January 20-21 2019: The Super Blood Wolf Moon!

The first full moon of 2019 featured a total eclipse visible across much of North America. I have always enjoyed the night sky, starting when I hunted at night with my Dad. When my family and I lived in northern Kenya in the late 80s, we were astounded by the brilliance of a moonless starry night.

Orion in the night sky
Orion over Mom’s house

We even experienced a lunar eclipse not long after moving there.

Lunar eclipse, northern Kenya, 1985

So I was pretty excited about this event. There was a lot of hype leading up to it as a “Super Blood Wolf Moon”! “Blood Moon” because the moon is somewhat reddish from light scattered through earth’s atmosphere when it is in total eclipse. “Super Moon” because the moon is at its closest to earth. And some native cultures called the January full moon the “Wolf Moon”.

There was also good information on the photography websites about equipment and settings to use. My camera is an Olympus EM-5, a mirroless, micro 4/3 piece. I chose to use the longest lens I own, a 200mm Minolta manual lens that I bought on eBay for $25. I have an adapter to mount it on the EM-5.

A few nights before I set the camera up on the tripod to take some shots and see what settings worked best for me. For a bright moon, what looked best to me was to set the ISO to 200, manually set the aperture on the lens to f/11 and shoot at 1/350.

Camera settings test

Sunday the 20th turned out to be very cloudy and blustery, almost gale force winds! But the weather report called for it to clear up later that night. I was up in the St. Pete/Clearwater area for the weekend and headed for home about 7 pm.

As I approached Ft. Myers the clouds thinned and the moon was bright. It was actually very interesting to watch the fast moving clouds pass in front of the moon. At home I got set up and the eclipse started about 10:30 pm. The sky was totally clear by then. At first the bright settings looked good – f/11, ISO 200, 1/250 with the Minolta 200mm.

Beginning of the eclipse
Beginning of the eclipse

As the eclipse progressed, I needed to adjust settings. The second shot about halfway into the event, I lowered the speed to 1/180.

halfway ecllipsed
About halfway eclipsed

The third, nearing totality, at f/8, ISO 640, 1/90.

Almost to total eclipse
Almost total

And then right about midnight the eclipse was total and the moon turned somewhat red. The last shot settings were f/8, ISO 1000, 1 second exposure.

Blood moon
The blood moon

And then it was time to get some sleep!

Cuba Birds

October 2 – 7th I had the opportunity to visit Cuba with a team from ECHO. We were hosted by the United Methodist Church of Cuba and had an excellent experience. The purpose was to visit several sites and learn what agricultural activities were planned so that we could then discuss how ECHO might be able to help.

Of course I was on the lookout for birds the whole time! There was very little spare time for focused birding but I did manage to find 8 life birds.

  • Cuban Crow was observed while driving around Havana. It’s a crow!
  • Antillean Palm-Swift — we were on our way to the Methodist campground in central Cuba and stopped for the usual reason one stops on a road trip. There were dozens of these swifts swirling around the small restaurant. It’s hard to keep such an aerial acrobat in binoculars and the birds were mostly silhouetted by the bright sky, but I was able to pick out the white rump on several individuals.
  • Greater Antillean Grackle — I got just a quick look at an individual bird in the top of a tree but this is the only grackle one would find in Cuba and the field marks were right.
  • Cuban Emerald — a beautiful emerald green hummingbird. One bird was spotted at a farm near the southwest coast and two more at the Methodist campground stuck around for a very good look one morning
  • La Sagra’s Flycatcher — similar to the Great Crested Flycatcher common here in Florida. This La Sagra’s was foraging on the forest edge at the Methodist campground
  • Cuban Blackbird — Many of these at the campground. Basically a black bird but handsome in it’s Johnny Cash sort of way!
  • Red-legged Thrush — This one (well several at the campground) was a real treat. A robin sized thrush, actually same genus as American Robins,  with a black throat, white “moustache”, red eye-ring, black and grey striped wings, and of course, red legs.
  • Great Lizard-Cuckoo — the best bird appeared last when I thought chances of finding any more lifers had pretty much evaporated. Then the pastor we were visiting pointed to the bushy trees and this very large Cuckoo, unmistakable due to size and the black and white underside to the tail.

So I ended the trip with eight lifers out of only 22 birds observed in Cuba. But the main objectives of the trip were accomplished.

The arrangements for accommodations and travel were very well organized and we thoroughly enjoyed the generous hospitality, food and friendliness of our hosts. We look forward to future collaboration between ECHO and farmers in Cuba.

Just a few pictures

How about a few pictures from the last half of 2016 until now?
Click on any photo for a larger version.

This and that from March to June

Bob date 24132

I only had my cell phone with me while birding so flowers instead of birds 🙂

phlox
A species of phlox

helianthus
Relative of sunflower

Connect Week

I have been in Peachtree City, Georgia this week at AIM’s US headquarters. Ellen arrived back from Kenya on Sunday and I drove up from Florida to meet her here. We’ve met some great people and I have enjoyed reconnecting with friends.

Isaiah

Our grandson Isaiah, who was born in March (14 weeks early) was released from NICU in Orlando on Monday. Everything looks good at this point. For more about this young fighter see Craig and Laura’s blog “A Way in the Wild“.

Next grandchild

So Ellen and I have been together this week after her two and a half weeks in Kenya but tomorrow we head in different directions! She is going to Albuquerque to be with our daughter Ginny who is expecting our 7th grandchild any day now. Actually, labor will be induced on Sunday if nothing happens before then.

ECHO — Climate change initiative and crop selection tool

One thing we have been working on at ECHO recently is how to help small-scale farmers deal with uncertain yearly weather and long-term climate change. We worked up a proposal to develop a strategy for tracking changes in any country. We also plan to develop a crop selection tool that would indicate which crops would be best suited for a specific location, both at the present and in the future based on reliable models of climate shifts. Of course all of that depends on funding!

Birds

For several years now I have taken up the “June Challenge” to see how many birds one can find in a specific county in the month of June — basically the worst month for birding in Florida. So far I’ve seen 16 in Lee County (haven’t had much time for birding there yet) and 30 in Fayette County, Georgia where I’ve been this week.