December 7th marks the beginning of the series of phenomena associated with the winter solstice. This is the evening of the year’s earliest sunset, which in the Washington, DC area occurs at 4:46 pm EST. From this evening onward Old Sol will set a little bit later on successive nights. The change is very incremental at first, but by the time the solstice occurs on the 21st sunset will be four minutes later. By the end of the year sunset will occur at 4:58 pm. The trade-off comes with the time of latest sunrise. That won’t occur until January 4th, 2012, when the Sun peeks over the horizon at 7:27 am. The shortest day of the year still falls halfway between these dates on the solstice itself, marking the astronomical beginning to the winter season. The reason for this seeming discrepancy has to do with the “equation of time”, which is the formula used to correct “sundial” or “apparent” solar time to “mean” solar time. This is graphically displayed on Earth globes as the “figure-8″ diagram, the “annalema”, that’s usually printed over the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The rate of change of the equation of time reaches its maximum near the time of the winter solstice, causing the times of sunrise and sunset to be “skewed” in the weeks surrounding the solstice itself.
… stalking the Tawdry Motmot and Malodorous Blackbird
We made our first trip to Belize recently, staying there 9 nights. For five nights, we were in a jungle eco-lodge near the Guatemalan border. Three nights were spent in a luxurious condo on the beach. We traveled with two friends from Merri’s college days (Susan and Paul).
The jungle was my favorite location. DuPlooy’s was established years ago by Ken and Judy duPlooy. In many respects, they turned savannah into a jungle. The lodge ranges along a boardwalk from a veranda overlooking the Macal River at one end to our Casita at the other end, a sizeable two-story house with a large bedroom and bath on each floor. We had the upstairs which also had a wide, deep balcony porch wrapping around two sides facing the jungle. It felt very much like a posh treehouse, especially from the hammocks.
We’re mediocre birders. We know a lot more than people who don’t care about birds, but among people who do, we’re rather ignorant. Even equipped with a book, binocs, camera, and Internet access, we struggled to identify most of the birds we saw and we know we missed countless others. I think of myself as a bird gawker, rather than a twitcher (Brit slang for birders). But, we enjoy ourselves immensely and this was a great location for birds, bugs, and plants.
It’s remarkable that I could go this long without mentioning the rain. It rained every day and at different times of day for different durations. The Belizeans frequently apologized for this but we always replied that for desert-dwellers rain makes a vacation more special. In fact, when the rain did pause, the humidity was overpowering. Let it rain and protect us from this cruel sun.
The jungle, the lodge, the rain, the birds were all fascinating but I also greatly enjoyed the Belizeans we met. When we travelled in Guatemala, my ignorance of Spanish was an embarrassing barrier that kept me from really connecting with people there. In Belize, English is the official language. Moreover, everyone we met speaks at least English, Spanish, and creole. Many also speak one of several Mayan dialects. Belizeans are a polyglot and gracious people. We were well taken care of.
Phillip of DuPlooy’s picked up Susan and Paul a few hours before we arrived and drove them an hour to the zoo. Some of the best photos any of us took were theirs at the zoo. Paul escaped a toucan with fingers intact. They saw a harpy eagle, one of the birds I wanted to see. (I hear Panama is the place to see harpies.) Then, they all drove back to the airport for our arrival. It was thrilling to wall down an old-fashioned rolling stairway to the tarmac (just as I did in Africa 40 years ago and in Albuquerque almost 30 years ago) to be greeted by friendly calls and hoots from the observation area.
Phillip drove us across country in two hours. Before night fell, he pointed out the Sleeping Giant, high ground in Belize that is actually a former reef pushed up. Driving through rain, we passed a few small towns which always had at least on open-aired room with a big screen TV and a crowd of people watching.
We left pavement and drove up a steep, narrow, winding dirt road arriving at the DuPlooy’s office. There Mason greeted us and checked us in. In a light rain, he led us along the boardwalk past half a dozen cottages with screened-in porches to our casita. Then we walked back past the other dwellings — all of which were unoccupied — to the dining room, beyond which were the open-aired bar, bird feeding station and a few tables under a roof. We spent time every day in each of these areas, watching birds, eating, drinking Belikin stout and talking to employees as well as just a few other guests. Most of that time, we were well-attended to by Albert. That first dinner was the best coconut shrimp we’ve ever eaten.
The first morning, I awoke to a strange, deep drumming. One end of our upstairs porch looked toward an large dead tree that served as a bird magnet. The drummer was a woodpecker, nearly as large as a pileated woodpecker. Over the next few days, we would see other woodpeckers there, as well as toucans and parrots. Up the hill on a tower, we frequently saw bat falcons.
