August 26 – to Chicago, and beyond!

Tuesday I went into one of our labs and a light fixture started arcing and sparking.  By the time I retrieved the plant press I had gone in there for, the light was smoking pretty badly.  I switched it off and called maintenance.  Turns out it’s the second time that’s happened recently.

I took my FYE class on a bug walk.  They caught several species of butterflies, found a couple of cicadas that had been paralyzed by cicada killers, and saw some cicadas in the process of emerging.  My ecology class caught and marked 134 grasshoppers during one hour of the sunny, hot afternoon.  When I got home I caught 20 cicada killers and sequestered them in special chambers with a supply of sugar water.

Thursday morning I caught 6 more and took them to work with me.  I showed them to some of my classes.  They were fairly fascinated, and asked what I was going to do with them.  I said, “I’m going to take them up to Chicago and break their legs.”  This was exactly my plan.  After my classes I got in the car and headed for Aurora.  It was about 6 hours before I got to Vince’s.  Friday morning I got on the Metra train to downtown Chicago (Union Station).  I had planned to catch an express bus to the University of Chicago, but I missed the last one by 5 minutes.  Luckily, I spotted another going to nearby Hyde Park.  It was a bit weird carrying live wasps on the train and bus, but I wanted to avoid driving this route, as I had last year.   I walked several blocks to the lab of Michael LaBarbera.  He’s the same guy I worked with last year.  He had the apparatus all set up, just like we did with the females previously.  My job was to kill the males and mount their legs in wooden blocks.  Michael placed them in the apparatus and measured the amount of force required to break them (and a lot of other stuff).  It took about 50 grams to break the leg of a male, or about 100 times its body mass.  We made pretty good time.  We caught up on things.  Turns out he’s a dragonfly photographer too.  We walked to his flat and I met his wife and one daughter.  He drove me to Union Station and I took the train back to Aurora.  Vince and I went to a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended to him.  It was really good food.  They made fresh guacamole right at the table.  To top it off, there was a live Mariachi band.  They played an up-tempo tune for us, “Guadalajara.”  It was great catching up with Vince, as we haven’t communicated much over the past year. 

Saturday morning I hit the road again, heading north.  Southern Wisconsin is somewhat surreal.  You see an old farm house with a barn and a silo next to a corn field and it looks like something straight from a postcard.  Then a mile later there’s another.  And another.  I kept on to Spooner, Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, half of Chicago was heading up to the Wisconsin Dells for Labor Day.  The traffic was heavy but fast.  I arrived at Ron’s River Estate in the early afternoon.  We went to a cafe across the street and had really good hamburgers.  We had to make a run to the sporting goods store to get a new battery and trolling motor before getting to the fishing.  The fish weren’t terribly cooperative, but we had fun.  Ron took the boat downriver (or was it upriver?) to see some sights.  I should mention that Ron’s River is crystal clear, has little current, and at the moment is a bit overgrown with submergent vegetation. 

Lotus plants were in bloom. 

I’ll let you guess what this is.

Sunset over Ron’s River (note that on all published maps it is denoted as the Yellow River).

Sunday we got a great breakfast at another local diner.  We could not let the fish rest.  I tried every lure I could think of and worked it hard.  I finally got a hard bite on a small, neon red, little, lipless crankbait.  I fought it for a few seconds before the lure broke off.  That was as close as I would get to any fish.  It’s been three years or so since I fished with Ron, and it was good enough just to be there.  Northern Wisconsin is beautiful–heavily forested, full of lakes and scenic views.  And then there’s the wildlife.  I never saw a bear or a moose or a purple-browed mot-mot, but did photograph some species I had never gotten before.

Apparently, an army of chipmunks live under Ron’s deck.

The most common dragonfly there is this skimmer.

There’s a fish hatchery (world’s largest for muskie) across the river.  Birds like this osprey take advantage of it, as do bald eagles and sea gulls.

Orioles come to Ron’s feeder, which I need to copy.

Ron let me take out the Black Yak.  It’s shorter and much lighter than the Coyak, so I was able to make it really move.  I flipped it just for fun.  Unlike mine, it doesn’t drain when you flip it back over.  I dragged it in and we pulled the plug.  It was a blast. 

The colorful post-sunset Sunday night.  No retouching on this one.

Interesting cloud formation.  This one I tweaked a bit.

We spent most of the evening sitting on the back deck talking.  It was quite pleasant, with a steady breeze.  I was relishing the blessedly dry air after a summer of oppressive humidity. 

The reunion!

