Thursday, March 31, 2016

April Fool

I spotted this ad in the airport in Quito, Ecuador. I have no idea what product or service it is for.

But I do know whoever put it together has not spent much time at the telescope.

I'm not quite sure what they thought the flashlight would be illuminating.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Friend Steve ...

... is dead. He was 43.

He died of a heart attack while working out at the gym (he had been working out for a while, and you can see the positive results between these images).

Image Courtesy Anita Guris
He enjoyed the world and everything in it.

There is a hole in the universe today. It is broken.
The first image is from a photography field trip Steve led to Barnegat Light State Park. It was on this trip that I met Patty. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

After This ...

... we stopped using the handrails.

I mentioned tarantulas in the previous post. Patty spotted this one as we were walking to dinner at Sacha Lodge one evening.

Alas, this was the only tarantula we saw at Sacha. 

We did encounter a group coming back from a night hike who told Patty that they had seen numerous tarantulas in the forest.

Far from frightening, we thought that pretty cool. And we were bummed that we had not gone exploring in the forests surrounding the lodge at night.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Flying Home

This is the shadow of the airplane, surrounded by a glory, which carried Patty and I on the final leg of our journey home.

From Ecuador, where we had a wonderful time exploring from the Amazon rain forest to 14,000 feet in the Andes. We saw nine species of monkeys, a poison dart frog, snakes, tarantulas, and had 480 species of birds, including 41 species of hummingbirds.

More to come ..

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


I noticed this from out on the jetty at Barnegat on Saturday.

And this:

The effect is bit more evident in the second image, especially when bigafied. But is is still not obvious. And I doubt most people would give it a second glance.

Here's a closeup of the second image. You can see there is a second image of the building upside down, below the weird brown line that extends across the image, which is known as the "vanishing line effect". More info can be found here at Les Cowley's site (but you knew that, right?).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Murder Mystery

Well perhaps "murder" is a bit too strong. But I do have a mystery on my hands. And it involves death.

The other evening I was setting up my 10" telescope in preparation for a Jupiter observing event when I spotted this on the garage floor:

Now anyone who lives in the country expects to have mice about. And given that we store our bird food in the garage it is no surprise that mice would found in there. Furthermore, the garage provides plenty of places for mice to find shelter from the cold and wet that winter brings. So mice in the garage were pretty much a given. And mice die, thus finding a dead mouse isn't all that surprising.

I felt bad for the little fellow. But as there was nothing I could do I scoped him up and rather unceremoniously tossed her into the woods.

And then I spotted this one. In a different part of the garage.

You don't see it in the image but this one had the strange same gray areas that the first had. I noticed them when I lifted this one for its journey into the woods. Curious.

We've lived here for a year and a half and these are the first two dead mice we've discovered.

One dead mouse, no big deal. Two dead mice. In the same half hour? Hmmm ...


That was six days ago. Since then there have been no more dead rodents discovered in the garage or anywhere else on the property. So maybe it was just an unlucky coincidence. Or maybe it was that cat which has recently been seen about the property again. Or maybe the mice got into something they shouldn't have, paying dearly for it. I going with just a coincidence for now. But I'll keep a weather eye never the less.

To be continued?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Is That a Bird In Your Pocket?

Yes, yes it is. The bird, a Long-tailed Duck, is in a pocket. And I put it there. But it is not my pocket.

It is Cliff Hence's pocket. It was fortunate that Cliff had such big pockets. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to carry the duck back to his car. But I'm getting ahead of the story here.

Yesterday, Patty led her first field trip for the DVOC, to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. Known for its overwintering waterfowl and its sometimes treacherous jetty.

Patty in Action on the Jetty

I slipped and fell on the jetty yesterday, scraping my knee and getting my jeans dirty. My camera was fortunately unharmed in the incident. But this story isn't about me ...

One of the main attractions of Barnegat at this time of year is this handsome fellow, a male Harlequin Duck.

Brant were also common in the inlet.

And there were a good number of loons, both Common like the one shown below, and Red-Throated, which were camera shy.

We had but three species of shorebird, Dunlin, Purple Sandpipers, and Rudy Turnstones. Here is shot of the latter.

But the stars of yesterday's show were the Long-tailed Ducks, there were large flocks throughout the inlet. We heard them calling all morning.

But the bird in the pocket did not want her starring role.

Cliff was first to spot the bird, struggling to get out from between the large stones that form the jetty.

As you can see, these ducks need to build up speed before takeoff. And our poor trapped duck had no room for a takeoff run. So she was trying to jump out, without success.

Worse yet, she was being pummeled against the rocks as the wave broke over the jetty.

