Friday, January 11, 2019

Feathered Friends - Family Too!

Years ago, Melinda and I stopped by Mississippi Lock and Dam #13 north of Clinton on a cold January day. Most of the River was frozen over, but just below the lock, the flowing water kept ice from forming and the trees lining the far side were filled with bald eagles! Well, at least a couple dozen, where they had retreated to feed on fish and rest up for the next hunting pass over the open water. Hoping to see more, last weekend I returned to Lock & Dam 13 to see what I could see.

Well, there was nary an ice cube, nor any eagles fishing anywhere that could be seen. I had resigned myself to driving 2 hours for nothing, when another car of eagle-watchers came by to look and noted they had seen some 15 miles to the north near Sabula! Shortly after, my sister Linda and her husband Lauren came by to join me, so we loaded my camera gear in their car and headed north!

We'd been given explicit directions where to go, and sure enough, there were a group of bald eagles on the far side of the slough. Not very close, but you could tell what they were with the 500mm lens I'd brought along! Most appeared to be young birds that still had brown heads or hadn't completely transformed to white heads. At left the juvenile on ice was being bothered by the older eagle. At right, this youngster had just swooped down for a fish, but came up empty-clawed!

We were set up in a campground on the south side of the island where Sabula is located. Once parked, we noticed an eagle sitting in the tree next to us! Shown at left, I suspect its another juvenile bald eagle. He didn't pay much attention to us, but we got a pretty good look.

Besides the eagles, there were a few other species. I spotted a very-tardy in departing Great Blue Heron, but he rounded a bend and I lost sight before getting a snapshot. There were a couple flocks of Mallard-looking ducks, looking like they were expending so much energy in flying, wings beating furiously! I'm thinking they were more prey for the eagles if they lost their taste for fish! Got the image of a large group of them at right, in front of a couple tugboats in dry dock...

A couple of my siblings were meeting us for dinner at Manny's in Fulton, IL, and with the extended trip to Sabula, we departed late. Manny's is a pizza and wings place quite popular for the locals. Wasn't much in the way of lo-carbs that I'm partaking in lately - about the only choice was a Caesar salad with grilled chicken. It was great! At left, that's brother Brian at left, Sister Kathy in the middle and Linda at right. Brother Jim was occupied that night and Baby sister Sheri now lives in Alabama.  Our meetings always seem to revolve around eating, but at least we get together regularly! It was a fun daytrip!

Far and Near...

As my time at "Ketelsen East" winds down, I still keep my eyes open for photo opportunities even in the midst of Winter. And while I tell people I can't really do astronomy with the skies so bright from the light pollution of Chicago, I still look up. After all, a month ago I did manage to shoot a comet next to the Pleiades in the back yard! Unfortunately, the bane of astronomers in the Midwest are mosquitos in the Summer and in Winter, temperatures can get frigid! Even so, one of the prettiest views in winter are the prominent constellations seem through the naked trees. Shown at right here is Orion visible through the bare oak trees just a few steps from my front door. This is a single 13 second exposure with the kit zoom lens set to 28mm and F/4.  Any longer of an exposure and the sky was way overexposed...

That very night, while it was under freezing, it wasn't really frigid. But I did note on the weather forecast that evening that there was likely going to be morning fog. Well, for some reason I didn't sleep well that night, so got up at the crack of 8am and stepped out to find a very impressive display of frost on the downed oak leaves in the yard. So dutifully I got out my newish "super macro" lens, the Canon MP-E 65mm with the ring flash mounted in the front for some hand-held focus-stack images.

Now I often mention "focus-stacking". The depth of field of macro lenses are quite narrow, so to extend the part of the field that is in focus, several-to-many frames are taken with slightly different focus settings, or lens positions, and Photoshop or other software can combine only the parts of the frame that is in sharp focus. For example, at left is a 7-frame focus stack, and at right is a single frame from the sequence that shows how narrow the depth of focus actually is! See how only the upper part of the frame at right is sharp. Photoshop does a great job at combining all the sharp parts of the frame as seen at left.

Some of the frost photos were quite astounding! There was about a 3-meter square patch in the center of the yard that showed needle structure. I DO NOT know how they form - I guess I need to look around on crystal formation! In some of the frames the "needles" appear tubular or hollow, and in some they have a general hexagonal hollow form. Those are visible at left.

And at right one of the stunning images of spikes emanating from a single point, and quite large - over a centimeter in diameter!

I first stopped at a moss patch that never gets much Summer sun. While not as impressive as the larger spikes I found a few minutes later, they are interesting in their own way.

All of these are combinations of 7 to 11 frames to extend the range of focus, and are all "focused" manually by hand-holding them. It was my first time attempting this and as you can see, came out ok! Some I used some combination of flash and the rising sunlight.

