Natural History Notes

Friday, December 30, 2005


Below is the Denton R-C's take on the drought. Actually this version, copied online, was written about Dallas. The Denton paper copied it, substituting "north Texas" for Dallas but not putting in the actual precipitation figures for Denton, which are drier for '05 and wetter for '04: year to date 15.26" last year 51.27". Last year we got around 36" through September, and then another 16 inches on top of that in Oct-Dec. This year we had only 15" through September, and virtually nothing since. According to the
records I can find online ( here ), this is drier than any year in the fifties drought. The upper map is percentage precipita-
tion deficit. The one on the left is this year's precipitation. Denton is in the area that's just about the most drought-stricken, although it looks like the coun-ties just west of us are even a bit worse.

Dehydrated and dangerous, city closing 5th-driest year
Forecasts show little chance for change soon

12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, December 28, 2005
By MICHAEL E. YOUNG / The Dallas Morning News
The last time Dallas endured a year as dry as 2005, Ike had just won his second term and Hollywood queen Grace Kelly became a real-life princess.
So this year is one for the books, the fifth-driest on record and as parched as any in memory – unless your memory goes back to 1956, the worst year of a drought that had gripped the area since 1951.
Assuming it doesn't rain before Sunday – and the National Weather Service sees no likelihood of that – 2005 will end with just 18.97 inches of precipitation, more than 15 inches below normal and less than half of the 47.57 inches recorded in 2004, the fourth-wettest since the weather service began keeping records here.
"It's 180 degrees opposite last year," said Eric Martello, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. "Last year, we were issuing flash-flood warnings right and left."
The lack of rainfall this year, especially during the past two months, means North Texas grasslands are tinder-dry.
Combine that with record-high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds, and the tiniest spark can devour hundreds of acres.
More than a dozen brush fires rolled across rural and suburban pockets of North Texas on Tuesday, destroying a house in Colleyville and threatening two apartment developments near the Tierra Verde Golf Club in Kennedale.
Fires were reported in Aubrey, Burleson, Farmers Branch, Fort Worth and Ponder, across the northern tier of Texas and into central Oklahoma.
Cool fronts should lower temperatures today and again on Friday, Mr. Martello said. But the forecast brings little promise of rain.
"It looks like it's going to be dry right through the New Year," Mr. Martello said, and perhaps much longer than that.
"Right now, we look really short on rain chances for the next couple of weeks," said weather service meteorologist Daniel Huckaby.
The strong westerly winds that kept firefighters on the move Tuesday helped push the afternoon temperature to 82, breaking the record of 81 set in 1971.
Forecasters expect today's cool front to cap temperatures at about 70, Mr. Huckaby said, but that's still 16 degrees warmer than usual, another trend likely to continue.
Thursday morning's low temperature could dip to the lower 40s, but the mercury will climb to the low 70s by afternoon.
And long-range forecasts show no imminent end to the very dry weather, now stretching three months in North Texas.
"Last year, an El Niño supplied a stronger subtropical jet stream, which controls our weather," Mr. Martello said. "This year, it's more of a normal year, and we aren't getting the storm systems or the moist air. Most of that gulf moisture has been streaming up the Mississippi Valley."
And without moisture in the air, most of the passing storm systems do little more than create a canopy of cirrus clouds.
"We just can't seem to get that low-level moisture," he said. "Without that, we aren't getting any rain."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. . . NOT

Joni's been right far too often over the last 30 years or so, but not this time. It's just a little parking lot! and not paved, and much needed. I went out to Clear Creek when I had a spare 45 minutes, to take a quick walk and stretch my legs, enjoy some fresh 70° air. I discovered a pair of utility guys putting in a pipe-framed fence inside the Collins gate, fencing an area big enough for maybe 8 cars to park. It will have a pedestrian gap in the corner, and a gate for maintenance vehicles. Hurray! No more parking with your tail end barely off Collins and climbing the gate.

