Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Robin Buffet (or, What Would Aldo See?)

Determined to see the starlings, my favorite aerial dance troupe, I tore away from my desk at 4:30. Alas, not a single starling. So preoccupied with the starlings' absence, I almost missed the robins' presence.

What: About thirty American Robins, actively sifting through leaf litter for morsels
Where: Under the arbor vitae and in the leaf litter that collects along the stone wall that edges the courtyard.
When: ~4:30 pm
Observers: Abbie
Conditions: A day or 2 ago, this leafy buffet was covered with snow.

What are these American Robins finding to eat? Hidden in the leaves, what is concealed to me but entices a dense gathering of robins? At this point in the season, are there any arthropods or annelids for the birds to pick out? Or is it all berries and seeds? These questions remind me of a passage by Aldo Leopold I recently read:
"These golden grasses conceal, under their waving plumes, a subterranean garden of bulbs and tubers, including wild potatoes. Open the crop of a fat little Mearns' quail and you find an herbarium of subsurface foods scratched from the rocky ground you thought barren. These foods are the motive power which plants pump through the great organ called the fauna."Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

This time last year. . .

What: This time last year, flocks of European Starlings graced our evening skies with dramatic and marvelous performances, as seen in the video above. So since last February, when that phenomena diminished and ceased, I've been eagerly anticipating their return. But so far, hopes are unrewarded. About four weeks ago, my boss sent me an exuberant text reporting that she saw the starlings over the Garden. I've made a few evening outings hoping to encounter the flock, but today was another miss. Here is what I did see:
  • 10 American Robins (high up in the Linden trees along the grande allĂ©e)
  • 4 American Crows (in flight)
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 3.5 Snowmen
  • 0 European Starlings
Where: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
When: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 3:40 pm
Observers: Abbie
Conditions: Too cold for dress shoes! Should have worn my boots.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Woolly What Now?

What: Woolly Alder Aphids!
Where: I found these on the underside of branches on a small alder tree by Spring Lake (west of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden about a quarter mile).
When: November 21, 2012 at 8:15 am
Observers: Abbie --- I was captivated . . . and more than a little creeped out. What on earth is this bizarre stuff? Was it fungus? Something man-made? Or something unearthly and alien, which seemed just as likely. So I contacted a professional naturalist friend of mine who identified these Woolly Alder Aphids.
Conditions: Breezy and brisk

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What Little I Know

Gentle reader, I owe you an update about the green herons and their brood. I would have been more forthcoming had there been happy news to share. But I haven't been eager to report the sad things we've witnessed in the Garden. Here's an outline of what little I know:
  • June 8: Nestlings seen, just barely visible by their movement and still within the nest
  • June 18: 3 chicks seen out of the nest and up in the pine branches, documented by my colleague Christina (photo)
  • July 2: We see one dead chick on the ground
  • July 11: We notice the nest is significantly dismantled (photo). Is this evidence of predation?
  • Mid-July: We see a second dead heron chick on the ground
  • August 4: Wildlife rescue service picks up a third chick, reportedly not doing well
In my reading about Green Herons, I learned that they are most diurnal when raising young. When they're not tending to a brood, they shift to more nocturnal habits. And this information fits with my experience --- since early August, I haven't once seen a Green Heron in the Garden.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Attention as Place: Surveying One Square Meter

If you follow the Walker Art Center via blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, you've caught word of ROLU-in-Residence. When I heard that a component of ROLU's residency bears the title "Attention as Place," I was intrigued. Notions of "attention" and "place" are at the core of Open Phenology.

"Attention as Place" is a showcase of interactive and intellectually compelling projects culled from ROLU's Web-based network and temporarily localized in the Walker's Cargill Lounge. While most works in this showcase have a physical aspect, they are more fundamentally about the intangible, the indeterminate, the speculative, or the experiential. And for that reason, viewers can have an intimate, give-and-take experience with any of the 22 projects that compose "Attention as Place."

Take, for instance, Amy Franceschini's SURVEYING ONE METER, an action-based project with the following prompt:

Look for the roped-off One Square Meter at the base of Open Field's hill, near the parking ramp entrance.

Catalog in writing everything you see in a one meter square in Open Field. This could be a text, a poem, or a list. Get as detailed as possible.

The parameters of Franceschini's project calls to my mind The Forest Unseen (book trailer, left) by David G. Haskell. And though the Walker's Open Field is no old growth wilderness, Franceschini's project urges us to see it as it is, how it is, and where it is. Like Open Phenology, Franceschini's project is based on the ethos that our immediate environment has great potential as the stage for re-enchantment and discovery.

