Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, you have probably noticed that the days are getting longer. With more hours of daylight than the short and cold days of December, the staff here at SOS has been getting pretty excited about spring! Over the past few weeks, we have been noticing some undeniable signs of a fast approaching change in seasons. I invite you to join me in discovering three recent signs of spring, including the shifting night sky, the early emergence of some spring buds and flowers, and the increasing number of frog encounters up here at Sierra Outdoor School. Enjoy, and happy spring!
Fuchsia-Flowering Gooseberry, of the Grossulariaceae family, was a close runner up as it was our second flower to bloom this season, also outside Juniper dorm’s south facing walls. Also called by its Latin name, Ribes speciosum, this flower is upside-down and is red and tube shaped.
We have also been lucky enough to see the emergence of purple Ceanothus flowers as well as buds on our Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Check out the pictures below! Although it has been springtime in the valley for quite a few weeks now, Sierra Outdoor School is about 4000 feet above sea level, and has a slightly later spring than other parts lower in California. More and more flowers are emerging every day around here and we can’t wait for the forest to be in full bloom!
Although longer days means more fun outside, the onset of spring and summer also means less time to see the night sky and the wonders it holds. The past few months, we have had the pleasure of showing students “the Winter Hexagon” during star watches. The hexagon is an easy way to identify 6 different constellations in the night sky, starting with Canis Major, and moving counterclockwise to Orion’s foot, through Taurus, Auriga, and Gemini to finally end the hexagon on Canis Minor.
Although the winter hexagon is disappearing, Leo is rising closer to sunset, and mars will soon be visible in the constellation Virgo earlier in the evening. The earth is making its orbit around the sun and we are quickly approaching the vernal equinox, or spring equinox. This year the spring equinox will be March 20th, at which time the earth will be receiving about equal hours of daylight and darkness. When the Summer Solstice comes around on June 21st, we will have the longest day of the year, or for you sky watchers out there, the day with the shortest night of the year. After the summer solstice, the days will start to shorten again, and nights will get longer until the autumnal equinox in September, followed by the winter solstice in December. The diagram below portrays the earth’s orbit over the 12 months of the year. Notice the tilt of the earth in the diagram to the right (towards the North Pole) and how the northern hemisphere receives more sunlight in June than it does in December. This tilt of the earth is the cause of our seasons and is responsible for the shorter or longer day and night lengths each day of the year. We also started Daylight Savings Time (DST) this past weekend and now we have an extra hour of daylight in the evenings until 2am on November 2nd! Spring is arriving quickly and summer is just around the corner. J
In the past month, we have had a variety of species of plants start to bud and bloom. Our first flower to bloom on campus this year was the Silver Bush Lupine of the Fabaceae family. Otherwise known as Lupinus albifrons, this flower was spotted the end of February outside Juniper Dorm’s southern entrance.
|Silver Bush Lupine|
Around Sierra Outdoor School, we have been hearing and seeing Pacific Tree Frogs more and more over the past few months. The Pacific tree frog can begin singing as early as December in CA, and sometimes will sing until August. Pacific Tree Frogs have a very distinct call that is recognizable to even the untrained ear as it is featured in many movies and soundtracks with frog sounds. These frogs have a loud “wreck-eck” or “rib-bit” call that they repeat over and over, frequently in large choruses.
Since January, we have been hearing these songs coming from frogs up the hill at the Sierra Outdoor School pond. They seem to sing more loudly as evening sets in, and continue to chorus through the night. After researching these incredible creatures a bit more, we found some interesting facts we wanted to share about these unique amphibians. You might already know that frogs are born in the water as eggs. When they hatch they are called tadpoles and remain under water until they mature. After growing legs and lungs, the froglets can begin to spend time on land where they finish the rest of their life as a mature frog. Frogs are found on every continent except Antarctica and are known to be indicator species because they are both predators and prey for many animals. They eat mainly insects, worms, minnows and spiders but don’t need to drink water… because they absorb it through permeable skin! Frogs are definitely unique and interesting creatures.
Unfortunately, since 1980, frog populations worldwide have been on the steady decline. Due to climate change, habitat loss, pollution, and a nasty disease called Chytrid fungus, frog species populations have been decreasing and have even gone extinct in many places. Historically, only one species of amphibian has gone extinct per 250 years; however, the rate has drastically increased since 1980. Chytrid fungus makes the skin thicken, which for amphibians that drink water through their skin, is a huge problem. Amphibians affected with Chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, are no longer able to absorb water, electrolytes, and salts through their skin and become sick or die as a result of it. For more information on Chytrid fungus please visit this helpful website: http://www.amphibianark.org/the-crisis/chytrid-fungus/.
In the last two decades about 170 species of amphibians including frogs have gone extinct. At least 2,400 more species are going through major declines in population numbers. These numbers are expected to rise unless we can help find a solution to the Chytrid fungus, habitat destruction, and pollution problems posed by our modern world. Recently, researchers from the University of Colorado have been exploring the possibility to save frogs and bats from these diseases using bacteria. You can read more about this exciting new research here: http://www.summitdaily.com/news/10581819-113/chytrid-frogs-bacteria-bats.
We feel extremely lucky to have frogs up here around our pond and are thrilled that so many kids and adults have had the pleasure of hearing their chorus at night. Hopefully you will also get to experience these beautiful creatures when you visit SOS!
If you have already visited Sierra Outdoor School, we encourage you to look for signs of spring in your own backyard! Trees will be blooming, days will keep getting longer, and weather will be getting warmer.
If you are heading to SOS in the near future, we are excited to have you and hope you will be able to observe some of the signs of spring we have experienced lately.
-Shadow (Lara Getz)