SuperMoon | 3 Dec 2017

There it was shining into the bedroom windows low in the western sky. By the time it reached the full SuperMoon phase at 9:46 am CST, it would be well below the horizon. I give you the almost SuperMoon just before setting. Sorry about the trees being in the way.

Click to embiggen

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Great Horned Owl Visiting Again

In February we told the story of a great horned owl visiting our backyard. Before that day, we never saw or heard one in our yard. Today we had the privilege of a second visit.

This time it perched on a lower branch than before, and Jim was able to get some terrific shots.

Great Horned Owl. Eastern Iowa. 11/15/2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Click on any picture below to embiggen.

And here is a short video to show a bit of personality.

We watched it as a cat roamed through our yard beneath it. The cat was lucky the owl wasn’t ready for dinner. Later a squirrel grazed under the bird feeder and similarly escaped a violent death.

It was quite a treat to see this beautiful bird.

Backbone | Our Private State Park

by Jim and Melanie

After a large breakfast at Johnson’s in Elkader, we drove south toward Strawberry Point. Did you know they claim to have the world’s largest strawberry on display above city hall? We’ve seen it many times. By our judgment, at 15 feet tall, it is the largest.

As seen in October 2013…

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Squirrels & Feeders

Some of us choose to do battle with our local squirrels at the bird feeders. I confess to being one of them. Both humans and squirrels are creative. The challenge of foiling the squirrels is one I accept and enjoy. They usually win.

Several years ago our daughter bought a feeder for us that was supposed to be guaranteed squirrel-proof. It has a motorized perch for the birds. If a squirrel gets on it, their weight causes it to spin rapidly throwing them off. The Yankee Flipper did a good job. We were entertained for a few days as squirrels hopped on and were flipped off. This video shows one of our locals giving it a ride.

They soon quit trying. Then it became just another feeder. And, last year the rechargeable batteries quit holding charge for long. They only lasted a couple of days. That really emboldened the squirrels. Most of them went out on the rope and hung their bodies down from the wire bracket by their hind feet and ate leisurely. I needed some way to make the bracket impossible to grip. The local Goodwill store had a plastic bowl the right size. I put it in place as you see in this video. It seems to work well. Their bodies are not quite long enough.

There is still the batteries problem. I need to buy a replacement part for the spinner. It is fun to see the squirrels who are passing through and are unfamiliar with the spinner. They get a few rides and then quit. The locals know better. On YouTube are several videos posted by people with the same spinner. One in particular made me watch in amazement. This guy hung on for over 2 minutes. The owners said it wasn’t harmed. It got up and ran in a straight line down the drive. Are squirrels not subject to getting dizzy?

Storm in Nature and Life

Jim’s story of the book “Storm,” with some fascinating and unexpected connections.

How I See It

Some things we keep over the years carry strong ties and meaning in our lives. In our house, we try to not keep very many things, only the most important. Given the chance, we part with some of the things we’ve kept that might not have much meaning any more. When we die, we don’t want to leave the job of sorting through our stuff to our children.

I sorted some books on the shelves to see which could be donated to the public library for their sale. I decided to keep this one. The book and I have connections that goes back several decades. I will explain.

The Book

Storm is a novel by George R. Stewart published in 1941. Each of the twelve chapters is a day in the life of the storm. Each details the impacts of a storm which began in the western Pacific. The storm…

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Autumn Walks

by Jim and Melanie

One of our true pleasures is walking or hiking with each other. The pace allows for companionable silence or conversation, and for experiencing our current surroundings while letting the past and future fade. When we travel we look for opportunities to hike, and at home we walk the neighborhood or make small outings to local trails. Serendipity often blesses us while we’re out.

When visiting Washington state last month, we intended a hike in Point Defiance Park, a city park in Tacoma. It hugs the shoreline of the Tacoma Narrows and Commencement Bay, south of Seattle. Jim also wanted to visit the park’s rose garden, displaying the last of early fall’s blooms.

What we didn’t anticipate was the dahlia garden. The tall-stemmed blooms overwhelmed us with their joyful colors. We don’t see many dahlias where we live, so we lingered for a while, taking dozens of photos. Here are a few. Click to embiggen.