Of course, as soon as the rising sun cleared the horizon, since the temps were barely under freezing, all the crystals melted quickly, and the show was over!

I present the rest without comment, other
than I will certainly keep an eye out for such events in the future!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Red Gate Bridge!

Twas' a beautiful day at "Ketelsen East" - beautiful blue skies and temps in mid to upper 40s! I know - in January! I took the opportunity to go to the carwash to scrub the salt and grime off the car as it is supposed to be dry for a couple days. I also needed to take a little walk and decided to explore Red Gate Bridge - built a couple years ago and used most every day, but have never gone to explore further.

Interestingly, when Melinda and I married here 10 years ago, to cross the Fox River (yes, to those from AZ where washes are dry 11 months of the year - a real river that always has water) one had to drive 4 miles north to Elgin or 4 miles south to St Charles.  How did we ever survive that!? In those 10 years they have built a bridge at Stearns Road, about 2 miles north, and this one, Red Gate, about a mile south.

Red Gate Bridge is a beauty! Most bridges are just that - utility above all. But Red Gate, whether required because of space limitations or what, has a curved approach from both directions! For some reason that makes it look much more gracious and elegant, if you could ever use those words for a bridge. At left is a photo from well up the east bank to get an overall view of the approach and crossing, and at right is a plaque on the entrance to the pedestrian crossing.

Of course it is also the only bike crossing in the area, and connects with paths on both sides of the Fox River. And I always love to go out on these pedestrian/bike crossings to get the view up and downriver. At left the approach to the pedestrian path is shown. Interestingly, a couple minutes later as I stopped to take photos, the suspended path bounced up and down considerably as folks walked their dogs and otherwise crossed the river. I expected it but was stronger than I thought! At right is an HDR (combination of 3 frames to show extremes of shadows and highlights) showing interesting patterns between vertical roadway supports and diagonal details of suspended path.

I love looking out over the river, as long sight lines (not interrupted by trees, residences or power lines) give clear views of the water, wildlife and river traffic (in warmer weather!). Didn't look down south into the sun (hanging low in this midwinter month), but looked north towards where I live. At left is a 6-frame mosaic with a 200mm telephoto taken from mid-river. "Ketelsen East is up just around the bend a little on the east (right) bank. From the east end of the bridge, I took another photo that had a clear shot to the grounds here. At right is shown a full-resolution to the almost exactly 1 mile to my place. The tan and pink buildings are on the grounds of the camp here and in fact, if you click on the photo, you can see the volleyball net to right center that is literally 50 feet from my house! I believe my place is blocked from my neighbors to the south or other neighborhood construction.

As I was leaving, I took yet another multi-frame panorama (still with 200mm telephoto) of the Red Gate Water Tower built a couple years ago. I took the first above photo from adjacent to the tower. I hope you agree that Red Gate is a beauty - sorry it has taken so long to document it here!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Holiday Season at "Ketelsen East"!

A few years back I used to give a year-end review of the highlights and lowlights of the preceding year.  My blog output has been so low the last couple years that I saw no point in doing a review. Last year only produced 27 posts, about half of my 2017 output, which was about half of my 2016 output! But on the optimistic side, though I only had one post in July and another in August, the year ended strong with 6 in December! So with today's start, I'm hoping the surge continues into the New Year!

I've been at "Ketelsen East" for almost 3 weeks, and as I posted a few days ago, got in a Carolina road trip early-on. It was quiet holiday with only a couple family gatherings, otherwise have been working on a couple projects at home and mostly hanging out watching the cold weather outside! Got in a single bike ride when it hit 50F one of my first days here, otherwise have been a slug!

But I'm always looking for photo ops, and while the winter scenes are pretty monochromatic, found a couple of interest just the last few days. Temps have hovered within a handful of degrees around freezing, so snow one day, then rain, then snow again! At least it hasn't made driving difficult, and the fresh snow a couple days ago, plus the clear skies made some interesting shadows on the boat dock a few yards from my house.

It seems strange to have a river without boats on it! Has been a weird year - high water and some minor flooding through the spring and summer has restricted boat traffic much of the warm season, and now these hidden rules I know little about, evidently restrict watercraft from even being in the water, so the river looks naked without something running it! This shot down the river was taken a bit before sunset shortly after the shadow pics above were taken...

Then yesterday, New Year's eve, the rain came and we got a goodly amount, melting most all traces of the snow we had on the ground. I had to make a trip into the city (more about that in a future post), and drove in moderate showers over the course of the hour-long trip in and back out again. Didn't slow down the crazy drivers much here - everyone still drove 5mph over the speed limit with showers, mist and fog, so no traffic delays! When I got home I saw the berries from this bush adjacent to my parking area (unidentified), with their bright color and rain drops abundantly apparent! This is a 6-frame focus stack (combines exposures with slightly different focus settings to extend range of focus). with the 100mm macro when rain paused momentarily.

