Stéphane’s Posting for Oct. 25, 2011

Aurora Borealis!

I have a habit of stepping outside the cabin just before bed time, to look at stars, clouds, the wind… in short, to get a feeling of the night weather. Yesterday, I went outside around 9:15 PM and immediately noticed a diffuse but bright light on the western horizon. It was a whitish light with no apparent source. Intrigued, I went down to the shoreline and saw more of this diffuse brightness on the norther horizon. I ran back in to tell Kendal, the volunteer, that there might be Northern Lights developing!

Sure enough, seconds later, the sky started to glow in an amazing display! There was a low bank of clouds far across the bay and lights started to shoot out from behind them. Beams of light started to grow and fused together. And suddenly, they turned red! The sky was alive and on fire! Immense curtains of light danced directly over our heads, as we laid down speechless on the stony beach, impervious to the cold wind and the rocks poking our ribs. We watched in awe for as long as the Aurora Borealis played overhead, in a sacred silence, in sharp contrast with the first whoops and cries of joy when we first realized what was happening.

It was the most amazing Northern Lights I have ever seen! At Cabot Head, I’ve previously seen “strange”, very diffuse bands of white light, never strong enough to be seen as Northern Lights – although they were. But never ever such a strong display of red and white, dancing lights. It was such a delightful and humbling experience.

[Editor’s note:  Stéphane, along with people all over North America, and as far south as Texas, witnessed the effect of a ‘coronal mass ejection’ from the sun affecting the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.  The bright red is caused by ionized oxygen; an indicator of how deeply the radiation penetrated the planet’s defenses.  Knowing this did not diminish the sense of wonder experienced by the folks at Cabot Head and the folks at Cape Hurd!]


PS: Oh! Yes, the birds! I guess I’m supposed to talk of birds in the blog. Today was extraordinarily quiet, with a handful of chickadees in the nets, along with one American Tree Sparrow and one Junco. Besides roaming small flocks of White-winged Crossbills, and the imposing Bald Eagle, there is not much to report. Yesterday was extremely windy and no nets were open. The story was pretty much the same for the birds, with 2 young Bald Eagles seen. One took a bath in Wingfield Basin after I watched it flying with “something” in its talons (it was hard to tell: I could only see a pair of long legs dangling…)