Not long ago, She Who Must Be Obeyed called me to the window. “There’s a hawk up there,” she said, “and he’s eating something!” I took a look and, sure enough, perched on a low branch was a big bird pulling at something it had caught. I grabbed my camera, put on the big lens, and returned to the window. There, in graphic detail, I could see a Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) pulling, dismembering, and eating a bullfrog it had captured by our pond! I shot a number of photos: the hawk standing, the hawk with bits of meat in its sharp beak, the hawk pulling at guts. I normally don’t publish such graphic photos here because, well, it somehow doesn’t seem right. I know, hawks are birds of prey, beautiful, though natural-born killers, and what they do is how they live. I may add a photo later showing a bit more of the action though, over the past week, I’ve reconsidered several times. For now, I’ll post the photo shown above — the beautiful hunter with just a bit of the carnage — and leave the rest to your imagination.
Yesterday (August 21) millions gathered along a thin path crossing the continental United States to watch a total eclipse of the Sun. Those with favorable viewing conditions along the path of totality enjoyed an amazing sight and experience. Totality fell close enough to a west-to-east center line across the continent that at least a partial eclipse was visible to anyone with access to clear sky.
Since, with some self-doubt, I had decided not to travel to the path of totality, I organized and promoted the Hiram Eclipse Watch event. With the support of the Hiram College Physics Department, it took place on the campus of the college.
I planned to set up two telescopes: a six-inch Meade refractor with a Baader Planetarium Safety Herschel Wedge, and a 90mm Meade refractor with glass/metal filter. I also was to carry my Canon EOS 7D Mark 2 camera, 400mm telephoto, and 2X teleconverter (>1,200mm focal length equivalent), and white light film filter. Only a day or so ahead of the eclipse, I was testing focus and exposure using the gear I’d planned to carry with me. The camera failed! I contacted Canon and they advised it needed to be sent in for factory service. Fortunately, I’d saved my old Canon EOS 50D DSLR. I pulled it from its storage box, charged the camera’s batteries, and without testing, bundled it up and took it to the Eclipse Watch site.
The 50D performed like a champ, making the images I’m showing here!
Despite last-minute worries over cloud cover, even possible rain, we had clear to partly-cloudy skies for the duration of our 80-percent partial eclipse. An estimated 375 visitors came out to share the experience, and by all accounts had an excellent time. Several guests even sought me out and thanked me profusely for bringing out the telescopes and hosting the watch event. Some families even brought blankets and enjoyed a picnic on the lawn in the shade of old trees!
Their happiness and excitement = my pay day!
It was very hot and fairly humid and I labored hard in the sunshine erecting and operating the telescopes, rationing out eclipse viewing glasses, explaining the eclipse event and solar features, and making a few photographs of my own. By the end I was dripping with sweat, dehydrated, hungry, and very tired. I packed the gear quickly because a newspaper reporter wanted me to email her my eclipse photos for publication.
In the cool air of the Physics office I was ready to edit and upload my image using my iPad and cellular connection. Oh, right. No adapter for the old-style memory card the Canon 50D uses! I had a memory card reader with USB connection with me but >> gad! << Hiram College computer network was down because students were returning to school and bringing malware in with their laptop computers! The Physics Department’s computer didn’t have a card slot for camera cards so I couldn’t transfer files from old card to new and to the iPad from there. Frustrated at every turn! So, I had to rush home to process and upload a photograph of maximum eclipse to a newspaper.
At home, I loaded the images on to my computer, edited the best one, composed a brief email, went to click [send] and the computer froze!! First. Time. Ever. Fortunately, after an emergency restart, the computer came back up as if nothing had happened, the message and image attachment had been saved in [drafts] and the email was transmitted. Whew!
End of day I was tired, wired, and dirty.
Oh yes, and happy.
On Saturday night, July 29, I headed out to the Medina County Park System’s Letha House Park for a little stargazing and photography. The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association was hosting a public star party and it seemed a good occasion to try some Milky Way photography from their “dark sky” site.
Following a beautiful orange sunset, I shot photos of the assembling sky watchers. I had not planned to shoot photos of the Moon but the waxing crescent dominated the sky with its bright presence. I installed the 2X telephoto adapter to my 400mm lens for a nice 800mm optic. I got decent photos of old Luna but the effort would have benefitted with use of a crop-sensor camera body and its boost in apparent magnification; instead, I was using my full-frame (35mm equivalent) body. I won’t complain too much. The photo looks pretty darned good for an image made on a whim!
