Thursday, February 26, 2015

Roadside Bald Eagle

Last night on our drive home from work, Shara saw this from the Shepherd Road overpass over US127.

Clouds, tree, and surprise - photo by Shara LeValley

In case you missed it, there is a mature Bald Eagle perched near the top of the tree.  I pulled down to the next intersection, grabbed my camera, and drove back.

An overpass on a busy road is not really a great place to stop and take photographs, but Shara managed to take several pictures before traffic compelled me to move along. 

Bald Eagle - photo by Shara LeValley

Here is the above photo cropped tight.  Once stopped on the overpass, we became the eagle's center of attention.  A couple of the other photos show it staring directly at us.

Cropped photo of Bald Eagle - photo by Shara LeValley

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Anatomy of an Axe

Lately, many of the school programs that I have been giving have been about the history of logging in Michigan.  During this program I show students many of the tools that were traditionally used in logging, especially those tools used in the late 1800's when Michigan could rightly be called the "logging capital of the world".

One of the things that I teach students during this presentation is the anatomy of an axe.  Specifically, I teach them the anatomy of a single-bit, Michigan Pattern felling axe.  In addition to pointing out the parts on a real axe, last week I decided to draw up a diagram to give the students.  I also included small drawings of two other axes that I show to students - a double-bit axe and a hewing axe.

Anatomy of a single-bit Michigan Pattern axe

For more information on axes and saws, check out this post from August 2013.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dead Bees in Honeycomb

Last week one of the ladies that works in our building brought me a section of honeycomb.  She said that bees began building it on the exterior of her house over the summer and then mysteriously disappeared after a couple of weeks.  The comb was in a protected area under the eaves of her home and was inaccessible until high winds blew it down last week. 

When she brought me the comb it was obvious that the bees had not all disappeared.  Instead, many of them could be found dead, facing headfirst into the comb.

After doing a little research I found out that finding a comb like this is an indication that the bees starved.  This is usually found in hives that did not have enough honey stores to survive the winter, but starvation among honeybees can happen at any time of the year.  It is possible in summer when periods of drought cause flowers to temporarily shut down pollen and nectar production.

I wanted to preserve the comb with the dead bees inside it, but unfortunately many of the bees were decaying and smelled rather funky.  So I spent the better part of an hour plucking individual bees from the cells of the honeycomb with a pair of tweezers.  Some of the bees came out whole, while other broke into pieces and had to be teased out carefully.

At the end this is what I ended up with.

I plan on making a frame for the comb, with plexiglass on both sides so you can see the structure of the comb with the light shining through it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

100 Species to Know by Sight - #11 Polyphemus Moth

I am going to start picking up the pace on my list of species that every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should be able to identify by sight.  Species #11 on my list is the Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus).  The Polyphemus is the second largest moth species in Michigan.  It is easy to identify both as a caterpillar and an adult.

Here it is as a caterpillar.  It is identifiable by its bright green color, rows of silver and red spots on each side, yellow stripes connecting the spots, and orange tubercles emerging from the upper surface of the thorax.  The bristly hairs should not be touched - they can cause a skin irritation.

Polyphemus caterpillar

Polyphemus caterpillar - note the orange tubercles, three rows of spots, and bristles

As an adult the moth may be up to 5 1/2 inches from wingtip to wingtip.  The adult is generally brown colored.  They are identified by the four large eye-spots - one on each wing.  These eye-spots are a defensive measure designed to fool predators into thinking a larger animal in staring back at them.

This first adult moth is a female.  Males and females can be distinguished by their antennae.  Females have skinny antennae; males have large feathery antennae.  

Female Polyphemus Moth - note the narrow antennae

This one is a male.

Male Polyphemus Moth - note the large feathery antennae

For more information about the Polyphemus Moth please see this post from June 2014.

Friday, February 20, 2015

John Glenn Becomes First American in Orbit - 20 FEB 1962

On this date 20 February1962, Astronaut John Herschel Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth in the "Friendship 7" spacecraft.  Two Soviet cosmonauts had previously orbited the earth in Vostok spacecraft.  The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin made one orbit in the Vostok 1 and Gherman Titov made 17 orbits in the Vostok 2.

Glenn was the third American to be launched into space as part of NASA's Project Mercury - flights by Alan Shepherd (Freedom 7) and Virgil "Gus" Grissom (Liberty Bell 7) each lasted approximately 15 minutes. 

When John Glenn safely landed he instantly became a national hero.  His flight was commemorated by dozens (probably hundreds) of different souvenir items.  Here are five objects from my wife's collection of space memorabilia.

