Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nature's Brightest Colors

Some of the most colorful, most beautiful pictures that I have taken in nature were taken this time of year. With the right timing and circumstances you can see those colors too.

Sunrises and sunsets seem their brightest on a cold winter’s morning or evening. Beautiful orange and red sunrises and sunsets are caused by dust particles scattering the sunlight into its composite colors. Tiny particles in the air usually create orange colors. Larger particles create reds, due to the way the light bends and scatters. If you live in a large city or industrial area you are most likely to see red sunsets because pollution particles are larger. We mostly see orange around here. You don’t see the blues and violets in sunrises or sunsets because those shorter wavelength colors get scattered. I get more pictures of sunrises because my view to the east is unobstructed by houses. But, supposedly, beautiful sunsets are more common than sunrises because there is more dust in the air at the end of the day than at the beginning. Clouds above the horizon, but not blocking the sun, reflect the colors and make the scene more dramatic.

Rainbows. There is nothing like a beautiful rainbow to raise your spirits and get everyone excited. We have all seen rainbows, and here are some facts to help you spot more.

Rainbows are formed when water droplets (rain) reflect and bend regular sunlight into the multiple colors that form all light. When the colors are blended together you see normal light. But when rain reflects and refracts the light you can see the separate colors. To see a rainbow the sun must be at your back and the rain in front of you. It needs to be raining in one part of the sky and the sun needs to be shining in another part. Most rainbows happen in the afternoon towards the east. The lower the sun is in the sky, the higher the rainbow. That is a law of physics. Rare double rainbows happen when conditions are just right and the light is reflected twice by the water droplets. The secondary rainbow will be just above the primary rainbow, and, the colors will be reversed.

Just about every culture and religion has legends and myths about rainbows. To some cultures, a rainbow signifies war. To others it is peace or a bridge to heaven. One Bulgarian legend says that if a person passes under a rainbow that their thinking will change gender. In other words, a man will start thinking like a woman…now that is a scary thought. And, by the way, the pot of gold theory doesn’t really work, I tried it.

One last bright beautiful color this time of year that I can’t fail to mention is blue. Male bluebirds are about as bright blue right now as they will be all year. If you have them around you know what I mean.

Usually we think of winter as being dull, grey, brown, and pretty colorless. But winter can have some of the most vivid colors of the year. Watch for them. Your winter will be brighter.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winter sunrises

Winter seems to be a great time to see beautiful sunrises here in Eastern Tennessee. Here are a couple of recent ones.

All of these pictures were taken from my back deck looking east at around 6:30 am CST.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cheap Fun!

Are you looking for some winter fun that is low cost, extremely satisfying, and even stress reducing? I have a solution for you and all the information to get you started.

You don’t need a TV to bring that nature show into your living room. Just hang a bird feeder or two outside your window and you will bring nature to you. I have about 20 different kinds of birds outside my kitchen window every day. Watching the little guys is fun, interesting, educational, relaxing, and sometimes even funny.

Here is a list of the most frequent birds that I have seen at my feeders, and the ones that you can probably expect to see too (in order of quantity). Goldfinches, doves, Bluebirds, woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed, Northern Flicker, Pileated, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Carolina wrens. There are more; those are just the most common visitors to birdfeeders.

If you would like to see some of these guys outside your window, here are my recommendations to get started. Even if you are already feeding birds, some of these suggestions might help.

You will get the largest variety of birds by using several different types of feeders. Ground feeders attract birds that like to eat on the ground like Doves, Juncos, Cardinals and Carolina Chickadees. Hanging feeders and platform feeders are preferred by Titmice, Chickadees, and others. For goldfinches you will want special nyjer seed feeders. Bluebirds, woodpeckers, and Titmice come to suet feeders. Bluebirds really love live mealworms on a tray feeder on your deck. Watch out for low-priced mixed seed. These often contain lots of “filler” seed like milo, red millet, wheat, or oats that most birds just scatter on the ground and don’t eat. You can’t go wrong with Black Oil Sunflower seeds.

Squirrels a problem? I have solved that problem completely. All of my feeders are on poles with predator guards and beyond jumping distance from trees. I have plenty of squirrels near my house but never a one in any feeder. You can feed squirrels corn at a separate location if that is your thing.

If you put seed on the ground or on a low platform feeder you will get an added bonus (or problem) depending on your outlook. I scatter a little seed on the ground for the ground feeding birds. The bonus for me is at night I have seen raccoons, skunks, and possums in my backyard looking for whatever the birds didn’t get. Deer will eat birdseed too.

Get a good bird book. I like Birds of Tennessee Field Guide or Stokes Field Guide to Birds – Eastern Region. Both have great pictures instead of just drawings.

Birds really don’t need us to feed them to survive the winter, but there are some studies that say the winter survival rate is slightly higher when bird feeders are available. My theory is that bird feeding is more important to our winter survival rate. With bird feeding you will ward off cabin fever, golf withdrawal syndrome, spousal overdose, and general malaise. Nature has a way of soothing all of those ills – and you can’t beat the cost.