C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) Comet

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) Comet in the northwest sky after sunset at Duck Creek C.A.

The NEOWISE Comet, whose actual name is C/2020 F3, was a pleasant surprise for the astronomical community who await such events as a newly discovered comet. First discovered in late March, the comet grew steadily brighter, eventually becoming the brightest comet to be seen in the northern hemisphere since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. According to the experts, this comet had an orbital period of about 4,400 years prior to making its latest trip through the inner solar system. It will now be another 6,700 years before beings on earth will be able to see it again.

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) Comet image taken at 200 mm focal length

I have long had a very strong interest in astronomy and astrophotography and the current pandemic has allowed me to do quite a bit of studying on both topics. Hopefully soon I can get the practice in this area that I desperately need. Although it has some issues, I was relatively pleased at capturing the closeup of the comet pictured above.

Although I had a star-tracking mount that would have been perfect for this situation, I had not yet used it so I did not make this the first time. This image was “untracked” using a full-frame camera and a 200 mm lens. It is comprised of 20 “light” images (the actual photos of the comet) taken at 3.2 seconds per exposure. The aperture was f/2.8 and the ISO/gain was 6400. I combined these images with 10 “dark” frames for noise reduction purposes.

The processing here could be better and I might give it another try sometime. But, both tails of the comet are visible and I think the background stars came out alright as well.

Milky Way at Lee’s Bluff, MO

After awhile the comet began to dive towards the horizon with the remnant glow from twilight. I happened to show up at Lee’s Bluff on the same night as accomplished Missouri nightscape photographer, Dan Zarlenga, and so we both turned our tripods around to the south and found this lovely scene. Here, the Milky Way has recently risen above a nice foreground of trees. Again, I wish I would have been a bit more prepared with a plan, but I guess this isn’t too bad.

-OZB

 

Playing Around with Infrared

Woodland Infrared

I have had some opportunity lately to try for infrared landscapes with my converted Canon 5D mkii. There is still so much I want to try with this, but between summer laziness and a lack of time and opportunity, I get by with what I can. The image above was taken in an Illinois woodland.

Infrared White Oak

I found this white oak in the same woodland and it screamed for the IR treatment. I’m still getting the hang of processing the images from the “supercolor IR conversion” of this camera. Although the basics are simple, I find the plethora of options one has in processing these files to be a bit intimidating. I’m trying to go a little more on the subtle side with these, but there’s a fine line between just enough and too much.

Hughes Mountain in IR

These final three images were taken at Hughes Mountain C.A. – a place that I find begs for the infrared photographic treatment. These were taken on one of the evenings of potential for extra color from the Sahara sandstorms. There was nothing extra for the sunset due to these storms other than increased haze, but the high clouds made for interesting skies in IR.

Hughes Mountain in IR

Finding green plants in the glade areas is important in getting the contrasts for an IR image. This hasn’t been a very wet summer but there was some green still left among the rocks. Optimally, it would be best to try in late spring to early summer to get this setting just right.

Hughes Mountain in IR

So these were some of my first serious attempts at IR landscapes with the newly converted camera. If you have any suggestions for improvement, particularly in the processing area, I would be grateful to listen.

-OZB

Return to Black Mountain Cascades

Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020
Camera settings: f/11, 1/3 sec., ISO-250, 17mm focal length.

I’ve posted images of the cascades on Black Mountain before. After some good rains, Casey and I visited this past March with hopes of making it to the top. This is not an easy hike, but Casey had not yet seen most of the cascades. This was our intention, but it was quickly realized that the overcast afternoon we were promised was not going to be. So, we utilized the few clouds remaining to the best of our ability and climbed high enough to find some falls hidden behind canyon walls that blocked the harsh afternoon sun.

Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/11, 1/2 sec., ISO-100, 24 mm focal length.
Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/11, 0.6 sec., ISO-100, 24 mm focal length.
Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/14, 1/2 sec., ISO-200, 25 mm focal length.
Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/14, 1/2 sec., ISO-100, 20 mm focal length.

Return to Vilander Bluff

Autumn View of Vilander Bluff
f/11, ISO-160, 32 mm focal length, three exposure blend of 1/60, 1/15, 1/4 sec.

I had a great time introducing some photographer friends of mine to one of my favorite places in the state, Vilander Bluff. With the largest bluffs on the Meramec River, to get the type of view seen here requires a little bit of effort. Dave and I put in some work in finding this new-to-me perspective that was well worth the bit of effort and risk. Next time we’ll need to bring climbing ropes…

Blazing Maple
f/5.6, 1/6 sec., ISO-1250, 45 mm focal length

Wallen Creek Shut-ins

Wallen Creek Shut-ins. Getting it all in.
f/14, 1/2 sec., ISO-200, 29 mm focal length.

Many thanks to Casey Galvin tracking this one down and to the property owners allowing us access.

Wallen Creek Shut-ins.
f 5.6, 1/10 sec., ISO-100, (0 mm focal length.
Wallen Creek Shut-ins.
f/11, 1/2 sec., ISO-125, 90 mm focal length, vertical stitch of three images.
Wallen Creek Shut-ins
f/8, 1/5 sec., ISO-160, 90 mm focal length.
Wallen Creek Shut-ins swirling
f/14, 15 sec., ISO-200, 19 mm focal length.

