Readers’ wildlife (and astronomy) photographs

January 31, 2015 • 6:39 am

Well, astronomy isn’t wildlife unless there are creatures out there, but I’ll include this photo because a. it’s very good and b. I don’t know where else to put it. It comes from reader Tim Anderson, an astronomy buff, who took it Thursday night from Tumut, New South Wales, Oz:

This is a photograph of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), taken on 30 January 2015. The nebula lies at the tip of Orion’s sword. The photograph is a stack of sixteen 30-second exposures taken with a Canon DSLR mounted on a 110mm aperture refracting telescope.

Orion Nebula 2

Now I’m sure that those readers who take pictures with telescopes know the reason for using 16 30-second exposure, but I didn’t, and I asked:

 If you look at the night sky, you’ll notice how little starlight there actually is (the Orion Nebula is a faint fuzzy patch even on good nights). To get the details, you need a lot of light, hence the long exposures and plenty of them. The experts often take six hours worth of five-minute exposures to show up very distant faint galaxies. You also have to account for the rotation of the Earth – thirty seconds is about as long as a single exposure can be before the stars start to form streaks. Unless you have a motorized mount capable of tracking them.

Tim also sent a photo of his telescope; don’t ask me what all those gizmos are:


And back to critters, reader Laurie in England sent a photo of a sleeping Honorary Cat™:

This guy was fast asleep outside our kitchen for a few hours.  Poor Theo was going bananas.  He was there for so long, I thought he might be sick and I thought of ringing a vet.  But luckily he moved off when I rattled the door.  The urban ones in London have evolved into these guys that are out in the open any time of day.  Isn’t be gorgeous?

(Theo, by the way, is her prize-winning and unusual cat—a moggie who drinks espresso [see him here]).

Fox, Laurie

Time for plants! Here are two wild species snapped by reader Marilee Lovit:

Iris hookeri, a/k/a Iris setosa, a subarctic species that reaches a southern limit along the Maine coast.

Merilee Iris hookeri Nash Island May 31 2010 ml 094

Here is a plant, in case recent interest in the Andromeda galaxy can carry over, Andromeda polifoliavar. glaucophylla. Bog-rosemary. Photographed from my kayak, in a bog in Maine.

Andromeda polifolia 5-25-2008 ml 071 (2)

And finally, photos of a nuthatch and a chickadee (nomming seeds) from Diana MacPherson. Sadly, I’ve lost her notes on these, which would have had some nice anthropomorphic description. I’ll leave her to do that in the comments.  The IDs will have to be mine, and if I err let me know.

A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis):


A black-capped chickadee next to what appears to be a faux lizard (Poecile atricapillus):



35 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife (and astronomy) photographs

  1. That is a great Orion Nebula view. Majestic.

    That is a nice looking iris pic…well done with the strong green background.

  2. Thank you for posting my plant photos. Correction about the Iris name–
    Iris setosa and Iris hookeri are not synonyms, although they have been published as such. They are now recognized as separate species with different geographic distribution. In North America, Iris setosa is found in British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska. My photo is Iris hookeri, which occurs in Maine and the Maritime provinces of Canada.

    A little extra trivia:

    Iris hookeri was named in 1832 in honor of British botanist Sir William Hooker. Darwin knew him, but had a longer friendship with Williams’s son, Joseph Hooker. Much correspondence passed between them. Fifteen years before Origen was published, Darwin wrote to Joseph Hooker January 11,1844, “At last gleams of light have come, and I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion I started with) that species are not (it is almost like confessing a murder) immutable.”

  3. I’m jealous of Tim’s refractor! Also a great shot!

    Looks like a Skyview mount? I have the allamanda GM8 and a 8″ SCT. I have the same finder scope too. I bought it to get photos of the Orion Nebula but in the winter it is too cold and the summer Orion is not in the northern hemisphere in the dark hours.

    1. So, do you do astrophotography in the summer? Andromeda is always a popular choice. Do I remember correctly that you live in Canada? Maybe the short summer nights pose a problem as well. I used to live in Edmonton and the sun never seemed to fully set in summer.

      I do some widefield nightscapes but my telescope equipment is too big to fit in my car (cheap=bulky in astronomy products). I have an old Meade refractor, and I’m hoping to construct an equatorial wedge for it if I can find the time. It’s been my dream ever since Hale-Bopp to capture some good comet photos.

      1. Yeah I’m often too tired in the summer by the time it gets dark as well.

        Hale-Bopp teased us by showing up just before good, affordable digital cameras were available.

    2. allamanda = Losmandy. I don’t know what happened there but I suspect I was using my iPad. It has its own language & names for things.

  4. I think this is the first time I’ve seen an astronomy photo on WEiT! And this is a good one.

    Technically it’s a wildlife photo right? I mean, surely there are some critters on a planet orbiting one of the stars in that photo.

    1. I removed the critters from the picture using dark frames. Also removed the FSM, but had to use a bias frame for that (astrophotography jokes really are the pits).

      1. If the critters move between your darks and your images, you get twice the number of critters. At least, I did!

  5. The critter sleeping outside by the door may be an honorary cat but I would not recommend letting any cats out with this critter around.

