Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A tale of four eclipses

Astronomy is one of my past times. I can't think of anything that caused me to have such a natural rush, and moments of exhilaration in my life....than to witness an eclipse of the sun. I'll start out by saying from experience, that a partial solar eclipse, or a total or partial lunar eclipse...is a breathtaking sight....but does not even come close too... a total solar eclipse. To bask in the moon's shadow during totality, and gaze at the otherwise invisible solar corona, with the covered sun appearing like a large living sunflower in the sky...is something I'll never ever forget, and long to do again. It is easy for me to understand, how this event could have struck fear and awe into ancient cultures, ...that interpreted the meaning of the event, in many different ways. It even started wars, and was interpreted as a warning, or a sign from the gods to attack an enemy.
For someone that says "no big deal"...I will venture to guess that this person has not yet witnessed one, and could never (truthfully) say that, after they did. There are groups of people who chase these events around the globe, and plan their lives around them. I would indeed like to join them, if it was at all possible.
Against the advice of the folks I traveled with to the Philippines , to attend a 10 year reunion in March of 1988.....I booked a flight from Manila to General Santos City. Why would I leave the relative safety of other Americans and many friendly locals, to travel to a region known for violence between the muslim separatist groups, and the Philippine government and military...in addition to the potential for kidnappings of foreigners ? Well, to try to witness my first total solar eclipse, that was scheduled to happen on that day, and blanket the entire southern half of Mindanao, in the temporary darkness of the moon's shadow. My flight was late (very common in the RP), but I did witness the event, from the airport in Gen. Santos, and not from my hotel, like I had originally planned. No matter.... I was hooked, after seeing this...WOW...what a spectacle and atmosphere. What I noticed the most (with my 10x50 binoculars) , was the 2 very large red prominences (top and bottom) projecting off the edge of the eclipsed sun during totality, and the magnificent sight of the solar corona. I was in awe of what I had just witnessed...but needed a dose of reality, from someone. I stayed at the airport, after being told by a friendly Pinoy local, that took in the eclipse with to me.... about the current situation and happenings (kidnappings for ransom , and even beheadings) in the region, even within the normally safer city. Sometimes...things happen for a good reason. I arranged to catch a return flight to Manila, and remained at the airport....and that, was that.
In May of 1994, myself and my young niece were treated to an annular eclipse of the sun, from my (former) backyard in Hamlin, NY. The moon is not close enough or large enough to completely cover the solar disk, so what is left is what is called "the ring of fire". This was a treat to see using eclipse glasses, so not to burn our retinas. Even staring at a small slice of the sun, can do permanent damage to your eyes...so always use protection and caution. The only safe time to view with the naked eye, is during the moments of totality (if during a total eclipse, of course). I would jump at another chance to view an annular eclipse, and hope to have another opportunity. I wish I had been more prepared, and shot a couple photos of this event. We did notice that it did get a bit darker and the temps dropped around 5 degrees, with all the birds going silent on a normal sunny mid spring day. I think that nature fools nature...for the moments during an eclipse.
I had been waiting for another total eclipse, that wasn't on the other end of the planet. I was very disappointed to miss "the big one" in 1991, in Mexico, and had read many reports and seen lots of footage and photos.
I started to plan for the next one, that would take a path through the Caribbean in Feb. of 1998. I just had to make this one...somehow. My first marriage was not at all healthy in the late '90s, and when I told my exwife that I was going on a cruise that would take me around the Carribbean, and either Montserrat or Aruba to attempt to see a total eclipse, the reaction, was at first... negative. She finally approached me, and said "the only way...is if you take me along" . I calmly said "ok", and booked the cruise package and flights almost one year in advance with the Astronomical League, that would be sailing on the Carnival Cruise lines.... MS Fascination .
We arrived in San Juan, PR, to board. This was my first cruise, and I must say I was overwhelmed with the service, food, boat full of friendly happy people, and everything else happening on board with the Astronomical League...that put on some outstanding presentations.
We sailed to US Virgin Islands (where I snorkeled until exhausted), Guadaloupe, Grenada, Caracas ( pre Hugo Venezuela), and finally Aruba. I want to live on a cruise ship, and understand why some folks with lots of $$...almost do. The cruise, ship's crew and service, food, choices, and ports of call...was outstanding. We had the choice, of disembarking with my equipment to view the eclipse from land, on Aruba...or sail back out to sea, and chase the shadow on a mobile cruise ship. I wanted to photograph the event, this time...and decided that I would take it in from land. Surprisingly, the ex Mrs wonderful.... joined me. The Astronomical League had reserved a large grounds, next to the ocean...with beautiful tropical gardens, food, and an unobstructed view of the SW...from which the moons shadow would be racing in from, at us. This all sounded too perfect, maybe? The weather prospects for a clear sky in February, on Aruba...was over an 80% chance. It looked good, until about an hour and a half before the start of the eclipse. After the lot of us (a large field and garden full of eclipse chasers) had set up our scopes, cameras, and viewing areas...it really clouded up, and actually started to sprinkle. It put everyone in a dismal mood, as there was cloud cover from horizon to horizon.
The partial phases of the eclipse began, with the sky still cloudy, but clearing up to our west. About 1o minutes or so before the start of totality...the crescent sun was visible, with the happy cheers of many anxious people...realizing that they were going to see this eclipse, and that the sky gods were again smiling.
I was able to take many photographs during the various partial phases, and during totality. Two of the pictures are here. One, is of the "diamond ring" that is the moment when the first sliver of sun emerges from behind the moon. The other photo being during mid totality, with the corona clearly visible. During totality, it was dark enough to view the two planets (Jupiter and Venus) that were near to the sun... which is another sky bonus, that would only happen and be visible during a total eclipse. The two plus minutes of totality goes quick, and before you know it...it's all over. A report on the event, by the most well know eclipse chaser ...Fred Espenak, is here:


The Fascination fared just as well out to sea, and treated the passengers on board to a stunning view near the smoking gun of the Montserrat volcano, that was still spewing a cloud of post eruption ash into the sky. The advantage to staying aboard the ship....was the mobility of the ship that could dodge the clouds while remaining in the path of the eclipse...which the captain and crew accomplished very well, much to the delight of the many viewers that lined the ship's decks. It was fortunate that both land and sea viewers...had gotten what they had come to see, and then some. When the ship ported again , to pick us up in Oranjestad , Aruba...there were many stories to share at dinner, and though out the last leg of the cruise, that headed back to San Juan. One thing I told myself...is, if I had the privilege to witness another one of these events, that it would be taken in with my naked eyes and senses (the whole experience), and that I would not spend as much of the precious several minutes behind a camera and tripod.
I got that chance again , the following year. I had been looking into another cruise that was put on by North Star expeditions, that was set to sail out out NY City, for 10 days out in the North Atlantic and along the Canadian Maritimes (around Newfoundland). In no shape or manner, could I afford the trip to Europe , or better yet, Turkey...where the best weather chances to view the August 11, 1999 eclipse, was to be had. This cruise aboard the aging "Regal Empress", was my only chance. The eclipse shadow would actually start out in the N. Atlantic in the very early AM, before it raced toward the coast of the British Isles, and though parts of Europe and Asia.
The chances for a clear sky, to have the chance to see this eclipse, had the dimmest prospects on the entire path....giving less than a 30% chance. If nothing else...I would enjoy this cruise with my son, and take in some whale watching and enjoy some sea bird viewing, and the fine foods and ports of call in places I haven't been...and who knows.... we could get lucky.
My son and I took a Greyhound down to NYC, from Rochester (not a recommended form of transportation, after trying this). and arrived at Penn Station, where we caught a cab to the pier and boarded the Regal Empress. It was a beautiful August day, with the sun shining on the city, as we slowly sailed by Manhattan, and made the turn past the south end of island. I remember vividly, the image of the magnificent twin World Trade towers, with the sun gleaming off them. I often watch the camcorder footage I shot that day... to remember the towers, and to all who lost their lives and made sacrifices on that tragic morning, that would take place two years later, after our cruise. Lady Liberty was also a treat to sail by, and the whole NY Harbor scene... was a bonus.
We sailed first to Halifax, NS, and then out to sea to hopefully rendezvous with the rising sun, already eclipsed in the partial phase. Totality would take place with the sun just 15 degrees above the ocean. While in Halifax, we had a weather update from Joe Rao (NYC meteorologist and one of the organizers of the cruise). The weather had a good chance of providing a window of clarity on the morning of the eclipse...and the excitement was building. Could the "ship of fools " be the first to view this eclipse ? Here is a Joe's report on the cruise:


We awoke at sea, and most folks had their alarms set...early. The seas were calm, and the sky was clear, accept for a few clouds on the horizon. To view the crescent sun rising over the water, was an experience I won't ever forget (see picture...as seen looking through one of the ship's lifeboats). We all experienced totality around an hour later, with the eclipsed sun looking like a large sunflower hanging over the water. The corona was smaller than the '98 eclipse I witnessed on Aruba....but it seemed alive and moving....what a sight ! I kept my word to myself and just recorded a short video with the camcorder, and took in the rest of the short totality with just my eyes, until the diamond ring flashed , prompting the entire ship to cheer and rejoice at witnessing the event. It turns out that the eclipse chasers were clouded out on land, in Cornwall, UK...and also in some other spots after the shadow made landfall in mainland Europe. It was seen in full by many, in Turkey, and on the Black Sea cruise.
The cruise was again, a pleasure. We still had another 7 days to enjoy Newfoundland and our ports of call and time at sea. Whale and sea bird watching was superb. In addition to be treated to daily watching with Canadian expert Jon Lien (a great guy), we took a whale watching tour around Bird Island, where we witnesses close up views of Humpback and Minke whales, a large Atlantic Puffin colony, and countless other treats. On one warm night, while the ship cruised off the east coast of Newfoundland...the deck was suddenly bombarded with Leach's Storm Petrels...that might have been attracted to the ships lights, and were laying all over the deck. Most of them were stunned after hitting the ship...and woke up and flew off. One that didn't ..I picked up and brought to my cabin, and photographed. The flash woke it up, and I gently carried the bird out (after showing it to my son and his new friends)...and released it.
My son had completely enjoyed this experience....the eclipse, the cruise and food, and the friends he made, and the fact that I just let him live it up and do what he wanted, which was something he was not used to experiencing, at home. When we ported in St. Johns....we were met by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. We boarded a bus, and were driven to a very dark sky site in rural Newfoundland, where we all had a grand time observing the annual Perseid meter shower, under pristine skies and conditions... another bonus that I'll always remember.
Another place that I won't soon forget...was Gros Morne National Park, on the west side of Newfoundland. This park had stunning scenery, along with moose, beaver, and a tour of the fjords from the waterway, that was fabulous...even though we did get wet. I met David Levy (a well know astronomer, with several comets he discovered...named after him, including the one... Shoemaker -Levy, that fragmented and crashed into Jupiter in 1994). David was a great guy to talk to (and humble), and also gave a very interesting presentation..to all, in the ships auditorium. It was a pleasure to have him sign a copy of his book for me.
So....I consider myself pretty damn luck to have witnessed these 4 eclipses. I've seen many partials...but none could hold a candle to what I described here.
When does the next one happen ? ...you might ask. Mark this one down on your calenders...ladies and gentleman. August 21, 2017, the moons shadow will start in the pacific and touch first in Oregon...and cut right across our great land, and end up in S. Carolina, before it moves off into the Atlantic. Here is a link to a website with more details:


You won't want to miss it. Be there, or be square. You know I'll be there in the path...somewhere, no matter where I'm living at the time. I need to show one of these to my wife and daughter.
Well, if you miss that one (Please don't)....there is another crossing the US on April 8, 2024 :


If we are all alive and well, it takes a place right through my area of western NY. Cloud cover might be a problem....but who knows ? We had a great April, this year.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Another rare bird...in another province

