Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eagle Cam!

I'm not sure where I first saw it referenced, but I've got to take you all to an " eagle cam", watching over a Bald Eagle nest in of all places, Davenport, Iowa!  Now when I lived in Iowa, Bald Eagles were pretty much unknown in the Midwest that I recall.  With the ban of DDT in the early 70s (which affected their calcium metabolism and egg shell thickness), their numbers have surged, especially near wetlands and rivers.  I recall it being a big deal when my dad and stepmom took me eagle-watching one winter day in the Dubuque area back in the late '90s.  Then (and now) hundreds of eagles hang out along the river fishing in the open water  below the various locks on the Mississippi.

The Eagle Cam is on the property of an Alcoa
Plant, and the camera they've installed looks over the nest of year-long residents "Liberty"(the female - larger of the pair) and "Justice".  After eggs were laid in February, they hatched about 10 days ago, and both appear to be doing well.  The nest is cached full of fish parts and remains of rabbits and other creatures.  The nest, about 80 feet off the ground, is 7 feet in diameter.  The camera can be spotted in the picture at upper right to the left of the image.  It is quite high resolution, and has sound too!  Occasionally the camera zooms, pans and scans the area - today the chicks were alone for a few minutes and the operator zoomed in for a close examination!  Of course, if you check in at night it will be dark - you will only see something during the day...

I've got to admit that once activated, it is hard to turn away!  Last week, with high winds and below-zero temperatures, the adults were hunkered down over the newborn chicks.  Living next to the Mississippi, it appears fish is their primary food, and the adults patiently strip small pieces of meat off the carcass and feed the chicks very patiently.  Between feeding, keeping the eaglets warm, and fending off attacks from preditors, the adults have been very busy!  Alcoa is currently holding a naming contest for the babes, so feel free to go vote.

All photos here are courtesy of Alcoa, their video feed and blog that updates the eagle's status.  It will be fun to watch the little ones grow and learn to fly.  But do check it out - you'll be hooked too!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Progress on a New Telescope...

