December 21

Wednesday I went with Stacey to her office in Hannibal.  We took my truck because we were doing some hauling.  We loaded up with a bunch of toys for kids in Lewis County.  I felt like Santa Clause.  We filled the bed and the extended part of the cab.  I met some of the people she works with and helped them unload a truck full of food.  We went to Country Kitchen for lunch, thence to Quincy.  I had a meeting on main campus that was fairly uneventful.  I picked up the airline tickets for the Galapagos trip.  Meanwhile, Stacey ran errands around Quincy.  When we got back to Canton we unloaded it all at the Methodist church.

Thursday I woke up with a monster headache.  After I got it under control I went out to Lowell’s.  We were just about to go out rabbit hunting at about 10 a.m. when the guys showed up to install his new carport.  As they pulled up, there was a bad squealing sound coming from their trailer.  Further inspection revealed that the clamp holding one axle to its leaf spring was missing.  After they got the carport up, we jacked up the trailer and pulled the offending wheel, went to Lewistown, and found the mechanic out to lunch.  Lowell and I went to eat, came back and got the mechanic to look at the trailer.  After things were under control we went back to Lowell’s.  They had left one of their members and most of the trailer contents there.  By this time the guy was pretty cold, so Lowell invited him inside.  We watched TV and napped until the guys returned at 3.  While they were reloading their trailer, Lowell and I went out for a brief rabbit hunt.  We only saw one.

I should mention that of the three guys installing the carport, only one spoke any English at all.  I got a lot of practice with my Spanish, which was good preparation for Ecuador.  I chatted with the older one awhile when we were inside.  Turns out they are all brothers from Puebla, Mexico.  He was the eldest.  It was interesting that they used nicknames the whole time: Burro, Pollo and Chivo (Donkey, Chicken and Billy Goat).  I’m guessing that makes it a little more difficult for Immigration to track them down.  They all seemed to be really nice guys, and hardly swore at all, except at the trailer, which was understandable. 

Friday morning I stayed home and did odd jobs.  I’ve been teaching my cockroaches the alphabet.  I figured start out with something easy, like the letter “O”.  They’re slow, so be patient. 

3.87 Mb mpg movie:  Roaches spell.

Friday afternoon I picked up Savannah after her early out (last day before break) from school and took her to Quincy.  I had arranged for my friend Steve, a professional hypnotist, to cure her of her nail biting.  While she was there I went to QU, picked up the money for the trip and stopped by my office to water plants and take care of a few things.  I picked up Savannah and we went to the mall and picked up the Galapagos trip official T shirts.  We got a bite at McD’s and went to see a movie.  She was counting on Sweeney Todd, but it wasn’t playing, so we saw I Am Legend.  It was pretty good, but not the best ever.  Very impressive zombies.  Every now and then Savannah’s hand would move toward her mouth, but as soon as it got there, it would suddenly go back down again.  Hypnosis works!

A while back in this space I reported the results of Googling my name, revealing various Googlegangers.  Saturday I tried Google Scholar, not so much for the Googlegangers, but to see which of my scientific papers has been cited by other studies, and how often.  Turns out my older articles have the most citations, which should not be surprising.  I was amazed at how much progress has been made on honeybees since I’ve gotten away from them.  Incredibly, some Chilean scientists have confirmed in the field some speculations made in my very first paper, which I never had much confidence in.  I also turned up a couple of wasp articles that might be relevant for the current work.  One of them is all in Portuguese, which will be fun to read. 

Saturday was nearly a total waste, as I wasn’t feeling that great.  It started sleeting heavily in the evening, and by morning we had two or three inches of snow on the ground.  Sunday I worked on my courses, shoveled snow and stuff.  I did get a few bird pictures.

Just another cardinal, but I like the ice crystals on the tail and the gleam in the eye.  Red-bellied woodpecker, male.

Sunday afternoon we all went to Stacey’s church.  On the way out the door I was thinking it would be a good day to have the regulation emergency gear: insulated coveralls, boots, hat, gloves.  We hadn’t gone far when Stacey and I both realized we’d left our cell phones at home.  At least Savannah had hers.  At one point I suggested that Stacey was going a bit fast for conditions.  The wind was blowing and drifting snow across the road.  To her credit, she did slow down without complaint.  We went into a big curve, but the Tracker decided to go straight.  We went into a long slide, and Stacey held it nice and smooth into the ditch, where about a foot of snow stopped us.  Fortunately, a guy with a snow plow on his pick-up showed up and cleared the drift from in front of the car.  Stacey put it in 4-wheel drive and pulled out, but I drove the rest of the way to church.  It was my first time in Stacey’s current church, even though she’s worked there for about a year and a half.  I even sang some of the Christmas songs.  There was a good dinner afterward.  One guy had brought his Labrador retriever puppy to give away.  He was awful cute and very mellow, but I don’t want another dog right now.  Santa Claus showed up, but his costume had a creepy translucent mask from which the beard hung.  I thought maybe he was a burn victim.  Must have come down a chimney that still had a fire in it.  We came home on highways that were better plowed.

