Saturday, August 27, 2011

Subdividing the Summer

A month ago, when cicada calls sparked my curiosity, I corresponded with a cicada enthusiast who remarked,
"I love the way cicadas subdivide the summer for me. I suppose studying any summer fauna does the same."
And though I'm very green at my 'studies,' I share this impression. I say 'impression' because my haphazard observations are painted with a broad brush rather than rendered by well-informed study and systematic record-keeping. None-the-less, here's how my sub-divided summer has played out:

August 12: Eastern Forktails on the scene, abundant

August 19: Abundant and diverse dragonflies and damselflies. A lot of unfinished work in terms identification.

August 26: Emergence of an unidentified dragonfly, as inferred by the presence of abundant exuviae.

August 26: Damselflies (possibly a species of sprite) mating; Eastern Forktails are still present but (by my estimation) less abundant than 2 weeks prior.

If I added some expertise and methodology (some science, if you will) to my practice, how sophisticated could this chronology become? But rather than pursuing a single focus (dragonflies, for example), Open Phenology cast its net broadly. I've had the opportunity to share this project with collaborators with diverse specialties, ranging from ornithology to botany, audio engineering to phenology, sculpture conservation to ecology. Open Phenology's expansive approach is key to its strenghths:
  • Accessible to multiple publics, Open Phenology has no prerequisite knowledge base or skill set.
  • Open Phenology values synthesis and interconnections as a way of understanding the world.
  • Open Phenology promotes non-hierarchical exchange of information.
  • Through facilitated conversations and discovery, Open Phenology emphasizes empirical observation. A frame is drawn around this activity, calling attention to its legitimacy and authenticity.
  • In addition to recording what we do see, participants are encouraged to consider what we don't see and this leads to speculations, hyphotheses, and sustained curiosity.
Throughout the summer I've been negotiating Open Phenology's ambiguous relation to science. I have maintained all along that Open Phenology is not science, and while I'm content with this, it makes me wonder about lost opportunities. How would I modify Open Phenology to bring it into alignment with scientific inquiry? Specialization is the answer. Here are some citizen science endeavors on my radar:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Larvae* at Large

You can see a lot just by observing.—Yogi Berra
What you see is what you see.—Frank Stella

So, just what was to be seen today? The first animal that got our attention was a hawk, in flight and calling. David and I agreed it was either a Sharp-shinned or Cooper's and a good start to the day. And heading over to the pond, seeing a single nymph (below) led to seeing dozens.
What: Abundant exuviae, the discarded exoskeletons left by dragonflies in their transition from aquatic larvae to terrestrial, winged adults. (Resource: Dragonfly Biology 101)
Where: Clinging to aquatic plants growing in the shallow west edge of the pond at Spoonbridge and Cherry
Observers: Abbie, David, and Elizabeth
Date/Time: Friday, August 26, about 10:10 am
Conditions: Sunny. July's oppressive heat is a thing of the past.

As a phenologist, albeit an amateur, this observation prompts important questions. First, what species were we seeing? Just one or a few varieties? These exuviae were about 1.5" long, and had I been vigilant, I might have glimpsed a dragonfly making its exit. Second, when exactly did these nymphs emerge? I didn't notice them last week, but had I simply failed to see them? Or was this legitimately a recent phenomenon?
What: Caterpillar, unidentified and stationary
Where: Eye-level on a flowering plant, arbor at the north edge of the Sculpture Garden
Observers: Spotted by David, observed by Abbie and Elizabeth
Date/Time: Friday, August 26, 10:35 am

What: Another unidentified caterpillar, this one was scurrying across the sidewalk
Where: East edge of the Sculpture Garden, base of the stairs to the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge.
Observers: Abbie and Kristen
Date/Time: Friday, August 26, at about 11:30 am

*Larva (plural larvae), is Latin for 'ghost.' A larva is the juvenile form of any animal that undergoes metamorphosis into its adult form. A caterpillar is the larval form of moths and caterpillars, while nymph is the larval form of dragonflies and damselflies. All this talk of larvae reminds me of the Goldenrod Gall Fly, that saccharine treat I learned about when Sarina joined Open Phenology on July 8.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Make hay while the sun shines

Well, someone did! Just as I was thinking about revisiting the medians (between Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues, see my post from July 26) to find some grasshoppers and crickets, I discover I'm too late. On Monday I notice the tall grasses, thistles, sun flowers, dock weed, and more have been completely mowed to the ground.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Garden as a place for questions

Today's conversation was enriched by Alex, a participant new to Open Phenology. As a sculpture technician, Alex works with Walker staff to keep the outdoor sculptures in good condition. I like to think of our parallel experiences: while I've been surveying the Garden's living residents, she's been tending to its non-living structures. As I've been witness to time passing in biological terms, for her time is evidenced by erosion, mineral deposition, oxidation, and other forces of the earth sciences.

Photo by Sharyn Morrow
Besides our shared landscape, what do Alex's and my experiences have in common? Questions! From "Will you take our picture?" to "So, why is this art?," Alex and I concur that Garden visitors are curious and inquisitive. What sculpture prompts the most questions? In Alex's experience, the winner is Dan Graham's Two-way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth. Maybe this work's deceptive simplicity inspires a skeptical response like, "But it's only glass windows! What's so great about that?" "Well," Alex reminds us, "We're only carbon." As an art history student with career plans in art conservation, Alex seems to enjoy the dual nature of things, simultaneously considering their material nature while contemplating their conceptual and expressive potential.