Monday I left at 8 a.m.  Traffic was relatively light all the way home.  I stopped once for lunch, twice for gas, and once for Cabela’s.  I got home at about 5:30 p.m., having put 1250 miles on the Lil Egg over the course of the entire trip. 

August 19 – First week of classes

Tuesday was the first real day of classes.  I had a headache all day, and had a hard time staying with it.  Add to that computer problems.  Then some of the FYE students really didn’t want to adopt a cockroach.  Can you believe it?  Tough day.

I had noticed that the air conditioner at home was making a whining noise.  I checked the filter Wednesday morning.  It was so dirty it’s a miracle any air molecule was able to pass through it.  Some sources say to change it every month.  I think it’s been a couple of years.  I picked up a new one after work; the whining has stopped.  It was Savannah’s first day back to school.  Summer’s over for her too. 

Thursday was fun.  I took my invertebrate zoology class to the pet shop so we could get all the materials to set up a salt water aquarium.  We got it all working, and may be able to put in a fish by next week.  The goal is to get a variety of invertebrates to live in it. 

I found a patch of weeds with dead grasshoppers perched near the tops.  I don’t know what parasite causes your body to be hollowed out and separated from your head, but I know I don’t want it.

This mud dauber was hauling big spiders into my garden shed one after another, like that was the easiest part of its job.

When I got to the office Friday morning there was some water on the floor.  I thought the aquarium was leaking, but as I leaned on it to look around I noticed it was really cold.  A thermometer showed that the water temperature was 4 C.  I guess the old refrigeration unit on the thing still works.  I turned the thermostat up considerably. 

When I got home I took Savannah over to Culver to buy her book–she’s taking one class.  It was $80 for a thin softcover book.  I don’t often see that side of the equation.  I normally just assign textbooks.

Saturday I started making the blackberry wine.  I found my notebook and followed an old recipe.  Fortunately, I had all the ingredients.  I watched some Olympics.  Stacey and I went to a party at QU for biology majors.  I played hackysack and volleyball with my students.  It was fun, as many of my old students I don’t have in class right now.  I went up to spike a ball against a really big student on the other side.  I was flattened.  I had to shower when I got home to get all the sand off of me.

I was a little sore Sunday morning, but I managed to motivate sufficiently to go fishing.  I had bought some minnows while we were in Quincy, and took care to aerate them constantly.  Nonetheless, they were all dead on Sunday.  Lowell and I tried catfishing with them (unlike the crappie fishing we had intended), but got no bites.  We fared better with bass fishing.  I tried a jitterbug and a spinner to no effect.  I was getting bites on a slug-go, but not hooking well.  I switched hooks and increased my percentage substantially, boating 8 largemouth bass and one hybrid bluegill.  Lowell was nailing the big bluegills.  At one part of the lake we got a distinct smell of something dead. After lunch we took a drive around in the mule, finding a small dead canid.  Yuck.  Later we tried baitfishing off a large tree–right in the odor plume of the dead beast.  The fish weren’t biting anyway so we got the heck out of there.  Butterflies were abundant this day, many basking in the sun because it was cool.

Giant swallowtail samples a cosmo.

A pearly eye, which I haven’t seen for over a year.

Nice viceroy.

Finally, a great spangled fritillary that would pose for me.  I’ve been trying about 3 years to get this shot.

This strange flower was in the trail.  The stem is a double helix, with little flowers blossoming out in a spiral pattern.  It’s not in my wildflower book (any help, Leo?).

Monday was a fairly uneventful day at work.  That night when we were leaving the house Stacey noticed something on the sidewalk.  Seizing a rare opportunity, I ran for the camera.

Young bumblebees in love.  The new queen, at right, will hide out in the leaf litter and wait for the spring.  The little male will die shortly.  Life is not fair. 

August 13 – The Last Week of Summer :(

Tuesday I didn’t accomplish much.  I fixed the mailbox, which someone had hit.  I finished opening the new holes in the awning gutter.  A brief rain wasn’t enough to test it though.  I made some new calendars (frogs, lizards, snakes) and a new section of T-shirts and other stuff featuring frog skeletons on my CafePress shop.  I think they look cool.  I watched a lot of Olympics, of course.

Wednesday I had to go to work. Curses!  I spent the morning working on one course.  In the afternoon I dismantled the piles of material from last semester’s courses.  I had a meeting on FYE that wasn’t bad at all. 

Thursday it was back to work for almost a whole day of meetings.  These were most informative and even the working meeting wasn’t too difficult.  I finally met our new University President.  Really nice guy, and really on the ball.  I think he has the potential to take the institution to a new level, unlike any administration we’ve had in years.  Thursday night was the faculty/staff potluck, which was good for socializing. 

