Snow Stories and Ice Incidents

December 2017 and the first half of January this year have been very cold in Perrysburg, Ohio.

The frost patterns on my old, non-sealed, manual storm-glazed windows were fascinating as always: Are these frost lines built molecule by molecule showing us precise angles that exist at that very small level? How else can such a thin line be grown so straight?  And then sometimes they curve, to follow perhaps the fine line of a window cleaner’s scratch?  Some other lines must be following isotherm lines showing heat flow currents?

Brendan pointed out similar patterns in BBC videos, findable on You-Tube, where people are freezing soap bubbles and watching the frost fronds grow – in time lapse movies?  One very cold and windy night I thought of going outside to make one, but never got there. Now it is too warm.  Anyone ever tried it?

Last month these sundogs at our local Fort Meigs forecast the good snow to come:though if you want to see some really great dogs go to the recent APOD image at
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180101.htmlttps://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180101.html

The cold made very beautiful, fine snow for 20 days of excellent cross-country skiing even though it lacked the base of heavy wet snow which usually falls first.  I only skied 18 of them because for two days it was below 10 F (-12 C) which is uncomfortable, unless the sun is shining and there is no wind.

The fine snow was almost too fast, and then got even faster as we skied it.  Peter D in Calgary told me how to iron in the blue ‘Glider’ wax I’d bought years ago in a Finland summer visit.  A dedicated domestic iron now lives in the basement for the new task.  So speed is no longer an issue.  But without a frozen groove set in the snow it was hard to control the direction of the skis.

A few day’s work had cleared the fallen trees and branches in the wilderness areas.  Fortunately two new skiers to the trail, Michael B and Bill T helped set the track.  So conditions were superb.  Now, Jan. 22, it is warm and the bees are flying!  The fun has ended but some of us hope for more in a few days time.

My lovely iPhone trail mapping ap. from Sierra Club stopped working when the latest ‘upgrade’ to the phone operating system was installed. Fortunately there are many other similar aps. out there (in cyberspace).  My latest one is “Topo Maps+” which, for a few $$, supplies great map detail.  But it will not email the resulting map (for copyright reasons?).  A “screen dump” used to give me a Photoshopable copy but the new iPhone op system now seems to block that too.  Finally, mailing the phone screen-dumped image to my laptop and then taking a “Print Screen” image of that at last gave me a file I could edit and annotate in Photoshop!

So here is this season’s Cross-Country Ski Map. From the Riverside Park Cannons to Fort Meigs and back is  3.74 miles, with an elevation change of reportedly about 200 ft.

The blue arrow indicates the ski trail starting at the USS Constitution (replica) Cannons at Riverside Park.  Follow the blue trail through the woods, into Orleans Park along the river, under the bridge, alongside Crooked Creek, around Fort Meigs (Clockwise for best speed), and back.  The more people who ski it the better it gets. Please come and join the fun!

Pay close attention to the section at the service road the west side of Fort Meigs.  Note the many contour lines close together!  Even cross country skis can get to 20 mph on this one.  Stick to the right hand side of the service road for good  grass conditions under the snow. Two days ago, on thin snow, I foolishly stayed to the center of the road but contacted the gravel surface.  Even at slow speed, gravel quickly stops skis while momentum keeps the skier’s body moving forward, for a little time at least!

More unexpected adventures were had in the Orleans Park section. Four days ago the ice break up created a dam – the Maumee river rose, flooded my ski trail, froze, and then subsided, leaving a thick flat ice slab poorly supported by shrub stems and such.  Under the ice was air, and then water below that. But the ice was unsupported by water and so had no strength.  It all resulted in one very cold wet skier.

Getting to one’s feet again is surprisingly awkward when immersed in cold wet, slippery ice, with nothing good to hold onto and with feet fastened to underwater skis!  Any tips anyone?

Back home about a thousand Canada geese have gathered from a large surrounding area at the only open water hole, and are leaving a large amount of phosphorous containing material to feed the summer river and lake algae.

The only other birds, apart from the local waddling ducks, are about 20 very elegant Mergansers which are far too wild to be photographed up close.

