Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Messier Objects: M01 – M110

While exploring the heavens this Saturday, our amateur astronomers will be giving a tour of some of the 110 Messier Objects. But what are Messier Objects? Charles Messier (1730 – 1817) was a French astronomer of little education, who through observation and perseverance discovered numerous comets and other deep space objects such as nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. But comets were his passion. Although his discoveries are noteworthy, he is remembered today for compiling and publishing his and other astronomers’ discoveries into a series of catalogs. Each object listed was given a number; the Crab Nebula – M01, Andromeda galaxy – M13 etc. Ironically his purpose in creating the categories was to list those things which he thought were a time waster, “objects to avoid”, when comet hunting. Although excellent at finding comets and deep space objects and making astute observations of a whole range of things from sunspots to eclipses to occultation of astrological objects, he was no mathematician or theoretician and he relied on others to compute the orbit of his comets. His work earned him the position of Chief Astronomer of the Marine Observatory in 1759. He was also elected to the numerous notable Science Academies throughout Europe. Eventually he received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from Napoleon himself. To this day, his lasting legacy, the Messier Catalog, is still used by amateur astronomers all around the world. It includes the majority of the best deep sky objects visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Women's Hiking Group - Mar 29 & 31

The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike at Topstone Park in Redding, CT on Tues., Mar. 29th and Thurs., Mar. 31st. From RT. 7, take Topstone Rd. and follow over the RR tracks staying on Topstone Rd. It will turn to a dirt road, shortly after there will be a parking area on the right side of the road. Meet at 9:30am in the parking area.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Yesterday was the spring equinox, Ostara the druids called it. It is the day when daylight and night time are about equal. But in nature, this is but a blur in the rotating seasons. In Ridgebury it is snowing hard today. Dog and I walked around the golf course noticing all the signs that our time out there is limited. Benches, trashcans, containers of sand are all out waiting for the “golfermen”. Yet winter hangs on in our every footprint with snow clinging to my boots & Dog’s fur. The hunter’s feeding station is still there. Winter’s woody debris is still scattered about the fairways. But the ponds no longer are covered in their mantle of ice. Geese cruise on one and Dog has spooked some wood ducks out of another. Skunk cabbage is well into its blooming phase with some leaves even unrolling in places. Man declares it Spring but for nature it is tug-of-war time between the seasons. Photo: Wood Duck by Larry Peterson - http://www.pbase.com/larry1dmarkiii/image/95034506/original

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Women's Hiking Group - March 22 & 24

The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike at Seth Low Pierrepont State Park on Tues., Mar. 22nd and Thurs., Mar. 24th.
Take Rt. 116 to Barlow Mountain Rd.
Meet in the parking lot at 9:30am.


Today at 2:10pm the moon will be officially full. At 3pm, the moon’s orbit will bring it the closest to earth, known as perigee. Today it will be the closes it has been in 18 years, 221,565 miles away. This will make the moon appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than the lesser full moons, when the moon is farthest from the earth, known as apogee. Thus,the media has labeled it “Supermoon”. However, to the casual observer, it will be hard to tell the difference. To view it with maximum effect, look to the distant horizon making sure you have objects such as mountains or buildings in the foreground. As the moon rises behind these objects, it creates an optical illusion which makes it look even bigger to the naked eye. (See photo) Don’t worry if you miss it, the moon will appear full for several more days. However, never fear, if you don't get to see it now, you’ll get another chance in 19 years. Photo credit Stefan Seip -Saguaro Moon - http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap070926.html

Friday, March 18, 2011

Today is a Great Day for a Walk

There are a thousand things to do today. We need milk, material for a home improvement project and garden supplies. But dog insisted we leave all of that behind and go for our morning walk. Yesterday’s warmth really encouraged spring to leap forward. There are bleeding heart shoots coming up now among the tulips. The crocuses are adding color to the lawn. The silence of the winter woods has been replaced by the melodious songs of robins, red-wing blackbirds, and much more. A bluebird flew by giving the gray woods a brilliant dab of blue. Down by the “frog ponds” a lone turtle has emerged from its winter nap. It sat on a log with neck outstretched soaking in the sun. Up on the hill, the hawks are fortifying their nest. Seventeen geese flew overhead in a noisy V. But a sure sign of new life to come floats in the vernal pool next to the road. There bulbous masses of wood frog eggs (see photo) are attached to twigs slowly incubating this year’s tadpoles. Dog and I saw all of this in just a 30 minute walk. So go out and enjoy your day even if it is just for a short while. Winter returns tomorrow.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Is maith and sceélaí an aimsir! Gaelic: “Time is a good story teller.” And time has created a lot of stories about the Patron Saint of Ireland. Born Maewyn Succat, his story is about enslavement, conversation to Christianity and finally returning to the island of his enslavement to minister to the existing Christians and covert the rest. He did create the Celtic Cross but by his own admission was not a great success at converting the population. His death on March 17, 461 became his Feast Day and has been celebrated in Ireland since the 7th Century. Usually falling during Lent, this was the one day the Catholic Irish could revert back to eating meat and making merry. Using the shamrock to explain the Trinity, driving the snakes out and wearing green (blue was his color) have all become part of his story. The Irish immigrates brought St. Patrick’s Day to us and at times it was a bigger holiday here than in their native land. Boston held the first parade in 1737 with NYC following in 1762. During the massive Irish migration in the 1840’s and the anti-Irish sentiment that followed, St. Patrick’s Day became a way for the Irish to gain acceptance and melt into the American Culture with apparently great success. Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh – Happy St. Patrick’s Day to All!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Iditarod - The Last Great Race

