Squirrel Tsunami

I had mentioned somewhere a few weeks back (here it is) that the squirrel population seemed to have exploded. Spring! Love is in the air! Or at least, hormones!

We have one squirrel that lives in the big tree on the left in the back yard, and another that we’ll see often coming up from the pines on the hill in back. Sometimes, rarely, there’s a third that comes over the chain link fence from the neighbor’s yard on the right. But a month ago I saw two adults leading two tiny squirrel babies through that jungle gym of pine tree branches back there, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I saw the whole group.

Along with a handful of finches, mourning doves, and a couple of juncos, they were decimating the bird seed that gets put out every day. Curiously, there was also a rabbit way off in the far corner, under the bushes. We used to have them all of the time, but didn’t have any for months and months.

The compression on photos sort of sucks, so here are the four of them highlighted.

I will say that when I first got up there were three of them out there. This was an hour or so later, and while it might be likely that it’s the early morning three plus one other, one of these days I might walk out and find seven of them there.

It could happen!

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No Context For You – May 22nd

Buried in the details, distorted, obscured, a clue to an event, a date and time, a place. But would even Sherlock Holmes be able to worry it out? Poirot? Colombo?

I’m sure they would.

“Just one more thing… Does tequila go bad over time?”

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Soar

I think a lot about the contradictions in the human condition, in particular the way we can soar to immense heights and accomplish astonishing things, both as individuals and as a species, yet we spend so much of our time bogged down in the details of daily life and the petty nonsense that ties us to the ground far more than gravity ever will.

If there are an infinite number of infinite universes, you can’t even ask “Are we in one of the good ones or one of the bad ones?” By definition, there are an infinite number in which there are happier and better off “us” versions, and an infinite number in which the “us” there is worse off and suffering. A little bit more clarity and a better scorecard might be highly desireable, but we’re just going to have to live with uncertaintly and unanswered prayers.

I believe the time spent on prayers would be better off in getting off our collective asses and getting to work on the problems. But that’s at least 90% that midwestern, Catholic school, Republican, Protestant work ethic upbringing.

Damn it.

Work on soaring, not slogging. The view’s better, if nothing else.

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Skyscapes – May 20th

Cliched, but “Thank God It’s Friday!”

Today was a successful day, a couple of big things moved forward significantly at work.

There’s a lot to be said for busting your butt, maximum effort, pedal to the metal, and having it pay off. That feels good.

There’s also a lot to be said for getting some sleep. And not waking up at 02:00 and 04:00 every night thinking about that project.

And now it’s necessary to keep the brain from starting to obsess over the other tasks and deadlines that were put on the back burner and which will now require a maximum effort come Monday.

Let’s spend the weekend breathing. Maybe just laying in the yard and watching clouds. Like these!

Wouldn’t it be amazing to soar up there like the hawks or ravens, spinning on the thermals, weaving in and out of the whispy white strands, diving down at maximum speed just because you can?

Monday morning will still be there in fifty-seven hours, two hours, and forty-nine seconds.

Make the world a better place. Relax.

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Wrinkles Maximus

One of the problems with shaving your head…

…is that when you get this face, the wrinkles don’t just stop at your eyes and forehead, they go all the way over the top and back down your spine. For all I know my … never mind.

The good news about doing it at this age is that you don’t really give a rat’s ass about it. You shouldn’t be spending a lot of time and effort trying to impress anyone. If you are, you probably deserve what you’re bringing down on yourself.

Those who love you and want you in their lives will do so even if you’re involuntarily prunish. They’ll understand that you look like a shar-pei and laugh “with you” when you make funny faces, even (especially?) when you’re not trying to make a funny face.

Those who don’t will hate you whether you look like this or like George Clooney, so invite them to take a long hike off of a short pier.

It also helps if you’re a decent human being and not a flaming asshole, but that’s a different discussion altogether. One for another day.

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Finch Hatchlings

While all of this lunar eclipse hullabaloo has been going on, Lucy‘s been sitting on the nest on the back porch and Ricky’s been feeding her.

In my research re: house finch husbandry I had seen that this was a sign that the egg hatching was imminent.

Then I started occasionally seeing Lucy gone, but Ricky at the nest. He was dipping his head down into the nest and something in there was moving.

A-HA!!

I haven’t gotten a decent picture of the chicks yet, mainly because getting this close will get me dive bombed by a couple of house finches that are trying to peck my eyes out. Since I like my eyes just as they are, i.e., unpecked, I’ll try to respect the privacy of the finches. Or at least not try again until I have some decent safety goggles.

It looks like all four eggs hatched. It’s tough to see heads popping up at feeding time, so I don’t know if all four still are viable.

Part of the problem is that Ricky and Lucy are extremely gun shy about letting me even look at them from inside the kitchen. Their nest location is directly across from the sliding glass door out onto the patio. If I get within five feet of the door, they’re outta there. So at feeding time, I’m actually standing on the far side of the kitchen, as much out of sight as possible, watching with binoculars and the big telephoto lens. But that angle (and shooting pictures through the glass) sort of sucks. I have seen at least two little heads popping up with maybe a third, but the four of them never have lined up for a proper family portrait.