Friday was another most of a day at the office.  First I had an appointment to teach a couple of other faculty how to use Moodle.  One picked it up really quick, the other one not so much.  We had a division meeting with our interim division chair, as our regular one is on sabbatical. 

Saturday morning Stacey and I went garage saling.  We hardly stopped at any, and we didn’t buy anything.  Savannah and I went for a bike ride.  She had a sore butt from her bike ride the previous day.  We just did the dog and cats run and pedaled around Canton.  It is incredible how low the river is now, especially considering the recent flood.  Barges are running aground.  In the afternoon I went to QU to meet with my FYE class.  We played Bug Bingo, and it was kinda fun.  On the way out I noticed a male cicada killer hovering around the library.  I also found a burrow under a bush.  It’s the first time I’ve seen one on campus.  I also saw a few butterflies.

This guy looks ready, but it’s late in the season to find any new females.

Monarchs are accumulating.  This one’s a bit beat up.

A butterfly bush next to St. Francis hall is a magnet for painted ladies.

My neighbor was having a sweetgum tree cut down, so I asked the guys if I could have the logs.  I chainsawed them and added them to my south wood rack.  It can hold no more, being now dangerously high.

Sunday I went out to Lowell’s–with big plans.  First, we fished for bass, going around the lake three times.  I caught six, mostly on a topwater (Devil’s Horse), which is a lot of fun.  At one point I was using a black spinner.  Something big slammed it, and jumped clear of the water.  Big catfish!  It gave me quite a pull.  I released it.  We had a hearty lunch of breakfast in town.  Upon returning, I filleted the bass we had caught but saved all the skins as well as the fillets.  (Editorial note: we cull bass within a standard slot limit to improve the population structure of the lake).  We previously had success catching catfish with the skins or carcasses of the dead bass.  I launched my kayak and paddled it over to the arm of the lake where we fillet the fish.  Rinsing the cutting board and knife in the water creates a decent chum.  I baited up two rods with fish skin and cast them in front of me, toward the main body of the lake.  In less than a minute I had a fish on.  I tried to reel in the other one so that it wouldn’t get in the way, but there was a fish on it too.  Handling two catfish on two rods and a paddle at the same time is a bit much in a little kayak!  We got this on video, but the darn fish pulled me into some trees and out of view.  Lowell, who also took the stills below, was using my Panasonic as a video camera.  I landed both cats and released them.   

Here I’m wrestling the bigger one out of the net.

Surprisingly, it was the smaller one that pulled me the farthest.

I got back into position and redeployed, but this time with just one rod.  It wasn’t long before I had another bite.  This time I stayed in the open and Lowell got it all on video.  This link to YouTube shows the action:

Kayak Catfishing  (

I tried again and got one bite, but didn’t hook it.  I should say that the circle hooks I was using were hooking up really well, and the fish weren’t swallowing them as they were the J-shaped worm hooks I’d been using the previous week.   Things really slowed down and we had accomplished the goals of our crazy plan.  We moved on.  I paddled around the lake and investigated another arm to see how much silt had washed in.  We’ve had a lot of rain this year (until recently), which caused a lot of erosion.  The day was very calm, not too hot, and the water was like glass.  It was a good time to be kayaking.  I loaded it up on the Lil Egg and we went on to pick blackberries.  It’s been a long time since I did any extensive berry picking.  I forgot how much you get stuck by thorns.  My clothes were getting caught at every turn as well.  We picked about a gallon, which should give Stacey enough to bake a couple of pies at least. 

The other reward was this large Chinese mantid.

It was an awesome day, and a fitting end to summer break for me. 

Monday morning when I let Kane out of his crate his tail caught on a crankbait–attached to my best spinning rod and reel combo.  Worried about both the dog and the rod, I got him to lay down.  But I had no tools.  The two treble hooks were stuck in his abundant tail hair,  What was I going to do, chew it out with my teeth?  Luckily, it was a short distance to my toolbox.  I used a pair of scissors to cut the line and chop the lure out.  I guess that was a lesson for me more than for the dog.


August 5 – Hot diggety days

Monday night I went out to photograph an orb weaver spider that builds her web in the sweetgum tree in the back yard every night.  I ran into it twice while letting in Kane before I learned to go around it.  As soon as I walked out the door my lens and display fogged up.  So humid!  I hassled with the flash quite a bit, and eventually got something useful.  The web is closest to perfect right after it is constructed, as every prey item destroys a bit of it.

Not-ready-for-the-world Wide Web

I did the dog and cats run on Tuesday morning, by bicycle again.  There was a leopard frog in the driveway.

