Friday, December 31, 2010


Tonight's Beverage of Choice.
Happy New Year!

Here's hoping ...

... 2011 is a wondrous year ...

... and lots of fun!

Partying butterfly images made at the butterfly garden at the Dinosaur Museum.

Friday, December 24, 2010


I never knew my dad's father, my namesake. He passed away six years before I was born. My dad's mom I knew mostly from Sunday visits to her New York City nursing home. Long drives in those pre-Turnpike days. We went to see a old woman confined to wheelchair who spoke little English. Today she'd have a hip replacement and be up and about. She passed away when I was thirteen. I remember little more about the funeral day than a dinner afterwards in a Chinatown restaurant, the Golden Dragon (a big table with lots of unrecognizable but tasty food, shared by all).

My paternal grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the early 1900's, and had their name changed from "Matava" to "Mattan" by the immigration official who probably couldn't understand a word they said. Family history has it that they were quite proud of their new American name. Grandma Mattan spoke mostly Czech, but spoke English when addressing her grandchildren.

My mom's dad came over from England by ship alone when he was fifteen [correction, I was one generation off, as it was my mom's granddad, my great granddad, who did this. We still have the trunk he brought all his possessions in]. I remember him as grouchy, sitting in his chair smoking a pipe watching TV. Living in Philadelphia, I remember long drives through central Jersey farmland to visit them. Houses now grow on much of that farmland. I also remember that despite the grouchiness, he seemed to like having grandkids around. As long as we didn't make too much noise. He passed when I was young. I remember relatives I didn't know I had at a funeral home where we kids played on the lawn.

The Christmas cactus bloom shown is from a cutting from my grandma's plant. A number of grandkids have cuttings. Mine blooms every year. I leave it on my kitchen windowsill, water it from time to time when doing dishes, and otherwise neglect it. It blooms every year at Christmas time.

My mom's mom came to live with us in 1978. She was there to see me graduate high school and through my college years, admonishing me (in a friendly way) to "do my lessons". We'd watch the Saturday baseball game of the week together, she a Phillies fan, me Mets. I remember her Saturday night baths and card games with my great aunt Marion and my pseudo aunt Julia (lots of arguments!). She passed away in 1995.


Every year the cactus reminds me of grandma and Christmas ...

My mom was in the church choir, so we'd all go to midnight mass.

I liked the music. And the smell of incense. And little else. It was overcrowded and way too long. 

All except grandma, as she would go to the 9:00 am mass Christmas morning. After which she'd come home and have breakfast. And we kids would have to wait until grandma was done before we could open our presents. As grandma had no teeth, it took her longer than most to eat.

Actually, she had a set, but preferred not to use them.

So we wouldn't start opening gifts until some time after ten! We couldn't even go downstairs to look until she was ready. Torture!

Our house is on the corner (my parents still live there, 45 years now), two blocks from the church, so my sisters would go up to the third floor, watching out the windows to see her walking home from mass. As soon as they spotted her they'd yell down to mom to start breakfast. And then we'd wait.

I miss those days.

Merry Christmas Grandma.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The moon moves across the sky. We all know that. But you can't really tell by just looking.

At least most of the time.

But when the conditions are right, you can see the moon move. Like on the night of the total lunar eclipse.

Early on in the partial phase of the eclipse, the moon occulted a magnitude 6.7 star with a name only an astronomy geek could love, SAO 77647.

Now I was still setting up my camera gear at ingress, so I've got no shots, but I was shooting away at emergence. If you look really close at the bigafied version of the image above (click on any image to see a larger version) you'll see a tiny bump at the three o'clock position. (You might want to check the below images first, where the star is much more obvious.)

My friend Joe was observed both the start and end of the occultation. And he made a point of how he really got a sense of the moon's motion as he did. Most of the objects in the night sky are much too distant to show motion in real time. Only objects closer to home, those in our solar system, show any such motion.

More distant objects do show motion, but on the scale of decades or centuries. Not something obvious during a nights observing. The first two shots here were taken less than half a minute apart.

I had a similar experience watching Comet Lulin last year, as it moved past the field stars. Perhaps, like the star name, watching an occultation is something only an astronomy geek can get excited about. But I think that knowing something and then seeing it for yourself is really cool.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"My God, It's Full Of Stars!"

(Click on the image to see a larger version. Do it!)

Go out and look at the sky during the next full moon. What do you think you'll see? It won't look like the image above (maybe it will if you didn't click to bigafy it).

The reason I and three friends traveled to the heart of the Pinelands of New Jersey and braved the sub-freezing temperatures (it hit 28.6 °F = frozen feet) was to see exactly what you see here. The full moon surrounded by stars.

Of course, it required the moon to be eclipsed, to dim the brightness. Otherwise, as you'll see for yourself if you do the exercise noted in the first sentence above, the moonlight washes out all but the brightest of stars. The full moon is the bane of the astronomer's existence. Nature's light pollution.