Since Tuesday, I've completed two surveys of the square meter, each time depositing my written observations in a designated box in Cargill Lounge. You are welcome to participate in Franceschini's SURVEYING ONE METER. Visit the Walker's Cargill Lounge where a staff person will give you a clipboard with paper and pencil. Venture out to the square meter and tell us what you see.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Suddenly Uncommon Common Grackle

(Or less common, anyhow.)

Phenomena are often detected by the presence of something. But sometimes they are inferred by the absence of something.

In May and June, I couldn't step foot in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden without seeing and hearing Common Grackles. Usually dozens of them. But in the heat of July, they seem to have disappeared. I noticed this same phenomenon last year (post from July 1, 2011), too.

Curious about their peculiar absence, I surf over to E-Bird to explore the data. It looks as though my observations might fit the general pattern.
Here's a data visualization showing the frequency of Common Grackles on checklists submitted for Hennepin County, 2000-2012. The frequency of Common Grackles peak the week of May 1 at about 35%. Then frequency drops off and by mid-July it reaches lows close to 10%. I'm not sure how to explain this. But based on my observations of the Sculpture Garden, Common Grackles (adults as well as the new brood) vacate the nesting area once young reach the juvenile stage. It could be that during the juvenile stage of their development, Common Grackles redistribute & congregate in specific locations---locations where only 10% of checklists are generated. And that by contrast, during the nesting & fledgling phasea, Common Grackles are seen in 30% of locations where E-Bird checklists are generated.

To view a larger version of this interactive graph, courtesy E-Bird, click here.
What is "frequency"? Refer to the E-Bird glossary by clicking here.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Benefits of Constant Vigilance

Young Green Herons, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Photo by Christina
What: Two Green Herons fledglings, seen out of the nest!
Where: Along the east border of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a pair of Green Herons built a nest high in a pine tree. For several months now, Rachel, Christina, and I have been checking on the nest, watching to see that the adults were present and straining our eyes to detect young. In the week before my long vacation, we finally observed indications of a successful brood --- scarcely perceptible, we could see movement of downy head(s) and maybe a small beak at the nest's brim, under a vigilant adult.
When: June 18, 2012
Observers: Christina and Rachel, two colleagues of mine who enthusiastically stepped in as proxy phenologists over my vacation. I'm so grateful to Christina and Rachel for sustaining the continuity of our phenology practice!
Conditions: Elated! (I wasn't there to report on weather or other objective details, so I'll skip ahead to to the subjective conditions.) Upon arriving to town after vacation, the first thing I did was log into my Twitter, @openphenology. I was thrilled to read my colleagues' report of the fledglings and view their terrific photo (above). It all serves as a reminder that phenology entails a continual and regular practice. Or, to use Christina's and my mantra: Constant vigilance!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yes! Young!

What: The Green Herons have young in the nest! For the first time, we see it with our own eyes! We struggle to document it, but the nest's too far, obscured, and poorly lit. But through binoculars, you can see a parent perched on the nest and at the nest's brim, movement of a little beak and the top of a fuzzy head.
Where: East border of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
When: Thursday, June 7, 2012 at about 5:30 pm
Observers: Abbie and Christina
Conditions: Sunny and hot.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Still there!

I was getting worried about those Green Herons after noticing their absence. Was the brood unsuccessful and the pair abandoned the nest?
  • Friday, May 25 at 10 am: nest check, no herons seen 
  • Friday, May 25 at 4:45 pm: nest check, no herons seen 
  • Tuesday, May 29, 10:30 am: nest check, no herons seen
But finally today, at 8:20 am, I made another nest check and was relieved to see the nest was occupied by a very still heron. So I'm staying hopeful!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Green Herons, Amazingly Enough

What: Amazingly enough, a pair of Green Herons are nesting in a pine tree, with a view of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Where: Hoping that these birds will successfully raise their young, I won't be too specific about the exact location. Except to say that it is remarkable they didn't choose a spot further from city noise and disruption.
When: After repeat sightings on May 9, 10, and 11, we're concluding that these herons are not just passing through --- they are established residents with a nest and hopefully offspring.
Observers: Christina, Rachel, Abbie

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Open Phenology is now micro-blogging!

Hello, Open Phenology followers!

