Friday, August 30, 2013

Badger at Night

  Below are a couple of photos I took recently from the deck of the S.S. Badger a ferry that runs from Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI.  Out in the middle of Lake Michigan the stars shone so brightly that I just had to try to take some photos, even though my tripods were still in my car, which was inaccessible, below deck .  I cranked up my camera's sensitivity up to ISO 25,600,  set the shutter for 6 seconds and braced the camera against fixed objects on the deck.  The vibration and rolling of the ship caused the the star images to streak a bit but the parts of the ship which vibrated and rolled together came out clear enough, so a tripod wouldn't have helped much anyway.

Bridge of the Badger

Milky Way from the deck of the Badger

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New Yard Bird without even trying

    Walking through my dining room, I glanced outside and saw this bird perched on the wire.  Ran and got my camera and fired off a few shots before it flew away. Doesn't get any easier than that.  It was a Olive-sided Flycatcher it was the first one I've ever had in my yard.  It is the 132nd species I've seen from my yard. 

   Ebird records show only 4 other August Olive-sided Flycatcher in Wayne County all time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Custom Pet Portraits

    A young local artist will draw a portrait of your pet from a photograph.  The work below is colored pencil on paper, is 15"x 21" and sold for $125.  Available in smaller sizes.  Most orders completed within a month.

Beagle/Dachshund mix

Detail of original
  If you are interested in a custom portrait of your pet, email me at  and I will contact the artist for you.  

Friday, August 16, 2013


     On Wednesday August 14 amateur Japanese astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered a nova in the constellation Delphinus.  He noticed a star in a photograph that wasn't in a similar photograph he took two nights earlier.  This was not a supernova which is the cataclysmic destruction of a star 8-15x more massive than the Sun.  A supernova is preceded by the collapse of the star under its own weight because it has spent too much of its fuel and gravity overcomes the outward pressure generated by the fusion process that stars use to burn. The last supernova in our galaxy that was visible to the naked eye from Earth occurred in 1604.  A supernova can briefly outshine the cumulative brightness of all the other stars in its own galaxy as it becomes 100 billion times brighter than the original star was during its lifetime.  When the red giant star Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion,  goes supernova it will shine in our sky as bright as our sun does.
    Nova Delphinus 2013 was just an ordinary nova that occurs when the gravitational pull of a white dwarf star in a binary star system steals mass from its companion.  The extra mass causes a runaway nuclear fusion reaction and results in a rapid increase in luminosity of the white dwarf star.  The degree of brightness increase is on order of 10,000-1,000,000 times.
   Tonight I was able to photograph the nova from my yard.  It is the brightest star near the center of the photo below.  It is shining at about 5th magnitude,  which is dimmer than dimmest stars that I can see from my suburban yard. 

    Although the star appears no different than the surrounding stars, I was able to identify it by comparing it to a star map downloaded from Sky and Telescopes website.  Link.....Sky and Telescope Nova Press Release    In the photo below I highlighted the star groupings that I compared to the downloaded map, in order to find the nova.  My photo shows stars dimmer than the star map does.

added black lines to show star groups highlighted in my photo

The graph below indicates that the nova is already starting to fade.


Great Black-Backed Gull

  This morning I photographed a Great Black-Backed Gull from the parking lot at the end of Erie Rd.  They are often seen in the winter out near the Lake Erie shore but Ebird only shows 7 August sightings for lower peninsula so far this decade and just 8 for the entire state of Michigan.

Great Black-Backed Gull

Caspian Tern

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Snowy Egrets at work

  Went in to work 4 hours and 20 minutes early last night.  The 4 hours was an overtime assignment and the twenty minutes was to try to photograph the pair of Snowy Egrets that have been hanging around for at least a week.  The Snowies are in an area off limits to the public and can not be seen the road. 

Black legs with yellow feet

The pair fly away

   Since I had my camera with me when I got off work this morning I walked the lakeshore and photographed this Bald Eagle.

Immature Bald Eagle

   The only shore birds I saw were Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper and the Semipalmated Plover pictured below.

Semipalmated  Plover

  Back inside the company compound I found this Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher

Fishing like a King

  On the way home I took some shots of the Ospreys at their nest on West Jefferson near Vreeland.

Osprey on tower

Mostly words but not always

My finite vocabulary was on display for the general public as I was quoted in Monday's Detroit Free Press for an article about Red-bellied Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches feasting on the invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle.  Here is the set-up and my quote as it appeared in the paper.