How antisocial, especially considering that I’m not even charging them rent!

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Total Lunar Eclipse – Totality

When last we saw our plucky hero, he was cursing himself for staying at home where the rising, partially eclipsed full Moon was off behind a whole stand of pine trees. Our intrepid but well-meaning fool was dodging around the yard moving cameras and tripods to try to find holes through the trees to spot the Moon, as well trying to Livestream the whole chaotic mess on Facebook. (It’s still there – scan through the boring parts where I put the phone down to take these pictures, there are bits and pieces that didn’t suck completely!)

As the last bit of bright sunlight fades from the rim of the Moon and totality begins…

…and we see just how dark this eclipse will be. They vary, from being fairly bright to being quite, quite dark. On the darker ones (cause by more dust in the Earth’s atmosphere, blocking sunlight from making it through) the Moon can almost disappear in an urban setting with lots of light pollution. This eclipse was above average brightness.

To bring out the color I go to longer exposures, gathering more photons! Of course, since I wasn’t using my telescope as a humongous telephoto lens (if you thought using a tripod was a pain to use while bobbing and weaving through the branches to find a viewing angle, try it with an 8′ Newtonian on an equitorial mount!) and the camera wasn’t being guided (moving counter to the Earth’s rotation so that the Moon and stars seem to be still in the camera’s field of view) the images tend to blur just a bit.

You can definitely see some of the background stars from the constellations Scorpio and Libra. Once that bright, bright Moon is dimmed down by a factor of a couple thousand, the starts pop right out.

Of course, with the longer, untracked exposures, the background stars blur and trail a bit as well.

This would all be a lot easier to practice if these eclipses happened more than once every few years. Who do I talk to about getting that to happen?

The color was gorgous!

Even in the hazy, light-polluted skies of Los Angeles, this giant, glowing, orange ball in the sky was clearly visible and magnificent!

It’s finally sort of getting out from behind the trees, almost at the edge – and that bottom edge is starting to get awfully bright!

And there we’re done with totality as the bottom edge is awash in bright, reflected sunlight.

From here the brighter section got quickly much larger and more illuminated, while the eclipsed section got steadily smaller and harder to see as anything other than “dark.” After a bit less than an hour, the Moon was back to just being “full” and “incredibly bright.”

Time to wait a few more years for the next total lunar eclipse! Be ready when it comes, they’re pretty predictable, even if the weather won’t be.

 

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Total Lunar Eclipse – Partial

Poor planning. For whatever reason, when I had looked prior to the eclipse at where the Moon was rising and would be, I had it wrong. I thought it would be much easier to see from the back yard. Instead, I was fighting to find holes through the trees all night.

I knew that the Moon would already be in partial eclipse when it rose in Los Angeles. Celestial mechanics are out of my control, but if I had known then what I know now I probably would have packed up all of my gear and gone off to a local park where I had a good, clean, clear, flat, unobstructed view of the east.

C’est le vie!

As it was rising the Moon was orange, but that wasn’t because of the eclipse. That was because the light hitting it was going through a LOT of atmosphere as the sun set on the western horizon. Same thing that makes the sun look orange at sunset. But this Moon was just minutes away from full – it should have been 100% illuminated and round as round can be. Instead, half of it was in the Earth’s shadow, with more slipping into shadow by the minute.

The other effect you see from the Moon being so far down near the horizon and being seen through so much soupy, turbulent air was that it’s lumpy and uneven, distorted by the bubbles of hot air rising off the pavement and buildings of Los Angeles off to the east.

A few minutes later, when the Moon had risen a bit, you could more clearly see that it was still the same old white Moon that we’re used to, but with more and more of its surface covered by the Earth’s shadow.

About ten minutes before totality began, if I exposed for the illuminated part, the shadowed part seems to vanish…

…but if I expose for the shadowed part, the coppery orangish red color of the full eclipse starts to show through.

Pulling back from the closeup view, you can see the trees framing my view (as I was moving all over the yard to find holes to peek through) as well as the city below.

Finally, just a minute or so before totality, a long exposure to bring out the red color of the Moon as well as the city below. (THIS is a wonderful picture which I love dearly.)

Mere seconds before totality, the last little sliver of the Moon’s limb clinging to sunlight.

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Total Lunar Eclipse – Were You Watching?

I worried all day about clouds.

It’s been clear and a million for several days – today it was about 90% overcast when I went grocery shopping in the morning and stayed bad most of the day.

It turned out that the trees would be my nemeses. The clouds cleared about 16:00 and it was clear by the time that the moon rose about fifteen minutes after the partial phase of the eclipse began.

I had forgotten just how obstructed the view can be to the east. Here’s the wide view a half-hour or so into totality, viewed through a hole in the pines, with the west end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley below, along with a video camera and my iPhone which was doing a Live Stream on FaceBook.

