Eclipse? Opportunity for photographers to show off

May 24, 2012

Some photographers have the patience and skills to show off well.  Found this picture of last week’s eclipse, by Mark Langridge, on TwitPic:

Mark Langridge photo, May 20, 2012 annular eclipse

Mark Langridge photograph of the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse

Annular eclipse of May 20, 2012 - photo by Langridge via twitpic

Annular eclipse of May 20, 2012 – photo by Mark Langridge via twitpic

Mr. Langridge provided details; he used a Celestron telescope with his Nikon camera:

Celestron CGEM 800 HD, Canon EOS 60Da, Kendrick Astro baadar solar filter.

Blow this image up, or go to Langridge’s TwitPic site and see it in its large format, glorious detail.  You can see the mountains on the Moon . . .

Fossil walrus porn

December 23, 2011

Walrus baculum fossil, from Retrieverman

What is it? If you were a lady walrus a few million years ago, you wouldn't have to ask!

I can’t do it justice.  Go read about the photo at Retrieverman’s site.

My students hear it often:  Truth is stranger and often much more interesting than fiction.  It certainly applies in history, and it applies in science, too.

Bored in class? Do some math, for fun.

December 22, 2011

This is a good video that all math teachers ought to see (heck, I can figure out how to use it as a bell ringer in social studies, I think).

I had to mention it, just because of Michael Tobis’s wonderful headline at Planet 3.0:  “Bored in class?  Do some math instead.”

I confess to being caught doing math instead, in English, in history — and in art we often made mathematical games to create patterns.  From the stuff I see on walls in schools, that’s still popular.

Some time ago I ordered a poster from Max Temkin, the brilliant poster propagandist/artist.  It says that the universe is easy to understand if you speak its language, and that language is mathematics.  True.

Also true that in most of the disciplines that work into classes we call social studies, we do not have the ability to discern the cool patterns like Fibonacci numbers in pine cones, pineapples and sunflower blossoms.  People look for those pattersn in history anyway, and that poses a key problem to policy makers.  People want to see a pattern, expect to see a pattern, and historians cannot meet that expectation, other than quoting Santayana.

Maybe one of my students will be the one who discerns a key pattern.  It’ll be one of the slackers, if it happens.

Scenes from a beach: At the edge of the sea

December 20, 2011

Interesting little bauble in the Biloxi-Gulfport (Mississippi) Sun-Herald, I think from their columnist George Thatcher:

Cover of Rachel Carson's "The Edge of the Sea"

Good teacher resource for National Environmental Week, April 15-21, 2012

December 20 Scenes from the beach

“To stand at the edge of the sea,” wrote Rachel Carson, “… is to have knowledge of things that are as eternal, as any earthly life can be.”* The things that we see this morning–a cerulean sea and sky, the shorebirds, the sun still near the horizon — are identically the same objects that could be seen in Cambrian times, eons ago. There is a sense of the eternal in the objects viewed today. And I suppose there will be little change in a faraway eon that lies in some future age. — Diary, autumn 2011

* At the Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson; Signet Books, New York (1955)

Read more here:

One should read Rachel Carson to get closer to the universe, not for political reasons, not necessarily for the science.  But being scientifically accurate, and being close to the pulse of the universe, Carson’s views will change your politics for the better if you really read and listen.

Can the Houston toad survive Texas wildfires and droughts?

November 25, 2011

New short from the Texas Parks and Wildlife people:

The smoke may be gone but the Bastrop fires of Labor Day weekend are still a smoldering concern for biologists. They’re keeping tabs on the Houston Toad. And with only an estimated 2,000 left in Texas, this endangered species is facing its next challenge as the drought continues. More on Houston toads at

For background, see this earlier reel from TPWS on the fires at Bastrop State Park:

Theological disproof of evolution? Hornworms and braconid wasps

November 7, 2011

“Nature red in tooth and claw,” the poet Tennyson said.

Darwin thought these critters a clear disproof of creationism — no god would make such creatures intentionally!

Mark reports at The Divine Afflatus:

Hornworm Hosts its Destruction

While admiring some ground cherries outside my front door, I noticed a number of leaves had been stripped off. Not grazed on by the deer that frequent the area, more like eaten by caterpillars. After a brief search I spotted a hornworm munching away. I didn’t bother killing the hornworm because, after all, the ground cherries are weeds growing amongst the black-eyed susans, and it’s less work for me if they take care of the weeds.

