unfortunate Hesperus, which, in the poem, was lost with all hands.

The ring around the moon was due to ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, which were quite likely outriders from the collision of Hurricane Sandy and cold air masses riding down the jet stream. It's rather sobering to think that we in Wisconsin are feeling the fringes of an Atlantic storm, but that is the case. Wind gusts of up to 45 MPH are predicted, with 15 foot waves on the Lake Michigan shore and possible 30 foot waves in the center of the lake. Both lake ferries have wisely canceled trips for today.

Gusty winds are nothing new to us here, of course, and we all expect to be safe and snug. Here's hoping that those in the more direct path of the storm can be as safe.

 

Jackson Park is the large county park near us, that gives its name to our neighborhood. Besides picnic grounds and playing fields, it holds a small wooded area, and a sizable pond with two small islands. The pond attracts birds--mostly ducks, geese and gulls, but of late we've seen some rarer species.

We have at least one young Great Blue Heron in residence. There is a large heron nesting ground north of Milwaukee in Ozaukee County, and we've usually seen one or two at Jackson Park each year for the last several years, which is always thrilling.

Within the last week, we've also observed both Black-Crowned Night Herons--a male and what may have been a female--and American Bitterns, three together one evening.

My guess is that the extremely dry weather has caused these birds to migrate from nearby wetlands where they normally live, to the spring-fed pond, which is home to plenteous frogs and insects, but is also stocked with small fish each spring.

Whatever the reason, it's very exciting to see these unusual specimins in a city park.

Great Blue Heron: http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/great_blue_heron.htm

Black-Crowned Night Heron:
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-crowned_Night-Heron/id

American Bittern:
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_bittern/id

Spring!

Mar. 20th, 2012 03:36 pm
Today is 2012's vernal equinox, and for once in my life so far, I can truthfully say that we seem to be having an early spring of the type oft-predicted by the Groundhogs, but seldom actually delivered by Mother Nature.

We had snow and ice here on March 2nd, which did not last long. Last week, crocuses were up and blooming. Yesterday, daffodils, snowdrops, violets, wood hyacinths, forsithia, and even an early tulip were in bloom, some of them actually overnight. The cardinals and other birds are singing nesting songs.

In part, this is due to the jet stream dipping far south to the west of us, then veering north of Lake Superior, so that we are getting considerable southern air. How long this can last is anyone's guess--the best we can do is enjoy it while it lasts without being too worried about the strangeness of it.
As another example of climate change (or general wierd weather) I give you Milwaukee last weekend, where we had a heretofore undescribed phenomenon (as far as I know)--lake effect thunderstorms.

Everyone who lives near a great lake knows about lake-effect snow. The Great Lakes seldom freeze entirely over, and create more-or-less permananent reservoirs of relatively warm, moist air over the lakes. When prevailing winds move this moist air over the colder land, the moisture precipitates out as snow, which is why areas such as western New York state, western lower Michigan, and the southwestern shores of Lake Superior are notorious for heavy snow accumulations. In Milwaukee, we get lake effect snowstorms when the winds are out of the east to northeast, which conditions can sometimes last for days.

Saturday and Sunday, we had moist upper air masses moving off the lake and dumping rain on the city, but in a very odd fashion. There was almost no wind at ground level, but the intensity of the rainfall varied from light drizzle to utter deluge, sometimes within a couple of blocks. Some areas got no rain while others were being poured on. Three waterspouts were observed off the coast on Saturday. Georgie and I agreed that we hadn't seen the like since we had been living in Milwaukee--in my case, almost thirty years.

