Over the last few years I have been looking up a lot, perhaps because things, in general, are not. I’ve learned a few constellations, taken some pictures of the moon, driven down the road to see a comet, and painted some clouds. Once I started looking at clouds with an idea to immortalize them, I realized what an awesome and various show they put on. Also how important light is to a painter, and how likely I am to be able to convey it, which is “not”. But that’s not my point.
I think one of early, magical sky times for me was when we saw iridescent clouds. You have to imagine where we are located-nestled in a bowl at the bottom of a north facing hill, with an equally tall hill opposite us. The sun doesn’t even hit the ground in winter until after 10 a.m., and to see Venus in the east, we have to stand in the road. So when the sky lights up light like an aurora borealis right in our line of sight, it’s a big deal.
Iridescence is caused by small water droplets or small ice crystals scattering the sun’s light, and is usually found in altocumulus and cirrocumulus clouds. It’s basically just a rainbow overhead, and can be much more defined than I captured in the photo above.
Clouds are divided into three classes based on height (low, medium and high), but also three groups based on form – cumulus (heap clouds), stratus (sheet clouds) and cirrus (fibrous clouds). Since height influences form, these two categories match up. They are further divided into ten genera (and also further divided into species and variety, which is deeper than I will go here).
“The ten fundamental cloud types are: cirrus (Ci), cirrocumulus (Cc), cirrostratus (Cs) – also known as the high clouds; altocumulus (Ac), altostratus (As) and nimbostratus (Ns) – the middle level clouds; cumulus (Cu), cumulonimbus (Cb), stratocumulus (Sc), and stratus (St), which are classified as low clouds.” – Weather Online
Being a gardener, I’m fond of nomenclature clarity. So-cirrus means wisp or curl, cumulus a mass or heap, floccus masses or tufts, stratus a flattened layer and alto high. Pretty familiar, right?
Here’s an example of cirrocumulus lenticularis clouds sans rainbow. They are often in individual elements or rows, and are high up, thin and super cooled. (You may notice I am not venturing into predictions of the weather. I figure it’s risky enough thinking I have these identified correctly!)
Altocumulus floccus is a high, small heap of cloud tufts, if I’ve got it right, and stratocumulus undulata a wavy, layered small heap. (How’s it working for you so far?)
Beautiful Boy Birds of Spring
Now that I can see them, I understand what bird watching is all about. Compared to the more secretive mammals (if you don’t count the chipmunks and squirrels), many species of bird conduct a lot of their business of meeting, quarreling and foraging in plain sight, secure in the knowledge that the world of the air is theirs. Not only are they way more active and busy to the eye than,say,deer, they sing and come in a hundred colors and shades.
Okay, fine, this is not exactly Big Scientific News. But it’s news if you have only recently been able to tell a floater in your eye from a mouse in the sink, and OMG the colors this year! We haven’t spotted anything unusual since the water thrush in 2019, so if you live in the east, you have probably seen and heard all these birds as well. That doesn’t make them any less amazing.
Of course, everyone knows the show offs of the entire animal kingdom are the males, and birds are no exception. I am trying to avoid gender bias in my bird watching, but female blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) look pretty much like the males, maybe because the species as a whole is just 100% balls to the wall. They are the street kids of the bird feeders, and beautiful acrobats. (These shots are from a stealth cam-I’m not that quick on the shutter!).
Blue as they are, they don’t hold a candle to an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea). The shade of blue is more…what? Turquoise? Both the Bluejay and the Bunting get their blue from the structure of their feathers rather than the pigmentation. (Editors note: Real Science!)
Below is another example of color that comes from structure rather than pigmentation-in this case it’s iridescence on the hummingbird gorget.
Goldfinches are not shy or uncommon, but our flock really cheered me up this year. As my brother said on spying one, “That’s a handsome bird.”
Super thrilled to have a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) come to a feeder near my window, but he was chased away by the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus).
What a colorful shot that would have been! Instead, I got this magnificent Cardinal hiding in the background.
Later, though, I got that Oriole good and proper.
I am not going to leave out the color of some of my favorite birds – crows and ravens. I don’t have a good shot of the raven pair we’ve seen around (mostly being chased by crows), but I did catch a couple of European Starlings and a Red-winged Blackbird. I just love that flash of yellow or red.
Did I leave anybody out? Maybe.Probably. But after all this flash and glory I’m craving a little subtlety. LBB’s, anyone?
Here I go again, eye candy before content. This spring I have fallen in love with yellow,a color I’ve never really appreciated. Sure,orange has it’s
virtues, but then it’s got that red “id” going on. It’s true I planted a lot of naturalizing pure yellow daffodils for shock effect, and even now prefer the subtler daffodils, but this spring I appreciate all that rowdy,drunken cheerfulness. Funny,that. Currently I am extra cozy in the yellow sheets my daughter gave me when she moved, nicely paired with my sisters downsized bedspread. I’ve always wanted one of those gorgeous beds even the most ordinary people on t.v. have, and now I’ve got it.
Here’s some Narcissus faces for you, all puckered up.