Thursday, January 31, 2013

LOOK FOR: Light Pollution

My parents live in north Florida, and every few years Matt and I go even further south, to the Everglades, after Christmas. And then we head out by canoe, and camp somewhere far away from any electricity or any roads. It makes for amazing wildlife viewing -- birds, dolphins, sharks, massive stingrays -- but also, at night, for amazing star viewing.

When you're used to the view from your backyard (or apartment window), it's hard to know what you're missing. But let me tell you, the view from my backyard -- and probably yours -- is missing something.

These two pictures are views of the same patch of sky, with very different levels of background light (from houses, businesses, and streetlights). One of them looks about like what I saw in the Everglades, and the other is about what I see from my backyard. Which one looks more like your view?

Image credit: Jan Hollan via Globe at Night

Image credit: Jan Hollan via Globe at Night

A citizen science project called Globe at Night is asking exactly that question, and trying to gather data from around the world about how much light pollution is affecting what people see in the sky at night.

But it's not just about our enjoyment of the night sky. Light pollution affects the reproductive success of many species and wreaks havoc on migrating birds and nocturnal critters.

For the next four months, Globe at Night has listed the moonless nights when they want you to look up, then match the brightness of what you see to one of their charts and report back on their website. One of the windows is now through February 9. The instructions are easy. Take a friend and get outside!

Want to learn more, or get active on this issue? Check out the International Dark Sky Association.

Friday, January 25, 2013

LOOK FOR: Snowflakes

Photo credit: Tom Gill
Nature's Geometry
Photo credit: ViaMoi
When was the last time you actually looked up close at a snowflake? I was feeling inspired today and bundled up to go stick my nose in the snow. Nature is so amazing!

You can see a surprising amount of detail with your naked eyes (or reading glasses...), if you bother to look. But a magnifying glass really shows off the beauty of the snow crystals. I've got an inexpensive jewelers loupe that worked really well.

If you don't have a magnifying glass, do you have binoculars? Look through the wrong end and hold the eyepieces so they're almost touching the snow. It should work like a magnifying glass. Wow!

Of course if you have a special microscope, you could get views like these. But take a look -- I think you'll be impressed with what you can see with the tools you have on hand, even if it's just your own two eyes.

Photo credit: CaptPiper

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Top 10 Posts of 2012

It's always fun to look back and see which posts got the most traffic over the course of the year. In case you missed them the first time around, here are the Natural Capital's top 10 posts of 2012. Thanks for reading!

Photo credit: the Natural Capital
1. Great Falls after Hurricane Sandy: a video we took of Great Falls transformed by way more water than normal. We love this spot and the change was just breathtaking.

Peeper 2
Photo credit: sfgamchick
2. How to find spring peepers: After years of going out to listen to the spring peepers, we finally, finally found one. This post was about how.

static flight
Photo credit: Patrick Wilken
3. Five amazing facts about crows: for starters, they can speak and use tools. Check out the video evidence I found.

Maple Flowers
Photo credit: jpwbee
4. Look for maple flowers: They're one of the most under-appreciated flowering trees in our area.

5. Best nature books of 2012: Our annual round-up of award-winning books about things related to what we write about here on the Natural Capital.

Putty Root - closeup
Photo credit: NC Orchid
6. Look for putty root orchids: Orchids in the temperate forests of DC? You bet. But they're not easy to spot...

Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus)
Photo credit: Mary Keim
7. Look for eyed click beetles: Those eye spots are pretty amazing. And then they do their acrobatic jumping trick.

Photo credit: Jerry Oldnettel
8. Look for katydids: Inspired by the DC/Baltimore Cricket Crawl, I collected the songs of five species of katydid and tried to learn them. As with so many things, it's so fun now to hear one of these chirps and to be able to pinpoint which katydid I'm hearing, without even seeing it.

Biotite mica
9. Look for mica: On many trails in the DC area, the soil is full of little sparkly bits of mica. It's a great thing to look for in the winter while the plants are mostly hiding.

Wapato is in Bloom
Photo credit: Tom Brandt
10. Look for katniss: I enjoyed reading the Hunger Games, but it took me a while to figure out that katniss is a plant that I actually have growing in my pond -- I just knew it by another name.