What a Difference a Month Makes

By March 14 this year I’d had 30 individual days of superb cross-country skiing in Perrysburg, the bees had survived a very cold winter and had reappeared from both hives, and the ice on the Maumee as well as this ice carved winged creature on Louisiana Avenue had both started to melt (She really belonged in my previous blog on Winter Fliers)

Ice Carving Flying Lady

I’ve no idea what this mallard thought she was doing in the snowflakes one of my bee hives?


This year the spring thaw coincided with high wind and water.  Garden Island was soon covered, like last year,

Garden Isl Ice jam r

though the water did not reach the high water marker stake from last year.

Ice Garden Isl W 2015_r

And the ice piles at the Boat Club easily exceeded the previous year’s accumulation.

2014 PBYC ice_3401

But the West wind jammed ice in front of the turnpike bridge and then drove the ice, piling floe upon floe ever higher to make the greatest mountains anyone could remember. Ryan Bannister took this photo.

Ryan Bannister Ice Jam

Further upstream icebergs knocked over the railing and most of the tombstones at Maumee Sidecut cemetery.  The bergs stripped off enough bark from many, many riverside trees to essentially kill them by slicing their supply lines of water and sap.  (All tree nutrients run at the skin of the trunk.  The heart wood in the middle of a tree’s trunk is lifeless).

Tree damage 5113

Some riverside trees also have a tough time from what looks the return of the beaver.  (I’ve not seen it yet but this looks like its work).

Beaver damage_5108 r

The last of the skittish winter ducks (not so many this year) began to leave as it got warmer.


The bees came out of my West hive to pack the yellow pollen of the crocus

Crocus 4717

and blue of Siberian squill on their hairy legs.

Squill n Bee

The East hive fooled me by not showing a single bee though it had been full only a month previously.  I waited 5 minutes and not  one came out.  In desperation I lifted the lid and was immediately jumped on by hundreds of them who’d being lying in wait to play just such a trick!  As I dropped the lid and ran I could almost hear them laughing (sorry, no photo of that).

The daffodils also look great now, but this non-native flower seems to do very little in the way of supporting the local pollinators.   I’ve only seen a single bumblebee once that looked to be big enough to tackle the task.

Bumblebee in Daffodil_r

Hal’s magnificent Bloodroot came up for their brief glorious week, as seen in this picture by Rick Barricklow:

Bloodroot front yard - Rick B

Our summer task is a weekly ‘monitoring’ of the first blooming of native flowers along two walking trails in two local parks.  Easier said than done: the first two bloomers we’ve seen have been so small it’s been hard to i.d. them. Each was barely 25 mm (an inch) tall.

Draba Verna r

Persian Speedwell_4924 r

There are banks of yellow  and white Trout Lily.

Yellow Trout Lily 5939


White Trout Lily 5047 r

They come out so early in the  spring and last such a short time that it is often too cold for the pollinating insects. So these flowers often don’t have nectar. They can self-pollinate but the resulting seeds are not as vigorous as when insects which  perform the cross pollination while gathering pollen for their brood.

We are already back to digging up aliens and planting  native flora to support the native fauna, here represented this month by a magnificent 280 mm (11 inch) long Map Turtle.

Map Turtle_r

It climbed up on a riverside rock at the bottom of the garden and sunned itself for 3 days.  It ignored offered wriggling worms. I think it might have needed crayfish which are unavailable right now.

I doubt if any of the summer months to come will offer such a contrast as these last two.

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink…

Coleridge’s mariner was damned for needlessly shooting an albatross. Toledo however, is bringing on its own destruction by inaction, despite warnings months ago from the Federal EPA. In the small hours of the night, ten days ago, an automated emergency phone call woke us to tell us not to drink the tap water. The annual algae bloom in Lake Erie this year had become too strong, right at the water intake pipe for Toledo’s (and Perrysburg’s) municipal water systems. This satellite view shows the western end of Lake Erie seriously compromised.  Toledo and the Maumee river are at the bottom left corner:
Lake Erie Blook_2144
For three days we were forbidden to drink the water, wash dishes (unless rinsed in afterwards in ‘clean’ water) or even to spray municipal water on leafy vegetables in the gardens.
The algae is an interesting bright green living slime. Its growth in the lake is accelerated by summer warmth and the excess nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) from fertilizer runoff from farms and riverside gardens. Heavy rainstorms can also overflow the waste water pipe system, dumping untreated sewage into rivers and lakes which add food to the algae.
The algae produces a harmful non-living, long lasting, stable toxin called microcystin. It cannot be destroyed by boiling and is too small to physically filter out, other than by Carbon filter absorption. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless, but is harmful because it accumulates in one’s liver, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) (it sounds incredible enough to be a story from the famous BBC TV sci-fi Doctor of the same name) in concentrations greater than 1 ppb (part per billion).
Microcystin is incredibly old. It evolved, with cyanobacterial algae blooms about 3 billion years ago, perhaps as a protective agent for the algae, but protecting against what we do not know – back then there were no animals in existence to eat the algae. The toxin might have been protecting it from solar UV according to today’s (2014/8/12) NYT Science section. The blooms themselves were vital to us then as they were the early creators of Earth’s Oxygen.
Our numerically challenged news reporters erroneously had it measured as “1 or 2 ppm” (parts per million) instead of ppb (parts per billion) for a while. But, understandably, it is hard to appreciate that a substance naturally produced in our lovely lake could be seriously harmful in concentrations above one drop per tanker rail-car full (300,000 gallons). But watch out for the numbers: while a limit of 1 (ppb) (parts per billion) could sound reasonable, would you accept the same level as safe if it was just as honestly, but more scarily, called 1000 ppt (parts per trillion)? No matter how you quantify it, it is truly wonderful that we can detect and measure such miniscule amounts. Such skills can save us, if only we can properly interpret the values and apply them appropriately.
Back in Perrysburg we had the interesting situation of water seemingly everywhere, yet unusable:
1. A live river full of slightly muddy water: the Golden Maumee.

