Friday, November 26, 2010

November 21 2010 Appalachian Trail, Greenbrier State Park to Annapolis and Black Rocks, Md.

My sister and are re-starting out hiking adventures again--the last one was on the A-Trail in Md. from Washington Monument State Park to Greenbrier State Park and return.

So we drove to Greenbrier State Park just outside of Boonsboro, Md., off of US Rt 40, the old National Pike. It was a nice day for November:  low 50's at the height of the day with winds along the ridge and little wind down below. Link to description of the features of the Greenbrier State Park

The Visitor Center had just opened, and we were able to talk to the ranger there about the trails and pick up a map. We started the trip hiking up the steep Bartram Hill Trail connector to the A-Trail. The Bartram is well blazed but completely filled with leaves, which hid the trail.

From this sign, we could see that we were somewhere close to the middle of the A-Trail. 40 miles of it runs through Md.

My sister Amy

We had two destinations as we headed north:  a local attraction called the Annapolis Rock and then a little further, Black Rock. The total round trip distance for our hiking was 9.25 miles--quite a nice hike!

View of covered path over I-70
 The general area we were hiking on was generally called South Mountain.

The National Road crossed over I-70 and also provided an alternate trail head to begin the hike:

The trail is wide and well maintained. We encountered several Boy Scout groups and a number of families. A number of happy dogs were also out and about. The most interesting one was a young pit bull, who carried an 8' log in her mouth as she went up the trail. At her owner's request, she willingly dropped it as she approached us.

When we got to Annapolis Rock, several people were setting up their ropes to repel down.

Nice view of the rock out croppings
While this location provided a view of both Greenbrier State Park (and its lake) plus the Cumberland Valley to the west, the skies were hazy:

A mile beyond Annapolis Rock to the north, we came to Black Rock. This was a great place to have our lunch.

After lunch, we hiked back to our car without a break, traveling just over 4.5 miles in two hours. Going south was mostly downhill, so it was easier.

Next spring we are thinking about hiking from Gathland State Park just to the south to Weverton Cliffs, a setting just prior to descending down to Harper's Ferry, WV.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Late October 2010 Trip to Pearland, Texas

My wife and I drove down to Pearland Tx., just south of Houston, to see our daughter.

She lives in a planned community (Shadow Creek Ranch)--which has miles and miles of paved multi-use walking trails and paths. The big bonus? Shorebirds!

The neighborhoods have many flood control waterways, which now have tall marsh grasses and water, perfect for year round and possibly migratory birds.

While there for several days, I saw White Ibis, Great and White Egrets, Great and Blue Heron, Killdeer, a plover-like bird, dark ducks, mockingbirds, red birds, and even a pair of osprey. These are the types of birds I associate with driving to Virginia and Maryland's Eastern Shore! And this for walking just 5 - 10 minutes!

The killdeer squacked until late at night

Little Egret in flight

Egret departing; Ibis arriving

Great Blue Heron with two Ibis--one Ibis has a dark shellfish in its mouth!

Plover-like bird

Great White Heron

Egret in flight--urban setting!

Two ducks visiting

Egret and many Ibis feeding together

Little Blue Heron with a Great White Heron

Egret in flight

Urban setting--in flight

I can't wait to go back!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Astrophotography for 2010 with Update

Update: On October 8, I set up on my deck again to view Jupiter, and I was able to see Jupiter AND all 4 of its moons:

The year 2010 has been a good year for taking pictures of the stars and planets.

I have accepted that I live in an urban setting just west of Washington DC--and that I live in a sort of 'hole', with no access to the horizon for good sun rise/moon rise or good sun set/moon set. Light pollution is prevalent in the north and easterly direction, often extending from the horizon to 30 degrees above the horizon--independent of any moisture in the air, creating haze.

The collection of pictures you'll see were all taken in my neighborhood--primarily from my backyard deck but also from the street out front.

My typical equipment setup is a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod, a Kirk Enterprises ball head, a Canon T1i digital SLR running at higher ISO's (800 - 6400), 1.4 and 2x Kenko Extenders, and a Canon 300mm lens for long shots and a Canon 17 - 85mm lens for wide angle views.

Near the spring equinox in March, I captured a crescent moon:

The next major stellar event occurred in late June and early July, when Venus, the star Regulus, Mars, and Saturn all lined up, from low in the NW sky to higher in the Western Sky. Later in July (I checked on the 15th), this line was broken and no longer straight.

My western skies view is blocked by backkyard trees that have grown over the years. After walking around the neighborhood for several blocks to find a good view, I realized that my next door neighboor had a full view of the western sky. So, on the 4th of July--while neighborhood fireworks were being set off--I set up my camera in his back yard and fought off the gnats and mosquitoes during the ~ 20 second multiple exposures. This is what I go to see:

From L to R, Saturn, Mars, Regulus, and Venus

In late August, I had a great view of the Big Dipper from my front yard. Normally I don't look for the Big Dipper until winter, but since the view was there and there was some visibility, I decided to shoot it. Note how the camera and lens were able to resolve the double star in the Big Dippers' star that is second from the end of the handle.