Zoomed in as far as the wide angle, “light bucket” lens will take us. Yes, the Moon was that much of a gorgeous, copper red tonight.

Now I’m exhausted and need to grab something to eat before collapsing into bed. I just got all of the equipment back into the house. I took a quick peek at the pictures from the camera with the telephoto lens and I think there’s some really good stuff in there for sharing later in the week.

There’s also that Live Stream on my FaceBook timeline. I pretty much left it running for over two and a half running, but most of that time it was unattended. I would come back to it and narrate and actually point the camera every ten or fifteen minutes, and there’s plenty of me blathering and nattering onward. There’s also long stretches where it may or may not show random anything but I think you can fast forward to the next good stuff. Your mileage may vary.

I hope you got to see the eclipse! If you didn’t, I hope you got to watch a NASA live feed or something from an observatory.

Finally, my undying thanks to everyone who took a minute to tune into my FaceBook Live feed! I hope you found something useful and/or entertaining there.

 

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Tomorrow Night! Total Lunar Eclipse!

About 24 hours from now, the primary part of a total lunar eclipse starts.

You’ll probably be seeing clickbait headlines all day tomorrow, especially online. “How To Watch Sunday’s Rare ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’ Total Lunar Eclipse!!!” While I’ll say that a total lunar eclipse can be beautiful and cool and amazing and awe inspiring, I sort of despise the over the top hype.

First of all, it’s not particularly rare. Unlike a solar eclipse that might happen at a particular spot on the planet every several thousand years, lunar eclipses happen every few years. For example, this blog has now just turned nine years old and I think this will be at least the fourth lunar eclipse that I’ve covered, might be the fifth. It’s a stretch in my book to call that “rare,” but maybe I’m just not easily impressed.

Secondly, unlike a solar eclipse which can only be seen along a very narrow strip across the planet for a minute or two, and which requires some eye protection to safely see the partial phases, a lunar eclipse can be seen by half of the planet at a time and requires nothing other than your eyeballs. If you’re on the lucky half of the planet where the moon is up while it’s happening, go outside, look. No further rocket science is necessary.

Finally, I don’t know what a “Flower Blood Moon” is. The moon during a total lunar eclipse will turn some shade of red, from brownish-red to coppery red to orangish red. That makes it “cool” to talk about a “blood moon,” but since we moved out the hunter-gatherer days a few thousand years ago, I prefer the wonder and beauty of the science and reality rather than this pseudo-Neolithic affectation.

So what should you expect? First of all, for your personal times, go here and put in your location or look up a city near you. For a more general overview of what’s going on, go here.

Big picture? The Earth’s shadow has a very dim and faint outer ring called the penumbra, and a much darker inner ring called the umbra.

  1. The Moon will start to enter the penumbra and it will be almost impossible to tell with the naked eye. You can ignore this part except for looking at how pretty and bright the 99.999999% full moon is.
  2. The Moon will start to enter the umbra (the partial eclipse begins). As it slowly moves in you’ll see a very noticeable, dark shadow moving across the moon until there’s just a sliver of the the moon fully illuminated. This takes an hour or so.
  3. The Moon will be completely inside the umbra (the beginning of totality) and will be some shade of red or orange or brown – it all depends on how the Earth’s atmosphere is, the amount of cloud cover at that moment, the amount of dust and water, etc. The shade, color, and amount of shading is highly unpredictable, one of the fun things to look for.
  4. The Moon will start to exit the umbra (the ending of totality) and we’ll just run this show backwards as the brightly lit portion of the moon starts to grow.
  5. The Moon finally exit the umbra (the partial eclipse ends) but still be in the penumbra for an hour or so. Again, you can ignore this.

Tomorrow night, those important times are:

  1. 21:32 EDT, 18:32 PDT (the Moon will still be below the horizon on the West Coast)
  2. 22:27 EDT, 19:27 PDT (the Moon will rise at about 19:40 PDT, so you’ll miss the first few minutes, but it’s not that big of a deal)
  3. 23:29 EDT, 20:29 PDT
  4. 00:53 EDT, 21:53 PDT
  5. 01:55 EDT, 22:55 PDT
  6. Go to sleep!

And examples of what it might look like?

A few minutes after the start of the partial eclipse in November 2021.

About halfway through the partial phase, just before the clouds completely covered up everything in November 2021.

Just before totality, September 2015. You can see how the coppery red color is covering about 90% of the Moon’s disc.

Totality from April 2015. You can see how the coloration and depth of the shadow can change from being lighter at the edge of the umbra (right side of this disc) to being much darker in the center (left side).

What will tomorrow look like? Who knows? Let’s hope that it’s not cloudy, wherever you are. Even if it is, I hope maybe you’ll catch a break in the clouds for a few minutes during totality to get a glance.

If you’re totally clouded out, check out some of the online coverage from NASA, Griffith Observatory, Lowell Observatory, or any number of other places that will be trying to livestream it.

Or check out my Facebook stream to see if I’m nuts enough to be trying to livestream it. Crazier things have happened!

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