After a quiet night, woke up to no snow, but soon noticed a little accumulation this morning. Taking note, the snow was barely visible - tiny little flakes hardly seen, but enough to accumulate. I got the "big" macro (Canon MP-E 65mm) out to look for crystal structure, but none was seen. Shown here is a "still life" I found atop the AC cover where an acorn cap had fallen. The macro makes it much more interesting as it started filling with snow pellets - no other word for them - they look like little snowballs with no crystal structure... About 90 minutes later I went out again, and in the further accumulation it looked noticeably different - at right! These were taken at the lowest magnification (about 1X) and used a ring flash in front of the lens for shadow-free illumination.

Finally I cranked up the magnification to 3X or so (max is 5X!), and shot the snow pellets on my car windshield. Nice structure is noted, but little of the crystal variety... Of course, now that I've got the right equipment on hand, snowflakes will be rare!

Here for a while yet and am still looking for objects of interest!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

South Carolina State Museum (SCSM)!

The highlight of nearly any trip to Columbia, South Carolina has got to be a stop at the State Museum. My first time there in 1990, it was a newly-opened facility, open 2 years (1988) in a converted century-old textile mill. It is an amazing place, covering all aspects of SC history, the sciences, and one of my main interests, a new observatory with a century-old telescope! One of my last trips there, they had a major part of the museum under construction building the observatory seen above the roofline at left.

Immediately seen as you enter the building is the tripod upon which the telescope sits up on the 4th floor. Shown at right, most likely don't know what it is, but note that the tripod that insulates the telescopes from building vibrations is even incorporated into the new emblem of the SCSM - note the embroidered patch and name tag on the inset!

Just past the ticket desk is a store that sells everything South Carolina! Being that it was just before Christmas for my visit, there was lots of cutsie gifts for those that have everything - like the kitchen towels that say Jingle y'all and the like (Left).

There is lots of symbolism in the SC flag and it appears on most everything from flip flops to glasses, including the silver bowl shown at right... Carolinians take their history seriously and there is quite the history section in their books for sale. They continue to relive the "War of Northern Aggression", and the second largest section is likely cooking books! I asked one of the young sales clerks what I couldn't live without (I just wanted to hear her delightful southern-belle accent), and she steered me towards the chocolate-covered caramel popcorn. But while her accent was adorable, was able to turn down the treats!

Just across from the store in the entryway
was the "Palmetto Gate", featuring the craft of Philip Simmons, a blacksmith-turned-artist in the Charleston area. Wrought iron work like this is very popular, adding to the allure of older neighborhoods in that city. This work was custom designed for the museum by Simmons. It shows incredible craftsmanship and details in the gate highlights - details shown at right...

There were a couple of commissioned artworks from local artists - using some unusual media! Shown at left is the detail of a portrait by Molly B. Right - in bottle caps on wood! Only when you back up and see the whole piece do you see it is the scientist Albert Einstein!  This was made for a 2014 exhibit "Building a Universe".

With a rotating set of exhibits, there is always something new to see. In fact, on one out-of-the-way hallway, there was a wall filled with posters of the various exhibits over the 30 years of the museum. I think it was in that same hallway that I found some new displays using old photos showing the transformation to century-old textile mill to state-of-art museum...

But the main reason I was there was that it was a Tuesday, and on Tuesdays (weather permitting) the observatory was open for public viewing! It isn't often one gets to observe through a century-old 12" telescope from the classic Alvan Clark and Sons manufacturers! And unlike Lowell Observatory and their classic 24", where I asked to focus a fuzzy image and told "NO", these guys not only told me to focus, and gave me the controller to "drive around" the moon! At left our telescope operator lines up on a gibbous moon as twilight approaches.

A little later as it got darker, we all gravitated to an outer deck where an additional Dobsonian could be set up, as well as spot city lights of Columbia a couple miles to the east. Also as part of the observatory expansion was increased display area for the Bob Ariail antique Telescope collection. I alternated with touring the collection of Clark and other manufacturers from the 1700s and 1800s, with walking out into the dome for fine views of the moon and tiny disk of Mars at 400X.

Finally I got my fill, and I had family to visit on my first night in Columbia, so headed out. Interestingly I saw that you could rent the museum and even the telescope for private events! I loved that they had a photo of a bride fondling the nearly century-old Clark telescope! It makes such a wonderful groom!