Late last August, I wrote a post about a "found" telescope - Dean Koenig of Starizona gave me a tube assembly that he had obtained from the estate of Tom O'Hara.  Since he wouldn't be able to sell or use a partially-finished telescope, especially a home-built, he passed it on to me several years ago to recycle if I could.  Thinking it had a 12.5" mirror in it (a standard size), I found that it was, in fact, a 14.25" mirror, a non-standard size evidently bridging the 12.5" and the 16" standards.  I've rarely heard of one this size, but is perfect for me (about the biggest that can still be considered portable) and my new upgraded AP1200 mount that is now in operation.
That post was also poignant for me because it was the last comment that my blogger buddy Dave Harvey made - he died 3 days after commenting that he "can't wait for first-light!".  Well, he will certainly be in my thoughts when that day comes!
So it is time for an update on what I've been doing to the re-purposed piece of glass.  As shown in the picture above, it had a way-too-short focus on it.  Testing showed it to be a good sphere, as it would need in a Schmidt camera, and of about 20 inch focal length (was part of a 10" F/2 camera).  To be useful for me, it would need to be something closer to F/3.5, about 52" focus.  That meant the depth of the curve, which was over 5/8" deep had to be reduced to something closer to 1/4" deep - way too much labor to be contemplated by hand.  In addition, I wanted to go to some effort to lightweight the mirror.  The solution was to use a diamond curve generator.   We don't have one at the Mirror Lab, but back in December before the Christmas shutdown, I scheduled a bunch of generating at the Optical Sciences Center's optics shop to use their generator, sneaking in work on this mirror with some work projects. 
One method I'm fond of advocating is a double-arch lightweight - as shown at left, if you have a right circular cylinder, as most mirrors are, and plan to support it on a ring at equal radius, you can remove weight be removing glass that is not in direct line of supporting the front surface.  It is easy enough to make with a diamond curve generator - after first making the front curve more shallow to 104" radius of curvature, I waxed down that surface on a mounting plate to make the curves on the other side.
The result is shown here at left, while still waxed down showing the double-arched rear surface.  It is modified a bit from the ideal above, as I needed a way to hold it while polishing the front surface.  With all the generating this blank had done on it, it needed some post-generating work to relieve stress - generating puts stress into a surface, which can be relieved by acid etching, or by grinding and polishing.  To make it pretty and show it off a bit, I decided to polish out the rear curves.  The photo at right shows two of the rear surfaces inked up to show when enough material has been removed (usually repeat a few times to assure enough glass removed).  Oh, and the weight?  Originally about 25 pounds when started, feeling pretty heavy, it is currently just under 15 pounds, so a good weight savings!
On this mirror, there is a flat land about 2 inches wide - the outer diameter is 12 inches so that it can be fastened to 12" tooling for holding while working the front (shown below).  At left you can see a flat tool used to grind, then polish the flat surface.  Then at right you can see the small tool that was used to first grind the surface with tiles, then the tiles were faced with polyurethane pads to polish the inner surface.  The outer surface, outside the flat land is convex and can't be conventionally worked because it is adjacent to the land, so was worked by hand with small tools of diamonds and tile to minimize generator damage, then use polyurethane and felt tools to shine it up.
Here is how that flat land with the 12" diameter is used to mount the mirror for work on the front.  Since the flat was ground and polished with the cast iron tool that it sits on here, it holds it pretty stress-free.  Just to make sure it holds it uniformly, every hour or two of polishing it gets rotated and retaped to randomize any stress that the cast iron plate might introduce.  The bottom picture shows the pipe tape that holds it securely during polishing.  At right is the current view of the mirror with the pitch tool being used to polish it.  While it is 14.25" diameter, the tool is 12", which is fine.  From the generated surface, a tile layer was built-up on a pitch substrate, then a new pitch tool was made for the polishing.  The lab has been using zirconium oxide for polishing lately (a much cheaper alternative to cerium oxide), and I've been using the same in our small optics lab for this project.
So here is how the mirror currently looks - looks like a weird lens with the 3 different curves refracting its own set of images!  The sharp-eyed among you might have noticed the little goober in the substrate - it is visible in the left image just above right of center.  Shown in close-up at right, it might have been a fracture when Tom made the original sphere.  In the original blank, you can see where he started putting the curve into it, then stopped and worked the other side, so perhaps the fracture occurred when work started.  I etched it with HF acid to open the fracture and keep it from propagating.  It appears some polishing compound is currently in it, but since it is in the rear surface and treated, it should be just fine with no effect on the performance. 
Currently the mirror is within a couple hours of being polished out, so another few evenings or a weekend of work remains before I'll start worrying about converting the near-spherical surface to a parabola.  The focal length is currently 51" so I'm letting the polishing tool linger longer on the outside to lengthen it slightly to my desired 52".  But I'm making good progress from that Fall post - hopefully halfway to that first-light observing session I'll share with memories of Dave Harvey...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Wee Wisp of a Smudge!

It was a week ago tonight I last spotted comet PanSTARRS from the front of my friend Pat's house.  Melinda and  looked for it the other night from our cul-de-sac without success - I blamed our horizon.  This comet seems to be conspiring against observers - it continues moving northward, but is still not visible in a twilight-free sky, and the moon, now nearing its full phase, isn't helping!

Tonight, as Melinda left for work, I headed towards the foothills, settling on an observing spot along Christie road, north of Ina.  Pretty much as soon as I pulled over, another car pulled in too - I figured it was an area resident giving me grief, but no, another amateur sky gazer had joined me in my quest.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten my binoculars (DOH!), but my new friend did, so I set up the XSi with the 70-200 zoom, and a new little tracking platform to make tracked shots easier.  Soon after we started searching, I spotted the comet in a wide shot with the camera, then zoomed into the little smudge.  I took a series of 10 second exposures to stack, and it looked reasonable in the back of the camera, but we were never able to spot it in her binoculars.  The pic at left shows a singe 6 second exposure before it got truly dark, the one on right shows the stacked image, croped from the 200mm focus shot - more stars, but unimpressive in the twilight and hazy horizon with a bright moon.  I don't think it will truly be in a dark sky for weeks, and by then will be considerably fainter.  At least it is good practice for future comets!  This next Winter, comet Ison will be visible in the pre-dawn sky the middle of December.  At least it leaps away from its close approach to the sun, and doesn't dally close to the horizon like PanSTARRS.  Something to look forward to!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