 

A Perspective Puzzle:

The top 4 or 5 ft. of this vertical slab of ice, about 50 ft. away, viewed edge-on in the photo above with the camera pointing due North, and with its lower edge firmly resting about 6 ft. underwater in the Maumee mud, has a strange perspective property.  When seen from about 15 deg. to the right side (camera pointing NNW) it seems to tilt slightly to the left. See photo below:

But when viewed from about 90 deg. around to the left side (camera pointing due East), see below, where its true (parallelogram?) shape can perhaps be better imagined, it seems to take on a huge tilt to the right. I assure you, it is still vertical but to me it does look like a good sloping launch ramp for some adventurous jumper.

Maurice C suggested making a video while I walk past it.  You can see that in the link below.  The perspective illusion still there.

Of course there is a U-Tube example of a similar effect which Maurice showed me. You can find it by Googling “Amazing Rooftop Illusion “ or at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui6j-j1jXcE

 

Winters on Toronto Island

The best story this month was the New York Times article by Catherine Porter on the winter activities of the Toronto Islanders: shinny; ice boating; even polar bear dipping.  But there was no mention of cross-country skiing: That was where I first learned the sport 50 years ago.  David Hendry found you could buy very old wide wooden skis for about $2 at the then politically incorrectly called (but perhaps accurately because those skis had the old and dangerous ‘rat trap’ bindings) “Crippled Civilians” store on Jarvis Street.  It is now the “Goodwill store.  We planed the sides down to about 2/3 of their original width and got great cross-country use out of them.

The NYT article should be available at:

Here is a poor photo of it in case the above link doesn’t work:

Time now to take down the Xmas decorations:

A Very Happy and Peaceful New Year to All.

We’d love to see you on the Trail!

 

Thoughts from Totality or Seeing the Only Star We Can Truly ‘See’

The Solar Eclipse of 21 August 2017

Starting at 5:00 a.m. we drove South: 415 miles in 8 hours. Two days before Google Maps had said it could have been done in 6 ½ hrs. (without the Eclipse traffic).  We used Google Maps to tell us how bad the traffic jams were, and Weather.gov to watch the developing Infra-Red and visible satellite view of the sky so we could attempt to avoid clouds at our destination.

– there was disturbed weather (colored areas on the map above) to the West of our path but we found a lovely little public park in Bowling Green KY, just 6 miles inside the totality path and just short of the Tennessee border (a white X marks the spot in the map above). They were having a very friendly eclipse party there and happily had room for us on the grass and under the trees.  That was fortunate because the highway police were making great efforts to prevent people from stopping on the hard shoulders of the interstates.

The eclipsing moon was just starting its path across the sun when we arrived under clear blue skies.  As during the annular eclipse I’d seen decades ago in Toledo, I once again felt slightly uneasy as an ever increasing greyness of the sunlight became more apparent.  It was like someone very slowly sliding a dimmer switch to our prime source of light (and life), but with a steadily increasing speed.  The change in light quality is very different from that in our daily sunsets.  The typical evening setting sun has a warmth to its reducing light.  During the eclipse there was a coldness to the illumination as it dimmed – I tried rubbing my eyes to fix it.

The easiest watching tool was my bird spotting scope on a tripod.  A science school teacher from Illinois took over focusing and tracking the moving image on a white screen, while I worked on mirrors and cameras:

My straw hat made more pinhole images on my collar and on the telescope screen when I looked down on it:

The ‘pinhole mirror’ was a 3 inch (75 mm) square sample of one quarter inch (6 mm) thick front surface mirror: 80% reflection Pilkington Mirropane™. It has incredible float glass optical flatness.  Taping over half the sample provided a bright reflection light to allow easy steering of the mirror, while the exposed 1/16 inch (1.5 mm) top left corner of the taped half, provided a ‘pinhole mirror’ image alongside – all it needed was a screen.

The smaller the pinhole – the sharper the image, but also the fainter.  The further back the mirror is from a white projection screen – the larger the image, but the harder it is to hold the mirror steady.
(Next time I should put the mirror on a pan/tilt head on a tripod, and incorporate an operating iris diaphragm, if I can find one).

