Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas


And on this holiday of holidays, remember to keep Santa in Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Crime Scene Investigation

7:05 AM, Wednesday 12/17/2014. Patty exclaimed, "Look!".

I looked. Out the dining room window. Over the goldfish pond.

There was a cloud of feathers gently floating down.

Neither of us saw the actual event. Only the immediate aftermath.

It was actually very pretty, the feather cloud seemingly hanging in the air.

Of course, I did not have the camera setup and ready to go. So the only shots are of the results, not the incident itself.

We did spot a suspect, a hawk sitting in a branch above the yard. But it had no bird in its talons. So either it had already stashed the victim, or this was just an assault, and our victim had survived.

Nor did we find a body, just feathers. Lots of feathers.

We think the victim was a Dark-eyed Junco, a common (with upwards of forty at times) bird at our feeders.

Alas, we couldn't stay around to investigate further, as we both had other jobs to do.

It was a windy day, and when we got home the evidence was gone.

So all we have to go on are these pictures, taken soon after the incident.

The next day we had a new visitor to the yard, a female Red-Winged Blackbird.

She was perched in our crabapple tree minding her own business when something swopped down. This something:

Suspect #1

What appears to be a juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk, although that ID is tentative. While it did not catch the blackbird, she has not been seen since.

Suspect #2
An adult hawk, sporting some ankle bling. It is either a Sharp-Shinned or a Cooper's Hawk, the jury is still out on that one.

We'll never exactly what happened that morning in December. Or even if it was one of the two suspect hawks.

But we'll be watching. We'll never stop watching.


Update: Collateral Damage

Sadly, it seems that more than one bird was killed when the hawks swept through the yard.

Tufted Titmouse
These two were below our dining room window.

Dark-Eyed Junco
When the hawk swoops through, the birds scatter, flying as fast they can to get away. The reflection of the trees in our window looks like a safe haven, closer than the actual trees that are being reflected from across the yard.

As I mentioned above, at times there are over forty juncos and two dozen or so titmice in our yard. So it is somewhat surprising that we've found only two such casualties. Nevertheless we will be taking steps to make the window less of a hazard for our feathered visitors.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Shine On ...

... or the little lightbulb that could.

Just down the road from the lab was a fire station.

And in that fire station was a light bulb. A very special light bulb. A very old light bulb.

You can see it shining in the photo above, in the center of the image. A bare bulb with a security camera aimed at it.

The bulb has been shining for 113 years.

Someone flipped the switch in 1901. And they haven't turned it off since (perhaps it is stuck?). It has become famous. And it is one of the off beat tourist attractions listed in Roadside America (as was the lab museum and a few other places we stopped along the way). Unlike the lab they did have a small gift shop. With hats and shirts and things. (We made no purchases as we now expected free stuff!.)

Think about it. This bulb has been shining for my entire life. And your entire life. And everybody else's entire life. That's a lot of electricity. And plenty of photons, some of which have been recycled here for your enjoyment.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

At the Lab

Lawrence Livermore Labs to be precise. The place with the warning on the sinks.

While we were there we got to hang with Al.

And play a science game with a creepy video host (I crushed).

And model with a model nuclear warhead. At least I think it was a model, cause there were those warnings in the restrooms ...

It was a curious little museum. With exhibits on nuclear warheads, earthquake predicting, energy production and usage, and global warming. Along with the history of the lab. It was one big room and it took us no more than an hour to see it all. Being a physics geek I found it well worth the visit.

But they had no gift shop. So no model nuclear warhead paperweight for me. Or stickers for our bathroom sink. But we did get free t-shirts.

Here we are modeling them. The woman in charge told us that they couldn't sell us the shirts, as she was not setup to handle money. So she just gave them to us. She had a box full of them in the closet. She had been trying to setup a shop for a while, but the powers that be had yet to give the needed approval. So the shirts stayed in their box in the closet. Except for the three we got of course.

It was a nice stop to break up our trip from Yosemite and Muir Woods.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Good Advice ...

Just sayin' ...

I visit at the nicest places ...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Night Visitor

Now that we live out in the middle of nowhere we are visited by many non-human fellow earthlings. Some of which only come out at night.

Our home came pre-equiped with motion sensor lights. And a game we play is "spot the visitor" any time we notice one wink on. Our most frequent visitor is the wind. Our second most common visitor is a cat, presumably belonging to one of our neighbors.

The third most common visitor is represented by this handsome beast. The image is kinda ghostly, which seems appropriate for a something that goes bump in the night.

Getting a picture is not easy. First you need to spot the creature lurking out in the shadows. Of course, the camera is never at the right window. Focusing in the dark is a bit difficult, as our visitors rarely have the decency pose in the light cone of our spot lights. And those lights have a habit of going out just as you get the camera lined up. And as soon as they notice us the critter is off into the woods.

Still it is fun to try. And sometimes you get good "bad" shots, like this artsy one of this Virginia opossum.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Not Something You See Everyday

How  often do you see peafowl in your neighborhood?

On a neighbor's roof?

Ok, now how often is that peafowl all white?

Probably not that often.

Yeah, this is the only time it has happened to me as well. Ok the second time. But it is the only time I had my camera with me.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Look, Up In The Sky ...

I'm in the habit of looking up. And sometimes I see things like this.

