Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blame a Male

If everything outside at your house turned yellow over the last few weeks, including your car, then blame a male. Of course males often get blamed for just about everything that goes wrong in this world, and every once in a while we actually deserve it. In this case, the evidence is in the air…a male of a species is guilty.

As you probably know, the yellow dust covering everything that doesn’t move this time every year is pine pollen. Pine trees produce large (very large) amounts of pollen each spring in order to ensure that the seeds get fertilized and the species can survive. You may not know this, but pine trees have both male and female pine cones. The male cones are usually smaller and often not even noticed, but the pollen that they produce is. So, if your car is yellow, blame a male.

Cloud of Pollen from whacking a pine tree

Now, if your seasonal allergies are kicking up with all of this yellow pine pollen, don’t blame a pine tree. Most people think that the pollen they see is the culprit causing their sneezing, but other male agents are at work here. Pine pollen is large and heavy and drops quickly to the ground which is why it coats everything. But because it drops out of the air quickly and also because it has a waxy coating, it usually isn’t a cause of allergies. The main cause of your sneezing is all of the other trees that are producing pollen at the same time.

Pines and their relatives are non-flowering plants called Gymnosperms. The Angiosperms or flowering trees, grasses, and plants are the ones that cause the most allergic reactions. Although their flowers are tiny and easily overlooked, the oaks, maples, hickorys, etc. are main cause of hay fever this time of year, not the pines. Believe it or not, there may be 50-100 times the amount of oak pollen in the air right now than pine pollen. It is just much smaller and less conspicuous than pine pollen. Later in the year other flowering plants, especially grasses and ragweed cause your hay fever. Bright yellow goldenrod usually gets the blame but the small, plain-looking flowers of ragweed are the real bad guys. Things are not always as they seem.

So if you your car is yellow and your eyes are itching, don’t worry, the tree pollen will soon be gone and everything will be right in the world again. Oops, but then it will be time for the grass pollen and later the ragweed pollen…again all of these irritations are caused by the males of the species. Men! What would you do without them?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Something Looney on our local lakes

Something looney is going on at Canterbury Lake and it isn’t one of the local residents. Dave Kittell called me a year ago, almost to the day, to tell me that there was a Common Loon on Lake Canterbury. He said the loon was there about the same time the year before also. Now, this is a big deal because loons don’t live within 1000 miles of Lake Canterbury in Fairfield Glade. But they do migrate through here on their way to Northern New England, Canada, and Alaska to breed and spend the summer. Dave’s loon won’t be here long, so if you want to see it, drive across the road on the dam at the lake. A friend of mine, Sharon who lives on Lake Dartmoor recently told me that she has seen a loon on that lake several times.

Loons are unique ducks for several reasons. Probably the most interesting is their eerie wavering call. If you have never heard one, you can go on the internet and search for “call of the loon” to hear this beautiful song. It is one of the best sounds in nature. Loons are big black and white ducks that float very low in the water. They have long pointed bills that they use to catch fish, crustaceans, and amphibians. They are great swimmers, but because their feet are located far back on their bodies for swimming they can barely walk on land. If you ever see one walking on land they look kind of like a penguin, their closest bird relative.

Common Loons are rarely seen around here, but the most common duck in east Tennessee and probably most places in the U.S. are Mallards. These are the green headed males and the non-descript females that you see on any body of water. And of course we have Canada Geese, not everyone’s favorite because they can slime a yard overnight with their droppings.

But with our eleven quiet lakes here in Fairfield Glade we have the privilege of having quite a few Wood Ducks. Male Wood Ducks are probably the most colorful and good looking ducks anywhere. And even better, they readily will nest in boxes mounted over or near the water. Many lakeside residents have mounted Wood Duck boxes with great success. A year ago a friend of mine, Mark, was mounting a box over the water at his house. I sent him an article that explained that the hole size of the box was determined by the cross section size of a typical female Wood Duck breast. Mark emailed back that he had just shot a Wood Duck and that as soon as it was frozen he would saw it in half to make sure he had the right size hole in his nest box. Of course he was joking….I think.

In addition to our one lonely Loon, several other kinds of ducks migrate through here that we don’t see any other time. I saw about 10 Buffleheads on Spring Lake last week and last year there was a pair of Ring-necked ducks on Mirror pond for several weeks. Keep your eyes open this spring and you might see several other types of migrating ducks. Spring is a great time to enjoy nature…but then so is summer, fall, and winter.