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Friday, 18 September 2020

Patio frog and a Jupiter anomaly

This large frog spent some of the late afternoon underneath a bench on our patio: a most welcome visitor. He then sidled of into the new circular flower bed, where the fresh, deep manure and compost substrate is obviously to his liking.

I hadn't intended 'doing any astronomy' last night, but Jupiter was so well-placed I thought I'd try out the cell phone telescope adapter I mentioned earlier. While I was taking a series of 'shots' of Jupiter - none of which are particularly impressive - I noticed a pulsing light close to the planet. With the naked eye this was just visible, passing by before disappearing. It wasn't an aircraft: a satellite perhaps? I also took a single photo of the Pleiades, which came out pretty well.




Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Any advice?

I'm lucky enough to have numerous dealer-friends in the Astronomy world: one of them has been kind enough to offer me a fantastic deal on a Maksutov 127 reflector, ZWO planetary camera and go-to mount. I've 99% decided to go ahead (taking notice of Anne & Pam's supportive comments!) But does anyone out there have personal knowledge of the set up? Is it intuitive to use, even for an old geezer like me?



Look what I found!

Some time ago, when big astronomy shows were still happening, Linda and I bought an adapter for our Optolyth spotting 'scope. We never got round to using it, and for two years it has been sitting on a shelf, forgotten in our storeroom. I came across it this morning and gave it a try with my 'phone and then with Linda's (much higher resolution!) The set-up seems to be producing better results than the DSLR / telescope combination, so - if it clears - I'll give it a bash later: watch this space! The Oak in the photo is 400m away, through the double-glazed door of my office and you can make out individual acorns!



Tuesday, 15 September 2020

An early start at Hickling NWT reserve.

When Brian and I get together it's always an early start: we like to get ahead of the crowds. In these post apocalyptic days (!) there seems to be very few places you can visit that don't fill up by lunchtime with strollers in brightly-coloured T-shirts, with brand new binoculars dangling at waist height!

Today we met at Hickling just after 7.00 and walked briskly around the reserve, meeting just one other birder, camped in Cadbury Hide. Given the early-morning fog, I had hoped there might have been a fall of waders or even passerines, but in the event the only wader was a Common Sandpiper on the new scrape. There were a few bits and pieces to enjoy, best being family groups of Cetti's Warblers and Bearded Tits, as well as the usual Cranes (5) and Great White Egrets (2)

After a cup of coffee at the Reserve Centre, we decided to call it a day: the car park was more or less full!











I need a new telescope!

I spent some time yesterday afternoon rigging up a counterbalance on my 4.5" refractor and attaching a DSLR with a 3x Barlow lens in anticipation of a clear sky. This duly occurred, so I set up in the back garden and began trying to image Jupiter, Mars and Saturn: the results are below.

I now realise a few things about these 'cobbled together' attempts at astro-imaging:

*  The focus on my 'scope is not sensitive enough

*  Without an equatorial mount, the ISO has to be too high and the f-stop too low for a sharp image

*  What you see is not what you get.

I think I've just about reached the limit of what is possible with a low-end refractor on an altazimuth mount. The thing is, I'm 70 soon. Is there any point in spending a couple of thousand pounds to take better quality photographs that no-one will ever really look at?



Monday, 14 September 2020

Lesser Yellowlegs at Runham

I was just settling down to do some office work (making labels for some new, rare meteorites) when the pager bleeped. Within a couple of minutes I had changed into birding gear and was on my way through the back lanes to the little village of Runham. A short walk from a group of barns and I was standing next to Steve Gantlett, enjoying somewhat distant views of a fine Lesser Yellowlegs. When the bird moved a few metres to a small pool behind a wind pump, we followed. 'Ticker' walked a bit further than I, which was a shame, because I quickly relocated the bird feeding close by with a Greenshank. Having grabbed a couple of quick photos, I turned to inform Steve and two new arrivals (Pauline and Peter) but when I turned back the birds had gone... After waiting for a further half an hour, I decided to get back to the office work.

(Update! Just had an e-mail from Pauline: she and Peter stayed patiently on site and eventually saw the Yellowlegs!)

