Readers’ wildlife (and astronomy) photos

May 3, 2015 • 8:00 am

Today we have a nice astronomy picture, but first the beasts, a series (including SQUIRRELS) from reader and photographer Peter Moulton in Phoenix, Arizona:

I’ve been hosting a lovely cold for the last couple of weeks (plant allergies seem to have taken over lately), so all my photography has been the low-impact type, at the Desert Botanical Garden and the surrounding Papago Park. These are from the Garden. I know how you like sciurids, so they’ve been special targets. As always, I’ve tried to include only animals that are typical of, if not restricted to, Arizona, on the grounds that Arizona is home to a lot of unique and interesting organisms.
First, a Round-tailed Ground SquirrelXerospermophilus tereticaudus. These are probably the most abundant of our squirrels.

R-t Ground Squirrel_4-18-15_DBG_3196

Next, a couple of shots of a female Harris’ Antelope SquirrelAmmospermophilus harrisii. These little guys are active even in the hottest conditions (it’s reached 50ºC in Phoenix before), and are superbly adapted for those conditions. They characteristically carry their tails curled over their backs, where they can serve as sunshades, and when their body temperatures are too high, they engage in heat-dumping behavior by finding a nice shaded spot and sprawling full-length on the ground. They’re omnivorous, and their diet is high in water content (up to about 80%), which supplements the scarce surface water in the Sonoran Desert. In case you were wondering, yes, these little guys are named for Audubon’s friend Edward Harris, of Harris’ Hawk and Harris’ Sparrow fame, but I doubt that Harris ever got to see them in life.

Harris%27 Antelope Sqrl_4-19-15_DBG_3384

Harris%27 Antelope Sqrl_4-19-15_DBG_3405

And, finally, a couple of bird shots, just to prove I haven’t forsaken them. This male Gilded FlickerColaptes chrysoides came over to keep an eye on me while I waited for the Harris’ Antelope Squirrel to come back out into the open. Both Gilded and red-shafted Northern Flicker C. auratusoccur in the Garden, and they assort by habitat preference. The Gilded is preeminently a bird of the giant cactus desert, which in Arizona typically means saguaro stands, while Northern Flickers favor trees.



And we have a beautiful picture of our galaxy from reader Tim Anderson:

This picture shows a fairly narrow-angle view looking through the rotational plane of our galaxy. The picture captures a tiny fraction of the 100 billion stars that make up the Milky Way, You can also see some of the gas clouds heated up by the emissions from nearby stars.
The picture was composed from thirty 5-second exposures stacked up to get the detail into view. It was taken with a Tamron wide-angle lens on a Canon 70D camera.
You only have to look to see that there are many places in our galaxy where life is possible.


15 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife (and astronomy) photos

  1. Squirrels and flickers – what great subjects. And the photos are awesome!

    Our galaxy – I lose myself in photos like that every time I see one. We should get over our self-proclaimed species uniqueness after looking at a photo like that and realizing the implications of not being alone in the Universe, or even our own galaxy…!

  2. The Flicker is really charming. What is it standing on? Vaguely resembles Brussels sprouts. Desert sprouts?
    Star shot is a remind that we are probably not alone.

    1. Those are the buds of a giant cactus which isn’t a saguaro, but looks a bit like one. The Gilded Flickers accept them as giant cactuses, as do some of the other native species.

  3. Very nice pictures, all of them. If memory is any good I believe the Papago Park and Botanical Garden is the same that I saw in the early sixties when I was in Arizona. There was a Papago Plaza close to where we lived in Scottsdale. One of the many Indian groups they name everything after.

  4. The Round-Tailed Ground Squirrel looks a lot like a Prairie Dog.

    Great Milky Way portrait too!

  5. Very interesting. I visited those botanical gardens many years ago, and I recall that it was full of scurrying and flying and twittering wildlife. So seeing these pix takes me back. It was incredibly hot then (mid-summer), but what helped was that we used little spray bottles of water to spritz ourselves. That little trick really lifted the spirits and let us keep going.

  6. Wonderful photos. Tim, I assume the galaxy picture was taken without a tracking mount? It is neat to see what can be accomplished with such simple equipment coupled with powerful software.

    1. My guess is that if one does a long series of 5 sec. exposures, the motion of stars will be minimal. Then, each very faint picture is stacked with software that recognizes and overlaps the matching faint points of light.

    2. The star picture was taken on an ordinary camera tripod at about 5:30am (the eastern sky was already lightening). Processing was done using Deep Sky Stacker and Nebulosity.

      1. Nice, Tim. Staring up at the universe on a clear Western night is perhaps the most profound experience I’ve ever had.

  7. What a great picture selection!

    Those squirrels are so sweat and the flicker photo is so nice and sharp.

    Tim – lovely galaxy picture! I want to start getting my own pictures — what software do you use to stack your exposures?

  8. Seeing a timed exposure of our galaxy is always something special. The stars are like dust, to paraphrase Asimov, and yet they are a ginormous number of light years apart.

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