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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

Today's West Texas expedition was to the Davis Mountains area in search of Montezuma quails. The Davis Mountains are what is known as a "Sky Island," rising high above the Chihuahuan Desert and are one of the most beautiful places in Texas.

In addition to birding, our destination was the famous McDonald Observatory. On my last visit to Texas, we visited Fort Davis National Historic Site but had to force ourselves to drive on by the observatory due to time constraints. We were acquainted with it because of the StarDate daily program on public radio and thrilled just to have seen it.

Val and I ate lunch and then took in a program on the sun, which included views of the solar orb in real-time. After the program, we loaded into a tour van and up we went, on what we learned was the highest highway in Texas, to tour two of the huge research telescopes. Our tour guide was funny and knowledgeable.

The home of the observatory director

A couple of websites the tour guide recommended are Solar Dynamics Observatory and Space Weather.

One of the most interesting things I learned today is that the moon is moving away from the earth 3 cm a year, something that was discovered at this observatory. That and Jupiter causes the sun to wobble ever so slightly.

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them." Galileo Galilei

Our birding destinations of the day included the Davis Mountains State Park. Texas has an impressive array of state parks and this one is exceptional. Here they offer two specially designed buildings from which one can observe feeders and water features, loaded with birds. Both the State Park and the Observatory offer great scenic views of the area.

It was a great birding day. We "bagged" 47 different species of birds. The highlights were lots of blue grosbeaks, a Broad-billed hummingbird, and a new lifer for me -- a Western Scrub-Jay. But no Montezuma quails. Oh well.

We capped off an eventful day looking at the full moon flirting with Juniper. And almost stumbled over a nasty looking Giant desert centipede, without a doubt the creepiest thing I've seen here. And that isn't a tall tale. Always walk in the desert night with a flashlight.

Now that I've given y'all earworm, I leave you with the penultimate Texas tune.

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