Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snowy Owl Reprieve

As a result of Kim Smith's online petition Gerald R. Ford Airport Authority has revised their policy of shooting the Snowy Owls that show up at the airport.  They now will have the owls trapped and then released at a different location.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Limited Snowy Owl Hunt, Grand Rapids, Michigan

    The Gerald R. Ford Airport Authority is holding a limited Snowy Owl Hunt.  Participants will exclusively be Airport Security Personnel and the hunt will be limited to the number of Snowies that mistakenly confuse the Grand Rapids, Michigan airport for their natural tundra habitat.  So far the total is 9.
   Other major airports such as Detroit Metropolitan, Boston Logan along with Cleveland's Burke Lakefront and Hopkins Airports all deal with Snowy Owl situations without exterminating them.  Below is a link to a change(dot)org petition, initiated by Kim Smith, to persuade GRF Airport to find another solution.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pt. Mouillee Raptors

Rough-legged Hawk

        After this morning's post with the bad Merlin photos, I felt I needed to redeem myself photographically.  I headed to the Antennae Farm area including the Robert's Rd. entrance to Pt. Mouillee SGA.  Within the fence at the Farm I saw a male Northern Harrier but it was too distant for a decent photo (I know it didn't stop me with the Merlin this morning)..  Not much else was going on there.
    Down Reaume Rd. past the quarry entrance I saw an immature Bald Eagle, about 20 feet off the ground, that appeared to riding thermals  coming up out of the quarry.  It dropped below the rim of the quarry before I could stop and take photos.  Just past the turn onto Roberts Rd.  I saw another immature Eagle perched in a tree.

   Then a saw a pair of American Kestrels in trees along the side of the road about a quarter of a mile apart.
Male American Kestrel

Female Kestrel

   As I took some shots of the distant female Kestrel, I saw a shadow cross over the road.  I thought it might be another eagle, but when I looked out the driver side window I saw this Rough-legged Hawk.  He circled around a couple of times gaining altitude and becoming more distant.
Checking out my camera

   Other raptors seen but not photographed were a Cooper's Hawk, a Red-tailed Hawk and a female Northern Harrier.

Another year another yard Merlin w/bad photos

  This morning I let the dog out, filled the bird feeders, then scanned the sky and nearby trees for birds.  Suddenly I noticed a falcon land in a large tree several  (back)yards away.  It was a Merlin.  Last year, I photographed a Merlin in the same tree on January 5.    Here is a composite of shots from today.


    All morning I've been wrestling with this a composite of six bad photos better or worse than the sum of its parts? 
   Here are the excuses for the bad photos.  1) Photos were taken from 8:00 AM-8:03 AM, while sun had just risen at 7:59 AM, it hadn't broken through the clouds near the horizon.  2)  According to Google distance finder the tree that the bird is in is 516' from my barbecue that I was leaning against.  3)  I used a barbecue for stabilization instead of a tripod because the bracket that attaches the camera to the tripod was in my car which Google distance finder shows is 43.14 feet from my barbecue. 

It looks like at least 45 feet.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ducks at Work

    With the ice coverage on Lake Erie estimated in the 50-70% range many ducks have converged on my place of employment.  I went in a couple of hours early on Sunday to take advantage of the warm weather and good lighting to get some photos
Redheads taking flight

Fifth Wheel

Stretching the paddle


Scanning the sky

Lesser Scaup

Female Lesser Scaup

Ring-necked Duck

Ruddy Duck

Common Goldeneye

Hooded Mergansers

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Misinformation Age : Northern Lights Edition

Aurora November 7, 2004

   This past week the Sun unleashed an X-1 class flare(X is the strongest class, X-1 is the weakest of X-class flares) in the general direction of Earth.  NOAA's space weather forecast center put the odds of an auroral display for the mid-latitudes (which includes all of Michigan) at 50% for the 24-hr forecast period.  The Detroit Free Press posted an article on their website that included  phrases like "could be visible", "might get a treat", "there is a possibility" all reflecting the uncertain nature of how particles cast off by the Sun will react with the Earth's magnetic field.   So why did the headline writers attach the headline "Solar Flare to bring Northern Lights over southeast Michigan tonight"  that made it sound like a sure thing?  Here is a link to the article.