   Mark Wloch of Southgate, a bird-watcher, welcomes more woodpeckers, but not what’s bringing them.
“It’s always good to have more birds like that,” he said. “But it’s not good to have ash borers.” 

I think I heard the reporter, Keith Matheny,  sigh over the phone as I cast out that insightful observation . It was a sigh that seemed to say 'Is that all you got Captain Obvious'.  The reason I'm questioning the range of my vocabulary, is because in that 17-word answer I used 13 different words (4 are used twice) and in those 13 words I used 80% of the words that make up the name of my blog.  The only one missing is 'mostly'.  As in I mostly subliminally got the name of my blog into the article. 

  Incidentally, I can think of a hundred local  people more qualified than myself to be the spokesperson for the birds, just off the top of my head.....Allen , Julie , Jerry , Jerry , Paul , D. Boon,  Jeff , Tex, Walt, Will, Scott , Mary , Darren, Andy, Darlene, Karl, Ed, Janet,  Stan, Greg, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Sean, Lyle, Laurent, Richard, Alan, Paul, Bill,  Lathe, Daryl, Kevin, Adam, Orin, Jacco, Rick, Charlie, Jason, Todd, Tim, Jonathan, John, Jon, Ron, Don, Andrew, Cathy, Kathy, Gregg, Jerry, Rodney, Kim,  Tom, Bruce, Mary, Rob, Bob, Jim,  Jim, Jim,  Pat, Kevin, Phyllis, Nate, Dave, James, Joe, Cendra, Fred, Denise, Dr. Bob.......I could go on. 

   If you would like to read Mr. Matheny's fine article click on one of the following links below.  It seems the story was picked up on the Associated Press News wires and appeared in newspapers across the Eastern U.S., The Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle.  For the younger folks who have never seen a newspaper, imagine an internet made out of processed wood, with a real slow DSL line, that could be rolled up and used to discipline your dog or kill flies. 

Here are the links to different papers that carried the article
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Detroit Free Press

Observer and Eccentric Newspaper

Binghamton NY paper

Wall Street Journal

Lansing State Journal

Seymour, IN Tribune

Danbury, CT News-Times

New Jersey Herald

Elmira, NY Star-Gazette

San Francisco Chronicle

Owosso, MI Argus Press

Port Huron, MI Times-Herald

Franklin, IN Daily Journal

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Moon with Morning Planets

  The old Moon (two days before New Moon) provided an attractive target in the east this morning but it wasn't alone.  It was accompanied by not one....not two..... but three planets 

   Above the Moon and easiest to see is the king of planets, Jupiter.  Just to the Moon's upper left is faint Mars, which like Jupiter is just starting to appear in the morning sky as the Earth is set to overtake them in their race around the Sun.  Mars is currently only 27 degrees from being on the exact opposite side Sun.  The third planet in the photo is the elusive Mercury.  It appears to the lower left of the Moon.  While the Earth is undefeated in its racing career versus Jupiter and Mars, it does not come close to beating Mercury which zips around the Sun completing one orbit every 88 days.

Planet positions indicated

Cropped photo shows planets more clearly

Cropped photo with answers.
  In the photo you'll notice that the whole Moon can be seen with the crescent shape brightly illuminated.  While the Crescent shape is due to the Moon being backlit for the most part as it is only two days from positioning itself between the Earth and Sun,  what is illuminating the rest of its disk?  ......................The Earth.  If you were standing on the dimly lit part of the Moon you would see an almost Full Earth dominating the night sky.  The Full Earth appears 42-100x brighter from the Moon than the Full Moon does from the Earth because the Earth's diameter is more than 3.5x larger than the Moon's (covering more than 12x greater area) but the Earth is also at least 3x more reflective (depending on cloud cover).
   Jupiter and Mars will be rising a little earlier every day until reaching opposition (when the Earth passes between them and the Sun) and they will be visible all night. For Jupiter that occurs on January 5, 2014.  Mars being closer to the Sun than Jupiter has a velocity closer to Earth's speed so it takes Earth longer to to lap it.  Its opposition doesn't occur until April 8, 2014.  Mercury is getting lower each morning and will be on the opposite side of the Sun on August 24.  The Moon may be visible much lower tomorrow morning and will be in line with the Sun on Tuesday and not visible until later in the week when it returns to the evening sky as a thin crescent low near the horizon.