Waiting for the sky to darken enough for Milky Way images, I spoke with several small groups of people and pointed out objects of interest in the dimming sky. Many folks had never looked through a telescope before and were thrilled to be doing so that night! Others were excited to learn the names of a very few constellations, and to see the emerging Milky Way. One couple asked whether I’d ever seen strange, unexplained phenomena in the night sky (UFOs, etc.): strange and wonderful, yes; unexplained, no. It’s a little surprising how many people ask, however.
Sky dark enough, I started recording images of the sky. I used a simple photographic tripod, a 15mm diagonal fisheye lens, and my full-frame Canon EOS 6D, wide open at f/2.8, for various lengths of time. The waxing Crescent Moon drown out most of the Milky Way visually – it looked like an area of cloud spread thinly from the south to overhead – but showed up better in photographs. Near the horizon in the photo above, may be spotted the “Tea Pot” asterism of Sagittarius, and constellation Scorpius on opposite sides of the tree (and Milky Way) at center. The bright star above the Moon is Arcturus.
In another shot, concentrating on the Sagittarius area of the sky, I captured a little meteor that I did not see at the time of the exposure! I will definitely want to try shots like this again on moonless nights! Trouble is, however, on the horizon: human-made light pollution! Over the years since the astronomy club built their rural Medina County (Ohio) observatory, light pollution from the city of Medina has grown noticeably worse. My final photo in this post shows just how bad it’s getting. The center of Medina is about 12 miles from the park observatory and the city’s glow is intruding high into the sky. What once was a nighttime glow just above the treeline now extends high above it.
We are losing the glory of the night sky to the form of human environmental pollution that is probably easiest to control and that provide immediate benefits in doing so: turning off unneeded lighting, directing lights downward where they are needed (uses less light and power), and immediately save energy and money. I hope I don’t have to drive farther away from town with each passing year in search of darker skies. I can hope, can’t I?
Since moving here late last year, I’ve wondered if the pond drew more than ducks and geese to feed, rest, and nest. This morning we spotted this beautiful Great Blue Heron perched on a tree trunk! I shot pictures as I slowly moved closer; the heron was aware of my presence. It wasn’t until the bird had enough of me that I learned, hidden below the edge of the bank was another Great Blue Heron! Hate to admit it: I was totally unprepared for the pair taking off together over the still waters of our pond. Still, I’m pretty happy with this portrait.
Scattered thunderstorms were roaming the area. Watching radar, I spied a “gust front” — the leading edge of encroaching cold air — that could be visually interesting. So I headed out to a favorite spot with a fairly good view to the southwest and over Medina. I thought I was well ahead of my target clouds but arrived at the site with clouds already overhead. In this shot a “roll cloud” can be seen in the distance — the actual leading edge of the front. As it passed overhead winds picked up from a breeze to probably 25 MPH and higher … and chilly! My burgeoning interest in weather has led me to get National Weather Service Skywarn Spotter training and, because I had to guess the wind speed I’ve ordered a handheld anemometer. Yeah, I love this stuff!
I had been told there was a Screech Owl resident within sight of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s (CVNP) Towpath Trail. I’ve heard about the bird for at least a couple of years. I had even been told where to look for the owl on previous hikes but never saw it or its hidey-hole. Though I wasn’t seeking the bird Sunday, I was on a little hike to see if anything was happening in the CVNP’s Beaver Marsh area north of the Ira Road Trailhead. As I began my walk, a returning couple said, “The owl is out today!” So now I had something to look forward to! Farther along, I could see a group of people stopped on the path, looking westward and off-trail … right about where I knew the owl was said to live. “Yes,” they told me when I reached the group, “there he is!” They pointed. They described how the owl could be seen: “see that snag? Now look for two trees behind it, and it’s about three trees over that way.” Directions like that didn’t help me much; it’s a heavily-wooded area! Finally, however, a patient woman let me stand behind her as she described the location and pointed… and there, at last, was the owl! The little bird was sitting at the bottom of an elongated opening to the hollow in a tree. From the trail, the owl’s plumage made it look very much like a part of the tree. Excellent camouflage. Far away. Darned near invisible! I was carrying my camera with a 400mm telephoto lens attached (~600mm with sensor cropping) and shot a few images. The owl never moved that I could see but the light changed as time passed. I could get only one clear view of the bird — fairly thick woods — but that was enough. So I captured my first images of an owl in the wild as it enjoyed the afternoon’s weak sun. Making the hike was a wise choice.
Tonight’s Not-Quite-Full Moon. The Moon will reach its full phase in a little over 24 hours but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t big, bright, and beautiful tonight (May 2, 2015)! Phase in this photo is Waxing Gibbous with about 99% illumination … notice the shadowy edge along the bottom-left.