Christmas Eve Stacey and Savannah Hannibal to deal with more Christmas give-away presents. I stayed home, did odd jobs and went to take care of the pets of some friends who are gone for the holidays.  I did my final packing for the Galapagos, figuring that after Christmas morning I’d want to spend my time playing with new toys with the family.  We went to dinner at Bill and Betty Jo Lloyd’s, as we have the last couple of years. 

Snow still covered the ground, even though it was a warm day (45 F), so we did have a white Christmas.
Christmas morning brought a special surprise for Savannah.  Her boyfriend had told her he was going to Florida over the holidays.  He didn’t really.  Stacey and I were in on the gag.  So I let him in early in the morning.  He woke her up and she said, “When did you get back?”  He said, “I never left.”  She said, “I HATE you!”  This exchange was followed by much more recrimination on her part about how we were all liars, etc.  We opened presents then.  Stacey got a siren for her car (to go with the blue light she got a year ago), some kitchen implements, candle holders, and more.  I got many books (you can never have too many field guides), a bonsai and an herb garden, a tripod attachment, some clothes and hunting and fishing stuff.  Savannah got clothes, a soccer bag, books, and more stuff than I can remember.  The last thing we let her open was a Playstation 2.  Meanwhile, I went downstairs and brought up the last two things for her to open: Guitar Hero III and an extra guitar.  Stacey made waffles for breakfast and we played guitar hero for awhile afterward.  Dustin and Savannah went to Hannibal to see his Dad.  When they got back we had Christmas dinner.  Stacey made a nice prime rib roast, which she does every year.  This year it seemed to be especially delicious.  I ate to bulging.  Kane got the leftover rib bones.

Wednesday morning I did some last-minute packing, cleaned my camera lenses and got the car ready.  I’ll be driving down to St. Louis tonight, spending the night in a hotel, then flying out tomorrow.  This will be the last message you get from me for awhile.  Here’s our itinerary, as provided by our tour service:

Dec 27 – Arrive Quito Ecuador

Upon arrival at the Quito, Ecuador international airport you are met by

our local representative and transferred to your hotel.

Dec 28 – Quito to Baltra

Transfer to the airport and fly to Galápagos by plane, arriving at the

airport at Baltra Island. A small ferry will cross the Itabaca Channel,

which separates it from Santa Cruz Island. This afternoon once on Santa

Cruz, we visit the Charles Darwin Research Center. After checking in to

your Galapagos hotel the evening is yours to explore the charming port

town of Puerto Ayora.

Dec 29 – Floreana

After an early wake up followed by breakfast on board the yacht Galapagos

Shark en route to Floreana Island we land on this fascinating southern

island in the Galapagos chain. Once there we will visit different beaches

for snorkeling and wildlife viewing as well as a hike for visiting caves

of historical significance with possible sightings of Galapagos land

tortoises in their natural environments. This afternoon, on our way back

to Santa Cruz, we will stop for a visit at the off shore island of Corona

del Diablo for sightings of several bird species and one more snorkel

opportunity before heading back to Santa Cruz.

Dec 30 – Coastal Santa Cruz

Today we visit various coastal environments along Santa Cruz by yacht.

There will be several opportunities to swim and snorkel with the island’s

famous marine inhabitants such as marine iguanas, sea lions, Galapagos

sharks, and more at sites such as Play de los Perros, la Loberia, and

Canal de Tiburones.  In addition, we will have opportunities to see

several bird species such as frigates, blue footed boobies, and even pink


Dec 31 – Tortuga Bay and Highlands

This morning we head to beautiful Tortuga Bay beach with it’s 2 km of

white sand. As the name implies, this is a favorite nesting site among

Galapagos sea turtles. In addition you can find sea lions, marine iguanas,

pelicans, flamingos and lava gulls.  In the afternoon we travel by bus to

the highlands of Santa Cruz. The scenery gradually changes as we wind our

way through all seven vegetation zones found in Galapagos. From June to

January, we can find giant tortoises on a private farm in the highlands.

We will also stop at “the tunnels”, the largest lava tubes found in

Galapagos before making our way back to Puerto Ayora.

Jan 1 – Baltra to Quito

As we make our way back to Baltra for your return flights we visit Los

Gemelos, Spanish for “The Twins”, a pair of large pit craters where we

find the bright red male vermilion flycatcher. Upon arrival back to Quito

we are met and transferred to your Quito hotel.

