Sunday, August 14, 2016

Green Chile Batch 2016

How does a New Mexican spend August? preparing green chile, of course. From Whole Foods, we purchased three cases, one mild and two hot, of the wondrous pods for a total of 75 pounds. We had them roasted and then spent a few hours each night removing the charred peels under running water and chopping off the heads. When done, we vacuum sealed the pods into one-pound bags and put them in the freezer. All told, we ended up with 32 pounds of finished product which will hopefully last us the year. Gloves are necessary to avoid uncomfortable chemical burns to the skin. A respirator would have been a good idea too.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

2016 Perseids Meteor Shower

I did not have the opportunity to go to a dark site for the Perseids this year. However, I did setup a camera on a tracking mount and took pictures all night. I used the Canon 7D set at ISO-800 and a Canon 18-55mm lens set at 18mm, f/4.0. I took 60sec exposures every 65sec from late evening through dawn. The center of the frame was aligned with where I expected the radiant to be in the constellation of Perseus. I was surprised how few meteors I actually imaged ... only 11. Other AAS members who went to the dark site at Canyon of Eagles reported 50-100 per hour.

The image below is a composite of the eleven frames with meteors spanning from 12:30 to 4:30. In each frame, I flattened out and neutralized the skyglow gradient and lifted the black point to normalize the background level. I then chose a reference frame and merged in the meteor trails from the other frames. Finally, I reintroduced a slight color gradient. The image needs to be seen at full resolution to pick out any but the few brightest trails. See if you can find all eleven!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Austin Purple Martin Roost 2016

This evening we went down to Austin to see the Purple Martin roost. This is our third time to see a spectacle that is much more impressive than the bats. In 2014, we saw them at the Highland Mall. In 2015, they were at the Capital Plaza. This year, the birds have moved to the parking lot of the Embassy Suites hotel. From the map below, this location is still near the intersection of IH-35 and US. 290. There was less available parking but the show was better. The main roost was in the clump of trees circled.

The public gather on the lawn to the north and were treated to the martins swooping down over their heads from behind towards the trees. This gave an amazing sensation of motion as you can see in video.

The birds crowded into the low trees and eventually settled in for the night. Standing under the trees, the noise and smell were overwhelming. I am glad I have a rain cover on my camera gear. As usual, most of the birds are brown, not purple. This first image shows several different ages. The bird with the yellow mouth lining is a first-year bird that was hatched this season. The brown birds with purple blotches on the breast are second-year males. The solid blue birds are males that are third-year or older. Others are females; their ages determined best by the lack or presence of dark brown in the under-tail covert feathers.

I may have to go back after I know that my new fledglings have left to wish them well on their way to Brazil.

July 30 - A second trip to the roost this evening, to try again for interesting pictures. Perhaps we will see some of our fledglings.

July 31 - Though not an official party night, went back for a third round. Danielle took many movies. I set up the GoPro and took a long panorama movie. It is very hard to get focus on the birds high up and to get the full scope of the experience. I am having luck with setting the camera on fully manual with aperture set to f/9 or f/11 to get better DoF and setting the shutter speed lower, even as low as 250s. I can then rely on the flash to stop the action rather than the shutter since there is so little ambient light. I am still using ISO-1600 which leads to grainy picture that need much smoothing in post-processing.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Vehicle Charging Stations in Place

As the probability of getting out of  "VW Hell" improved with the preliminary buy-back agreement, we started looking at electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle options to replace our smog-mobiles. We are strongly leading towards the Chevy Volt, though also considering waiting for the pure electric Chevy Bolt.

In the meantime, I started researching options for installing level 2 charging stations (EVSE) at home. As Bosch was the Chevy-recommended manufacturer, I consulted with the local Bosch installer, Sierra Electrical Services. Turns out that Bosch has changed their business model so that this is no longer a clear win. In the end, I opted to install a pair of Clipper Creek HCS-40 units, ordering them on-line from EV West in California. These will have sufficient juice for any hybrid or a future pure electric. Clipper Creek has great reviews and this unit is described as "indestructible."

Part of the EVSE installation required upgrading the level of service to the house, something we have wanted to do for some time. The old panel had only 150A service and had various kludged conduits hanging off of it for projects installed by the previous owner. We wanted to clean that up and also install a 30A receptacle capable of powering the A/C in the travel trailer.

We got the work done last Friday and Saturday.  Here is the electrician removing the wiring from the old panel.

Looking closely, you can see a few of the seven or so geckos we found fried onto the main bus. We figured they were there to prey on some of the 30 or so mud-dauber wasp cells in the wall behind the panel .... I love Texas.

While they did this, I spent the day baby-sitting the generator I had set up to keep my reef tank alive and taking pictures of Purple Martins.

By mid-afternoon, extra conduits had been removed, and the new 225A panel was installed and wired, new 4/0 service wires were installed in the riser, a new grounding system was in place and junction boxes were installed on the walls to provide 220V/40A power to each of the two charging stations. We also got our new 30A RV receptacle installed. Despite the panel being much larger, the whole project looks much neater.

The city inspector came and gave his approval but called in the wrong address, something we did not figure out until much later when we looked at the green tag. This meant that the request to reconnect our service got deep-sixed by the city. As 5pm rolled past, we were getting very worried that, in the 101F heat, we were not going to get our power back or our A/C turned on.

I put in several after-hours emergency calls to the city that "our power was out due to lines down," the only applicable option their stupid automated phone system offered. By further mischance, I missed their return calls to my cell phone requesting further details because our cell phone repeater was not working ... due to the fact that we had no power. We finally got the power back on at 8pm. I am thankful the guys from Sierra stuck with us until then.

