Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mt Lemmon Sky Center-Total Lunar Eclipse/Winter Solstice

Our journey up the mountain begin with participants gathering at the Babad Do'ag trailhead which is the first overlook as you head up the highway towards Mt. Lemmon. We were met by Adam Block who would be our guide and teacher for the program put on by the Mt Lemmon Sky Center. Our mission was to ascend to the Sky Center stopping first to see the sun set directly behind Kitt Peak from a vantage point near mile nine on the the highway. Kitt Peak is another renowned southern Arizona observatory located about 35 miles from Tucson to the west. I have visited Kitt Peak a number of times and there are a couple of blog posts in the archives on this site that may be of interest to you.

Twenty-five participants with various telescopes, binoculars, cameras and tripods set up along side the road in hopes of viewing this unique sunset behind Kitt Peak that happens for only a few days each year in this spot. It looked promising for a while but clouds were moving though the Tucson area and as luck would have it the clouds prevented us from seeing the sunset at the precise moment we had prepared for.

As you can see from this picture the sky was quite clear behind us but clouds were the order of the day as we looked toward Kitt Peak which is the flat mountain top to the left in the shot below.

Even though we missed the sunset we had hoped for it was still quite beautiful and nobody was too upset. We headed up the mountain in a caravan until we reached the ski area near the top of Mt. Lemmon. The wind was blowing quite hard and it was apparent we were in for some chilling hours ahead as allot of the program was to be held out of doors. At this point we all loaded into a Sky Center bus with chains to travel the last couple of miles to the education center over snow covered road.

Once at the education center Adam used his computer to see what we could expect for clouds here in the Tucson area. The news was not all that promising for an unobstructed view of the eclipse but it looked as if anything could happen and that meant there was hope that we would have a chance to see this once in a lifetime event.
At around 7 Pm MST, with several hours to go before the eclipse was to begin Adam set out to help us understand the vastness of our universe and our galaxy and other galaxies beyond and to understand the distances in light years that separate us from our nearest known neighbors. It was truly fascinating and Adam's command of the material was evident throughout the presentation. It was also apparent that he loved his avocation and was rightfully proud of his accomplishments in his field. No question went un-answered and it was clear that there was a great deal to be learned from this man on this special night.

We made several trips from the education center to the Schulman 32" Telescope that Adam and the Sky Center use to do their work. At this point I'd like to provide a link to what it is that Adam actually does and some of the remarkable things that he has accomplished. You can read about Adam here:

The Schulman Telescope is an amazing piece of equipment and even though conditions for it's use were less than ideal we were able to open up the observatory and take turns looking at Jupiter and three of it's moons as well as a binary star. These are worlds that most people will never have the chance to see and I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to view them in this manner.

This was only my third outing with my new camera and my first taking pictures in these light conditions so as you can imagine I'm not totally happy with the results especially the shots of the eclipse which were either over exposed or under exposed. I am however happy with the overall experience (even the cold) because seeing new things and being new places is what drives me and if I get a few good pictures along the way to share that's great.

Everyone had multiple chances to use the telescope. At one point Adam showed us a program that he had developed that showed the projected orbits of two stars, three stars, and many stars. It was very helpful in understanding that stars don't follow the same orbital path over millions of years.

The clouds were fairly heavy most of the night and this picture looks allot like what we were seeing with the naked eye. The moon had a bright corona and clouds streaming past at a rapid rate.

We took a short visit to the 60 inch telescope used by researchers to find asteroids and objects that could possibly impact the earth in the future. This telescope is responsible for finding the most near earth objects of any in the world. Quite an accomplishment.

Just before the eclipse was too begin something amazing and unexpected happened. The clouds disappeared and the moon shone brightly.

I took a few shots but frankly was more interested in watching the eclipse and also watching Adam use his telescope mounted camera to photograph the eclipse. You can see one of Adams photos here as well as others taken elsewhere.