For Tucson, we've had a hard winter - close to 20 nights at or below freezing, including a few days with lows in the teens - rare in Tucson!  Yes, I know, we suffer a lot - do I hear violin music playing?  But in a cruel twist, about 10 days after our last winter storm that almost brought more snow to Tucson, temps climbed and didn't stop till the mid-90s!  It is as if we skipped Spring and shot straight to Summer. 

A nice surprise greeted me as I arrived home Sunday - a nice lizard in the tree in front of the house.  Now I'm a big fan of the lizards, not so much the snakes, but the local lizards are almost cute and cuddly.  So I grabbed the camera and macro lens while my lil' buddy sunned himself.  But so early in the season, he (or she) was pretty shy and nearly always seemed to prefer keeping a branch between us!  I believe this is a common side-blotched lizard, nothing rare, unusual or otherwise especially interesting, other than the fact I like their little scales and toenails. 

Shooting handheld, I only got a few frames off before he lost patience and ran off to another tree, after temporarily jumping to a wicker chair that holds a potted plant or two.  Next time, I'll stalk a bit more carefully and spend the extra time to dig up the monopod for better pics.  Hopefully next time they won't be so shy and I won't be so excited to see the first lizard of the season!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Friends, Comet, Telescope...

Pat is a buddy and former workmate from seemingly a previous life. He is shown at left when he still worked at the Mirror Lab with one of our safety interns Delayne, standing next to the rear surface of the LSST 8.4 meter mirror substrate. Anyway, I was at his house tonight - I was thinking that his new 10" telescope would be perfect for a close-up view of Comet PanSTARRS. He recently bought my former G-11 mounting, and put his Meade 10" SN LXD75 on it - an F/4 Schmidt-Newtonian telescope that has a 1,000mm focal length.  He wants to get more into astro-imaging, so would be a good learning experience!

I arrived well before sunset and met Pat and his next-door astronomy buddy Byron, and we hauled the mount and telescope 50 yards down the street to a street corner where we had better horizons to spot the Comet. Byron had to leave, but Pat and I met the family who had just moved into the corner house and made new buddies as they observed with us.

First up was the moon, visible even with the sun still above the horizon. We were still uncertain that Pat's camera would focus with the telescope as its lens (Pat is new at this stuff), We were just short of being able to reach focus (the Moon is good as a test object for that). We were able to adjust the collimation screws to push the focus out a few more millimeters - that was all we needed. Pat was amazed at the view of the Moon in the camera's screen in magnified "live view" mode. We took a few quick snapshots, a full-disk shot at left and a cropped view at right. One thing before we move on, though... There are so many craters on the moon, it is always tough to establish scale. In the full-resolution shot at right, I labelled a couple craters with their known diameters to give an idea of what can be easily seen. Generally, the smallest craters or details seen in a moderate telescope is about a half mile or kilometer in diameter... Pat's scope seemed to work fine at resolving small details, though the triangular-shaped moons of Jupiter had us loosening the collimation screws to improve the images... But time to move on - we had bigger fish to fry!

