Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wildlife update

An update on the wildlife situation in the Operation Pollinator plots.

You might recall that we have not one...

not two...

but SIX red-winged blackbird eggs in one of my Operation Pollinator plots.

And this happy week, all six eggs hatched into the UGLIEST CUTE LITTLE CHICKS EVER.

Dang, these things are nasty.  All exposed skin and eyesockets and giant mouths.  But also so cute.

birdmouths on Make A Gif
make animated gifs like this at MakeAGif

Can't wait to see them grow up over the next couple of weeks (months?).  I know very little about bird biology, so this is going to be really fun and informative.

The groundhog situation has not progressed.  He is still rearing his ugly, stupid head whenever we pull up, then darting back into his miserable hole.

Trapping attempts have been unsuccessful so far.

I will update you all on the groundhog menace as soon as we start to make inroads.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wildlife in the Operation Pollinator Plots!

It's not all bees, syrphid flies, and butterflies in the OP sites.

We also have many vertebrates taking advantage of the refuge Operation Pollinator provides on golf courses, and most of the time I love to see animals in the sites while we're out surveying them.  We regularly scare off rabbits, chipmunks, and golden finches during our early morning visits.

Last week we found a few very special visitors nestled in a bunch of purple coneflower.

What could it be?

A nest!

And inside the nest?

A single blue egg.

The most beautiful, pale blue with delicate watercolor splotches.


Three eggs!

And another nest with three more eggs, this time made between stalks of bergamot!

We think they're red-winged black bird eggs, based on some images we found online and the angry red-winged black birds squawking at us while we were taking samples in the plots.

Not all vertebrate visitors are welcome in the Operation Pollinator plots, however.

I have a varmint problem, folks.  Some major groundhog grief.  A serious woodchuck worry.

One of my sites is being absolutely destroyed by the fattest, most inconsiderate groundhog I have ever laid eyes on.

This plot is more or less a giant pile of dirt with a brooding hole right in the middle of it.

The darn thing is out sunning itself every time we approach the plots, and then scampers back into its hole before I have a chance to run it off.

I have a mounting fear of having one of my toes bitten off by a mean groundhog.  It almost happened to my brother once.

I don't have any pictures of the camera-shy beast, so here is an artist's rendition

How do I fix this?!  I am afraid of losing my toes!  And it's wreaking havoc!  HELP!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Operation Pollinator in the news!

We've gotten so much great feedback on Operation Pollinator in the last week!

Turfnet correspondent John Reitman featured Operation Pollinator in an article about pollinator conservation and colony collapse disorder!


Katie Pratt wrote a news release for the College of Agriculture that has been featured on several websites so far!



Jeff Frankin produced a short TV spot on Operation Pollinator for the College of Agriculture!


And Dr. Potter and I were just interviewed for a radio spot by Mike Feldhaus, a producer for Across Kentucky!

We are so grateful for all the public interest in our project.  I truly hope we can use our current surge in publicity to increase awareness of pollinator decline and encourage the creation of new pollinator conservation sites like Operation Pollinator!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Operation Pollinator's Youtube Debut!

We're famous!

I just realized that I am not into hearing my own recorded voice.  Has anyone ever not had that reaction?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Frothy purple blooms and lazy photography.

The first bergamot blooms are out!

I love this stuff.  Frothy, purple blooms.  Blue-tinted, minty foliage.  Lovely smell.  Hearty plant.  What's not to love?

And the pollinators couldn't agree more.  Here is one of the many Bombus impatiens foraging on bergamot yesterday.

The black-eyed Susans are also starting to bloom in greater numbers.  They aren't quite as densely packed as last season, but there's still plenty of time for this hearty native plant to get up to speed. 

The plains coreopsis is back and blooming too.  This plant, with its lacy foliage, considerable height, and extremely variable flower color was a real star last season.  This year it has come back in lesser numbers and is mostly clinging to the outskirts of the plots.  It could be that competition with hardier plants was simply too much for plains coreopsis, or maybe this plant is best used as a pioneer species to provide bloom coverage in an establishment year.  Either way, it's looking like this plant might not make it into the final recommended wildflower seed mix.

Wild sunflower, on the other hand, was barely present last season and is currently popping up everywhere!  There are even a few buds showing up.  Can't wait to see more from this native sunflower variety!

Finally, the prairie coneflower is really impressing me this season.  We only had a handful of these blooms last year, and they never gained enough height to breach the canopy of all the other wildflowers and be accessible to pollinators.  This year, they are performing very well and are easily reaching heights of 3-4 ft where there is a lot of competition with other plants.

I also think that the way that the cones puts out their tiny individual flowers in rows starting from the bottom and working their way up is both ingenious and adorable.  I expect that as soon as the tip of the cone puts out its last minuscule blossom, the big yellow petals will fall off of the bottom because the plant no longer needs to attract pollinators to fertilize it.  Nature is so efficient!