America's First Man In Orbit 33 1/3 RPM album cover (front)

America's First Man In Orbit 33 1/3 RPM album cover (back)

America's First Man In Orbit 33 1/3 RPM album cover and album

A commemorative plate reads John H. Glenn Jr - Feb 20, 1962 - First American to Orbit the World

A small button reading "1st American Astronaut in Orbit - John H. Glenn, JR"

"Around the World in 80 Minutes - 1st American in Orbit- Astronaut John Glenn - Welcome Back to Earth"

Another large button reading "Welcome Back to Earth, Glenn"

This photo shows the relative sizes of the three buttons.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

100 Species to Know by Sight - #10 Common Milkweed

The next species on my list of species that every kid (and adult) in Mid-Michigan should know by sight is the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  This common species is found throughout Michigan and across eastern North America in a variety of soil types.  It is recognized by its bright green oval-shaped leaves that are covered with downy hairs and its globe of pink five-petaled flowers.  In fall its seed pods split open revealing dark brown tear-drop shaped seeds tipped with a feathery tuft of white hairs.  These hairs act as a parachute, catching the wind to disperse the plant's seeds.

For more information about the Common Milkweed please see this species profile from June 2013.

Common Milkweed leaves and flowers

A closer view of the plant's unique flowers

A Common Milkweed with one fully opened globe of flowers and one yet open

The teardrop shaped seeds tipped with a tuft of feathery hairs

Frost covered seeds

Winter stalks and empty seedpods

A nearly empty seedpod with only a few remaining seeds

To see the previous species on my list of Species to Know by Sight look here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white...

Much of my photography focuses downward on wildflowers and other things found below my feet.   At other times my gaze is drawn upwards, lifted by the clouds in the sky. 

Formed of dust, water vapor, and ice crystals, the clouds form beautiful patterns across the sky.  Although clouds only take a few basic forms, there is infinite variety to their shape.  I find myself photographing clouds again and again.  The photos below were taken in Mid-Michigan, along the Lake Michigan shore, and as far away as the coast of Maine.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Wind Chill - What is it and why is it important?

Over the weekend, temperatures in Mid-Michigan dropped to a low of approximately -14 degrees Fahrenheit, but windchill temperatures were much lower dropping down to -31 degrees.

What is windchill?

Windchill is a measure of what air temperature feels like.  This measure is based on the principle of convection.  A solid surface loses heat in three ways: radiation, conduction, and convection.  The human body loses heat primarily through conduction and convection.

Conduction is the direct transfer of heat from one object to another.  When you touch an object that is colder than your body, some of your body's heat transfers to that object in an attempt to equalize the temperature of your body with that of the object you are touching.  This is why when you hold an ice cube, the ice melts and your hand gets cold.  Conduction also takes place between you and the air - your body warms up the molecules in the air that contact your body and your body cools slightly. 

What happens if the air around your body is not still?  If the air is moving, it pushes the warm air away from the surface of your body and constantly replaces it with new air.  The process of conduction is repeated with this new air - this transfer of heat to moving air is known as convection.  Because the air is moving and your body is trying to equalize temperatures, heat is lost at a higher rate than it would be to still air.  This means that the air feels colder than it actually is - this difference in feel is measured as windchill.

Windchill is calculated using one of several formulas.  This data has been collected in tables such as the one below from the National Weather Service

Wind Chill chart

Why is windchill important?

If skin is exposed to temperatures that are too cold, it will begin to freeze.  This condition is known as frostbite.  Because convection causes the skin to lose heat much more rapidly than it would in still air, low windchill temperatures indicate a greater danger of frostbite.  The chart above shows the time it takes for frostbite to set in at various windchill temperatures.

Many schools do not allow students outside for recess if windchill (or actual) temperatures drop below a certain level.  Some schools may even cancel school when temperatures drop below a certain threshold.  If yesterday (15 FEB 2015) had been a school day, most of the schools in the area would have probably cancelled classes due to the windchill.

Friday, February 13, 2015

More Nature Photographs from April 2005 - March 2006

I love my job.  I get to teach kids (and adults) about the beautiful and ugly natural wonders in their own neighborhood - even the ugly things are beautiful in their own way.  I hope that the students I teach will grow to love the plants, animals, fungi, rocks, trees, etc. as much as I do.

I get to share photographs that I have taken of the wonderful world around me - kids are often amazed when they find out that most of the photos that I use during presentations are ones that I took.  They are even more amazed when they learn that the photos were taken in the county or even town that they live in.

I take thousands of photographs each year, students see only a few of them.  Sometimes the time I wish I could be out taking photos is instead the time I spend in the classroom sharing photos.  I need a few more hours in the day.

I thought I would share a few more photos from my first year seriously thinking about photography.  I got a Canon film SLR camera (with two zoom lenses) in April 2005.  I have previously shared ten photos from that first year in this post from November 2013.  Here are a dozen more.  These photos were all taken on film and then scanned.