Jan 2 – Mindo

Today we visit the cloud forest habitats of Mindo. We drive two-hours

northwest of Quito to visit the butterfly and orchid conservatory and a

beautiful waterfall of crystal water. Lunch will be in an area hosteria.

This tour is directed to those who have a special interest in nature,

especially bird life for it’s world renown variety of bird species. In the

protected forest Mindo-Nambillo, visitors will have the opportunity to see

flora and fauna of various species, a very different environment from our

previous travels in the Galapagos.

Jan 3 – Quito

Your last full day in Ecuador is yours to explore this historical and

cosmopolitan city independently. Head to “Old Town” colonial Quito and

visit it’s many impressive plazas, churches, and museums, or walk to the

“Virgin of Quito” looking over the city with panoramic views of the city

and surrounding hillside communities.

Jan 4 – Return
Actually, a late flight, then a red-eye out of Atlanta, so we get into St. Louis early on the 5th.

December 12

Tuesday I had my first final.  I had really wanted to go to the MoNEP Xmas meeting that night in St. Louis, but the roads were marginal, and I wasn’t feeling 100%, having a bit of a sore throat.  So I did some shopping and went home.  

Wednesday I gave another final.  We had no internet at North Campus, so I was limited in what I could get done.  Afterward I went to Lori’s for dinner, as usual, before book club.  We spent another night discussing our purpose as a group rather than the book.  This time I think we arrived at an idea of where we want to go from here.  Wanaree gave us all Christmas presents–a necklace with a hand-carved wooden pendant.  It has the Tibetan Om symbol on one side and the eternity knot on the other.

It’s a miracle: I’ve made something people want.  At Lowell’s prompting, I checked my CafePress account to see if anything was selling.  Turns out a lot of people are buying my calendars.  Bald eagles, dragonflies, and ugly bugs are selling the best.  I’m truly shocked.  So naturally I went to work to design some more.  Now I have one on Arizona Wildlife and another on Texas Wildlife.

Thursday I had an early final.  The sun nearly showed itself while I was driving in to work.  Must have offended the Gods.  For the second day I had no internet at my office.  This was frustrating me, as I could not finish up my classes and turn in my grades without accessing our online courseware.  After talking to our IT people a couple of times, they finally got it working by the afternoon.  I wanted to be home by then.  Instead, I was entering and calculating grades all afternoon, and ended up finishing after 5, when the registrar was already closed.   The local paper had both me (cross-country skiing) and Dustin (as the Grinch) on the front page.  This will likely be Savannah’s favorite for all time.

Stacey has had a busy week with all the Christmas stuff.  She has to coordinate a lot of pick-up, delivery, and wrapping of presents.  If that’s not bad enough, her roof leaked and flooded a room full of toys.  

Friday morning I found a freshly dead mouse on the floor of the pantry.  The pertinent question is this: did Boots kill it, or did it die from eating something in there?  Boots’s food dish is only a few feet away; therefore, I suspect he caught it in the act of stealing his goods and dealt it justice.  This is, at least, what I choose to believe.  I took Savannah to cheerleading practice in the morning, got various jobs done around the house, and took pictures of birds.  

This unassuming little dicky-bird is the Pine Siskin.  I’ve never seen it at our feeder before, much less photographed it.  

NOT a Pine Siskin.  Doesn’t come to our feeder either.

Not even a bird, but it hangs around the feeder.

In the afternoon I went in to QU and turned in my grades.  I went to our women’s basketball game, where we delivered a thorough drubbing to Robert Morris.

Saturday morning I got up early to do the Christmas Bird Count for the first time ever.  It snowed nearly the whole time.  It was a lot of fun.  Leo has done it for years.  We started at my office and drove around in our designated sector, walking only through Moorman Park.  We got pretty excited when we saw three geese and a mallard sleeping on a frozen pond there.  Then the geese got up, revealing their domestic origins.  At least we could count the mallard.  Shortly thereafter we saw about 150 Canada geese on a pond.  Early on we saw a coyote in a field, but it ran off before I could get the camera out.  We had a number of bonus birds that helped increase our species diversity: horned larks, white-throated sparrow, song sparrow, and Eurasian tree sparrow.  The latter was a life bird for Leo.  We ended up with 25.  I think European starlings and dark-eyed juncos were the most numerous.  After that I met Stacey, Savannah and Dustin at Arby’s for lunch. 

In the afternoon I took a long nap and goofed around with some animations, producing the following.  It only runs once (does not loop), so you may have to reopen this email if you missed it the first time.  The morphed version looks better, but is a pain to post.