The sun dropped down below the horizon and we searched for the comet. I'm used to a wider expanse of horizon to search, and here we had a narrow gap between houses. Did we pick the right scope location to pick it up? We finally spotted it in binoculars over the house diagonally across the intersection. With only about 10 minutes before dropping below the roofline, we moved quickly, getting it centered in the telescope. We could even focus on the comet's nucleus in "live view" mode - the starlike coma was that bright! Again, imaging in twilight required short exposures, only a few seconds, and just before setting behind the house we tried our longest at 10 seconds. Stacking 5 frames we got the image at left, approximately the same scale as the moon, so about a half-degree shown here. You can see that using the nucleus of the comet to align the images, the comet's motion trailed the stars - it moves a couple degrees per day, visible even in the few minutes we photographed it tonight... Sorry I don't know the exact orientation - the tail is approximately vertical seen in the sky, so North is off the upper right corner somewhere.

The moon is brightening, so will likely take a bit of a break from comet observing - give you a chance to recover from too many astronomical posts! I'm looking forward to seeing it in a darker sky in a couple weeks!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Evening On Kitt Peak!

As many of you may know, I work one night per week as a guide at the Nightly Observing Program at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  While many of the daytime visitors expect to see stars during the day (other than the sun!) we gently point out they should come back when it is dark, and the NOP fills that need.  We use 16" and 20" telescopes in the pristine dark sky of the mountaintop to show some truly amazing things.

Well this last Thursday (14 March) was the first one I've worked since Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011L4) has been visible above our northern-hemisphere horizon.  Visible shortly after sunset low in the west, we modified our usual program and passed out binoculars before departing for sunset so that we could stay for some comet and other sky observing.  It worked out great, and besides the binocular views, we had a 10" Dobsonian for some very nice telescopic views.  Unfortunately, the comet is too low for any of the telescopes in the domes to reach. 

Sometimes I bring a camera along to set up to run automatically.  I normally don't have time during the program to attend to it, but with the intervalometer timers available now, I don't need to stick around other than the framing and guessing where it will go.  This was no exception - I set up my camera and 200mm lens and it took a series of frames as it set, while I attended to the crowd.  Set to aperture-priority auto-exposure, the exposure varied from just over 2 seconds to 5 seconds near the end, taken every 8 seconds.  As we were about to enter the telescope building for continued observing, I stopped the sequence on the comet and moved the camera to a view of the WIYN Observatory across the mountain to the south of us.  Again, I set it to take photos automatically every 100 seconds, this time for a fixed 90 second exposure.  It ran for about 90 minutes until the camera battery died (these things happen - it wasn't fully charged to start).  The image shown here shows the brilliant star Canopus to the left, about to set behind the building.
So you can guess what the next step is - with all these exposures, I went through and adjusted the brightness and contrast slightly and used Windows Live Movie Maker to assemble them into time-lapse clips.  I know a little photography, but not much about music, so don't have soundtracks to most of my clips - perhaps I'll get more into that in the future, but for now, imagine the "music of the spheres" as the universe wheels overhead!  The above two sequences are both in this clip, uploaded to YouTube.  Click on the player to start it - go to HD full screen if you have the bandwidth...

And speaking of movie clips, do remember my last post about comet and moon setting behind the Observatory silhouette the other day?  Well, I worked on that too and is presented here as well.  In this case, the clip, which represents about 10 minutes of actual elapsed time, is composed of frames taken every 6 seconds, with the lens set to 185mm focal length and the exposure varying from 1 second at the beginning to 2 seconds near the end.  The camera was on a tracking mount, so followed the motion of the stars.  Again, HD and full-frame if you have DSL or equivalent...  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Group Portrait!

