A Darker View

Hydraulic Controls

The control panel for the telescope hydraulic bearing system pumps

Hakalau is a place I love to visit… Stunningly beautiful native forest high on the side of Mauna Kea. A place where the calls of native birds form a chorus in the treetops. The refuge holds an open house once each year, always great to attend. We have done so three times now, taking advantage of a day when volunteers and guides are on hand to teach you about this special place. Normally held in October, the 2013 open house was a victim of the government shutdown. They were forced to cancel the event, but the staff and volunteers made the effort to reschedule and open for Earth Day this year.

Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 32,000 acres of forest high on the windward side of Mauna Kea. The koa and ʻōhiʻa forest is a refuge for the native birds that are endemic to the island. Staff and volunteers have spent decades slowly restoring the forest in an effort to preserve a little native habitat so that so many species, avian, insect and plant, may have a small place to survive.


Our guide points out some of the local species on the chart

We arrived as soon as the refuge opened, having bounced our way along Mana road to join a crowd waiting for the open house to open. Despite the remoteness of the refuge the event was very well attended, the large parking area at the old barn quickly filling.

We began with a birding hike. Multiple guides were departing the barn area with groups in tow. Heading down a rough track we followed into the rich koa and ʻōhiʻa forest. Bird calls echo from tree to tree, soon we spot many of the birds that are rare elsewhere, but relatively common here. The wild Hawaiian raspberries have had a good winter, I found a few ripe berries to sample, nice flavor if a bit tart.

Iʻiwi, ʻapapane, and a courting pair of ʻelepaio were caught in our binoculars. We did not see the Hawaiian creeper, but we heard them. I really need to drill myself on the calls sometime, birding in Hawaiʻi is an audible exercise as much as visual. Twice we saw ʻio pass overhead, and a nene was to be seen along the road. A good day birding in the forest. One of the guides, a National Park Service ranger, pointed out one of the native lobelias, a plant called Hāhā, by the Hawaiians.

Hakalau Greenhouses

The Hakalau greenhouses, filled with the seedlings of native plants used in the forest restoration effort

We also made an effort to visit the greenhouses, a apart of the event we had missed in past visits. It is here that the thousands of plants used in the restoration effort are propagated. Entire tables covered with rare lobelias, a half dozen species of native mints, plants rarely seen in the wild outside of Hakalau.

One of the mints was believed extinct until on plant was found on the Hamakua coast. Later, when biologists went to examine this plant again they found it had been killed by wild pigs rooting about. Fortunately cuttings had been successfully propagated at the nursery and the many descendants are doing well. For now the plant is extinct in the wild, but that may change if it can be reintroduced.

A couple of the volunteers related tales of trouble… Gear stolen, fences cut, a general antipathy for the refuge mission from some segments of the community, particularly pig hunters. I have encountered the same mindset myself on occasion… A feeling that one can take and take from the environment and never give back, that the resource is endless. I have met those who believe any restriction, however minor, is an affront to their entitlement to hunt or take whatever they need. Some locals seem to have forgotten the old lessons of resource management that the ancient Hawaiians knew so well. Today is is not that aliʻi who make the rules, it is wildlife managers that set the kapu. At least modern enforcement is not at the sharp end of an ihe.

While there may be some who do not believe in the refuge goals, support from other segments of the community is strong. The volunteer program racks up thousands of hours each year, a dedicated crew that puts in long days of planting native species and removing the harmful invasives. The success of their work can be seen in the lush forest teeming with bird-life. They have created a special place that is a pleasure to visit, eve if they open the doors only once each year.

There are thousands of slides in these boxes.


A wall in Union, Oregon covered with old painted advertisements

Learning photography, shooting my father’s Canon AE-1 around Oregon. Three years of shooting across England and Europe. Wandering the deserts of Arizona and Utah with a camera. A visual history of much of my life trapped in small bits of celluloid and silver.

The old slide scanner has been out of commission for years, a victim of changing technology. The old SCSI interface is not supported on modern computers. I have often considered replacing it, but for whatever reason the idea has been delayed until now.

One of the better slide scanners available is the Plustek 7600i. I stumbled across a listing for rebuilt units on eBay, direct from the manufacturer. $245 with shipping was a great deal, one I could not resist.

Continue reading Scanning Slides…

A frame filled with stars beyond counting while looking into a small part of the core of our Milky Way galaxy. This area of the sky is endlessly entrancing as you see the immensity of our galaxy demonstrated in a very dramatic fashion.

