Friday, October 24, 2014

Why is My Car Getting Pelted With So Many Acorns This Fall?

Acorns. Piling up everywhere, and pinging my car this week like a mid-summer hailstorm.  When I was young, our neighbors told us that these hailstorms of acorns forewarned of a hard winter to come. 

How would the trees know, I wondered? 

Turns out the trees don't know, and that abundant acorn production is actually a natural cycle of 3-5 years. These years of banner production are called 'mast years'.   Mast is the fruit of nut-producing trees, specifically a kind of piling up on the ground for animals to eat.  A 'mast year' is a year like the one we're having in the southern US where we have an overabundance of nuts (a massive understatement at my house). The cycle goes like this: there will be a year or so of piles of acorns on the ground (mast comes from the Old English word maest, literally meaning piles of tree fruit and nuts on the ground), squirrels and other animals feed on the nuts. Then come the years with less production, and what's on the trees is what gets eaten--not a lot left over to fall to the ground, and the population of nut-eaters thins because of scarcity of food. Then we have a year with large production, there are more than can be eaten by the current population of nut-eaters and you have our  result.  Pileups of nuts like the ones in the pictures below.

So now when you hear parents on the sidelines of your child's soccer match complaining about the massive amount of acorns on their decks, you have one more little tidbit of useless, but interesting, knowledge to share over your morning coffee. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Orb Weavers add to the Spookiness of October

I walked out the house early this morning to this special guest, an orb weaver.  It's fall and the babies born in the spring are now out and about building their intricate webs, a compliment to the fall mums and pumpkins on the porch. Their web pattern is one many of us recognize--if you're ever read Charlotte's Web, you've seen the work of fictional orb weaver Charlotte. 

I'm always happy to see the orb weavers, if not overjoyed by walking through their webs in the morning when I'm not quite awake.  Watching them build their structures every evening is fascinating, especially when one decides to try to overtake the front yard by starting at the roofline and extending to the wild persimmon tree in the middle.  They're ambitious little buggers.

Their hunting style is pretty cool, too. Attaching themselves to building structures usually, they generally situate themselves in the middle of the web--an intimidating presence at about a half an inch to an inch in size--and face downward, waiting for their prey.  They hunt at night, eating a massive amount of mosquitos, yay for orb weavers!   If not in the center of the web, they're hanging out nearby off to the side with a thread of silk attached to them as a warning system, like a bell on the door of a store.  Also awesome. So, if you see one in your yard, take moment to watch them work.

Orb weaver doing what it does best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lunar Exploration Postponed to Saturday, Nov. 1, 7:30--9:30pm

Unfortunately, the weather is not going to cooperate this evening.  There's a front moving through that's going to bring winds and cloud cover that will make viewing the moon impossible.  The good new is that on November 1, the moon will once again be in the perfect place in the sky for viewing. We'll be at Old North Durham Park at 7:30pm with telescopes at the ready, so please come join us.
In the meantime, if you want to do a little moon gazing online, check out this article and the related images: