Thursday, August 31, 2017

Curlycup Chimney Rock

I'm reasonably certain that everyone in the world is familiar with the world-famous Chimney Rock near Bayard, Nebraska.

If you search for Chimney Rock on the Webbe of Universal Connectedness you will find that the first results are not in fact for the Nebraska version of Chimney Rock, but for some other lame-@$$ rock in North Kackalakki.

However, a more refined search will lead you to a site managed by the nebraska state hysterical society where you can learn all about the famous landmark and stopping-off place for pioneers heading west bitd.

It really is an interesting place and worth visiting if you're passing by or are very interested in pioneers.

However, I do not favor our state hysterical society nor their administration of the landmark. They take a huge bite of property taxes to showcase nebraska history, but then the greedy corksatchers charge admission, too. This I don't approve of. But that's just me.

Anyway, Mom and I visited the site yesterday -- as well as a nearby rv park -- to get the lay of the land and prepare a scouting report for left coast family who will be passing through next month.

We had a very nice time despite the hysterical society. Sometimes it's fun to drive around the local area and look at stuff. We finished the trip with a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Scottsbluff.

Before we left I took a few pictures of autumn sunflower and curlycup gumweed, two colorful fall-blooming forbs.

Today, I'm afraid, has been rather busy. Tomorrow will be as well. Sigh. That time of year.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Goose Summer

Don't worry, it's not here yet.

But it won't be long!

Goose Summer is a nearly forgotten concept. That's a bit ironic when you consider that it gave us English-speaking folks the word gossamer.

Gossamer, of course, means a fine, filmy cobweb, or an extremely delicate gauzy fabric, or things that are extremely light and delicate.

In looking at the etymology of the word, it appears to have come to us from the middle-English of the fourteenth century as a conjunction of the words gos (goose) + sommer (summer).

Goose Summer referred to the warm period in autumn -- usually late October or early November -- when the first icy blasts have faded and the world seems to reawaken in a brief but lovely golden splendor. Today this period is most often called Indian Summer, and sometimes St. Martin's Summer in England and on the Continent.

Late October and/or early November was, in 1300's England, the traditional time for harvesting geese. It also coincided with the ballooning of millions of recently hatched spiders which relocate to winter quarters by being borne aloft on threads of silk in sun-warmed air currents. These silky threads gradually became known as gossamer, and that name stuck while the reference to autumnal Goose Summer faded.

In Sweden the season has been called sommertrad (summer thread) and in Germany Gänsemonat, or goose month.

But, you might say, it's not even September yet, what's all this about Goose Summer then?

Well, to make a short story long...

Yesterday I posted an image of a funnel web spider crouching in its web, prepared to sally out and ambush prey.

This type of funnel web spider is a member of the family Agelenidae, which belong to the suborder Araneomorphae. The ubiquitous grass spider (Agelenopsis) is also a member of this suborder, so the two are related. And grass spiderlings are common autumnal balloonists all across the planet. The Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia. Everywhere.

So with summer fading, coming across the funnel web spider reminded me of ballooning grass spiders, which reminded me of gossamer, and Goose Summer, and, well, you get the picture. It's a bit untidy, but that's how my mind sometimes works.

Now then.

I really like spiders. Always have. I freaked Miss Meyer out in second grade when I announced that Charlotte was obviously an example of Araneus cavaticus, or barn spider.

She was really pleased the next day when I showed up with a barn spider in a baby food jar. But I digress.

As I was out and about working on fence yesterday, I noticed a plethora of jumping spiders. These guys (family Salticidae) are really cool. They are ambush hunters with amazing vision. Rather than build webs to trap prey, they leap out and capture the bugs that they eat. Like all spiders, they do have the capacity to spin silk, but they use this almost exclusively to anchor and tether themselves when leaping.

Many of the jumping spiders I saw yesterday were red-backed jumping spiders, most likely Phidippus cardinalis, or Cardinal Jumper.

