Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Transit of Venus - This won't happen again until 2117!

The Transit of Venus - The Last to Occur in Your Lifetime!

Late in the afternoon of June 5 there will be a rare astronomical event - a transit of Venus.  How rare?  The next occurrence will be December 10-11, 2117, so this is our last chance to see the transit of Venus in our lifetimes. is a transit of Venus?
When Venus passes directly between earth and the sun, we see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun.  Historically, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system. 

Transits of Venus occur in 243 year cycle with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.  The last one was in June of 2004 but it was cloudy that day. Transits of Venus were used to help determine the distance between earth and sun and this upcoming one is expected to help refine techniques for the search for exoplanets.

If the sky is clear, Rey Center Board Member and Resident Amateur Astronomer, Al Larsson, will be setting up a telescope at the Curious George Cottage parking lot and you should plan to arrive by 6:00PM to see the beginning - the transit starts at 6:03.  We can continue to watch the process until sunset.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Al's scope has a special solar filter so the sun may be safely viewed.  Without the proper filter the sun’s rays could destroy the telescope but, more importantly, could instantly destroy your vision!  Don’t look at the sun during this event and in particular don’t look with binoculars or a telescope without special filtering like his.

Thanks to Al Larsson for this post!
Here is hoping for clear skies so that we can all witness this historic event.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hummingbird clearwing

Check out the cool moth that was found on a Viburnum plant at the Curious George Cottage on May 23, 2012. If you see this moth in flight you might mistake it for a hummingbird, which is why it is called the Hummingbird clearwing. This is one type of moth that is active during the day. So keep your eyes peeled and you might see the Hummingbird clearwing sipping nectar from a flower.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Valley Bird Walks Begin Again

White-winged Crossbill

We had our first Valley Bird Walk of the season this morning - and we weren't disappointed! Our most exciting find occurred as soon as we stepped off the front porch of the Curious George Cottage. Three White-winged Crossbills, two males and one female, were right in front of our noses in the vegetation surrounding the drainage channel between the Cottage and the Curious George Nature Trail. It was a great opportunity to get a long look at these unique birds up close and and personal. The crossbill gets its name from its unique bill, which enables it to deftly extract seeds from cones of coniferous trees (especially trees such as spruce and tamarack). An individual crossbill can extract 3,000 conifer seeds in one day!

Our other unusual sighting was a pair of solitary sandpipers foraging along the shores of Corcoran Pond. Shorebirds are tricky to identify, but after a great look at one that spent several minutes working a muddy section of shore right in front of us, we were able to positively identify the bird! Which can be a challenge with shorebirds - especially for those of us that spend a lot of our time in the mountains! The sandpipers we saw were in route along their migratory journey. They spend the winter in South and Central America and spend their summers in marshy areas throughout Canada. They can be seen during migration along the shores and banks of freshwater ponds and rivers.

Our complete list for the morning:
Pine Siskin
White-winged Crossbill
Magnolia Warbler
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
European Starling
Belted Kingfisher
Common Yellowthroat
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Grey Catbird
Solitary Sandpiper
Northern Parula
Barn Swallow