Thursday, March 02, 2006

Owl- and moon-watchers

"The old moon in the new moon's arms" -- 6:15 pm -- 3/1/06 Photo by Bruce Yolton

Last night the West Drive owl watchers observed one screech-owl fly out at 6:02. For the third day in a row no second owl was seen. Two owls flew out on Saturday and Sunday. After that only one. Is the second owl possibly sitting on eggs and being fed by her mate? That would explain the absence. Did last Friday's close encounter with a passing car have something to do with the owl's absence?. Or did that same owl move to a new location as a consequence of Friday's mishap? Or [most likely] is there some other explanation? The owl watchers last night were a bit gloomy.

Their spirits were lifted by the breathtaking sight of a bright crescent moon at the western horizon, which Bruce captured digitally -- see above. They did not see the planet Mercury, which was visible last night just under the setting moon ; that sight would have required a higher viewing spot than the owl-fly-out location. But one of the watchers had seen the moon and planet the night before: Mitch, an accomplished amateur astronomer, had traveled to the heights of Fort Tryon Park on Feb. 28 and seen the stunning appearance of planet and moon.

Last night as the owl watchers were still mulling over the various possibilites, Mitch pointed out another exciting phenomenon. At 6:30, clearly visible just under the reddish planet Mars, a bright moving object appeared. It was making its way swiftly across the sky in a northward direction. Clearly not an airplane [no flashing lights etc.], it was the upper stage of the booster rocket of the Space Satellite Cosmos 2098, which had been launched in 1991. We gawked in wonder, and then thanked our lucky stars we had this treasure-trove of astronomical and astro-physical knowledge in our midst.

One owl lost and, in compensation, one owl found: After being out of sight for a few days, the red-phase screech-owl was seen dozing in the entrance of the London Plane roost-hole, one of her usual two. Lloyd Spitalnik sent in the photograph above.