Ranger 8

On this date in 1965 a robotic spacecraft, Ranger 8, made a crash landing on the Moon. The purpose was to search for suitable landing sites for the first manned landing so it took thousands of close-up images on the way down.

Close-up image of the Moon taken by Ranger 8, showing the craters Ritter and Sabine

Close-up image of the Moon taken by Ranger 8, showing the craters Ritter and Sabine

Wide-angle mage of same area taken by Elton Moonshine Observatory

Wide-angle mage of same area taken by Elton Moonshine Observatory

Great Backyard Bird Count (4)

Bird Counts - February 15

Bird Counts – February 15

House Sparrow - Passer domesticus

House Sparrow – Passer domesticus

One should not be hesitant to photograph critters that are seen every day. For one thing – a personal collection of local wildlife would certainly be incomplete without the most common species. Another, even better reason, is that creatures seen at a distance are not always what they appear to be. When I photographed this bird at our feeder I could have sworn that it was a House Finch. It was not until I enlarged it that I discovered that it was really a House Sparrow. Had I not taken the photograph my bird count would have been inaccurate; and that is unforgivable.

Great Backyard Bird Count (3)

Bird Count - February 14

Bird Count – February 14

Tufted Titmouse - Accipiter cooperii

Tufted Titmouse – Accipiter cooperii

Our birdfeeder is a center of activity and an obvious place to look for visiting birds. Different birds have different feeding habits. Some, like House Finches and Cardinals, perch for many minutes and feed at their leisure. Others, like Black-capped Chickadees and the Tufted Titmouse, feed in what might best be called a “hit-and-run” fashion. They swoop in, grab a seed, and take off again – all within a second or two. Others are ground feeders that gather under the feeder to pick up the many seeds that get knocked to the ground.

Great Backyard Bird Count (2)

Bird Count - February 13

Bird Count – February 13

European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris

European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris

Yesterday’s bird count yielded members of 10 different species. The most interesting was a European Starling. Though not a rare bird in this area, it is more of a fair weather bird. That may be of interest to the Cornell Lab. Although it is only a single observation, when combined with several hundred others it may show a change in the migratory pattern. (Or, maybe not.)

Great Backyard Bird Count

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Melanerpes carolinus

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus

Every February, Cornell University (and a large group of citizen scientists) takes a 4-day snapshot of the North American bird population. The complete reporting rules can be found on their website:

gbbc.birdcount.org

The major ones are – Birds reported can be any within your line of sight; but, in order to keep from counting the same birds more than once, you only report the number of birds of a particular species that are seen at the same time. If you see two male Cardinals and they fly away – then, 10 minutes later, one Cardinal is seen – your count remains at two because the third Cardinal might have been one of the original two. The one exception to this rule is if the third Cardinal happened to be a female – because you know that it could not have been one of the original two males.

The most important thing to remember is – this is not a contest to see who can count the most birds, but a scientific endeavor to accurately report what is seen.

The program runs from February 13 through 16, which gives Cornell a nice picture of the migration patterns of the birds in North America. It is one of the most valuable citizen science projects that I know of and certainly one of the most personally satisfying.

Dragonflies

Halloween Pennant Dragonfly - Celithemis eponina

Halloween Pennant Dragonfly – Celithemis eponina

Common Whitetail Dragonfly - Plathemis lydia

Common Whitetail Dragonfly – Plathemis lydia

Among the most fascinating insects are the Dragonflies. A quick search of the internet will reveal many interesting facts, mostly about their powers of flight and sight. But my favorite piece of “trivia” is that, although they have six legs, they can stand (perch) but they cannot walk.

Apollo 14

The Moon - "X" marks landing site of Apollo 14

The Moon – “X” marks landing site of Apollo 14

On this day in 1971, Apollo 14 landed on the Moon with Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell aboard. It was the third manned landing on the Moon. The site of the touch-down was Fra Mauro, a walled plain 95 km in diameter. The term “walled plain” is seldom used today but was once applied to flat-bottomed circular formations (craters) between 50 and 300 km.

Blue Jay

Nothing speeds up the traffic at our birdfeeder like a snowfall. It obviously covers up a lot of the birds’ natural food sources and they know that our feeder is always accessible.

Blue Jays are our most obvious winter guests. They move down from the extreme north regions and fill the feeding gaps left open by those species which migrate even further south this time of the year. Although they tend to bully the smaller birds at the feeder, they are still welcome. They make excellent lookouts for predators, especially hawks, and will sound a most raucous alarm when any come within sight.

Blue Jay - Cyanocitta cristata

Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata