Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow for the Holidays

Merry Christmas from Shelton! Here's the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that gets decorated every year by hikers. It's along the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path about a half mile from Huntington Center, off of Lane Street, at the edge of the Land Trust's meadow.

An unmarked trail nearby leads to the spot where you can get a glimpse of the Far Mill River and Means Brook coming together. In the photo above, the upper Far Mill River is coming from the direction of the house, while the smaller Means Brook is coming in from the right. They join and then flow off to the left.

The Far Mill River continues downstream on it's journey towards the Housatonic River. This is part of the "Huntington Wellfield" open space, a section of the Shelton Lakes Greenway, acquired from the water company in the late 1990's.

A few years back there were beaver in here, but they've disappeared after making some neighbors very unhappy with the flooding their dam created.

Winterberry is festive along the river. The Winter Solstice is tomorrow and people from many different cultures throughout the ages have marked the happy occasion (the days will be getting longer!) by decorating with cheerful green evergreens and red berries. Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coral Reef

It's been pretty cold and dark out lately, so how about a trip to the tropics, via my livingroom?

This is a coral reef tank. A very bad one, actually, because a proper reef tank requires lots and lots of attention and water monitoring, which I find tedious. Everything you see is real, and most of it is alive. Except for the green ferny-looking algae, everything that looks like a plant is actually a colony of animals, and if you touch them they'll suddenly shrink back. It's gardening with animals. The "live rock" came from the ocean tropics and is filled with worms, isopods, sponges, and algae. It's composed of a purple corraline algae, which continues to grow and encrust everything with purple, including the glass (only a razor blade gets it off).

I learned the hard way about the dramatic effects carbon dioxide has on reefs. Reef animals take a lot of calcium carbonate from the water and use it to build their skeletons. So you have to test the carbonate/pH periodically and add more as it's removed by the coral. Like most of you, I had heard that increased CO2 levels are causing acidification of the oceans and threatening the reefs, blah, blah, blah. Then, at one point my coral started to die back, so I did some testing and discovered I had added way too much carbonate over the past few months. High carbonate equals high pH, and that's caustic. This is the opposite of what they say is happening to the ocean.

The solution was to add just one tiny ounce of seltzer water (water with CO2) to the entire tank. WHAM, the pH and carbonate shot down to correct levels. Holy Cow! A tiny bit of CO2 can do all that?? Suddenly the concept of ocean acidification became very real. My coral perked up immediately and lived happily ever after.

Here's Ricky and Lucy, my clownfish, still in bed, where they spend the night staying perfectly still to escape predators. In the wild they would be in an anemone, but these are tank-raised fish and have adapted to my soft coral. You can't have many fish in a reef tank because they pollute the water.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quinnipiac Oak

While hiking the Quinnipiac Trail in Hamden I picked up some White Oak acorns that were already sprouting. These can be hard to find since wildlife snap them up right away, but there were dozens. Some are outside for the winter, but one I let grow in the window sill:
Oaks in the Red Oak family will not sprout in the fall, but oaks in the White Oak family will sprout immediately. For that reason, and because they are much sweeter than Red Oaks, squirrels will either eat the acorn immediately, or nip off the sprouting end before burying it. How do they know to do this?

White Oaks were once the dominant tree in Connecticut, comprising maybe 25% of all trees. Now they are much less common (Red Maple is now the most common tree, and Red Oaks are now much more common than White Oaks). Oaks in general are declining in Connecticut, for various reasons that are not well understood. In Fairfield County, one factor is the deer population, which favors oak seedlings and acorns, especially those of the White Oak.