Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I love the smell of rain, the creosote odor before the rain starts and the fresh wet smell after it is over. The downpour only lasted about 10 minutes and that was it. This morning's sky was full of beautiful billowy clouds, something we don't see very often in LA either where the sky is almost perpetually blue, or alternatively, gray.
This was a nice gentle rain with no wind or lightning. But how do you take pictures of rain? I managed to catch the drops of water that were cascading off the roof of my house and the picture below shows my snowbush (Breynia nivosa) with raindrops on the window of my atrium.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
But I hate the sound of the chain saws. I always feel like my trees are screaming, "Yee-ouch!" There is a part of the little opera called "L'Enfant et les Sortilèges" by Ravel where the trees come to life and moan, "Mon blessure! Mon blessure!" (My wound! My wound!), referring to the carvings the young miscreant has made in their bark. Thankfully, the guys don't use the chain saw anymore on the pine trees, just small hacksaws which are blessedly quiet.
When they are done trimming, they do a pretty good job of cleaning up all the debris for me. I don't make it easy for them, though. My yard is small and I have planted a lot of herbs under the trees. However, there is usually plenty for me to do after they leave. Then it's my turn to get the yard ready for our winter guests—the birds who will be arriving in a couple of weeks in migration.
To that end, I cleaned the birdbath really well and bought a new chain for it since the old one was all rusty. It's a hanging bath. I also bought a new seed feeder which also hangs from my patio cover. I have had seed feeders in the past that attracted mostly House Finches, but one year we had an irruption of Pine Siskins and I had about 30 of those coming to my yard every day to feed. An irruption is when a number of birds are found outside of their normal range. Pine Siskins are mountain birds, but one winter they were here in the flatlands for some reason.
I fill the feeder with sunflower seeds only and the finches drop a fair number of seeds to the ground where the White Crowned Sparrows, who prefer to hunt for seed on the ground, can get them. Birds seem to know that my yard is a bird-friendly place and the presence of these birds also attracts other migrants who prefer bugs to seeds, like the warblers.
The Scrub Jays took no time at all to find the feeder. They're such smart birds. But the feeder is too small for them. They cannot comfortably perch and dig out the seeds. The resident squirrel has also found the feeder and he spent an hour yesterday trying to figure a way to get to its treasure. You can see his problem in the picture below. I thought he was going to try to fly across but he didn't, thank goodness.
Trying the direct approach...
He finally decided the whole thing was too risky and not worth the effort and he left. I hope it remains that way. Now if only the birds for whom it is intended would find it!
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The night was clear but breezy. The wind died down finally at about 10 pm, but the fog horn blowing offshore kept us all mindful that the fog could roll in at any time. The indications on the Unysis Weather site showed that the wind speed at 300 mb was just about the worst it could be for astronomical viewing, but I have learned a curious thing. When the jet stream is right over us (in Los Angeles) as it was last night, the air is very clear of particulates, ergo the sky appears darker because the city lights are not being scattered so much (my theory). The winds are supposed to cause twinkling and jiggling of the tiny objects you are trying to look at, but in our case the trade-off is worth it. But it reminded me of another factor to consider when you are buying a scope—get a good, sturdy tripod!
There were about eight guys with telescopes at the site and me. I am one of only three women in the entire club of 30+ people. I have been shy about saying anything at meetings, or going to one of these observing sessions, because I didn't feel confident that they would be interested in anything I had to say and because I still didn't know how to operate the scope that my late husband left me. But after hours of practicing at home plus my trip to Joshua Tree, I felt I was ready for the Big Time. I can now set the scope up, level it, point it north, initialize the computer controls, and what's most important, I have learned what to go look for (at least in our late summer skies). In fact, I introduced the guys to a few new things—my good filter for bringing out nebulae, and some Messier objects they hadn't tried to find yet.
My best viewing of the evening was with globular clusters. These are small, gravitationally bound collections of stars that usually look like clouds of gas in my telescope, if I can find them at all. Last night I was able to bring into focus some of the individual stars in M22 which contains over 100,000 stars! Alas, M13 remained a hazy blob and I couldn't even find M4 (it was too low and into the city light haze). My scope does better with nebulae which are more spread out than these tiny fuzz balls. M11, the Wild Duck cluster, is an open cluster but looked like a hazy ball in my previous attempts until last night when I was able to bring out the individual stars in that one also. The Lagoon Nebula (M8) was spectacular and the Butterfly Cluster (M6) really looked like a butterfly last night.
But the highlight of the evening was when we were about to pack up and call it a night and one of the guys invited me to look through his 14-inch telescope. This huge monster made my five-inch scope look like a baby version of the same thing since they are both Meades and of the same basic design. Within seconds he whirred his scope around to show me NGC 869 (an open cluster in Perseus, part of the Double Cluster), Caldwell 55 (the Saturn Nebula), and one of my all-time favorites, M 57 (the Ring Nebula). We could both see the tiny diamond on the ring which in his opinion indicated a good night for seeing.
Friday, September 14, 2007
The plant grew bigger and bigger, got transplanted into a bigger and bigger pot, but still no blooms. Kathy asked me, "Are you giving it any fertilizer?" No, I wasn't. So I started giving it Bloom Booster and lo and behold, I got blooms, but only on one stalk. The plant now has nine stalks and this year for the very first time it will bloom on two stalks! I'm ecstatic! And it's pink, my favorite color!
Monday, September 10, 2007
Baby C. wasn't too sure about the birthday cake, but he ate it all! Even though my daughter removed the frosting, there was still plenty of sugar in there. But a birthday without a cake is unthinkable!
Sunday, September 9, 2007
ticket price $50 (with discount)... parking at the Inglewood Forum $22!!!!...
