September 24 – The reef tank

Tuesday morning I received the assortment of marine invertebrates I had ordered from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab.  They were extremely generous, and sent me about twice the amount of stuff I ordered. Here’s the list:
sea anemones, starfish, brittlestars, sea urchins, sponge, sea whip, living rocks, hermit crabs, snails, sea cucumber.  It was a lot to add to the tank at one time.  Everything was alive, and continued to live, at least for awhile.  The hermit crabs (four big ones) immediately set to work picking on everything else, especially the sea stars, which got pretty beat up.  The anemones didn’t look too good, and from what I read, their prospects are not favorable.  The collection only has to last long enough for my students to get good long looks at them.  It will be interesting to see what persists.  
 

The little blue damsel was probably wondering what the heck was going on.  She had the place to herself until the invertebrates came.  there goes the neighborhood.


This is one of the problematic hermit crabs. 


The purple anemone was very impressive.

Wednesday we tagged 8 monarchs, mostly because one guy found the motherload and brought in five.  One student brought me the wrong species, but I was happy to see it.  It was in perfect condition, like it had just emerged.  I had only seen one once before, two years ago. 


The goatweed leafwing looks exactly like a leaf.  The dorsal aspect has lovely orange coloration, but they don’t show it off much. 

By Thursday the two sea stars were dead and mostly dismembered.  I suspect the hermit crabs played a role.  I bought some frozen shrimp and we fed everything that afternoon.  We noticed one little barnacle was living.  I predict the anemones will die next.  When I got home, a friend had left a snake for me to identify. 

It was a young Midland Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi).  I saw my first one last spring on a field trip with the plant class.  This one was not happy being held.

Friday was meeting day, starting bright and squirrely at 8 a.m.  We had a consultant in to talk about advising and diversity.  I had a student teacher to supervise, then the consultant again, then a division meeting to work on accreditation.  That was a full day.

Stacey and I were casting about for something interesting to do over the weekend, but ended up doing our normal garage sale run.  We actually got out of the house earlier than usual.  The first deal I got was a rod/reel combo for a dollar.  Not the highest quality rig, mind you, but it looks like it was brand new when the tip top broke and it was abandoned.  The next stop brought the best deal: a set of scuba gear.  It included two tanks, buoyancy compensator, regulator, gauges, full length wet suit (my size!), hood, fins, weight belt and carry bag.  I talked them down a bit in price.  When I got home I looked up some of the stuff online, and the value totals something over ten times what I paid.  I’ve wanted to learn to scuba since Stacey and I went snorkeling in Florida three years ago.  Now I gotta get certified!

I spent the rest of the morning cleaning up the stuff, though it’s all in good condition and of recent vintage.   I spent the afternoon framing and mounting prints, mostly for a contest at Stacey’s agency. 

Sunday I took the kayak out to Wakonda State Park.  It just opened a couple of weeks ago after being closed all summer due to the flood.  I remembered one of my students saying that the fishing was best after the flood of ’93.  I was counting on the same effect.  Given the addition of a bunch of river fish and the lack of fishing pressure, I could understand.  There were a lot of fish hitting the surface when I arrived.  I tied on a hula popper and got a couple of strikes right away.  I tossed it over a log, gave it a couple of pops and hooked into a nice bass.


15 inches

A few minutes later another log and another bass, half an inch longer.   I thought it was going to be a big day for bass, but I had a long dry spell after that.  There weren’t many logs.  I fished around the island, but still got nothing.  There were acouple of guys in a bassboat off a point of the shore.  I didn’t want to cut them off, but they appeared to be anchored.  I went around them.  On the other side of the lake the surrounding fields are still covered with water and, as a result, hundreds of waterfowl.  I climbed up on shore for a look (and a pee). 

American white pelicans and Canada geese.  Train freaks will note the freight cars in the background.


This could be my first photo of a great egret.


Pretty sure this pelican was dead.