River Kayak_3941
2. Clear, tasteless, odorless water in the taps, and a few recent gallons in spare storage in jugs in the basement, but who knew how far back the ban applied?
3. And my three 40 gallon full rain barrels (for plant watering) collected from clear and pure (well perhaps a little acid rain, moss spores, bird bits, etc.?) rain water from the roof.
Rain Barrel_2221
I was unable to interest any of the house residents (other than the quasi-dumb animals) in that toxin-free roof water, even when I offered to boil it.
Sold out signs appeared within hours, for a radius of at least 20 miles, in stores selling any type of bottled water. But friends visiting from out of state all brought gallons in plastic jugs and bottles.

The water is back on for now, and we have a stock of ‘plastic’ water to be drunk within the next 12 months as the bottles have “Use by…” dates of 2015.
Water bottles_2289
What happens, over time, to water in a plastic bottle?  I’m sure I could happily live on honey, beer and coffee made with skim milk, but dry cleaning one’s teeth is difficult.

Nobody said it would be easy but we do need to look after our planet. At least now we can measure the invisible toxins before they do too much harm. But sometimes even the very visible seems to be too hard to fix. For years Toledo and Perrysburg have been trying to prevent sewage overflows in heavy rains. Yet yesterday, 8/11, we had about 3 inches (75 mm) of rain which resulted once again in the following overflow damage to Water Street and hence, the river and the lake:

Be Careful What You Fish For

The Great Blue Herons are hungry. They hang out on the river ice at the last spots of open water, wishing for a fish. One somehow landed this one – far too large to swallow

Fish catch

Too big to swallow
and too tough to be pecked open with its beak.
All the birds offered to help – they chased each other around, through the gardens, but they never found out how to eat it.
Chase 9499

Flight_9501Snow at 341_9185

I had wished for more snow than last year when I barely got 13 days of X-Country skiing here, some of that only at night. This winter there’s been much more snow; great for skiing once the shoveling is done. So far we’ve skied from the end of December to mid February.Top Sash Broke_9157

I did not wish for the extreme cold that came with the snow. The press blames a newly (for them) discovered Polar Vortex, but I see more association with the still poorly explained Jet Stream.
At -4°F (-20°C) the cold contracted the air in one of my new (well, 5 yrs. old) sealed double glazed windows so much that it ran a miniscule crack that that had lived harmlessly in the top left corner from the day it was made.

Taking the glass out of the sash revealed the result of a hard-body impact (see the red arrow) at the top left corner.Impact from Left Corner_9427


It had made the original small crack (hard to see), only 1 x 1 x 25 mm (1/32” x 1/32” x 1”) long, but the crack tip never ran out to the glass edge, it just waited for future stresses. The final long, very visible diagonal crack in the window is all too familiar to me. Have you ever seen it? Glass people often blame the cold – but winters are naturally cold. The real problem is that cracked glass is weak. It’s not Mother Nature’s fault. Don’t blame your mother! It’s the fault of whoever or whatever bumped that corner. The cold, plus a high barometer would only create about 500 psi tensile stress by bending the glass. While good glass, with no cracks, can resist 2,000 or 3,000 psi. The makers, Simonton Windows, were extremely gracious and prompt in providing a free warranty replacement in just 2 weeks. In return I sent them a detailed fractographic report. Wonder what they’ll make of it?
There must be some relationship between glass fracture patterns and ice crystals?Flower Crystals_9401Horiz st line crystals_9553
Close  up crystal_9416This 200 mm (8”) wide crystal is beautiful. With my new ōlloclip macro lens on the iPhone it looks at just a 3 mm (1/8”) wide slice and shows even more, fractal-like exquisite detail.
I always wonder how some of the frost lines can often be so straight?
Tree icy_3377River side crystals

Sometimes it is so cold: -4F (-20C) that the very air itself seems to freeze on the branches.

I looks very dramatic when the sun shines.Raccoon_9164

The animals are frozen and hungry, and turn up in odd places along my ski trail:
This young raccoon had no visible damage, but lay very quiet on my ski trail. Next day it had moved under a nearby house and after that it could not be found.

This heron was frozen stiff and could barely move.Heron in the woods_9418


Even the two eagles seem to huddle together for warmth.Eagles together_3371Thirsty squirrel_9454
Alice n Squirrel_3367Alice grudgingly lets the squirrel eat spill-over from the bird feeder. Later the squirrel tries to drink water but doesn’t seem to know that the river is frozen.
However the dove is fat and happy.

Fat Dove_9559

Some say it’s wrong to feed the birds but who can resist with birds like thisIMG_9213


Meanwhile the ground hog insists on eating our expensive native grasses and Golden rods – not surprising I guess!
But my new GoPro camera, on a head mount, records the happy parts in exquisite detail. This following long video is an edited version of yesterday’s very fast 47 minute run around the Water Street Wild Life Loop. I’m embarrassed about the spills: the trail was not stiffly frozen and the snow beside it, which used to be as light as smoke, is now heavier and readily grabs an errant ski, with unfortunate results for the unwary.

Water Street Wildlife Trail. 20 mins.