Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Astro-Landscape Images - 2014

Yosemite National Park under Moonlight

Astro-Landscape [Night] Photography

Clouds Rising into the Dark Night Sky

As many of you know astro-landscape photography has become my latest passion in my photography.  Finding an interesting landscape composition and capturing the night sky over it - either at new moon or with some moon illumination - can feel like a treasure hunt.  There are many variables that have to come together to ultimately yield a successful image.

In my last blog I described the ‘vanishing’ dark sky areas in the United States, particularly in the Eastern parts of the country and showed the difference in how many stars we can see when we are under a dark sky.  In my latest experience when rafting the Grand Canyon in early May, it was so gratifying seeing the millions of stars overhead despite the moon illuminating the canyon walls.  The capture of a strong meteor – looking like a fireball – was an extra bonus.

Night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the Colorado River with a meteor streaking over the sky (composite of 4 images) May 8, 2014

As city dwellers or suburbanites, light pollution only let’s us see the brightest stars.  Even in rural areas the sparse light will have and effect on how many stars we can observe.  The image depicts the number of stars that can be seen in the Inner City (panel on left side) vis-a-vis Subarban Sky (middle) and Excllent Dark Sky (Right).

We are loosing more and more dark sky in our environment and as described in my last blog, this can have a detrimental effect on wildlife - besides loosing the beauty overhead.

In my pursuit of beautiful night images, I have used an app to find ‘dark sky’ areas (Search in iTunes for "Dark Sky" App) and have traveled quite a bit to find them.  Today, I want to share some of newer images with you in my Nature TidBits.

So scroll down and enjoy:

Yosemite National Park under full Moon (panorama towards Yosemite Falls)

Reflection of the stars with a faint milky way, Mt Bachelor,  Bend, Oregon

Milky Way over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, Southern CA
with Venus rising at around 4 am in March 2014

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur Coast, CA

Later that night as the fog rolled in around 2am, the light became diffuse softening the car lights coming around the corner from the south.

Moonlight on the ocean near Pigeon Point, CA [May 2014]

Pigeon Point under a half moon, CA

Moonbow over Yosemite Falls - this resembles a rainbow only created by the moon!

'Reaching Out' to Polaris, the North Star at the Patriarch Grove, Bristlecone Forest, CA

Milky Way over the San Gabriel Mountains, CA [May 2014]

Capturing the Aurora under the northern sky outside Fairbanks, Alaska - 
playing to create 'imploding stars' [March 2014]

Although I mostly eliminate man-made structures from my images,  they can add interesting elements:

Loop-di-doo over San Francisco, CA

While photographing star-trails over the Golden Gate Bridge one winter night, I turned around and pointed my camera towards the city to see what a time-lapse would capture.  The resulting composite shows the air traffic over the city with a helicopter showing up as the red-dotted line.

Heavy air traffic leaving San Francisco International airport on a winter night is shown in the next image:

Airplanes leaving San Francisco International [with a southern star trail arch in the sky].

... and of course the ever present cell towers on mountain tops - new beacons of red lights dotting the landscape.

Beacons of red light under the northern star trails.

I want to close with a beautiful image captured in Arches National Park, Utah:  

Star trails in the Northern Sky over the Double Arch Bridge

Utah and the red rock country has captured my heart and I know I will travel there again.  There are so many wonderful places, and a lot of Utah is still enjoying beautiful dark sky.  Many more opportunities of capturing astro-landscape images await.  Soon I will put on my traveling shoes and one of my next road trips will lead me back there.

In the meantime,  I hope you enjoyed the journey under the dark sky.

Until next time,

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dark Sky-Effect of Light Pollution on Wildlife

In Search of Dark Sky  -  
The Effect of Light Pollution on Nature and Wildlife

I am drawn to the night!

Yes, it can be tiring, it can be scary to be out alone in darkness and
my vigilance is heightened as I listen to the sounds of the night.

But the silence also lets me reflect on many issues as I wait for my camera
to capture the night landscape under a brilliant sky and moon.

There is beauty in the night.

Unfortunately, as city dwellers and suburbanites we mostly don’t see the millions of stars overhead since light pollution blocks out what the Universe has to offer. 

Tracking light pollution over the last ~60 years, the below image shows how much light has been added to the landscape by cities and even rural areas.  And check out the projections for 2025 – dark sky will almost vanish in most of the US sky. 

When we zoom into the Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area, it’s hard to find areas of ‘dark sky’ where we may observe the movement of the stars and gaze at the milky way.