They said I wouldn't be in the way parking there for half an hour, so I walked on over to the area that probably used to be a gravel pit, to look down into what we were calling the Secret Pond last year. No surprise, no water. I flushed a couple of doves out of the brush; I suppose they were Mourning Doves. I'm not used to having to look to see whether they might be White-winged or Inca Doves, since when I was a kid Mourning Doves were all we had around here.
There is a bluebird house mounted just west of the overlook down into the Secret Ex-Pond. I need to find out whether it is OK to frequently walk in the neighborhood of nest boxes, or whether you should stay away from them. I was hoping to make a little mowed trail to the overlook.

On the way back I found a fairly dense stand of dried Eryngium (Purple Thistle) -- not a thistle at all, despite the prickles, but a member of the carrot family! They don't seem to have been harmed by the drought. One wonders how they were able to make all those flowering heads. Though that was back in September or October that they flowered, and while the drought was serious then, it was the almost complete lack of rain also in November and December that has really gotten it to disaster stage.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas downies

On Christmas Eve afternoon, Shanna and I sat for a while on the deck bench outside Isabel's window watching the squirrels and

birds and enjoying the truly fine weather. Shanna was just about all straight on which was who among the chickadees and juncos when a downy woodpecker showed up. It would land on the redbud trunk and then flit around, one side, the other side, invisible around back, then it came right out on the front of the trunk and posed. I pointed out to Shanna that she was the female, with no red on her nape. And just then, exactly in time for illustrative purposes, here came the mister and posed for us, just to show off his red feathers.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

food vs. perceived safety

Now that the birds are coming frequently to the food outside Isabel's window, I have been putting out more sunflower seeds. I put some on the flagstones; I also trail handsful along the 2x6 railing of the ramp and deck, and put a little pile on the tabletop just outside the window. When the seed is newly placed, the birds - juncos, chickadees, a couple or three blue jays, and a pair of cardinals - tend to stay on the far rail. When that one is bare they move up to the ramp rail that slants up to the house. Then when they're forced to, they will come right up outside the window.These juncos a couple of days ago have made it to the middle stage of the process. I will need to get some better photos after washing the window.

This morning a fox squirrel had no shyness about sitting right outside the window and chowing down.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

no white Christmas here

Looks like it's going to be one of the fine-weather Christmases we get here sometimes. 60° today, 70° tomorrow, 60°s right through the holiday weekend, forecast sunny on Christmas Sunday. All our white weather was a couple of weeks ago, and I don't want it back, thank you very much! This old house wasn't built for 15°.

Almost all the leaves are down now in this cold blustery December we have had up until now. Up through Thanksgiving the season was extremely late, with unusually fine fall color during Thanksgiving. Gone now.

This lady was one of my first customers for sunflower seeds, back on 8 December. Brrrrrr! Nice to have a built-in down jacket, but oh, those feet must be cold.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

a very good place to start . . .

So, I got the jewelry-making journal set up, and figured I wanted to talk about more than that, and have a good place to record what I see in the back woods here, and what I do out at Clear Creek. Therefore, ta-daa --- web journal #2!

To start the photos, here's my recent prize, taken Saturday 10 December out at Clear Creek. Maybe it's because of the drought, or maybe the cold weather makes dusk and night too cold to be active, but there are droves of armadillos rustling around in the underbrush in broad daylight. I've already put this one on the web on the Master Naturalist site, with a little "find the hidden armadillo" activity. (The previous pic of the same critter had it virtually hidden, even though at the time its noise made it perfectly obvious.)

I have been out to Clear Creek to work twice in the last couple of weeks - more than in most of the year previous. But I haven't gotten away from the house now much since last Wednesday, so mostly I have been observing the birds that have finally started coming to my sunflower seeds - took 'em a couple of weeks to realize there was good stuff to be had. Nothing exotic - jays, cardinals, juncos, chickadees, a downy woodpecker. And of course several squirrels.

The weather continues pretty chilly, but nothing like two weeks ago when it got down to 15° or so. Today actually warmed up to almost 60°, for a change, but it will be back into the thirties again tonight. Not too low though - it's 40° now at 11pm.
Yesterday it actually rained, a nice soaking drizzle, maybe a whole quarter of an inch. It will have to do better than that to make up for a virtually precipitation-free autumn.

Ha - I have chocolate-chip coffee-cake in the oven, and it is smelling done. More later.