I've been running short on time to post, so please check out my micro-blogging @openphenology,

Christina and I went nest-spotting in the arborvitae hedges that line the Garden's four courtyards. We saw one aggressive Common Grackle chasing a Gray Squirrel. We saw a silent Mourning Dove on its nest. And we saw an anxious, vocal pair of Common Grackles, possibly with their nestling? Wish I could be more confident about this observation, but the individual was obscured by foliage and I didn't have my binoculars.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New landmarks on the Field

Last Thursday, there was a dedication ceremony for the Walker's newest outdoor sculptures, Jim Hodges' Untitled (2011). I'm curious about how these structures will alter the micro-environment for birds, plants, and insects.
Panoramic view of the newly installed sculptures
Photo courtesy Greg Beckel's blog post, Walker Art Center

Friday, April 20, 2012

Meanwhile, in the Garden

I've recently seen a few things in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that are worth noting.
What: American Robin with partial leucism
Where: by the grove where the Pierre Huyghe chimes are installed
When: Wednesday and Thursday, April 18 and 19, both times seen in the morning
Observer: Abbie and Lindsay
Photo by Steve Burt, Flickr
What: Red Admiral Butterflies
Where: the Arlene Grossman Memorial Arobr
When: Wednesday, April 18, about 9: 20 am
Observer: Abbie and Lindsay

Photo by David Maher, Flickr
What: Chipping Sparrow
Where: atop a pine tree, near the Arbor at the north edge of the Garden
When: Friday, April 20, about 8:20 am
Observer: Abbie

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's Lilac Time

May  12, 2011April 13, 2012

What: Lilacs flowering. Though in other parts of town I've seen lilac buds opening since about April 7, these individuals were slower to flower.
Where: At the southwest corner of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and across the street, these lilac shrubs are part of the condo building's meticulous landscaping.
When: The photo on the right was taken this year, on Friday, April 13 at about 11:45 am. The photo at left was taken last year. The discrepancy in timing (about 4 weeks) is just one of several indicators of the early and fast-paced spring we've had this year.
Observer: Abbie
Conditions: Overcast, cool, and precipitation sprinkled throughout the day

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

From bloom to seed

What: Today is the first day I've seen dandelion flowers gone to seed. When I spotted the season's first open blooms on April 2, I made a promise to record the timing of the next stage.
Where: These tall stems were growing along the west edge of Cowles Conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
When: Wednesday, April 11, at about 3:30 pm
Observer: Abbie
Conditions: Sunny but brisk. Last night brought frost.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's in the air

What: Male cones on this conifer are full of pollen. With a little jostle, they release pale yellow puffs.
Observers: Abbie and Rachel
Where: West edge of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Date/Time: Thursday, April 5 at 4 pm
Conditions: Sunny, just under 60 degrees, slight wind

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Anti-freeze with Butterfly Wings

Photo by Lisa Brown, Flickr

What: A mourning cloak butterfly landed in the sun and remained still long enough for me to notice its wings were faded with tattered edges. (Though maybe not quite as damaged as the individual pictured above.)This observation made me wonder about this butterfly's life cycle and here's what I found out. . .
Mourning cloak adults can live ten to eleven months, making them one of our longest-lived butterflies. The adults we see in early spring have spent the winter in a kind of hibernation state. To stay alive through the Minnesota winter, they find a protected place and produce a chemical like anti-freeze. When temperatures warm (say 50 degrees or so), these individuals revive and look for a mate to begin the next generation.
Where: Bryn Mawr Meadows
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: Wednesday, March 28, 5:10 pm

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Winged Insects

What: While this observation might garner only disbelief, I tell you that I saw a mosquito. A single individual.
Where: This mosquito was in the mud room/vestibule space at my home, landing for moments at a time on the window pane or the door's moulding.
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:33 am
Conditions: 56 degrees, overcast and virtually windless.

What: Butterflies! First, I see this orange one, whose wings had a distinct shape making me think it might be a comma. Later, I saw what I think was a mourning cloak.
Where: Outside my home
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm
Conditions: Sunny

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Flowering Trees

You've probably noticed many trees' branches are not so bare as they were a few weeks ago. Here's just one particularly beautiful example, spotted in a park a few miles from the Walker. If you get a chance, bend a bough close to your eyes and examine what's happening!
What: Flowering tree, unidentified species
Where: Basset's Creek Park
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: March 20, 2012 at about 5:30 pm
Conditions: Overcast

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Poking up through the Earth

What: Tiny, firm, green spires poke up through cracking soil. Examining the ground more closely, we spot a few three-petaled white flowers, low-to-the-ground and nodding. Other plants bear tiny clusters of blue-green buds, which I interpret as future hyacinth blooms.
Where: In the Arbor that forms the north border of the Sculpture Garden.
Observers: Rachel and Abbie
Date/Time: March 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm
Conditions: Without snow for a week or more, the weather is pleasant and the skies are clear.