I highly recommend a trip to the Mt Lemmon Sky Center and want to thank Adam Block for sharing his interest with those of us that just want to know a little bit about what's out there.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Solstice/Total Eclipse of the Moon

We will be headed out to Mt. Lemmon Arizona tomorrow afternoon to participate in the Sky Center's Winter Solstice/ Total Eclipse of the Moon program. The program lasts through the night and includes use of the Sky Center's 32 inch Shulman Telescope.
The program takes place mostly outdoors atop Mt Lemmon which is sure to be a challenge for us as we are used to the warmth of the valley which rarely dips below freezing. Information on the upcoming eclipse can be found here at:

I of course will bring my camera and attempt to get some interesting shots to share on this blog in the very near future.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Whitewater Draw Sandhill Crane Visit

I traveled to Whitewater Draw near McNeil Arizona to see what was up with the Sandhill Cranes that migrate here each year. This was my fourth trip to the area this year with each one filled with Sandhill sightings. Just as I arrived a small plane circled low over the roosting area and a large number of the birds took flight and headed towards Willcox. For the next hour and a half the birds continued to head off to feed in the fields or perhaps to Apache Station. The numbers dwindled until there were no cranes visible from my location. As soon as the last cranes had flown away others began to return which was around 10:30 A.M.. There were allot more people here on this trip, as many as ten cars including one large group of about 10 people. Usually it's very quiet with little if any other activity.
As the birds returned most of them joined the large group but there were a few that landed in the first pool which I find interesting as cranes find comfort in numbers and usually stay together for safety. Fortunately this pool is closer and allows for a more up close view of the birds.

As time when on the Sandhills returned in flocks of varying size from a few birds to one that I estimate contained a thousand or more. As I have discussed before the cranes fly in formations that are not as defined as geese but they do seem to have a coordinated plan and larger flocks tend to break into smaller groups as they approach landing. There are times in flight that the formations disappear into momentary chaos but the birds reassemble and continue without much trouble.
While I was there the smaller flock roosting in the first pool grew to several dozen birds, a few at a time. Just before I left for the drive back to Tucson about half of the birds suddenly flew up and joined the larger group.

I have been listening closely to the vocalizations of the cranes which go from a quiet low guttural sound to a more boisterous vocalization when an individual thinks their space has been violated, to the calling that takes place between groups on the ground and flying birds. They have quite a range of communication skills.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mexican Gray Wolf- canis lupus bailyi

Smaller than the wolves that now roam in Yellowstone the Mexican Gray Wolf has a wild population of only 50 individuals in Arizona and New Mexico. Hunted to near extinction throughout the southwest the Mexican Gray Wolf was finally listed as an endangered species 33 years ago. Efforts at reintroduction have not been wildly successful due to a number of factors including the efforts of some grazing interests and ranchers whose narrow self interests have resulted in the deaths of wolves that have taken livestock on public land.
Unfortunately there are those in our society who refuse to see the greater good that comes from the reintroduction of large predators into an ecosystem as has been successfully demonstrated in Yellowstone National Park and other areas of the country. Wolves help to return an ecosystem to it's more natural state by returning the balance to the food chain. Deer and elk populations are controlled naturally, native plant populations recover, erosion is abated. The benefits go on and on but so do the wolf haters.
Where wolves once roamed on public lands there should be no question that they should be allowed to re-establish and make a come back. The question should be why do we allow ranchers and grazing interests to dictate what happens on our public lands. If ranchers want the use of public lands then they need to become stewards of the land and participate in keeping these lands healthy and natural and that means finding a way to live with wolves.
When I read about the Yellowstone Wolves, or Wolves in Arizona and New Mexico or Idaho or Wyoming there is a constant theme that runs though every narrative and that narrative is that these magnificent animals must be destroyed to protect livestock. This issue has caused me to refrain from eating beef altogether, to send financial support when I can and to speak out against those who would drive another species to extinction for personal gain. This is especially disturbing on public lands, lands that belong to you and me.
Some in America have over the past two centuries attempted to eradicate large predators from the landscape out of fear and ignorance. Unfortunately that fear and ignorance is alive and well today in many areas of the country and efforts to eradicate wolves continue even in populations as small and fragile as the Mexican Gray Wolf.
As is the case with most wildlife issues there are dedicated individuals and groups fighting to keep endangered species across the spectrum alive and well. It is these individuals and groups who are the front lines in the efforts to save wolves and many other endangered species from extinction. You. however, are the last line of defense in the ongoing effort to save some of the most significant creatures to walk or fly above the earth today. When you stand up and let yourself be heard in support of Wolves or Bison or California Condors then there is hope. When you make donations to these worthy causes you take a major step towards survival of a species. Don't for a minute think that it's taken care of because every program, every effort depends on the voice and generosity that comes from the everyday man or woman who just wants to help. You can make a huge difference in the efforts of the following organizations whose mission is to save our planet. Won't you please consider helping one of these amazing organizations today?