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Really missing my music...

I've played and sung in bands since I was fifteen (that, I'm afraid to say, is fifty five years ago!)
My good friend Garth, a few muso mates and I were on the verge of going out to play live gigs again, when C-19 reared its ugly head. Garth had bought new PA, foldback and mixer and I'd added new amps, guitars and mikes to my stockpile. Now we're in limbo: just when lockdown began to ease, a small percentage of selfish people who just had to get together with large groups of their 'mates' seem to have brought about another wave of infection.

All we can do is try to stay sharp with daily practice and work separately on new sets: not ideal - there's nothing like the synergy you get from playing with a group of musicians. Here's a short clip of yours truly working out intro and solos for the blues standard 'Redhouse' on an old Telecaster.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

Venus, the Moon and the Great Hunter

Just before dawn - around 3.15 - the sky was beautifully clear: Venus was just above the horizon, while to the west the Moon was embedded in Gemini. Just to the south the finest of all the star patterns, Orion, was a harbinger of the coming Autumn. The third photo is over-exposed to show the colours of the stars, particular the Red Giant Betelgeux (Orion's shoulder!)

It's interesting - to Astronomers, at least - that the 'Heavenly Twins' Castor and Pollux (Gemini) are no longer equally bright: the assumption is that Pollux is a long-term variable that has faded since ancient people gave them their name.




Friday, 11 September 2020

Pectoral Sandpiper at Dickleburgh Moor

The last time I visited Dickleburgh Moor was in 1987 to connect with a Sabine's Gull that had been blown there by the infamous hurricane! The Brothers Lansdell often mention the newly-created nature reserve, but it took a year-tick Pectoral Sandpiper to finally tempt me down the A140!

When I arrived, a couple of very pleasant local birders seemed to be watching the bird from the end of the north bank. I joined them and was soon enjoying this unmistakable yank wader through one of their telescopes. Also on show were Green Sandpipers, Greenshank and three Spotted Redshank - all somewhat distant for photography. Well over fifty Little Egrets were poddling about in the shallow water - the most I can recall seeing at an inland site.

After a few minutes I thought I'd seen the Pec fly over to the other side of the water, and suggested a walk round: the others followed and on the way we were joined by John and Gary Richardson and their posse. The Pec was a lot nearer, but in silhouette: through a scope it was excellent, but not so terrific to photograph. Still: you get the idea!










Thursday, 10 September 2020

First Pinkfeet of the year

As I was working at my desk this afternoon, the familiar yelping of a (small) flock of Pinkfooted Geese caused me to grab a camera and move into the garden. Now I should say: this particular camera (a Pentax KS-2) has been acting up recently - you have to rattle off a burst of shots until the automatic exposure kicks in. In my excitement at seeing these Autumn harbingers, I forgot this and hence only managed a single shot. Still: you get the idea.

Beautiful waning Moon last night...

Last night I tried a few Moonshots using different camera settings before stacking with PIPP and Stackert: the rugged south polar region around Clavius shows up really well, as do Plato and Copernicus. As I was outside, a male Tawny Owl was hooting away close by and two Hedgehogs were snuffling about in the borders!




Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Ospreys and other raptors at Blythburgh

Sue and Peter had invited us to join them to watch a 'Zoom'-style broadcast about the Anglo Saxon Royalty of Rendlesham on their large screen: most enjoyable. Since we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us, we decided on a drive down to Blythburgh to look for the reported Osprey. We parked at Hen Reedbeds and walked from there along the riverbank towards the estuary. Shoals of huge Grey Mullet and lots of Little Egrets kept us interested until, after a half-hour wait, an Osprey eventually appeared over to the west. It gradually worked its way nearer,  finally perching on some wooden poles. When it eventually flew off south, it joined a second bird over the distant trees... Flocks of waders included Curlew Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers, both Godwits and numerous Ruff

A walk around the Hen Reedbeds added Buzzard, four Hobbies, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier to the day list, while a much closer Hobby entertained us while we enjoyed a cream tea near Westleton.