Today was the big day - Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4), newly seen above our northern hemisphere horizon, was being passed by the crescent moon, making an interesting photo opportunity.  I've found that the best way to do a composition like this is to add something of interest to the celestial sights.  Hmmm, let's see, what is to the west of Tucson???  Oh yea, where did I start work over 3 decades ago when coming to town, and where do I continue part time???  Yea - Kitt Peak National Observatory!  Since the comet/Moon conjunction would happen during twilight, having a silhouette of the Observatory might be pretty cool!  The plan was to head west of Tucson on Ajo Way, highway 86, then head south from Three Points towards Mexico on 286.  About 12 miles should put me directly East of Kitt Peak, about the right spot.  Because the highway is mostly north-south, once the targets were spotted, I could adjust my position as needed for perfect alignment.  The road is pretty desolate, only used by a little ranch traffic, and a Border Patrol truck every 5 minutes it seemed.  They even stopped to see what I was up to - waiting for a marijuana drop?  Naw - just lookin' for a comet!  The mountain in the distance is Baboquivari, located about 15 miles south of Kitt Peak.
Arriving well before sunset to scout out a spot (lots of wide spots from Border Patrol trucks doing quick U-turns!) I had time to set up the William Optics 11cm triplet scope to do a panorama of the Observatory profile.  Since the sun was setting nearly behind it, I had to wait for the sun to dip behind the Quinlans to cut out the glare.  The panorama shown at left, the profile pretty matching the orientation as seen from Tucson - the solar scopes at left, the 4-meter at far right with the U of A's 90" in the valley just below it to the left.  A shot of the setup with Melinda's camera is at right, zoomed into the image of the Solar Telescope.
Finally the sun sank below the mountainous horizon and eventually the Moon popped out.  Oops - a bit too far north, so headed south a bit more, another stop and look, and moved back a bit to split the difference.  To catch the Moon, Comet and Observatory, the 70-200 zoom seemed about perfect, and ended up shooting all of the conjunction with that setup on the ole' Byers Cam-Trak, the little 80's vintage equatorial mount for tracking, in case I needed to expose more than a couple seconds.  Finally it was showtime!  Shooting against the twilight with the background changing in brightness as it got darker made life difficult, so with the ISO at 400, I started at 1 second at F/4, finally getting down to 2 seconds wide open at F/2.8 before the pair set.  I took some data sets that can be made into a time-lapse if I want to do the work - we'll see.  The photo at right was taken w/Melinda's camera and semi-normal lens as my camera was working.
Already tonight I've seen about a dozen pictures of the Comet/Moon conjunction, if not more, but what no one has mentioned is that there is another bystander in the group shot - Uranus!  I noticed on some of the comet positional maps that besides the Moon, it would also pass the gas giant Uranus, and while you might spot it in the left picture above, it tends to get lost when resolution is reduced to fit on a monitor page.  At left here is a full resolution crop from the above picture - Uranus is easily visible below and right of the comet, right between it and solar scope!  And to make sure you don't think I'm pulling your leg, at right is a stack of a dozen (!) frames, stretched to show not only Uranus, but another field star, plotted next to a map of the comet from Heavens-above for the appropriate observation time, rotated to match approximate orientation.  I drew the lines to help you match the pattern.
The Earth keeps on turning, and it wasn't long until the Comet/Moon show came to an end, but taking a picture every 6 seconds, there are lots to chose from!  The image at left is about the last one before the comet sank behind the Observatory.  A few seconds later, the bright nucleus set, but the tail makes it look like a bright searchlight is being used atop the Mountain.
I needed to hustle in to work, so put the gear away in a hurry, but then, after not being under a dark sky in so long, how could I pass up a couple snapshots of the brilliant Winter Milky Way?!  The first shot was at left - the Zodiacal light seemingly to come out of Kitt Peak on the horizon, extending up to the Pleiades and beyond to brilliant Jupiter.  Then at right is the sweep of stars across the southern sky from Sirius and Canis Major to lower left, through Orion near the center, up to the V-shaped Hyades cluster, and on to Jupiter and the Pleiades again.  Both of these are only 30 second tripod shots with a Nikon 16mm fisheye wide open at F/2.8.  Gotta enjoy it while you can!  So I was a few minutes late to work...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Comet Spotted!

This year seems to be destined to be the "Year of the Comet".  As I mentioned in a recent post, the comet du jour is PanSTARRS, comet C/2011 L4, discovered in June, 2011 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, thus the acronym of a name!  For the last few weeks, it has been a hit in the southern hemisphere, since it was south of the sun and visible in a dark sky there.  But today, not only did it reach perihelion, it's point nearest the sun, but also was the same declination of the sun, so making it visible equally well from northern or southern hemisphere.  While I made a pilgrimage to Gates Pass last Thursday in an attempt to spot it in a gap in the clouds, the clouds won that encounter, and we've had a couple blustery, cloudy days since.

