Friday, September 18, 2015

Invasive Aliens and Alien UFO

A splendid late summer view of my preserve's meadows
A former member of my land stewardship staff, Mike, moved on five years ago to become the land manager at a preserve owned by another land conservancy in our area.  I consider Mike a colleague, and I contacted him when Temple University (where I am an adjunct faculty member) needed an individual to teach a class on invasive organisms.  It was a match made in heaven (both for Mike and Temple), and Mike is now teaching the class for a second year.
Mike (second from right) holding forth on restoration strategies
On Thursday, September 17, Mike brought his students to my preserve to examine invasive plants (no shortage of them here, unfortunately) and our organization's restoration projects.  I spent the morning outside (a rarity for me) accompanying the class as we walked about three miles through the preserve.
Handling (carefully!) an American chestnut burr
One of our stops was a reforestation area planted in 1994.  We incorporated pure American chestnut trees into the reforestation project, and now the trees are 30 feet tall and producing fruits (more appropriately called burrs).  The trees are all infected with the non-native chestnut blight fungus, but they are pumping out burrs like crazy nonetheless.  The burrs are really prickly and painful to hold; I don't know how squirrels manage to get them open.
Preparing for liftoff
After the walk, Mike brought out his drone to show the students how these devices can be useful for examining the landscape from the air.  He flew the drone about one mile away and returned it to the launch site, a tour that took 9 minutes.  The drone has the capacity to fly for about 18 minutes on one battery charge.
UFO spotted over the preserve
Mike remotely piloted the drone to fly over the meadows and woodlands of the preserve, and then to circle the tower on the right (one mile distant) in the image above.  All the while, the drone was sending back remarkably clear video that Mike recorded on his iPad.  He promised to share the video with me; if he does so, I will post it later.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Interesting read. They've been using drones over here to count nesting birds like bitterns in reed-beds.

packrat said...

I've got to admit that drone is pretty cool. If I were a kid I'd be begging my parents to let me get one, and my parents would be denying my request. I love that drones are being used to further scientific research, but technology is almost always a two-edged sword; the idiots who are flying drones close to jet airliners and close to firefighting aircraft are just insane.

robin andrea said...

Very interesting using a drone like that. I have mixed feelings about drones, but when used wisely like this, they really can produce some informative images. Looking forward to the video if you get to post it.

Scott said...

John: Counting bird nests in in accessible places (like reed beds) is a great use for drones. I wonder about the impact of the drones on the animals, though. A few weeks ago, I heard a radio report about researchers in Montana (USA) who already had radio collars on black bears to assess their movements as part of another study. They decided that this was a perfect opportunity to see if flying drones nearby would have an effect on the bears' movements. In nearly every case, the bears just ignored the drones, but in one instance, a bear ran for a few hundred feet and then stopped and stared at the drone. In terms of bears, the drones don't seem to have much of an impact.

Scott said...

Packrat: My colleague had ALMOST convinced his employer to buy the drone for him ("Pleeeease, daddy!"), but at the last minute the employer backed out. My colleague had his heart set on the drone, though, so his parents and wife bought it for him as a birthday present. I don't know how much it cost, but it must have been expensive. Flying drones around aircraft is insane. Kali's first reaction after she watched the video was, "Don't you think the folks at the church would dislike this intrusion?" The drone itself is virtually invisible against the bright sky (so I don't think the device is visually bothersome), but it sounds like a swarm of bees that you can hear from about 200 feet away or closer.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: If people start to fly drones over our open fields for recreation, we're going to have to enact a rule against it because they're aurally very irritating (see my comment to Packrat). I can see how they would be useful, though (see my comment to John). I have posted the link to the 9-minute video of last Thursday's flight on a new Blogger post.