Cloud Warp

September 18, 2019 

This is a time lapse from the top of Kusenbu Mountain. On this day, it was extremely windy, so I could not set up the camera on the observation deck. I had to set it up on a picnic table down on the ground. Some of the Dazaifu and Chikushino areas are visible through the gap in the trees.  At the end, the moon starts rising from the clouds. I didn’t have time to continue the time lapse, so I took a few pictures with the long lens and inserted one of them at the end of the video. The colors of the clouds that evening were magical.

Bells & Birds

September 10, 2019

  I for one, am happy the hot summer days are coming to a close. It means autumn is not too far away now. Cooler weather and trees losing their leaves goes hand in hand with birds becoming more active and  more visible.  Her in Japan, we have been getting more rain than usual, and also typhoons, but these past few days, the skies have turned blue. I took the opportunity to go out in the early morning with my new lens in hand; the Canon 400mm f5.6 prime. A great lens for bird photography because it is very sharp and focuses quickly. It’s only drawback (for me) is that it has no image stabilization. All of the following bird photos were taken with it, except for the flowers, which were taken with the Rokinon 16mm f2.0 prime, which is my go to lens for astrophotography, but also takes pretty good macro (close up) photos too.

                          Please click on photos for a larger view.

 

This video time lapse and the landscape photo above were taken on Kusenbu Mt. with the Canon 18-135 mm is usm nano lens.


 

Thank you for visiting my site!

 

 

 

Homeward Bound?

August 17, 2019   Last Wednesday, Fukuoka was sideswiped by a large typhoon named Krosa. Luckily, there wasn’t much damage by wind or rain in the area.  I decided to go to the top of a mountain near my home and do a cloud time lapse from late afternoon passing into night. The clouds just after a typhoon passes, are often of varied shapes and sizes, that are good subjects for photography.

  Before the sun could slip behind the mountains, the clouds descended upon me and the camera. I let the camera click away for about thirty minutes in hopes that the clouds would lift again, but it was not to be.

 Occasionally in the video, there are black specks. These were swifts flashing by just as the shutter clicked. I envy them their mastery of the air, flying just below and even among the clouds at times.    

Here is a video I uploaded to YouTube after Typhoon Jongdari passed over Fukuoka last July. It was never posted on this site.

  Thanks for visiting, and please come again.  Tom

Alps of the Sea at Omijima

August 11, 2019   I went to Omijima in Nagatomachi, Yamaguchi prefecture on the nights of August 9th and 11th to watch and photograph the night seas and skies. I went there last year for the same reason. Though it wasn’t the peak of the  annual Perseid meteors, you can still see quite a few, especially at a location that has dark skies, like Nagatomachi. I was able to see around 50 or so, though none of them appeared in any of the camera frames. Here is the time lapse of those two unforgettable nights.

Thanks for visiting!

Link to Nagatomachi     https://visit-nagato.com/en/sightseeing/naturalwonders/omijima/

Alpha Capricornid? Not!

  August 3, 2019        The dog days are upon us with a vengeance this year. If you think the phrase originates from the suffering of dogs in the heat of the summer, then you would be wrong. The phrase actually comes from the ancient Greeks and Romans. It correlates to the rising of the ‘Dog Star’ Sirius in the summer. Sirius is the brightest star in the heavens, and is located in the constellation Canis Major. It is so bright that the Greeks and Romans believed it increased the heat during summer months, among other things.

  Partly to escape the scorching heat during the daylight hours, but mostly to see and photograph the night skies and hopefully a meteor or two, I took the opportunity to drive to the aptly named Hoshinomura (Village of the Stars) at the end of July. Two meteor showers, the Delta Aquariids and the Alpha Capricornids would be active.