But today the storm has passed, and we had deep blue sky all day, so when Melinda awoke this afternoon (she worked the last 3 nights), we again drove the 15 miles to Gates pass, arriving well before sunset to claim a parking spot and set up some gear.  I'm glad we did because by the time sunset hit the nearest parking was down the road a half mile and we had quite the crowd gathered to look through our telescopes looking for a little fuzzy spot! The shot at left is of the little pavilion with informational plaques informing of local lore, history and geology.  I also photographed the point of sunset because that is where the comet would later appear to set about 60 minutes afterwards.

I set up a sturdy tripod with the little Meade apochromatic refractor for visual use, running at about 18 power for folks.  I also set up my little Byers Cam-Trak equatorial mount in case I wanted to take exposures more than a few seconds in length.  Because the sturdy tripod I normally use was already in use, it was set up on a stone wall, aligned with my best guess where north was, and used my Canon XSi with the 70-200 zoom set to 200mm.  I believe I was the first to spot the comet at our overlook, a couple minutes after 7pm, seen in binoculars above and left of where the sun had set, right where it was supposed to be, a little higher than I expected.  I took a blind picture of the piece of sky, and sure enough, zooming in, it was visible with its little tail!  As it got darker, I got the shot at left, this one a 6 second exposure at F/4 with the 200mm lens, ISO 400.

Unfortunately, today it never appeared in a dark sky so was tough to spot.  We were able to show it to a few dozen people in the scope, and while I could easily spot it in the binocs, never saw it naked eye.  Melinda, with her bionic eyes (eye surgery last year), was able to hold it in sight.  But even while it was getting dark, it was also setting into the murk and before it set was tough to pick out in binoculars.  I'm hoping it will be a little more impressive in a darker sky, because even I wasn't much impressed with this little glow!  But I'll keep on trying!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Malala Thrives!

I've considered for some time writing an update on Malala Yousafzai - the young Pakistani girl who was hunted down and shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school.  When I blogged about her 2 days after the event in October, she was in a coma and given a 70% chance at survival...

Well the news has been good!  A week after the attack, she was flown to the UK and has been treated at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth's Hospital.  Her course of treatment is well-documented in the above Wikipedia link.  She has recently spoken on camera for her favorite cause - the call for education for all youth of the world, as well as an interview with doctors regarding her recovery.

The most gratifying response is from the people of Pakistan who were shocked and outraged at the girl's shooting, and the Taliban's justification for doing so.  There has been an identification of the shooter, but both he and the cleric who called for her killing are in hiding, the later known to be in eastern Afghanistan.  But while the Taliban claims to continue to target her, the outrage from around the world has brought her cause to the fore and between public demonstrations and the surprising (to the Taliban anyway) regional unified support of the public has loosened the hold that militants have in the area.  In the meantime, Malala continues her rehabilitation in the UK, and her father has been appointed the educational attache of Pakistan to its consulate in Birmingham, UK.  Meanwhile, the illustration at left appeared as a tribute on International Woman's Day today on  The illustration is the conclusion of a graphic short story that can be seen here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Asked For It!

A couple posts ago I talked briefly about the upcoming comets, and about Comet Kohoutek from the Winter of '73, that resulted in my first published image of a predawn Kohoutek before perihelion (close approach to the sun).  One of the comments asked for the image that had appeared in the Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa student paper.  I had run across the clipping recently, but of course couldn't locate it on short notice.  Then I found the DIs on-line archive and the only question was the date.  So I sat down and strolled down memory lane reviewing the news of the day and of Campus life on my sophomore year.

