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." The cost for two units plus holsters was $1,200, not including tax and shipping.

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. The price for all the work plus installing the charging stations was just over $4,400.

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.

Update 2016-10-14 - A bit early, but we got our first Volt. We are now able to confirm that the chargers are both functional and get the car charged in around the expected 4.5hr time frame.

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.