DuPlooy’s includes half-day and full day activities in their package, but that first day we didn’t want to get in a car again, so we hiked the trail along the river. That afternoon, we tubed from Judy’s house back down to the beach, which was completely submerged by the rising Macal River. In fact, it kept rising all week, though the lodge is well uphill and unthreatened.
Adjacent to the lodge, the duPlooys also built a botanic garden full of domestic and exotic plants, which, in turn draw more birds and insects. We walked through the garden several times. My favorite hours may have been those I spent alone wandering the grounds while the others drove to butterfly farm and a cave tubing trip that had to be cancelled due to high water. During my hike, I climbed the tower built to honor Ken DuPlooy. From this high vantage I looked out over dense green canopy and observed three flocks of plain chachalacas (a drab pheasant-like bird I want to call Boom-chack-a-lakas — Wanna take you higher!). Each group crow at once, then each group in sequence, first one group, then another across the valley, then a third, and around again the same way, each cacophonous chorus in turn. I also repeated the river trail and stumbled over the rugged trail Phillip had cut by machete, making me appreciate just how dangerous the jungle could be.
Next morning, we rode horses with Eryn up to a great vista of the jungle and the Macal. After lunch, we left for an overnight trip to Tikal in Guatemala. I’d been there a few years ago, but Merri missed it because she was sick on that earlier trip. Tikal is stunning and spectacular. As with Chaco in New Mexico, what we see is nothing like what it appeared in its heyday but is no less grand. We made a brief excursion to the Gran Plaza where we saw a fox, the indigenous colorful ocellated turkeys and only a few people.
At the Tikal Jungle Lodge, we practiced restaurant Spanish under the tutelage of a delightful and delighted waitress. Next day at breakfast, we showed how little we’d learned — except for Merri, by far the most comfortable in her efforts. Then our guide Walter led us for hours through rain, mud, humidity and history. And howler monkeys. Walter does an amazing howler monkey call, as well as being an over-educated former lawyer. On our way out from Tikal, we were stunned to encounter our guide from 3 years ago, Miguel. After lunch, we left the Tikal Lodge and rewound our way back across the border to DuPlooy’s for a last night.
Next day, we left the jungle. Noel of DuPlooy’s drove us across country a couple of hours to Belize City and the port. En route, he stopped to point out iguanas (they mate for life, but the male has to keep up his good looks or the female may choose another), black thick-billed anis, lesser yellow-headed vultures, Mayan ruins, and so much more, all the while regaling us with great nuggets of info about what we were seeing. He was the only person I met there who address the women as ‘milady,’ but he made it seem a charming eccentricity.
It was quite a shock to leave the laid-back largely empty jungle lodge for the big city and all it entails. Stout eased my transition. We took a ferry to the tourist town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye (pronounced key), known to some as Little America. Though San Pedro has no high-rises, it feels like a resort town. We checked into our condo then walked a few short blocks to El Fagon. During a pounding rainstorm that caused us to move from one table to the next and back, we enjoyed our meal. Next we walked to a small market for groceries, including local coffee and cashew wine (awful). I also bought a pair of flip-flops to replace the sneakers I had to abandon because they smell so bad after tubing the Macal and never drying out.
Much of our time in San Pedro was spent strolling a few short blocks or the beach. We wandered between shops, visiting a frozen custard shop three times before we found it open. We bought chocolate several times. I bought a nice short-sleeved shirt. We ate at several nice restaurants. Susan and Paul borrowed bikes for a long ride north while Mer and I walked a long way south with minimal birding.
We also took a glassbottom boat out to the reef that is a national park. Our guide led us snorkeling in a few places. The fish, the grass, the coral of every type were all beautiful. It was the sea turtles that almost made Merri cry. One moment of excitement came when the guide pointed out a moray eel. As Paul swam toward it the eel swam even faster toward Paul and the guide swam faster still to pull Paul back and repel the eel with a flipper. Our was also able to dive down and through a short coral cave.
For all the fun we had outside in San Pedro, we also spent time recuperating from the heat in the AC. And, of course, it rained here, too, although never enough to spoil an hour.
Our condos were a walkable block from the airport where where took a small plane to the mainland airport. Mer got to ride in the co-pilot’s seat. From the air, the keys look less like islands than like lagoons with small areas above water. Global warming may finish submerging this area in our lifetimes.
It is fitting that after all this, we encountered the heaviest rain of entire trip as we made our way to the plane. Recall, there aren’t any enclosed gangways. We lined up for umbrellas and the moment I stepped out from under a roof, I was ankle deep in water, glad I had my flip-flops. I laughed out loud, it was such fun. Up the rolling stairway to hand over an umbrella and return to the 21st century. They had to stop boarding the plane to keep water more water from entering the front and to return the stack of umbrellas for the next group of passengers.