These are interesting because in the color and texture of their red hair they demonstrate mimicry of the multillid wasps, also known as velvet ants or "cow-killer" ants. The female multillid wasp has one of the most painful, yet least toxic, stings known to man. In mimicking the multillid, Cardinal Jumpers are likely able to prevent some predators from attacking them. Which could be useful.

Pretty cool, huh?

But wait, there's more!

As summer fades into September, college football is beginning. Our local side, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, will play Arkansas State at home in Lincoln Saturday night in fact. And the Cardinal Jumpers wear very much the same color as our beloved Cornhuskers, which were known as the "Bugeaters" back in the day (1892-1900). So do the math. Gotta be a good omen, right?

Finally, here's a non-cardinal jumping spider.

I'm particularly proud of this image, even though the camera did all of the work. Sometimes you get lucky.

I suppose that's enough for today.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fading heat

There's been an upper air pressure ridge embedded overhead for the last week or so, and as of this morning the weather guessers believe it will stay in place for perhaps another week.
Nona the Wonder Dog. Not a big fan of fixing fence.

Although she does enjoy a dip in the stock tank.
In a lot of ways the predicted future movement or non-movement of the pressure ridge is pure speculation. Forecasters go by history and trend models. They have a huge amount of very precise historical data to work with, data that stretch back from this very moment to 100 years or more ago. History shows that the general outline of seasonal weather seldom strays far from the statistically established norm.
What neglected cross fencing looks like.

But the details are very hard to suitcase. The Earth is a dynamic and complex place, and factors affecting weather are manifold. We generally understand how it all works, but puzzles remain to be solved, and the interactions of uncountable trillions of air and water molecules are impossible to quantify and predict. We can come close, sometimes, but that's about it.
The incredible melting fence post.

Nature is a great woodworker.

Anyway, back to the pressure ridge. While it's in place the big continental weather systems are moving around us, and our weather is seemingly unchanging. The sun beats down from clear skies. Air temperatures climb. Little wind is present to move the warm air around. In the afternoon water vapor flows upward from transpiring ground cover and condenses out into heat-holding cloud cover, so that the air remains warm long after the sun has retired from the field for the day. The clouds break up and depart late in the evening, heat radiates upward, and by morning the mercury has tumbled into the mid-50's.
Is that smoke?

And the cycle begins again.

This is the last hurrah of summer's heat.

August 2017 was rather an interesting month so far as weather is concerned. Across the Nebraska Panhandle and much of the tri-state region the first half of the month was more cool and wet than average, while the second half of the month was just the opposite -- warmer and drier.
Not smoke.

From August 1-15 rainfall south of Kimball totaled 1.84 inches, which is 0.04 inches more than the long term average for the entire month. Peak daytime air temperatures averaged 79.4 degrees, about six degrees below average. Daily low air temperatures came in at 54 degrees, again six degrees cooler than average. Unsurprisingly, the daily mean air temperature of 64.73 degrees was about six degrees lower than average.
Funnel web spider.

From August 15 - 29 (as this is written August 30-31 are forecast to be much the same) precipitation south of Kimball totaled only 0.07 inches, or about 0.85 inches less than the long term average. Daily high temperatures climbed to 85.76 degrees, overnight lows climbed to 54.3 degrees, and the daily mean rose to 70.45 degrees. With the exception of rainfall totals, weather conditions over the second half of August were very close to the long-term norm.
The non-Australian, non-deadly funnel web spider.

Overall for the month, the cool and wet first half will make August, 2017 slightly wetter and slightly cooler than average.

Very little of the actual weather conditions of the month were predicted by the weather guessers. As always, there's a significant difference between real reality and the artificial reality we manufacture.

Monday, August 28, 2017

It ain't easy being insectoid

This bug was laying on the porch stoop yesterday morning.

It wasn't quite dead yet but it had obviously had a rough experience. It was partially encrusted in small gravel particles, tangled in a mat of dog hair, and its starboard eye was partly crushed.

It was slowly moving its legs and extending/curling its abdomen, but judging by the damage and tha fact that you really can't just pick up a healthy one, it appeared to be on its way to the great bug mansion in the sky. Or wherever.

