Ike-ster…what a mess of things you made!

bye bye ike.
Creative Commons License photo credit: tiny white lights

Thus far, my previous blogs have been exploiting some of my old camp journals that are just collecting dust at home.  I’m going to be a bit radical this week and write about a recent topic rather than an event that occurred a decade or two ago.  Today’s blog involves some brief anecdotes I jotted down regarding the recent Hurricane that struck our beloved Houston early in the morning (dark) on 13 September 2008. 

When friends and relatives asked me how it went post-hurricane, without power and many of the creature comforts our society has grown so used to, I replied, “it feels balmy and tranquil, much like my old study site in Amazonia” (which, incidentally, will be the focus of next month’s entry).  A long-time friend of mine named John described the events at his house as ‘Hurrication,’ where the teens were forced to interact with the rest of the family through playing board games, consuming massive quantities of perishable food during marathon cookouts, and everyone generally having a great time despite circumstances.  With no power, roads blocked by downed trees and electrical lines, and lines to purchase gasoline not worth the struggle, it was a great time to deflate and smell what remained of the flowers.  My family and I went on many walks to cool off since the outside was overall cooler than the inside the house.  During this time we made various observations of how the storm affected the local urban wildlife, which I will attempt to recount below.

- Vegetation was mangled, or completely removed in many cases.  Huge pine trees with a diameter exceeding a yard were snapped clean off at the base like a toothpick.  The animals which depended on such plant communities to thrive had their lives thrown into complete chaos, through their habitat being mangled, or completely removed. 

Blue Jay 13
Creative Commons License photo credit:
BobMacInnes

- It had been a couple of years since we had seen any Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) in our yard, yet several individuals passed through after the storm, trying to stake out a new territory.  One pair even chased a large Buteo hawk into a tree in our front yard, where it rested briefly before being found and further harassed by the jays.

- We figured mosquitoes would be abundant from the rain that followed the storm, but not a one.  Most wildlife was noticeably lacking.  I was extremely disturbed at absolutely no sign of any of the four species of doves commonly found in the neighborhood, and you can guess my relief when they began to return six days after the storm.  It is very likely that many of the birds left the region well in advance of the storm.  Wildlife seems to have an internal barometric gauge.  For example, prior to the massive typhoon in south-east Asia, much of the wildlife left the coastal forest for the higher interior forest.

Click
Creative Commons License photo credit: mandj98

- Whereas some wildlife left prior to the storm, other species stayed and were noticeably more active.  An unusually high number of Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa sp.) were all over our house gardens, perhaps trying to find new resources since their former founts were now gone.  Similarly, displaced Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) were actively scurrying about in search of a new dwelling in light of the huge piles of fallen trees and limbs.

- A Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta) was found dead on the road on the corner of Haddon and Morse.  These aquatic turtles are not native to this region, but introduced through the pet trade.  The fact that it was at least a mile or two from Buffalo Bayou was amazing.  All the rain and mild flooding that followed the tail end of the storm may have transported this turtle from the bayou to the suburbs, where it sadly met its death.  We knew it was a young turtle, as the carapace (upper shell) was only 12.5 cm (5 inches) in diameter.

- Another casualty from the storm involved a flock of approximately 20 House Sparrows (Passer domesticus).  These were all over the sidewalk of a small alley by a Marble Slab ice cream shop in a strip shopping center near our house.  Perhaps they had taken cover in the only thing they were able to find once the storm got really rough, where they sadly met their death.  Like the turtle mentioned above, these non-migratory (i.e., annual resident) birds were also introduced to the U.S.

Without a doubt, for me personally, the most unfortunate aspect of Ike’s wrath was the devastation it did to various reserves that are crucial to migrating Neotropical songbirds.  High Island, Bolivar Peninsula, Sabine Woods and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge are only a few of these sites that were hit really hard.  However, with time and effort by loyal volunteers, these refuges will again be hotspots for Neotropical avian migrants passing through our beloved state of Texas.

-D.B., 13 October 2008
(1 month after Ike hit)

Science Doesn’t Sleep (9.11.08) Hurricane Ike Edition

Released to Public: Super Typhoon Cimaron Image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA)
Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

And neither will any of us in the Houston-Galveston area this weekend, as Hurricane Ike barrels in from the Gulf.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to consider whether you need to get out of Dodge – but please – let the people in mandatory evacuation zones get out first.

This is a high-tech hurricane – Ike’s got a Twitter feed. You can also get the latest from @chronsciguy and @HoustonChron.

And, since there are other things happening in the world of science…

The world survived the initial tests – so now the question is, will CERN discover The God Particle?

Astronomers observed a gamma ray burst that was briefly so bright that it outshone the galaxy that contained it.

Maybe you really shouldn’t walk under that ladder – superstitions may have originally evolved as a survival instinct.  

It’s the like Terra Cotta Warriors – but with trees. Scientists have found fossil forests in mines that span thousands of hectares.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.21.08)

Lime
No, not that kind of lime.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Phillie Casablanca

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

The Olympics have been taken over by…the BLOB!

It’s hurricane season, and you know what that means – we’ve got one headed for us.

Adding lime to seawater could reduce atmospheric levels of CO2. It will not, however, make a very good margarita.

Archaeologists in Egypt will reassemble a boat built to ferry the pharoah into the afterlife.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed artificial whiskers that can sense their environment.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (4.23.08)

 

Creative Commons License photo credit: ComeIlMare

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

Did seeing Bambi as a kid make you want to save the whales? It may have just made you more likely to be killed by a bear.

If only Catherine of Aragon had laid off the plum pudding, Henry could’ve avoided that whole Anne Boleyn debacle. New evidence suggests that a child’s gender is associated with the mother’s diet.

A new map of the Gulf has just been published that may help us predict where hurricanes will make landfall much earlier – giving us that much more time to sit stranded on I-45.  

Our first contact with aliens might not be a “carbon-based occasion;” Stephen Hawking made a prediction about the likelihood of humanity surviving our intial contact with extraterrestrial life at NASA’s 50th anniversary this past Monday. In short, the aliens may come in peace – but their microbes will probably kill us anyway.

Geology students hit the mother lode (or, why you should keep studying science, kids!) Geology.com points us to news that geology grads are making 80K/year - right out of school.