In 2004, I returned again to the Philippines, to finally marry the girl that I had met and courted for years...much to the delight (and relief) of her family and friends. I asked my fiancee to contact a guide on the next island over (Negros) and arrange a birding trip to try for several species of Babbler, that were endemic to that island. We took a Supercat inter island ferry, and arrived in Dumaguate city. This was the largest city in the southern province of Negros Oriental, and we checked into nice 4 star hotel. The atmosphere was even more laid back, than in Cebu (which was hard.... even for me, to fathom), the the cost of being a tourist was very reasonable , and right up my alley. We traveled on our own, to a resort coastal town called "Bais", where we arranged a tour for whale and dolphin watching. We didn't see any whales, but had a fantastic experience with a pod of over 100 Spinner Dolphins following the boat and leaping out of the water...everywhere, much to our delight. I was even able to do some birding at one of the stops, and saw a male Narcissus Flycatcher (a migrant species from the more northern parts of Asia) that came to the edge of one of the coastal mangroves.
Our guide was Rene, and was "the guy" for birding on Negros Oriental. He picked us up from our hotel in the wee hours, and we drove through the still dark streets of Dumaguate, riding shotgun with my fiancee, on a Habal -Habal (a large motorcycle with an over sized seat). The ride was rough (what did I expect ?) , even for RP standards...the dirt road turned into big rocks, and we decided to walk, the last 2 kilometers, while our guide braved the motocross suicide course, with the habal. We had ascended to a high elevation near the base of one of the smaller peaks of Mt. Talinas, that was still below the famous "Cueros de Negros" (the twin horns at the top of Talinas). From there, it was a grueling hike uphill. We passed a very bad tempered Carabao (Water Buffalo) that surprised me, and was tied to a tree that I wanted to make a pass around. I narrowly escaped with my ass intact (Thank God for a short rope). When we arrived (winded) at the last leg of the hike, up to the cloud forest near the summit, we took a needed rest. Rene pointed out an area where the Negros Striped Babbler is often seen, while foraging at an elevation (only at these elevations) of between 1000 and 1400 meters . To reach this area, it was a steep climb, that at times was almost straight up. My future bride and the Rene showed no hesitation...so up I went, right behind. Finally, Rene pointed out an area of overhanging trees , and we heard the calls of the endemic species. Rene strongly motioned us over... to come quickly. Myself, my fiancee, and Rene...witness a pair of these magnificent montaine birds in the act of mating, right on a tree branch in front of us. I was the first foreigner that Rene had brought up there...to witness this, and it was only the second time for Rene...that had been coming to the mountain, since he was a young teenager. Rene was a former hunter of birds (for food and profit), that has turned into a guide and conservationist of birds, and other species native to the area.
I also got a brief look (and heard the wonderful song of) at another of the endemic rarities...a Flame-templed Babbler. On the decent down the mountain, we got a little banged up. I went down the steepest part like an upside down crab (on all fours), slipping many times, in addition to getting hit on the head and cut by a broken branch, bitten all over by ants, and sported some black and blue ankles, from trying to slow myself down and digging in with my hiking boots. Rene had spotted the very bizarre looking Philippine Frogmouth, a nocturnal species , that was trying to blend in was a branch (looking frozen in place...like a part of the branch). We were very relieved to reach a more gradual descent...and wondered.... how the hell Rene could make the grueling hike and climb , in his bare feet. He told us a story, on how he once (for hire) carried a generator up to the cloud forest summit...so that a German lepidopterist could collect moth species (for study).
Rene took us to his home, that was also a sanctuary for the local wildlife, and a rehabilitation center for several species of fruit bat, that he let me hold and see close up. Being licked all over by a (recovering from injury) giant Gold-crowned flying fox...was a humbling experience.
My hat is off ...always, to Rene....who lead us on a great adventure, and that has taken the lead as a conservationist....in a land where conserving it's precious flora and fauna resources, is a relatively new trend (but is finally catching on). We were treated again, to seeing and hearing many species of birds, herps, bats, insects and butterflies. Not to mention...a tremendous view of the southern part of the province, the city and harbor, and three closet islands...from up at our highest view near the summit.
We returned by ferry, to Cebu...in time for our wedding. We were tired and a bit battered, but satisfied from fresh memories of the experiences, we won't forget.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The story of witnessing... two rare birds

In January of 1999, I found myself once again in the Philippines. What can I say... other than those islands , people, and culture... is a magnet for me.
While there, visiting family in Cebu, I was able to make arrangements (while at the Cebu zoo) to be guided to one of the most protected and pristine areas of old growth forest, left on the island. There is not much of the original forest left (although quite a bit of second growth), and Cebu was almost completely deforested by poor management practices and logging destruction, that escalated after the end of WWII, up until the late '80s. No doubt, the rarest bird in the RP, and one of the rarest on the planet...was the endemic Cebu Flowerpecker, that was thought to be extinct, until rediscovered in a fragmented patch of forest, in 1992. Another rarity and endemic species of Cebu...was the elusive Cebu Black Shama, which was another species I was hoping to see, that sulked within the bamboo thickets of the park. We were driven from the zoo, out of the city.... to the Central Cebu Natl. Park, about 3 hours away, and a place called "Tabunan". Like many drives in the rural areas of the RP ( "the PI " is no longer a politically correct term to use....so I've heard....yawn.), the road was wide enough for one and a half vehicles (or one bus), in very poor condition, and with no guard rails on the steeper mountain roads. After getting one of the rides of my life, and a greater respect for the driver's skills...we arrived in a valley that was surrounded by mountains, with one being the infamous Mt. Manunggal, where the former president Magsaysay (and 25 0thers) had met a tragic end in a plane crash. While the driver parked the vehicle, we were soon greeted by at least a dozen locals from the squatter homesteads, that speckled the hillside. We walked from there (mostly uphill), and around to the adjacent side of the mountain, until we arrived at the forest ranger's station, and home, at the edge of the forest. We were introduced, and chatted... while the ranger's wife and daughter prepared our box lunch, for the trip in. The path into the forest was wet, muddy, and at times very difficult hiking. After an hour plus hike...we arrived at a very crude makeshift platform, that was constructed overlooking the treetop canopy, to a valley below. The bamboo structure was more solid then it appeared, and the two of us were soon sitting comfortable at the top...after we were told by the ranger (the guide and driver stayed behind, back at the ranger's house...a little strange, yes... but it's the RP) that this was the spot , to see the flowerpecker...if we were indeed , lucky. It looked like rain was coming (again), but it held off while we ate, and I scanned the forest treetops intensely , and had brought a recording, of what the bird sounded like (call) , so I could possibly ID it first, by sound. If you've ever birded in the RP, you must have a recording to play in the thick tangles and forests, or you're not going to lure anything out into sight, and probably not see too much... except for the more common birds. The ranger left, and said he'd be back for us in a few hours for us, and wished us a special good luck in spotting the bird. Experienced birders from all over the world, had spent many hours, and even days on the platform...and never saw it. Experience really didn't matter much here...but luck certainly did. Fortunately for us, we were two of the lucky ones...that did. I first heard the call from behind me, and then saw something fly fast onto a branch near the canopy top (just below us). Scanning for a minute or so, I found myself looking at the colorful species, and easily confirmed the sighting by passing the binoculars to my very good friend...that after a short while, was looking at it, also. I got one more quick look, before the bird took off from it's canopy foraging, to another spot farther away and out of view. On our return walk back to the ranger station, we searched the bamboo thicket outskirts, after the ranger (a very talented guy that could mimic the call of the bird) skillfully called out a Black Shama, to the edge of the thicket. The skies finally let go, and we took cover under a large tree. It was another hour before we had the chance to briefly see the shama...that hopped out onto the path for a moment, before skitishly retreating back into the thicket. Wet and tired, I was very pleased to sign out on the log at the ranger station, and date the time I witnessed these rare birds...that many have not seen. I logged in seeing 19 species of birds (11 that were lifers), 2 species of herps, one species of giant fruit bat (flying fox), plus one species of horseshoe bat, and countless new insects and butterflies.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Woodknocks, woodpeckers, a boreal bog, and blackflies

