Saturday, March 30, 2013

Life after birders' purgatory (dayshift)

After three weeks of leaving for work before sunrise and not getting home until 5 PM,  I got a chance to do some morning bird watching.  Starting in my favorite birding site (my yard),  I was greeted by a flock of 19 Tundra Swans flying over 10 minutes after sunrise.
 Over the next hour and a half I saw a steady flow of typical spring migrants like Robins, Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds pass by.  Birds of note were 4 Killdeer, 8 Double-crested Cormorants  and 11 more Tundra Swans.



Took a quick ride to Lake Erie Metropark and saw a few territorial Tree Swallows staking out nest boxes.

Tree Swallow
 and two Sandhill Cranes fly over.
Sandhill Cranes
  In the afternoon I got a chance to watch some raptor migration from my yard when I returned home.
It started with an immature Bald Eagle at a great height.

Full frame with 500 mm lens

Cropped image of Bald Eagle

There must have been some strong thermals boiling up, as every raptor I saw was at or above the threshold of naked eye visibility.  Below is a photo of some of the 65 Turkey Vultures I counted.

Evidence of the thermals can be seen in the next photo of a.....
plastic grocery bag
It kind of ironic that the free flying plastic bag appears to have a green tree printed on it. If Al Gore weren't alive he'd be rolling over in his grave.

  Now we can take irony to next level by imagining that this discarded bag was lifted off the landfill two miles south of my house and is riding the same thermals and southwest winds that the vultures are riding back to Canada.  The same Canada that ships their garbage across the border to Michigan landfills rather than creating or using their existing trash dumps. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Comet through my scope

     Drove back to Pt. Mouillee again this evening and did some comet viewing with  Allen Chartier and his wife Nancy.   The nearly cloudless sky gave me a chance to photograph Comet Panstarrs through my telescope.  

View through Celestron C-8

Shot through my 500mm lens
  The photo above shows the comet as the sky got a little darker.   The longer exposure revealed a dim star under the comet.  The star is named 51 Piscium and it shines at magnitude 5.68.  With each magnitude equaling roughly 2.52x brighter the Panstarrs is probably 3 or 4 magnitudes brighter than the star.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Comet Panstarrs 3/13/13

 For the second time this week I drove down to Pt. Mouillee Headquarters to catch a glimpse of Comet Panstarrs low on the western horizon after sunset.  Was clouded out on Monday.  Saw it today with binoculars and obtained a few photos.

2 day old Moon just before sunset

Finally found it, 40 minutes after sunset

Comet just above the trees in the lower center 15 minutes before it set

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Productive day of yardbirding

Lots if migrating birds flying over the yard this morning. Highlights included 8 Northern Pintails which were a new addition to the yardlist (now at 126). 

 Another highlight was a Merlin that was meandering pretty high.

It was  the second Merlin that I photographed from the yard this year.  It could be the same bird hanging around, because I thought I saw one zip through my yard a couple of weeks ago but I didn't get a good look.

   I had 3 Mute Swans fly over.  The first two were so low I couldn't keep them both in the camera's field of view.
   As expected this time of year the Canada Geese were migrating in big numbers, I counted 247 before 9:30 AM.

  Just a thought here why do we spend 8 months out of the year in non-Standard Time? 

Orion Nebula revisited

Orion Nebula 11second Exp with 500mm f/4.5 lens  iso 8000 
   A few weeks ago I posted a photo of the Orion Nebula, a wispy area of light and clouds of where star formation is taking place. The photo in my January post was taken from my yard where a number of factors such as city skyglow, nearby bright Moon, 15 mph wind and building clouds worked against me.  A month ago I headed to the dark skies Lake Hudson State Recreation Area in  Lenawee County to try to obtain some better photos.  That effort was thwarted as the cloudless sky when I left my house gradually become completely overcast during my 90 minute drive to the site.
   Another month, another waning crescent Moon not rising until pre-dawn hours, leaving the evening sky a inky black backdrop, ideal for astrophotography.  Last night I made it back to Lake Hudson and took some more photos. 

27 second exp @ iso 8000 thru Celstron C-8 2000mm fl @ f/10
   A question I'm often asked about my telescope is 'How far can you see with it?'  Distance is not really the proper measurement of a telescope's effectiveness.  More important are light gathering ability which is calculated by dividing the square of the diameter of the scope's objective lens (or mirror) by the square of the diameter of your eye's dilated pupil.  The equation for my scope looks like this 200mm^2 / 7mm^2 = 846.  Meaning my scope gathers 846x more light than my eye does.
Also resolution gain through the telescope is equal to the objective diameter divided by your pupil diameter, in this case being 200/7= roughly 29x.   Below is an object visible to the naked eye from a dark sky that is over 2,000,000 light years.
The Andromeda Galaxy
  The fuzzy bright spot on the left edge of the photo is a satellite galaxy that orbits the Andromeda Galaxy. Photos taken by real astrophotographers reveal the Andromeda Galaxy spans more than 2 degrees of arc(for reference the full Moon spans 1/2 degree of arc).

  The final photographic target for the night is the Pleiades star cluster, which is an area of recent (on an astronomical scale) star formation.
  Faint clouds of dust  around the brighter stars can be seen in the photo.  That is debris that will eventually fall into the stars or coalesce around the stars to form planets.  The stars in the Pleiades Cluster are around 10 million years old.  It sure is taking a long time for their god to separate their light from darkness.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I can see the Tundra from my house

Well maybe just some Tundra residents . Today I had 8 Tundra Swans fly over my suburban Southeast Michigan yard.

 Not only that but 10 minutes later 9 Common Redpolls landed in my neighbor's Birch tree.

 Another visitor from not quite the tunrda has been visiting my feeders. This Red-breasted Nuthatch.
and two others have been seen almost daily since Sept. 13.

   In other yard bird news, my out of season Chipping Sparrow hasn't been seen since February 28.