If you look closely you can see two "V" shaped rainbow-ish looking things in this image.

They are two "arcs" that result when sunlight passes through ice crystals. The crystals act like prisms, refracting the light. The shapes of the arcs are also dependent on the crystals.

The lower "V" is an Upper Tangent Arc. This is a relatively common phenomena that I've had the pleasure to observe on a number of occasions. As I noted I like to look up. And as a wise man once said, you can see a lot just by looking.*

The upper "V" is called a Sunvex Parry Arc. And I don't know that I've ever seen one before. And I've certainly never photographed one.

You can learn more about such arcs, and other atmospherics at the wonderful Atmospheric Optics site along with the OPOD. Click either link and enjoy your visit.

* Yogi Berra

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Death in the Pines

Patty and I went wandering about in the woods behind our home this morning. And we came across this.

Not a pretty sight even when alive, this turkey vulture looks downright awful sprawled out on the ground. The odor wasn't all that nice either.

But as the saying goes, even in death there is life. And if you look closely at the image above and the image below you can see that. (If you're up for the challenge, you'll probably need to bigafy the images, which you can do by clicking on them.)

The sharp eyed (and strong stomached; at least you don't have to deal with the stench!) may notice some insect larva. They change position between the two images.

These larva, commonly known as maggots, are performing the same function as the vulture did while alive. They both turn dead animals into live animals as part of nature's clean up crew.

We may not like these creatures and there is no doubt good evolutionary reasons for that. Avoiding decaying animals, and the bacteria they harbor, is probably a good survival strategy. But without them there'd be dead animals piled up all over the place. So the next time you see a group of vultures soaring in the air above or on the ground gathered around a dead beast, be thankful that the local clean up crew is on the job. The world is a less stinkier place because of them.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gone Fishin'

It was the day after Thanksgiving here in the States. That means it time for crowds of people heading to the same spot all trying to get the same thing ...

... pictures of ...

... Eagles!

And Fisherman's Park at the Dam at Conowingo is the place to go. Especially if you live in the mid-Atlantic states. And sometimes even if you don't, as there was a group from Japan snapping away.

Look closely at the shot below. How many eagles can you spot?

I count at least twelve (remember you can always click to bigafy). They are not many places where you can see flocks of eagles in the lower forty-eight.

This is my fourth visit to Conowingo. And the warmest. Albeit still cold. And it was the first time that the photographers out numbered the eagles. Apparently it is still warm enough up north so that the birds are in no hurry to head south.

The people still came to see the birds, although not everyone wanted to be part of the crowd (that water is cold!).

It's called "Fisherman's Park" for a reason. And that's why the birds come.

For the fish! (It's not gonna end well for one in the image above.)

Got 'em!

It doesn't always go the eagles way ...

A big splash all for naught. (And that water is still really cold!)

But most times the fish loses in these encounters.


Our friend Lori came with us this time. And was she ever pumped to see the eagles. "Wow!" "Are you kidding me!" "I see it, I see it!". All the while we're apologizing for making her wake up at six am and driving two hours for what to us was a disappointment. But her enthusiasm made us realize that it was still a great day. And it didn't hurt that we saw six more eagles on the ride home.

We will be going back this season as we've other friends that want to go. And we owe Lori a lot more birds. And I'm still hoping that Santa brings me a really big lens for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Distant Mirror

While apes are our closest cousins on the tree of life, monkeys offer more distant insights into our family lineage.

One of the incorrect arguments against evolution is to question why if we evolved from monkeys are monkeys still around? The question is flawed on several levels. We didn't evolved from monkeys. Monkeys, apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor. An ancestor that has in fact gone extinct. But just as both you and your ancestors and-or descendants can be alive at the same time, evolution does not demand that ancestors disappear when new species split off from the ancestral stock. It is enough that the descendant and ancestor species be separated in space so that they can no longer interbreed. And thus the genetic lineages diverge over time.

So while monkeys are not our ancestors, we can still learn from them what our common ancestor may have been like. We can study behaviors across species and infer that common behaviors derive from that common ancestor.

One of the reasons monkeys are so fascinating to observe its that we can see ourselves in them. We recognize those common behaviors while at the same time knowing the differences.

So, do you recognize any of these fellows in the folks that gather around your Thanksgiving table?

(I definitely recognize the one sticking out her tongue!)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meeting the Neighbors

We had seen them often when we first moved in, as we drove the long way round to our new home. Always at the same place along the road, by the same house. As we learned the roads around our new home we traveled by them less and less. And since we were busy doing all those things you do when you move to a new home we didn't get over to see them as much as we would have liked. But of course they were still there. Mom, dad, kids often cavorting about in the fields along the road. And I kept thinking I needed to stop and spend some time with them, get to know them.

Yesterday I finally did.

Other than their distinctive dress, I knew little about them. I now know they are immigrants from India, although I don't know when they migrated over to this neck the woods.

As with many immigrant groups, they tend to associate mostly among their fellow immigrants, creating a space of their own. We'll see if this is the case with this group, or if they expand into the greater community in the coming years.

They were wary of my presence and I didn't want to upset them. So after a couple of minutes and a few photos I moved on. I plan to go back to learn more about their life and customs. Hopefully they'll come to accept me. I'll let you know how things go.