When Moon Dined from a Stellar Manger

Colored lights of our skies are a trigger for the imagination. The sky is a storybook to be written by the mind and passed along in language. The 3,000 observable stars and planets visible on any one moonless, clear night away from artificial lights draw on the human obsessional skill for pattern recognition. Over millennia, […]

Colored lights of our skies are a trigger for the imagination. The sky is a storybook to be written by the mind and passed along in language. The 3,000 observable stars and planets visible on any one moonless, clear night away from artificial lights draw on the human obsessional skill for pattern recognition.

Over millennia, stars along the path of the planets and sun through the sky held a special place for careful observers. Twelve patterns were imagined, each a named constellation. The word “constellation” means “to know from the stars.” Indeed, we can know much from the constellations. For example, it is winter in the northern hemisphere when the constellation “Cancer” (The Crab) is high in the night sky.

Click Photograph for my OnLine Galleries
Click photograph for my OnLine Galleries. Clicking the other photographs in this post will yield a larger image.

On the evening of January 20/21, 2019 the full moon climbed from the horizon (Click this link for the first post of this series “Total Lunar Eclipse of 2019…”) to a point high overhead were it appeared to float among the stars of Cancer, the crab. On the way, the disk darkened as its orbital path brought it into the earth’s shadow. The surrounding stars emerged from the darkening full moon glow. I captured the sight using a Canon dslr, the Canon EF 24 mm f/1.4L II USM lens mounted on a tripod by setting the ISO to 3200 to reduce the exposure to 1.3 second and placing the auto exposure area (a feature of the dslr/lens combination) away from the full moon.

Additionally, the moon is overexposed on the original image, for the following I used Photoshop to cut and paste the moon from the last photograph of this blog, reduced it to the approximate angular diameter of the moon and pasted it over the overexposed disk. There are better astrophotography images of this event, this image is mine to use and adequate for this purpose.

The Moon on the Crab’s back

Cancer is difficult to trace, the constituent stars are all dim. Hint: click on any of the following photographs and a new page will open with a larger resolution image. What is striking in the following photograph are the number of apparently paired stars. Our sun is an exception, it is not part of a star system; even so, most of these pairings are line of sight, not physical star systems. For example, starting from the “red” moon there is a faint star, “Delta” of Cancer. Trace an imaginary line between the moon and Delta, in your mind move the line down and a little to the right to a pair of dim stars, “Nu” and “Gamma” of Cancer (left to right). The two are not a system, being 390 and 181 light years away. Each is a multiple star system in itself as is Delta. The three are on the back of Cancer, with two stars on the upper right being “Alpha” and “Beta”.

A most interesting object of this photograph, well worth the price of binoculars, is between Nu and Gamma and a little higher, towards the moon. It was what I saw the first time viewing this photograph: a cluster of stars called “The Beehive.” This was how I identified the location of the moon on the back of this crab.

Click for more information about this view

Click photograph for a higher resolution version
Total Lunar Eclipse and Surrounding Sky with labels for primary element of the Cancer constellation

For the following photograph I cut/pasted/enlarged a square with the (enhanced) Moon, Delta. Nu and Gamma, below, with the Beehive between them. See that the stars, though “fuzzy”, have colors. Delta is a orange giant, also known as the “Southern Donkey”. Gamma, the “Northern Donkey,” and NU are white. The back of the Crab holds a two donkeys eating from a manger, a Galactic Stellar Cluster name “The Beehive.” This night the moon joined the feast.

Click photograph for a higher resolution image
“Beehive” with Total Lunar Eclipse with labels for primary elements of Cancer Constellation

The Beehive

With binoculars (or telescope with a wide field eyepiece), the Beehive is a glorious spectacle of 1,000 gravitationally bound stars, a mixture of colors from blue to red. It was one of the first objects Galileo viewed through the telescope, picking out 40 stars. In later years it was here we found the first planets orbiting sun-like (i.e. having the characteristics of our yellow star) stars within a stellar cluster. In spite of being 600+ light years distant the Beehive was known since ancient times, being visible without a telescope in clear, dark skies.

The Total Eclipse

A glorious moon at full totality is captured in the following two photographs. I used the dslr at 3200 ISO with the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L lens at 300 mm. Setting the exposure area to the Moon, the exposure was 3.2 seconds.

In the first photograph, I especially enjoy the effect modeling of the shadows does to make the disk appear round. The field of view does not include Delta, Gamma, Nu or the Beehive. At this time I was not aware how close the Beehive was, or even that the Moon was in Cancer. The beauty of the moon floating among the stars is apparent.