Cliff had by then sat down on the rocks and was trying to lift the bird with his feet, but it was wary of us and kept out of range. Then fate smiled on the bird and washed it closer to Cliff. He quickly moved into the space between the rocks, trapping the bird in a smaller space from which he could retrieve it.

But when he tried to lift it up, he was surprised to find that he could not. It was hooked. And the hook was attached to fishing line that was snagged somewhere below. Fortunately I had a pocket knife and with the help of third birder we managed to cut the line. But we could not remove the hook from the bird.

So Cliff handed the bird to me and climbed up from between the rocks. I had called a local wildlife rehab center, Woodford Cedar Run and they had agreed to take the bird. So now we needed to get it there. And that's where Cliff's pocket came in. We put the bird in his pocket, which both calmed the bird and held it securely as we headed back down the jetty to the parking lot.

This jetty.

With all those slippery rocks. And we were all the way out at the end. Imagine needing to hold a duck, with both hands, and trying to negotiate this. Thanks to Cliff's Big Pockets we did not have to.

It took a while, but Cliff and I made it back to the cars. Cliff punched in Cedar Run's address to his GPS unit and was soon off. He later emailed that he had made it to Cedar Run and that the hook had been successfully removed. Cliff also posted a video of the bird struggling on his Facebook page.

It was a nice trip on a great morning to be out. And thanks to Cliff's efforts one that had a happy ending for one Long-tailed Duck.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Signs of Spring

They're back!

Bats! Hopefully they'll take up residence in our bat box this year.

What, you were expecting more flowers?

Monday, March 7, 2016

And Yet It Blooms

Some years much more than others.

This was one of those years. And the reason we were there.

It is a 'Super Bloom' year. One that comes along every ten years or so. The last was in 2005. The one before that in 1998.

A super bloom requires regular rain, at least once a month over the winter and into the spring. And with the El NiƱo that has happened this year. In October  2015 the rains started with just under three inches, an amount that usually takes the whole year to fall in Death Valley. And then more rain fell throughout the winter.

The result: We saw over twenty species in bloom over the weekend.

But the dominant species, the yellow flower in these pictures, is the Desert Gold, Geraea canescens.

They were everywhere.

Image Courtesy Patty Rehn
In the image above I am in a field of flowers that is over four miles long, from mile markers 23 to 27 along Badwater Road. And this was just one such area.

It was truly amazing.

We were lucky that we got to see it. But as the saying goes luck favors the prepared mind.

So when we learned last autumn that this could be a super bloom year, we started planning. We researched places to stay, best times to go, flights and so forth, to be prepared should we need to pull the trigger.

And then it rained in the first week of February. And the bloom was on. So on February ninth we booked the last room in the park, at Furnace Creek Ranch. But it was still uncertain when the peak bloom would occur. We could have been early or late for the peak.

And we only had a weekend to be there. Much too short for this kind of thing. But it all worked out, and we got to see it.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

No Water

Making things even worse for those early visitors to Death Valley was this.

It's a cosmic bait and switch.

We are promised this (note the car in the center of the image).

But we get this (you can just see the road the car was on at the center left of the image).

Here's a shot with the road more obvious.

It's a mirage. Specifically an inferior mirage. 'Inferior' in that mirage image is below the real object.

What cruel god would treat their creation like this?


The last weekend in February we made a crazy dash to Death Valley National Park.

And the first place in the park we stopped at, other than our hotel (which we got to after 3:00 am, thanks Spirit Air and Budget Car Rental - NOT!), was where tourists go first. Badwater Basin.

As the sign says, we are 282 feet below sea level.

See that little white spot Patty's pointing to?

Yep, that's 282 feet up the side of the mountain. Badwater Basin is the lowest place in North America.

There is water at Badwater. But, as the name suggests, it's not good. That white stuff isn't, as the season might lead one to assume, snow.

It's this stuff.


Lots of salt.

Lots and lots of salt.

Miles of salt flats. Much to the distress of early visitors, both Native American and later pioneers alike.

See those shiny dots at the base of the mountain? That's the cars in the parking lot. Yep, very salty.


Much of the American west is desert. Beautiful country, albeit perhaps an acquired taste. And many a traveler through these lands, even today, has met their death due to lack of water.

The problem is getting worse as populations grow and the planet heats up. Even with the recent El Nino, much of California is still in a drought. The issue of water rights in the west, between states, between city dwellers and farmers, and even between countries (rivers know no boundaries, although they often are them) will dominate the political scene for years to come. Yet instead of leaders we have politicians. I have very little hope for the immediate future. Things are going to get quite a bit worse before they get better.

This greatly saddens me.