I looked again a few days later, and saw that the hornworm had sprouted numerous white appendages. These are the cocoons of pupating braconid wasps. Braconid wasps are parasitoids that inject their eggs beneath the skin of the host (hornworms are favored by the braconid wasp Contesia congregatus). After feeding on the convenient meal surrounding them, the wasp larvae emerge and spin their coccons, attached to the body of the unfortunate hornworm. In a few days, adult wasps emerge from their cocoons, leaving a dead caterpillar.

I later spotted a second hornworm, which suffered the same fate as the first.


Glories of Glacier N.P.

November 6, 2011

Seven-plus minutes of good reason to get your tail to Glacier National Park as soon as you can.

Produced and shot by Joshua Thompson, this is part of an award-winning film made to promote the park and get money for the research that the park hosts.

Grizzly Bears, Bighorn Sheep, spectacular sunsets and more…..

Part 3 of the recently shot Glacier DVD. This 20 min. film recently was nominated for best new nature documentary in the music category as well received an award for photography from the Wildlife Film Festival held in May of 2008. All funds for this project are being donated to the Glacier National Park Fund. For more info:…

I’ve been there only once.  A wise American would get there before turning 35, and return several times.

Amazing film – Flight of the eagle owl

October 8, 2011

Imagine for a moment that you are a wee little mousie, sitting on a tuft of grass nibbling on a seed. You think you feel a breath of a breeze from in back of you and you turn around to see this beautiful thing

Amazing nature – The Eagle Owl, posted with vodpod

Beautiful, but terrible, too.

Owls fly silently. Their feathers have evolved to move without rustles, to let the wind slip through them without making a whish. Owls demonstrate evolution at its mightiest, and nature, as the poets note, “red in tooth and claw.”

Filmed at 1000 frames per second, according to  According to Vurtrunner at YouTube, filmed with a
Photron Full HD High Speed Camera SA2.

I’d like to know more about this film.  Trained owl?  Wild owl enticed by what kind of bait?  Longer movie about eagle owls?  I’m not familiar with them.  So many little mysteries on the internet.


Update:  From YouTube’s account of SloMoHighSpeed:

New Photron SA-2 High Definition High Speed Camera. Shot of ‘Checkers’ the eagle owl, 1000fps 1920×1080 resolution. Shot by SlowMo ( See the owl and other birds of prey at

From Wikipedia

The Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) is a species of eagle owl resident in much of Europe and Asia. It is also one of the largest types of owls.

*   *   *   *   *   *

The Eagle Owl is a large and powerful bird, smaller than the Golden Eagle but larger than the Snowy Owl. It is sometimes referred to as the world’s largest owl, but this is actually the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, which is slightly bigger on average.[2][3] The Eagle Owl has a wingspan of 138–200 cm (55–79 in) and measures 58–75 cm (23–30 in) long. Females weigh 1.75-4.5 kg (3.9-10 lbs) and males weigh 1.5-3.2 kg (3.3-7 lbs).[4][5][6] In comparison, the Barn Owl weighs about 500 grams (1.1 lbs).

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kathryn.

Sky islands in Yosemite National Park

September 19, 2011

Nature Notes #16 from the good people at Yosemite National Park:  Sky Islands.

Throughout the Sierra Nevada, high flat plateaus are found at elevations around twelve and thirteen thousand feet. These isolated sky islands are the home to unique plant communities that are found nowhere else.

Yosemite Nature Notes extra: Time lapse of people visiting

September 4, 2011

Among other things one might observe from this film, one might note that Yosemite National Park’s beauty is so great that it looks good from almost any angle, even with tourists plastered all over it.

This was released between Yosemite Nature Notes #14 and #15, and I find no other description.  This remains a wonderful series showing off the geography and natural phenomena of Yosemite.  I wish there were similar programs for Yellowstone, Glacier, Denali, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Big Bend, Great Smoky Mountains, and for the Adirondack State Park in New York, among many others.

Red dragonfly in Colorado Bend State Park, Texas

August 9, 2011

Dragon flies are not my area of expertise:  Can anyone identify this beauty?

Red Dragonfly in Colorado Bend State Park, Texas (photo by Ed Darrell)

Red dragonfly in Colorado Bend State Park, Texas - photo by Ed Darrell


Kate wrote in to say it’s probably Libella saturata.  From other photos I’ve found, that seems a good, accurate identification.  Citizens of Arizona have been urged to help identify dragon flies, odonates,  in their state, and this site explains how to do it with a camera and a notepad — with a fine picture of a Libella saturata for illustration.  And, as a reward to Kate and yourself, you may want to hop over to her blog, The Radula, and see what she’s got to look at.

