Friday, March 31, 2017

Winter Revisits

Winter has revisited here briefly, and it's actually a 'Texas Low' that moved up through the states.  You'd think that would be warm wouldn't you, but it brings lots of moisture and then bumps into the arctic air still sitting up here, and that moisture changes to snow or ice.  So we've had a messy 24 hours of light snow changing to freezing rain changing to rain.  Just a yucky, cold, drizzly day today.

The storm never-the-less turned out mostly to be the storm that wasn't.  Compared to the forecast of up to 10 cm. of snow again, this was pretty mild.   And freezing rain when the temperature is rising rarely turns out to cause big problems, 'cause it just melts.

It was very patchy freezing rain overnight, leaving some places decorated in ice, while in other areas it really wasn't apparent.

There wasn't much snow, but just enough to cover the ground, with a strong wind.  It left interesting patterns across the ploughed fields, snow accumulating in the furrows, and then everything covered in a thin layer of ice.  Here are a few pix.

Looking forward to the next few days of warmer temperatures and sunshine!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Starry Nights

It was a wonderful clear starry night two days ago, and I headed out at 11 p.m. with my camera and my tripod.  The Weather Network had suggested we might see Northern Lights even this far south in Canada, but no such luck.  However there were billions of stars!

Perhaps the most easily recognized constellation, the Big Dipper, was almost directly overhead, and therefore upside down.

And across the North Star from the Big Dipper, down near the northern horizon, was Cassiopeia, the 'Big W'.  It's a rather distorted 'W', but you can probably pick it out here in the centre of the picture, at a 60° angle.

This is exactly the same picture, but I just edited it to increase the exposure, making thousands more stars visible.  It shows how amazing the universe is, but it actually makes it harder to pick out individual constellations, because there are so many stars it's confusing.

The 'Big W' still shows up on the left of this picture, but it also captures part of the constellation Draco, the Dragon.  Its head is that awkward rhomboid shape on the right hand side of the picture.  And just left of centre is the constellation Cepheus, but I couldn't figure out which of these many stars match it.  The line of flashing light is a plane headed into Toronto Airport in a 30 second exposure.

But in a darker photo, cropped down a little, Cepheus becomes very obvious.  That's the 'Big W' on the left, and on the right of centre is a distorted square, with a fifth star far about it like a high-peaked roof on a house; those five stars are Cepheus.

Looking to the west of the 'Big W', which you can see on the right hand side here, are another group of constellations.  The most obvious is the small dense cluster of stars down near our house, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.  Right in the middle of the picture, where there's a confused group of stars, is the constellation Perseus,

Looking west you can see the well known constellation Orion, the Hunter.  It's a winter constellation here, and at this season it's disappearing, the lower right star already below the horizon, the whole constellation on a 45° angle.  Three stars in the middle make up its belt, and three smaller ones below form its sword.  The top bright star of the left shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red giant.  And another plane, this one leaving Toronto, and heading west.

And looking south you can see Jupiter, the largest of our planets, now passing through the constellation Virgo, just above the bright star Spica in the centre of the picture.  Two more planes headed into Toronto, and the glowing lights of Toronto on the horizon, 100 km. away.  

Just for fun, a car going past on the road.  I heard it coming and turned the tripod to capture it.

If you're interested in the photography, all of these were 30 second exposures, with the camera on a tripod, the aperture set wide open (on this lens that was f/3.5), ISO 1600, and focal length 18 mm.  This meant setting the camera on Manual, in which case 30 seconds is the longest exposure I can take without holding down the shutter.  But stars move, and 30 seconds is a bit long, because the stars move slightly in this time.  Sharper (but darker) pictures would result at 15 second exposures.  Some editing was done to effectively increase the exposure even longer.

You may wonder at my listing names of the constellations, and recognizing them, but this has been a favourite interest for a long time.  My dad taught navigation during WWII, by the stars in those days, flying over rural Manitoba and teaching how to recognize the constellations.  To be honest I've always had trouble beyond the easy three (the Big Dipper, the Big W, and Orion), but I sat here for two hours tonight with my Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, and these photographs, and slowly figured out at least some of what was what.  Never before have I actually been able to successfully identify this many constellations, so I'm pleased.  You may get more star photos in the future!

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spring has Sprung!!

The biggest seasonal change of the year is underway!  Pick your indicator - first flower, last snow, first Turkey Vulture, first Spring Peepers.  We had them all today, a beautiful and busy blue sky day (before tomorrow's freezing rain and snow)!

I'm running out of pictures for the blog, so I went out into the yard briefly, and there they were, a small but bright blue patch of Dwarf Iris, a stunning royal blue.  My favourite, and usually first, spring flower.

In last year's debris of the scree garden, the patch of blue stood out like a beacon, and there are quite a few yet to bloom.

Our tiny patch of Snowdrops is also unfolding, almost in bloom after fighting their way up through the leaf litter.

See the snow - it's GONE!  Today the last little white patch of snow where I blew the snow off the driveway into a pile, vanished.  Perhaps the dullest picture I've ever posted, but it's gone.  Unfortunately, when you have a gravel driveway, a snowblower the size of mine picks up a fair bit of gravel, especially in the first two or three storm events.  Every spring I have to rake it up into little piles, gather it up, and toss it back on the driveway, one of those early spring chores.

We're still getting lots of morning frost (here on a cedar rail in the fence) as the night-time temperature drops below freezing, but on a day like today the sun burns it off by 9 a.m.

And we've seen our first Turkey Vultures, here the way you actually see them, a distant black pair of wings in the sky.  Had to dig into the archives for this one, taken a year ago on a hike up to some cliffs here in the valley.