  6. From my urban home in the UK I’m lucky if I can see* as many as 100 stars by naked eye. I would suppose there are many urban kids who reach adulthood without experiencing that weird feeling of looking up & falling into space.

    * I believe the maximum possible number of distinct points of light visible by naked eye from the Earth is only 2k to 4k – perhaps more atop a high mountain?

    1. That doesn’t seem possible. I have seen some skies in abnormally good viewing conditions where, with no moon or aurora, it is bright enough to read due to the seemingly countless visible stars (and the Milky Way).

      1. I can’t make links on my current device. Look up the Wiki called “Bright Star Catalogue” which is “the Yale Catalogue of Bright Stars […] lists all stars of stellar magnitude 6.5 or brighter, which is roughly every star visible to the naked eye from Earth. The catalog contains 9,110 objects, of which 9,096 are stars, 10 are novae or supernovae, and 4 are [globular clusters]”

        Obviously approx half of these are hidden by the Earth beneath your feet – thus only 4,500 individual objects are visible under ideal conditions by naked eye.

        I’m on the outskirts of Birmingham, UK with a lot of street light pollution shining upwards & presumably reflecting off dust particles to produce a light haze which increases near the horizon. There’s also a line of sodium street lights 150 metres away behind a row of buildings out of direct sight, but the light is visible as a sort of halo hovering over the buildings. Then I’ve got random lighted windows from surrounding apartments at all times that destroys night vision.

        The best night sky I’ve seen from home was when I got up in the early hours to view the annual August[?] Perseid Shower one year. It was unusually cold for summer, unusually low humidity, moonless & I picked a spot where lighted windows were outside my view. I counted 30 objects in the sky in the quarter I was facing = 120 in the hemisphere. On a typical night I see a lot less than 120 in the sky even if there’s only a sliver of moon.

        1. Oh yes, the actual numbers don’t lie. Didn’t mean to suggest otherwise, it was merely an expression of amazement about what a night sky can look like in excellent viewing conditions. But much of that light that is descernible by naked eye can not be resolved as distinct points by said naked eye.

  7. The “faux lizard” looks just like a cast iron gecko we have.

    Diana your birdies are great! We had a passing flock of American robins – 20 to 50 birds, it’s hard to tell they were darting around – drinking from our backyard fountain. That’s about the wildest it gets in my urban hellhole.

  8. Great variety of photos!
    That telescope is something! I’ve always wanted to get a microscope with a mounted camera of some sort. I have a pretty good microscope, but it won’t accommodate a camera. shucks!

    Nice flowers and birds too.

    I wonder if espresso makes Theo go even more bananas. 🙂

    1. Look up the “$10 Smartphone to digital microscope conversion!” on the “instructables” website. Transform your smartphone into a powerful digital microscope 375x

      There is also the “SkyLight” universal smartphone-to-microscope adapter

    2. Most SLR-type cameras can be fitted to a “t-ring adaptor” for coupling them to telescopes by sliding the camera into the tube normally occupied by the eyepiece. Depending on the precise optics, you may need a correcting lens in there too. That’s relatively easy for telescopes, because eyepieces are 1_1/4 or 2 inch OD.
      Unfortunately there is no such standardisation for microscope eyepieces. which is a real PITA.
      I’ve repeatedly been asked by clients to bodge together some system for recording geological microphotography. Very often, it’s a pretty rough bodge. With the cheap microscopes used in our industrial setups, it can be a real PITA. If you’re producing something for personal use, it’s likely to be easier because you don’t really need to worry about databasing thousands of images a month with the metadata to make them useful next decade.
      Next week’s job I’m expecting YANPMS (Yet Another New PhotoMicroscopy System). with, as expected, zero documentation, and no system for recording of metadata – sample identification, magnification, scale in {length} per pixel, colour reference. [SIGH] I do mean the “YET another”.
      I’m also taking one of the “rubber band with a macro lens” contraptions that Michael refers to below. I tinkered with it for photographing the hall marks on a ring I was having re-built ,and optically it was … useful. But the phone too had no convenient way of managing metadata.

  9. I don’t think I had anthropomorphized these birds; I think I had just identified and described them. The lizard is a rusty metal one that all the birds disrespect by standing on its head.

  10. a moggie who drinks espresso

    Isn’t there a caffeine relative in some (human-popular) hot drinks that is harmful to carnivores? Or is my memory playing tricks on me?

  11. The telescope picture doesn’t have many gadgets in it. Just a refractor with a camera attached, a smaller refractor acting as a finder/guide scope, and a GEM (German Equatorial Mount). Oh, and a battery, which could power any number of things.

    A motorized mount is not crucial for long exposures, mind you, especially with a GEM, which obviates the need for a field de-rotator. Small manual adjustments to the right ascension can be done periodically to prevent star trails, if the mount has fine motion controls. One does require more than a modicum of patience to do it that way.

    1. You can get software that will make micro adjustments to your tracker for long exposures. I have that because for long exposures, me touching the scope would just mess up the works and it’s hard to be delicate in the dark at -20C. I really need an observatory to make the winter more comfortable. Friday night was perfectly clear but damn cold!

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