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This week we hiked closer to home. We drove to hiking and mountain biking trails a few miles away, next to the Coralville Reservoir. There are several miles of trails, rated from easy to difficult. Because they are for bike riders as well as walkers, the trails are designated for one-way traffic to improve safety. We hadn’t hiked in this area before and enjoyed the new adventure.

Most of the trail is within the trees with no view of the water, though you can see the reservoir in places. The fall colors are slow in coming this year, and the trees are still leaf-covered, perhaps due to our mild summer.

Our moment of serendipity came about halfway through our hike, when we chanced upon this Santa-on-a-tractor-in-a-creche. It seemed to be the perfect representation of Christmas in Iowa, though a little early.

Since we hadn’t been to these trails before, we stuck to one designated as “easy.” There is a lot more to explore for other times. We’ll go back.

Snakes on a … Sidewalk!

by Melanie and Jim

Most snakes in Iowa are pretty harmless, not scary like snakes on a plane. The ones we see most often are non-venomous and pretty amusing. They are Brown Snakes, and they typically measure from 13-18″ long. Most we see in our neighborhood are smaller than that, with lengths from about 8-12″.

Yesterday’s first snake sighting was on the paved trail behind our house. We had just left the house for a short walk when we happened on the snake, stretched almost its full length across the trail. We estimated it was about a foot long, maybe slightly more. There was some dappled sunlight warming the little thing. They seem to appear in early fall. They like areas with water and some woodland border, making our neighborhood the perfect habitat.

Jim ran back to the house to get a camera while Melanie stood guard. Two women came along and admired it while we waited. They said there were other snakes that were much smaller farther along. And then one of the women hopped a little and pointed to two more snakes at the edge of the sidewalk. A bicyclist rode by, and we directed him to the side so he wouldn’t run over the small monster.

Finally Jim came back, camera in hand.

Slightly out of focus, its tongue is flicking at high speed.

Great picture of its markings, including the top of its head.

With no sense of scale, you might think this is large and ferocious!

A few seconds of video, with Melanie’s finger to show how tiny it is.

After that encounter, and noting the two other snakes at the edge of the sidewalk, we didn’t see any more for most of our walk. Shortly before getting home, Melanie saw another skedaddle into the grass. It was a larger, longer snake and moved very quickly. It moved too fast to get a good look at it, but because of its larger size, we guess it may have been a garter snake.

Snakes are always fun to see around here, partly because we know they are harmless if not bothered. Do you encounter snakes where you live?

C-17 Globemaster Cargo Plane

by Jim and Melanie

The United States Air Force is cooperating with relief efforts for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico as they did for the Gulf Coast and Florida. Members of the 15th Airlift Squadron , 437th Airlift Wing, out of the Joint Base in Charleston, SC, have flown more than 70 missions supporting relief efforts after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as detailed in this brief.

The planes used are the C-17 Globemaster. We recently toured one of the planes and felt others would appreciate seeing it up close and inside. First impression as you walk toward it is its imposing size. The loud noise is an auxiliary power unit providing electricity to the plane while parked.

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Cassini | Fireball Into Saturn

For those who want to watch the end of Cassini in a live broadcast…

How I See It

The astronomy community is active with posts and anticipation of the end of the Cassini Mission to Saturn early in the morning of 15 Sep 2017. This post serves as a brief reminder that you can witness the ending moments live by going online or via the NASA channel on cable. Set your calendar or clock.

Time to show up for the broadcast is 7 am Eastern Time, 6 CT, 5 MT, or 4 PT. I will leave the time calculation to others who live across the oceans.

Online sources include YouTube, NASA-TV, UStream, and Facebook. The table in the link includes links to each of those. You get to choose.

Consult your cable provider to see if they provide the NASA-TV channel.

For a huge number of links to current and past information about the Cassini Mission, please go to the Media Kit provided for reporters by NASA-JPL…

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Vespidae | Everyone Has To Eat

I spotted these on the trail as I returned from a walk this morning. According to Bugguide, they are Eastern Yellow Jackets Vespula maculifrons. They were feeding on something moist and fleshy I could not identify. It has been exceptionally dry here in eastern Iowa since mid-August. Yellow Jackets are found near anything with moisture.

They didn’t mind that I got within a few centimeters to record some video of their activity. Sort of gruesome. But, as Melanie says “Everyone has to eat.”