EDIT: Per the newspaper weather column, what we have been having is called a "cut-off" low pressure center. So it is a defined phenomenon, although still rare.
Last night, Midsummer's eve, was a beautiful evening in Milwaukee, and,
a bit after 9:30, we went out to take a walk in the air. We decided to
walk to one of our "magic" places, a couple of acres of meadowland along
the Kinnickinnic parkway, dominated by an old oak tree. The oak stands
alone, and bears the scars of two separate lightning strikes, which
would make it doubly sacred according to some traditions I have heard.
It is also hollow, and lost much of its upper branches due to age, but
is still leafing out in spring and bearing acorns, and so is a symbol of
endurance for us.
Late June is the beginning of firefly season, and we were particularly
looking for them. We saw a few of the common yellow-green types along
the way. (Fireflies can be distinguished by their pattern of flashing.
One common type, usually later in the year, lights in a rising, wavering
line. Another, the ones we were seeing, gives a steady blink of a
second or so as it flies along wherever it is going.)
At the old oak, I looked to the west edge of the meadow and saw a goodly
number of tiny lights flickering in the wood's edge. We walked over
there to investigate. What we saw was evidently a species of firefly we
had not observed before: smaller, and actually blue-white in color, like
stars in the bushes. They blinked with a very brief, but bright light,
true "lightning bugs". Moreover, from where we stood, there were
literally hundreds visible, ranging from the grass at our feet to the
nearby treetops. The constantly changing rapid blinking was like
fireworks, a genuine natural coruscation. We watched in wonder as the
darkness grew and the frequency of flashes declined slowly, to the point
where we could bear to look away. We took the path homeward, elated that
we had witnessed some real Midsummer magic.

Birds

Sep. 17th, 2006 05:29 pm
About four blocks from our house is Jackson Park, which contains a multi-acre pond, complete with two small wooded islands. Earlier this year, we noticed that the larger island had become a roosting place for herons. There is a sizable rookery of great blue herons due north of Milwaukee in Ozaukee County that was just discovered a couple of years ago, and we think these are juveniles who are moving out on their own. At peak time, we have seen as many as six one evening, although one or two can be seen at almost any time. This morning we saw three, one of which flew over to our side of the pond, and stalked along the edge hunting within thirty feet of us. We were also charmed to note the presence of a tiny sandpiper type bird, the first of its kind we had observed here. The pond has evidently become a stopover spot, since Georgie recently saw a snowy egret and one evening we also saw what was either a bittern or a night heron.
When Wisconsin writer August Deleth wrote "Still is the Summer Night," he must have had a night in June in mind. Once we get to late July and August, the night sings with the mating songs of all the humble life forms. The first hot weather brings out the cicadas, who zee-zee-zee from the afternoon into the night, and then the crickets follow. Walking down from our yard to the parkway along the Kinnickinnic River, the sonic ambiance changes to be dominated by the sustained trilling of the toads and frogs. Ove the years, the symphony has changed. A couple of dry springs in a row seem to have destroyed the population of spring peepers that once were the first to be heard from, and the classic ribit-ribit of the endangered leopard frog has also dropped out of the ensemble.

On the other hand, we have a new player this year, the "common true katydid." Southern Wisconsin is at the northern limit of these creatures' range, and until a couple of years ago, we had never heard them hereabout. We first heard them on the north side of Milwaukee, when walking on a summer's evening near the campus of Mount Mary College, which stands in a handsome oak grove. The entire grounds reverberated with a strange metallic quacking noise that could be heard blocks away, although, strangely, the invisible noisemakers seemed limited to that area, and were not, for example, accross the street. For a couple of years that was the only place we heard them, but they have now moved into our neighborhood. How they get here is a mystery, since info I can find on the web says they are "nearly" flightless, which seems most peculiar for a species that chiefly inhabits the tops of hardwood trees. We can target three individuals in our neighborhood within a block or so, so but no others. I can't imagine how they mate, since none of them seem to be inclined to leave the particular tree they have set up shop in (unlike crickets, both males and females sing--). Also unlike crickets, their noise does not seem to increase in rate with the heat, and they vary rythyms, usually squalking in triplets, but varying with rests or double notes. They are quite loud close up, although fortunately the noise of one does not carry too far. You can hear roughly what one sounds here:

http://buzz.ifas.ufl.edu/141a.htm

Also interestingly, like some bird species, katydids have "regional dialects" maning the same species has different song patterns dependin on where found. Ours are "northern."

Fascinating.