  WDIV channel 4's website had an article that included the appropriate 'coulds','mays' and 'mights'.  Then they included a follow-up article that included a (cellphone?)photo that appears to show Light Pillars (vertical columns of light which are caused by ground lighting being reflected by horizontally faced ice crystals suspended in sub-zero air) and declared "We did get some Northern Lights".
  If the photo accompanying the article is an auroral display they scooped the whole skywatching community because no one else in the lower 48 states reported or submitted photos of the northern lights to 
   If there had been a display visible from southeast Michigan the aurora gallery of spaceweather(dot)com would have been flooded with photos from the northern tier of states.

  Nearly everyone says they want to see the Northern Lights,  but how badly do you want to see them?  You can't rely on news outlets.   You don't get birding tips from them so don't get your astronomy tips from them either. You have to research it yourself and a good place to start is the aforementioned 
  Once you figure out their forecasts, it only takes seconds to assess the probability of an auroral display.  Then when there is a 50% chance of a display in the next 24 hours you have to consider that at least half of those hours are either bright twilight or daylight, so your chances are now down to lower than 25%.  And if you're only going to check the sky in the evening (between 7 PM and midnight) your chances are down to 5/24 x 50%, or about 10%.  That 10% chance assumes you live away from a major metropolitan area where stray light washes away the contrast needed to make the aurora visible.  Contrast in  night sky can also be faded by bright moonlight.  So if most or all of the above apply the original 50% forecast is down to about 1%.

  This isn't rocket surgery, but it does take some effort.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year Thoughts

  My New Year's Resolution was to have one of my photos published in a newspaper at least 9400 miles from where I live.
    Check.  Col Maybury (with the coolest job title ever), space reporter from the Maitland Mercury in Maitland, New South Wales, Australia,  noticed my Venus -Jet photo on and emailed me for permission to use it in his Sky Watch column  .  The column was published today and Mr. Maybury sent a scan of it.
G'day Maitland
.   Here is the google distance map showing Maitland to be 9427 miles from my house.

  One of my other resolutions was to have the first bird sighting of the year among the folks in the southeast Michigan birding community.  At 10 minutes after midnight I was on my outside round at work and spotted a Mallard swimming in the 40 degree water.   Check.  Oops, it seems Paul Cypher stepped out of a New Years celebration at  the Fort St. Brewery at 12:06 AM and saw a Robin fly by,  possibly spooked by fireworks.  He blogged about it on his website .  Paul, you win this year but remember I work midnights at Ducks on Demand.
   In the morning I got a photo of the Mallard after half an inch of snow accumulated on its back.
   The snowstorm that started New Years Eve continued for 40 hours and dumped 8-12 inches across the region.  When I had to drive to work yesterday afternoon I left early to deal with any hazards or delays that the unplowed roads of Wayne and Monroe County could throw at me.   The hour drive reminded me of a revelation that I had a few years ago while discussing winter driving with a coworker.
   Everyone nods in agreement at the statement  "People forget how to drive when it snows", but if you ask the right questions you'll find that it has two exact opposite meanings to two different type of people.  In meaning one,  the emphasis is on 'how to drive when it snows' and people who forget  'how to drive when it snows' don't drive cautiously.  In the second interpretation the emphasis is on 'People forget how to drive'.  This version is spoken by the folks who complain that it took forever to get somewhere because everyone was driving too slow.  Because they 'forgot how to drive'.   Exact same words two completely different meetings.
  Which meaning do I subscribe to?  Put it this way, I never saw a car spin out because it was driving too cautiously but yesterday I did see a driver spin out because he forgot how to drive when it snows.

    Last night I bought a new indoor/outdoor weather station.  My wife set it up and here is what it looked like during this morning's cold weather.