Thursday, September 6, 2007
This past weekend, besides star-gazing at night, Kathy, Bart, and I drove down to Big Morongo Saturday evening and again Sunday morning to see what we could find. It's a little early for fall migration of land birds although the shorebirds have been at it for a month already, but you can find real rarities just before migration starts and again at the end of the season. Juveniles tend to be early. Like young human adults, they tend to explore and can be found off course, so to speak.
Spring migration is a wonderful time to go to Big Morongo. The spring birds are in full breeding plumage and the males are singing from every perch they can find. They want to be seen and heard so it is much easier to find them. In the fall, just the opposite occurs. The birds are more drab and subdued, they are more secretive, and they are quiet. It is much more difficult, sometimes impossible, to tell the males from the females from the first-year juveniles. The immatures in their first fall are particularly dull in appearance and telling them apart can challenge the experts, plus they can hybridize which adds to the problem. The great Roger Tory Peterson referred to fall warblers as "the confusing fall warblers."
Among the few birds we found on our walks were two species of warblers. One was the resident Yellow Warbler (2 birds only), and the other was more rare for this part of the country, first-year Canada Warblers (again 2 birds travelling together). I could not get a picture of any of these birds as they are too small and flit from branch to branch very fast. You are lucky to get a good look at them with your binoculars. There was still some water in the marsh area even though we are in extreme drought conditions and a waterfall at one spot was attracting a lot of birds including Lesser Goldfinches which are also resident at the Preserve. One Scrub Jay did sit on a perch to watch us for awhile (waiting for a handout?), but flew off when I tried to take his picture.
There was plenty of wildlife to view, too, and interesting plants to look at. Because of the year-round water, the Preserve attracts all manner of wildlife including Bobcats, Mountain Lions, and Bears. We didn't see any of those although a bear did leave scratch marks on the boardwalk. We did see Coyotes, Desert Cottontails, Raccoon tracks, and several kinds of lizard including two Desert Spiny Lizards, one without a tail. The sunny boardwalk seemed to be a perfect spot for the lizards to get warmed up early in the morning and when unsuspecting humans came along, they could easily, and swiftly, dart underneath it.
While Bart was the bird and lizard expert on our walks, Kathy is the plant expert. She kept us informed of the flora on either side of the boardwalk as we sauntered along. I can never remember the names of plants until I have become very familiar with them, but I did recognize the cottonwoods, willows, and mesquite trees that shaded our walk. The marsh area had sedges, cattails, and watercress. There was even a patch of Stream Orchids which had finished blooming. But I can't remember the name of this interesting plant.
Saturday afternoon there was a big thunderstorm with some heavy rain in the desert. We went to Big Morongo after the rain had stopped and were there to witness a glorious sunset.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
The desert is having what they call monsoon weather right now. There were thunderstorms every afternoon and even some real rain on Saturday afternoon. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in half an hour and then slowly rose back up again after the rain stopped. The storms made for some spectacular cloud formations and beautiful sunsets and miraculously, the clouds mostly went away when it was time for us to do our star-gazing. You can see a few wispy clouds around Jupiter in the above photo.
If you click on the photo you will also see zillions of stars. In fact, I was pointing the camera toward the Milky Way and the very center of our galaxy is almost in the center of the photo. The brightest "star" you see is actually the planet Jupiter and the cloudy area that runs vertically through the middle is the Milky Way. The constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius are easily visible, and to my great surprise, some of the nebulae and globular clusters of the Messier catalogue are visible as well. The glow at the horizon is from the city lights of LA. You can't escape them. There was some haze (smog) out in the desert Sunday night when this photo was taken (at 9:26 pm) which reflected the lights even more. And the light is brighter in the photo than it seemed to us. I have outlined the constellations and labelled some of the Messier objects that we looked at with the telescope in the photo on the left (the ones you can actually see in the photo).
The meteor shower was a success. I personally saw 18 in a span of one hour, but the people around me saw many that I did not catch. Besides my friends, Kathy and Bart, who drove up with me, a family came up from Orange County and joined us in the Hidden Valley parking lot in the early morning hours. Kathy, Bart, and I had been there all night, viewing the stars in the southwest before the moon rose, catching some sleep, and then turning to face the northeast and Auriga to see the shower. Actually, if you look right at the radiant of a meteor shower you see pin-points of light or short meteors. If you look to the side or away from the radiant, you are more apt to see long streamers. Bart caught a very long streamer when we were there Sunday evening for more viewing.
These photos were all taken Sunday. We didn't stay all night this time, but left when the moon came up at 10:30 pm. The photo below shows moonrise and the constellations Cassiopeia and Andromeda. The Andromeda Galaxy was easily visible with binoculars and even the naked eye for those whose eyesight is better than mine! And yes we did hear a Great Horned Owl hoot in the middle of the night.Alas, this wonderful experience may never be repeated. A park ranger came along Sunday night just after we had set up to tell us we were in a Day Use area and really shouldn't be there after sunset. His job was to lock the gate at the entrance to the parking lot. Fortunately, he seemed to be something of a star-gazer himself and knew how difficult it would be for us to move to a new location now that we were all set up and he let us stay if we promised to lock the gate behind us when we left. We had asked at the Visitor's Center when we first arrived where we could go to do some astronomy and were told that this location along with Barker Dam was OK. However, the ranger informed us that both were Day Use areas. So I asked him where we could go "legally" the next time, if there ever is a next time, and he asked us what kind of car we had. He said that he himself went down the Geology Tour dirt road for about a mile to view the Perseids.
Astronomy has got to be one of the most rewarding and frustrating of hobbies!