The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
Note: You can click on the hyperlinks to learn more about some of the featured items. To return to the Calendar, hit the "back" button on your browser, NOT the "back" button on the web page. All charts are available in a "printer friendly" mode, with black stars on a white background. Left clicking on each chart will take you to a printable black and white image. Please note that images on these pages are meant to be displayed at 100%. If your browser zooms into a higher magnification than that, the images may lose quality.
Though we link book references to nationwide sources, we encourage you to support your local book store whenever possible.
Notes and Images From February 2014
On February 27th we tagged along with MTSU faculty and students conducting Streamside Salamander egg mass surveys. Though the temperature was a little brisk, the sun was shining and it was a pretty morning.
Like a number of our other salamander species, this species breeds in the winter. The egg masses can sometimes be found beneath rocks in streams this time of year. The scientific name, Ambystoma barbouri, honors University of Kentucky herpetologist Roger Barbour. If you decide to look for salamander egg masses, always lift stones very slowly and replace them carefully to prevent any damage to the eggs.
This species is "Deemed in Need of Management" by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and is considered vulnerable to land use that alters the habitat bordering streams in central Tennessee.
Sky Events for March 2015:
The Vernal Equinox, marking the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, occurs at 5:45pm CDT on March 20th.
Mars continues to be visible well into March. It starts out the month about 4 degrees below bright Venus, which shines brilliantly all month long in the western sky after sunset. Mars sinks lower to the horizon each day, and will be difficult to spot by the end of the month. Telescopically, Mars is tiny, only about 4 seconds of an arc in apparent diameter. If you have a telescope, you may be able to observe the planet Uranus passing behind Mars on March 11th. At dusk on the 11th, Uranus will be less than 1/2 of a degree from Mars, putting it in the same field of view in many eyepieces. Uranus is much fainter however, and you will need moderately high power to see either planet as a globe.
Jupiter is in Cancer this month, and is the brightest star-like object in the eastern sky in the early evening. Wait for it to climb high in the sky to get the best telescopic view. The cloud surface is constantly changing on Jupiter, and there's always something of interest to observe.
Saturn rises about 12:19am (CST) at the beginning of the month in Scorpius. Look for it low in the southeast. Saturn's rings have opened up to a nearly 24 degree tilt, giving a wonderful view of the ring system through just about any aperture telescope. Wait till just before dawn to get the best view.
You may be able to still spot Mercury in the morning twilight during the first part of March, but it will be pretty low and difficult.
All times noted in the Sky Events are for Franklin, Tennessee. These times should be pretty close anywhere in the mid-state area. Daylight Savings Time begins at 2:00am on March 8th.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 9:30pm CDT on March 15th. The first view shows the sky with the constellation outlines and names depicted. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels. The bright star Arcturus, in Bootes, the Herdsman, makes its appearance this month in the early evening sky, a sure sign that Spring is here. Virgo clears the horizon this month along with Corvus, the Crow. The area of sky encompassing Leo, Virgo and Como Berenices marks the heart of the great Virgo cluster of galaxies. In the early morning hours Virgo will have risen high enough in the sky to search for the many bright galaxies that are in this region. Messier 104, in southern Virgo just above Corvus, is one of the easier galaxies to spot in binoculars. Click the image above to go to a full size image and a binocular finder chart.
On Learning the Constellations: We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each March. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars (Like Arcturus and Denebola in the above scene looking east), for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars of Corvus the Crow.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the sun and the moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
Starry Night has several software programs for learning the night sky. Visit the Starry Night web site at www.starrynight.com for details.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a terrific way to learn the surface features of the Moon. And it's free software. You can download the Virtual Moon Atlas here.
Cartes du Ciel is a great program for finding your way around the sky. It is also free, and can be downloaded here.
Apps: We really love the Sky Safari Pro application described here. For upcoming events, the Sky Week application is quite nice. Both apps are available for both I-phone and Android operating systems. The newest version, Sky Safari 4, is available from Play Store or from i-tunes.
After being in the deep freeze during the last two weeks of February, most of us are looking forward to warmer temperatures. On February 28th we heard Upland Chorus Frogs calling at our farm around 8:00pm. They will continue to call in March, along with Spring Peepers, American Toads and Southern Leopard Frogs. Crawfish Frogs give their loud snoring calls early in the month in West Tennessee. At higher elevations, listen for Mountain Chorus Frogs. Towards the end of the month listen for Pickerel Frogs doing their "yeeooow" call. Remember that on mild nights you may find frogs and toads out foraging that you do not hear until later in the season. On warm days listen for early treefrogs, like Cope's Gray Treefrog, and for early Northern Cricket Frogs. The Northern Cricket Frogs at our pond often call just before a train passes by our field, possibly stimulated by the vibrations.
Recommended: The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.
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Nature Notes Archives: Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses.
Night scenes prepared with The Sky Professional from Software Bisque
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