Saturday, September 22, 2012

Missing Astro 2012-09-20

After weeks of cloudy sky, I started to sense that my interest in astronomy is fading. Then one night, I came home from work and found a clear sky waiting for me. I decided not to pass up the chance. I immediately gather my 15x70 Celestron bins, then run up the roof deck and started scanning the sky.

The first batch of stars I saw were unfamiliar to my eyes. I can't even remember the constellations I'm supposed to see during this time of the year. Next, I checked my starmap and found that Cygnus the swan and Pegasus the flying horse should be visible. After a few minutes enjoying the view through a binocular, I decided to try and photograph something.

I went back to my room and took out my EQ-1 mount, attached a ball head with my homemade adapter and attached a camera. I didn't bother getting a scope because a high magnification setup with a scope will require more time , effort and patience which I don't have at the moment. With a scoped setup, I also need to lift more weight due to the heavier EQ-3 mount that I have to use and my injured right wrist is still a bit painful when lifting weights.

Since I'll be using a wide field setup, accuracy in polar alignment is not that critical. I simply pointed the shaft north and proceed to image the starry field above. My first few shots targeted some cloudy portion of the sky and I have to discard the images. After several test shots, I obtained my target and fired away. However, before I could take the fourth exposure, my battery suddenly died. I tried to replace my battery but found out that my spare were also discharged after being left too long in the storage. I have no choice but to end my imaging session prematurely. Here's the only decent image I managed to get after processing the 3x32sec frames.

M29, the small and sparsely populated open cluster can be seen in the shot. The reference bright star, Gamma Cygni (Sadr) on the lower right of the frame is the only star visible with the naked eye.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

More Birding at Angono 2012-09-02

It's been weeks since I last had a chance to hike along the Guido road. It's already the avian migration season, so I didn't want to pass up the chance to do some birding during the weekend. Along the way, I managed to see some usual birds in the area and another lifer, a white bird with a thin black stripe. I initially identified it as a little pied flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni),  but later I realized that it is probably a Pied thriller

Pied thriller

White collared kingfisher

Long tailed shrike

Black naped oriole

Scaley breasted munia

Olive backed sunbird

White breasted wood swallow

Yellow vented bulbul

Striated grassbird

I also took a few landscape shots.

When I reached the Angono Petroglyphs site, I tried to look for some objects of interest after a short rest. On the ground, I saw something that looks like the tail of either a skink or a snake. It seems to be the former, but I'm not really sure. It's probably bitten off by the owl.

 Then, together with the officer-in-charge of the site, we saw the owl.

A few minutes later, thinking that I've seen enough that day, I decided to leave.

I managed to compile this list of birds during the hike.

Eurasian tree sparrow - a lot
Yellow vented bulbul - at least 4
Olive backed sunbird - at least 5
Pied thriller - 1
Philippine eagle-owl - 1
Black naped oriole - 4
White breasted wood swallow - at least 6
White collared kingfisher - 2 seen, at least 2 heard only
Philippine bush warbler - 1
Long tailed shrike - 2
Swiftlet - 2
Striated grassbird -  at least 3
Scaley breasted munia - 2
Gray backed tailorbird - 1 seen, 1 heard
Philippine coucal - at least 2 heard only
Golden bellied gerygone - at least 3 heard only

Wawa Dam 2012-08-27

I wanted to visit a new place and that's just what I did during the weekend. My plan was to visit the Wawa dam in Rodriguez, Rizal (formerly Montalban) and if there's any chance, I can do some birding as well. A few days before, I did some research on how to get to the place and other how tos in order to be as time efficient as possible when I'm there.

I took my usual route to Farmers Market Cubao, where there's an FX (mini-van) terminal there to take me to Montalban. FX drivers usually wait until the vehicle is full before they will depart. The wait took around 20 minutes while the actual trip took just a little more than an hour. I got off at barangay San Rafael in Montalban. From there I took a jeepney bound for Wawa. Along the way, you can see the nice landscape especially during the climb. However, settlers (possible illegal) took some of the beauty away.

When I reached the site, I can already see a section of the waterway dotted with large white boulders. I got off the jeep and started walking towards the dam. I did not see any entrance gate or guard, but there's a handwritten sign on one post about an entrance fee possibly put up by the settlers themselves in order to earn some extra income. As with the road, the place was littered with settlers. When I reached a tunnel carved out of the rocks, a slight drizzle started and I have to protect my camera from getting wet. Although the tunnel itself is dripping water to the ground, at least I can predict where I will get wet. When the rain stopped, I started walking again until I reached the dam taking photos along the way. I walked past the dam and reached another area with possibly the last group of settlers and their houses. I saw a lot of people gathering charcoals. Along the way, I also met some foreigners possible Koreans, some bikers and a group of kids.

I asked a guy about the place and he told me about a column of white rocks with "miraculous" properties that people usually visit during the holy week. I became interested but he was not sure if the road is still passable. He also told me that the way to get to the Pamintinan cave was downstream where I came from, but he said the pathway was possibly swept away by the recent flood. I decided to try the column of miraculous rock first and started walking towards the direction he pointed. A few hundred meters, I started to sense that the trail is getting narrower, so I asked another guy coming from that direction. He told me that I need about 2 hours  to get to the place. Upon hearing this, I changed my mind. I wasn't prepared to take the long hike along an unfamiliar territory. If I have a companion, I might take the challenge but not this time. I turned back and just took a few more shots.

I didn't notice any pathway that will allow me to cross the creek in order to get to the cave. So I asked another guyy and he told me that it was indeed swept away by the flood. I think the creek is passable even without the pathway, but you have to wade across the knee deep water. Since I  am not prepared for it, I decided to just come back some other time. On my way back, I reached an area with some trees and I heard some bird calls. I only saw some elegant tits and nothing else. I wanted to look for birds near the dam structure earlier. There were some trees there as well, but the roaring water was so loud that any bird calls will be masked. There's also a mist effect generated by the water splashes. After getting some documentary shots of the birds, I head for home.