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From "eerie darkness" to roosting birds, here's what you can expect from today's eclipse

A total solar eclipse over a mountain range.
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Shutterstock
A total solar eclipse over a mountain range.

To get more details on the science behind solar eclipses — and what watchers can expect to see this afternoon — Maine Public's Robbie Feinberg spoke with Paul Motts, a naturalist and eclipse chaser from Bethel.

This will be the fifth eclipse Motts has witnessed. And Motts said this one will be even more spectacular than his last total solar eclipse, seven years ago.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Paul Motts: A lot of people have asked me, if they saw the 2017 eclipse, is it really worth going to see this one? Absolutely, it is. This is going to be twice as long as 2017. It's also during a sunspot maximum. And the sunspots are what create the storms that leave us with these beautiful spreading coronas. And also, it's a time when we see these incredible solar flares, often going out over 100,000 miles out into space. And those will be prominent and visible with this eclipse, as well.

Robbie Feinberg: Can you just talk us through what people really should expect from an eclipse, especially in that path of totality? What is that going to be like for folks?

When totality, and that's 100% — when the eclipse is total, the corona will appear. And at that point, and only that point, is it safe to look with it with a naked eye. And what's really interesting about this is that even with all the technology that we have today, in the way of photography, there's nothing that can capture the solar eclipse like our naked eye does. And that's because there's all these super-fine exposures that just can't be captured. It's a moment of that time that only you will be able to experience.

You're also a former National Park Service Ranger. So you've obviously got extensive experience talking about nature and the natural world. I'm wondering, what is an eclipse also like, from that natural, biological perspective? What happens in nature when things do you go dark in this way?

You know, that's one of the fascinating things about eclipses, is that it's not just totality, but it's really all of the captivating events that lead up to totality. So about five minutes before the eclipse, you'll start to notice some changes going on. It'll get a lot darker, the temperature's going to drop. And then you're going to start seeing birds return to the roosts.

Actually, one of the most memorable things I remember, during this last eclipse in 2017, was when the sandhill cranes flew back in, making all kinds of noise. It was really exciting. About one minute before totality, now things really start to happen. You get this eerie, eerie darkness, that just kind of comes over you. And this is a time when the birds are especially active returning back to the roost. If you're near any kind of wetlands, you'll hear waterfowl -- we're in the peak of the waterfowl migration right now.

It's also a time when we can listen for kind of an unusual bird. It's called the woodcock. He'll be coming into his singing-grounds, making these "peent" noises. And then, during the eclipse, he'll actually go into his sky dance. If you're south, you'll notice flowers starting to close up.

Boy, then things really happen. One minute before the eclipse, the diamond ring appears. You have to look at this through your eclipse glasses, though. And then, there it is. Totality. And that's the only time when we can actually look at it with a naked eye.

It sounds, almost, a little overwhelming, where you've got this sight in the sky that you want to be paying attention to. But also this incredible view that's happening all around you, in nature, it sounds like it's difficult to really even process everything that's going on around you.

It is. It just happens so quickly. And that's why, one of the reasons why people go and see another eclipse, is because there's just so much going on, so fast.

Even taking a moment just to kind of look around you a little bit, you'll notice during totality, you'll start to see the planets appearing. There'll be Venus and Jupiter. You'll see some of the stars starting to appear. But also take a moment and look around on the horizon, because the horizon is going to appear very different from what it usually does.

Because one of the things I remember so much about the 1973 Eclipse -- this was at sea, that we saw this eclipse -- when I looked off the side of the boat, everywhere I looked, all the way around the horizon, it was just this most incredible gold-yellow color. It's just one of those events that just really captivated me. And something that I remember so clearly today.

Paul Motts is a naturalist and eclipse chaser from Bethel. He's headed to Texas for the April 8 eclipse.

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