From the early '90s, until just a few years ago...I was on a quest to see all of the boreal species of birds that can be found, and breed in NY state. They are a specialty of the Adirondack region...where there is boreal forest and bog habitat . I keep a bird life list database of species seen, from both N. America and abroad...as birding has always been a passion, and a good form of relaxation, that goes together naturally with a road trip and camping...which are also things I am very fond of.
There was one species that had eluded me (American Three-toed Woodpecker) , and was very difficult to locate in the field...despite going often into the right habitats and following the Northern NY bird list postings, that often provided up to date info on recent sightings of the species...which was quite rare. Why didn't I just travel further north into Canada, or to the northern mid west in the US to see make it easier to locate.... with abundant boreal habitat ? Well, I wanted to see it here, in NY State, where it was at the southern extremes of it's known range, located in isolated pockets of boreal bog habitat. One of the places that the bird was sighted, and had easy access to...was in Hamilton Co. , in the Adirondack Park. It was a preserve that was purchased and maintained by the Nature Conservancy (of whom I am an avid supporter), and had road access to a foot trail that led into the bog...that was located in between several small mountains, and hills. It was a beautiful and isolated spot, with just a few cottages on the seasonal dirt road, that was miles from the nearest town. In May of 2005, there were many reports of a female 3-toed that was being seen , associating with another boreal woodpecker species (Black-backed), that is a bit more common. I spent almost a week camping in the area, and made numerous trips to the bog, often in the company of many other birders...that were waiting out in the hopes of spotting this elusive bird. There was one morning, that the constructed board walk into the bog...was so crowded, that there was no more room to set up a scope and scan. I waited it out until late afternoon, and found myself with one other group of birders...an older man with his entire family. The man had on white rubber knee boots, and had a very unpleasant surly attitude when I got a little closer , and tried to speak with him. He gave me the vibes that he would have much more success...if me, and everyone else (but him, and his family) left. I figured out quickly.... by his boots, and attitude...that he had intentions of tromping off the boardwalk (where you are supposed to stay) , and into the bog searching for the bird. The rare plant life and protected species in this bog, does not fare well to foot traffic....thus, the reason why the boardwalk was constructed. Before I walked away, I reminded him of the dangers (falling through and drowning) of walking on sphagnum moss and bog, and the fragile rare flora and fauna he would trample. I decided to go to the other end of the boardwalk, but remained there (not out of spite) until late afternoon. The next morning, I ran into several other birders....that , yes... saw the 3-toed an hour after I left, the day before. I went home not seeing the species, and a bit discouraged, but looking forward to another chance, sometime.
In June of 2007, a former park ranger that lives in the closest town to the bog, sent me a heads up email, after reading my posts on the list from the previous season. He had seen the female, and also a male 3-Toed, still in association with a pair of Black-back WPs....the day before. I made some spur of the moment arrangements to travel, after work, and reached the dirt road and tiny parking area just after dark. I cooked up a little supper, and took a stroll down the road, and noticed no one was up there yet( in the couple cottages) during my walk. I decided to sleep in my vehicle, and hike into the bog at first light. At around 4 am, I was awoken by a rather loud sound, that had startled me. I was laying in my sleeping bag, with the rear window cracked enough to hear outside. A short time later, I heard a loud sharp "crack", that sounded like a ball being hit off a bat, or wood striking wood kind of sound. I went for my sidearm, to have at the ready...thinking this might have been someone close in the forest, behind my vehicle. While doing this, I heard a fainter two knock set of the same sound...that seemed to come from down in the bog, behind my vehicle. I slowly sat up, thinking "what's going on here....who could be walking around doing this chopping , at 4 in the morning". I then heard another clear sharp "crack" knock just behind my vehicle, that I estimate was no further than 100 feet away...if that. I went into my backpack for my audio recording gear, but by the time I got it assembled... the knocking had stopped. This event, later caused me to Google search woodknocks, and was the beginnings of me associating that incident, with possible sasquatch activity, that had been reported throughout the Adirondack Park. I eventually filed a report with several organizations. While one group published the report, the other did not...but did have an investigator, phone me.
I eventually joined the group that published my report (NESRA), and seemed to take it with a serious, but friendly approach. The next morning, I was up and onto the bog trail at first light, and recorded some Pileated Woodpecker drumming (that was Not what I heard knocking in the overnight), and a fantastic Winter Wren chorus. When I reached the boardwalk, I first spotted the pair of Black-backs in a large dead tree...and then, much to my delight...was a female Am. 3-toed just a few yards from me, foraging on a smaller tamarack tree next to the boardwalk. I got a good look, but the bird flew off out into the bog, and I wanted another look. When I walked out further and came into the open out of the trees...something large crashed through the trees on the east side of the bog, and I could hear the sounds of breaking limbs as it moved up the hill out of the bog. All went silent, and I continued to search for the 3-Toed, which I never did relocate. What ever crashed through the trees seemed large, by sound. It could have been a moose, or a bear, or a deer. I never got a visual on anything, while looking with my binoculars, and later with my spotting scope. I never walked around to investigate the area, that would have been a great spot to search for tracks. I was now getting assaulted....by swarms of Blackflies. I had a head net, and put it on. By the time I realized what was happening.... it was too late, and decided to get out of the bog, after I saw the blood running down my legs and neck. When I reached my vehicle, the flies in the air and around my head were almost gone, but there were still many biting my neck under the mesh, and my wrists and ankles (I had long sleeved clothes on). I drove home sporting a very swollen bite collar, on my neck, ankles, and wrists...with a few of the cursed buggers still in the truck (and going for me) that followed me in. It felt good that I had finally gotten a look at the Three-toed WP, and pulled over in the town , to check out my wounds, and grab some breakfast. The waitress gave me "the look", and probably knew I was one of those folks from "not around here" that didn't know enough to stay out of those places, during the blackfly season. As the Brits might say, ...I was quite a bloody mess. As far as what could have possibly done the wood on wood sounding knocks...well, it probably wasn't a person, but I can't really rule it out 100%. It wasn't a forest animal, because it would have needed hands, and could not hold a knocker with paws or hooves....right?. It wasn't a woodpecker...at night. Trees don't (to my knowledge) make that sound on their own, on a calm still night in the spring. So, what does that leave...for sources ?? Whatever it was that crashed through the trees, and out of the bog that early morning...I'll probably never know.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Still .... a mystery sound

