Shallow Thoughts : tags : chlorine

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Mon, 01 Aug 2011

Chlorine and reptiles

We went exploring around the upper Skyline-to-the-Sea trail yesterday. The mysterious chlorine smell was very evident, for the first time this year. Usually I've first noticed it in early July or even June, but although we had some very hot weather in early June this year, it wasn't enough to bring out the smell. I've made no progress in identifying it, but I continue to suspect tanoaks as the chlorine culprit.

It was a good day for reptiles, too. We surprised the biggest ring-necked snake I've ever seen -- well over two feet long and thicker than my thumb (which admittedly isn't saying much). It hastened off the trail before I could get the camera out. Then back at home, I found a small young alligator lizard splayed out in the shade on the sidewalk of our back yard. We've occasionally had alligator lizards here before, but never such a small one. Again, no picture; instead we just watched as it made its way across the yard to hide under the rosemary. I hope it stays around.

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[ 10:31 Aug 01, 2011    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 07 Jul 2010

Huge brood of wild turkeys at Rancho San Antonio

[Wild turkey chicks scuffling] Late last week in the field next to the parking lots at Rancho San Antonio we had a chance to watch a wild turkey family foraging in the dry grass. Two adults and twenty chicks -- that's quite a brood!

Two of the chicks got into a scuffle and kept it up the whole time we watched them. The adults didn't seem interested, but some of the other chicks gathered round to see what was going on.

Photos: Wild turkeys.

Meanwhile, in other nature news, the hot weather has brought the odd unidentified chlorine smell back to the redwood forests. On the weekend, when we were having 90-degree days, the smell was very noticable around Purisima and El Corte de Madera, and on a few parts of Highway 9. Today, though the weather is cooler, the smell was everywhere on the Skyline trail at the top of Sanborn. Still no idea what's producing it.

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[ 19:23 Jul 07, 2010    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 02 Jul 2008

Nature updates

Part of my reason for keeping this blog is keeping records of when particular events happen. If there's no story attached, that doesn't necessarily make for interesting reading. So I'll be brief, and just mention that last weekend the mysterious chlorine smell (Dave calls it a bleach smell) was fairly strong up on Skyline near Castle Rock; but it was not noticable at all the previous super-hot week. There goes the theory that it's temperature related.

And the bullfrogs are back at Walden West pond, though they're not croaking very actively. We even managed to spot a (huge!) tadpole, and the feet of something that looked like a crab but was probably a crayfish.

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[ 22:55 Jul 02, 2008    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 15 Jul 2007

Sniffin' the Oaks

I continue to be puzzled by the mysterious chlorine small that sometimes wafts through the redwood forests during the warm days of summer. It's been fairly noticable for about a month now, though it's patchy and doesn't occur everywhere.

Today's hike was on a trail called "The Lonely Trail", up above Woodside. It was just as well that it was lonely: no one could see Dave and me (mostly me) stopping to sniff bushes and trees and rotting logs and dirt. But alas, no definite culprit emerged. It did seem stronger when we were next to tanoak trees, though that is virtually everywhere in these forests.

Tanoak is short for Tanbark-Oak, or Lithocarpus densiflorus. It's not a true oak (genus Quercus) and is more closely related to chestnuts. But it's like oaks in many ways -- the tough, shiny leaves look a bit like larger versions of our local coast live oak (though the distinctive veins make it easy to tell the two apart). The acorns, too, are very similar to those of live oaks.

The smell definitely wasn't coming from the tanoak leaves, but it did seem stronger near the trunks of some of the tanoaks. I'd always assumed "tan" referred to color (since there are white oaks, black oaks, blue oaks and red oaks, none of which are really those colors). But what if it refers to a tree whose bark is particularly high in tannic acid? What does tannic acid smell like, anyway?

This would still leave some mysteries. Tanoaks are all over bay area parks, not just in redwood forests. What is it about the deep, shady redwood forests which bring out this smell, where it's seldom obvious in the tanoaks of the valleys or rolling hills? Some interaction between tanoaks and redwoods, or ferns? Something that only happens in the shade?

I never found a tree that gave me a clear answer -- I merely picked up subtle hints of chlorine odor from the trunks of a few trees. Returning home to the digital world, I learned that the tanoak tree is indeed very high in tannins, and was extensively harvested for tanning hides. The local native Americans also used the acorns for flour, after leaching them to remove the bitter acid. I found no references to odor from tanoak bark or wood, but a few pages mentioned that the flowers, which hang in catkins, have a foul odor. No one goes into specifics on this odor.

I didn't see many flower catkins on today's hike, but they're listed as appearing in June through October. Looks like I have a research project lined up for the next outing.

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[ 21:30 Jul 15, 2007    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 21 Jun 2007

Notch has had her kids

Whew -- I think our resident squirrel Notch has finally had her long-overdue litter. It wasn't immediately obvious, but she's been deflating over a period of about a week. Since then she's gone off her mad burying frenzy and gone back to eating the nuts we give her.

Last week, while she was still pregnant, she was kind enough to give me a nice nut-burying exhibition right outside the office door, which I got on video. She digs a hole, places the nut in and tries to pack it down, decides it's not deep enough and pulls it out again, digs a little deeper, jackhammers the nut into place with her nose, fills in the hole then does her usual careful job of covering over the hole and arranging leaves on top of it to hide the evidence.

Then she turns and digs up a nut that was buried two inches away and eats it. Video on youtube.

In other squirrel news, on an afternoon hike at Rancho San Antonio yesterday I saw an Eastern Fox squirrel in the trees about halfway up the first leg of the PG&E trail. Foxes are an invasive species (just like Notch and her Eastern Grey friends who inhabit most of the suburbs around here), so that's not good news for the native Western Greys who have traditionally inhabited the park. I suppose it was just a matter of time, since RSA is so close to suburbia, before the non-native eastern squirrels invade and drive out the wimpy native squirrels. It'll be interesting to see whether the western greys can hold their own, or, if not, how long the invasion takes.

In non-squirrel news, we had a few very hot days last week (mid 90s) and fled to the redwood forests to escape the heat one day, and smelled that odd chlorine odor I've noticed before. The smell was fairly faint this time. I asked my Bio teacher about it in class last semester, but he didn't know what it might be, so it remains a mystery for now. I'll be tracking whether it's there on all hot days, or just some, this summer.

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[ 14:49 Jun 21, 2007    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 29 Jul 2006

What's that chlorine smell in the woods?

A few weeks ago, hiking in the woods, I noticed it was happening again: the smell of chlorine in a forest far away from pools or other likely sources of chlorine smell. This happened about this time last summer, too. It only lasts for a few weeks: apparently there's something that blooms briefly in deep redwood forests which smells like pool chlorine.

Whatever it is, it's pervasive and not very localized. I never notice it getting stronger near any of the trails where we hike -- it's more a general odor one notices while driving along forest roads. That makes it hard to narrow it down to a specific plant.

Googling wasn't entirely enlightening, but it did suggest that the most likely culprit is a mushroom. Various species of Mycena mushrooms apparently emit a chlorine-like odor, especially when they're growing on wood. Chlorine smells are also reported from Marasmius oreades, the "fairy ring" or "scotch bonnet" mushroom, and from Amanita chlorinosma and A. polypyramis. But I didn't find anything about widespread seasonal blooms of any of these mushrooms.

So the mystery remains, and I guess all that's left is to remember, when hiking in the redwood forest at this time of year, to stop and smell the mushrooms.

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[ 10:36 Jul 29, 2006    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]