Hopewell Rocks and 45-foot tides at the Bay of Fundy

August 4, 2011

Great time-lapse video of the tides at Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick.

Teachers, can you get a decent geography warm-up with this video?  Every high school kid should know about the Bay of Fundy, one of nature’s greater phenomena.


Another time-lapse video of the tides at Fundy, taken at Halls Harbour, a different perspective:


Fresh from the garden: Bat faced cuphea

July 10, 2011

Bat-faced cuphea in Kathryn's garden

On a pedestal? Kathryn's potted bat-faced cuphea stands out when the mid-morning sun bathes it, but the yard in back still hovers in the shade of the live oak. Horticultural design by Kathryn Knowles; photo by Ed Darrell

Kathryn’s bat faced cuphea (Cuphea llavea) has graced our garden for several years with this particular plant, or its seedlings.  It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds with regularity.

It gets its name because each blossom resembles the face of a tiny bat.

Bat faced cuphea in Kathryn's garden, IMGP5294

Each blossom of bat faced cuphea resembles the face of a bat.

Full Moon, waterfalls in Yosemite, modern cameras: Voila! Moonbows!

July 7, 2011

Dick Feynman taught in Rio de Janeiro for a while.  He was frustrated at the way Brazilian students of that day learned physics by rote, instead of in labs.  In a lecture he looked out from the classroom to the sun dancing on the waves of the Atlantic, and he realized it was a beautiful, brilliant demonstration of light refraction, the topic of the day.  Sadly, the students didn’t understand that the beauty before them was a physics problem.  (Was that story in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman,  or What Do You Care What Others Think?)

Here, a marriage of physics, moonlight, spring runoff over a cliff, and modern photography, in Yosemite.  If you don’t gasp, call your physician and find a new sensei:

(Programs and maintenance of this park are threatened by Republican budget writers, BTW.)

Cicada killers, 2011 edition

July 6, 2011

It’s slower population growth than in the past, but earlier, too.

In earlier years we’ve had cicada killer wasps — cicada hawks, in some parlance — as early as July 7.  Rains fell all spring in 2010, which discouraged the emergence of cicadas and their predators.  First certified sighting in our backyard did not occur until July 18.

Cicada Killer, with cicada - photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service,

Cicada Killer, with cicada - photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service,, via University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

We had modified a planter, and that may have killed some of the larvae.  Generally 2010 was a slow year for the large wasps.  My guess is that they were less active locally because the ground remained wet through July and into August.  I still get e-mails asking about how to get rid of them, and I still recommend watering the spots you want them to leave.  The females sting and paralyze a cicada, then plant that cicada in a tunnel underground with one wasp egg.  The young wasp hatches and feeds on the cicada, emerging usually the next summer to carry on the cycle (in a long summer, there may be a couple of hatchings, I imagine).  Females do not like to tunnel in wet ground, partly because it collapses on them, and I suspect wet ground is conducive to fungi and other pests that kill the eggs or hatchlings. Our wet weather kept them away last year.

I waited to say anything this year because I wanted more, but we saw the first cicada killer wasps this year on June 27, 2011, the earliest date we recorded here.  I had hoped to get a good photo, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Down at Colorado Bend State Park, the cicada killers greeted our arrival, much to the panic of the little kids in the campsite next door.  They were happy to learn the wasps don’t aim to sting them, and the kids actually watched them at work.  One of the wasps reminded me of just how much they like dry ground — she kept tunneling into the fire pit, unused now because of the fire bans that cover 252 of Texas’s 254 counties.  Covering the holes, putting objects over the holes, nothing could dissuade her from using that site.  I hope for the sake of the larvae that they hatch soon, and get out, before someone builds a fire in the pit.  Some of the cicadas in that area hit 110 decibels at least, and they badly need the discipline of a force of cicada killers, if you ask me.

Prowling the yard this morning I found two more emergence holes.  The wasps leave a smaller hole than the cicadas, so I’m pretty sure they are back in force.

Nature, red in tooth and claw, the poets say.  Or in this case, moist in sting.

It’s summer.  By the weather, it’s late summer.   Hello, cicada killers, Sphecius speciosa.

Earlier at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:



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