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May 22, 2013

Lonely John's Nature Report
2013-4-21 The vernal pond near my house is now covered with thick green algae. Looks like you could walk on it. That same pond was being skated on just a few months ago. I heard first bullfrog of the year. Soon the pond will dry to mud and grow over with weed.
I noticed, for the first time this year, some shade under a tree. Today my first day wearing short pants. I found the first tick insect of the year attached to my skin. First housefly, dogs madly leaping and snapping at it. 80 degrees outside. My tap water temperature is now up to 57 degrees from a low of 37 in winter. Almost time to turn off the water heater for the summer.
Carolina silverbell trees shed their brief and extraordinary bounty of white flowers like a late season snow storm. Red maple “helicopter” seeds on the ground everywhere. The tiny peaches on Tom's peach tree are already starting to swell at an alarming rate. Flowering dogwood, the fragrant lavender blooms of lilac and Japanese wisteria. The distinctive fragrance of the invasive Russian olive by the sides of the highways. Tremendous genetic diversity in the areas near the cities due to the many plants and insects imported since the time of Olmstead.
Tree caterpillar poop is on car hoods. I noticed one tree with all the caterpillars inside shelters they constructed of leaves, leaf edges folded and bound together with silk.
Many rabbits, small ones. Always a lot of them in spring and early summer, relatively tame and eagerly consuming the tender new shoots.
I saw a great woodchuck lumping across my dead end street.
The neighbor kid now rides his motorcycle around his tiny yard everyday after school..
Friend Tom reports newly migrated bears may be in the area, may maraud his bee hives at Fay field in Sudbury.

The cardinal bird of a month ago seemed to be the only bird singing in the bare limbs of the trees at that time. Now that the limbs have leaves, he seems to have stopped. Now there is a bird that I have often heard in spring time who sings with a will. It repeats one phrase a couple times and then switches to a very different phrase and repeats that a few times. It has an un ending variety of melody, rhythm and never seems to repeat any of the phrases. I was thrilled when I was able to spot one and was surprised to learn that it was not a mocking bird but a common catbird. I had known their typical feline call from other times of year, but it seems that this time of year they become more inspired.

I visited a friend Chris at his house. We heard a couple owls calling to each other, marking the radius of their territory by the distance the call carries. The call seemed to echo among the many tree trunks in the deep and open forest. It seems unlikely that a forest would return an echo, but I have perceived such a forest echo from other sounds like the barking of my dogs. It seems that owl calls are relatively consistent for a given species and readily described by words and so easy to look up on a computer. Cornell has a great ornithology website. These owls were barred owls. (I thought it was spelled 'bard'. Oh, well, it was a nice thought that there would be a poetic owl.)

Friend Chris is a sound engineer. He told me about the effect different weather has on the way sound carries. Contrary to what I had thought, the humidity of the atmosphere does not have much to do with how far sound carries. Wind does carry the sound farther. And air temperature changes sound dispersal. When the air is warmer at higher elevations in the atmosphere than down by the ground, sound carries more because the sound waves travel faster in the thin air and so the sound that was radiating upward from a source on the ground tends to curve in an arc back down to earth again at some distance away. He said the effect is most pronounced a mile away from source. And when the air is warmer at ground level than higher up, sounds about a mile away are less noticeable. He said that on a clear, sunny morning, the ground air starts to warm up more than air up higher, starting at around 9 am. And this effect lasts until about 6 pm when the heat of the warm soil starts to rapidly radiate away from the earth, warming the air above. Then we hear the distant noises well and this effect then lasts until 9 am the following morning.

I recently read that there is a kind of cicada insect called the “Magicada” that only emerges from dormancy once every 17 years. It makes a nearly unbearable racket for 2 weeks and then goes back into the soil to benignly live off the sap of tree roots for another 17 years. The big news is that a large cohort of this 17 year cicada is scheduled to emerge this springtime. I was disappointed that they will be present and singing in Connecticut but not Massachusetts.
There are also 13 year cicadas. Notice anything? Both prime numbers. An adaptive mechanism. If there is a predator of the cicada whose population levels fluctuate on a consistent multi-year periodic cycle, then the years when predator population is at peak levels will coincide with the years that cicadas emerge much less frequently, as the product of the prime number times the number of years of the periodic cycle of the predator. For example, if there is a predatory wasp that has peaks in its population levels every 4 years, and if the magicada were to have a periodic cycle length of 16 years, then the wasp population would eventually synchronize its cycle with the magicada's and every time the magicada emerged the wasps would be at peak levels, which would not be good if you were a magicada. But if the magicada's period length is 17 years, their cycles only coincide every 54 years. (4X17 = 54). And it works for every single other predator of the magicada that has consistent multi year peak population level cycles because 17 is a prime number and is not divisible by any number except itself and 1. It almost seems that the cicada has some kind of collective unconscious. I can see why some people might be tempted by the idea of intelligent design.

Today I was climbing in the very top one of my trees and noticed the spruce next to me had small new seed cones. The juvenile cones of the spruce are the most indescribably divine hues of deep and brilliant red I have ever seen. Very few of cones this year, last year there were many. This is thought to be an adaptive mechanism. Those squirrels that eat them will famish on a year when the cones are scarce. Then the next year when the tree has saved energy, there will be many cones and few squirrels to eat them.

I recently found an extraordinarily large European beech tree. I searched the internet for a list of giant trees in the area and was surprised to find no lists. I telephoned the location of the beech to state forest health director Ken. One of the rituals Ken dutifully conducts is the measuring of the girth, height and spread of ancient trees. Wonderful government supported poetry. The measurements are recorded on a list which is not publicized in order to protect the trees from evildoers. There are many of these so called “champion” trees among us, often in suburban areas where farming and logging has long departed. I went to sleep that night dreaming of mystic and enchanted places, not to be found on any map, nearby and overlooked.

My goodness, it has happened again! It's almost 

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