Saturday, November 29, 2008

More Skywatching...

Look to the southwest after sunset on Monday, December 1st for a close conjunction between three bright solar system objects: the moon, Venus and Jupiter.

This is a rare occurrence - read more here:

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I am thankful for…

This was sent to me by a friend at work. I'm not sure who the author is but thought it would be fitting to pass on.

I am thankful for…

the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrendered by friends...

the taxes I pay because it means I am employed...

the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat

a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home…

my shadow who watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine…

the spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking…

all the complaining about our government because it means we have freedom of speech…

my large heating bill because it means I am warm…

the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means that I can hear…

the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means I am alive…

the piles of laundry and ironing because it means that my loved ones are nearby…

weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been productive…

and I am thankful for your friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

View Space Shuttle From Earth

For all you space buffs...this is pretty cool...

On November 14, the space shuttle Endeavor blasted off on a new mission to deliver supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Depending on your location on the Earth's surface, the spacecraft's position in orbit and the time of day, you may be able to see either the shuttle or International Space Station (ISS), or both, as they orbit about 240 statute miles above the planet. NASA has all the details on their site:

Click here For further instructions on how to see the shuttle and space station from the ground. And to get a schedule in your area for when and where to look for the space shuttle go here. Sighting opportunities section will be on the left side of the web page - from there select country, state  and then city for a detailed listing of possible sighting times. Due to cloudy weather here recently, I haven't been able to spot it, but I still have a few more days.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count 2009

  Just the other day I received an email from the Audubon Society (as many other birders did) with a reminder of the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count. For those not aware, the GBBC is a citizen science project that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds. Anyone can participate in this 4-day event. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds. I have participated for the last few years and it has been a lot of fun. The details from the email are as follows:

The 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count takes place February 13-16, 2009. The National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are calling on everyone to “Count for Fun, Count for the Future!” Participants did just that in record numbers for the 2008 count, submitting more than 85,000 checklists and identifying 635 species.
GBBC Ambassadors Needed
   As always, we rely on volunteer ambassadors to help spread the word about the GBBC and engage more people in their communities. Your contribution could be as simple as hanging up a few flyers or as ambitious as pitching the event on local radio and TV stations. You can use the new GBBC news release posted on the web site.  You’ll also find an updated version of the slide show for use in GBBC workshops and other events.
   For more ideas on how to promote the GBBC, check out Get Involved on the GBBC website. You can fill out the online ambassador sign-up form and specify the kinds of activities you’d like to do.

Project FeederWatch Season Begins
   The 2008-09 season of Project FeederWatch began this Saturday, November 8. You can sign up at any time. FeederWatchers keep track of their birds through the winter and report their tallies each week.
   Watching birds benefits science, but it can also be a healthy part of your routine. Hundreds of studies have verified that time spent watching nature can reduce stress. So why not slow down and watch the birds?
   Visit the PFW web site to learn more and to sign up. New participants receive a kit with a handbook, a bird-identification poster, calendar, and instruction booklet. There is a $15 fee ($12 for Lab members.) If you live in Canada, please visit our partner, Bird Studies Canada, or call (888) 448-2473.
Take the Healthy Yard Pledge!
   While you’re getting ready to feed and count birds this winter, make sure you’re maintaining healthy bird habitat in your yard by taking the Audubon Healthy Yard Pledge.
   The Healthy Yard Pledge is part of Audubon At Home, which focuses on managing backyards and other natural areas to help birds and other wildlife. Visit the website to learn about 16 key elements that make up a healthy backyard habitat—how many can be found in your yard?
   To learn more about the Audubon at Home program and take the Healthy Yard Pledge, visit

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly - Chipping Sparrow


My choice this week for BPW is the chipping sparrow. I had several pairs that nested in my yard this spring. Chipping sparrows,  one of the smallest sparrows, prefer  to nest in small evergreen shrubs or trees.


I have an abundance of evergreen shrubs/trees nearby that provide nesting habitat for these birds - two main ones being leyland cypress and elaeagnus shrubs.

These sparrows are known for their neat trilling song. Click here to listen.


Friday, November 7, 2008

The Sphinx Moth

Sphinx Photo by L. Todd Spencer / The Virginia-Pilot

Check out this cool sphinx! These moths often fool me into thinking I'm looking at some kind of weird hummingbird at first, when actually it's just a huge moth. Their arrival in fall is always a pleasant surprise for those lucky enough to spot them. Suddenly they arrive, floating around flowers, often in numbers, and their graceful hummingbird like behavior never ceases to amaze.

Sphinx moths aren't difficult to spot, but many people miss seeing them see them because they usually don't appear until dusk. They are often drawn by bright fragrant flowers - their favorite being moon flowers and ginger lilies. These two varieties normally bloom into late fall, when the moths typically show up.

The sight of these big pink, white and brown moths often causes a double take. They aren't what they seem to be. They hover with whirring wings, feeding on nectar deep in a flower's center, behaving like a hummingbird. Instead of lapping up nectar with a long tongue the way hummingbirds do, sphinx moths use a proboscis, about as long as their bodies, that's coiled up under their heads. They unroll the slim feeding tube right into the center of a long-necked flower and suck away as if the tube were a straw. Check out the short video below:

Sphinx moths come from the hornworm caterpillar.

Click here to view a large variety of sphinx moths.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My New Compost Bin

I wanted to write and share new product (new to me at least) I recently received as a gift that has me excited about composting again - not that I didn't compost before, its just now I have a cool new bin that keeps it all together and looks good to!

This new compost bin idea  is very simple, looks neat, and has functionality all at the same time. It's modeled after one designed by Sir Albert Howard, a 20th-century English gardener often referred to as the "father of composting". The bin itself is a simple structure consisting of metal corner posts onto which you attach boards to. Here is a picture of the corner post from Lee Valley, where mine was purchased:


All you have to do is supply and attach 1" X 6" boards to form your square bin. The boards should be made of of rot-resistant lumber. 


Once cut to length (48"), the boards are angled inward and attached to the corner brackets with the supplied screws. This angled design helps funnel the rain into the bin, and there's sufficient space between them to allow for good air flow.


The top three boards at the front of the bin are not attached so they can be easily removed to access the interior of the bin and to keep it stirred.




It's empty now, as you can see, but believe me, it will be filled in know time!

It helps to have the compost bin conveniently located and it also needs to be clear of trees, whose roots will invade the rich material and suck the nutrients out of it. Placing the bin near a water source is a good idea as well, because periodically you'll need to give it a shot of water when it gets dry. Finally, it needs to be in a spot that gets at least a half day of sun for it to heat up properly.

To learn more about composting and to view other do-it-yourself plans check out the links below:

Composting 101

Kathleens composter from a garbage can

Lowes - Building a compost bin

Backyard Gardener - Compost Site

Riverside County Waste Management

VA Coop Ext - Making compost from yard waste


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