Tuesday, November 20

Quail in the gloaming

Gambel quail. Photo courtesy of Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, California.

Last night, I was pulling down clean clothes from the clothesline, and listening to quail clucking, when several Gambel quail flew up from the other side of the wall, and landed on the top of the wall, within arm's reach. We sized each other up; they conversed among themselves.

Then more quail landed
, top notches bobbing, beside the first bunch. Before long, over a dozen quail were chatting, lined up along the top of the wall. Finally, they took off, in successive waves. I heard them land in the front yard amongst dry leaves.

Additional information: Gambel quail
Average length 11 in (30 cm)
Wingspan 15 in (37 cm)
Move primarily by walking (actually tearing along the ground is more like it), but can break into explosive flight.

Saturday, November 10

Eb's barn --- a scene from a SF story I'm writing

A father looks at his barn just after learning his son was killed warring the aliens.
"What a godforsaken barn," Eb says to red-dust emptiness.

Only wind moaning around the metal dome answers.

"Barns should look barnlike, for godsake." Eb's clumsy gloves impede his work, and add to a fury he barely contains. He heaves up another block, staggers over to a growing igloo, attached to the barn. "Need a place for the rover," he says, as he thumps the block down.

He shakes his grizzled head, almost
mad with rage. "Got to get 'em. The question is — how?!!"

He settles the block in its precise position, and turns to get another. First he gazes up at the fierce sun and empty horizon. "No sign of 'em, but that means nothing."

His gaze takes in the squat barn structure, built low to the ground to withstand winds that rip across this red planet twenty-two light years from Earth. The barn's shiny dome tops a ring of solar panels that alternate, checkerboard fashion: white, brown, white... A ring of gray foundation blocks below hug the ground for warmth. Eb shivers in his suit, thinking of night cold.

Soon evening descends; faint, high clouds promise small radiation through the night. Gloom wraps the land as Eb heads into his barn — home only to strange animals, his robots and him.

Friday, November 9

A comet explodes

Saturday 3 November Last night we found the comet. Cool. There it was, just below Cassiopeia, like Sky & Telescope said. Looking like a fuzzy ball in the binoculars. After that and knowing where it was, I saw it with naked eyes well enough to direct Lanney's binocular search.

Comet 17P/Holmes, November 2, 2007, 1:53 AM MDT (7:53 UT) Photo courtesy of Ginger Mayfield and Wikipedia.

Lanney and I never would have seen it with binoculars a little over a week ago, when it was a dim magnitude 17 star. In just a few hours on 24 October, the comet went from that barest glimmer to a 2.5 magnitude star. It exploded! Why?

"What comets do when they are near the sun is very unpredictable," says Paul Lewis, director of astronomy outreach at the University of Tennessee. "We expect to see a coma cloud and a tail, but this is more like an explosion, and we are seeing the bubble of gas and dust as it expands away from the center of the blast. Absolutely amazing."

The coma cloud of Comet 17P/Holmes is now more than 600,000 miles across, bigger than the planet Jupiter and approaching the diameter of the Sun.

Further Reading

Astronomers dazzled at comet's brightness, Knoxnews.com

17P/Holmes, Wikipedia

A lynx!

A linx. Courtesy of Erwin and Peggy Bauer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wikipedia.

Saturday 27 October. This evening, about four, I glanced up from my office window and saw a lynx carrying a dead mouse in his mouth. A beautiful animal that strolled calmly by my sunken window, eyeball-to-eyeball with me, about a yard away. It's nice living in the mountains.

Additional information: Lynx
Average length 30 in (76 cm)
Tail length
5 in (13 cm)
Lynx (aka bobcats) commonly eat rabbits, rodents, birds, reptiles and occasionally insects. Their right hind foot is 6 inches (16 cm) across.