Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rainbow arc above solar halo

More cold weather sunlight play...

A ring of reflected light and a mystery rainbow arc. These ice halos and other solar displays span to much of the sky for my camera lens to capture, so I'm experimenting with video for a wider range. (The arc shows twice -- partway through, and at the very end.)

Any weird angles aren't meant as art shots. It was too bright looking directly at the sun to see exactly what I was shooting... As for the architectural details that intrude into the video from the right, that's the roof overhanging my front porch.

(The background noise? Traffic on nearby streets here in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada... Delete, delete, delete.)


Solar halo and rainbow arc

A mystery in the sky...

High above the sun and the glowing halo that encircles it, a rainbow.

I'm not sure what this is in technical terms, but Atmospheric Optics mentions phenomena such as supralateral arcs, which I think would be about the same distance from the sun and solar halo as this.

Some of my images show this upper rainbow curving down; in some it's straight across; here, it curves slightly up -- a very subtle smile. (All photos: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.)

The mystery upper rainbow:  a subtle smile.
Photo © SB


Update: Les Cowley of Atmostpheric Optics has confirmed this is part of a circumzenithal arc. I'm excited about capturing the picture -- and about having seen it in the sky.  


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sundogs and solar halos over Wascana

A huge eye loomed over the horizon in Regina, Saskatchewan, yesterday morning.

I tried to capture it from my office, but dirt on polarized windows blurred the bursts of light and rainbows on either side of the sun.

Outside, frigid winds froze the city at minus 37 Centigrade (minus 35 Fahrenheit). I'd just arrived at work. I didn't want to go back out. But I wanted a picture of this ice crystal magic.

The eye in the sky through dark dirty glass. Photo © SB
I know how to dress for winter. Silk, merino, down. Thinsulate. Wind block. Hat, parka, boots, scarf, gloves. Layers and layers and more layers. But cold this extreme leaches through everything. By the time I crossed the road to the park -- a two-minute walk -- my fingertips were numb. By the time I circled back to the office -- a 15 minute walk -- they throbbed with the raw pain of amputation. An oval patch below my uncovered cheekbone stung like sunburn. Frostbite.

Sundogs, solar halos, upper tangent arcs and the rest of these phenomena form when ice crystals in the atmosphere reflect and refract sunlight, and our most stunning ones appear when the weather at ground level is bitterly, brutally cold.

Every time I see them, I see -- and learn -- more.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Handfeeding chickadees and nuthatches at St. Peter's Abbey

Black-capped chickadee. All photos © Shelley Banks
I love this shot — the chickadee's crisp folded wings, its tiny claws clutching my finger, the gap in its beak before the tip that holds the peanut. 

Below, I love the sharp pleats of the chickadee's wings and tails, and the nuthatch's detailed feathers and claws.

All taken February 10, 2011, with my small pocket camera. 

Black-capped chickadee 
Red-breasted nuthatch


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Year of the Nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatch © SB
St. Peter's Abbey, Muenster, Saskatchewan: Chickadees and nuthatches fly at me as soon as I put down my snowshoe poles. Their wings brush my arms and the hood of my parka as they zip and spin from snow-covered firs to the ground. They’re tame. They know when people stop walking, treats begin.

At first, the black-capped chickadees are the boldest. But once my hand is out of my pocket and the peanuts shelled, the roles reverse. The red-breasted nuthatches, with their metallic scolding calls, evict chickadees from my fingers.

“It’s the Year of the Nuthatch – they’ve finally had enough and they’re fighting back,” the Abbey guest master says. And he should know; he’s fed them all year -- for many years.

I am spending the week at a writing retreat at the St. Peter's Abbey, the only place I've ever felt more than one pair of rough chickadee claws tickle my fingers at a time; the only place I've ever met nuthatches tame enough to feed – much less battle their way to the peanuts.

Two birds in hand. © SB
These chickadees and nuthatches are so tame I don’t even have to stand still with unmoving arms outstretched. If I bat them away while I focus my small camera, they fly right back for the nuts. If I close my fingers, they nudge their heads in.

They come so fast and so frequently, I know they can’t be eating the nuts. They must be hoarding them somewhere in the trees.

The routine works like this:
  1. Take off gloves. 
  2. Shell peanuts in left pocket.
  3. Pull  camera from right and sling strap over wrist.
  4. Switch hands (wasted effort: the curse of being illogical and left-handed).
  5. Focus camera on nuts.
  6. Wait for great shot.
  7. Shoot.
Except that it usually doesn’t.

Instead, the birds hover beside me by Step 2. By Step 5, they’re back zipping and spinning from the trees to the ground to invisible perches midair. And most of my pictures show translucent angel wings or icy, empty, red hands.

Bird Gallery: 
All photos: © Shelley Banks


Friday, February 4, 2011

Feeding chickadees and nuthatches by hand

I am a buffet for birds,
offering peanuts
to nuthatches, chickadees...

Chitter and whir,
light on my fingers,
seize nuts and fly.

(Camera, fingers, freeze...)

I took the video below holding the camera with my left hand, while feeding birds on my right hand -- a complicated exercise


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