Click photograph for larger image
Click photograph for larger image

Click link for the first post of this series 

Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

One of Three

Red, White and……Black

Up Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, about two miles from the entrance, we came to the parking area for Wild Bird Trail Head where I spent an hour or so admiring the sights. This Mangrove sprouting from brackish water is one of three known to grow here.

I’d say it is a Black Mangrove from the color of the bark. “Unlike other mangrove species, it does not grow on prop roots, but possesses pneumatophores that allow its roots to breathe even when submerged. It is a hardy species and expels absorbed salt mainly from its leathery leaves.”

The text in quotes is from the Black Mangrove wikipedia article.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

On High

this heron stalks its prey

Up Blackpoint Wildlife Drive about two miles from the entrance we came to the parking area for Wild Bird Trail Head where I spent a hour or so admiring the sights.

This Tricolor Heron taking advantage of a perch provided by Black Mangrove growing from the brackish water. I assume it is resting as this heron stalks its prey in shallow or deeper water, often running as it does so. It eats fish, amphibians, crustaceans, gastropods, leeches, worms, spiders, reptiles, and insects.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Snake Bird

AKA “devil bird” or “snake bird”

This series of wading shorebirds are from a mash alongside Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

This Anhinga basked on a marsh bush just off Blackpoint Wildlife Drive on a January morning. Soaking in sunlight is most important for this waterbird as Anhinga features are not waterproof, after a session of diving, the bird is soaked through to the skin and need to warm up and dry off.

“The Anhinga sometimes called snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey, is a water bird of the warmer parts of the Americas. The word anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means “devil bird” or “snake bird”. The origin of the name is apparent when swimming: only the neck appears above water, so the bird looks like a snake ready to strike. They do not have external nares (nostrils) and breathe solely through their epiglottis. Anhinga species are found all over the world in warm shallow waters.”

The American anhinga has been subdivided into two subspecies, Anhinga anhinga anhinga and Anhinga anhinga lleucogaster, based on their location. Anhinga anhinga anhinga can be found mainly east of the Andes in South America and also the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Anhinga anhinga lleucogaster can be found in the southern United States, Mexico, Cuba, and Grenada.

“A kettle of Anhingas often migrate with other birds and have been described as resembling black paper gliders.”

The text in quotes is from the Anhinga wikipedia article.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Common Gallinule Feeding (video)

This video of a Common gallinule feeding was taken from Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

The family Rallidae (aka rails) includes crakes, coots, and this member of the gallinules. Found worldwide, this species, Gallinula galeata, was recognized in 2011 as separate from the closely related “Old World” Moorhens.

Here it is in a favored habitat, feeding on underwater vegetation of the Florida marsh in sight of rockets launching from Kennedy Space Center. The exceptional lighting, bright reflective water, are created by the low winter sun and southern exposure of the location just north of the road.

The taxonomic Order is derived from the Latin word Gallinula meaning a small hen or chicken that, since the 13th century at least, as revealed in the names “Moorhen,” “Waterhen,” and “Swamp Chicken.”

The spread of Gallinula is attributed to breeding habits. “Laying starts in spring, between mid-March and mid-May in Northern hemisphere temperate regions. About 8 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season; a brood later in the year usually has only 5–8 or fewer eggs. Nests may be re-used by different females. Incubation lasts about three weeks. Both parents incubate and feed the young. These fledge after 40–50 days, become independent usually a few weeks thereafter, and may raise their first brood the next spring. When threatened, the young may cling to the parents’ body, after which the adult birds fly away to safety, carrying their offspring with them.”

The text in quotes is from the Wikipedia article for “Common Moorhen.”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Flip Flop Reef Fish

Various reef fish set up “cleaning stations” where turtles and other fish come to have parasites nibbled off.

50 recycled flip flops were used by Ocean Sole Africa Project artists to create each Reef Fish sculpture from a 2019/2020 exhibit hosted by McKee Botanical Gardens, Vero Beach, Indian River County, Florida.

Coral reef fish live among or in close relation to coral reefs. Coral reefs form complex ecosystems with tremendous biodiversity. Among the myriad inhabitants, the fish stand out as colorful and interesting to watch. Hundreds of species can exist in a small area of a healthy reef, many of them hidden or well camouflaged.

