Comet madness continued Friday night, July 17, as the region was finally blessed with clear skies. I ventured to a county park which extends after-hours access to my astronomy club, set up my gear, and waited for darkness and the emergence of Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). Twilight seemed to take forever to fade but finally I spotted the comet, and at a decent elevation above the horizon.
I shot many images, experimenting with stacking, using my 400mm telephoto, etc. but the shot I was hoping for and that I finally got was the comet above a glowing horizon, reflecting in the still waters of the park’s lake. Attempts at depicting the expansive and complex tails of the comet gave largely unsatisfying results; in part because our clear night sky wasn’t quite clear, or dark, enough to allow best imaging of the delicate details.
When the comet finally faded in the west, I made a number of shots of the beautiful night sky itself. We rarely see the Milky Way these days. I grew up in a small town and, at that time, I could step out into the back yard, look up, and see the beautiful star trails of our home galaxy. It was a pleasure to see the Milky Way and get a half-way decent photo of it. I’ve included a labeled copy of the image below, in case you’re interested.
Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was, for us in North America, a predawn object requiring exceptional dedication for observing. See a previous post. In the second week of July, the comet had moved enough in its orbit to become visible in the evening sky — from late twilight to about 11 p.m. Unfortunately, cloudy nights have been the rule lately so opportunities have been few.
On Wednesday night, July 15, the sky forecast was a bit shaky but it turned out the sky cleared enough to allow C/2020 F3 to be seen. I raced off to an observing site some 25 minutes away from home, popular with sunset watchers and, occasionally, comet spotters. Arriving at the site I found the place mobbed, the parking lot nearly full, by scores of would-be comet viewers. Unfortunately, the comet was pretty much at the low end of naked-eye visibility. Light pollution reduced contrast between comet and background sky to make the object nearly invisible. It’s likely most of those in attendance never saw the comet.
Binoculars quickly revealed “NEOWISE,” and a reference exposure I made of the area I expected to find the comet showed I was on target. I shot a number of photos but had problems with focus using the 400mm telephoto; I’m not happy with my “closeups.” As with my predawn photo experience, I found a wider view was much more interesting anyway and that’s what I’ve posted here.
Entitled “Purity and Pollution,” this picture (a single exposure of 8 seconds) shows a pristine wonder of the night sky floating serenely amongst the stars, clouds glowing brightly below illuminated by artificial light pollution. If we were only more careful with our artificial light, we’d save gobs of energy and gain back our starry skies as a bonus!
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) will be gracing our skies for the next week or so and I hope to have more than one opportunity to record the event before it is gone. The next apparition of this comet is expected in about 6,800 years.
A Great Blue Heron has occasionally been seen perching on a branch of a nearby dead tree. Yesterday I spotted the bird in time to grab my camera and, as discreetly as possible, shoot photos of it. I watched as it sat, then preened a bit, stretched, then took flight down to the edge of our pond. Frogs, fish, and other prey attract the random heron, and our neighborhood Red Shouldered Hawk.
Our local Red-Shouldered Hawk alighted on a tree near our pond Sunday as it has been doing of late. The raptor — this one or a lookalike — has regularly rocketed across our front yard, staked out our bird feeder, bagged itself a Mourning Dove, dined on a bullfrog, easily earning the Murder Bird reference.
Deadly though it may be, this bird is beautiful and interesting to watch. It stayed for a long time on the tree branch, looking around, probably hunting from its perch. I’ve shot some photos of the hawk as it perched in other spots but never got shots of it in flight — they’re just so fast! Patiently waiting helps but this time I had a good vantage point with some space and, therefore, time to react when the bird launched. Murder Bird stretched its tail, stretched each wing, scratched itself, and faced the wind.
Off it went! I was able to shoot only a few frames and most were not very clear as I pushed to catch up with the hawk’s fast-accelerating movement; one shot, the one above, was decent enough to show. Our Murder Bird is a vicious predator but absolutely gorgeous and thrilling to watch.
The day was beautiful for a Sunday in early March — sunny and mild with a high temperature of 60ºF — so we headed out to a couple of favorite, easy-to-access spots for a little walking and bird spotting.
The F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm, a part of Summit (County) Metro Parks, features a beautiful visitors center with an observation room viewing a large bird feeding area. Today Common Grackles were the dominant presence. Bright sunlight and our angle of view brought out incredible iridescence in the birds’ plumage changing them from common to uncommon beauties.
Following a short walk on paved and dry pathways at Nature Realm, we made a little visit to the Bath Road Heron Rookery, at the northern city limits of Akron. There seemed to be fewer nests this year, one formerly-inhabited tree was entirely vacant. Seen in other trees were the stick nests and mated pairs of birds standing upon them. Occasionally a heron would glide down from a tree to search for nest-building materials, then loft them back to their waiting mate in the tree. I shot a good number of photos but this overhead view is my favorite of the day.
These are common, everyday birds going about the business of living; if we look at them closely and well we will discover the uncommon beauty of the commonplace.
I’ve never seen them. I’ve never, ever seen Bluebirds in my yard or at my feeders. Until this month.
First I saw a couple of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) show up just after I restocked my feeders for the morning. They returned the next day and then there were three. Skip forward a few days and yesterday, February 12, I counted eight — eight! — of the beauties around the feeders, in neighboring trees, and on the ground!
I don’t know why this year is different but at a time when I could use some cheering up, the Bluebirds flock to the view from my window. And they do, indeed, bring happiness.
A stroll in the Alderfer-Oenslager Wildlife Sanctuary at Wolf Creek Environmental Center led us out over the wetland area via boardwalk. Along the walkway was a late-season water lily bloom, floating on dark waters in the afternoon sun. Nearby, tiny green dots of plant life float. It was warm that day but cold days lie ahead. Nature knows.
We have had a few days recently when heat and humidity-driven storms have roamed the region. On Tuesday, August 20 we saw a long line of powerful, even severe-warned, storms develop to our west. Though the line appeared to be moving at a leisurely rate, I arrived at one of my favorite observation sites with just enough time to set up before a broad shelf cloud appeared on the horizon.
The leading edge passed over my location and, as is expected with these things, heavy rain immediately followed and I retreated to my car. After a quick splash of intense rain, the precipitation stopped! I got back out of my car and shot a few photos of the areas about to be visited by the storm. One view in particular from behind the shelf cloud: from a spot spared rainfall was this view of the dark clouds overhead, curtains of intense rain drenching the area, and brighter skies being engulfed.
Ah! Stormy weather!