When I got back near the island I was ready to head in to the launch ramp, but those two guys were still in their bass boat.  One reeled in a nice crappie.  Ah ha!  That’s what they were up to.  An older couple in a jon boat was near them, and I moved in farther down shore.  I tied on a crappie jig and casted about.  I caught the world’s smallest bass.  Shortly, the guys in the bass boat left.  I took their spot and anchored after conferring with the jon boat people.  I thought I’d nail maybe 10 crappies then go home.  I tried many lures and retrieves before I got a bite, and the first crappie was too small.  I released it.  I picked up maybe two more, and changed lures a few times, even boating a little bluegill.  The older couple was slaying them.  I think they had live minnows and I didn’t, but I thought I should go with something white.  I rooted through the little tackle box I carry on the kayak (gotta save space) and pulled out a small spinner with a white jig that highly resembled a shad.  Shad were jumping and getting slammed everywhere.  I started picking up a fish here and there, including some larger ones.  I hooked a largemouth once that gave me a nice tug, and surprised the couple.  They eventually left.  I had the whole place to myself.  I decided I’d settle for five, then go home.  But they were really starting to bite better.  So I persisted after number five was on the stringer.  Something hit the lure, and hard.  I fought it while it turned my boat around.  It was the bonus fish, a white bass (or perhaps a hybrid white/striped bass).  It was 14 inches.  I can just imagine what an 18-incher (like the one I caught last June) would feel like in the kayak.  It’s a good thing I quit after that, as I found later I had no hooks on the lure.  When I pulled the kayak up to the launch ramp the park rangers pulled up in their squad car.  They checked me for my license, which I had.  I don’t think they even looked at my fish.  I got the kayak mostly loaded and moved of
f the ramp, as there were two trucks waiting to load their boats.  I pulled over to get the last few straps on, walked around the car and bonked my head on the stern of the boat.  Can’t see things overhead with the dork hat on.  Bit my tongue pretty badly too.

I think I caught five species: l.m. bass (5), white bass (1), bluegill (1), black and white crappie (10, didn’t keep track of which was which). 

There’s nothing quite like a big thunderstorm–at five o’clock in the morning.  That was our alarm on Monday.  Neither I, the wife, nor the dog were happy.  It rained like mad for awhile, but quit before I left for work.  Sleep deprivation is not fun.

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September 19 – Talk Like a Pirate Day

After the rain finally stopped, I thought the monarch season would pick up quickly.  It hasn’t worked out that way.  Monday was supposed to be the peak, but we only tagged about 10 butterflies.  They’ve been trickling through since, but not at anything like rates I’ve seen in past years.  It’s been disappointing for my students.  I’m getting bigger numbers from captive reared monarchs, mostly from Nancy G. 

The saltwater aquarium is still going strong.  The little damsel is still alive.  I’ve been feeding her Daphnia left over from a class.  She snaps them right up. 

It was exam week, and I gave one in every class. 

Friday I observed one of my student teachers, who was great.  I went from there straight to Stacey’s office.  We went out to lunch (Italian).  I taught a class in photography, which seemed to go really well.  After a quick visit to the thrift store, I came home.  I had no classes at QU, so my Pirate talk was restricted to torturing Savannah.


Tuesday Savannah and I went to the QU vs. Culver soccer game.  We won both men and women’s games.


The rain brought up these Jack O Lantern mushrooms in the side yard.


Stacey spotted this stick insect on the back door.  It looks great on American Beautyberry.

Saturday Stacey and I went to Clarksville for their Apple Festival or some kind of festival.  I didn’t see any apples.  We looked in most of the shops and wandered around the riverfront to see some of the special events.  The blacksmith was kind of neat.  We had lunch and went to a big antique mall.  We drove back along the Illinois side, stopping in Atlas to see the General Store, which looks quaint from the outside, but is actually kind of creepy when you go in.  We went to a flea market next door too.  I spend much of the evening gearing up for Sunday.

Sunday I went out to Lowell’s.  I had another truckload of stuff for him, plus gear for the outing that the Environmental Club had planned for that afternoon.  I had brought out the kayak for people to try.  Savannah actually came along.  I brought PFDs for the canoe, but apparently forgot my extra paddle.


She tried the kayak and enjoyed it.

Lowell and I fished one round of the lake in the morning after we had gotten things set up.  I caught three bass and a hybrid bluegill/green sunfish.  Savannah slept on the pontoon boat.  We went to town for lunch, but the little diner was closed.  We got pretty decent food at the gas station/convenience store.  Back at Lowell’s house, we all took a little nap before the students arrived.

The first thing we found was that we had no lighter fluid.  Savannah went with Laura to town to get some, while the rest of us fished.  I caught a 12″ bass from my kayak.  When they returned, we set up the barbeque. 


The bed of Lowell’s Mule makes a pretty good place for a spread.


Newcomers Keni and Megan paddled the canoe around like Lewis and Clark.


Lowell’s canoe hadn’t been used in years.  I’m not sure it’s ever been slept in before.


The fish were biting well that day, and everyone who fished caught something.  Brent caught the biggest one and gave it the appropriate salutation while Laura looked on.

With the pontoon, jon boat, canoe and kayak all on the Lake Lowell, it was the greatest number of boats ever assembled there.  The students seemed to all have a good time. 
The frogs were unimpressed with us.

