Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Illustrated Life List: Hairy Woodpecker

Sara, the kids, and I took an after dark walk at Silverwood Park last week.  No particular reason, other than to get outside and enjoy some unusually warm weather.  Of course, in the the back of my mind I had a few subsidiary reasons; first among them was to see an owl.  Maybe even something on the unusual side like a Saw-whet Owl, or a Long-eared Owl, or very out of range Boreal Owl. . . ok, maybe not.  But I was definitely looking for something in the Strigidae family.

Which I didn't find.  But I did run into something unexpected.  A Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus in a Bluebird house.  I saw it because I was going to open up the house to look for mice, who often inhabit bird houses that aren't closed up for the winter.  My youngest daughter has been very interested in mice recently, even writing a report or two at school, so I thought it would be a nice supplement to her school work to see a wild mouse.  But before I even touched the house, a Hairy Woodpecker poked it's head out.  I was using my phone as a light (to see the anticipated mice better), so I got a pretty good look.  Naomi and Adele were right behind me, so they got a pretty good look too.  The woodpecker looked uncertain so I turned the light off to minimize our disturbance.  I called Sara over, but she declined, preferring to let the woodpecker go back to sleep.  Good choice!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How We Experience the Winter Solstice

Today at 5:03 am CST is the winter solstice.  It's the time when if you where somewhere along the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun would be directly overhead; or as my wife Sara taught her students this week, the perpendicular rays of the sun fall on you.  The Tropic of Capricorn is as far south as the sun will ever appear directly overhead.  This is a bit abstract for many of us.  We'll experience the winter solstice in the following ways in the northern hemisphere, and more specifically in Minnesota:

  • it's the shortest day of the year.  For us in Minnesota, we'll have 8 hours and 46 minutes of daylight.
  • the sun is at lowest point it'll reach in the sky at "noon".
  • the sun rises and sets the farthest to the south.
Then starting tomorrow, the sun slowly starts to climb higher in to the sky, and the days slowly get longer.  The sun also starts to rise closer to due east each day and sets closer to due west each day, as we approach the spring equinox in March.

Of course this is a relative description of what is happening, the earth is the one doing the moving compared to the sun; all these changes are due to the tilt of the earth, and the change of this tilt relative to the sun as it travels around the sun.

I hope you enjoy the solstice!

(note: no attempts at historical accuracy were made in the above depictions of holidays associated with the solstice)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Watching a Lunar Eclipse

Though stated at the top of every post that this blog is "Part journal . . ." it's been never been the most prominent feature.   It's usually more  recognizable as a field guide.  Or as a phenological record, which does shares some characteristics of a journal, but not in the "dear diary" sense.  But today I'll venture into the "Part journal . . ." part of the blog, as in the journal as a personal record sense of the word.

The picture above is of my daughters, Naomi and Adele sitting at the end of the walk of our NE Minneapolis house, very early in the morning this fall to watch the end of a lunar eclipse.  They were very excited to see it, and got outside as quickly as possible; Adele went out bare footed and in pajamas despite the unseasonable cold (but she has inherited the barefoot gene that seems to run in the family so not unexpected).  They sat outside until the moon disappeared below the horizon, longer than I was willing to tolerate the cold, at least before coffee was consumed.

I came across a photo of the event on my phone earlier this week.  I thought it would be fun to do my own version and to try out a new (to me) art app on my iPad called Procreate.  Recently, most of the art I've posted has been created by doing a pencil or pen sketch, than scanning the sketch, and adding color with GIMP software.  It's a process that has worked well for me, but I don't always feel like sitting at a desk to work, GIMP is desktop only. Instead I prefer the backyard, neighborhood coffee shop, or just lounging on the couch with one or more family members.  To give myself more flexibility in my work location, I decided to try out one of the many art apps available for iPads.  After a bit of research, I decided on Procreate.  I have found it to be very conducive to sketching, working and reworking a picture, and general trial and error

At one point while working on this picture my kids took a look and asked why I made a picture of myself on an alien planet looking at a large purple pot. Cool idea, and not an unlikely picture for me to make, but maybe posted at my one man, anonymous blackish metal band site.  But not what I had intended.  I guess some reworking was in order, but I think the final result works well.

Another cool thing about Procreate is it automatically saves each step of your work in the form of a video.  So you can see this same picture when it more resembled me looking at a purple pot on an alien planet.