What: A Green Heron—Kudos to Alex who spotted this one just moments before it got skittish and flew. Maybe not a significant phenological marker, but one of my favorite birds to share with non-birders, who are usually struck by its short stature in comparison to the Great Blue Heron.
Where: At the pond's edge, near Spoonbridge and Cherry
Observers: Abbie, Alex, and Martha
Date/Time: Friday, August 19, around 10:15 am
Conditions: Slightly overcast and breezy, about 75°

What: Damselfly, unidentified species, possibly a sprite. We saw a variety of dragonflies and damselflies drifting along the water's edge and darting across the pond, but this is the only photo worth sharing.
Where: Pond's edge, near Spoonbridge and Cherry
Observers: Abbie, Alex, and Martha
Date/Time: Friday, August 19, 10:10 am
Conditions: Dragonflies are a challenge to observe and identify! I'm tempted to invest in a pair of close-focusing binoculars and a specialized field guide. If you can ID this one, please comment.

What: Butterfly, probably a Monarch, on swamp milkweed flower. (Seeing this made me wish I were a more diligent phenologist, the type who dependably notes the season's first sighting. And speaking of first occurrences I've failed to record, most of the common milkweed plants I see around town finished flowering a while ago and have sizable green pods by now.)
Where: Arlene Grossman Memorial Arbor and Flower Garden
Observers: Abbie, Alex, and Martha
Date/Time: Friday, August 19, around 10:40 am
Conditions: Abuzz with insects. Also a good locale to spy Black-capped Chickadees and Mourning Doves.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

No Lake is an Island

Biking to work yesterday, I happened upon a crew busying themselves at Spring Lake's shore. "What's this all about?" I asked a guy dressed in bib waders. Ted from BlueWing Environmental Solutions and Technologies, as he turned out to be, explained that he's part of a project to improve Spring Lake's water quality. Ted was working with people from Midwest Floating Island and members of the American Society of Landscape Architects to install seven "floating treatment wetlands." Once in place, these islands made of recycled plastics and foam are colonized by microbes and plants which do the work of extracting excess nutrients from the impaired wetland.

Today at 1 pm there's a public event to launch the islands.

Read more about who's involved in this management initiative and how the islands work at Josephine Marcotty's True North Star Tribune blog:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Neato! Nidulariaceae!

What: Bird's Nest Fungi—It's always a thrill (for me) to see weird mushrooms and molds. These little marvels were thriving in the wood chip mulch of a modest flower garden. Possibly Cyathus striatus.
Where: Midtown Farmers Market near Lake St and Hiawatha Ave
Observer: Abbie, Marti, Scott, Jeff
Date/Time: Saturday, August 13, 11 am
Conditions: Clear sky and sunny, drying up the damp from previous night's storm

Friday, August 12, 2011

While You Were(n't) Looking

What: Eastern Forktail, Ischnura verticalis—I would have missed these had I not paused and stooped by the water's edge. These dainty damselflies, at just over 1" long, hover low to the ground. Interested in learning more about dragonflies (or, as they're known to taxonomists, Order Odonata)? Check out Minnesota Odonata Survey Project (MOSP).
Where: Pond perimeter, near Spoonbridge and Cherry
Observers: Abbie (and, via Internet, Kurt Mead, MOSP educator and scientist, who identified this insect by species name)
Date/Time: Friday, August 12, 10:20 am
Conditions: Overcast and 70°-ish

What: Abloom, left to right: Joe-pye Weed towers at about 7' tall; hibiscus bloom 8" in diameter; and the Honka dahlia finally on the scene (as anticipated in June by Open Phenologist Lindsay)
Where: Arlene Grossman Memorial Arbor and Flower Garden, north edge of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: Friday, August 12, 10:30 am
Conditions: a-buzz with insect pollinators and pests

What: I'm reluctant to report these harbingers of fall, left to right: Maturing spruce pine cones (compare to this picture from May 27); yellowing locust tree leaves; and maturing arborvitae cones (compare to this picture taken June 1)
Where: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and The Grove (entrance to the Walker off Vineland Place)
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: Friday, August 12, between 10 and 11 am
Conditions: Warm and overcast—insistently summery with incipient signs of autumn

Friday, August 5, 2011

Noisy Streets and Quiet Gardens

The morning of August 5th was a hot one. Two brave phenologists were not deterred. We met at the FlatPak House, and feeling bold, decided to make a trip across the Armajani bridge to Loring Park. Our plan was take the stroll and observe carefully, embracing the time in our morning to appreciate our surroundings. As we walked up the steps we were struck with the loud roar of traffic from below. The sound and speed of the moving cars took on a different meaning from our elevated prospect. We reflected on the chaos of everyday life, and became more aware of the drone of noise always around us in a city. From this position we even spotted some sunflowers on the side of the road. Such a thing would surely go unnoticed from our car. We were off to great start!

The sound of traffic went as suddenly as it came. Once across the bridge we were greeted with green grass and peaceful quiet. In the morning heat the park was lush and filled with many shades of green. Tall grasses and cattails had completely overtaken a section of the pond. Not even a patch of open water could be seen. In them we heard the rusting of birds and other animals. It seemed a nice and shady spot for many small critters.

Our stroll through the park gave us an opportunity to appreciate the overwhelming amount of growth during the season. Beautiful flowers were everywhere as were mallards and butterflies. As we made our way back to the bridge we felt energized and rejuvenated from the trip. Taking in our surroundings in this way was refreshing. We discussed how easy it is to miss all the exciting things happening in your immediate surroundings. As we climbed up the steps, my fellow phenologist commented that the sky looked unmistakably of summer. I agreed and we wondered if our conclusion was due to context or if we were on to something. Does the look of the sky really change through the seasons? If so, in what ways? Readers, if you were to picture a quintessential summertime sky, would it look like this?