What: A 13-lined ground squirrel, the first I've seen this year.
Where: By the leafless lilac trees that form a backdrop to the Lipchitz, the solitary squirrel stands upright to survey the scene. Then it scurries across the gravel path and disappears into the gaps in the low, granite block wall.
Observers: Rachel and Abbie
Date/Time: March 15, 2012, at 3:45 pm
Conditions: Apparently warm enough to rise from hibernation, emerge from the burrow's depths, and greet again the outside world!

Monday, March 12, 2012

First Killdeer

Photo by Dan Dzurisin, via Flickr 
What: A pair of Killdeer, early arrivals.
Where: Bryn Mawr Meadows Park (just west and a little north of the Walker Art Center, on the other side of Highway 394). The grassy field was animated by about 12 American Robins, bobbing about, tugging worms out of the soil. And then these two Killdeer, who moved with the swift, smooth locomotion characteristic of plovers.
Observer: Abbie, biking to work
Date/Time: Monday, March 12, 8:30 am
Conditions: Overcast, a little hazy and cool

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Melospiza melodia

What: I'm thrilled to hear the first Song Sparrow (click to listen) of the year!
Where: Duluth Road, Golden Valley
Observer (listener): Abbie
Date/Time: Sunday, March 11, 9:30 am
Conditions: Overcast

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Flock Clock

What: About 100 American Robins. They are almost entirely silent, making scarcely a peep as the arrive in small flocks. I make a quick count, noticing that any given tree provides perch for10–25 loosely clustered individuals.
Where: The southwest corner of the Sculpture Garden, where linden trees line Vineland Place as it bends north, before becoming Kenwood Parkway. Also in the locust trees that grow in the median.
Observers: Abbie
Date/Time: Wednesday, February 1 at about 5:20 pm
Conditions: Identification was challenging since the light at this hour was barely sufficient. I could faintly descry their reddish robin breasts. By their silhouettes, I knew their tails were too long to be starlings and they didn't have crests like cardinals or waxwings.

In the past several weeks, leaving work has been my opportunity to see flocks of European Starlings, American Crows, Dark-Eyed Juncos, and American Robins. Each flock seems to be characterized by their own pattern, behavior, size, and timing. Which flock is on the move earliest in the day (relative to sunset)? Which flock is most fleeting, most ephemeral and likely to be missed? When do these patterns begin in the winter season, and when will the flocks dissipate as spring approaches? But to really understand this 'flock clock,' I'd need extended observations a few times a week, say, from 4-6:30 pm. Given my narrow aperture of observation, from 5 to 5:30 on weekdays, here's a summary of what I've seen:

Most abundant—easily numbering in the thousands—are the American Crows. Since December, I've seen a stream of them flying high in the sky every evening, usually in an easterly or northeasterly direction. Sometimes I've seen them densely populating the trees in Loring Park.

Next in number are the European Starlings. But I can't get a handle on their timing. I haven't seen them in weeks, but my colleague saw them last night after 6 pm.

When I've seen groups of Dark-Eyed Juncos, they were not in flight, but rather on the ground under the arborvitae. I haven't seen them in over a month, but maybe they're just around when I'm not there to see them.

So far, the most understated of the flock phenomena is the American Robin. Also,this is the newest indicator on the flock clock. I know many stick around through the winter, but I haven't seen them in flocks until late January.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Foxes on the Field!

Above: A fox, on the open fields of Saskatchewan, photographed by Glen Munro. When two foxes were spotted on the Walker Open Field, no one had a camera on hand to record them, but in my imagination this image makes a good stand-in.
What: Two red foxes scamper onto the Field! And evidently it's mating season!
Where: On the Open Field, near Sky Pesher, where the tall grasses grow.
Observers: Ashley (first-person account shared via Facebook, above). Corroborated by colleagues in accounting, who have a view of the field from their offices.
Date/Time: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 in the morning, around 10
Conditions: Unseasonably warm and the Field has almost no snow, or I would have ventured out looking for their tracks.