  After I set up the camera, it began to cloud up with low clouds rolling in from the south. Maybe no meteors tonight, I thought, but I like clouds too, so let the camera roll and see what happens. Lo and behold; out of the 600 plus frames taken that night, the 10th frame had caught a meteor streaking along the Milky Way. It turned out not to have originated from either the Aquariids or the Capricornids according to the IMO, International Meteor Organization which I recently registered with. (see link below)

Thanks for visiting!

https://www.imo.net/

Amanogawa, River of Heaven

July 7th, 2019     We are in the middle of the rainy season here in Japan. It can be cloudy and rainy everyday, sometimes for weeks. For an outdoor amateur photographer, it can be frustrating at times. So when last weekend had clear skies, I jumped in the car and headed to Hoshinomura, in the mood to photograph the Milky Way. Here, it is called Amanogawa, or River of Heaven. I set up my gear on the side of  a very small country road,  which looked out over a big valley with mountains in the distance. It was quite humid, and the dew point was quite high, (the temperature at which dew forms on surfaces colder than the air temperature). This means I had to apply heat pads (kairo) to the lens to prevent it from fogging up. I then sat in a camping chair and watched the heavens while the camera did it’s job. The following time lapse is the end result.

  I recently acquired a lens I had been wanting to get for a long time. I got it used through a local camera store. It is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM prime. A telephoto lens ideally suited to photographing birds, especially in flight. I only had one day of sunny weather, so I took the opportunity to try the lens out on the swift-moving Common Kingfisher. The photo  was taken using a tripod as the kingfisher was rising from the water about 30 meters from my position. I really like this lens, and am looking forward to becoming familiar with it. The other birds are the Siberian Meadow Bunting, (Houjiro), and the Narcissus Flycatcher, (Kibitaki).

Thank you for visiting!

 

Herons, egrets, and a red moon

June 24, 2019   It is nearing the middle of summer, and  the rainy season is late in coming here in Kyushu, Japan. Water levels are getting low in all the local dams and rivers systems, exacerbated this time of year by the planting of the rice fields, which need lots of water to flood the fields.    Wading birds are finding it a bit easier to procure a meal as their prey such as fish and crustaceans have less water to hide in and escape to.

  The following video shows a Grey Heron (Aosagi) capturing, killing, and devouring a  very big bullfrog (ushigaeru). It is a bit graphic, so viewer discretion is advised. 

  I also include a video of a Great Egret (Daisagi) and a Little Egret (Kosagi) searching for prey. the Little Egret shuffles it’s bright yellow feet which flushes prey from the vegetation and river bottom.  The Great Egret’s dark legs, in contrast, are difficult for prey to see as it wades around.

Please click on any image for a larger view.

 The strawberry moon appeared low in the horizon a few days ago, as I was driving home. Also during a total lunar eclipse, the moon can appear red because of the Earth’s atmosphere, but in a different way.  A strawberry moon takes on it’s beautiful red color because we are viewing it through the dust and pollution of the lower atmosphere. On the other hand, the reddish color during a total lunar eclipse, (called a blood moon) is caused by the color of the sunsets around the edge of the Earth projected onto the surface of the moon as the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere. If there were no atmosphere, the moon would appear black. Amazing!

Thanks for visiting, and be sure to get out there and spend some time with Mother Nature.

 

First Days of June

June 3rd, 2019    I have been going out almost everyday this last week. The end of May, I returned to a favorite pond of mine for the first time this year. There, I noticed a Common Kingfisher diving into the water from a post over and over, but never coming up with a fish. I thought that was strange, as Common Kingfishers are pretty successful at catching their prey, unless they are juveniles, but this was a mature male. 

  I returned the next morning, and took a slow motion video of him repeatedly diving into the pond. With the slow motion, you are able to see that he was actually wetting his feathers and returning to the post to preen.   You are also able to see exactly how he goes about this. Before entering the water, he opens his beak, just as they do when trying to catch a fish. In this case though, I think it’s the kingfisher’s way of helping to create more resistance as their head enters the water. The dive is shallower than normal, allowing them to reverse direction and spring from the water very quickly, saving time and energy. Just after breaking the water’s surface, the kingfisher does a curious and quite playful-looking maneuver of bouncing on the surface, creating a springboard effect that helps propel them up and out of the water. At natural speed, it is impossible to see this.  He then flies to the top of the post and begins to preen, which is also quite interesting to observe at a slower speed.

