Friday, December 12, 2008

Moon Beams in the forest on the eve of the largest full moon

Not too many people knew this event occurred last night. I didn't until a neighbor brought it to my attention. One thing I like about The Woodlands - people get into nature. When I was a child, my dad and I generated many memories in the dark scary forests. When the moon was out bright, I could go outside in the middle of the night and find the ghosts of the forest along with the wolves and the bear (which were fabricated by stones my dad threw into the forest when I was not looking).

Last night the moon was not only a full moon, it was the largest full moon for the next 15 years. I'd call it Santa's moon this year. I could just see Rudolf and the reindeer practicing their flight under the backdrop of that spectacular moon. With its brightness, there was no need for a flashlight except in the very darkest part of the woods. What is it that makes a person feel eerie when in the woods at night? I shot a few woodsy photos where I could see the moon as a backdrop for the forest. One can see all sorts of strange images drawn by the leaves and branches.

Take a look at the link from Earth Sky about the event itself. The writer explains "perigee", when the moon is closest to the earth. That happens more frequently than every 16 years, but coinciding with the full moon orientation is another matter. You will need to mark your calendar for November 14, 2016, to see it again. Mine is marked. I will probably have to use a wheelchair then to get out to see it, but it is worth going outside in cold weather to view it.

Take a look at these photos and see what you can detect in them. What time of day do you believe these photos were taken?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Acorns or no acorns, the woodlands squirrels must eat

I have noticed that we have no acorns this year on any tree nearby. It first came to my attention when I observed a squirrel outside in the Yaupon eating the berries. Then I thought, if the squirrels are going to eat the berries all winter, what about the Robins in the Spring? What will they eat? Last year, this little guy was eating acorns at this time of year. He has been eating pine cone seeds until recently.

Well, if you noticed what I noticed last year, then there is a clue for you as well. We had a bumper crop of acorns last year. My White Oak produced so many that I thought I was going to go crazy with the acorns hitting the roof and lying all over the patio. Then too, the squirrels were burying the acorns all over the yard, so grass was damaged by their need to save the food for a "rainy day". The acorns were everywhere last year, all over the street, driveways, ... just everywhere and varying species of Oak all contributed to the abundance. There are zero acorns this year. The only ones I have seen were on a few limbs that were toppled by Hurricane Ike but had been in the tree all year as broken limbs, unable to break lose to fall to the ground. Those were all rotted out and useless for food.

So did the hurricane knock all of the acorns off the trees? No, that would be very doubtful. Actually, this is a cyclic pattern of Oak Trees. They usually produce a small amount of acorns in the off year cycle, but this year it appears to be nil. So what to do? Feed the little guys or just let nature do its thing? We will lose some to hunger I think, if we do not feed them. Yet this is the way nature takes care of its own. The birds will have to seek alternate food (worms for example) to continue their trek north in the Spring. They will compete for the berries in the winter, but I have not seen any Robins yet. Where are they? I heard that some of them are staying up north but winter looks pretty harsh this year, so I expect to see them soon.

I am going to provide them and the birds with some seeds in my feeder, but they will have to fare on their own for most of their food.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How did the forest fare from the winds?

Some folks believe that Hurricane Ike destroyed those trees not protected by the wind. One resident questioned why would we keep these trees which used to be in the forest but now are left exposed to fall on houses? In the same breath, the implication is that we do not live in the forest in The Woodlands. I want to assure everyone we do live in the forest. We have a program for reforestation to replace that which is deficient. We also maintain the forest through a management program for disease control, to maintain the integrity of the forest plant diversity, and the general health of the trees. Special attention is given to replacing invasive with native plants. Many seedlings as well as young trees are planted each year.

So here is the dilemma. We saw many trees fallen by the storm in our residential streets and yards. After all was over, the cleanup was very large. So some residents questioned the value of having the trees. We live in The Woodlands, a master planned community of the forest.The trees are and have always been part of our values here. They are the reason the community exists as it does, in a seemingly endless tangled web of paths and streets bounded and entwined with natural green areas. All green areas are intended to be part of the forest with the exception of the golf courses. Even those are supposed to have native trees and bushes.

So were the fallen trees more numerous in the green areas and the yards than in the forest? I took this question to the new county nature trail park on Flintridge. The Spring Creek Reserve area is a large protected section of forest, easily accessed by residents of The Woodlands. Any casual observer will note the large number of fallen trees. My conclusion is that the forest may have more fallen trees per given population than the ones in the homes. One reason for this is the interactions between the trees during the fury of the hurricane. For example, a tree that is uprooted by the storm is likely to fall on other trees during the storm, causing tons of weight to shift on the ground. That causes other nearby trees to be uprooted. Then there is also the "kiss" effect. One tree falling on another will damage the the other by reducing light and just pushing the other tree to an unstable or leaning posture. The density of the vegetation does not necessarily block the wind and protect the trees as some might conclude. IN fact it can have the opposite effect, like a fence. One pole can withstand heavy wind whereas the pole will fall with the fence if attached to the other boards. In other words, the lifting and pushing of a stand of trees and bushes can be considered just like a wall and gives way to the power of the wind where as a single tree lets the wind move around it, less surface and thereby less resistance. Although many fell, many of them will continue to survive for years in their new leaning and tangled positions.

So no, the trees of the forest are not more protected from the winds than the trees in the yards. And no, the trees are not as much a threat to homes as some would lead us to believe. We value our forest and can exclaim now that out trees did exceptionally well in riding out the storm. I sincerely believe that we dodged a bullet because we had healthy trees and vegetation. What we have has been through many many storms in the past. This is good reason to keep native trees and not displace them with invasive trees nor any trees that don't belong here. See related article for a different perspective.