Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Alabama Fox Squirrel


Alabama Fox Squirrel

Scientific:  Sciurus niger

Common:  Fox Squirrel, eastern fox squirrel, Byrant's squirrel

This squirrel is the largest species tree squirrels native to North America.  They are found primarily on the eastern United States.  Their range extends into Canada but they are not considered native to the New England States and are seldom seen there.  They prefer an open forest without a dense under-story.  

The Fox Squirrel's body length is typically from 15" to 27" in length with a tail in excess  of 12".  Adult males can often reach 3lbs.  The color is probably the most varied of all squirrels.  They are distinguished by black, red, grey, and silver hair and often they will have a reddish tail.  One characteristic, that is fairly consistent, is the black face mask with the tips of the nose and ears being white. 

The fox squirrel is an opportunistic feeder but primarily feeds on nuts, acorns, seeds, fruits, buds, insects, and fungi.  Most of their water needs are obtained from succulent vegetation or licking dew from leaves.  (The one in the photo is clutching some form of food tightly in his right paw)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Little river canyon: "Pass it on down"


"Pass it on Down"

The country music group "Alabama" ,one of the best selling music groups of all time, wrote the song Pass it on down to tell a story about a near magical place in Northeast Alabama called Little River Canyon.  

Little River Canyon is recognized as the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi river.  The Little River Canyon National Preserve is truly a natural wonder.   This Saturday October 21st they will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the preserve.  

Little River Canyon National Preserve – Alabama’s most visited National Park

This article linked above tells a good history of how "the canyon" became a national preserve.  I vividly remember talking with a friend back in the early 90's who grew up in the area. He and his family were not in favor of the national preserve.  This article details some of that sentiment and  
highlights much of the improvements that have come from the development of the national preserve.  

 If you live in Alabama and have never been to the Canyon, 1st off shame on you, 2nd you should make a priority to catch the impressive views in the preserve this fall as the leaves change colors.  The 25th anniversary celebration will be a great time to visit and learn about the history and natural wonders of this place.   



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Biological Succession



"Biological Succession"

This photo is a picture of what our family has always affectionately referred to as the"Red field".  This land has been in the same family for many many generations.  The soil has a very red color much different than that of the surrounding soil types of the area.  Now I realize that it doesn't look much like a "field" in this photo.  In my memory it was once a vast corn field as large as anything you would see in the midwest.  

As a young boy I vividly remember getting to take a turn guiding that old Ferguson tractor as it pulled a single bottom plow through that red dirt (I'm sure my brothers had fond memories of the same). Those corn rows stretched on for what seemed forever.

You may be wondering why I have posted a picture of a forest and am talking about it being a corn field. The word Agriculture comes from the latin Ager, meaning "field" and cultūra, meaning "cultivation or growing". Somewhere along the lines, our family decided to stop using the land for agriculture purposes and then a natural cycle took control . No more humans "tending the land" left it up to nature to take care of it. Biological sucession is the resulting process. It is the process where one wave of growth takes the place of another.

This plot of land is now a typical northeastern Alabama mixed deciduous forest. It is the product of many things that happened to it in the past. Soil, climate, geology, lumbering and farming have made it what it is today.
Natural forces continue to work to produce change. As the new
vegetation covers the scars made by man, one wave of growth sets the stage for another. Slowly the forest matures, and one kind of plant or animal replaces another in a natural cycle called succession. As succession runs its course, some elements of the present environment may not be here someday because
they won’t “fit” this place anymore. The elements of succession are very evident in the differing ecosystems that exist in the Southern landscape we call home. The study of succession remains at the core of all ecological studies.

Each of the those waves have a term that science guru's use to describe them. Pioneer (early), Intermediate, Climax, Primary, Secondary, Cyclic, Regeneration, Trophic Cascade etc. They are all just terms to describe change. The only thing that I can guarantee about this world is that everything changes. Everything is linked together. If one part changes, for whatever reason, everything else tends to have a change as well. The beauty of this system is that the earth has a tendency to follow certain rhythms and orders. That's what the study of succession is all about. It is a bit hard to appreciate the changes since they often take place over the course of many many years. Change is always happening in all forms of life. We seldom stop our busy world long enough to notice it.

A good friend tagged me in a Nat Geo Video earlier this week and I think it fits this "WW" article very well. It is about how succession can be effected by wolves. The wolves of yellow stone changed the way biological succession was going. When they were reintroduced back into the ecosystem things started changing back to a more natural state. I will post a link to this video below.

Aldo Leopold once said that "the oldest task of the human race was to live on a piece of land without spoiling it". Succession happens because of changes, natural and unnatural. The key is trying to understand how our plans are effecting the cycle.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Conoclinium coelestinum: Blue Mistflower, Wild Ageratum, Mistflower


"Blue Mistflower"

Scientific: Conoclinium coelestinum

Common: Blue Mistflower, Wild Ageratum, Mistflower

Blue Mistflower is native to the eastern part of the United States, from zones 5 – 9. Blount County Al was where this specimen was observed. Blount county and much of Northeast Al is in zone 7b (I may do a "Wildlife Wednesday" on hardiness zones. Often plants and animals stick to certain temperature/climatic zones). Mistflower is often found on sandy forest edges and creek banks. That makes Sand Mountain a perfect place for it to call home. It will grow to about 3 feet tall. It has triangular shaped leaves that are positioned opposite each other. The plant forms clusters of bright blue, violet, or white cone shaped flower heads that are about 1/4" long. The flowers appear from June - November. Once established, it spreads by underground rhizomes to quickly colonize large areas, leading some to consider it an invasive pest plant. A cold winter will kill it to the ground, but it comes back in the spring. Butterflies and bees are known to love this plant, visiting it in droves. It’s a nice addition to a native butterfly garden as a nectar plant.
 There is some very good information on this and other wildflowers and plants in Alabama here:

Although the map shows this plant to not be present in Blount county, but these photos beg to differ.  I am located very close to the Marshall county line where they are supposed to be present so I guess that is good enough for me.....


Oh the knives that have been lost through the years...

Since the post about " The kind of men who carry a pocket knife ", I have had a good bit of discussion about the pocket knife in t...