  Just a short walk along a path from this pond, is another larger pond where a family of Little Grebes live. The male and female both help in raising their five young chicks, called grebettes, or dabchicks by some. I took a morning, and spent it with them, albeit from a blind. Both parents carry their young on their backs when they feel threatened, and to help keep them warm. 

 Click on pictures for an enlarged view.

  Yesterday was overcast with an occasional shower. A good day to photograph waterfalls, and this time I chose a popular and beautiful one named Nabegataki Falls. I wanted to arrive their just before opening at 9:00 am to avoid the crowds. Even so, the parking lot filled up quite quickly. I was able to get some shots without people for the first 15 minutes, but not after. It is a beautiful falls with a path leading behind the cascade into a hollowed out cave where you can get a unique perspective. Formed by the pyroclastic flows from the great caldera of Mt. Aso 90,000 years ago, it is quite an awesome place. (link attached below)

A sign warning of  the poisonous Japanese mamushi, (pit viper) was posted on the fence at the entrance. I have seen these well camoulflaged snakes on occasion, but they are difficult to spot unless they are on rocks or paths.

Click on pictures for an enlarged view.

  Thanks for visiting, and until the next post, get out there and spend some time with Mother Nature if you have the chance.

https://matcha-jp.com/en/2738

West meets East

May 19th, 2019      This is another time lapse taken up on Kusenbu mountain, in Saga prefecture, Japan. As the gibbous moon (99% full) was setting in the west, the sun was rising in the east. Two cameras were recording simultaneously.

   I found the music on the Internet Archive. Called ‘I Move On (Sintel’s Song)’, it is part of the soundtrack of the short animated film ‘Sintel’.

    Each new day is a precious gift from the Sun. Give thanks to Sol and the Earth, and thanks for visiting.

 

Kirishima National Park

May 5th, 2019  I had two main reasons for visiting Kirishima National Park. One was to see and/or hear the Ruddy Kingfisher (akashoubin) at Miike Lake, and the other was to climb Karakunidake and take a night sky time lapse. The park is about a three-hour drive south by national highway (and 4,000 yen) or six hours by regular roads, and I opted for the latter. I had reserved a place for my tent at Ebino Plateau Camp Village for two nights.

Ebino Plateau Camp Village

The staff were friendly and informative, and the facilities were quite good. Each tent site had a raised platform, but I opted for the ground. As it was Golden Week, I expected the camp grounds to be crowded, but happily, that was not the case. Japanese campers for the most part, are not a rowdy bunch, and it was quite peaceful, with maybe an occasional dog bark or the laughter of children. At nine o’clock it became quiet and all facility lights were turned off except for the toilets and washing area.

  I got up early and drove thirty minutes to Miike Lake, arriving there an hour before sunup as the Ruddy Kingfisher usually begins calling in the predawn hours.  Miike Wild Bird Forest trail encircles the lake and is within one of the four designated wild bird sanctuaries of Japan. With the beam of my flashlight leading the way, I started into the forest. The trail was well marked, with an occasional wooden sign describing one of the 170 or so birds recorded within the sanctuary. The path was covered in gravel, which I thought a bit strange because it is pretty much impossible to walk without making that crunchy gravel sound, (you are not permitted to stray from the trail). As I ventured deeper into the forest, I heard the sounds of animals foraging, and caught sight of some deer (shika), a racoon dog (tanuki), and once the shining eyes of a giant flying squirrel (musasabi) in the beam of my flashlight. And then I heard the mysterious and beautiful call of the Ruddy Kingfisher off in the distance! In my opinion, up there with the Common Loon (hashiguroabi) and Whippoorwill (ホイップアーウィルヨタカ) in it’s haunting beauty. As I continued forward, the forest started to brighten and come alive with the sound of birdsong. From all about me, an orchestra made up of birds was playing a gorgeous symphony. Among the huge trees and especially from up in the canopy high above, the songs came raining down. After some time, with the light having come up, I sat on a bench and set up the camera and microphone. Suddenly a Ruddy Kingfisher called out quite close to me, and was soon answered by another farther away.

