Flight of the Night Heron

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We got off the ferry at Jack London Square last night and followed a recent routine: First checking the water around the dock for the presence of a big run of little silver fish–maybe some sort of Oakland Estuary smelt–then looking for the black-crowned night herons who show up here to dine of a Friday night (and unencumbered by calendars no doubt every night). The fish–they were there. A constant silver flashing in the water around the dock, looking like a roiling school of fish that must be finding something down there to feed on. The night herons: present, too. Like last week, I tried to get a picture of one by docklight, but the best I could do was a long-exposed smudge of an image. What I need to do with my point-and-shoot, in the absence of a tripod, is set it up to shoot with a delay and then find a place to set it down before I trip the shutter. That way I can take the shot without the inevitable movement that shows up when you need to take a long exposure. But to make that work, the improvised platform needs to have a good angle in reference to the subject. Last night, I spotted a couple of short planks the tide appeared to have stranded on the rocks, maybe 40 feet from the heron. They looked like they would work as a camera platform. I started down the rocks, with Kate cautioning me that I’d already had a beer (and was in her view a pratfall candidate). I got to the planks without the bird flying away. I put the camera down, pressed the shutter, and stood back while the picture was taken. Just as the shutter released, the heron flew up–annoyed, I’m sure, by the interruption of its evening dietary pursuits. The image above was what I got. Sort of a ghost heron.

Redwood Sunset

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A redwood tree a couple doors to the north of us, with some shreds of cottony cloud wafting toward the east, where the moon was well up, at sunset. (Shot over our roofline; that object at lower right is one of the bathroom skylights.)

Frontage Road

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We had weather this week: genuine early season rain that began Monday and persisted on and off through Thursday. Genuine rain meant occasional glimpses of genuine storm clouds like these–something you might take for granted if you’re vantage point is the Midwest, the South, or the East, but are an event here on the very edge of the lip of the West Coast. This shot: on the Eastshore Freeway frontage road, just south of University Avenue in Berkeley.

Related link: Coming Attractions: Autumn Rain

Friday Night Ferry: Night Heron

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A slightly blurry, low-light, hand-held shot of a black-crowned night heron at the Clay Street ferry dock in Oakland. We’ve been seeing a couple of night herons hanging around the dock for the last several months. Lots of fish in the water right now–anchovies or some kind of bay smelt, we think–but we haven’t seen them go for fish. (What do they eat? Just about anything, according to one account: “The diet of the Black-crowned Night Heron depends on what is available, and may include algae, fishes, leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, mussels, squid, amphibians, small rodents, plant materials, garbage and organic refuse at landfills. They have been seen taking baby ducklings and other baby water birds. The night heron prefers shallow water when fishing and catches its prey within its bill instead of stabbing it. Herons will sometimes attract prey by the rapidly opening and closing the beak in the water to create a disturbance that attracts its prey. This technique is known as bill vibrating.”)

Web Billiards: Music Video-Skydive History Edition

A couple weeks ago, I happened across a nice time lapse of San Francisco scenes titled "The City." This is it:

The City from WTK Photography on Vimeo.

I duly shared the above via some social media platform or another. One of the things I really liked about the video is the music that accompanies it, "Dayvan Cowboy" by Boards of Canada. I didn't know from BoC, but I would characterize this as a jangly folk-rocky indie-esque electro-introspective piece.

About the same time, I got involved in a discussion about high-altitude parachute jumps. I remembered hearing or reading that sometime in the 1950s or '60s, someone had jumped from above 100,000 feet and that someone was planning to try to improve on that record. One thing always linking to another as it does out here, I found the man who made the famous skydive was Joe Kittinger, who was involved in Project Excelsior, a research program designed to develop high-altitude escape systems for the first astronauts. On August 16, 1960, he rode a balloon-lifted gondola to 102,800 feet–nearly 20 miles–above the New Mexico desert, then stepped off into the void and commenced a descent that lasted more than 13 minutes. He reached a top speed of 614 mph on the way down.

