Probably the last of this waxing moon we’ll see this month, due to the coming storm. Beautiful night.
Some photos and updates from the last few weeks. Spring seems to have started in the beginning of February this year, the buckeye trees (usually the first to bud and the first to lose their leaves) were budding in some places as early as the end of January. Since then, the warm and sunny weather has drawn out flowers and buds all around. Fortunately, as I write this, the rains have started again – and we are due for much more.
Two weeks ago (week of Feb 15th), on two different nights, I saw the Wildcat Canyon “Bottomhill” great-horned owl couple mate. The timing coincides almost exactly with when I saw another pair mate last year – I thought maybe the weather would affect the pattern, but apparently not. It’s somewhat odd as most literature indicates great-horned owls being an early breeder (compared to other raptor species), and in many areas are on nests in January in the snow. I guess owl culture, like human culture here in the Bay Area, is different in these parts as well (I joke – probably the Mediterranean climate is a factor, though I’d be curious to know how breeding behavior here compares to other warm areas). As I get deeper into my own observations of the world and its critters, I realize how little we actually know. Scientists in the past seem to have been content to generalize regarding behavior, and while there are patterns and a spectrum of those behaviors that are “typical,” often in reality it may be different based on local factors. That’s what makes it fun to be out there. Personality and local flavor.
The female always seems to initiate the act, and she starts by chasing down the male on the occasions that I’ve witnessed it. She lands close to him, and starts to do a vocalization very similar to a juvenile owl. When the male flies towards her, she starts a repetitive “hoo hoo hoo hoo” sound that reminds me of a monkey. As the male mounts her, flapping for a few seconds, she lets out a high pitched vibrato whistle and then its over. It will be interesting to see what happens this year, as last year many of the nests didn’t appear to successfully raise any young (drought related?). There are four pairs whose territories I regularly walk through, with a possible fifth – then another not far away. Of all those pairs, I only confirmed one successful nest last season.
Despite the very dry February, the vernal pools are deep and wide from all the rain in January, and have been extremely active with tree frogs and California newts. The newts migrate from their hiding spots under leaf litter back to the area from which they hatched to mate and lay eggs. The frog chorus, if you can sneak up on them, is incredibly loud when nearby. Nights of wandering under warm skies and no winds to a live symphony of frogs, and owls flitting around, is pizza for the soul.
I caught a few interesting moon shots this month, one was a moon halo and the other was an interesting rainbow effect on clouds as the full moon rose last time.
Alright, I’m launching into it …
… I am tired of hearing about the “super moon.”
The fact is, the the moon is sometimes a bit closer and sometimes a bit further from us on Earth when it’s full, but to the human eye, it’s generally imperceptible! It’s sad to me that when the media describes the majesty of the natural world, that is around us EVERY DAY AND NIGHT, they feel the need to add superlatives just so people take a second from their day to pay attention to it. That speaks volumes about our culture as a whole, actually, not just the media. I am happy, however, to see people out and trying to see it this evening. That is a positive aspect to the media’s strange “super moon” PR blitz the last few years.
Though I must say sometimes I feel like the person who knew the band before they were famous, but now everyone is going to the show because they were “discovered” and it’s the cool thing to do – and it’s so crowded I can only sit in the back of the venue and there’s a bunch of drunk people singing along, spilling beer on everything, and generally ruining the experience. I can totally understand why artists get depressed when their art is embraced by larger masses who don’t appreciate it for what it is, but rather because it makes them part of a social scene etc.
[that comment was also partially prompted by a shot that I framed tonight after hiking to a somewhat remote area to photograph the rising eclipsed full moon, where I spend a lot of time and it’s typically just me out there with the owls and the coyotes – but tonight, just as the moon appeared, some people on the top of a distant peak that was serving as the foreground for the photo turned on extremely bright headlamps as I was about to take the shots- ha! ah jeez].
So “big media,” you can stick your “super moon” where the sun don’t shine (wait, what? yeah!), and I’ll go ahead and enjoy the Moon however She comes. Guess what? The moon is full every 28 days or so – and it is always a spectacular sight. And in between? Also spectacular. Crescent new moon – half moon – whatever. They are all super in my eyes.
Whew. Ok, sorry, I’m done.
These shots below were taken while the moon was still fully eclipsed, not long after it finally rose above the clouds that obscured its initial rise …
An eclipsed moon is always an eerie yet beautiful sight, and it always feels like my eyes are “thirsty” for light when I view it. It’s a strange sensation. There comes a sense of relief when that first light reappears on the edge of the moon as it moves out of totality.
happy solstice, longest day of the year! literally, not figuratively – as in my mind i’ve had MUCH longer days this year.
it was a beautiful night up in the hills, soft light, light winds, and the smell of tar weed pervading the air. as darkness crept in the crickets provided a soundtrack to my wander. venus and jupiter grow closer still, and in the pictures below from tonight you can see the moon on the left, the star regulus in the constellation leo faintly visible next to the right, followed by the planets jupiter and venus. the mountain in the distance is mt tamalpais. quite a sight.
one from last night …
The countdown is on for the end of June when Jupiter and Venus come within about 1 degree of each during their conjuction! Look outside after dusk to the West to see them. Venus appears larger and brighter on the right. Not shown in the photo is Regulus, part of the Leo constellation – it can be seen to the left of Jupiter, almost forming a line. The next few nights will provide us with great views with the moon appearing closer to the two planets. Get out and look!
From left to right: Mt Tam, Jupiter, Venus, waxing Moon
On Friday night, Venus, the waxing crescent Moon and Mars came together in a beautiful alignment. The norCal skies allowed unobstructed viewing with 60 degree evening temps and no wind. Mars appears very faint in between Venus and the Moon, but during early twilight it was difficult to see Mars. The purple sky was a striking backdrop. The three were all within 2 degrees of each other – the next night, Venus and Mars were even closer together and in conjunction (less than 1/2 a degree apart).
One of the last shots of the evening, the haze of some fog / cloud cover was encroaching and added an even more surreal effect …
MISSED SHOT OF THE EVENING … great-horned owl with backdrop of celestial alignment. Ack!!! I couldn’t get my tripod set up in time!! It’s an image that remains very clear in my mind though. This was the best I got before the owl flew off, just before my tripod was set and camera settings dialed in …
the night sky after dusk on this hot day revealed our Earth’s Moon waxing at first quarter, with Saturn and Mars to the lower right of it. the constellation of Scorpio is just under the Moon, with the “left arm” of the scorpion reaching up to the moon, and Antares, the bright red star in that constellation, shining brightly to the lower left of the Moon.
Antares is a supergiant star, and said to be 883 times the radius of our sun!
Last night the waxing moon, almost full, was in close conjunction (less than one degree) with Jupiter (seen bottom right of photo as a small spec of light).