My friend Laura over at SomewhereInNJ asks, " ... is tonight the longest and the darkest night ever?" Maybe not ever, but it was one of the darkest nights you can have with a full moon. Being on the Winter Solstice (for us northerners) makes the night long, while hiding the moon from the sun makes it dark. It makes for a lovely (if cold!) combination. And a treat to observe.


Astrophotographer extraordinaire and fellow Willingboro Astronomy Club Member and friend Jerry Lodriguss was also out in the Pines, but at a different site form us. His wonderful images can be found here. (Be sure to explore his site for other great images.) We had originally planned to all observe together, but he needed an even darker site to capture those images. Other club members observed from a variety of sites, for most close to or at home. It's been fun reading the reports throughout the day.


My friend and fellow TAREC member Lené at Counting Petals had big plans to snowshoe out to a frozen pond and shoot the spectacle. Alas, she was clouded out (and got to sleep instead). Her story is well worth the read.


Did you brave the cold or look out your bedroom window (like my mom and my friend Barb)? If so leave a comment about your experience.


This image is one of two I took with a wide angle lens. I could not tell if the images were in focus, so I gave up shooting with that lens, and went back to my long lens. I should have stuck with it. 

(More images to come ...)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Have A Winner!

Alas it wasn't me.

But I was close with two second places and an honorable mention. Not bad for my first try.

I entered the DVOC's member photography contest this year, submitting images in the Birds, Natural History, and Scenery categories (but not the Birders category). And I won three out of a potential twelve prizes (25% for those counting at home :-).

Woo Hoo!

The full list of winners is here and a pdf of the winning photos, including my three, can be found here.

(It was a good night for Steve's overall, with seven of a possible 16 prizes going to us guys.)


Monday, December 13, 2010


Technically, this is beer. It is also the result of eight plus hours of work.

It started at 8:00 AM sharp at my friend Russell's house. After a cup of coffee I was put to work. The first job, grinding eight pounds of barley malt. Then a few more pounds of specialty malts, black and chocolate. There was then a lot of boiling and cooling and mixing and siphoning and sanitizing and temperature taking and transferring from one carboy to another.

We avoided calculating how much it cost to make the five gallons you see here. Which even after all this work is still a few weeks from being drinkable.

Well, not all the time was spent working. We had time for music. And food (the walnut 'meatballs' were quite tasty!).

And even a bit of backyard birding.

And of course, we sampled the previous efforts.

We did a lot of sampling.

And I can't wait to sample the brew in the carboy at the top of this post.

It was a great way to spend the day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Together Apart Random Event Club

My friend Lené at Counting Petals has proposed a curious non-get together. It started as a suggestion for a full moon snowshoe trip/ski trip/hike amongst scattered participants. I noted that the next full moon was on December 21st, and in the early morning hours of December 21st (the night of December 20th-21st) there would be a total lunar eclipse visible from North America.

August 2007 Lunar Eclipse

So now we are a small group who will be observing the eclipse at the same time from scattered locations, and blogging about it the next day. This is the first "field trip" for what I've dubbed "The Together Apart Random Event Club" (we may need to work on that name).

I plan to to join friends to photograph the event. I'm not sure what Lené's plans are. I'm not even sure who else is participating.

Want to join in? Just observe the eclipse and let us know about it in the comments. And be sure to provide a link to your blog if you've got one.

And feel free to propose ideas for future field trips!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ducks and Dinner

This past weekend I joined several members of my WSB team for our annual north shore run, which we call "Ducks and Dinner".

We start at Sandy Hook and head south to Belmar, birding the lakes and ponds and ocean at various spots along the way. (This is the reverse of the trip a friend and I took the week prior.) Ducks and other waterfowl find New Jersey a congenial place to spend the winter.

I found it cold, it didn't break freezing all day, and windy (but that's ok, I like cold).

We end the day at a nice warm restaurant.

(I like warm too.)

Here's some of what we saw. See if you can tell which are ducks and which are not. Bonus points for species names.

Good luck!



3. and 4. 
(A subtle difference.)

(I've no idea the species.)








13. and 14.
(Hint: 13 is a repeat.)








Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And I got proof!

I visited two banding operations this year,  for hummingbirds and saw-whet owls. The hope of these banders is that the birds will be found. And by being found shed some light on the lives of these creatures.

I found a couple of birds.

I know these as Tundra Swans, but the certificate below calls them "Whistling Swan". I don't know who came up with that name, but these birds don't whistle. They bark. Sounds like a pack of dogs from a distance.

The well dressed bird in the image above was visiting the North Slope of Alaska when it was banded (on my birthday!).

The bird with the gold choker is a Greater Snow Goose. Until I got the certificate I didn't know there were greater and lesser snow geese. My something new for the day.

This bird spends its summers in Canada. And winters in New Jersey.

You can get your own fancy certificate, suitable for blogging, in just two easy steps. First find a bird with a band. Second, go here and enter the band number. It's just that easy. Good luck!