Witt’s End

It's Not About Stories People Tell, It's About …

It’s most often the small things in life that get birders excited. A small increase in temperatures, say from 28 degrees in the morning to 50 degrees by noon. Or, the rare visit by one of the nation’s smaller owls, say, the Northern Saw-whet owl. Such was the serendipitous intersection of these two phenomena, recently, at the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve.

The weather is—the weather. The owl, however, is something else, again. The owl is on the move between its breeding grounds on the other side of the pond we refer to as Lake Erie, and warmer winter habitat farther to our south; probably heading back north since climate change has all of us confused. It’s a small bird, average height is seven inches, give or take, and weighs only a few ounces. They prefer conifer trees and are often found at eye level.

Such was the case with the bird we encountered. Occasionally, he opened an eye to check the paparazzi, but mostly he wanted to sleep.

Our planet had a brief visitor the past couple months who promises to be back in about 50,000 years. if you missed this green guy, stay tuned. I figured I might not make it for another multi-thousand centuries so I better try for a selfie. Well, the selfie part didn’t work, however, in spite of the crappy weather here in northeast Ohio, I did manage a portrait of the comet more affectionally know as C/2022 E3 (ZTF). It zipped past the sun in January and started headed for really outer space when I caught up with it on February 14. It’s traveling at around 156,000 miles per hour so you have to look quick. It’s green because of sunlight interacting with carbon and cyanogen in the comet’s head.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

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For the past 20 years Susan and I have been visiting a friend in Annisquam, Massachusetts. There’s a well kept lighthouse there, guiding ships along the Annisquam River to the nearby fishing town of Gloucester. I’ve taken countless photos of the spot because it just begs, challenges, one to get the perfect photo. On our most recent visit it was as if the lightbulb over my head went off and I realized shooting the structure at night was what I needed, not another daytime picture. So, on a nice clear night, Susan and I worked our way around the rocky shoreline in the dark for me to get the proper angle. Of all the variables you have to consider in photography, working with the movement of tides is not one that usually comes to mind. I found the best possible spot where I could stay dry and fired away, vowing next time I’ll check the local tide charts to get the exact angle. Stay tuned.

The lighthouse at the Annisquam River, Massachusetts, built in 1801.

There are billions of stars out there, however, it’s the planets that often attract people to the hobby of astronomy. And there are as many reasons for enjoying the views of distant planets as there are people doing the viewing. Saturn with its mysterious rings is always a favorite when people ask to look through my telescope. Mars and its reddish dust storms, the hazy blue color of Neptune.

I enjoy Jupiter. It’s not only the largest planet in our solar system, one of its features is a storm, the Great Red Spot, that’s larger than our entire plant. And it has a host of moons, always changing position throughout the night. For amateurs with limited equipment and limited budgets, the planet’s details are tough to see, however, the position of its four primary moons is always visible, even with binoculars.

Currently, the end of December, Jupiter is low in the southwestern sky as is Saturn. In fact, because of their orbits, they’ll appear very close; a conjunction astronomers call it. On December 21 they will appear to be a single star even though they are millions of miles apart. If you have a chance, get out just after sunset and take a look at these two gas giants. They’ve not appeared this close in 800 years and won’t line up again like this until 2080.

Jupiter and four of her moons as seen December 10, 2020.

I do a fair amount of astro photography as an amateur astronomer and former professional photographer. Last evening, while setting up my telescope and equipment, I glanced up at the slice of a moon and saw the International Space Station coming my way. Immediately, I realized the path of ISS would pass close to the moon (separated by thousands of miles, of course). I grabbed my camera, which was sitting on a nearby table and started shooting. I had no idea what the camera was set for since Susan and I had been out the previous day making pictures of birds. I could tell from the sound of the slow shutter that I was going to get some blurred images. When I looked at the image of the moon and the ISS I was pleasantly surprised to see that, while a bit blurry, the shaky camera unintentionally produced an image that looks a lot like the ISS. I’ve consciously tried to photograph ISS over the years and never had success. This grab-shot mistake is as good as it gets, sometimes.

The new novel has landed! Or, dropped as the current phrase would have it. Here’s the link that will take you directly to the book store at BookBaby.com, my publisher. https://store.bookbaby.com/book/all-maps-are-fiction. Currently, the book (paperback or eBook) is only available in their store because of production requirements and restrictions. It will be available at Amazon and most bookstores, worldwide, after the first of the new year. Enjoy the read, write a review, or drop me a line.