Now we are back a mile above sea level in a desert that once was underwater. Our miserly rain is bone-chillingly cold. Blue has replaced green and I can see a hundred miles again and, much closer, the mile-high Sandias that provide a backdrop for everything we do. It’s good to get out now and then. It’s good to come home.
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the winter holiday season for many of us. We’re now entering the weeks when we experience the year’s earliest sunsets and nightfall seems to come well before we’re ready to end our day. It is a time of great seasonal shifts in both the climate and the sky…
The northernmost star in the Great Winter Circle reaches prominence as the midnight hour approaches. This yellow-hued star, known as Capella, is nearing the meridian at this time, and its transit is entirely appropriate for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Capella is one of the few bright stars whose name does not have Arabic origins. It derives from the Latin word for a female goat, and if you have keen eyes or a pair of binoculars you can see a small triangle of stars tucked close to the bright yellow beacon. These stars form an asterism known as “The Kids”. In Roman mythology Capella represented the she-goat Amalthea, which suckled the infant Jupiter. The young god, evidently a rambunctious little boy, accidentally snapped off one of Amalthea’s horns, which became the “Cornucopia”, or “Horn of Plenty”. In turn the Cornucopia has become associated with our observance of Thanksgiving and the feasting that goes along with it. Amalthea has also been recognized by giving her name to the fifth moon of Jupiter, discovered by the keen-eyed American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard in 1892 on his first night of observing with the then-new 36-inch refracting telescope at Lick Observatory, the largest in the world at the time. This was the last moon in the solar system to be found visually. Thanks to Earth-based and spacecraft photography we now know that Jupiter has some 64 moons!
Venus continues to brighten the early evening sky, attracting quite a bit of attention to the southwest as twilight deepens.
Our yard didn’t get more than a dusting, even though it snowed off and on over more than 24 hours. Albuquerque frequently has extremely strong winds blowing from East to West through Tijeras canyon. This creates the “snow hole.” Surrounding areas — especially the mountains — may get massive amounts of precipitation while Abq gets little or none.
Snowfall totals from around the state, Wednesday evening to Sunday afternoon:
Albuquerque: up to 2 inches
Farmington: up to 2.1 inches
Santa Fe: up to 9.5 inches
Roswell: up to 3.3 inches
Clovis: up to 7.5 inches
Source: National Weather Service
And Happy GISDay (Wednesday).
Geography Awareness Week FAQs
Tonight, I went out a little early to look for the ISS. I was lucky enough to see a slow orange meteor drop from the zenith toward the northwest. Very cool. Twenty minutes later, the ISS drifted steadily across the sky from NW to SE, taking about 6 minutes. According to my cellphone app, during the time I watched it, the ISS flew more directly over Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and on into Mexico. (It was over Tokyo when I saw the meteor.) Not so long ago, you had to be a scientist to have this kind of information at your disposal. We live in an amazing Age.
Watching the ISS isn’t a breath-taking spectacle, but it is very cool. You’re looking at one of our machines (bigger than a 5 bedroom house) with human beings on the edge of space. And you’ll see more than just the ISS when you spend a few minutes looking up.
Imagine boarding the Rail Runner in Santa Fe or Albuquerque and riding south to Bosque del Apache. Wouldn’t it be fantastic? We have the tracks, we have the trains, we have the natural attraction. More than anything we lack imagination and determination to make it happen.
The people most likely to take this train don’t require a fancy stop. The Durango-Silverton rail simply stops in the middle of wilderness for hikers.
Eventually, I’d like to see a special Crane engine modeled after the lovely Rail Runner. But we could start this run in no time. We have trains going to the Wine Festival in Bernalillo. Why not to the Festival of the Cranes?
Remarkably, people who let their dogs run free also tend to be very belligerent about their “right” to violate laws and to behave recklessly and dangerously. Keep your dogs on leashes or take them to dog parks. Period.
“A low level of disturbance doesn’t cause much problem when there is a dense understory,” [Gail Garber of HawksAloft] said.
But recent projects have removed invasive species, such as the salt cedar and Russian olive trees, and there are wide trails along the west side of the river, which encourage people to walk and bring their dogs, she said. The dogs that are walked off-leash are especially problematic for the birds, she said.
The relatively low density of birds in the area is not primarily caused by drought, she contended. There are about 270 species of birds that can be found throughout the bosque, including the mourning dove, black-chinned hummingbird and the bushtit, along with birds of prey, like the great horned owl and coopers hawks.