They don’t usually sit still this long.

I voted, stopped at the insurance agent and went home.  I prepped the kayak and had Savannah shuttle my car down to LaGrange.  I put in at Canton and floated down the Mississippi.  Actually, I paddled the whole time.  It only took about an hour and a half to go the 6 miles. 

On the launch ramp at Canton.

This big tow left a wake of gentle swells that were no real threat.

The trees at water’s edge are covered with vines.  Also, many were knocked over from the flood, mostly cottonwoods and maples.

This pushboat came up behind me. I think they moored the little barge on an island.

This big cottonwood log washed up on a spoil island at the mouth of the Wyaconda River.  It was a convenient perch for a Great Blue Heron that was one of many evading me.  I also saw a couple of bald eagles, many swallows, some shorebirds, and American crows.

At one point it rained on me but only for a minute or so.  I must have been under the only leaky cloud for miles around.  There was no lightning or I would have been off the river in a second.  It did storm later in the day, and kept Savannah out of a shift at the pool.

The lady who administers Stacey’s federal grants was visiting, so Stacey invited her over for dinner.  We took her to Primo’s for ice cream and gave her the 50-cent tour of Canton. 

The floodgate has been removed, so naturally I went to the brush dump Wednesday morning.  I actually dropped off some brush.  Many dragonflies were basking in the area, and I took advantage.  There was mostly the same species I see over and over again.  I tried to get some ideal shots.  I cut up some firewood and hauled it home.  I then undertook one of the most unpleasant tasks of the year, flushing the gutter on the back porch.  Again, I was cursing the designer of the thing.  Great big surface area + tiny gutter = serious drainage problems.  The opening is so narrow that you can’t just scrape out the crud like in a normal gutter.  Leaves and debris accumulate and decay, forming soil that completely fills it.  I had trees growing in it. No joke–black locust seedlings.  Even with a pressure washer, it wasn’t clearing out.  I got disgusted and attached some downspout brackets on intermediate points and drilled a hole in each one.  Later I’ll cut it out to full size with a sawzall and attach a downspout.  It may not drain any better, but it will be easier to clean. 

Twelve-spotted skimmer.

Thursday I went to QU to help grade some writing samples.  We got lunch and a small stipend for it.  Afterward I ran some errands and stopped by the new Jade-Orchid-to-be.  Steve and Wanaree were just leaving, but they stayed to give me a tour.  They really have fixed the place up.  They should be all done and moved in soon.  I went to the RSVP banquet in Hannibal, an event coordinated by Stacey.  I was the official photographer, and I got a nice dinner. 

This painted lady was basking in the morning.

Friday I went to Lowell’s.  We fished three rounds of the lake.  I went through all three of my baitcasting rigs, ending with no line or a rat’s nest and a broken line.  I had fun in the process, as the bass were hitting on a surface lure (Zara Spook).  I used various others throughout the day, including a grasshopper popper that had never previously caught a fish.  I always buy these insect crankbaits, perhaps because they’re cute.   It attracted a few small bass.  After lunch we put a bolt in the floating dock, which is now nearly done.  We did another round of the lake, then I filleted the days catch (plus a few left in the fish cage over the previous week).   We tried a trick we learned a couple of years ago: taking the skin of the bass and baiting up a hook.  I caught two large catfish this way and got bites from a couple others.  They sure pull hard!  I ended with 8 bass.

The Virginia ctenucha, a day-flying moth.

Great clouds on this day.                                                Bald-faced hornet.

Saturday we went garage saling.  After that I was pretty much seduced by the Olympics and didn’t accomplish much beyond a few small jobs. 

Sunday morning I took a bike ride.  I took the route that includes a crossing of the Wyaconda River–without a bridge.  I undertook this with some apprehension, as the last time I tried it I hit a big rock, stopped and fell over into the water.  I didn’t want to repeat that, especially with the camera. 

Here’s the approach: steep, muddy and rutted on both sides.

But what’s this?  They must have poured a concrete slab during last year’s drought.  It made the crossing easy and fun, if less challenging.

The river looks fairly inviting here.  I think I’ll kayak this section.

Stacey found this longhorn beetle in the shower.  That’s one ugly bug.

They finally put my trip report on the Wyaconda River on the site here:

Monday I did the dog and cats run, watched a lot of Olympics, and put up a new butterfly calendar here:
I took another little bike ride in the afternoon, just cruising around looking for butterflies, mostly.

A Red-spotted Purple was cooperative.

A cabbage white loves oregano oregano.

Prettiest perch I’ve ever seen a cicada killer use.  I think it’s a gallardia flower.