Ozark Bill Goes Down Under!?!?

Wilson’s Promontory National Park. The hills in the Prom peak at about 550 meters (~1640 feet).

The Australia trip is over and I’m finally getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Our flight miles added up to nearly 21,500 miles and Collin and I drove approximately 3,400 miles in country. I have been spending lots of hours during the past few days going over the nearly 6,000 photos I took during the trip and have roughly finalized my bird list – 89 species, with a couple yet to ID from photos. Not nearly enough to match my dreams, but getting to see a bit over 10% of the continent’s birds (~850 species) while on a work trip is nothing to complain about, I guess.

Here is a good look at tea tree scrub and heath habitats that cover much of the Prom.

On our last day in country we visited Wilson’s Promontory National Park. What an impact this place had on me. Take something like our Yosemite NP and surround it by ocean on three sides, fill it with unique habitats, exotic birds and marsupials and you have an idea of what the ‘Prom’ is like. Of course, one day was only enough to wet my appetite. Two weeks would have been better.

This is looking upstream of Tidal River, the largest river in the park. Birds and wombats were plentiful.

Entry fees for national parks in Australia vary by state. In Victoria, all NP’s are free to enter and all other states charge a very affordable rate. This makes me wonder why the cost of our parks are going through the roof and why so many state parks (not in MO) charge an entry fee. Priorities, I guess.

A higher elevation look at Tidal River. On this short hike we we chorused by Laughing Kookaburra and saw a number of parrots.

Here are a few of my favorite landscapes from the Prom that should give an idea of the diversity of habitats this place offers. All of these were taken less than three miles from the few roads that lie within the park.

A pano showing the meanderings of Tidal River.

 

The coastlines of the Prom were magnificent. If it weren’t for the 40-50 mph steady winds, coming in from the ocean, Collin and I would have loved to explore these areas more. Silver Gulls were the predominant bird species along these western-facing beaches.

 

Another look at the coastline. The interesting plant in the foreground is Euphorbia paralias (sea spurge). I found out later that, unfortunately, this is an exotic invasive from Europe that is causing problems along the coast of southern Australia and Tasmania. I wish I’d have known. I would have spent a few minutes pulling.

How I Spent Superb Owl Sunday

For the first time since junior high I did not watch a single down or minute of the NFL this season and I couldn’t be happier for it.  Rape my town three times, NFL – shame on you.  I’ve been pleased to get those precious free minutes back for my Sundays, several of which I found I could spend not dreading the upcoming workweek.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

When the forecast showed a near perfect meteorological condition for shooting the Short-eared Owls of BK Leach, I figured this could be promising.  While most other naked apes with functioning vision would be in front of the picture box and ingesting mass quantities of wings and beer, I would enjoy the warm and lightly breezy evening in my own kind of chair with friends of a different sort.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Of course there is never a sure thing.  Often, when I have expected the best due to light and temperature, the owls don’t show where I set myself.  On this particular day, all conditions came together and I had a super time.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

I want to give huge thanks for my lovely and talented wife, Sarah, for the special help she gave me this season in getting my best to date SEOW in flight shots.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

A perfect day ended in the perfect way – with a great sunset on the Lincoln Hills.

Sunset on the Lincoln Hills
Sunset on the Lincoln Hills

Until next time…
-OZB

Location Spotlight – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles

Missouri's Palisades? Little St. Francis River Pinnacles - Madison County, MO
Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

“The Pinnacles are not easy to reach but a visit to the site is worth a considerable amount of time and effort.  Differential weathering of vertically fractured pink porphyry created a sheer bluff cresting a hundred feet above the bed of the Little St. Francis River.  Individual columns rising as monoliths above the bluff are responsible for the name, but the bluff per se is even more spectacular than the pinnacles.  The site could be compared to the Palisades of the Hudson and merits photography but defies the lazy or poor planner.”

Thomas R. Beveridge
Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri

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Missouri’s Pallisades? – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Eight different pinnacles are listed in the Legacy that Dr. Beveridge left this state.  This particular pinnacles, along with associated geological features, is located in the St. Francois Mountains, just a stone’s throw away from a number of other classic destinations of this area.  Steve and I had been discussing our potential route for this excursion for quite some time.  We had tried once for an overland route but could not find or did not wish to aproach the private property owners and so decided that a water route was the best option for us.  This past November, with leaves being mostly fallen and temperatures being much warmer than average, was the perfect opportunity to try out our designed route.

This destination lies on a stretch of the Little St. Francis River (LSF) approximately 1.5 – 2.0 miles upstream from its confluence with the St. Francis River.  We knew that water levels were on the low side but we were completely uncertain what this would mean for traveling upstream into the LSF.  Would there be any navigable water at all?  If not, would it be possible to navigate within its bed by foot?  Facing the possibility of failure, we decided to give it a shot.  We loaded the canoe onto the powerful, symmetrical all wheel drive Subaru Forester and hit the road.