Finally I found it!  It ran on 29 November, 1973, right above Pogo and next to an ad for "Midnight Cowboy".  The headlines of the day include gaps in the recently-subpoenaed White House tapes, a recently-applied smoking ban in campus classes, and the firing of football coach Frank Lauterbur who had gone 0-11, the lousiest team in Iowa history (which I had season tickets for!).  The image of the comet is mediocre at best, perhaps due to the digitizing process, or perhaps due to the original image, but looks like a fuzzy smudge, which is what most comets look like!  The label refers to an upcoming "Elixir" issue talking about the sky, which I've not looked for yet, might have to do that if time permits.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Cochise County Road Trip!

Our friend Carolyn is in town visiting for a week.  It was a LONG week at work for me, so it wasn't till yesterday (Saturday), that I had a chance to hang out.  In previous years trips we've gone North to the Canyon, West to San Diego and Los Angeles, and South to whale-watch on Baja.  Last year we stayed closer to home, but spent a weekend going down to Rocky Point, MZ for beach time there.  This trip we're spending the entire week in the Tucson area to consolidate some time here, and it is great week with temps in the upper 70s - just what a Midwestern Girl needs the first days of March!

Yesterday we decided to do a road trip down in Cochise County, SE of Tucson.  She had been in Tombstone on a previous trip, so we barely slowed down as we drove through that town.  We could see that the current crop of winter visitors had packed the town to the gills as they went to experience the boardwalk, the actors playing wild-west characters, witnessing the re-enactment of the OK Corral shootout, and shopping for old-west trinkets. 