After the students left we loaded up again and went home.  I unloaded the kayak and put the truck away.  That extra paddle wasn’t there where I thought I might have left it.  Hmmm.  Later, when I was crashed in my chair, exhausted, I remembered where I had left the extra paddle: in a gun holder in the shell of the truck.  It had been there the whole time.  D’oh!

September 9 – Monarch season

Tuesday morning I took a walk around north campus and didn’t see a single monarch.  I thought we must be having a late migration, but checking our results from the last few years indicate that it’s just a bit early in the year.  In the afternoon I went to the pet store and bought a fish to go in the salt water tank.  It’s a cute little blue velvet damsel.  I made some last minute adjustments to the temperature and salinity before I put it in.  I was just glad it didn’t die right away. 

Wednesday one of my students said he’d seen a few monarchs in the parking lot.  I went out with my big net for a look.  They were flying through the parking lot with regularity, at least at first.  I missed about four of them, and ran out of time.  The nonmajors class caught and tagged 6.  During my afternoon lab our chemist told me the University President was coming out in the afternoon for a walk through north campus and he wanted me there.  I had a meeting at main campus at 4 so I had to run there and zip back.  We talked for a long time and showed him all our labs.  It was a long day for me, but he does have some good ideas. 


Last weekend I caught this vole while mowing the lawn.  I kept him around a few days to show my students.  He’s inside a snake now.

Thursday it rained nearly all day.  Otherwise it would have been a perfect day for monarch tagging.  When I got home my new lens had arrived.  It’s a 150-500 mm zoom, and looks like a bazooka.  I took it around town looking for targets of opportunity.  There are some terns flying over the river, which I have not seen in a long time and never photographed, but I couldn’t get them.  It was overcast and too late in the day. 


I got this rain-bedraggled dove on a wire down by the railroad tracks.


This bunny was in the back yard. Not surprising.  There are always one or two there.

I started feeling sick Thursday night–mostly congestion and general malaise.  I didn’t get much done all weekend, but that didn’t matter because it RAINED the entire time.  Friday they came and hauled away the appliances from Head Start that had spent the summer in my buggy barn.  I wheeled out the old project buggy, hung a “For Sale” sign on it, and parked the truck in the empty bay.  Finally, it’s out of the weather.   Another job I accomplished was recovering our south wood racks.  The clear plastic had totally ripped apart.  I got some heavier black plastic, which did the job.  No holes appeared upon installation, which was good because it RAINED all weekend.


Hummingbirds are still here.

Saturday we did a little garage saling, but didn’t get much.  I helped Savannah with her leaf collection for awhile.  I recently watched some instructional photography videos on YouTube.  It’s amazing what you can find.  The most significant thing I learned was 3-point lighting.


I used this lure to work on my set-up.  The backlight creates the gleam down the left-hand side and gives you a good, sharp outline.  Mine’s still a bit too bright.

This beetle is one ugly bug.


I used the ring flash on this monarch caterpillar.  I finally got an adapter so the flash will fit on my macro lens.

Sunday I felt crappy all morning and didn’t accomplish much.  After lunch I livened up.  I went to Nancy’s and tagged a couple of monarchs that she’d reared.  One I took home for more practice in the studio. 

This demonstrates what the macro lens can do. 


This was done with three-point lighting and a long exposure.


This was taken with the ring flash because the wings were moving.

I was happy with the results, except that it’s hard to make the antennae stand out.

Then I got inspired and wandered the back yard with the macro lens.  I should know by now that you just about can’t do anything freehand with it.  I took a lot of shots that didn’t come out at all.

This half-in-focus spider was the best I could do.

I put on the ring flash and monopod and went back out.  I had much better success.

Crab spiders are truly creepy.

Margined leatherwings are common beetles, but this one turned out well. 

The sun came out for awhile, and I even caught a wild monarch and tagged it.

We’ve been suffering a massive infestation of fruit flies the past several weeks.  Normally, we get a few this time of year, but this has been the worst by a large margin.  After eliminating a couple of candidates for breeding grounds, I believe they mostly come from outside.  With the cooler weather we’ve been leaving windows open, and the flies are easily able to get through the screens.  We found out our friends are suffering the same fate; we are not alone.  We’ve come up with several ways to trap them.  My favorite is to leave the dishwasher door open an inch and leave it a few hours.  The flies, attracted to the dirty dishes, congregate inside.  Then we shut the door and turn it on.   The rain has knocked them down a bit, but has led to a different invasion.  Black field crickets keep showing up in the basement.  I really don’t mind, as they make great lizard food.  Another wormlike beast showed up tonight–long, leggy and slow.  At first I thought it was a millipede, but further experience showed it could move quite fast when it wanted, even in reverse.  That and the long antennae makes it a centipede.