Here is a list of Endangered Species so you can see how much work is being done and how much needs to be done.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Orange Crowned Warbler

We went to Sweetwater Wetlands Thanksgiving morning to do a little bird watching and take a few photos. This was one of several Orange Crowned Warblers that were hanging out at the stream near the footbridge. Check out the Orange Crowned Warbler at:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Leopard Frog

We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to try out the new camera and this is one of my favorite pictures of the day. You can read about the desert Museum and Leopard frogs here:
We are headed to Willcox Arizona tomorrow to check out the Sandhill Cranes and hopefully get a few good pictures.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ramsey Canyon Preserve -Sierra Vista Arizona

We set out from the Nature Conservancy's visitor center at a little after 9 A.M. at a cool 43 degrees to hike the trail to the Overlook which winds along Ramsey Creek. After a while it turns upward and away from the stream and traverses through a series of switchbacks of varying difficulty.

As we walked along the easier lower section of the trail I could imagine a brisk autumn walk somewhere in the eastern part of the United States. There were sycamores and maples lining the path that were in various stages of fall attire that once again almost made me forget that we were in the desert.

The Nature Conservancy is a private non-profit conservation organization that preserves plants, animals, and natural communities by protecting the lands and waters that they need to survive. Here in Southeastern Arizona they manage the Ramsey Canyon Preserve as well as the Patagonia/Sonoita Creek Preserve and other properties owned by the conservancy.

This was my first outing using my new Canon 7D camera and I am still trying to learn it's in's and out's but I think once I get the hang of it I'm going to like the results just fine. It is substantially heavier that my old camera which almost seems like a toy now. However I got some great shots with that camera and I will keep it for use as a backup.

We didn't see much for wildlife on our journey up the trail in fact it was eerily quiet at times. I had hoped to see the wild turkey's and the magnificent and blue-throated hummingbirds that winter here but it was not to be on this day . We did see Acorn woodpeckers, kinglets, mexican jay's, Coues Deer which are a smaller version of white tailed deer and evidence of bears along the trail.

The view from the Overlook were quite spectacular and definitely worth the climb. While it was only an elevation change of 700 feet from 5,500 feet at the visitor's center to 6,200 ft above sea level at the Overlook we were on the trail for a little over 3 hours which included taking advantage of the two loop trails which were very nice. The trails do lead past the Overlook to other trails but we only walked about a quarter mile past and then headed down the mountain.

On the way down we tok a break and could hear Mexican Jays calling in the distance so we decided to use our Droid I-Bird Application to see if we could call them in closer. Sure enough after a few calls from the Droid the Mexican Jays swarmed our location.

On the Bledsoe Loop we stopped at the frog ponds even though there was little chance that we would see the Chiracahua Leopard Frogs because it was still quite cool in the canyon. Chiracahua Leopard Frogs are an endangered species that can be found only in a few places here in S. Arizona.

There are several cabins of varying size and age in the canyon that for the most part are in disrepair and left to the animals to inhabit. It was illuminating to see them and the locations that were chosen to build on, mostly because of the views or proximity to the stream.

Views of the canyon walls and the magnificent trees were the highlight of the day especially the sycamores including the Arizona Sycamore just before the Bledsoe Loop that is 250 years old.

This is one of the cabins on the Grand View Loop that is home to resident creatures. I must say they have a great view from the veranda!