 That day near Miike Lake, the Ruddy Kingfisher seemed to be just out of sight, and I was not able to leave the path to approach on a direct line. Though a bit frustrating, it is better for the flora and fauna of the refuge to have such a rule. 

 The next day, I set off for the trailhead to Mt. Karakunidake, about 400 meters from my campsite. 

Trailhead to 1700m Karakuni-dake

Karakunidake is 1700 meters high, and the northwest trailhead begins at an elevation of 1200 meters. It is a relatively easy climb, and people of all ages hike to the top. This area is often cloudy or rainy, but today was fine. Based on the weather forecast the night was to remain clear. Important for a night sky time lapse, which was part of my plan. I had packed plenty of warm clothing because the temperature would be approaching zero in the middle of the night. I started up with about two hours of daylight left. Enough time to reach the top, set up my equipment, and put on warmer clothes.

Coal Tit, Hi-gara

This Coal Tit (hi-gara) was foraging near the trail at an elevation of 1300 meters or so. (A new species for me!) There are about 15 species in the Tit family world wide, the familiar Black-capped Chickadee back in the states among them.

  I continued on my way up and as I got higher, views started to open up as the trees gave way to scrub and bush. Here is Onami Pond to the southwest.

Onami Pond

  When I arrived at the summit, it was deserted, except for a few crows. Just after the sun had set, I was surprised to see a monk dressed in white approach the edge of the crater where he pressed his hands together and prayed. After a few minutes he went back the way he had come, walking in the twilight with no light among the jagged rocks. I made an offering of  stacked stones to the Kami (entity) of Karakunidake.

Offering to Karakuni

After the sun sank below the horizon, I ate my dinner in the twilight. Sometimes bats would buzz past my head, targeting in on the moths attracted to my headlight I would turn on at times. I started the camera, but after about an hour, a wind started to grow stronger from the northeast, bringing with it a hazy mist. I decided to head back down as the camera was beginning to shake from the wind. This is the footage I had taken up to that time.


 

I finally arrived back at my tent around 1:00 am, crawled into the sleeping bag, and was out like a light. The next morning, I woke up to the call of a Ruddy Kingfisher! I quickly dressed, and headed to the stream that ran past the campgrounds. After searching along it for an hour without any sight or sound of the phantom, I just sat and let the rising sun warm my body.

  An interesting side note to my time here in Kirishima National Park. Before I crawled into my tent, I went to the car to change my shoes and clothes, but I couldn’t find the key. I searched in my waist pouch where I usually keep it, but it wasn’t there. I took everything out of the backpack and searched through it too, but the key was not there either. I looked everywhere for the key a number of times quite thoroughly, but it was nowhere to be found. I decided to think about what to do tomorrow with a fresh mind.            

  Rewind back to the rising sun warming my body. I stood up and decided to call JAF, the Japanese version of the AAA (American Automobile Association) in the USA to come and rescue me. Tow my car or  bring me a copy of the car key somehow. I reached into my waist pouch to take out my mobile phone, and pulled out the keys. I think I woke up a few campers with a loud, “NO WAY!!” You and I are thinking; OK, somehow I missed a small compartment in the waist pouch. But.. another part of me is thinking about that small stack of stones I left up on the top of Karakuni.

   ( Please click on images below for a larger view.)

 Ebino Plateau camp village

https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/guide/kirishima/facilities/ebino/14.html

Miike Wild Birds Forest

https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/guide/kirishima/recommend/08.html