The charging stations themselves did not go in until Saturday morning, the junction boxes having already been placed. We chose to put them outside since there is no hope of clearing out the garage enough to park even one car inside. One of the stations went to the left of the garage doors. The second one went on the perpendicular wall to the right of the garage.

I am glad ClipperCreek comes with a 3 year warranty since, all we know about the units so far is that the orange power light comes on. It is going to be a while before we can test them on a car.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mississippi Kite at Home

Late this afternoon, I saw this Mississippi Kite, flying slowly over the river behind the house. I have never seen a kite this close, never mind at the house. I have occasionally seen them soar past, high up, on their way somewhere else. As such, I have never seen the rusty color on the wingtips visible on both the upper and lower surfaces. Normally, they are so back-lit as to look black and gray.

This one appeared to be hunting as I saw it hover and make sudden turns mid-air. The images below show it tracking a bug and then eating on-the-wing. At first, I was afraid it might be hunting the martins fly nearby. However, I did catch a view of the two birds in one frame and the martin is clearly too large. It is not clear what the bug in the photo is but there are many dragonflies over the river that the martins feed on. In fact, later in the evening, as I walked up the trail, I saw a swarm of 100+ of them over the low-water crossing.

July 4 - Another appearance early afternoon of the kite. Bumped the shutter speed this time and replaced some of the images.

July 9 - The kite is back again.  I got a better picture of the "Cicada Popsicle".

July 15 - Another view today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Carolina Wren in the Nestbox

Finally, a real bird nesting in this year's boxes with the new camera system. We have had ants, bees, wasps, and several false nest starts. Ironically, another Carolina Wren. The last wrens that nested in our yard, used a hard hat in the shed after rejecting my bird house. Given that Carolina Wrens may have up to three broods in a season, this may in fact be the same pair.

I had angled the cameras with a bluebird, chickadee or titmouse in mind, trying to get more of a side view. Unfortunately, the nest building style of the wren is to fill the box nearly to the top ... right over the camera. I have had to thin out some of the obscuring twigs a few times. Here, you can see the camera almost on top of the eggs.

Both male and female were actively involved in the nest building. They started on top of a fake nest that was made by wrens a month ago. The female has been incubating the eggs for about a week and sits on them most of the day. The camera is pretty much right in her face. These boxes are much darker than the martin gourd so I never get to see any images in daylight spectrum.

June 29 - Hatching started this evening at about 16:45.

June 30 - Many different food offerings including spiders, katydid, and this small snail which the adult finally had to eat.

July 2 - Danielle planted milkweed in the courtyard to attract monarchs. We found a Queen Butterfly chrysalis and caterpillar a yesterday in one of the plants. A bit of a miscalculation on combining hobbies. Here is the wren feeding the chicks the chrysalis ... perhaps she ate the caterpillar. We thought the milkweed was supposed to make these taste bad.

July 3 - An iPhone nest check today confirmed what I could not see in the video stream: all four eggs have hatched.

July 4 - It is clear these are not Titmouse chicks. They already have much longer bills. This shot finally shows all four visible in the nestcam.

July 7 - pin feathers on wings and back

July 10 - I am pretty sure we only have 2 surviving nestlings. Hopefully, the adult removed them. I can see much more feather on the head and back than a few days ago. The color photo shows that the feathers unfurling from the shafts have a tan color.

Today's unique food item appears to be a very small lizard. Not sure I have seen one this small.

July 15 - Both surviving nestlings fledged this morning at dawn.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Purple Martin Gourd Camera

Another risky move  for me with the martins. As the the day of hatching approaches, I decided to move one of the cameras to the martin house. Hopefully enabling me to check the nest daily without as much disturbance. I took down one of the spare gourds to experiment and came up with the following design.

I am using Excluder Gourds from PMCA. I first took the access cap off and drilled a 2" hole in the center with a forstner bit.  I also drilled 4 mounting holes for #10 screws.

The next step was to obtain a 4" PVC sewer and drain cap and drilled corresponding holes in it. I put silicone sealant between the two and clamped together with #10-32 screws and nuts.

Next, I got a 4" PVC DWV Cap which I found slips neatly over the drain cap. I drilled a hole in the top of the cap and used a #10-32 3/4" bolt and rubber washer to attach one of my HawkEye HD cameras from Birdhouse Spy Cam to the top of the cap. I played with the orientation of the camera on its mount so that I could tip the camera down slightly and still have the lens roughly centered. Another 3/4" in hole in the side of the cap allows the wires to route out. All of the cable connections are pushed back into the cap.

This the view from inside the gourd with with two pieces slipped together.

The first assembly simply screws back onto the gourd. At the point that it was snug, I marked the lower edge and cut a slot for the wires to pass. It did not need to be this large. I can leave this in place to do a quick visual check.

The camera portion slips over with wires exiting at the bottom.

Because of the way the Excluder Gourd mounts to the rack, it is only free to swing front to back. As such the extra weight of the PVC caps does not change the orientation much. Otherwise, this system would not have worked. I tied the cable along the owl guards and let it drop down parallel to the hoisting cord. 

I modified the snake guard to add an extra pass-through hole.

and ran both cord and cable through the raccoon baffle. 

Finally, here is a full resolution image of the nest in daylight. The field of view nicely spans most of the nest including the entrance porch on the left and the egg cavity on the right.

This is a shot of the female shows the IR LED turned on and casting a greenish illumination in the center and true daylight illumination in the periphery.

This final image at 8:30 is illuminated only by IR LED with negligible daylight left.

Everything was in place just in time for hatching which started early on Sunday evening, June 19.