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Showing posts from February, 2017

Taking rhododendrons' temperature

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By Susan Pike

Rhododendrons make incredibly accurate living thermometers. When I went for a walk this morning, it felt cold, and I figured it was at least in the teens, but the rhododendron leaves were drooping, not curled. I realized I was being a baby, it had to be warmer than 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Rhododendron leaves respond to the cold, first by drooping and then by curling up - this is called thermonasty. When temperatures are above freezing, typical rhododendron leaves will be flat and oriented horizontally to the ground (presumably to collect as much sunlight as possible). As temperatures drop, the leaves follow suit. When temperatures fall below freezing, the leaves start to droop but remain flat. At 25 degrees F, the leaves start to curl and by 20 degrees F, they are as tightly curled as they can get. The most common native species of rhododendron in New England is great rosebay (Rhododendron maximum). That said, R. maximum is considered rare and classified as a threatened s…

Orion is an old friend of mine

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by Sue Pike yorkweekly@seacoastonline.com published Feb 7 2017 Of the many magical encounters my students and I had on our recent trip to the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas, one of the best was a night hike in search of the remnants of a long-abandoned resort at the end of the island. We stopped in the middle of an old road and lay down to look at the stars and listen to the frogs and insects and nocturnal bird noises coming from the surrounding forest. There is almost no light pollution there, the night sky was twinkling with more stars than I have ever seen. We looked for constellations and talked about the myths behind them. I loved this. I grew up with a dad who was a physicist and amateur astronomer. We used to go camping out in remote New Hampshire (we lived in suburban New York where the sky glow from city lights drowned out the night sky) in the fall. We didn't use tents, just lay among the roots of an old tree where we could see the night sky through the leafless…

Why the increase in barred owl injuries?

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By Sue Pike yorkweekly@seacoastonline.com/The York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Exeter Daily/Fosters Daily
I visited the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick last week because I had heard about an influx of wounded barred owls and was curious to find out why this was happening. According to Kristen Lamb (executive director of the CFW) four barred owls have been brought in over the past few weeks, as well as a handful more in December, more than were brought in last year. This uptick in injured owls seems to be happening throughout New England. Kristen said when she started asking around she found that other wildlife centers have seen more injured owls this year, for instance the Tufts Wildlife Clinic has admitted 18 barred owls in the past couple months. Wildlife rehabilitation centers have seen upswings like this before - back in 2008 and 2010 the number of admitted owls was even higher than this year. It isn't always clear why this happens. Knowing a little bit about barred owl natura…
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Nature News: Needle ice a sure sign winter is comingBy Susan Pike
Published Dec 10 2016
Finally! A little snow and frosty mornings ...; winter is coming! One of my favorite first signs of winter recently happened - the ground was crunchy underfoot.  Little frozen spikes (called needle ice) had erupted out of the earth, pushing up the dirt and loosening the soil. After delightedly crunching through my first needle ice of the winter, I picked up and sifted through the remnants. The ice needles were all about the same length (approximately 4 centimeters) and width (thin - maybe a couple millimeters) and all oriented in the same direction. This beautiful perfection was the result of our recent cold nights. Other names for these little needles are frost pillars, frost columns, comb ice or, my favorite, "pipkrake" from the Swedish "pipa" meaning tube and "krake" for weak or fine.
Needle ice is just one of the many things that can happen when water freezes. It requ…