The Fire Department had their annual soup supper fundraiser that night.  Stacey made most of the soup and was down at the church helping out.  Savannah and I went down, had our fill, and went home.  At about 6:30 there was a fire call, and they all left.  They hadn’t had a real fire call in a long time, and this was a doozy.  It was a major structure fire with a fatality.   It had been snowing all day and the roads were bad.  They had a hard time getting the trucks in and out of places, and all the water they sprayed turned to ice.  Stacey was helping fill the tankers.  They had to change hydrants because the water main broke.  She got home at midnight, cold and tired. 

She still went to church on Sunday morning, while Savannah and I stayed home to recover from the tail end of a cold.  We stayed home again on Monday, even though conditions were great for skiing.  I ran a couple of errands and photographed birds out the back window.

Carolina Wren.  Puffed up cardinal.

White-throated sparrow.  Ain’t they cute?

Monday Savannah and I both stayed home, nursed our colds and watched TV.  We didn’t accomplish much. 

December 5

For those keeping up with the deer carcass visitor’s survey, we have some new species checking in this week via Lowell’s trail camera:

A ‘possum come a knockin’.

Masked bandit.

Guess who…                                                                        …Le Pew!

So far we’ve enjoyed the whole parade of mesopredators.

Some recipients of this weekly message were unable to open the little movie file, presumably because their media player was not adequate.  If this was the case for you, download VLC media player free here:

This is an awesome little application that will play pretty much anything.  I’ve been using it for years after learning about it from brother-in-law and computer jock, Jarrod.  

If the link to the movie doesn’t work, try going directly to the blog as posted on the web and clicking on The Metamorphosis:

For those who want to know, I created the movie by using a morphing program to link photos of Savannah from newborn to 16 years of age.  

For those who haven’t asked yet, I leave for the Galapagos on Dec. 27 and return Jan 5.  I will ring in the New Year in an Ecuadorian style.  However that works.  Thursday I had two students just hang out in my office for an hour talking about the Galapagos.  They’re really excited.  After my class I went to meet the guy who coordinates the Christmas bird count in Quincy.  I’m going to help out this year and try to get some students involved.  He had lots of interesting stories to tell.  When I left I could have made a meeting on campus, but we were supposed to have a snowstorm coming in.  Nothing was falling as I drove out of Quincy, but as soon as I got on Highway 61, the snow began to fall.  By the time I got into Lewis county, there was a light skiff of snow on the ground.  At one point, there was a snow plow up ahead, and an SUV between me and it.  I couldn’t move over because of a truck next to me.  I had to hit the brakes when I got closer, and the car immediately went into a slide.  I let up on the brakes, righted the car, and had to hit them again.  I decided I had to take the car off the road or rear-end the SUV.  Once I got the right wheels onto dirt, I slowed down plenty.  I never completely lost control, but I got a nice adrenalin rush out of it.  I called Stacey, and she left work early.

We got about three inches of snow overnight, so Friday morning I went cross-country skiing.  I went downtown and got a hot cup of coffee.  It was good.  From there I skied down to the river.  Eagles don’t like people on skis.  Rock pigeons like to use eagle perches though.

When I got home I wasn’t tired, but my toes hurt.  I let Kane out and he helped me with some chores.  We covered the big wood pile with plastic, rehung the suet feeder, and a couple of other little jobs.  After lunch I went downtown to mail off some stuff.  I went to the river again.  Eagles aren’t afraid of the Li’l Egg.  

Looking down on the world.                                           This one doesn’t have a dirty head, it’s just not fully mature yet.  

Savannah’s class earned a field trip to Skateland.  She skated for about four hours straight, and has the blisters and sore butt (from falling down) to prove it.

Saturday Stacey had to go to class.  Savannah and I stayed home.  I dyed her hair (again) to get all the blonde out of it. I worked on a couple of manuscripts, but otherwise didn’t accomplish much.  We’re enduring a three-day ice storm.  It’s not like you can go out and do much.  Savannah shot another bird out the back door.  She wasn’t the only one hunting them.  I was downstairs when she yelled that there was a hawk in the back yard.  I have the camera set up on a tripod out the back window, as I usually do in winter time.  It wasn’t too spooked, and allowed me to get a lot of shots.
Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk.   House sparrow male and female, AKA the prey family.

I think it was three years ago I saw one kill a sparrow in the bushes at the edge of the woods.  This one flew back in that direction, but I didn’t see if he got anything.  

Sunday I cleaned the fish tank.  The filter had been running slow because (I now know) it was clogged with crud.  Stacey had class again.  Savannah’s boyfriend Dustin played the Grinch at a children’s event held at the library.  This is his debut photo in the blog.

I think he looks good in green.  Not to mention hand cuffs.

Monday I had no classes, but I went in to write my finals and stuff.  Savannah had a very bad day, forgetting her backpack at home, then ripping some big holes in the butt of her jeans.  She had to cover them with duct tape.  Well, it’s the Missouri way.