Both images attracted lots of attention as the light inexorably dimmed.

Meanwhile John Muggenborg in Brooklyn (see Muggphoto on Instagram) had amazing results with his similar front surface mirror, just under one inch square.  He had the great idea of fixing the mirror 200 feet (50 meters) away and shifting his screen to track the moving image.  His screen was a beautifully effective open box, dark on 4 sides and white at the back:

Susan spotted Venus brightly shining even though the sun was only about 90% covered at the time (near the top right corner in the photo below):

And in the lobby of his Vancouver apartment, Keith projected an image from his small front surface mirror sample, with a hole in a piece of paper over it to reduce the aperture, onto a screen to delight the residents and guests.

Then with an alarming suddenness, and no sound from the sky (apart from people’s cries in the park), the sun went out!

The Corona was too dim to see through the very dark eclipse glasses, and yet it felt too bright to try my binoculars to search for corona details.  Rushing with camera and iPhone camera in manual overdrive to try to get an appropriate exposure at full 20 x zoom using new add-on lenses, while dripping sweat on the equipment, I did get the following with full zoom on a Canon G-10.

The corona was too bright to see details.  It looks much better in digitally enhanced images as in the APOD site: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170813.html

In the excitement I forgot to look through polaroid filters but doubt they would have shown anything.

One minute, 10 seconds later into the darkness, a diamond ring burst into view with a startling brilliance – it was the way kids might think that diamonds should appear if all the advertisements were true – the ‘stone’ in the ring was bright as an arc welders spot.  You could not look at it even if you tried.

My iPhone could only get:

I don’t seem to have burnt out any receptors in the iPhone but it must have been close!

Then 90 minutes of slow and steady return to the sky we once knew.

 

So we clearly saw that the overhead sun, and the moon, are truly circular and most probably spherical.  Our sun is the only star we can truly ‘see’, meaning whose shape we can ‘discern’ or ‘discriminate’.  All the other stars in the sky are so far away that their images, even through the best telescope, do not even cover ONE pixel in a camera.

The popular images of star fields seem to show big, medium and small size stars, but those images are ‘false news’.

The big, bright white circles are simply relatively close stars (more than 30,000,000,000,000 miles (5 light years) away).  The reason we see them ‘big’ in the camera is that their light is so incredibly bright that even though it is only shining on part of one pixel receptor, it reflects off it and overexposes many pixels around it.  (And, of course, the horizontal and vertical ‘spikes’ coming off the brighter stars are telescope reflections/refraction side effects and don’t really exist!)

So we cannot say for sure, from observation at least, that stars (other than our sun) are not square ﬦ , triangular Δ, or even star shaped   ҉ . . But now we have seen our overhead sun to be circular ⃝    and from some elementary astrophysics we can now safely assume that most stars really are spherical!

 

Spare a thought for the exoplanet hunters. They use this eclipsing method we just saw, along with others, to find planets around distant stars.  But the geometry never allows for ‘totality’ to be seen from distant earth, so those astronomers must work with only a very faint effect of partial eclipsing.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was that before the occulting moon had fully moved out of alignment with the sun, the very friendly eclipse watchers in the park packed up and drifted off – like leaving a great movie before the credits have even played.

We waited for the credits to roll, or the bloopers to play (none did), ate the strangest BLT ever for dinner and then joined the crowd for the drive home.

Well, if the traffic was heavy as people converged over 2 days on the 100 mile or so band of totality across the country, when the show was over, they ALL went home at once.  Google Maps traffic showed a wonderful screen of a network of red lines (choked roads) heading North and South away from the East-West path of totality.  Sadly we were too emotional to think of taking a screen-shot but Leslie and Glen, watching their syzgy just a little South of us in Tennessee did get one of the ‘eclipcalyptic’ traffic (Thank you):The drive home took 9 hours, but we’ve already started making plans to watch the next one!

