The Youghiogheny River is famous for whitewater rafting near Ohiopyle but there’s a tributary downstream where white water is bad.
On the GAP Trail north of Buena Vista — near marker 121 — you can hear a rushing waterfall before you see it. When you reach its location it’s not a pretty sight. The waterfall stains everything white.
Early this month I looked at the water and its outflow in the Youghiogheny River and discovered that the water is clear and colorless, though it leaves a white residue on everything it touches.
Here are some closer looks.
The water is clear because it’s acidic. The residue is from abandoned mine drainage (AMD), a problem that pollutes more than 2,500 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams.
As water from the abandoned mine travels downhill it blends with clean water that raises the pH (i.e. lowers the acidity). At some point the diluted mine water isn’t acidic enough to dissolve aluminum sulfate so the aluminum precipitates out as white residue.
On a recent trip past Exit 163 on Interstate 70, I was intrigued by the name Amaranth. Two towns in Canada, one in Portugal, and one in Fulton County, Pennsylvania have that name. What does it mean?
“Amaranth” is a flower that never fades, a reddish dye, or — primarily — a grain-like food native to the tropical Americas. It was a staple of the Central American diet until the Spanish Conquistadors outlawed it when they conquered the Aztecs in 1521.
Back then the grain played a supporting role in religious human sacrifice. Eerily similar to the Eucharist in which Jesus told his disciplines to consume bread and wine symbolizing his body and blood, the Aztecs performed human sacrifices and ate cakes of amaranth mixed with real human blood.
The Spanish abolished all of that. The penalty for growing amaranth was death. But the plant survived. It became a weed.
One of the weediest in the Amaranthus genus is red-rooted pigweed or green amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus), a 1-6 foot annual whose flowers bloom in bristly spikes in August (photo at top). This patch is in a German asparagus field.
Today’s blog about sinks and traps is not about plumbing …
Last week Michelle Kienholz noticed that the mockingbird family near her office was under predation pressure again. In June half the family was eaten by a red-tailed hawk. On Friday two flightless young were frightened to the ground. Michelle put them in a thick bush and hoped for the best. I thought to myself, “That place is a biological sink for mockingbirds.”
Like a sink hole, shown at top, a biological sink is where a species breeds but the habitat works against them so they always fail to produce enough young to replace themselves. The population sinks at that site.
A sink can be offset by a high quality habitat called a biological source where the population more than replaces itself. If the sources equal the sinks the population remains stable. If the sources outweigh the sinks the population grows. This balancing act is called source-sink dynamics.
Sometimes a sink is so attractive to breeders that they’re drawn to it in large numbers even though they always fail. These ecological traps cause localized population crashes.
A good example of an ecological trap is the effect that outdoor lights have on mayflies.
Mayflies lay their eggs on water, often at night. To find water in the dark they look for the polarized light reflection of the moon on water. Unfortunately, our outdoor electric lights are like thousands of moons that reflect off artificial polarizing surfaces — asphalt, cars, windows, etc. The mayflies mistake these false surfaces for huge bodies of water and land there to lay eggs. The locations are both sinks and traps. All the mayfly eggs are wasted.
The number of mayflies that fall for these traps can be astonishing. In June 2015 in Wrightsville, PA on the Susquehanna River, there were so many mayflies on the Route 462 bridge that the surface became slippery with dead mayfly bodies. They had to close the bridge.
I suspect that if they’d turned off the streetlights while the bridge was closed, the trap would have disappeared, the mayflies would have gone elsewhere, and there would have been less to clean up.
(credits: video from WGAL-TV via YouTube. photo of car with mayflies by Rona Proudfoot on Flickr Creative Commons license. All other photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)
This news is so old that I’m amazed I didn’t learn it until last month.
Weed killers save time but researchers have known for decades that their use is linked to cancer in dogs.
2,4-D is a widely used weed killer that’s been around since the 1940s. It kills broadleaf weeds by causing uncontrolled growth in them, sort of like cancer in weeds.
Why study dog cancer?
Of course we love our dogs and want to know about their illnesses, but there’s an additional reason to study dog cancer. Canine malignant lymphoma (CML) is so similar to non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) in humans that CML is used as a model for NHL.
A 2012 study showed a 70% higher risk of dog cancer (CML) in households that used professionally applied lawn chemicals. Fortunately, they found that flea and tick controls are unrelated to the risk of CML. Click here for the study.
And a 2013 study found an increased risk of bladder cancer in dogs exposed to professionally applied lawn chemicals. Click here for the study.
There’s a growing body of evidence that lawn chemicals — especially 2,4-D — are bad for humans. I didn’t realize that for 27 years we’ve known they’re bad for dogs.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
You can’t see our bad air anymore but some days you can smell it. Yesterday was one of those days.
The Smell PGH map above (May 2) has a colored triangle for every air quality report made on the crowd-sourced app. The darker red the triangle, the worse the air smelled to the person who made the report to the Allegheny County Health Department. At the bottom right, May 2 has a black square above it (bad air!). So do May 1 and April 27. You can see our smelly days.
The reports are easy to make. I downloaded the app and followed the directions at the Smell PGH website:
Rate the air with a color
Describe it. For instance: industrial, rotten eggs, etc
If you have symptoms from the air, describe them
Click [Smell Report]
As soon as you press [Smell Report] your colored triangle sends a message to the Allegheny County Health Department and the app shows you the current map. Don’t forget to enter your name and email address under Settings for more impact.
I used to think I was alone when I noticed bad air days. The app has changed my outlook. Find out more at the Smell PGH website.
p.s. The weather changed. Today, May 3, 2018, is much better.
How can we tell when similar birds are actually different species?
In the jungles of Indonesia the male superb bird of paradise (Lophorina superba) is famous for his courtship dance. To attract a mate he calls loudly, unfurls his jet black feathers and iridescent green apron, and starts to dance. If he’s really good at it, the female accepts him.
The bird’s color and dance are so mesmerizing that ornithologists at first dismissed the differences between the eastern and western birds. Now they’ve looked more closely.
This video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows how the western bird’s behavior convinced scientists to split the superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina superba) into two species.
The dance makes a difference. The bird with the sidestep gait is now called the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda).
p.s. Volgelkop is the name of a peninsula in western New Guinea, Indonesia where this bird lives. On the map the peninsula is shaped like a bird’s head. Vogel+kop means “Bird head” in Dutch.
Interesting as this is, there’s not room in my brain to keep up with it. eBird will do it for me if I enter all my sightings. I’ll have to backload my birding history to keep up with splitting scrub jays.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
What do you do with a stale loaf of bread? Do you feed it to the birds? Uh oh! Did you know that bread is bad for birds?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to poison them. It’s just that for birds bread has no nutritional value. They’ll fill up on it instead of the food that’s good for them.
Bread is junk food for birds. So are crackers, chips, french fries, donuts, cereal and popcorn, to name a few. These foods are especially bad for ducklings because their little bodies have special nutritional needs.
Since the birds won’t control their own junk food intake, you shouldn’t feed them bread. This isn’t an edict from the Food Police. It’s just common sense because …
If you’re the only person feeding the birds you can give them good food all the time (see list below) and feed bread sparingly as a junk food treat and it won’t cause trouble.
But at places where lots of people are feeding bread to birds, your bread adds to the problem. Here’s an visual example. Do you recognize the spillway at Pymantuning?