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Field Notes

Odds and ends


The summer continues to rush along toward its inevitable end.  School will start soon and homeowners will get serious about cutting firewood.  Canning and freezing of garden produce is about to get into full swing and high school football and soccer are just around the corner. Now would be a good time to take a quick look back at the season.

The stargazer lilies are just about finished blooming while the “naked ladies” are just hitting their stride in all their barren glory.  The purple of the Ironweed adds a regal touch to the brushy bottom land and is contrasted by the goldenrod.  The wild clematis is making its presence known as its clusters of tiny white flowers climb up and over the fence rows.

It has been a cool and dry summer here in Arbovale and gardens are fair at best.  First cutting of hay for the farmers was very slim, much behind last year’s crop, and second cutting looks even slimmer.  In fact several local farms have sacrificed the second cutting by turning the cattle into the fields.  Pastures were poor and it was either that, or feed hay.  And some farms have had to do that also.

There has been a bumper crop of Japanese Beetles this year and they have hammered the apple trees and grapevines.  I awoke one morning early to a kind of clicking noise bordering on a chirp and found the ground under the apple tree covered by grackles.  Most birds avoid hard shelled beetles but these large, black gregarious birds were wolfing down beetles as if they were starving.  The chirp chorus may have been involuntary as they gagged down the bitter beetles.  They could have stayed there all day but choose to move on and look for something more palatable.

Recently, bears have been more visible on the observatory lands.  A sow with three cubs was seen crossing the road near the 140 foot telescope last week, probably checking out the scrub apple and cherry crop.  Also the spikey broom sedge that covers much of the old farm land, harbors quite a few dewberries as well as grubs and insects in its understory.  This is a good place for young bears to learn to forage on their own.  The rust colored, dry sedge (or sage, as some folks call it) often looks like it has been raked, and much of it has been raked by tiny little black claws looking for tidbits.

The white oaks appear to have a decent crop of acorns.  They need a little more rain to help them fill out and make the squirrels, deer and turkeys happy.  The red oaks may be scarce as this year’s acorn crop would come from bloom in May 2013 which was damaged by frost.  Higher on the mountains the red oak may produce a better crop.

The Perseids, one of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year, will be ending this week.   The full moon will degrade and limit the show somewhat this year, but head out early after sunset and look to the northeast and you could be rewarded with sightings of a few colorful fireballs.

Dave is a telescope operator at the NRAO and can be contacted at

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