Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sun Dogs

The other evening I was traveling to a public star watch my astronomy club was having. Now one thing you do not want for an evening of star gazing is clouds. And there were clouds.

But if there are going to be clouds, at least let them be colorful.

Like these sundogs. Or was it one sundog that was fading in an out? All I know is that I pulled over twice to take pictures. Alas all I had was a digicam.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This past Sunday I went to see a visitor from the arctic. I didn't have to travel quite as far as the bird did, a mere sixty miles for me. I didn't even leave New Jersey to see it. (Well, technically I did, as the GPS took us into Pennsylvania for part of the trip. But I didn't have to go that way.)

The bird was at the Merrill Creek Reservoir, below the main dam.

Way below. We first spotted the bird sitting in this rock outcrop, helped by a number of other birders all looking in the same direction. It was surprisingly obvious.

The bird was quite cooperative, sitting out in the open, and there were a number of folks taking pictures. but we were all over a hundred meters distant. So some folks tried using scopes as lenses; I with just my 400 mm lens (I gotta get a bigger lens, when will Santa ever deliver?).

As we made our way down a rather steep trail, a fox spooked the owl, and it landed on the boulder field behind the dam. At least that's the story we were told. We missed the excitement, the owl out of view as we started down the trail.

It is a gorgeous bird. And a life bird for me. Hopefully it won't be the last. Every few years, in cycle with the lemming population, the snowy's primary food source, there is an irruption of owls heading south. So far this year birds have been seen across southern Canada and the northern United States. And as far south as New Jersey.  Maybe I'll have that new lens for the next one.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


That big white blotch in the middle is the overexposed moon. The color rings are a lunar corona. A rare sight for me, it is devilishly difficult to photograph, the colors subtle and dim, the moon bright.

Curiously, I made these images on 11/20/2010, exactly one year ago. I had copied them to my hard drive and forgotten about them. I stumbled upon them yesterday. I wonder what else I've got filed away on my hard drives, waiting to be rediscovered?

Saturday, November 19, 2011



Flying back from California to New Jersey I had the window seat. And somewhere around Texas I saw a disk of light floating in the sky, keeping pace with our plane. A UFO perhaps? Maybe a top secret device out of Area 51? A Foo Fighter?

Nope. Just the sun. And ice crystals.

It is not obvious but there are thin clouds between the plane and the ground. Clouds composed of ice crystals, small hexagonal plates. And these plates act like tiny mirrors. When the conditions are right the mirrors line up and just like on the jet engine, reflect the sun.

This image of the sun is known as a subsun. Subsuns are essentially very compact solar pillars. Most are smeared, elongate, due to the fluttering of the crystals as they fall. But here the reflection is very round meaning the crystals very falling smoothly.

I've flown quite a bit and this is the first subsun I've seen. I doubt anyone else on the plane noticed it, mainly because they weren't looking. Which is a pity, because as a wise man once said, you can observe a lot by just looking.

(The wise man was Yogi Berra.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Above and Below

Here on the east coast of the US, we have proper squirrels. Which is to say they spend their time up in the trees.

Like this red squirrel. This little guy was one of a pair at Rushton Farm this past Saturday. (We originally thought they were flying squirrels. The folks who were leading the trip were surprised to find red squirrels at the farm.)

Out west the squirrels go about things all wrong, living in holes in the ground!

As with this California ground squirrel, seen here in it's burrow.  What's it think it's a rabbit?

I spotted this fellow, and many others, in Rancho San Antonio county park in San Jose, California. I had to be very patient as this individual was rather skittish. I only had a short lens with me, and I was forced to inch slowly towards the hole. And with each step he'd dive down and I'd have to wait for him to slowly poke out again. Others were not so timid, generally ignoring the crowds at the park.


Including the chipmunks, there are close to seventy species of squirrel in North America. And most of them are of the ground variety. So I seems my eastern tree climbers are the eccentrics, not those crazy California squirrels.

But squirrels will always be denizens of the trees to me. What are they to you?


At us, this horse was. 

While we were looking at the hawk in the tree behind and to the left.

See it?

How about now?

A red-tailed hawk, in case your were wondering.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Four and Twenty

Give or take a couple thousand.

I visited a couple of sites in Chester County, Pennsylvania this past weekend, Kirkwood Preserve and Rushton Farm with the DVOC.

We saw a number of cool things. A red fox hunting, pouncing on unseen prey in a field. Red squirrels scampering high up in the trees. And the highlight of the day, three pileated woodpeckers, their red crests glowing, backlit by the morning sun.

But the most impressive sight was a ginormous flock of common grackles. Several thousand strong. In the image above each black streak is a bird. Or two.

We had heard the chattering of the flock while we were wandering about the Kirkwood Preserve. Out of sight, they were just over the hill. It was as we were driving to the Rushton Farm that we saw them, and I snapped the image above. The flock was huge. Our caravan stopping in the road to gawk.

The birds continued on to Rushton Farm, arriving as we did, roosting all about us. We couldn't hear other birds as these birds chattered away.

Even more impressive was he sound of thousands of birds all taking off at the same time. It sounded like a truck driving by. The wings, all flapping at the same time. Very cool.

I've seen large flocks of birds before, and even blogged about one enormous flock. But I'd never been so close, surrounded by the birds. A truly awesome spectacle.