The next image shows how much we are missing in light polluted areas (left side) and how many stars and planet are visible without light pollution (right side).

Light Pollution and its Effect on Nature and Wildlife

But light pollution does not only hinder us to see the stars, it also has a profound effect on nature and wildlife.  

We all have seen how moth and insects are drawn to light even to their death by an open flame.  

It confuses baby turtles that are programmed to run towards the light, but that light often comes from hotels and parking lots, rather than reach the ocean to start their long life.  Below is a graph that depicts the confused wondering of loggerhead hatchlings.  They may never reach the water or their prolonged path may result in more hatchlings loosing their lives to predators prior to reaching the ocean. 

Tracks of disoriented loggerhead (Caretta caretta) hatchlings, Melbourne Beach, Florida. 
Photograph by Blair E. Witherington.

It has been found that frogs that mate at night will seize to mate in areas of light pollution. 

It is known that big cities with their bright high-rises and reflecting glass will draw migrating birds from their ancient migration routes and they perish.

Here is a quote from Bart Kempenaers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany:  
"In comparison to chemical and noise pollution, light pollution is more subtle, and its effects have perhaps not received the attention they deserve," said Bart Kempenaers. "Our findings show clearly that light pollution influences the timing of breeding behavior, with unknown consequences for bird populations." It is these unknown consequences over the long term that needs to be understood.

And unfortunately the list goes on and on with lots of information available with a quick search on the web. 
But what can be done?  We all have responsibilities to take care of the planet Earth and we all can become more cognizant of how our actions influence our environment.  Just as example: Turning off outside lights when we go to bed at night, installing lights that are directed downwards and that are on automatic shut-off when not necessary, supporting city street lights that are minimizing light pollution; these are all small but important contributions to the bigger issue.  

I would like to conclude with a very informative video:  ‘Our Vanishing Night’ by AstroGirlWest 

“Light pollution: its real, destructive consequences are seldom recognized, but it is a problem with easy solutions that make economic sense. All living creatures rely on the Earth's regular rhythm of day and night to regulate internal cycles. Many use the protection of darkness to safely forage and mate. We exist in a balance with our environment, a delicate balance that we are shifting. In the process we are also losing our connection to the night sky and the universe beyond.”

Til next time,

Friday, May 16, 2014

PAWS Elephant Sanctuary

"After the Cameras Went Away"
Thika, African Elephant at PAWS

As you know, I have been an avid supporter of PAWS, the Performing Animals Welfare Society, and I have blogged about the sanctuary under the leadership of Pat Derby and Ed Stewart.

After a long struggle, last year in October PAWS welcomed 3 aging African Elephants into the herd at PAWS ARK 2000, a 250,000 acre  sanctuary in the rolling hills of the Sierra Foothills.  These 3 elephants made their way via transport vehicles 4000 km across the continent from Toronto, Canada, to San Andreas, California, and have since settled in nicely.  A recent video captures Thika enjoying a mud bath, and compared to their small enclosures at the Zoo, you can see how happy she is in her new home.  I think anyone who loves animals will enjoy the story of the cross country move of these 4 ton giants and their new life at PAWS ARK 2000.

I will be back at PAWS end of March and again in October, and look forward to seeing these new arrivals and say Hello again to the other elephants that are so dear to my heart.  You can join me for those visits in my Photo Tour [see below].

Please watch the linked video "When the Cameras Went Away" and listen to Ed Stewart talk about PAWS and the happy ending for Thika, Iringa and Toka, the Toronto elephants who now can live out their lives walking freely on the green hills of the Sierra Foothills.

Til next time,

The Fifth Estate Returns to PAWS

Canada's premier investigative news magazine program, The Fifth Estate, returned to PAWS' ARK 2000 captive wildlife sanctuary this month to shoot an episode for its special season finale, "After the Cameras Went Away."

The Fifth Estate's investigative team had accompanied elephants Iringa, Toka and Thika on their trip from the Toronto Zoo to PAWS last October, documenting every step of their journey. In this special follow-up segment - which features an interview with PAWS president Ed Stewart - The Fifth Estate journalist Bob McKeown reports on how the elephants have adapted since arriving in sunny California.

Click here to watch "After the Cameras Went Away." (Video may not be available in all areas.)


Special Photo Tour

Although the sanctuary is not open for public, there are special fundraising days with educational tours that allow us to get a glimpse of the life of these magnificant animals.  Please click here for my October Photo Tour "Seeing the Elephants" at PAWS and join to learn more about the plight of all captive and performng animals.