We enjoy the usual avian visitors to the woods behind our house. There are cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, flickers, etc. who are year-round residents. Others are passing through during migration in fall and spring. This year, we have the nest of an Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe under our deck for the first time. We hope it proves to be a good location for them so we can monitor the progress of their young.
Seventeen years ago, friends of ours moved from their in-town home to a 5 acre property several miles out of town. They built a beautiful prairie-style house and converted 4 acres of their alfalfa field front yard into a mixed prairie like it was 200 years ago. Native grasses, wildflowers, and trees were planted and a small pond was formed. The plantings grew well in the rich Iowa soil. Wildlife returned. Bird species grew in number. Kestrels nested in the box above the open space. Waterfowl visited the pond. They kept paths mowed to allow easy access to parts of the prairie visible in this satellite view.
Only one thing was missing from their prairie. They needed a fire. Much dry vegetation was on the ground built up from years of growth. Certain desirable native species were crowded out by less welcome grasses or weeds. They hired a crew to burn off the dead vegetation. The burn must be a carefully controlled prescribed fire carried out by an experienced team. Fire was a natural and essential event on the prairies in the past. A thorough discussion of prairie burns can be found at The Prairie Ecologist. The author, Chris Helzer, is The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska.
Before the burn was started, I stood next to the house in the image above and recorded video of the scene toward the south, then panned around to the west and northwest. It was a calm day with gentle breeze in the direction of the pond.
The fire team of four arrived in the late afternoon and walked around the property to assess their strategy. You don’t just toss a match and hope for the best. That is how prairie burns get out of control. There is a procedure used to keep the fire under control.
After Mom’s stroke, she was unable to care for herself or Dad. She was a strong and capable woman, raised nine children, and lived a farm life. They were married over 66 yrs when her stroke happened. It removed her from Dad’s life one dark winter night. He prayed for her return. He wasn’t ready to let her go. He held tight to the dream of getting her back.
Many of us lived near enough to give Dad daily rides to the nursing home to be with her. She didn’t get better. The efforts to bring him each day became more difficult for him and for us. It seemed best for him to stay in the nursing home with her. The staff gave them much gentle care and attention.
Dad died on 28 March 2002. Mom on 16 May 2005. Maybe they are hand-in-hand again.
On New Year’s Eve 31 December 1999, Mom suffered a stroke. It affected her ability to process things going on in the present. Much of her long term memory was still intact. She was near her 88th birthday. Dad missed her terribly.
As I browsed through photos recently, I found one of her hand resting on the arm of a chair. It was taken in September 2000 when we visited her in the nursing home. She had arthritis. Swollen knuckles and wrinkles were obvious. If they could talk, they would have many stories to tell about life and the hard work it demanded. I gathered my pencils, charcoal, and paper.
Late in the day the Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker returned to examine the hole in the trunk it looked at the day before. We’re hopeful it will choose the hole as a nesting site. Our view would be good. For a few minutes the Flicker was inside the hole. I went for the camera. When I returned the Flicker was sitting quietly on a branch about 4 ft from the hole as if waiting for something.
A squirrel had climbed the trunk and scared it. The squirrel sat on a branch preening and in no hurry to move on. This stand-off lasted for 10-15 minutes. Neither one budged.
We looked outside during dinner and watched a bird investigate a hole in a small tree about 20 feet from the house. Binoculars helped us identify it as a Northern Flicker of the Yellow-Shafted form. It spent about an hour inside the hole occasionally taking time to look outside. It might have considered it as a home. That would be nice.
The young new-moon emerged from the glare of the Sun last weekend. It is moving toward a second full-moon of the month on 31 March. Two full-moons also appeared in January. None in February. Also present in the early evening sky were Venus and Mercury (arrow). Enlarge the image to see Mercury.
About 1% of the Moon was illuminated at that time. It was a cooperative subject for this shot.
Two hours later that evening our phone dinged with a text message from our son on the west coast. He attached this photo taken from his deck. It was fun to see the alignment again. Note that the Moon was a little higher relative to Venus in his photo.
by Melanie and Jim
On our last full day in Florida, we headed to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge north of Kennedy Space Center. The wildlife site is accessible from the town of Titusville. After crossing the causeway from Titusville, we turned onto the Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is a seven-mile, one-way drive through marshlands.
As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says, it “provides an excellent place to see waterfowl (in season), wading birds, shorebirds and raptors. Alligators, river otters, bobcats, various species of snakes, and other wildlife may be visible as well.” We saw no bobcats or snakes, and the velociraptors were hiding. But there were plenty of birds and alligators to enjoy. Zoom/drag or turn your phone in this interactive for a typical view of the area.
by Jim and Melanie
This post describes our view of the launch of the GOES-S weather satellite from the vantage point of the Apollo/Saturn V Center on 1 Mar 2018. Our previous post about the Kennedy Space Center highlighted some of the exhibits at the Visitor Complex. If you are interested in seeing a launch, this link provides details about the options.
Our son-in-law works for a company contracted by NOAA and NASA. His company gets the satellite ready for launch, and then tests it during the months after launch, before turning it over to NOAA for operations. He was entitled to nominate guests to view the launch. Our names were submitted along with that of his father, who joined us at the viewing site.
As launch time neared, we made our way to the buses provided for invited guests.
by Jim and Melanie
Early in 2018, our son-in-law invited us to be his guests at a launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We immediately said “yes.” Our SIL is literally a rocket scientist/engineer. He works for a company contracted by NOAA and NASA, whose mission is to support the launch and instrument checkout of the next generation weather satellites of the GOES-R series.
Geostationary GOES-R was launched 19 November 2016 and is now part of the National Weather Service fleet. It views the eastern half of the U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean. Storm development, lightning, and hurricane tracking are parts of its main focus.
Our invitation was to watch the launch of GOES-S on 1 March 2018. When GOES-S is commissioned several months after launch, it will view the western half of the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean as GOES-West. Pacific storms, their impact on the western states, and forest fire tracking will be parts of its main focus.
This post is about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Our next post is about viewing the GOES-S launch later that same day.