 

 

 

Caterpillar Cuisine: How to Grow Bugs and Feed Birds


Professor Douglas Tallamy came to town last summer and gave a great lecture, with stunning bird images, at Toledo Zoo on the valuable role we can all play in providing clean, native garden spaces for butterflies, which lay eggs, which hatch into what I call picky-eater caterpillars, (they much prefer to eat certain native plants), which are then fed to hungry baby birds.

Native bugs have evolved over time, along with native plants, to co-exist with their toxic defenses.  Such bugs are called ‘specialists’ by the entomologists.  Native plants, such as Milkweed which has a special relationship with the Monarch caterpillar, are vital to the survival of these specialist insects.  Other plants, like the native Oak tree can host over 100 different species of caterpillars.  But 90 percent of butterfly and moth larvae eat only particular plants or groups of plants.  Desiree Narango, a doctoral student with the University of Delaware says: Nonnative trees may support insects, but they do not support the insects that the native birds want and need to feed to their young.
So I’m sorry to be losing my spectacular alien Tree of Heaven bug (Ailanthus Webworm), see photo below – such is the price of progress!

The key fact is that we need to have native plants if we want native insects to survive.
Tallamy says: While adult birds may eat a wide variety of seeds and insects, their babies only thrive on fresh insects and caterpillars.  According to Dickinson (Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1999), 96% of the terrestrial North American bird species feed their young with insects and other arthropods.  So if we plant only lawns of alien green grass, or if we spray a hybrid cultivar flower garden with insecticides, we will have no butterfly eggs, no caterpillars and hence no food for the next generation of baby birds, and therefore no more adult birds.

Some of the butterflies are spectacular, as are some of the caterpillars.  Here are a few that I found in my native garden last summer:

Incidentally many of these hairy ones should not be handled. Their hairs are like glass or asbestos fibers and could reportedly harm us!

Some are very hard to find, but when you see holes in leafs, or empty chrysalis cases, then you know some nibbler, or its metamorphosis, can’t be far away.


This little one went totally unseen, until it moved – like an inchworm – along the flower stalk.

The caterpillar camouflages itself with flower parts stuck to its back.

This colorful caterpillar was not so lucky:
While I was trying to get a good photo, a wasp (alien European Paper I think) landed, stung it, stripped off and rolled up the caterpillar’s skin, leaving the digestive system full of fresh leaf juice on the leaf, and then flew off with the meat, presumably to its nest, all in the space of a few minutes.
There is no end to the variety:

 

I’m told this one is an Ohio native Giant Silkworm Luna Moth caterpillar.  It was at a nature show and not in my garden. I’d love to see it there:
Farmers are prisoners to the economics of cost-effectively producing the food that we so selectively and cost-consciously purchase.  They fertilize and spray as needed to produce a commercially viable crop.  By contrast, we home-owners have a totally free choice as to what we can do with the little bits of vacant land around our houses – or perhaps it is not a ‘free’ choice but rather a huge moral obligation to do the right thing: stop poisoning the earth and stop driving species into extinction at a rate greater than that of the great asteroid impact crater: Chicxulub, Gulf of Mexico, about 66 million years ago, and start saving our native species before they are lost forever.

The answer is simple: make room for native plants by removing the aliens.  The native plants will grow native bugs which will be fed to the native baby birds. You don’t need artificial fertilizers (nobody is measuring the cost effectiveness of your yield) and you certainly do not need insecticides.  Yes, there will be considerable manual work involved but we will all be physically and mentally the better for doing it.

So I’m extirpating (by hand) Myrtle, Chinese Tree of Heaven, Japanese Honeysuckle, English Ivy, Wild Strawberry and more before they cover my garden.  Replacements with Jewel Weed, Milkweed, Wild Senna, Cardinal Flower, Jacobs Ladder and others are slowly taking deep root.  Another blog will show some more of the colorful fauna they have already encouraged.

This moment made all the work worthwhile.  A local Junco was so happy to find native Prairie Dropseed grass seeds in the snow covered garden:

If you need more details I happily recommend Doug Tallamy’s classic book on the topic: “Bringing Nature Home” or “How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”, published by Timber Press.