“Imagine if you are a bird that weighs 50 grams, with people and dogs everywhere and nowhere to hide and no food,” she said.
We’re number one!
Is there one state that has, well, taken it on the chin more than others this year?
You could make a strong argument for several states taking the prize for most extreme state of 2013. As far as touching many weather extremes, we argue for one “enchanting” choice.
Let’s lay out our case on the following pages.
John Fleck rightly points out elsewhere that the subject of water in New Mexico is frequently a front page topic at the Albuquerque Journal (as opposed to the more narrow subject of the Albuquerque bosque and the Mayor’s Vision).
There might have been a great disaster in Albuquerque a week ago. On the other hand, the bosque might have gotten the rejuvenating flooding it appears it will never get without managers hand-picking which segments will be so nurtured. We like to imagine the bosque is a strip of wilderness but it is really just an unkempt park. That’s OK. Central Park is a great park and couldn’t be more unnatural. Let the professionals do their jobs managing nature for our benefit.
Authorized by Congress in 1960 and completed in the mid-’70s, Cochiti is one of the largest and arguably the most controversial dam in New Mexico. Its completion drowned farmlands, summer homes and culturally significant sites at Cochiti Pueblo, and seepage beneath the dam waterlogged remaining pueblo farmlands downstream. In addition, the way it altered the Rio Grande’s flows has caused lasting environmental problems downstream, depriving the riverside ecosystem of natural floods.
But on Sept. 13, it did the job we gave it when we built it, which was to protect the Middle Rio Grande Valley from flooding.
Originally, the Journal gave NO coverage to the meeting that became the turning point for public discussion of our community’s vision of the bosque, the riparian ribbon along the banks of the Rio Grande. (Small wonder because the bosque buys no advertising.) Today, that discussion appears on page one thanks to Leslie Linthicum.
It’s no wonder that a discussion about changing access to the river – “bringing the river more into our daily lives” – has found broad, bland support and narrow, passionate opposition.
“The bosque” means different things to different people.
Ironically, Leslie and the crowd she joined were out not to see the bosque but to see the river as we never get to see it — almost flooding enough to keep the bosque alive. Also ironically, she speaks of enjoying the view from bridges, as artificial and controversial a vantage as one can get. (Mind you, I love that old Alameda bridge and am so glad someone had the foresight to leave it standing — what was that discussion like?) Nevertheless, this topic should be on the front page of the Journal more than once because we all need to know about the options. Doing nothing is not a long-term option, albeit a wise short-term one.
(1) At the Sept. 4 Town Hall meeting, one of the… – Rio Grande Bosque by Jasper (Joe) Hardesty
While progressive and caring, the design firm and others employed by the City (tax dollars spent) do not include ecological or restoration expertise (until just recently retained, but only late in the process, with minimal design or project scope input). The recent hiring of an environmental firm is unfortunately a whitewash to give credibility to a plan that has no legitimate restoration element. Given this, starting over makes a lot of sense. If the City is not willing to start over because it would cost too much, then we can’t afford the project after all. If the City is willing to do it right, this is good news for the designers, as it means more work. They can thank me later.
From the perspective of the architect, this is an amazing opportunity to demonstrate how design and nature can be integrated to create beautiful elements that people will enjoy. No doubt, I would LOVE this type of a project and that opportunity! However, great design at the expense of environmental damage is not actually great design, and definitely not a community benefit. Integrating nature and design will have other, more appropriate opportunities. The Bosque Plan should be about what is best for the long term health and vitality of our community.
The following link leads to a story about an effort to remove a leg trap and the Kafka-esque reaction of a game warden.
The states which have essentially banned leghold traps are Florida, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, California, and Washington. The others allow resident psychopaths to legally indulge in their hobby of torturing whatever unlucky creature puts a foot wrong, as non-targeted animals make up a significant percentage of those who eventually die after hours – if not days -of pain and struggle.
A recent thread on my Raptorcare listserv produced one wildlife rehabilitator’s nightmarish photo of a leghold trap firmly clutching the leg of a Great Horned Owl. No owl, just the leg.
Help ban this barbarism in other states.
If I were to make a single suggestion regarding the Rio Grande vision it would be this: Take a significant portion of the funding (half or more) for ecological restoration. Focus that effort to create groundwater infusion wetlands (mimicking oxbow marshes), wet meadows, wooded wetlands and overbank wetland areas.
The benefits for wildlife and the people who will be visiting the bosque will be tremendous.
I think there is a place for improvements, such as trails that will bring pedestrians into the bosque and along the river. They should be designed with an emphasis on a low-impact human presence.