Miscellany

May. 16th, 2005 03:31 pm
Well, I've been a bit slow updating lately, both because of busy-ness at work and home, but also because my attempts to upgrade my internet service to DSL have so far flopped, with the result that neither DSL nor dial-up is working. Rats! I'm in the process of replacing the modem I was sent, and also fixing my browsers, which seem to have become corruped in the process--.

The spring continues in a sort of stasis. The continued cold weather has made the daffodils and tulips hang on longer than I've ever seen, but everything else is well behind time.

We've caught a number of movies recently:

Kung Fu Hustle: Probably the wierdest movie of the year so far. Set in a "mythic China" of the 1950's according to the cars (perhaps Kowloon) this split personality picture starts out as a classic gangster movie with a very brutal set-up killing in which the Axe Gang becomes (almost) undisputed masters of the city's underworld. The immediately celebrate with a dance number. After that, we have a blend of traditional martial arts movie blended with Warner Brothers cartoon. Two down and out grifters attempt to shakedown "Pig Sty Alley", probably the poorest slum in town, pretending to be Axe Gang members. They get their butts kicked by the ragged denizens, which altercation drags in the real Axe Gang, who are also repulsed when several of the locals turn out to be retired kung-fu masters living in seclusion. Since the Axe Gang can't afford to lose face, this results in an ever more fantastic escalation of kung-fu battles until the Axe Gang brings out what they believe to be the ultimate kung-fu assassin--.

Besides the overt cartoon references, the film is rife with other references, including that the Axe Gang all wear top hats (a reference to Bill the Butcher's gang in "Gangs of New York,") and black suits, which make some of the battles distinctly resemble those between Neo and the multiplexed Agent Smith--.

Once past the rather shocking opening scene, the violence is all of the kung-fu movie style, with little gore and lots of flying, leaping, throwing, etc. Very good fun if you care for the genre. If not, it's probably a waste.
April has at last brought us genuine spring, delayed because of the coldness of late March. In Wisconsin, green comes up from the ground like a mist. This is particularly noticable in the wooded parkway along the Kinnickkinnick River. The woods are a gray-brown frieze all through the winter. The snow gradually vanishes to reveal the patchy carpet of low-growing herbs that remain green, though frozen, all winter. As the days pass, one can track the rising of sap as pale buds become visible on the willows and low shrubs, the saplings, and finally extending up into the branches of the mature trees. Now, there is a light green haze shrouding the woody framework, which will eventually thicken into a solid curtain of forest.

The first wildflowers in these parts are the wood hyacinths, which bloom in beds in the shadowy portion of the woodlands, their intense blue vibrant against the dark green of their foliage. There are a few violets in some of the lawns now, and the daffodils followed shortly on the hyacinths advent. Many of our plantings are well up now: tulips (a couple blooming), day lillies, irises, peonies, poppies all are six inches or more tall, holding the promise of future beauty.
A number of car trips recently have reminded me how beautiful Wisconsin is. The local flora has evidently taken well to the damp weather, and the rolling countryside is green and lush, with some grasses and the occasional field of oats already shading to the gold of ripeness. The colors of the roadside are yellow, white, and purple. This year there is a particularly common brilliant yellow flower that lines the verges almost everywhere, that I haven’t been able to identify since it is only along the freeways where I dare not stop. Where it has not been cut, it grows spindly and tall, but seems happy to be cut back to a few inches high as well. It blooms brilliantly and profusely either way, joined by goldenrods, butter-and-eggs, wild mustards, and the occasional—but fortunately not-too-frequent—outcropping of the invasive cow parsnip. For white, we have wild carrot and Queen Anne’s lace, accompanied by the small sunbursts of the wild chrysanthemum. Violet is represented by the tall thistles, red clover, coneflowers, vervain, the crown vetch that has been profusely planted to hold soil, and the bluish asters that retain their color into November and are the last of the wild weeds to continue to bloom. It’s only been the last few years that I have noticed that we don’t seem to have any red wildflowers, and I wonder why this is. When we visit the remnants of the Wisconsin prairies, there are the brilliant orange hawkweeds, butterfly plants, and the buckeye daisies with their russet centers, but no red flowers. Even the feral lilies that cover some hillsides are all orange. Curious.

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