So, dragonfly or damselfly?

I don't know and I'm not going to spend the time right now to identify it. I'm leaning toward dragonfly as the eyes touch, the wings are held away from the body at rest, the back wing is wider at the base, and the body type is generally more chunky than slender. But I could be wrong.

As to what caused the trauma, I don't know. I suspect it might have been hit by a vehicle and carried up to the house with said vehicle. Just speculation.

Later in the day this colorful bug visited me whilst I was engaged in working on fence.

Again, I'm not going to try to ID the thing, at least not this morning. Is it a butterfly or a moth? True to my second grade training, I'm going to go with butterfly. It's got slender antennae with knobs on the end rather than branched or comb-like antennae. But I could sure be wrong.

This, I think, is a bumblebee.

I like watching them because of the old story that aerodynamicists "proved" that they cannot fly. Just like helicopters cannot fly.

Beating the air into submission?

Or being rejected by the ground, which finds it terribly irritating?

It doesn't really matter of course.

We all know from the breathless reporting on television that all bees, just like all glaciers, have been destroyed by evil, non-progressive corporate lackeys of yankee imperialism.

And stuff.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Um, I have a question?

So last April I found and imaged a long-tailed weasel on the ranch. This was the first one I'd ever seen in the wild and the first one I'd ever seen on the ranch.

That's perhaps not as surprising as it might be. The ranch is large, weasels are small, and they seem to tend toward nocturnal behavior. Badgers are much larger, and I see evidence of their presence all the time, but I only see them very rarely. Like once a decade or so.

Last month the dogs got a weasel along a fenceline just south of the ranch house. It wasn't a good day for the weasel.

Did you notice the difference in coloration and markings?

Yesterday I surmised that the difference was due to sex and time of year.

It had to be that. Different markings and coloration is never associated with different species, right?

The other day I saw and photographed yet another long-tailed weasel, this one under more salubrious circumstances.

Well, I did a little more research and a little more digging.

Any number of publications confirm that the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenatais native to Nebraska.

Any number of publications confirm that the stoat, or short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), also called the Ermine, is absent from Nebraska.

The only real similarity between the two is the black-tipped tail. The Ermine is much smaller and has distinctly different markings.

Most of the range maps for Ermine distribution follow the border of the Nebraska Panhandle precisely. They are present and secure in Wyoming and Colorado, yet absent across a man-made and invisible line. Hmmm.

It's impossible for me to say for sure. I'm going by images only. It's an interesting puzzle.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Not an expert

I spend a lot of time outdoors in nature.

Although it's probably more time than many modern, first-world humans spend, my exposure to nature is sharply limited. During the time of easy living I may put in 14-16 hour days outside but my year-round average daily outside time is probably more like 4-6 hours.

Location-wise, my exposure is also sharply limited. Nearly all of that time is spent on a few square miles of the ranch. I know the ranch pretty well, and some might say I know it intimately, but that's not really so. I'm very familiar with the geology and topography and surface biosphere and climate, but I know next to nothing about what goes on beneath the surface, or indeed, above the surface. I occasionally visit at night, but more than 99 percent of my active outside time is between dawn and dusk.

I see a lot of stuff and I think about a lot of stuff and over the years I've developed a solid general understanding of the seasonal ebb and flow of the place, of the wide variation that makes every moment distinctly unique within the framework of seasonal and annual norms.

I'm anything but an expert.

I observed what I believe to be another long-tailed weasel yesterday. I took some pictures and shot a bit of video.

This weasel appeared to be quite different from the one I saw last spring.

It was a third again larger, and it's coloration was darker.

A bit more study makes me think that the one I observed last year was a female, and the one I saw yesterday a male. I also think that the one I saw last year may have been near the end of it's winter color change (the white on its face, etc.) while yesterday's example was wearing a full summer suit.

Yet another interesting glimpse into aspects of nature which I know next to nothing about despite my long association with this place.