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 downloadable in a "printer friendly" mode, with black stars on a white background. To download them this way, just left click on the chart.
New this month! Check out our Appalachian Sampler Note Cards
Notes and Images From May 2005
May brought some blue skies for our Cherokee, North Carolina bird and herp survey. Several species of trillium, including Painted Trillium, bloomed beneath the rhododendron, and Mountain Bluets formed a colorful border along many of the streams. As we made our way along our stream transects, we found five species of salamanders, including the Black-bellied Salamander at right.
Ruffed Grouse drummed in the early morning stillness, and as the sun came up the trees seemed to come alive with warblers. Blackburnian Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Canada Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, to name a few, filled the air with their songs. A pair of Broad-winged Hawks wheeled in the clear blue sky above us and performed courtship aerobatics. We found a few minutes at the end of the day to watch the sun setting over Collins Gap. Clingmans Dome is the peak just to the left of the setting sun in the image above. The view looks west across Cherokee tribal land.
Sky Events for June 2005:
Evening Sky: June has some rare treats in store for planet watchers. Jupiter slowly makes its way through the constellation Virgo, outshining everything else in the southwestern sky. Watch for bright Venus to rise higher in the northwestern sky at sunset as the month progresses. Saturn is sinking lower each night in the twilight, and Venus and Saturn will appear to pass within 1.3 degrees of each other on June 24th. But the truly outstanding views will be watching Mercury rise from the sun's glare around mid-month and come within 0.1 degree of Venus on June 27th. Venus will be much brighter than Mercury and may overwhelm it in a naked eye view. Around mid-month get out your binoculars and start looking for Mercury about one fist's (at arm's length) width below and to the right of Venus. In the next couple of weeks Mercury will appear to draw nearer and nearer to Venus.
The view below shows a northwest view on June 27th about 40 minutes after sunset. You will need a flat northwest horizon. You may want to get out your telescope on June 26th, 27th and 28th as there are few opportunities like this for telescopic views. On the 27th, you can see both Venus and Mercury in the same high power field of view! Venus should be almost full and 11 seconds of an arc in apparent diameter. Mercury should be just over half full and display an apparent diameter of about 7 seconds of an arc.
Morning Sky: Mars rises around 1:25am CDT in Pisces at mid-month. It is growing much larger and brighter as it approaches opposition. You will need finder charts to do it, but it's possible to observe all nine planets in one night this month. Uranus is in Aquarius this month, and rises about 12:30am CDT at mid-month. Neptune is in Capricornus and rises about 11:15pm CDT at mid-month, and Pluto is in Serpens Cauda and is already up by dusk. Finder charts for finding these planets are in the June issue of Sky and Telescope. It will take at least an eight inch aperture telescope to see Pluto, preferably a 10" aperture or larger scope.
All times noted in the Sky Events are for Franklin, Tennessee and are Central Daylight Time. These times should be pretty close anywhere in the mid-state area.
Constellations: The views below show the sky looking east at 9:50pm CDT on June 15th. The first view shows the sky with the constellation outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in yellow. Constellation names are in green. The second view shows the same scene without labels. New constellations this month in the eastern sky are Cygnus, the Swan, with its bright star Deneb, and Aquila, the Eagle, with its bright star Altair. The bright stars Deneb, Altair and Vega form the "Summer Triangle." If you locate them first, you will have an easier time finding the constellations around them. Below and to the left of Altair is the constellation of Delphinus, the Dolphin, looking like it's leaping over the eastern horizon. Above Delphinus look for the arrow-like form of Sagitta, the Arrow. Between Sagitta and Cygnus lie the faint stars of Vulpecula, the Fox. Easier to spot are the brightest stars of Sagittarius, the Archer, which form a grouping nicknamed, "The Teapot." Look for them just above the southeast horizon. "The Teapot" will become easier to see as it rises higher above the horizon. On very clear summer nights the bright portions of the Milky Way above Sagittarius look like steam rising from the spout of the teapot. If you look just to the right of the spout of the teapot, you will be looking in the direction of the center of our galaxy. The little grouping of stars to the left of Sagittarius is nicknamed, "The Teaspoon." All of the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion, with its bright star Antares, should now be above the horizon in the southeast. Also in the southeast and above Sagittarius, look for the faint stars of Scutum.
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 June. 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 Altair and Vega 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 that make up the constellation Lyra.
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. If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on July 15th at 9:50pm CDT, you can stay up till 11:50pm CDT on June 15th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
A good book to learn the constellations is H. A. Rey's classic, The Stars, A New Way to See Them. Rey's depictions of the constellations and witty commentary are terrific.
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.
My favorite books about astronomers are Richard Preston's First Light, and the wonderful Starlight Nights, by Leslie Peltier.
A good beginners software program for learning the night sky is the Starry Night Beginner program. Visit the Starry Night web site at www.starrynight.com The program retails for around $30.00 and contains a wealth of information.
In June the treefrogs really hit their stride. Listen for Cope's Gray Treefrogs, Gray Treefrogs, Bird-Voiced Treefrogs, Green Treefrogs and Barking Treefrogs. Northern Cricket Frogs and Southern Cricket Frogs call a lot during June, and the calls of Bullfrogs and Green Frogs fill the night air. After heavy rains listen for the high, insect-like call of the Eastern Narrowmouth Toad and the strange-sounding Eastern Spadefoot.
Now is a good time to get to know the breeding birds of Tennessee. It's fun to take a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June and hike a high altitude trail, like the Alum Cave Bluff trail. By doing so you can encounter birds that breed in Tennessee at these higher elevations, like Black-throated Blue Warblers, Canada Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers and Blackburnian Warblers.
Bird Finding in Tennessee, Michael Lee Bierly. A classic guide to finding birds in Tennessee.
The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley
The Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, David Allen Sibley
This new Sibley Guide covers only eastern North America, is quite compact, and is less expensive than the larger Sibley.
An inexpensive guide for beginners is the Golden Guide for Birds.
(Remember to use the back button on your browser, NOT the back button on the web page!)
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 Starry Night Pro software
All images and recordings © 2005 Leaps