Friday, March 20, 2009

La Nina has been kinder to Madison this year than it was last year

La Nina Has Been Kinder to Madison This Year
Green things like these tulips are tentatively poking their heads out of the ground on the first day of spring. What a difference a year makes. On this Friday a year ago, we had our last big snowstorm of a long, hard winter -- one that added to the already record snowfall by topping the 100-inch mark before the weekend was over.

This year, although we started the winter ahead of even last year's record snowfall pace, we soon tapered off. Not so coincidentally, last winter we were going through a major La Nina event in the Pacific, and this winter the La Nina was much milder and has already started abating.

If you want to follow the progress of these tulips I've started a one-a-day Flickr set you can bookmark if you want to revisit them: Time Lapse Tulip Sequence.

Happy Vernal Equinox

Finally, the long-awaited first day of spring! The day when the length of day and night are equal and eggs can stand on end, or so they say. The first statement is untrue, and National Geographic tries to explain why (maybe you'll have better luck with it than I did). The second statement is a misleading partial truth, as deconstructed by
Many, many superstitions involving the breaking, balancing, burying, decorating, reading (for purposes of divination) and hiding of eggs have come to be part of the annual spring celebration. (The linking of egg-balancing with spring celebrations is demonstrated by the fact that the practice is associated only with the vernal equinox, not the autumnal equinox.)

The Chinese are thought to have originated the practice of standing eggs on end during the equinox. Just as the equinox symbolically restores balance to the world by signalling its rebirth after a season of darkness, the equinox literally balances the day by dividing it into equal portions of darkness and light. If the symbol of fertility — eggs — could be balanced on end during a day equally divided between day and night, this was a sign that all nature was in harmony. That the balancing of eggs could be achieved on any day of the year was of no importance; what everyone wanted and needed was a familiar, reassuring ritual to demonstrate that all was right with the world.
Although I'm not sure that will be of much use to Little Oscar, who seems to be pondering deeper, more existential questions.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring is near and so are the Sandhill Cranes

Children of Paradise
The DNR posts its Outdoor Report on the internet every Thursday, and it includes a birding update as well as other outdoor news.
The recent warm temps and south winds have brought the expected movements of waterfowl, cranes, blackbirds and early migrants. This past weekend there was a large sandhill crane migration into southern Wisconsin. Geese are moving through in large numbers including some greater white-fronted geese, cackling geese and Ross' geese mixed in with the Canada geese.

Ruffed grouse are beginning pre-season mating activities, though no drumming has been observed yet. Killdeer have been making their presence known by their calls more than their appearance. This member of the plover family is known for its "broken-wing" act, a strategy that lures predators and people away from the nest. Woodcock are peenting, twittering and performing their nightly aerial displays. Barred owls have been aggressively trading territorial calls during the early night hours.

DuetBut I didn't need the DNR to tell me the Sandhill Cranes were back. There's a stretch of Highway 26 near the Rock River where I've seen cranes every day this week on the way home from work. They must see it as the perfect combination of wetlands and corn fields where they can forage in the stubble. This pair seemed to be croaking a duet in harmony, happy that the last of the snow has been melting in this warm weather.

Floating somewhere between illusion and reality on Madison's Starkweather Creek

Floating Between Reality and Illusion
A solitary duck floated placidly between graffiti and their reflections on Starkweather Creek last weekend. They're painted on the sides of a rusting old railroad bridge. The rail line that ran across it is gone now, replaced by a bike path, the Capital City Trail. I always wonder about the taggers -- do they come by boat, or do they hang from the edge and work upside down?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When the space station flies over Madison, you photograph it with the camera you've got

When the Space Station Flies Over Madison, You Photograph It with the Camera You've Got
Sorry about the blurry photo of the International Space Station. It was a handheld 1-second exposure with my point at shoot Coolpix, still set at ISO 100 -- which worked fine at West Towne, but this was a stretch.

I was picking up a pizza at Oliva's on the west side when I looked up past the parking lot lights and saw a bright point of light that seemed to be an airplane with landing lights on moving roughly from southwest to northeast, toward the airport, but since it maintained its altitude and the light didn't dim as it swept serenely across the sky, I figured it must be a satellite. Probably the space station, judging from its brightness. Took the Coolpix out of my jacket and took this photo. It was a beautiful moment, and I wanted to preserve the memory, regardless how inadequate the image. (Sorry about the double image -- that was my hand motion. But does register the apparent brightness pretty well.)

I superimposed NASA's data for the Madison flyover, which lasted five minutes and started at 7:46 PM. The picture was taken at 7:49:48 (the exif data reads 6:49:48, but that's because I never bother to set it ahead for Daylight Time).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking for spring greenery on a sunny March afternoon in Madison's Olbrich Gardens

Saturday afternoon we went to Olbrich Botanical Gardens looking for spring. It wasn't quite shirtsleeve weather unless you were very young and/or a runner, but the day was so warm, the light so sunny and inviting, it seemed that spring would be just around the corner. Much of Madison seemed to feel the same way. It was really crowded, perhaps because they're also holding their spring flower show through March 22.

In Search of SpringBut spring was nowhere to be found. Sure, there were robins, but they were eating last year's leftovers. The earth had not yet sprung to life. Not a trace of green. Instead, the grounds of this beautiful garden were filled with earth tones and patches of snow taking its time melting.

In Search of SpringWhat was missing was the color green. You forget how much you hunger for it during the long winter months, making do with Christmas trees and potted plants. But this time of year it starts to come on with an addict's sense of desperation, the craving for green, now. For that you had to go indoors to the Bolz Conservatory. I hadn't realized just how hungry I was for the magical color until I encountered this leaf -- large, tropical, glowing and GREEN. Thanks for being there, Olbrich Gardens. I'll take my fix of green any way I can get it, even if I have to go to the tropics vicariously.