Our goal was Bisbee, another 25 miles beyond and another town from the wild west, this one a mining city established about the same time as Tombstone, but with a different path to present-day.  Supposedly early in the days of the last century, Bisbee was the largest city between St Louis and San Francisco - full of miners, mostly after copper and silver.  After the miners left, in the 1970s for the last time, it was taken over by hippies and artist types, who remain to this day.  Now the town is full of high-priced art galleries and antique shops, dealing the remnants of local estate sales to numerous tourists who come for the cooler temps of the mile-high city.  The picture at left shows Min at right, Caroline at left just as we're entering the "downtown" section of Bisbee.  Note that it is built amongst the peaks of the Mule Mountains, and just above the rear-view mirror is the "B" (standing for Bisbee) high on a hill overlooking town.  While we couldn't find any parking on the street, we invested a few bucks to park at the intersection of the main drag and "Brewery Gulch", a short walk to anywhere.
Arriving right about 12:30, we'd been saving ourselves for lunch, and what more iconic place than the 105 year-old Copper Queen, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Arizona.  We briefly perused the lobby and a few historical displays before heading to the restaurant, asking for the patio which was quite pleasant.  The sounds of birds in the trees serenaded us, brought back to reality with the sounds of diesel trucks and cars on the adjacent street.  But a fine place to "people watch" the tourists and occasional eccentric resident.  At left above is an HDR (high-dynamic range) panorama of the patio, again, you can see the peaks among which Bisbee is located.  They had a nice menu selection - Melinda and I both got the "Sandwich of the Day", ham and cheese on sourdough, which was quite tasty and hit the spot.
We did our duty and strolled the streets, going in most every shop we passed.  We didn't take advantage of the $11,000 paintings at one of the art galleries, but enjoyed looking just the same.  At an antique store where I last bought a Russian microscope for $35 (they didn't know what they had, and I use it almost daily at work when precision measurements need to be made) we looked around, but nothing that excited me this trip, though I had fun going through a box of 100 year old stereo pictures.  I sort of collect astronomical ones, so felt it my duty to look through the few hundred they had for sale...  The girls each bought a book at the town's music and bookstore, and a few other trinkets elsewhere.
Our next stop - Whitewater Draw!  Though we had already been there a couple times this year, Carolyn was interested in going, and we were interested in checking out if there were still sandhill cranes.  We normally think of them departing mid-February, but perhaps with the recent cold weather they might still be around.  We found a "shortcut" from Bisbee and were there in about 30 minutes.  We parked, got our camera gear (for all these I used the Canon XSi with the Meade 80mm F/6 APO, so 480mm focal length, manual focus) and walked over to the observation stand - it was weird, but even though there were lots of cranes we could see, it was eerily quiet - not the normal raucous rattling sound they make - strange!  Anyway, the first picture I took was of a wading bird that looked quite striking close-up.  This is a full-resolution picture (load into Photoshop, click "full pixels", and crop without changing size).  I lucked out and hit a good focus the first time.  The bird - a common Killdeer, but he was so cute, and I've not had a picture before...
Yes, it was quiet, and cranes appeared in the sky by the hundreds in long lines shown here with Dos Cabezas in the background.  Dos Cabezas, which means "two heads" in Spanish, is for the two granite domes that resemble heads, though from the viewing angle from Whitewater, they line up and look like a single domed peak.  I couldn't tell if the long lines of cranes were of arriving or departing birds, but the surrounding fields I could see from the viewing platform were empty of normally feeding cranes.  Seconds after the picture at left was taken, suddenly a huge number took flight - someone thought they had seen a dog or coyote near the edge of the flock, though I didn't spot any on my photos.  But it makes for an interesting shot here at right.  A minute or two they settled back down and continued their rest for their long trip north.
While I didn't see many new birds this trip, there were a few I'd not seen in a while.  Some of the flycatchers I missed our previous two trips reappeared, including a Black Phoebe as well as a Say's Phoebe.  There were a couple pairs of the Green-Winged Teal feeding a couple dozen feet away, and even though I got a great pic last time, I got more good ones this time as well, so include it here.  Their heads are underwater so much it is a challenge to get much of their head below their eyes!
I ambled over towards the other viewing platform, but well before getting there I spotted an unusual sight.  While sighting a single Heron or Egret is not uncommon, I've never seen them in close-enough proximity to be able to get them both in the same shot!  For some reason, you just don't see them hanging out, but here they are.  The Heron seemed a little worried, but the Egret mostly ignored me as it preened...  A few steps closer and I noted another lump in the dried reeds, a bird I'd never spotted before, and in fact, didn't know what it was till I asked other birders later.  Almost hidden in a clump of reeds was an American Bittern, grooming itself!  I thought it was one of the odder Heron species, but no...  It didn't expose itself much, casting an occasional eye to me as it worked on its feathers, when I got this shot.  As I circled around to the platform, the Heron and Egret moved a little further away, and eventually the Bittern also flew off, looking Heron-like to me...  It returned a little later, its flights attracting some birders who IDed it for me.
The sun set quickly it seemed, and before I knew it, I was fighting to catch the reflections of cranes in the twilight colors reflected off the water.  You can judge if it turned out as well as last time...  I think I prefer this wider view with a little more pink of the sky.
Finally it turned pretty dark and I returned to the first observing platform where Melinda and Carolyn were hanging out.  Shortly before we thought about departing, I again tried the trick of using the on-camera flash to get a "catseye" effect.  Similar to the "red-eye" effect on humans and cats with flash photography, the birds eyeball focuses the light on the retina and the return reflection appears to fill the pupil with a bright return.  In the growing darkness, yes, the 3-stooges of cranes here looking at me all had a good eye-return.  Click to see it more clearly - this shot had to be stretched a bit to show detail...  And as it got darker still, we started heading back to the car, yet I spotted a shadow on the water - a Heron appearing to fish in the dark!  It was way to dark to image it without aid, so again used the flash - not only did I get a pretty hot eye return, but the flash reflecting off the water waves, focused the flash light into horizontal lines projected onto the Heron.  I was amazed I was able to focus as well as I did on him (her?), but got a half dozen shots or so, this one at right being our favorite.  Of course, I had to include the reflection in the final cropped image...
Hitting the road, we again stopped in Tombstone for dinner - this time at the Longhorn - the meatloaf special for the girlz, a chimichanga for me.  Home by 10;30 - a long, but satisfying day trip in Cochise County, AZ!