Another rather dull picture, but standing here we heard our first Spring Peepers, and a solitary Spring Chorus Frog (if only I could photograph the sound!)  So that's the first flower, the first Turkey Vulture, and the first frogs calling, all in 24 hours!  Spring has truly started, even though snow is forecast for tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More Ships

There were two more ships berthed in Owen Sound harbour when I was there last week, the Algoma Olympic, another bulk carrier, and the Chi-Cheemaun, our favourite ferry.

The Chi-Cheemaun can be found here every winter, with a skeleton crew living onboard keeping all the systems running and ready.  It runs between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island from about May 24 until Thanksgiving.  Unusually, the Algoma Olympic had reversed into the harbour, and was berthed ready to head out into Georgian Bay.

But I first approached it from the other end, walking along the dock that`s all open to the public.  This walk seems to be a good balance of an industrial site that is safely accessible.  Closer to the downtown there are a number of historical plaques outlining the history of shipping in the harbour.

Actually I took this picture because the pattern of the street lights appealed to me, but you can also see the stairs that is lowered for staff to access the ship while it`s berthed here for a long time.  You can also see one of the large electrical cables that they run to the ship for such a stay.  Must be interesting to live onboard an inactive ship for 3 months.

This ship has a square stern, which helps increase the hold capacity, and lots of activity onboard at the moment.  Those double dark square towers are the smokestacks.  Although I didn`t get a picture to illustrate it, this ship is another self-unloading bulk carrier like the two ships I featured yesterday.  It has carried a lot of coal, but also carries salt and grain on occasion.

The crew was obviously busy with maintenance activities, though I have no idea exactly what they`re doing.  There are five men working on things in this photo if you can spot them.

The Chi-Cheemaun (`big canoe`) ferry is berthed on the far side of the harbour.  Since we once owned a cottage on Manitoulin Island, we have travelled on this ship at least 40 or 50 times.  We got to know it quite well.  It loads and unloads from both stern and bow, letting vehicles drive straight through.  It`s large enough to handle full size trucks and buses.

The current paint job features an interesting native design on the smokestack.  Both the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island have significant First Nation communities, with strong and creative artistic interests.  Although it`s a good size for a ferry, it is dwarfed by the nearby lakers.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ships in Harbour

There were three big lake freighters in harbour in Owen Sound the other day, and I'm always fascinated by those big ships.  They were all floating high, probably empty of cargoes for the winter, and anxious to get moving again.

When the John D. Leitch was built, in St. Catherines, Ontario, it was the largest self-unloading bulk carrier on the lakes; now it's the oldest such ship, though it's had a major refit.

Originally it was built to carry coal for Ontario Hydro, but now that Ontario has phased out coal power generating stations, it can carry grain, iron ore, gravel and other bulk cargoes.  John Leitch owned Upper Lakes Shipping, but the business has been sold to Algoma Central, who have kept his name on this ship.

It took a little walking around to get a picture of the full ship, but the cement dock isn't busy of course, so I was able to walk under the loading tower for that and get these pictures.  This ship has been called the "little bank building on floats" because of its tall wheelhouse that looks a bit like a corporate building.

I think it must have taken a team of boathands to drag this chain up and onto the pier.  A lot of other ropes are holding it close all along the dock.

On the other side of the harbour was the Algoway, another bulk carrier.  It carries the same range of bulk cargoes, including salt from the mines underneath the harbour in Goderich.

Owned by Algoma Central, this ship was built in Collingwood when there was still ship-building in the harbour there.  It's a little smaller than the John D. Leitch.

This is the huge boom for loading and unloading, 250 feet long.  It can swing out at right angles to help load or unload.  On older ships there might be several cranes unloading bulk cargo out of each hold, and corresponding cranes on shore to load each hold.  Loading with a bucket on a crane is a slow process!

On ships like this, conveyor belts do all the work.  They run along the bottom of the ship so the cargo can be dropped down onto them.  Then they rise up an elevator and drop onto the 2nd main conveyor belt that runs along this boom, extending onshore.  It can drop piles of coal on a dock, or drop grain into a receiving bin for an elevator.  All the magic is actually out of sight, and it makes shipping much safer than it has been in the past.  Dust control is also much better if the conveyor belts are enclosed in a tunnel.  You can find a neat video that illustrates all this here.

The rear superstructure looked freshly painted,

But the wheelhouse definitely looked like it could use a fresh coat of paint!

And the hull looked like it had either run through a lot of ice, or they were preparing to repaint it.

Looming over all of this were the Owen Sound grain elevators, though none of these ships are necessarily carrying grain.

And stretching to the north, behind the Algoway, is the blue water of Georgian Bay.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Winter's Last Gasp - I hope!

We had a very light bit of freezing rain over Friday night, and woke to tiny ice pellets falling off the trees into the leaves below.  It was like a light rattling coming from all directions.

Little drops of ice decorated the White Pine, rapidly melting and turning into drips of water.

Looking upwards through the pine needles gave a very different impression.

Back in the meadow, the bare twigs of the Tamarack were marked with plenty of ice drops, as well as the tiny cones ready to grow and unfold.

Looking through an old apple tree.  By mid-morning the sun had melted all the ice and our last winter storm (?) was gone.

Hopefully that bit of freezing rain was winter's last gasp.  The snow along the fencerow is almost gone, and will probably be totally gone in 24 hours.

The big pile of snow where I blow snow off the driveway will take a little longer, but it is shrinking rapidly, down to 18 inches from 4 feet.

And underneath the snow we've had for 4 months, the mosses and lichens on logs and boulders provide the brightest bit of immediate green as spring tries to drive winter away and take over.

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