Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sunrise and sunset and Owls

First screech owl moments before fly-out, December 10, 2005

2nd Screech Owl just before fly-out, December 10, 2005

Both Screech Owls just after Fly-out-- 5:10 pm, December 10, 2005
Photos by Bruce Yolton

Today the two screech owls that roost together in a tree hollow right at the edge of a busy car road flew out a few minutes after 5:00 pm. [[Amazing night photos hot off the presses above] By the end of the month they will be flying out closer to 5:15 pm. That is because the time of sunset will be fifteen minutes later by then.

Many of you think, as I long did, that the winter solstice marks the time when sunset begins to come later, and sunrise earlier. Maybe it works that way at the Equator, but not in this neck of the woods, New York City. Nothing really changes on December 21st.

According to the US Naval Observatory's statistic for New York City, the sun sets at 4:29 today, December 10th. That is one minute later than it set yesterday, or the day before. From today on the sun begins to set later and later until June, 2006. Hurray!

And yet December 10th is more than ten days before the actual solstice,
December 21. The difference is at the other end of the day. Though the sunset is getting later, the sun will continue to rise later and later long after the solstice day.

Today the sun rose at 7:09 a.m. It will keep rising later until... January 9th! On that day the sun will rise at 7:20 a.m. After that it will rise earlier and earlier and the mornings will get lighter and lighter. January 9th is the turn-around day for sunrise -- another day to celebrate.

So I am proposing two new holidays to take the place of the old pagan celebrations of the solstice. Let's give a cheer for December 10th and January 9th--the glorious Turn-around Days. They hold out the promise that the Early Birders, the Wednesday morning birdwatching group whose meeting time is 7:00 a.m., won't have to convene in the dark for much longer, and that soon owl worshippers will be able to gather at Owl Fly-outs at the end of the work day, not in mid-afternoon.