Like many others that do audio recording in the field, I have developed a growing collection of unknown mystery sounds. I try with all my resources available, to identify the sound or call, so it can be filed away in the known sounds category...and used for future reference, should it show up again on mine, or any other researchers recording.
In September of 2008, myself and two old friends, camped out on state forest lands in Steuben Co., NY, near the Canisteo River valley. We found a spot used by fisherman, next to a large pond. I parked the vehicle, and we unloaded, gathered our gear, and trail blazed around the pond to find a very nice secluded spot in the woods, that was still within view and easy walk to the pond. We lazed by the pond, ate a lot, and I made some audio recordings (soundscapes) of the insects, frogs and bird life around the pond. Here is one of those recordings:


The night sky was very dark, and the late summer Milky Way was easy to reveal. The best sky I have seen all year ! As an added treat, the ISS (International space station) came into view and moved almost right overhead before disappearing in front of us low on the horizon ...super luck and unexpected !
In the overnight, while the last two of us awake were preparing to get into our tents and turn in, we heard a lower pitched moaning call, that came from the opposite side of the pond. I scrambled to try to record it...but the call ended before I got the recorder started. Another example of a missed opportunity...because I didn't have a recorder on...All of the time. Several hours later, I woke up and heard the same moaning call again. This time, I got the last part (4 separate moans) of the vocalizations recorded. The recorded clip starts out immediately during one of these moans (each, lasting just over a second, in length), and then the others are heard, with the space in between the sounds...relatively, the same. Also, there is a higher pitched type of squeak, in between the 1st and 2nd moans. Unfortunately, my camping buddy (the infamous Floodman) let go with a smokers cough, during the 2nd moan....so be ready for that, if you decide to listen. Here is the clip:


Ok, here is what we knew was around us, that night..... Barred Owl, GH Owl, WT Deer, and a family of Beaver, on the pond. No people, other than us...were there. I have not matched up these sounds with any of those (or any known) critters...although, I could be missing something, and that's why other opinions are always welcome and encouraged. Barred Owl has been on my mind...but I can say that I've never heard one produce that kind of sound, before.
One of my fellow NESRA investigators, provided me with the following clip (the moaning call of a Bull Moose)...that was interesting, and matched up... the closet, to anything that I've been able to find, yet. Here is that clip for comparison:


Was my recorded clip, a more distant moose call ? The characteristics of the sounds are similar, but I'm not yet 100% convinced. When I ask some associates I know, that are lifetime residents of the Finger Lakes and southerntier region of western NY.....about their opinion.... if it is possible that moose could now inhabit that region...they just laugh. But they also laugh when I talk to them about sasquatch roaming the forests in NY (or elsewhere)...so, who knows? I think it's possible that this could be a moose call. Moose have wandered and breed much further south than the Adirondack Park, in NY...and also east and south into the New England states. There is no current data to support that they are present , however.... in western NY. I think it is also possible that these sounds could have been distorted over the warmer pond air currents...making it all the more tricky for ID, and possibly a distorted one note call variation of a Barred Owl. Maybe, this is something else, that I have no idea, or reference too...yet.
Opinions on these short moaning calls , are welcome...and that's the reason I'm blogging it. I probably won't stop asking for opinions, until I find out what made these sounds.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The value of audio field recordings...an opinion