Below are some examples of bad photography habits on my part.  I am very guilty of plopping my camera into the lowest f-stop I can manage (thus, pretty high aperture), which limits my depth of field--giving me images where the focus is only on the foreground, and the background is all fuzzy.  What this means is that I can easily end up with washed-out, overexposed images--and I'm not exactly challenging myself to compose the picture well or produce any kind of variation in my work.  Lazy photography on my part.

Below you'll see examples of me limiting my depth of field so much that I don't even get the entire flower in focus AND they are both overexposed.  Tsk tsk.  Neither image is particularly usable, and this style gets repetitive quickly.

A challenge to myself for the next week:  take photos that utilize the full range of apertures available to me through my current equipment!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Field day, chartreuse shirts, and lots of new blooms.

Tomorrow is the annual Turfgrass Field Day at the AJ Powell Turf Research Station, where several hundred turf managers, horticulturalists, greenhouse operators, landscapers, highway maintenance people, and anyone else connected to the turf and landscape industry come together for a long day of continuing education.

My lab loves Field Day.

Field Day for us consists of a hanging out in the great outdoors, giving lectures on our research, and interacting with the end-users for the data we produce.  We are able to give people advice for managing pests in the urban landscape, and we usually get very valuable feedback from the crowds with whom we speak.

We also get free donuts, coffee, and lunch, which is always delicious and very welcome.


New turfgrass science shirts for all the presenters, which have ranged in the past from slick, black athletic shirts, to gray T-shirts, to this year's choice, delivered today:  chartreuse polos.

The color isn't really coming through in all its super-bright glory, so here's an example which more accurately reflects the color of the matching shirts that my lab of six grown adults will be wearing:
Photo credit: Mark-Anthony and Christine Rice  
I'm actually kind of fond of the color, but we originally thought it was going to be hunter green.  Some of the more grown up folks are not quite as excited about the slightly silly color as me.

It might be a grumpy troupe of six adults wearing the same chartreuse shirts tomorrow morning.


The plots are going to be on full display tomorrow morning to about three hundred people, and they are looking good.

New species blooming right now:
Prairie coneflower

 Purple coneflower

Black-eyed Susan

And plains coreopsis!

The bergamot is getting ready to start putting out its first lilac tendrils!

We even had a few visitors, like this Speyer's cucullia caterpillar.  I was initially fooled in my excitement into thinking this was a Monarch caterpillar, but quickly realized that I would never find a Monarch on fleabane (pictured here), but only on milkweed.


I did find an adult Monarch happily foraging on lance leaf coreopsis!

All of this is very exciting for me and my lab, and I can't wait to show off the plots to the public tomorrow morning.

Even if the only thing more colorful than the Operation Pollinator plots will be our shirts.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I'm back and Operation Pollinator is blooming!

I am back from our trip to Switzerland, which was very successful and an experience I am extremely grateful for.  My first international business trip was a piece of cake because all I had to do was talk about my current favorite topic:  native bee conservation.

The whole time we were gone I was itching to get back and see how my plots were growing.  My student technician sent me regular updates with lots of pictures which served as nice teasers before I finally returned to them a few days ago.

The plots are lookin good, folks.

Lance leaf coreopsis (pictured above) is the most dominant species right now, just as it was last year.  This wildflower is a real star:  it's easy to establish, its foliage is attractive, its blooms are lovely and long-lasting, and pollinators love it.

There are a few other species from last year that are also off to a great start.

Prairie coneflower is just starting to bloom, but my plots are currently covered in their attractive buds which should all soon start to put out petals.

I have a lone purple coneflower that has put out its first petals.  I am very excited to see all the purple coneflower this season.  The plots are absolutely covered with this plant--the same species that only produced a single specimen last season is going to be a powerhouse this season.

Purpletop verbena is also doing really well so far.  Last year we only had a handful of blooms the whole season which didn't start until the end of July.  This year we already have several of these plants up and blooming at most of my sites!

We even have a few new species up and blooming.  Already this year Eastern columbine (a new species) has bloomed and faded, and we have two additional novel species up.

Ohio spiderwort is the first blue species to bloom in the Operation Pollinator plots--and also one of the prettiest, in my opinion.

And smooth pentstemon, which is really fighting to get some light through the forest of lance leaf coreopsis, is also up.

There have been an amazing number of pollinators on these plants, primarily lance leaf coreopsis.  I'm seeing many more of both European honeybees and large social bumblebees than I saw last year.

I've also seen many natural enemies, like this ladybird beetle larvae, utilizing the Operation Pollinator plots!

I've been sampling the plots all week, and I'll be sure to write about some of our methods in a later post.

I couldn't be more pleased with these sites.  This season is starting off wonderfully.