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!

What is ECHO?

Earlier this month Ellen and I were at headquarters to connect with people preparing to serve with Africa Inland Mission. We made new friends and were encouraged to hear their stories and their plans.

I’m not really part of the schedule but I enjoy being there to renew friendships with the staff and to consult with the candidates about any agricultural questions they have. By far the most common question is “Now what is this ECHO place and what do you do there?” Because I have been in the ECHO network since 1985 and on staff with ECHO for 15 years I find it difficult to concisely answer those questions!

What is ECHO?

Well, here’s the official wording from the organization:
Honoring God by empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions”

from the strategic plan: “From its very beginnings, ECHO has retained a clear focus on equipping small-scale farmers with training, information, and seeds that reduce hunger.”

So the key words are agriculture, information, training, seeds, hunger. Each day as I enter the building I see a sign by the door that states “ECHO: Fighting World Hunger”.

So What Do I Do?

I fight world hunger. A key duty outlined in my job description reads “1. Serve as a senior member of the team that responds to requests from our overseas network for agricultural and networking information.”

The key word there is “team”. That team includes staff that have worked in many locations and climates globally which means that we can provide information and perspective on a wide range of agricultural questions. And we also have regional center staff with specific knowledge about their areas.

For the 18 plus years we served in Kenya I was on the receiving end of ECHO’s ministry. My kids say that when the quarterly edition of ECHO Development Notes arrived in the mail I was not to be bothered until I had read the whole edition cover to cover! ECHO was one of my main sources of information and encouragement.

So when the time came to hand off the work in Kenya to the completely capable national church, I was thrilled to be invited to work at ECHO for a couple of years. Well, that has stretched to 15 years for family reasons but I am blessed to be here and help provide information, training, and advice on seeds and community development in general.

It is a privilege to serve the countless numbers of people around the world as they work to improve the food security of their communities.

More info about ECHO

March notes

Here we are well into 2018. We started the year in Columbus, Ohio, where we had been with Ellen’s Dad and our kids and their families for Christmas.

In January I had surgery to repair an abdominal hernia; no problems, recovery was rapid. Also that month here at ECHO, we hosted a one-week Tropical Agriculture Development class. (read more about ECHO classes at www.echocommunity.org/en/pages/tadi)

People like to visit Florida in the winter!

In February Ellen’s 97 year-old Dad came down to Florida for a 10 day visit. We always enjoy the time we can be with him.

In March Ellen was in Peachtree City, Georgia connecting with new missionary candidates with AIM. And then our son James and his family were down from Boston for a visit. They managed to get their travels done in between the winter storms that battered the northeast.

Next week our daughter Ginny and her family will be here for a short visit. We look forward to celebrating Easter with them and with my mother and sister up in Gainesville, Fl.

There have been other visitors and events to enjoy but that pretty much brings us up to date.

Until the next post…


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.