The Great American Eclipse from my backyard: Observing Darwin for Citizen Science

I was very happy for friends and family living in the arc of the total eclipse, but eclipse watching in Southern California offered limited excitement. No matter! Why not fully experience whatever it would be?

About an hour before peak viewing time I took notice of the slant of light.

Fifteen minutes before I was expecting to notice any change, Zena became hyper-alert. You’ll see she is also looking at the shadows.

She could have been looking at Jay hand watering a few plants in the front yard, but she’s a very Β smart and intuitive dog. I think she was sensing impending drama.

I thought it was important that I check on Darwin. He was roaming about, not yet displaying any sign of concern. The sun was still very bright on the south side of the yard.

Camera in hand…what would I see at the furthest point west? The sun was visible above the house, and I witnessed two hummingbirds fighting at the feeder. Surely the birds were sensing something?

Aha! Proof!

Witness evidence that the birds were affected by atmospheric changes. Ten full minutes before peak time ALL the birds disappeared from our feeders.

It’s possible that while my attention was drawn to the dueling hummingbirds I disturbed them from their morning feeding frenzy. But then, note the squirrel didn’t scatter when I came close.

Some would argue that nothing disturbs squirrels, however…

Back to check those shadows at just the right moment! This is our Los Angeles peak time!

Not quite the drama I’d hoped to capture.

The slant of light was slightly different from what we typically experience at this time of day. Either that or I was imagining it.

It did seem to freak out Darwin, though. As the eclipse followed its entire cycle he stood on his hind legs and tried to reach the gate latch. It was all obviously just too much for him.

Darwin is a very sensitive creature.

To calm down he made his way back to his water dish. The eclipse-created pattern on his shell was most intriguing. I’ve never seen him dappled with this particular pattern.

It’s true that I’m rarely on that side of the yard at 10:29 in the morning, but, it COULD be related to this morning’s event.

What an exhausting morning for all of us! Capturing nature’s phenomena is indeed hard work. To calm him a bit, I added a few succulents to his breakfast of timothy hay, and let him return to his normal activities.

Some of you undoubtedly had much more complete experiences of the full eclipse. Just think of what I would have recorded if I lived in the path of totality!

However, I think I experienced just about everything I could possibly enjoy without leaving my own back yard.

My camera recorded my careful observations, and I think this exercise now qualifies me as a citizen scientist.*


*No actual science was conducted in this informal observation, but it sure was fun!






40 thoughts on “The Great American Eclipse from my backyard: Observing Darwin for Citizen Science

  1. Fun experiment. Here at my office, a few folks brought eclipse glasses and we looked at it and found a few paper plates to make pinhole viewers from. Mostly we just used it as an excuse to stand outside for 45 minutes.

    1. I was honestly so irritated with myself, Andrew, for not planning ahead and at least making a pinhole viewer. I suppose I could have done that last minute, but I wasn’t even sure how to project the image until later when I saw how other people did it! Hard to believe, but true! LOL! I was telling my grandchildren that when I was a child I recall looking at the sun with film negatives as the only protection. It’s a miracle I didn’t damage my eyes. I would have enjoyed experiencing the event with coworkers, and just sharing such a remarkable experience. Being outdoors was indeed a bonus!

    1. Maybe it’s best you were in the thick of it, Kate. Just think of the chaos if the cats got all confused! I’m thinking meal time would have been fraught with additional tension! πŸ™‚

  2. So funny! I on the other hand missed it entirely. Could be because I was cleaning spots off my bedroom carpet?! And where do these spots come from when I neither eat or drink in my bedroom! Ah well, some had tremendous good fortune seeing an almost total Eclipse but I will take Darwin’s patterned shell any day!

    1. You made me laugh, Linda. I’m sorry you were cleaning spots off of carpeting, mysterious as they may be, but you must have been very intent! LOL! You didn’t miss much, as you witnessed by my “photo essay,” but I did play around for more than an hour and avoided all work for most of the day. Ha! You were productive. πŸ™‚

    1. Brilliant! I had never heard this tip and certainly wish I had. I think to have seen anything at all would be super! Although I didn’t feel like I experienced all that much, I was really very pleased and a little excited for those I knew were witnessing such a rarity. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you so much for enjoying my little tongue-in-cheek review of the “big eclipse day.” I must say that I amused myself. When I first starting taking the photos I honestly thought I might see something worth sharing…as that didn’t really happen, I chuckled at all the time I’m put in to record “not much.” LOL!

  3. On my way to work I heard on the radio that the eclipse would affect the animals. So I was intrigued to see your post. I was working and didn’t see anything really. THough the lady I was interviewing, and I, kept going to the front door because it looked different outside, but not in a way either of us could explain.

    1. I think I somewhat know what you experienced, Colleen. There was a shift of light and a change, but it was so subtle it would never show in a photo. It sure captured everyone’s imagination, though, didn’t it?

    1. I’ll take a beautiful sunset any day, Marina! It was kind of amusing to me the way everyone stopped for a few hours and just focused on one thing! I heard more people comment how much they enjoyed a day to think about something other than political upheaval. LOL!