Anyone remember Mr. Spock’s deceptive line, “There is a multilegged creature on your shoulder,” before delivering the Vulcan nerve pinch?  I think this is what he meant.


This is closer to what I was trying to get.  He’s not a very cooperative beast…and he smells bad!

Monday it was too cold and overcast for monarchs to fly, but Nancy had another four butterflies to tag that had hatched out.  She gave me a chrysalis that was hanging on a milkweed outside.  Into the studio with it!

At full size you can see the spiracles, which I’ve never seen in a pupa before.

September 3 – Episode 100

This is my 100th blog entry in the current format.  For those who have recently subscribed, this series started almost seven years ago with simple weekly emails to my family back in California.  I combined it with my hunting and fishing journal shortly afterward so that they’d know what I was up to.  It was kept for awhile on a couple of different wiki sites.  Then in January of 2006 I obtained the domain name Showmejoe.com.  With it, I got the free blog application, which has served very well.  Meanwhile, the mailing list expanded to include Stacey’s side of the family and a large variety of friends all over the country.  I apologize if it contains many mundane aspects of my life, but it also serves as something of a diary.  If you just like to look at the pictures, that’s fine.  Lots of people do!

Correction: last week’s dragonfly was, in fact, the Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (not the Neon Skimmer).

Last week’s mystery photo was a view of the river from under a concrete bridge with reflections from the water.

Thursday morning I brought the little black rat snake into my freshman class, followed by a mouse.  To the dismay of some, I placed the mouse in the snake cage and said, “And now, something natural will happen.”  Many had never seen a snake eat before. 

When my afternoon lab was over, we took the recycling bins outside to be picked up.  We opened up one to remove things that didn’t belong there and found a live bat.  We put it in a little box and took it inside.  There had just been some fairly inflammatory stories about rabid bats on the local news.  So I called the local health department and animal control office.  Neither one wanted it.  It seemed to improve somewhat.  Therefore, I let it loose outside.

Naturally, I photographed him first.  I think I have images of this species already, the Big Brown Bat.

When I got home, I noticed we had some large mushrooms in the yard, courtesy of the two days of rain we’ve been getting (Thanks, Hurricane Gustav).

Flat-topped something.

Saturday I mowed the lawn.  It was way overdue.  You know how I love to photograph dragonflies.  They are great predators of the air, but even they have their enemies, in turn.
 
Here’s the victim, a blue dasher.                                    And here’s the perpetrator, a big orb weaver.


I caught these margined leatherwings en flagrante dilecto.  I actually created a calendar from a variety of mating insects I’ve collected over the years.  I’ll bet someone buys it. 

In the afternoon I went to the first meeting of what may become a local camera club.  It went way too long.  I went up to the Stookey’s to check on the cats and dog, and Shawn was there moving stuff out.  I helped him with some big work benches.  He gave me some leftover lumber. 

Sunday I went out to Lowell’s.  We fished a few rounds of the lake.  It was a slow beginning, but the fish started biting well eventually, especially when I switched to a lipless crankbait.  I caught 13 bass, while Lowell boated a very large bluegill.  After lunch we wandered around the place, Lowell on the Mule and me on the new little ATV.  We checked all the snake dens (that we could find).  They were full of dirt and bedding, mostly having been used by mice. 


This bullfrog was hanging out in the cattails. 


Many butterflies, like this little sulfur, were puddling downstream of the salt lick.


Many blue-faced meadowhawks have emerged recently.


These little frogs were everywhere.  Blanchard’s cricket frog, Acris crepitans blanchardi


This female eastern pondhawk had just emerged from the wetland. 


Neat looking caterpillar, identity unknown.

We pulled Lowell’s canoe out of mothballs.  Well, moths weren’t exactly it, more like  muddauber nests.  We put it in the lake and I took it out on a shakedown cruise.  It handles lightly and well, and doesn’t leak.  After I filleted the fish I baited up with a piece of fish skin, cast out, and got in the canoe.  In seconds, I was hooked up.  The first fish got off, but after I cast out again, it was less than a minute before I had a big catfish on.  It pulled me out into the lake a ways, but kept spinning and changing direction.  I got over to the pontoon boat and Lowell netted it.  It weighed 5 lb 10 oz.  Not bad for a cat from the main lake.  I released it. 

When I got home I went to Nancy’s and picked up some monarch larvae.  They’ll be great for my classes. 

I was picking some milkweed to feed the caterpillars when I found this really neat beetle. 


This one is great at playing dead, but it’s also built like a tank.
Labidomera clivicollis – Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle
Leaf Beetles (Chrysomelidae)