Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Towhee, the Evening Star, and the Hunt

Eastern Towhee
 For the third year in a row, I was able to stop by Nahanton Park on New Year's Day. This year though, I didn't arrive until 3:30pm in the fading light and cold temperatures. I started making my way around the garden and my first year bird at the park was a Black-capped Chickadee calling from the brush around the lower garden. It was very quiet. But soon a robin called and I heard rustling on the ground in the back corner of the gardens. I was quite shocked to find 2 male Eastern Towhees flipping through the leaf litter. They are getting to be pretty late for this far north, and a great New Year's Day find.

Sunset with Venus, the Evening Star
As I was watching the Towhees, two birders appeared. I was excited to share the late Towhees and as we neared the other birder asked, "Have you heard it?"
   "Heard what?" I was confused.
   "The Northern Saw-whet Owl!?"
And this was how I learned of Haynes' find the morning of New Year's Day. What a fantastic bird to find.

So we made introductions and started to keep vigil hoping to hear the monotonous, incessantly repeating "toot toot toot" call of the Northern Saw-whet Owl. We made a few passes around the lower gardens not wanting to stray too far. Tim was able to put me onto an American Tree Sparrow, which I always think is a great New Year's Day bird.

As the light started to fail my eyes turned to the sky while my ears still were tuned in for owls. After viewing Jupiter on New Year's Eve, I was primed for gazing up. With the sun set behind the horizon, the Evening Star made itself evident in the western sky (click to enlarge if you can't see Venus). Upon raising my binoculars, I could just make out that Venus was not a solid round disk, but instead a crescent. Apparently, Venus will be its closest to Earth on January 11th, which means it will be directly between the Sun and Earth. For a couple of weeks on either side of this date, Venus will be just a sliver of a crescent (see article). The second picture I should have taken with a higher shutter speed to more fully appreciate how narrow the crescent really is. I read
The Crescent of Venus
that last night, only 3.4% of the planet was illuminated! Even though such a small portion of Venus is illuminated, its bightness and proximity to us makes it appear quite large in the sky.

At 6:30 I was frozen. My shoes and socks were too thin to keep the cold of the frozen ground from creeping into my feet. After one last loop around the area without hearing any owls, I decided to head home to thaw. Even just the Towhees and Tree Sparrow would have make it a great afternoon (full list here). Then throw in a crescent Venus and the hunt for the Saw-whet Owl and I had a wonderful start to the New Year at Nahanton.

1 comment:

  1. Matt,

    I have been secretly hoping against hope that the towhees were still there and just not making themselves known. I am so excited that you found them. It's the coolest thing ever. I went the evening that Haynes heard the saw-whet, but couldn't hear it myself. Maybe I'll check it out later today.