  4. Sounds fun too Debra! We had a partial eclipse a few years ago in spring, and the tulips closed up! Our last total eclipse was 1999, and we watched from our balcony as everything went quiet and the birds stopped singing. It is interesting that we all notice different things too. The shadows are quite appealing and make Darwin look much younger… πŸ˜‰ LOL!

    1. I’m so glad you shared your experience, Cathy! I find it simply incredible that in even a very short duration the tulips would “know” its nighttime and close. I would never guess that! I think it was just a fun day, and a nice break from all the political nonsense that absorbs me these days. πŸ™‚ Darwin appreciates the compliment!

    1. That’s a significant temperature drop, Jim! That fascinates me. I do think it must have been very special to experience. When it came to the day I wondered why I hadn’t perhaps made more of an effort to position myself for a better viewing, but maybe I’ll do better in 2024! I have a little time to think about that. πŸ™‚

    1. Oh gosh yes! This of you living in that defined swath have experienced something very special, I think, but it must have been incredible to be “descended upon” by so many out-of-towners! I have friends who traveled from California to Idaho, and I hope they found it worth it! I think in some ways, if I’m really honest, I felt a little left out! LOL!

  5. You are, indeed, a citizen scientist extraordinaire!
    There were so many ways to experience the eclipse, Debra, and you have demonstrated one here. I’m certain the light changes you observed were a part of it. I have a friend in Ireland who is always photographing and experiencing the wonderful light she gets. She observed that at the time of full impact, her light changed for a bit even though they were far from the path of the eclipse.
    A wonderful, uplifting and delightful post, my friend. Thank you.

    1. Penny, I was just having so much fun, laughing at myself. When I first started taking the photos I honestly didn’t know if I might record something special. As it went on and I realized that not much was observable, I just started “talking to the animals” and chuckling. The light did change some and it was much more observable than I could capture in a photo, but it was, of course, really brief. Isn’t that something that someone in Ireland even noted the change! I just love that. Thank you for enjoying this little blog post. I think we could all use a little levity! πŸ™‚

  6. We have annual passes to Kennedy Space Center . . . so we went yesterday for the Solar Eclipse Day festivities. The most amazing thing to me was how much cooler it was when the eclipse was at its peak (about 83% coverage by the moon) ~> the temperature dropped from the 90’s into the 80’s.

    Aah . . . that’s better!

    I like the projected crescents on Darwin’s shell ~ good capture.

    1. What a great place to see the eclipse, Nancy! Good positioning! I think what I most missed was sharing it with other people. I think I would have enjoyed being somewhere to feel the excitement of others, although Darwin and Zena did their best to show enthusiasm. πŸ™‚

  7. Great observations! Here in the Boston area we had 65% eclipse, and I walked for 50 minutes before, during, and after to note changes in the environment. I think I pretty much made up the changes; in reality, not much, although perhaps the birds were a bit quieter. I think just observing from your own backyard is the best way, because you’re most familiar with it, and can note even small changes. I love Darwin!

  8. CFL and I went to Idaho and experienced 2 minutes and about 10 seconds of totality, in the middle of a cattle ranch where we had a clear view of the 360ΒΊ sunset as well as the blackened sun itself. It was mind-blowing. The first total eclipse for either of us.

    We are already thinking about where we will go to see the next one to hit the US in 2024. Totality is an experience not to be missed. We want more of it.

    1. Your experience sounds wonderfully fulfilling and very interesting, Lori. We have been discussion the possibility of planning ahead for 2024. I honestly did feel sorry we didn’t make more effort this time, but I wouldn’t want to bypass the opportunity again! Good for you guys, though. We have friends who traveled from here to Idaho, and I can’t wait to listen to them tell us about their experience. πŸ™‚

  9. Dear Debra, here we did have a total solar eclipse, but truthfully, I think you recognized the change it brought much more than I did. I was so concerned about my eyes that I kept the glasses on and missed the corona and the total darkness. You, however, scientist that you are, captured change! Thanks for your delightful presentation of it! Peace.

    1. Oh goodness, Dee. I’m sure you were very aware of protecting your eyes! I didn’t do any “looking up” during the brief period because I hadn’t made any arrangements ahead of time, and being only partial, I wasn’t sure we’d capture enough of a change to be worth more effort. But in the end, I think we all just had fun with it. I think I got more out of watching CNN and observing how it moved across the country. That indeed fascinated me! I’m glad you took all precaution, of course!

    1. If you’d like to have your peace and quiet turned upside down, you might consider adding a “Darwin” into your life, Frank. Had I only known! LOL!

  10. Haha love this! We were lucky to be a little closer to the path of totality πŸ™‚ It was indeed quite eerie to see the sky so dark in the middle of the day. We were getting nervous because we had a thunderstorm that same morning and there were so many clouds in the sky that blocked it out at times. Thankfully, though, the clouds moved just in time for the eclipse!

    1. Cable news was mentioning the weather and the clouds, Stacey, so I was really pleased when you shared that you had a successful view. It must have been really incredible. ox

  11. Playing catch-up here Debra (Having a week away really messes with the timetable!) Sounds like you really made the best of the moment and I think Zena would certainly sense the change in the light level before we do. Animals are very much more in touch with their environment than we are!

  12. Pingback: Earth Day: Putting my money where my mouth is – breathelighter

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