Nazarra had originally booked her Dark Sky Safari for Saturday, but the weather forecast prompted a late rearrangement…and that was looking like a great idea when the weather on Saturday evening proved to be far worse than forecast 🙂
As I drove to Newbiggin on Sunday evening the rain was hammering against the windscreen but away to the west I could see the weather starting to clear and, by the time I collected Nazarra, Venus was shining bright against a dark blue background. Patchy cloud revealed most of the sky at various points during the evening, and the only real weather we had to contend with was a bone-chilling breeze. After a good look at the Orion Nebula (M42), Pleiades (M45), Andromeda galaxy (M31), Orion, Taurus, Gemini, the Plough, Cassiopeia, Auriga and Sirius, Nazarra mentioned that she hadn’t photographed the night sky but was keen to learn how to do that. Choosing camera settings that would be appropriate for a widefield starscape, Nazarra pressed the shutter release as I held the tripod stable against the breeze. That first shot looked rather orange but I couldn’t see any low cloud that would reflect light pollution…a quick change of the white balance setting did away with the orange glow and the next image had a trace of the Milky Way visible 🙂 With the cloud clearing further, the Milky Way came into naked eye visibility and several sections of the sky were imaged before it was time to return to Newbiggin.
I’ll be leading some landscape astrophotography workshops at the fantastic Battlesteads Observatory from March onwards, and I’m the lead astronomer there most Wednesday evenings and a couple of Saturdays every month too. Do get in touch if you want to learn more about the universe and how to photograph the night sky 🙂
Here’s the Milky Way from the Holy Island causeway last September.
At this time of year, some of our favourite activities are mini-safaris for families with young children. With reasonable weather mammals, birds, insects. flowers and stargazing can all be wrapped up into an evening around Druridge Bay and the southeast Northumberland coast…
I collected Niall, Emma, Betty and Pearl from Cresswell and we headed off to search for our first target species for the evening. Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Great Tit were all around the feeding station where I thought we’d find a squirrel, and sure enough, Niall spotted one coming through the trees nearby. This was a young Red Squirrel though, and it was struggling with the concept a of a feeder with a hinged lid; sitting on the lid and peering wistfully through the transparent front of the feeder didn’t hold it’s attention for long so it set about plundering the bird feeders, stretching across from the tree trunks and swinging from the feeders like an Olympic gymnast. Then it returned to the squirrel feeder and sat on the platform, lifted the lid and made off with a hazelnut 🙂
Heading up the coast we were treated to the sight of a Barn Owl quartering the dunes on silent wings before hovering and plunging into the grass then rising and flying off carrying a hapless vole in it’s talons. Little Egrets, Grey Herons and Canada Geese were all studied through the ‘scope and Rabbits made brief appearances throughout the evening.
As dusk began fading to darkness, with Shoveler and Teal silhouetted against the final rays of daylight, Noctule Bats were hunting overhead as the near-full Moon made an excellent subject for study with the ‘scope. Turning on the bat detector allowed us to listen to them as well as watching their hunting flight. If you’ve never heard a Noctule then treat yourself by listening to a recording of one. Betty’s comment really sums them up though “It sound’s like it’s beat-boxing”. With the dark cloak of night finally starting to take a grip, stars and planets appeared as if a light switch had been flicked on. Mars, eeriely red low in the west, Vega, one of the three bright stars that make up the Summer Triangle, and then the grand finale, Saturn; appearing elongated through binoculars, and resolving to the giant planet and it’s rings in the telescope view 🙂
If you’re visiting Northumberland with your family give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out what we can do for you 🙂