At the center is the small star cluster NGC6520 and the dark nebula B86. These two create one of my favorite showpiece views when viewing from a dark site with a large telescope. Even many people who have done a fair amount of observing have never looked at a dark nebula before. A great object to select when other telescopes are showing the usual stuff.

The photo is the sum of five separate five minute exposures with the Canon 20Da and a TV-76mm telescope. Taken from my driveway in Waikoloa the image is about two degrees (four times the width of the full Moon) from top to bottom.

The Inkblot

The cluster NGC6520 and the dark nebula B86 lost in the immensity of Baade’s Window

Rain Gauge

A hand made rain gauge

Desert dwellers take rain seriously. Living much of my life in the Sonoran Desert has instilled a reverence for rain. Waikoloa is little different, the driest area of the island, we typically get around 10-15 inches of rain each year.

The original gauge was a cheap plastic unit that was starting to crack. It had served many years, repairs to the lanai required its removal. The board it was fastened to was beginning to rot and needed to be replaced. The plumeria were overrunning its location as well, blocking the rain.

A glass tube rain gauge ordered on eBay was the starting point. The cheap stamped aluminum base just begged to be replaced with something better. A few minutes of thought and an idea was formed. Off to the garage with the tube of glass, rummaging through the stash of supplies commenced.

The holder was assembled with the same skills and tools I use for constructing and repairing electronic devices. Copper wire and solder, with thin brass alloy used for the leaves.

A couple hours bending and twisting the wire, soldering each joint as I went. A section of one inch copper pipe stood in for the fragile glass tube during forming. Twisted wire and little metal leaves… Much classier than the stamped aluminum base supplied with the gauge.

Who says engineers are not artistic!

Keck 2 Stitched

Keck 2 seen in three frames with a 14mm wide angle lens stitched together for a full view

The first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of another star has been confirmed by observations with both the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory. The initial discovery, made by the Kepler Space Telescope, is one of a handful of smaller planets found by Kepler and verified using large ground-based telescopes.


The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet orbiting a distant star in the habitable zone. Credit NASA AMES/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

“What makes this finding particularly compelling is that this Earth-sized planet, one of five orbiting this star, which is cooler than the Sun, resides in a temperate region where water could exist in liquid form,” says Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center who led the paper published in the current issue of the journal Science. The region in which this planet orbits its star is called the habitable zone, as it is thought that life would most likely form on planets with liquid water.

Steve Howell, Kepler’s Project Scientist and a co-author on the paper, adds that neither Kepler (nor any telescope) is currently able to directly spot an exoplanet of this size and proximity to its host star. “However, what we can do is eliminate essentially all other possibilities so that the validity of these planets is really the only viable option.”

With such a small host star, the team employed a technique that eliminated the possibility that either a background star or a stellar companion could be mimicking what Kepler detected. To do this, the team obtained extremely high spatial resolution observations from the eight-meter Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawai`i using a technique called speckle imaging, as well as adaptive optics (AO) observations from the ten-meter Keck II telescope, Gemini’s neighbor on Mauna Kea. Together, these data allowed the team to rule out sources close enough to the star’s line-of-sight to confound the Kepler evidence, and conclude that Kepler’s detected signal has to be from a small planet transiting its host star.

Continue reading First Potentially Habitable Earth-Sized Planet Confirmed by Keck and Gemini Observatories…

Just a little bit jealous… My friend Pete shot a beautiful photo of a tinker’s butterflyfish…

Tinker's Butterflyfish

Tinker’s butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri), photo by Pete Tucker

A wet winter and spring has brought changes to the Waikoloa area… Green pastures and hills around the village, an enormous crop of weeds in the yard, uncountable cockroaches and gnats, and these guys… Giant African snails.

They are everywhere I look in the yard, in the corners and under any debris. They get caught out by the sun to roast on the driveway, or crunch beneath vehicle tires. The compost pile is snail city, with dozens visible and more underneath the detritus. They get big too, the specimen photographed below was nearly six inches long when crawling along.

I understand that folks in some parts of the world eat these guys. I jokingly brought a handful to my wife one day and let her know I had dinner planned. She did not think the idea was a good dining choice. I have to agree with her, I am not really tempted.

Giant African Snail

A rather large giant African snail (Achatina fulica) in the garden

Total Lunar Eclipse and Mars

The eclipsed Moon south of the planet Mars just a week after opposition, Canon 6D and 105mm f/4 lens