I think that unknown sounds recorded in the field, do hold some value...for not just the listeners and recordists, at present...but possibly for the future, of the research and investigation into the sasquatch phenomenon. I have to agree with the general opinion of the BF community...that it doesn't offer any indisputable solid proof, and should be considered as "trace evidence". There seems to be a lot more of these recordings collected, than any good photographic or video evidence. If we can't see and witness what's making the howls, screams, chatter, strange speech like sounds, grunts, whistles, mimic like sounds, pops, percussion, and wood knocks in areas that have a history of strange activity and sightings....then how we do know it's squatch ? I hate to answer a question with another question...but, than...what exactly is this.... that IS making these sounds out in the woods and remote forests? This is one of the things.... that I aim, to try and find out.
Putting out an audio recorder, and leaving it out for the overnight...has given me the most results, so far. This was not my idea, but one I adopted from the success of other researchers that have come up with some very interesting unknown vocalizations, using this method. It makes sense to me , that a creature (whether known ones or an unknown) is going to open up and act more natural and vocalize in it's habitat...when I'm not around, and it feels the need to watch me, instead of going about it's normal business. I've been working on methods to record for longer periods of time, and know there are others that have been successful at this.
Sharing any interesting results of the recordings, seems to be even more tricky, than actually doing the recording, itself. There is some interest on the forums, and I have tried to make an effort to find others that want to share, and encourage the recordists that are still in the shadows...to come forward and share. I've had limited success within the community. Sometimes it seems to me, that groups of folks share within their own friendly circles. I guess this is just human nature, and it's unfortunately...the way it is. I'm just as guilty of doing the same thing now...off the public eye, with others that I've met on various forums, although I've shared everything I thought was interesting, to this point. If you share too much, and speak openly about your true experiences (especially if you've had a couple, close together)... it seems you are up for a credibility check...by folks that are somehow capable, of judging others field experiences, from behind their computer screens....amazing stuff. I watched a group from Michigan share some very highly produced field recordings, that unfortunately.... ended up getting to be a really ugly mess. I don't care why it got ugly, and who was at fault, for whatever reasons.... as the history of most of that fiasco ... predates me in the forum community. I am only interested in the recordings themselves, and don't believe they are going away, anytime soon...although the folks that put up the recordings, seem to have taken a break from the spotlight, for now. These recordings could possibly hold value for the future, and I am not accepting any verdict of them being deemed a hoax...quite yet. We'll just have to wait, and see. I can't help but think, that the whole rather unpleasant scene, from what just started out as a link to a website, for listening and reading.... did not in anyway... encourage others to share field recordings, on forums.
What is this so called value that I speak of, anyway? Comparisons to known animal and human sounds, is all we have right now. We also have comparisons to each others unknown field recorded sounds. If the same unknown (yet to be identified sound) has been recorded in NY, and also in NC, Ohio, and Texas...for example, then that makes it all the more interesting...for me... in my mind. Proof of squatch running around out there...no....proof of Something unknown out there...yes. Could it be a known animal in all these locales, making the similar... unknown vocals ?...maybe....how about the wood knocks and percussive sounds?...not likely.
If and when, the holy grail squatch remains are ever found (providing, the right people find them)...they will tell us what this creature is, and finally be the accepted proof needed, to end this mystery, and force mainstream science to acknowledge the existence of the creature that so many people have witnessed. So what would be the next step ? Big game hunters (private or govnt sponsored) out to capture a live one, for study?....good luck, to you. Will this change the way science thinks, and the theories on primate, human, and hominid evolution, and life as we know it? Well, first..... it would help, to be able to observe and study a live one. How could you ever hope to protect something, that you really don't know diddly.... about, what it's doing out there ? What troubles me...is after the dust settles, and the big hype dies down.....that these remains still won't tell us much about the vocalizations it made while it was alive, and if it can knock on trees and push them over, make percussive sounds, mimic other animals and humans and machines. Maybe (just maybe)... the audio recordings will hold more of a value (to everyone) at that time. A library of unknown sounds and vocals, as a database....noting the geographic location, time, and circumstances during the recording.
So, while you're out there searching for ye pot of gold, and that indisputable proof that the creature does exist....what will it hurt to put out an audio recorder, and just walk away?
Blogs are created to express one's opinions...and of course ....these, are just mine.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The strangeness on public lands

Public lands are for everyone to enjoy.....right? Fact is off course, the public consists of all kinds of different people. Some have respect for others, while others could care less. I've found over the years, that it's getting harder and harder to find an accessible spot to camp on these lands, where there ain't nobody, in my home state of NY. In my 35 + yrs camping, I've mostly run into great and interesting folks while out on these lands..... and there were times, that I didn't run into a sole.
The lack of born common sense in some of the younger folks, can sometimes astound me. Yes, I was young and did some dumb stuff...but there was a cutoff point, that usually involved my self preservation instincts.
In 2008, myself and camp partner Floodman (yes, him again) found ourselves at the end of a rugged dirt road on state lands, not far from the PA border. There was a very large circle turn around at the end of the road, with a stunning view of the south, with the valley and distant hills in view. We both agreed...this is us, till tomorrow. We had purposely set up way off the circle, on the edge of pine forest, and parked my vehicle well off the road...after we noticed a large fire pit with empty beer bottles in the middle of the circle. There was easily room for several other groups of campers to enjoy there...without ever bothering each other. We pitched our tents back even farther, and had a fire about 100 ft. off a small trail that went down into the valley. After a long day and quiet evening, we turned in at around 1AM. Shortly after, we heard the steady bass beats of a loud car stereo that gradually made it's way up the hills and into the turn around circle...we had company. It was Sat. night, so we knew this was possible, even in October. We had radio contact between our tents, and decided that Floodman would stay in camp...and I would be out in the woods a ways, in between our camp and the vehicle, until we saw what was going on. We were both armed, as this is legal on state lands (not in state parks) .
We were astounded, as one young guy got out of the vehicle (with another a distance behind) after seeing my vehicle parked off road...and brazenly walked right up to it...knocking on the glass, and looking in the windows. He did not realize how close I was to him. The pin was pulled on my pepper spray, as a watched him continue to pound on the glass. He yelled to the other youngster "who's crate is this ?", and that's when I softly spoke from behind him in the trees and said "Why, it's mine". He jumped back all wide eyed, and walked quickly back to the small car, still blaring music...and had a chat with the others. The music suddenly stopped, and a different guy (maybe the other one trailing , from before) walked back up, and spotted Floodman standing by the dying fire. I followed from behind, under cover. He said to Floodman..."we heard there's a keg up here...so where's the party?" Floodman's reply was "we're not it...and did you happen to notice we are here, camping?". The guy turned around and shook his head, and walked back to the small car...which after a brief discussion, the car took off with rap music blaring, out of the lands. An hour later, not one...but four cars came back. We were ready...hoping for the best, but prepared for the worse. Two of the cars emptied out, while a small group of guys and gals stood around the fire pit...while 3 guys made there way down the trail (in the dark with one small flashlight) that was closer to Floodman's tent, but not directly into our camp. They walked past the camp, and further down into the valley, and then walked back...being watched by us every step of the way. When the group had reached a footpath that was directly opposite Floodman's tent...one of the bozos (obviously tanked) came right down the path at Floodman's tent, after he saw the fire pit and embers of the fire. I've known Floodman since we were kids, but during those moments.... I was concerned. We both yelled out "Hey.... we're camping here" He stopped for a moment, but then proceded again. That's when I heard Floodman cock his rifle and put a round into the chamber (mine was already ready) . The guy stopped, and put his hands on his head like he was frustrated, and turned around. One of the guys at the trail said "Dude! get back here...didn't you hear them..... your gonna get yourself shot". Any good country boy (even the drunk ones) know the sounds of a rifle action.
The two guys walked in very slowly, and escorted the drunk back to the trail, and down to the circle fire pit, where the others were standing. There was more discussion, with one of the drunk girls yelling "this is our spot, and it always has been". They eventually assembled in the cars , and all drove away. Thing was....we never were against sharing the location...even with the likes of them...although we were hoping for some quieter, and saner folks . We all had the same right to be there. On my worst and craziest night as a youth...I would never walk into someone's camp at night....never.... ever. We had the feeling that they would not be back, and that we were well within our rights, and did not provoke any further confrontation. I was pretty happy with the way Floodman conducted himself, as the front man. As hyped up as we were then, we couldn't sleep for a while, and stoked up the fire, and talked about things for a while, and cooked up some foot longs. I did a set of wood knocks right before we finally turned in for the night (must have been 3AM). It was that early morning, just after sunup...that I was awaken by the sound of loud and crazy squaking Blue Jays in the trees above me. I was very tired, so I switched on the recorder (still on standby), listened, but fell asleep soon after. The recording, turned out to contain many single and double wood knocks, that brought me back to the same location, several times after. That recording can be heard at this link:


I got a reply to my wood knocks, on the last outing...and plan to continue to investigate that location. I guess, it's possible.... that the real hosts of this public land, could have been watching me... watch Floodman....watch the drunken youths. Now that would be.............. some real strangeness.

Was it infrasound, terror, my imagination...none,....or all of the above?

I've been pondering a lot over the past winter, about an event that took place on the summer 2009 NESRA expedition in the Adirondack Park. There had been some strange and interesting movements and sounds in the forest, noted by a couple of us on the night operation stake outs. I am still blown away by these movements. How something can change position in the terrain that we were in, with all the thick brush and leaf litter...and not be heard moving from position to position...is mind boggling to me, unless there was more than one subject doing the moving, in the ravine below us. One more thing that I'll probably never know. There was also a knocking response to an investigator's (the first member to arrive at the basecamp) rock knocks, as well as an immediate tree crash (sounding like a tree was uprooted or pushed over) , that followed. The recorded clip from that incident (recorded by LI Yeti), can be heard here:


The second night, a while after the operations had concluded...I decided it was time to turn in, (as several members had done so, already), but first, I wanted to take a walk down the narrow dirt road that lead into our camp, to place out my portable audio recorder for the night...in hopes of recording something interesting. This was the same spot where I had put out the recorder on the previous night, near some bait and curiousity lures that were also put out by others in our group. I mentioned to the two remaining members at the campfire, that I'd be taking a walk, and what I'd be doing. I really thought nothing of taking the 10 minute or so stroll down the dark road. To start out with...I felt no fear or hesitance to do this task. After coming to a point away from camp, where I had a steep forested hill to my right, and a thick swampy area of forest to my left...I began to feel strange, as if something or someone was watching and keeping pace with me, to my left out in the forest. I decided to stop dead(and fast), and then heard several crunching sounds that my brain interpreted, as steps. A combination of a feeling of fear, confusion, and uneasiness came over me, and gradually got more intense, as I pressed on realizing that I was just several hundred yds or so from my destination. My legs got very heavy, and the feeling got worse, and after only going another 50 ft, or so...I stopped dead in my tracks, again, and heard another crunching step to my left. At this point, I felt as if I could not proceed any further. I was confused, scared, and a bit angry, at not understanding what the hell was going on. I bent over, while breathing deeply, and still looking over left into the forest and swamp with my headlamp, and seeing nothing. I had my 2 way radio in one hand, and my audio recorder and tripod in the other...but somehow didn't care about using the radio, or unpausing the recorder. The urge to get out of there, and back to camp...took over my thoughts, completely, and overwhelmed any common sense thoughts of just walking a little more, and getting the recorder put out......remember?, what I went out on the walk, to do. I walked back at a brisk pace (not running), still scanning the forest with the headlamp. When I got to the point where the trail turned to the left, and headed up to camp, near two of our parked vehicles...there was a tremendous thud...sounding like something very heavy had been slammed on the ground. You might ask...did I happen to wake up and get this recorded ?....why no, off course not. When I arrived at camp, the other two members were standing up by the fire, and looking in my direction. They asked me if I had heard the loud thud (yes), and if by some chance, the sound had come from me. I said no, and gradually explained the event while downing a 16oz mountain dew in nothing flat, due to extreme dry mouth. After a while, we all agreed to walk together to put out my recorder, and investigate the area, including a run off pond next to the swampy area. Armed, with a gun (just in case) , bear spray, and lights...we found nothing, but the resident beaver who swam over to greet us .
I don't really know if a sasquatch could produce infrasound, as I never saw a squatch.... or anything else for that matter. I imagine it possibly could...but this would be just speculation and theory, which I know everyone is tired of. I don't really know what an infrasound blast feels like...or do I... now? Did my already expedition investigative orientated mind...imagine being shadowed and stalked, and just put me into a temporary brain terror mode? I only have the questions, and the story (Yes, it's a true story)...but unfortunately, not the answers I seek.

Note: After reviewing and monitoring my overnight recordings from that same area (from the previous night) .... I discovered some very interesting sounds, that included crunching steps, something scratching or licking on the fake fur mic cover of my recorder, that was placed 6 ' off the ground in a tree crotch, and a single popping sound...that sounded remarkably like a tongue click or someone popping their palate. The most interesting fact...is that all the sounds happened very close together, during a short overnight period. Nothing was heard crunching, again... or walking away. The clip I mention, can be heard at this link:

http://soundcloud.com/imonacan/ovrnght-8-1-pt1-clipe Finally, on the Sunday morning we walked back to the same area, to collect the recorder, bate, and lures.. there was a extended "x" strick structure built nearby (obvious from the dirt road), that was not there before (quite certain of that). The structure included a live sapling bent (90 deg) into it. I'm confident, my recorder would have picked up any human or known animal, or natural culprit (it was calm out).. but didn't, except for the above audio.

