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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Insects, weather, fish, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.

Tallahassee, FL - March 24, 2013.

Lots of rain yesterday and overnight until about 9 AM this morning.  Our lake appears to be a bit more full than it was yesterday.  Warm and humid today with an expected high of 82.  Has been warmer outside than inside all morning.

Here are a couple of photos of the lake this morning.  Until four weeks ago, most of the center and far side of this part of the lake was either completely covered in emergent vegetation or actually out of the water completely with only a few channels and small pools of open water.  Now it consists of broad patches of open water and other areas with extensive emergent vegetation but no dry areas.

Before I wiped the condensation off the camera

After I wiped the condensation off the camera.
Lake Jackson is a good example of the value of long term detailed observations.  The lake has a long history of periodically draining down sinkholes and then refilling.  Details of this have been discussed in other diaries.  What is important is that a proper understanding of the lake's hydrology and biology requires long term study.  I have lived on the lake for almost 4.5 years.  During that time the southern end of the lake has varied from a genuine swamp, to a heavily vegetated lake.  The central part of the lake drained at the start of last summer and partially refilled very quickly.

For almost a decade prior to my arrival here the lake varied from completely empty to brief periods of being partially refilled.  Shallower parts of the lake became fields and eventually shrubby fields.  Prior to that the lake had an extended period as an open water sandy bottomed lake.

My point is that the nature of the lake and its denizens will be strongly influenced by the timeframe in which observations are made.  'Rare' events such as a prolonged drought or the massive rainfall of Tropical Storm Fay changed the lake from one state to another.  What is 'normal' during one multi-year period is not normal a decade later.

The natural world is full of variability and one way to deal with the variability is to gather lots of data in order to get an idea of the 'typical' situation.  For example if you want to know the 'normal' time for azaleas to bloom in the spring in Tallahassee you would look back at the records from many years and calculate an average.

This is an important value of long term data collection.  But I want to emphasize a second important value - the longer you collect data the more likely you are to encounter something unusual, that could be very important.

For example, back at the start of the month while at St. Joe State Park we stumbled across this Great Blue Heron attempting to eat a snake.

The snake is a Gulf Coast Saltmarsh Snake, Nerodia clarkii clarkii, a species I have never seen before.  I have never seen a heron eating a snake before although I know they do and have seen pictures.  I doubt that snakes form an important part of the diet of herons but it is possible that even if herons ate snakes rarely it is a very important aspect of the biology of these snakes.  Their salt marsh habitat is full of wading birds and even if snakes are a minor component of the heron diet, predation by wading birds could be a very important source of mortality to the snakes.

I am using this example both because I can show off my cool photo and because this is the kind of thing that shows up on the internet a lot.  A lot of these observations may just be odd ball things that aren't ecologically important but some of them might be.

Now let's jump across the country.  This is a species of Phacelia flowering in the Sonoran desert about two weeks ago. The white things are prickly pear spines.   Phacelia is a spring ephemeral, flowering late in the winter.  Winter rains are important to plants in the Sonoran desert, particularly in the western parts of the desert which have little summer rain.  In dry years there may be few or none of these plants in evidence.  In other years they bloom in large numbers.  A really good year can generate seed that will last in the soil for years and keep the population going through dry periods.

This barrel cactus, Ferocactus, can been seen anytime you visit the Sonoran desert.  It  is a long-lived species that survive for extended periods of time on stored nutrients.  If one is uprooted it can survive, lying on the ground with its roots in the air, for months if not years.
Seedling cacti are not so durable and require a fortuitous period of climate in order to become established.  A good season may set the population up with a large number of new individuals and no more may appear for many years.

Now let's change scale a bit.  Below is a photo of the Sulphur Springs Valley in southeastern Arizona.  This particular photo was taken close to the junction of the Kansas Settlement Road and Highway 191.  This habitat would be classified as Chihuahuan desert scrub and is dominated by creosote bush.

Photo documentation of the area in the 19th century reveals that most of the valleys in southeastern Arizona looked like the photo below.  This is in the northeastern part of the valley near to the Chiricahua National Monument.  Extensive arid grassland with relatively little desert vegetation.  Land use patterns have resulted in extensive desertification.  However some patches of Chihuahuan desert in the area apparently predate European colonization.    Only careful long term observation can document habitat shifts and tease apart the different causes.
This is just a sneaky way of showing you a few of my trip photos and also pointing out the value of careful observation over the long term.  My thanks to my fellow bucketeers for embarking on this project.
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