Monday, September 30, 2013

Sharing lunchtime

Saturday I had just returned from my first volunteer activity with the Virginia Master Naturalist and decided to have my lunch out on the deck. It was fall weather here but Saturday was heavy overcast and breezy. But still well worth eating outside.

I was partway through my sandwich when I noticed a spider wrapping up a bee. The web stretched from the table umbrella to my whiskey barrel pond. It was a very hairy spider. My wife hunted on Bug Guide and identified it as an Orb Weaver.

It was a fun lunch to share with "someone" special.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Marsh Spiders and Hungry Egrets

Today I was was out in the marsh replacing some of the more decrepit boards on the pier. I took my camera out with me since in the past spending that much time in the marsh has led to some interesting sightings even if I am making a lot of noise. Today, I saw this interesting web. At first I thought it might be something like a wasp's nest since I was looking without binoculars. But when I brought the camera along I realized it was a web. And then the spider came out from underneath. I've looked around but haven't yet identified the spider. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

The sticks are part of a marsh shrub. And here is a close up of the spider.

And finally, out in the creek was this Great Egret feeding. I finally made a video where I didn't turn the camera vertical first. I knew someday I would learn.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The sunflowers are coming; the sunflowers are coming

I decided to spend some time this morning walking around the garden before heading in to work. It has been a slow week in the garden. The weather has been cool, autumnal even, but dry and we are stuck between the summer blooms fading the the fall blooms not yet here.

Our mound of native sunflowers (I need my wife's help IDing them but she's been traveling) are getting close. Each stalk has several bloom on them.

This is what they will end up looking like.

And while I was out a scared off a couple of deer. And they flushed a Turkey Vulture that was perched in the Oak tree hanging over the yard. I followed the bird back to the marsh where I could see it looking out over the marsh.

It was definitely a nice walk through the garden. Now back to the rat race.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A great birdy weekend

This past weekend we had two incredible bird events in our back yard. Saturday as we were walking back to the house from the pier we saw a Pileated Woodpecker working over a dead branch. After watching for a few minutes I went in and came back with my camera. The bird stayed for at least 10 minutes until I moved on to other pursuits.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker checks things out.

And then Sunday while we were eating lunch we saw a kettle of Bald Eagles rising above the marsh. In the first group there were 10 eagles and 1 Red-tailed Hawk. Then a few minutes later a second kettle formed with 5 more Bald Eagles. I presume they are starting their move south.

What a fun weekend. And be sure to check out everyone else's birds at Wild Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

LADEE Launch

Last night NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) from Wallops Island, VA. It was the first launch from Wallops to leave Earth orbit. And it was close enough to home for me to watch from the back yard. 

The weather was cool and clear here, starting to feel like autumn, so my wife and I had an evening camp fire complete with S'mores. What a yummy prelude. The a little after 11:00 pm we headed out to our dock. We had done a fair bit of research to determine where we should watch it from. Thanks to some wonderful data put together by the launch team we could map the flight in Google Earth and test our view. So we went out and settled in to watch.
I had set my alarm for 2 minutes before launch. According to the launch team data, we should see the rocket on the horizon around 20 seconds after lift-off. But I suspect that we had a particularly clear view because the first thing we saw was an orangish glow on the horizon. Several seconds later it brightened and see could see the rocket streaking out from behind the distant trees. 
To photograph the launch I set up my camera to take 20 second exposures. I then used a remote release so we could sit several feet away and not be distracted by the lights on the camera and the camera wouldn't be affected by any shaking we did on the pier. I started the above exposure just as we realized that the glow was probably the rocket igniting. 
The rest of these were taken in sequence with minimal pauses between shots. You can see in the second one a gap in the streak as the first stage dropped off and the second ignited. The second stage dropped off in the middle of the fourth picture below and the rocket coasted for a few seconds before the third stage ignited in the fifth picture. 

After the rocket moved further right you could see the plume of smoke left when the third stage ignited (below, all the way to the right edge).

And finally, I layered all of these together to get one complete view of the launch.
Both the viewing and the photographs turned out as good as I could have hoped for. And now we know where to look for future launches as more and more launches are planned from Wallops Island.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cow-nosed Ray

This past weekend we had a Labor Day party and had an uninvited guest. Not that we were too upset by their appearance.
We had walked out to the end of our pier and were standing around talking while the kids used colored chalk to mark every nail on the pier. Then suddenly several of us saw a fin appear out of the creek. The water was mid-tide rising and has been running a little on the high side all week. The creek is always very muddy so all we could see was the exposed fin; nothing below water. There were a few more sighting over the next couple of minutes.
The only reasonable identification would be a cow-nosed ray. The creek is too shallow for a dolphin and probably too shallow for the sharks found in the bay. Plus, the fin seemed to come up from the side and back down instead of arising straight out of the water.
This is the first ray that we have seen from our pier. I did some a few several years ago while kayaking closer to the bay. They were moving around in shallow water behind Grandview Nature Preserve. At first we thought they must be dolphins, not realizing how come the rays are, but some investigating afterwards convinced us that they were rays. Not least of all was the fact that we always saw two fins come up together. That definitely seemed like feeding behavior.