Finally out in the parking lot, I looked back at the observatory and could barely make out the shape of the telescope and observers inside the dome, so was worth trying to get a photo from outside. Shown at right the ghostly scope can be seen thru the windows out to the patio,

In short, if you get to Columbia, in fact, anywhere in the state, it is worth your while to head down to spend the better part of a day at the State Museum. It will likely always be a destination when I'm in town!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Road Trip!

No sooner did I arrive at "Ketelsen East" that things fell in place for me to hit the road again for road trip to the east coast! Last Spring I visited Betty, my mother-in-law in South Carolina, and another friend in Virginia. This time, I ordered some telescope parts from a manufacturer in North Carolina, and shipping was going to be $320 to Arizona! That would pay for a lot of gas, so repeated last Spring's trip with a side stop near Raleigh, NC. The call from Raleigh came right after landing in Illinois, so pretty much hit the road 2 days later!

First up was a visit with Betty - at 94 you want to take every opportunity to visit, but I'm convinced that she is going to outlive us all! She is doing a daily exercise class! Not that she NEEDS to exercise, but seems more of a social thing for her and to get her out of the house as a friend picks her up. At left she is shown in front of her Christmas tree. I ended up staying 3 nights, visiting, doing a little shopping and generally hanging out!

On Tuesday, the afternoon I arrived, I happened to check to see what nights the State Museum was open for telescope viewing. Turns out it was Tuesday, and it was clear enough that they were going to be open! Centerpiece of the Bob Ariel antique telescope collection is the observatory built around the Clark 12 3/8" refractor telescope. Shown at right, it is a very nice facility - shown here is a young astronomer on the step ladder with dad behind him, observing the planet Mars. Look here in a few days for a post about the State Museum...

Eventually I pointed the car north and headed towards North Carolina. Interestingly, most of the central - to south sides of both the Carolinas are pretty flat, but rarely do you get a view out from the interstate system! They have trees growing along both sides and between the roads too! You can get a peek when in the northern areas where it is hillier or downright mountainous, but strange they have planted trees along hundreds of miles of roads, assumingly to minimize road noise for locals...

Thanks to my maps app on my iPhone, navigation was easy and I followed directions to the home of the head of Parallax Instruments, Joe Nastasi, outside of Raleigh. He had rolled an aluminum tube out of sheet, then welded it, and painted the interior black. While you can get commercial tubing to 12", I needed 16" tubing for this project! He then made the rings that hold the tube firmly to the telescope mounting. It was the high price of shipping the bulky tube that motivated the trip. I wished I'd had a chance to see his main shop, but wasn't possible that day. Shown here is Joe carrying the tube to my car at left and besides the rings at right. The tube is for a new project - a 14.25" mirror that also made up the trip from Tucson with me and is getting coated while I'm here to bring back. It will go on my AP 1200 mount and mostly anticipated to do astronomical imaging with a focal length of 1300mm and a speed of F/3.6.

After visiting Joe's place briefly, the goal was to find my way to friend Elaine's place in Virginia before dark! On the last weekday before Christmas, the roads got busier and more crowded as the weather turned worse as well. Heading up the mountains of northern North Carolina and Virginia the cold rain started, and literally it turned to snow just a few miles from Elaine's!

I seem to have known Elaine forever - she started coming to the Grand Canyon Star Party last century, and she was a friendly smile there for many years. Her beloved husband Tommy died a couple years ago, and she has been staying closer to home in recent years. In the Spring she was recovering from a broken leg in a wheelchair - she looks much more normal moving about afoot! One of our excursions took us to Tommy's gravesite where there was a pretty view of snow-or-frost covered trees to the north, shown at right.

Mostly we hung out at their beautiful home located in the foothills or rolling hills near local mountains. She organized a pasta dinner for me to meet some of the local amateur astronomers to eat and talk shop, and also gave the chance to sing carols around her Christmas tree! And of course, out there in the country we also watched for the local white tail deer population and see who came to the bird feeders. The photos at left and right show a panorama of late afternoon light at left, and a bit later, some nice colors as sunset came... Some of the highest mountains in the state are just a few miles to the south shown here. Also, below at left is a view of the mountains just north of Elaine's house showing the snow/frost covered trees from her front yard.

Finally Sunday arrived and it was time to transition back to "Ketelsen East" again. At 650 miles from Elaine's it is a long, but doable drive in one day. For some reason, the maps app took me on a northerly route and for the first time that I know of got to travel in West Virginia! Mostly interstate all the way, there were still surprising vistas of multi-lane highways going thru tunnels in mountains, and the wide valley of the Ohio River. Finally through north central Indiana I crossed a huge windmill farm (hundreds!) just before sunset. Even after stopping at the store for groceries, I was home before 9pm. It was nice to get out from behind the wheel! More soon, I promise!