In a series of four consecutive pictures, I discovered some type of "sky object" that looks like a comet and moves towards the NW as it dissipates. I checked in Starry Night Pro, it showed nor indicated any space objects--so I guess it was something man-made.

     Open up this image and then look towards the center of the top to see a yellowish object.

On Thursday night the 23rd of September, I took advantage of a moon one day past Harvest State with a good view of Jupiter from my deck. I used my 300mm lens with the 2x extender plus Live View 10x to manually focus on Jupiter. Tonight only 3 out of the 4 moons were showing; the 4th was behind Jupiter itself.

     The bonus for the night was that Uranus was also evident--a planet I thought I'd never be able to see! With my birding binoculars, I could see Uranus slightly above and to the left; Uranus appears as a fuzzy blue blob in the sky. I over-exposed Jupiter in order to capture Uranus.

     Open up the image to see Uranus at the upper left.

      There are three upcoming meteor showers left for the year:  late October, mid-November, and mid-December. I hope to load up my RV with chairs, warm beverages, and cameras with extra batteries and drive up to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and stay at an overlook--perhaps Stony Man--and watch the meteor shower through the night--at least that is the plan!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Update to Kenko Extension Tube Use

On Saturday, I decided to visit a neighbor who is a flower gardener--I love to visit her garden.

I decided to see what the affect would be on inserting a 12mm Kenko Extension Tube between the body of my Canon Rebel T1i and my Canon 17 - 85mm EF-S lens. This normally has a macro distance of ~8" to 18".

I found a violet "puffball" flower of approximately 3" in diameter and attempted to take a picture of it. I was unable to do so except under this condition:
  • 17mm wide open, almost on top of the object (less than 0.5cm)--with no further magnification allowed. Any other scenario was totally blurred.

I'll continue to use my extension tubes with the longer 55mm - 250mm and 300mm lens--for which the tubes were really designed for.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23 2010: Experiment with Kenko Extension Tubes

For several years, I have been curious about the use of Extension Tubes. Arthur Morris in his Birds As Art bulletins has used Extension Tubes with his telephoto lenses, occasionally with a teleconverter added to the stack.

For Christmas, I purchased a set of Kenko Extension Tubes in these sizes: 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm. These are straight tubes, with no glass or optics inside. They have the connections to allow for your AF functions to still work. I conducted an experiment to see what the effects and benefits were to their use. I used these sizes individually; they may be stacked for additional gain. I wanted to see how I might be able to use this lens for macro work.

Conditions: Canon Rebel Xsi body with a Canon 55 - 250mm IS EF-S lens on a tripod. I set the focal length to 100mm. Aperture was fixed at f/6.3. ISO = 800. Using ambient lighting from a nearby lamp. Used a 2 second delay to take the picture. Note, the closest distance to an object in this scenario is 1.1m or 3.6 feet. I used a Christmas ornament as my object.

Initial findings: as you increase the length of the tube and move closer to the object, you get an increased object size in exchange for requiring a longer shutter speed (less light).

This first shot is taken with no extension tube. Aperture is f/6.3 and shutter is 1/40 sec, and the distance from the hot shoe to the front of the object is 43.5".

This second shot is with the 12mm extension tube. Aperture is f/6.3, and the shutter is at 1/25 sec. The distance from hot shoe to object is now 39". Can't really see a benefit or improvement in object size.

This shot is taken with the 20mm extension tube. The aperture is f/6.3, and the shutter is now 1/20 sec. The distance from hot shoe to front of object is now 27". Note the signficant improvement in object size.

This shot is taken with the 36mm extension tube. Aperture is f/6.3, and the shutter speed is 1/8 sec. Note the greatly magnified object size. Distance from hot shoe to front of object is now just 18", compared to the earlier 43.5" with no tube.
Conclusion: Assuming that I have good lighting and possibly a tripod, I can use this technique to magnify object sizes. Note, that with extension tubes, they will fit my other telephoto lenses--unlike magnifiers placed on the front of the lens, which must match the size of the lens filter.
Next experiment will be with my 30mm lens, with and without a 1.4 teleconverter to see the benefits and restrictions of this combination.

Dec 14 2009: Green Spring Garden Park, Alexandria, va.

Green Spring Garden Park in Alexandria, Va., is one of my favorite places to take pictures. This Fairfax County Park strives to have flowers and plants growing and visible year round. If freezing has already occurred, the greenhouse on the premises is also available.

I decided to pack my camera and stop by this Park on my way to work. These are the highlights of what I saw 10 days before Christmas. It was sunny with a light breeze. I stayed for about 30 minutes. Next time I'll check out the stream below.

I love the bright red pyracantha, with the old country house in the background.

A winter cabbage with last night's rain having beaded up.

A few berries are in bloom here.
Even with a recent freeze, this plant was reasonably intact.

I like the water droplets on this frozen rose.

I love "explosions in nature"

Another cabbage

I particularly like the texture and color of these leaves.
I like the look of grasses

More flowing, wispy grasses