Reef fish have developed many ingenious specializations adapted to survival on the reefs. Safe habitats, many different species of fish inhabit coral reefs where they are protected from predators and find food. In turn, reef fish eat algae, preventing overgrowth and smothering of the coral animals. Common fish in Caribbean reefs have interesting names: parrot, angel, puffer, surgeon and clown.

Coral reefs occupy less than 1% of the surface area of the world oceans but provide a home for 25% of all marine fish species. Reef habitats are a sharp contrast to the open water habitats that make up the other 99% of the world oceans. Loss and degradation of coral reef habitat, increasing pollution, and overfishing including the use of destructive fishing practices, are threatening the survival of the coral reefs and the associated reef fish.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Herons Stalking (video)

Shorebirds of different species can and do forage together

This series of wading shorebirds are from a mash alongside Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

“The exposed mudflats on tidal wetlands attract a variety of shorebirds. Shorebirds are seasonal residents that make long migratory journeys between their breeding grounds in the Artic and their wintering area in South America. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge provides an important resting and feeding area for this group of birds. Some stay for the winter, others use the refuge as a fuel stop before continuing on their journey.”

“In tidal areas, shorebird feeding schedules are influenced by the cycle of tides. Changes in tidal cycles expose foraging areas in mudflats for a period during the day. At other points during the cycle, the water in these same areas becomes too deep or the ground too dry for shorebirds to feed effectively.”

The text in quotes is from a roadside information placard, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Swamp Chicken

Worldwide Distribution — now playing at your neighborhood marsh

This Common gallinule was feeding from the mash alongside Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

The family Rallidae (aka rails) includes crakes, coots, and this member of the gallinules. Found worldwide, this species, Gallinula galeata, was recognized in 2011 as separate from the closely related “Old World” Moorhens.

Here it is in a favored habitat, feeding on underwater vegetation of the Florida marsh in sight of rockets launching from Kennedy Space Center. The exceptional lighting, bright reflective water, are created by the low winter sun and southern exposure of the location just north of the road.

The taxonomic Order is derived from the Latin word Gallinula meaning a small hen or chicken that, since the 13th century at least, as revealed in the names “Moorhen,” “Waterhen,” and “Swamp Chicken.”

The spread of Gallinula is attributed to breeding habits. “Laying starts in spring, between mid-March and mid-May in Northern hemisphere temperate regions. About 8 eggs are usually laid per female early in the season; a brood later in the year usually has only 5–8 or fewer eggs. Nests may be re-used by different females. Incubation lasts about three weeks. Both parents incubate and feed the young. These fledge after 40–50 days, become independent usually a few weeks thereafter, and may raise their first brood the next spring. When threatened, the young may cling to the parents’ body, after which the adult birds fly away to safety, carrying their offspring with them.”

The text in quotes is from the Wikipedia article for “Common Moorhen.”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Wading

Shorebirds of different species can and do forage together

This series of wading shorebirds are from a mash alongside Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.

“The exposed mudflats on tidal wetlands attract a variety of shorebirds. Shorebirds are seasonal residents that make long migratory journeys between their breeding grounds in the Artic and their wintering area in South America. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge provides an important resting and feeding area for this group of birds. Some stay for the winter, others use the refuge as a fuel stop before continuing on their journey.”

“In tidal areas, shorebird feeding schedules are influenced by the cycle of tides. Changes in tidal cycles expose foraging areas in mudflats for a period during the day. At other points during the cycle, the water in these same areas becomes too deep or the ground too dry for shorebirds to feed effectively.”

Though only one bird appears in each photo, “shorebirds of different species can and do forage together. Because bill length and shape vary from species to species, birds can pursue different prey in the same area at the same time without completing with each other. Because of varying bill lengths, different birds species find their food at different depths in the substrate. Mixed species of shorebirds are a common sight.”

The text in quotes is from a roadside information placard, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville, Brevard County, Florida

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Flip Flop Dragonflies

Deep Time

380 recycled flip flops were used by Ocean Sole Africa Project artists to create these seahorse sculptures from a 2020 exhibit hosted by McKee Botanical Gardens, Vero Beach, Indian River County, Florida.

Adult dragonfly lifespan of a few days to 5 weeks contrasts with the wide distribution, variety with over 3,000 species and deep longevity of the infraorder, Anisoptera, especially compared to our genus, Homo: Hundreds of millions of years, compared to 2 million.

An insect, dragonflies live on every continent except Antarctica, from sea level up to the mountains.

I have experienced hundreds of dragonflies swooping and hovering around Peaked Mountain of the Adirondacks.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved