Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In the Sweet Spot

On May 20th, 2012 the Moon crossed paths with the Sun.

And its shadow touched the Earth.

It started in China.

Lingered for five minutes over Tokyo.

Zipped across the Pacific Ocean.

Clipping the Aleutian Islands.

As it headed toward the lower forty-eight.

It came ashore in northern California.

Crossed Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, ...

... and the shadow, traveling in the opposite direction of the setting Sun and Moon, left the surface of the Earth over Texas.

It passed over me in Kanaraville, Utah, the self proclaimed "Sweet Spot".

Where I was joined by several thousand other folks. Not bad for a town of 300 or so residents.

And it lived up to it's billing. It was very sweet indeed.

This was an annular solar eclipse, so called because unlike a total solar eclipse the moon doesn't quite cover the sun, leaving an annulus of light, a ring of fire, around the large black spot which was the moon.

The weather was perfect and the people were friendly. And the town of Kanarraville did a great job of providing viewing areas for an estimated 10,000 visitors. Not bad for a town with no tourist facilities, no hotels, no restaurants.

The eclipse ended with the Sun setting over a hill, as the Moon slid off.

A luminous shark's fin swimming into the night.

 It was almost a perfect day.


At the midpoint of the eclipse, just as the Sun and Moon we coincident, my camera battery died. I had a replacement, but I missed the shot, although not the view. And I did not have the right adapter to image through my hα solar scope, through which the view was quite spectacular.

I'll be ready next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

... to a Kiss

Of the celestial kind.

Can you see it? At four o'clock? (You may need to bigafy it.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prelude ...

The Sun, May 20, 2012.

We were waiting. Anxiously. At the "Sweet Spot",  Kanarraville, Utah.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dirt-Land Bird

In my last post I lamented that my grassland points are mostly dirt-land points and how the birds avoid these sites. Well not all of the grassland birds avoid these sites.

The horned lark, one of the target survey species, is a grassland bird that prefers bare ground.

Maybe we need a new dirt-land bird category. You read it here first.

Booming and Zooming

I do grassland bird surveys for NJ Audubon as part of the Citizen Science program, which means I get up very early (hmmm ...) and go looking for birds. My survey points are control points, which mean I get mostly tilled farm fields, in other words dirt fields. No self respecting grassland birds spend any time in dirt fields. So I wake up early and don't get to see any birds. And I drive over an hour for this privilege.

So why do I do it? Sadly, grassland birds are on the decline, due mostly to massive habitat loss. Grasslands are giving way to houselands. So New Jersey, along with the federal government, has a number of programs to encourage farmers to maintain fallow fields and delay mowing of hay fields until after the fledging of these birds. But to know if the programs are working requires data. Both on farms in the program and farms not in the program, to see if there is any significant difference. Thus my dirt-land points.

But there are perks. And one is that I get to do surveys at one of the last major grassland areas in New Jersey. At a location that might surprise you. This location is in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. And it is a US Navy base. It is also the site of a major air disaster, the crash of the Hindenburg. This location is the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, which is now part of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

And there are plenty of grassland birds at the base. It is one the few (only?) breeding sites in the state for upland sandpiper.

And nighthawks breed there.

Which means the military are not only the only boomers and zoomers.

There are a seven survey routes at the base, and on the last survey of the season we meet at the drop zone. A central location which coincidentally is the breeding area for uppies and nighthawks (among others). And while we saw and heard upland sandpipers, they were to distant to get any photos. But the nighthawks put on a show.

Male nighthawks have a dive bomb type display where from a moderate hight they zoom toward the ground and when they pull up they make a booming sound.

One of NJ Audubon's other projects is a study of nighthawk breeding, to which end they search for the bird's ground nests. At the time of our visit the young had fledged, but they were still hanging about near the nesting spots. And as we walked about the area birds, invisible not three meters away, would pop into flight. There were eight of us, and not once did we see a bird on the ground.

Some would fly off, others would zoom across the sky, chasing each other. And some would boom down on us. It was very cool.

The combination of speed and closeness made it hard to get photos, so most of my shots are of them after the dive.

Or flying away.

And thus ended another grassland bird survey season.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Falling, Falling ...

I spent this past Labor Day weekend exploring Ricketts Glenn State Park with my girlfriend Patty and five of her friends, all women. It was nice. We rented two cabins at a local camp ground, (one with a kitchen!) planning to hike, swim, kayak, bird, drink beer, and maybe sit around an relax a bit. We succeeded in all but the water sports, although we did get wet.

The cabins were originally a religious retreat, circa World War II, and appeared to have the original paint (albeit not much of it). The interior was rather bare bones as well. No matter to me, as we were there to be outside, so they were just a place to sleep, but we agreed we were unlikely to return.

We drove up on Saturday in three groups due to varying schedules. Patty and I arrived first and got our choice of the cabins. And we got the one double bed, everyone else getting bunk beds (none of which were all that comfortable). The beer arrived with the second group and we relaxed around the fire that evening enjoying a bottle or two.

The main attraction of Ricketts Glen is the water falls. Twenty-two of them along two trails, Ganoga Glen and Glen Leigh, which can be done either as a 3.2 mile loop, or separately as two 6 mile hikes. We woke up bright and early, much too early for a holiday weekend, to hike the trails.

Since there was a variety of levels of hiking experience and physical shape among the group, we decided to hike down the Ganoga Glen side first, a little over six miles, have lunch, and then do the Glen Leigh side, another six miles, in the afternoon. While the overall distance is greater, it is all down hill, hence the appeal. We hit the trail at around 7:30 am (I told you it was too early!). Three of us, myself included, were photographers. And we lingered at scenic spots, composing and shooting. Others, the true hikers in the group, motored down the trail. It took us slow pokes around four hours to make it down.

It was a great day for hiking and photography, overcast and cool. And the falls, while not overflowing with water, one needs to be there in the spring for that, were still very much worth seeing.

So here's what made us linger ...

Mohawk Falls

Oneida Falls

Cayuga Falls

Ganoga Falls

Delaware Falls

Mohican Falls

Tuscarora Falls

Erie Falls

Harrison Wright Falls

Sheldon Reynolds Falls

Murray Reynolds Falls

(There are 13 falls on the Ganoga Glen trail, but somehow I missed two of them. Curious ... maybe with the low water levels they didn't appear fallish enough?)

We reassembled for lunch and then our plans went awry. Perhaps it was the early start, perhaps it was those beers around the fire, perhaps it was the crappy beds in the cabins, but the order of business after lunch was lounging around, some folks even napping. So we decided to do the Glen Leigh side Monday morning.

Alas, that was not to be.

Some of us, the birders, got up early to go birding. But the weather did not cooperate. Nor the birds. The day began cool, overcast, and drizzly, turning to rain when we were driving back. The non-birders had gone hiking, and they reported that the trails were quite slippery in the rain.

Here's a view of the trail above Delaware Falls, visible along the right side of the image. All smooth rock. You may have noticed sections of the trail in the images above as well (be sure to bigafy them).

Trail above Delaware Falls

Smooth rock, rain, camera gear, not to mention flesh and bone. Not a good combination. So the rest of the falls will need to wait for another day. Perhaps in spring with more water. Perhaps in fall with more colors. But someday for sure.