I promptly went on to other things, but the Boards of Canada music was stuck in my head. In looking for it online a couple days ago, I found an "official" video for "Dayvan Cowboy." The first segment of the video features Kittinger's Project Excelsior mission. Here:

I could hardly stop there. I figured there must be more extensive video of Kittinger's flight out there. Well, there is plenty, including several musical tributes to the flight (just Google "Joseph Kittinger" and "music"). Here's one that combines snippets of the flight video with a musical number ("Colonel Joe," by Alphaspin).

And here's one more, with a different soundtrack ("GW," by Pelican), that tech media guy Tim O'Reilly references in a blog post from a few years ago:

Coming Attractions: Autumn Rain

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There it is: our first storm of what we’d like to call our rainy season (the live version of the image is here). The National Weather Service has been advertising this as a “rather weak” system that won’t drop much rain here. Maybe so, but the radar image–which doesn’t always depict what’s out there in the atmosphere–seems to indicate some moderate to heavy precipitation off the coast. We’ll see in the next few hours.

A Falcon’s Journey

islandgirl.jpg Thanks to Marie, who posted the link:

The online diversion of the day is the Falcon Research Group, an independent raptor study center in Washington state. The group has satellite-tagged and tracked peregrine falcons that migrate over very long distances. Right now, they’re watching a falcon they’ve named Island Girl, who is in the midst of a journey from Baffin Island, northeast of Hudson Bay, to southern Chile (here’s the map of the migration so far). She left Baffin Island on September 20 and last night apparently crossed Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. If she was a straight-line flyer, and she’s not, she would have covered 2,600 miles in 11 days. One of her stops this past week was apparently atop the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

The research group blogs the migration here: Southern Cross Peregine Project. The account of the bird’s journey, informed by both experience with her life history, peregrine biology, and GPS data from a mini-backpack the bird is carrying, is both fascinating and sort of gripping. For instance: This is the third season the project has tracked the bird south. One post notes she has begun the migration inside a 24-hour window on September 20-21 each time (her northward migrations are similarly precise, occurring around April 12). Of the challenges peregrines face as they cover a vast swath of territory, the blog says:

Peregrines (and other long distance migrant hawks) can make a living catching their prey over a wide range of habitats. They must be able to do so if they are migrationg across such varied territory as the Arctic tundra, the Canadian boreal forest, the farmlands of the Mid-West, cities large and small, the sub-tropical regions of Mexico, the tropics of Central and South America, the intense Atacama Desert and the pine forests of southern Chile.

They must be adaptable enough to survive in each of these situations. They must have a flexible approach to hunting in different situations. They must be able to recognize, hunt and catch new prey species (do peregrines eat toucans?) and avoid all of the ever-present mortality sources.

Are these “slow migrant” peregrines that we have discovered during this study taking their time so that they can become familiar with these habitats and how to hunt them? Are they “familiarizing” themselves with their migratory route and what they can find there? Is this advantageous to them?

The complexity of peregrine migratory behavior is both deeply impressive and humbling. What a remarkable organism to fit into all of this and flourish.

Where’s Island Girl now? When last heard from, she was headed out over the Gulf of Mexico southwest of New Orleans. As the blog notes, the falcon may “attempt to fly across the entire Gulf of Mexico. It has been done by other satellite tagged peregrines in the past. However, taking this route means committing to the very exposed crossing of 500 miles across open water to Yucatan. Some tagged raptors have disappeared on this crossing. … If Island Girl does go and if she has a good tail wind, she is capable of making it. Keep in mind that there are also a lot of oil platforms out there to rest on and we know that peregrines show up on them during the fall migration fairly frequently. There are also lots of ships in the Gulf so she may have assistance there if she gets into trouble with a headwind.”

Six thousand miles to home. Go, bird, go.