What does imonacan mean?

Based on a question I've been asked in person, and on various BF, birding, astronomy, and sound recording forums...here is my explanation. Imonacan...... really means nothing. It's just a screen name, and something I was called in my youth, by a group I hung with in the 70s, that formed a sarcastic kind of subculture language...that nobody else but us, could understand. We used to talk in this language to clear out older family folk (the more nervous ones) and their families, from the pavilions in the area parks...so we could take over the public use building, and thus....have a party (was that so wrong?). Monacan....was one of the words...that meant " don't want too". Thus, I'm monacan was born. Later, during the new cyber age... shortened to imonacan.
To better assist ones that read my screen name and think I'm trying to be funny, and say " I'm on a can"..... well no, that's not it. Please repeat after me ...I (long I) ...mo (long O..like moe howard) ...na (short A) ....can. I....mo..na...can .....Imonacan. Thanks for reading, so we could finally clear this up.

A hair raising scream....on Halloween

I created this blog two years ago, and it's about time I start writing something in it.
The most impressive (and almost heart stopping) event that happened to me so far in the field, from the time I decided to join in on the search and investigation of unknown hairy bipeds that possibly inhabit our forests and more mountainous regions here in the Northeast..... would be a vocalization that took place on Oct. 31, 2009 while camping in the southern parts of the Allegheny NF, in Elk Co, PA.
We (my camping partner Floodman, and myself) had chosen a spot back in off a dirt road that had an open area, with deciduous forest surrounding, and a stand of pine forest and ridge line to our west and north. The map showed a creek on the other side of the ridge. We had selected this general area, based on a sighting report that took place, back in the spring. While my partner relaxed by the fire, I walked off a short distance and found a tree that I had selected earlier, to do a few wood knocks...hoping for some response. I did several sets of them, spaced apart...with no replies, as my recorder was rolling. A while later, I thought about doing a vocalization, with my best effort at a whoooooop (much to the entertainment of my more skeptical partner) , also in hopes of some response. My vocalization to the east, got none. After waiting for a while, I tried another to the west, and heard it echo in the distance. Waiting quietly for around 20 minutes, I looked at my watch and saw it was 8PM, and decided it was time to cook some dinner.
I walked back to my vehicle, and leaned the knocking stick on the tailgate, and made the piss poor decision of pushing the pause button, and placing the little Zoom recorder on a tripod (also sitting on the tailgate)....on standby. Just as I joined Floodman at the fire, and sat down to help prepare our dinner, I got my reply...and what a dooosey it was. The vocalization came from a NW direction in the area we estimated was at the top of the ridge line. It started off as a wooooooooh sound (almost identical to the pitch of my voice ), and then transformed (rather quickly) into a higher pitched scream...that echoed past us, with a force that left us both speechless.... and quite nervous. The scream (female like) had a kind of waivering, wailing, insane sound, that actually.. jumped octaves in pitch. It was nothing either of us, had ever heard before. It produced an echo that could be heard in back of us, in the forest to the east. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck, and arms, and my mind was racing, and thinking..." something IS out there". I tried to make eye contact with my buddy, that was sitting across the campfire from me...just staring into the fire. The look on his face, was one of those priceless moments, that I'll never forget. All of a sudden, I thought about the recorder, and got up to take it back off pause, while nervously shining my headlamp into the trees that surrounded our camp...looking for, who knows what. As I returned to my camp chair, Floodman finally looked up at me, and said " you shouldn't have called that thing in here.....it could be watching us right now....maybe we should pack up, and get the hell out of here".
I know my friend didn't want to hear this at the moment, but after a long pause and much scanning of the tree lines with our lamps, and much uncertain thought...I replied "this is what we're here for. I don't think we're in any danger...so let's relax, and eat...first". I had no idea if my reply was really correct, but after a while, the fears eased up...and I assured him that I wouldn't be whooooping anymore, for the rest of the evening. Before we turned in for the night, I got up the stones to take a walk in the direction of the scream, and place my H2 recorder in a select tree, recording for the overnight. Floodman would have no part of that little nocturnal walk in the woods, and to be butt honest...I was still terrified, and shining my headlamp everywhere. No results, other than a couple known species (that I needed to , and have since identified) were recorded. I've had the winter to think about this, and can't come up with anything known , that could have produced this vocalization. If the vocalization was in the capabilities of a very talented human....than it would of HAD to be assisted by some form of amp or powered megaphone. Sure, it was Halloween, and we were out camping....but there were no roads in the direction of the vocalization, for several miles. If it was a prank, then it was quite the production, with someone trail blazing up to the ridge, through at least a mile of forest. There was a pickup truck that drove past us later, several times on the dirt road below....with spot lights, looking for deer or other animals...which is not at all uncommon. On our trip home, my buddy Floodman kept asking me, if I had somehow pranked him, and set up this vocalization out in the field.. to break his balls or something. In fact, he asked me so many times, that I got pretty annoyed.. and finally pulled over the vehicle, got out and opened the back.. exposing all of our equipment and camping gear from the trip. I asked him to please find the PA system or megaphone setup, that would be needed to produce the sound and volume that we had both heard.. and then tell me, how I pulled it off. He got the point, and started slowly talking about ..What it was, and not Who did it, anymore.
I'm done beating on myself, for not getting this strange and powerful vocalization recorded. Yes, it was a big disappointment, and one I'll just have to chalk up to experience. It was a vocalization that could have been studied further, compared to known animal and human vocals, and analyzed. One of our NESRA members and note keeper, has the right idea....to Never turn off the recorder, and record on a lower format, with the largest memory card you can, and carry several of them. I've purchased a 2nd portable recorder, and one will be designated for just that purpose. After hearing some recorded vocalizations from Ohio, by several other researchers.... I have made some comparisons and found some similarities to what we heard, both in pitch and in the wavering sound... although every one of the vocalizations recorded (that I've heard so far), seems to be unique.