Friday, August 25, 2017

The Great American Eclipse

(two solar postings in one month!)
I first heard about this maybe a year or so ago, but did nothing about it.  With young kids, plans are often last minute.  Last month, we decided we could finally commit, so we scrambled for a hotel room or campsite.  Naturally, they were all booked up, at least online. There were a few vacancies provided by first-time AirBNBers wanting to take full advantage of price gouging. We found places in Portland, so we secured those first, but later on a whim, I decide to phone around at various hotels inside totality.  Surprisingly, it took less than five calls to find a hotel that still had rooms at reasonable rates; they were reserved for non-internet customers.


From Oklahoma - there was certainly an eventful excitement in the air

An hour before totality, people would park next to open fields with picnic blankets
We chose to watch from a park, where eclipse festivities brought locals and tourists out in the hundreds.


And the moment we were waiting for - totality!  A star appeared just left of the sun, which unfortunately wasn't capturable with the camera settings I used

And here's the exuberance of a crowd immersed in the shadow of the moon.


Getting to totality was fine...getting out was a 7 hour trip, normally only 4 hours.
We had just over a minute of totality from where we were, in Woodburn, Oregon.  There are few natural wonders that are as grand as a solar eclipse, and everyone in our group agreed it was entirely worth the drive.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunspotting

Can't get much bigger than this (aside from the accidental capture of a far-off universe in a night photo):


This is the first time I've photographed the sun as a subject. Only used a UV filter, and dialed back exposure to -2 stops.  That little dot is a sunspot, about 11 times the size of the earth.  I needed to take multiple photos with the sun in different positions just to confirm that it wasn't a speck on my lens.

The smoke from forest fires has made midday feel like a third world country with lax pollution controls.  A week ago, when the smoke began blowing in, it triggered memories of coal smoke from villages in Tanzania and the pervasive smog in Beijing.  Fortunately for us, this should scrub out the first rainfall, which some weather reports are calling for in about a week's time.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Time flies like an arrow, crane flies like a wall

It's September, and no matter what your age, it's a time of change.  The nights have gotten chillier, morning breaths condense, and giant mosquitoes are now flying in open windows at night.  But no, they're actually not mosquitoes, but a species of non-biting species of fly called the crane fly.


Started noticing them hanging out on the wall by the school.  A mysterious ratio of 20 males to one female.

The way they perch on the wall is a bit unique.  Their heads are flush against the wall, the rest of the body hanging by the front four legs, and the rear legs keeping their abdomen pointed up.




The crane fly has only one pair of flying wings.  Most other flying insects would have two pairs.  If you look closely, you'll see a pair of club-like appendages that evolutionarily were the second pair of wings.  These halteres act as counterbalances for the crane fly, a feature that most other types of flies have.


halteres
What we see as the crane fly is actually a short-lived part of its life cycle.  The adult form lives for only a few weeks, doesn't eat, and it's sole purpose at that stage is to mate.  They mature around the same time of year to maximize their opportunity to mate.  Spiders take advantage of the bonanza of crane flies, whose gangly legs snag easily on webs.

Eggs are laid in damp soil, and the grubs feed on grass roots.  In large enough populations, they can devastate lawns.  Those of you who garden may have come across them as fat, grey caterpillar-like grubs.

Female insects that lay their eggs beneath the ground will have an ovipositor, or a tapered end of the abdomen.  Grasshoppers are another insect with this feature.


Males are typically smaller, and have a blunt end of their abdomen.


They seem to manage to be able to fly while copulated, though I have yet to get a good look at who steers.  I can't imagine it to be a romantic experience.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


I'm usually the one on dog duty in the morning.  My walking route takes me around a nearby elementary school.  And at least once a year, I've spotted one or two killdeer (I usually hear them before I see them) strolling through the schoolyard on a spring morning.  I used to think that they somehow had gotten lost - they *are* shorebirds, after all - but according to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Killdeer/id

"Look for Killdeer on open ground with low vegetation (or no vegetation at all), including lawns, golf courses, driveways, parking lots, and gravel-covered roofs, as well as pastures, fields, sandbars and mudflats. This species is one of the least water-associated of all shorebirds."

When I was elementary school age, I had learned from a nature documentary that the killdeer would famously hobble around with what seemed to be a broken wing as a way to distract predators from a clutch of eggs at the nest site.  The killdeer then become a minor character in a story I wrote for Language Arts, a story that became a source of pride when my grade 7 teacher said some encouraging words regarding the maturity of the piece in front of the entire class.  That was probably why I still write about birds today.  Maybe there's a child at this school who has also seen this bird and has written it into a story of his or her own.