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Love. It’s what makes a boxer a boxer…

 

We dropped off Steve’s truck at our takeout –  the Cedar Bottom Creek bridge and put into the St. Francis at Silver Mines Recreation Area.  With the sun directly in our eyes (as almost always seems to be the case), it was a pleasant and short paddle downstream to its confluence with the LSF.  See the following map for the highlighted route that we took that day.

stfrancis

Arriving at the confluence, our spirits were lifted.  We were forced to push a little to get over a sandbar, but the route upstream was slow and just deep enough to allow for paddling most of the way.  We portaged a few times, but we expected worse.

Steve Emptying his Boots
Steve emptying his boots

After taking in the initial views of the bluffs, we were naturally drawn to see the pinnacles themselves up close.  A quick lung-burning climb and we were there.

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Ozark Monolith – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Although not the tallest of these spires, this monolith was the more picturesque.  I have other photography plans in mind for this guy if I can ever visit again.  See below to see Steve in the frame for scale.

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Monolithic – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

The views from atop the bluff were quite nice.  The primary hill that faces south was Tin Mill Mountain and Pine Mountain lies to the north.  Here is an example of the rhyolite porphyry that composes the majority of this bluff.

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Rhyolite Porphyry Bluff – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

This place reminded us a lot of Lee’s Bluff, which was not surprising due to how close these locations are to one another.  However, the pinnacles here brought a bit more visual interest.  Here Steve poses with a small, but likely ancient cedar, clutched within a crack that is probably older than the human species.

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Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

To conclude, here I captured Steve doing a belly crawl to the edge of the bluff.  As I say so often, I long for another visit here.  It seems the LSF has several other features to share.  I hope we can one day float the entire ~15 miles with a couple or more feet of water.  There are apparently a couple of stretches of shut-ins that shouldn’t be missed.

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Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Until next time…
-OZB

 

Floating the Upper Current

Upper Current in Autumn
Upper Current in Autumn

I’m finally ready to share a few more images from a float down the upper third or so of the Current River that Steve and I had the great fortune to experience this past October.  We started at navigable mile 8.0 at Cedar Grove Access and pulled out three days later at mile 51, the confluence of the Current and that other, oh-so desirable, Ozark stream – the Jacks Fork.  If one floats slow and quiet, the opportunity to see wildlife is very high in this National Park (Ozark National Scenic Riverways N.P.).  I’v shared a couple of images of these guys previously.  I believe we found 8-9 Mink during the first day of this float.  It was enjoyable watching them busily hunt along the stream banks, mostly oblivious to our presence.  As usual, Steve did a great job in keeping us quiet and pointed in the optimal direction for capturing some images.

American Mink
American Mink

It was quite a challenge to keep up with these guys as they fished.  This one below had caught a nice-sized crayfish and barely slowed to stop and enjoy his snack.

Ozark Lobster!
Ozark Lobster!

Here is a photo of one investigating the water prior to dipping back in.

Testing the Water
Testing the Water

Not only does a float down the Current allow for great observations of wildlife, but many geological features are most easily seen by being on the river as well.  Cave Spring can now be accessed via a nice newer trail, but it is much nicer accessing it by boat.  The endpoint of a vast and interesting karst drainage system, Cave Spring rises from the back of a short cave.  At the rear of this cave one can guide a boat over the vertical conduit of the spring, which is ~155 feet deep!  What an eerie sensation it is to shine your light down and still see no more than a fraction of the length of the conduit shaft.  In the image below, I am on a dry exposed shelf adjacent to the spring’s outlet and Steve is guiding the canoe towards the river.

Cave Spring
Cave Spring

Pultite is a spring found on this upper stretch of the Current River that is surrounded on all sides except the river by private property.  This means that one must boat or wade/swim to visit it.  At only ~ 1/10 the output of Big Spring, Pultite is still quite a good-sized spring with and average daily output of ~ 25 million gallons.  The effluent channel on this one is quite attractive and I hope to visit more often.

Pultite Channel
Pultite Channel

If day one was for the Mink, day two was our River Otter day.  We had no Mink, but 5 or 6 of these large weasels were spotted.

North American River Otter
North American River Otter

Not to forget the birds!  These days, a trip to nearly any permanent Missouri water source will likely bring an encounter with a Bald Eagle.  Observing these guys in the Ozarks will never get old to me.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Another constant companion on these floats are the Fish Crows, here pictured finishing up a little Ozark lobster.

Fish Crow
Fish Crow

We were fortunate in having mostly clear and dry skies on this trip, which allowed us to throw our bags directly on whatever gravel bar that struck our fancy and sleep directly underneath the stars.  A morning fire was necessary – not only to burn the dew off of our sleeping bags, but of course, for the river-water French-press coffee.  Dark skies on these streams afford great opportunities for astrophotography.  My only wish for this trip is that I was a little more tolerant of the cold, tiredness and laziness that limited my patience for getting better nightscape images… 😉

Nightscape on the Upper Current
Nightscape on the Upper Current

I will be posting more images of this trip on my Flickr account in the near future.  Thanks for visiting and I hope to post again in the near future.

-OZB