March Madness usually refers to basketball. But in Alaska it means The Iditarod, a 1,150 mile dog sled race from Anchorage, across the Alaskan interior and along the Bering Strait Sea to the town of Nome. Started in 1973, it has been called the Last Great Race on Earth and has won worldwide acclaim. This year 62 teams of 8 – 16 dogs from the US and 6 foreign countries are competing in this 8 – 17 days long race. Today it will end with two veteran teams running neck and neck along the Bering Strait coastline for Main Street, Nome. It started on March 5th with a ceremonious run through Anchorage. Then portage to Willow, AK where the real race began on March 6th. The teams love to run hard at night so the dogs won’t overheat. But this means serious sleep deprivation for their human mushers. Imagine running hard through the woods at night with just a headlight and the northern lights to guide you. Obstacles and cold, as much as -40º below, are every present. Then only after the dogs are rested & fed, you run again during daylight hours. This race is really all about the dogs, how fit they are and how well they work as a team. The men and women who take on this challenge all love their dogs, the wilderness and view it as an honor to participate in the Last Great Race on Earth. To learn more about it go to www.iditarod.com. Photo: http://thirdgradetrip.wordpress.com/

Friday, March 11, 2011

Women's Hiking - Mar 15 & 17

The DC Women's Hiking Group will be hiking at Bear Mountain and Candlewood Lake in Danbury on Tues. Mar., 15th and Thurs. Mar. 17th.
Take exit 5 off of I-84.
Follow Rt. 37 North past all the shopping centers. Go past the commercialized district and eventually past the federal prison into the more rural part of northern Danbury.
About 0.2 mile past the prison entrance, on the right, is Bear Mountain Road which is 2.8 miles from I-84.
Turn right onto Bear Mountain Road and follow it for 0.5 mile.
Turn right into the entrance of Bear Mountain Reservation.
Meet at 9:30 am.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Twitterpated Season

Spring has sprung in the world of nature. This past weekend brought out at least one Jefferson Salamander looking for love in the still frozen over vernal pool. Up in Ridegbury, the red- shouldered hawk cries are heard resonating out of the woods. Back on the New York State line is the nest that has produced a string of these marvelous birds. This winter when the snow was very deep, one hung out at my birdfeeder. These big birds learn early that silence is best while they search for prey. But this time of year, their thoughts turn to other needs and they become quite vocal. Sometimes their courtship takes on such a ruckus that even the crows that love to mob them stay away. Their call is quite distinctive. Listen for yourself - http://www.naturesongs.com/rsha1.wav (cut and paste into your search engine. Photo by Cary Maures - Red Shouldered Hawk #16

March 8th - Women's Hiking Group

DC Women's Hiking group will meet 9:30am at Sturges Park in Ridgefield.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Currently it is believed that snowshoes originated in central Asia about 6,000 years ago. They started out as slabs of wood or bent twigs or branches and rawhide. Slowly they transformed to reflect different types of terrain, kinds of snow conditions and the owner’s needs. In Scandinavia, they eventually evolved into skis. The North American Native Americans are credited with perfecting their features. They developed numerous styles, notably the Alaskan, Obijwa, Michigan, and Bear Paw (see illustration). The Alaskan is long and narrow with upturned toe for breaking trail. It was developed for traversing the deep powdered cover areas of the northwest. The Obijwa’s double-pointed shoes allowed backward and forward movement for the much more varied terrain of the Manitoba region. They were made with speed and ease of movement in mind. The tennis racket shaped Michigan allowed their owners to carry heavy loads. But turning around was difficult and tripping was a common problem. The oval shaped Bear Paw was the most versatile. Being short and wide it allowed for ease of movement through diverse terrain while carrying a heavy load. Modern snowshoes are based on this design. Up until the 1970’s a classic snowshoe was wooden framed with rawhide lacing. Then a gradual revolution in material occurred slowly making them lighter and more durable. In the 1980’s aluminum frames enabled snowshoeing to join in with the growth of running, cycling and Nordic skiing. With the further adaptation of even lighter material, evolution of easier bindings and better traction devices, snowshoeing now has become a common recreational pastime. (Illustration: http://www.winterwalk2006.org/articles/snowwalker.htm)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1 - Women's Hiking Group

The DC Women's Hiking Group will meet at Bogus Rd. at 9:30am to hike at Hemlock Hills.
Take Ridgebury Rd. to Ned's Mountain Rd. to Bogus Rd.