Night Photography–Trial Run

Did you know there are official, international dark sky parks?  I didn’t until I was recently in Michigan visiting family members.  One of my cousin’s sons is an astronomy buff, and he was hoping to go to the Headlands, in the Mackinac Straits.  Unfortunately the park road was under repair, so getting to the beach area for night time viewing meant a one mile hike–carrying telescopes, tripods, cameras, etc.  Being somewhat daunted by that idea, we went out along the shore of Lake Bellaire, near Traverse City.

Lake Bellaire

Lake Bellaire

This was my first attempt at night photography, but hopefully not my last.  We were able to get a good view of the Big Dipper between two trees, a pine and a spruce.  I tried my hand at some light painting, with very mixed results.  The first flashlight I tried was far too bright, overpowering the sky.  I then switched to another one, with one satisfactory result.  With Mark’s help I was able to pick out the Andromeda Galaxy, “a spiral galaxy approximately 780 kiloparsecs from Earth.  Also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, it is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts” (Wikipedia).  One kiloparsec is defined as 3260 light years.  In other words, the light from the Andromeda Galaxy that I captured left the galaxy 3260 x 780 years ago, or 2,542,800 years ago, before the age of mammals.

Here are the results of my first attempt at night photography.  I was using a Nikon D750 camera body, with a Nikon 20mm f/1.8 lens.  Click on the image for the best view.

Big Dipper 1 4.0 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400

Big Dipper 1
4.0 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400  

Big Dipper 2, Light Painting 5.0 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400

Big Dipper 2, Light Painting
5.0 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milky Way 1 5.0 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400

Milky Way 1
5.0 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400  

Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400

Andromeda Galaxy
2.5 sec @ f/1.8, ISO 6400

Adele Rowland, OP–Photographer

Adele Rowland, who passed away recently, was a Dominican Sister of San Rafel, CA.  She was also an extraordinary photographer, having studied under the likes of Ansel Adams, Ruth Bernhard, and Jerry Uelsmann.  Despite this tutelage, she preferred color photography and was a pioneer in color photomontage.  The art of photomontage in the era of PhotoShop is much easier; simply put two images in separate layers, move them at will, select a blend mode, etc.  But Sister Adele worked with film.  Each image must be precisely composed to fill the frame.  Also, each must be underexposed so the combination does not become too dark.

Here are a couple of Sister Adele’s montages:

Counterpoint

Counterpoint

Arizona Butte

Arizona Butte

You can read about Sister Adele’s vision here.  She was the first recipient of the Fra Angelico Award in 1998.  Other Dominican artists are featured in the Dominican Institute for the Arts.

Waterplace Park From Above

Memorial Boulevard

Memorial Boulevard

Providence is a beautiful city, much more beautiful than when I moved here in 1984.  Back then the Providence River flowed through the city (as it still does), but nearly all of its course was covered with roadways.  Now it is opened up.  Furthermore, it is the site of an artistic installation known as Waterfire.  The creation of sculptor Barnaby Evans, Waterfire became an annual attraction in 1997, following two initial events in 1994 and 1996.  The installation consists of several braziers placed in Waterplace Park and along the Providence River.  These are stoked with maple wood and lit at sunset.  City streets are blocked off and several restaurants provide outside seating, giving downtown Providence the feel of a European city.

Waterplace Park

Waterplace Park

Yesterday I had a chance to view the site of Waterfire from a new perspective, the 14th floor terrace of the Waterplace Residence, a condominium complex at Waterplace Park.  This locale afforded a view looking down on Waterplace Park and the Providence River, as well as a panorama of the skyline of the city.  You can see the braziers used for Waterfire.  You can also take in the best side of Providence Place Mall, the Westin Hotel, the Biltmore Hotel, and Providence’s own “Superman Building.”  Not really used in filming anything related to Superman–TV series or movies–the building is said to look like the Daily Planet building in the 1950s comic books.  Unfortunately the building now stands empty, although it is home to nesting peregrine falcons.  You can monitor their progress via this Peregrine webcam run by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

Enjoy this view of Waterfire from above, at noon and without the fire!

Bird Banding

Raise Banding Nets

Raise Banding Nets

Through the Audubon Society of Rhode Island (ASRI) I enrolled this spring in a course about birds, taught by Charles Clarkson.  We were treated to a wealth of information from evolution to behavior, and song to identification.  This past Saturday (May 9) we were treated to a bird banding demonstration.  Charlie raised the nets in Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, RI.  Although the morning was relatively cool and foggy, we did have some interesting finds.

Once a bird flies into the net it must be released with care.  The rest position for a songbird’s foot is to have the toes closed, so that’s the first thing to do–free the feet.  Then, ever so gently, Charlie works the bird out of the net, one hole at a time.  Once freed, the bird is banded, with a careful notation of the species and the band number.  Then several measurements are taken–the length of the tarsus, the culmen, the wing, and the tail.  Finally, the bird is weighed, sexed, and aged, and then released.  Care must be taken with territorial birds to release them in the same location where they were netted.  Nothing worse for a male house wren defending a territory than to be released into another male’s territory!

Measuring Catbird Culmen

Measuring Catbird Culmen

I stayed for about three hours.  We netted several gray catbirds, a few American robins, a male house wren, a male eastern towhee, and a black-capped chickadee.  The chickadee had been banded by Charlie last fall, so it managed to survive the wicked winter RI experienced this year.  Robins seem to be a magnet for bird diseases, such as avian flu.  Although the ones we netted seemed to be healthy, Charlie did not want to risk contaminating the bags used for weighing the birds, so he released them without banding them.  No shortage of robins in RI anyhow, so no concern about data loss.

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A Touch of Spring

Gleaner Gardens

Gleaner Gardens

Here in Rhode Island we got two feet of snow last week, another foot this week, and are expecting yet another foot next week.  While I like snow, I thought you might enjoy a little touch of spring.

Last year a friend took me to a private garden named Gleaner Gardens.  The owners have an extensive collection of rhododendron plants, most of which are quite well established.  You are invited at every turn to wander through the paths and admire the remarkably diverse forms this plant can take.  You will find purple, pink, red, and white, as well as orange and one variety that seems nearly translucent.

Nearly Translucent Rhody

Nearly Translucent Rhody

Should you wish to stay awhile, an inviting reading bench is tucked away in one corner.  You may even be escorted by Rio, the resident German shepherd.  This quiet floral escape even boasts a meditation garden, where you will find both Buddha and St. Francis of Assisi.

Reading Bench

Reading Bench

Enjoy this little touch of spring rhodies from Rhody!