January 27 – Flickr fusion

I have joined the online photo sharing site Flickr.  So far, I have uploaded one gallery of eagle shots and another of dragonflies.  The best bald eagle shots from the past few years are here:
Selected dragonfly images are here:

Tuesday I picked up the remainder of my poster prints at Sam’s Club.  It’s quite a bit cheaper to have them printed there than at Walgreen’s, where I used to go.  I mounted most of them when I got home.  I also got the BirdJam software working.  This is a really cool application that puts bird calls and images on your iPod.  You can choose the bird from a list, play its song and see its picture at the same time.  I got a little speaker so that we can play it in the field during my class and possibly call some birds in.  Can’t wait to try it.  I had some spare time and got on my Hotmail account, where I had seen you could get 25Gb of free storage online.  I thought that would be a great way to back up my files.  After I got to the right page, I found that it was legit, except that you have to upload your files one at a time.  What a freakin’ value.  I will most likely never use it.

Wednesday it was about 6 degrees when I left the house, but that didn’t stop me from taking my class out to look at birds.  They’re a pretty intripid group (even Brian, who was sick).  First we stopped at Quinsippi Island, where the open water was occupied by numerous geese and, more importantly, canvasbacks and goldeneyes that I wanted the students to see.  From there we went to Lowell’s, where in heated comfort we watched birds out the sliding glass door for a good long time.  When we first got there, no birds were at the feeders,  As usual, they trickled in until there was a regular feeding frenzy.  We saw all the species that I really expected to see and wanted the students to learn.  Then the neighbor’s three cats showed up.  All the birds scrammed.  I took that as a sign that it was time to take our little hike.  We walked around and looked at tracks in the snow and listened to bird calls.  We opened one of the snake dens and found a big mouse nest made of cattail fluff (the plant, not the domestic pet).  A mouse actually ran around inside.  So we got to add the deer mouse to our species list.  By then my nose was fairly numb. 

On the way home we saw some bonus birds: a kestrel and a northern harrier.  After my other classes I saw on my way home that the swans were back at the sand pit.  I turned around to go back and take some photos.  A cloud had blocked the sun, but the images came out better than I expected.

The abundance of juveniles is a good thing.  The population is growing.

Thursday I was explaining radiocarbon dating to my freshman class when I said that we can date strata in part by knowing an isotope’s half-life.  The student’s, who detest chemistry, said, “Don’t say that word!”  I said, “What word?  Half-life?”  They said, “Yes!”  I paused a moment, then said loudly, “Ni!”  The 4 or 5 that had seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail were cracking up.  The others were presumably mystified.  I’m going to try embedding a YouTube clip of the relevant scene here:

I fed the snake during my senior class, as there were a couple that had never seen a snake eat.  Some didn’t think it could swallow the mouse, but they wouldn’t my take bets on it. 

Friday I had no classes.  While I was out loading the furnace the president of MONEP called.  I’ll be giving a talk for them in May.  First I took the Taurus in to have the heater checked.  I drove the truck the rest of the day.  I went down tot he river to shoot eagles.  Conditions seemed right, but they just weren’t active.  I ran into a guy who was really into photography.  We talked about cameras and lenses and stuff.  I went into Quincy and stopped at Quinsippi Island.  There was a large assembly of ducks and geese, including one Ross goose and a swan.  I saw a guy walk onto the bridge.  The birds didn’t spook much so I walked out there too, camera in hand.  I talked to him a bit and it turned out I knew him.  Al Dierkes–he runs the spring bird count.  We talked birds and I took photos.  I picked up some wax worms at the bait shop and some goldfish at the pet shop.  I put the goldfish in the aquarium in my office.  The little crayfish thought he was in for a bonanza, but he didn’t catch any while I was there. 

This juvenile eagle was right next to the road, which made for close, crispy photos.

Canvasbacks were all over, but the best image was of this hen.

I was shocked to see this wood duck drake.  he spent a lot of time courting this hen, but I’m pretty sure she’s a mallard.  Guess he doesn’t believe in the biological species concept.

One goose seems unhappy that another is landing.

This guy was showing off with a lot of flapping.

It was homecoming at the high school.  We were playing a really
small school, and both games were blowouts.  The girls game was
practically embarrassing.  The other team couldn’t do anything right,
even against our bench.  By the way, our homecoming is basketball, as we have no football team.

I did the Facebook thing where you write 25 random things about yourself.  Many recipients of this blog are not on Facebook so I thought I’d post it here:

1. My middle name is Raymond, after my uncle who got out of the army on the day I was born.
2. I am full-blooded Portuguese.
3. I am a rare Californian transplanted to the Midwest.
4. I delight in finding ways to implement low-intensity mental torture to my daughter.
5. I have been married almost 18 years.
6. I once had a job taking care of frogs.
7. Aside from my wedding day and the birth of my daughter, the peak
experiences of my life include being published in Natural History,
visiting the Galapagos Islands and hiking the Grand Canyon.
8. I enjoy cutting firewood.
9. After a lifetime of working with, teaching about, and studying animals, a few years ago I fell in love with plants.
10. I wore a leisure suit to my 8th grade graduation and wore a disco outfit for two years while working as a busboy.
11. I enjoy reading really old books on my PDA.
12. Both my grandfather and my godfather were blacksmiths.
13. My siblings are Matthew, Marlene, Mike and Mark. I’m Joe. So who’s
the black sheep? Hint: the others all still live in California.
14. I was named after my grandfather (and blacksmith), who was hoping for a girl (to be named Michelle).
15. I grew up in a house next door to my grandparents, who were immigrants from the Azores.
16. I have a lot of experience programming in BASIC–a dead computer language.
17. I used to keep dead rats in the freezer to feed my previous snake, a python.
18. I have a snake that I hatched from an egg.
19. I have really bad feet and will wear whatever shoes are comfortable regardless of social convention.
20. I don’t like mustard, green beans or root beer.
21. I am exactly what I wanted to grow up to be, have a great family and social life, and have never been happier.
22. I love the look of surf boards and electric guitars, but both are useless in my hands (or feet).
23. I’m a rock-and-roll maniac, but cannot play an instrument.
24. I may call myself a Buddhist for convenience, but whatever I am cannot be easily defined.
25. I have too many hobbies, especially outdoor ones: hunting, fishing,
bicycling, photography, kayaking, hackysack, cross-country skiing, etc.

Saturday morning we went to a breakfast at the Ewing fire department.  It was good food, but crowded.  It was a warm day, over 50.  I hauled the ashes and got some firewood out of the brush dump.  I got the yard straightened up, folded up some tarps and restacked some wood.  In the afternoon I went in to Quincy to see our college basketball games.  Our women won and our men lost.  All three freshman women in my class got to play, which was fun to see. 

Sunday I went out to Lowell’s for ice fishing.  My student Shawn joined us.  We started out at the catfish pond, but the catfish weren’t biting.  I did get a big bluegill out of there, and several small ones that I threw back.  We moved down to the big lake and began catching bluegills right away.  It was Shawn’s first time ice fishing, but he took right to it. 

This is the big one I caught out of the catfish pond, probably 9 inches.

Lowell spotted this frozen frog on the big lake.  I wonder if he came out yesterday, hopped around and got stranded in the middle of the lake.

Lowell, me and Shawn on Lake Lowell.

We went inside and had lunch.  Afterward we watched the superbowl pregame while filleting the fish in the basement.  I was teaching Shawn the fillet technique and letting him take turns with me.  At least, that’s what I led him to believe.  The birds were just mobbing Lowell’s feeders, and I commented on that while taking some photos.

Female purple finch.

Female cardinal.

I was upstairs rinsing fillets and looking out the window when a hawk swooped in and tried to take a bird off of the feeder.  That was pretty exciting.  I didn’t see whether he got it or not, but there were no birds at the feeder or even anywhere near the house for about a half hour.  We loaded my truck with some firewood.  I let Shawn help with that too.  Good kid.  I went home and Stacey helped me unload the truck.  I showered and took a nap, way longer than I expected, and I missed the beginning of the Superbowl.  THAT was an interesting game.

Monday my freshman class had to come into my office to get goldfish.  They were all grossed out by the Larvets on my desk–seasoned and roasted mealworms.  That is, they were grossed out until I offered extra credit to all who ate one.  All but about two did.  We see how easily they are bribed.  We had basketball games that night.  Both the men’s and women’s were close, exciting games that we won. 

January 20 – ice fishing time

Tuesday morning I dropped off some recycling on my way to work.  I only had one lecture to give, and I let them out a little early to see the Presidential Inauguration.  I went down to the Hawk’s Nest to watch it on the big screen.  I thought Obama had flubbed his lines while being sworn in, until later when we figured out that the chief justice was reading them wrong.  Back at the office, I read all the Galapagos journals that the students turned in.  It’s great to relive the experience through their eyes.  Some of the reflections were really touching.  On the way home I saw some big white birds in the ponds at the sand mine.  I thought they were snow geese at first, then realized they were swans.  I’ll have to go see and photograph them tomorrow.  When I got home I got the camera and went down to the river.  The eagles were very active, but the lighting was too dim. 

Canvasbacks were going after the dead fish too.

Wednesday morning was Vert Field Lab.  I took them first to see the swans.  We actually got a pretty good look, and were able to park in a safe place.  The lighting was bad and we were kind of far away, but I’m OK with the pictures I got.  We’ve never seen swans in all the years I’ve taught this and similar courses.

The juveniles still have some darker feathers.  We think they’re trumpeter swans, but it’s hard to tell for sure.

As we left we saw a red-tailed hawk in a tree.  It even held still for me.  Luckily, a student was driving.

We drove to Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy.  There were a lot of eagles and they were very active.

Some mallards were dabbling about in the outlet of the sewage treatment plant, as they usually are.

I like the lighting and crispness of the head on this Canada goose.

The flock is coming in to land with their wings cupped, just the way you want to see them while hunting!

My new FYE class is called Greener Living.  We discussed the first chapter of the book, myths about living green.  One of them is that greener people may appear to be strange or eccentric.  I asked what they thought that meant.  A student said, “To look like a Hippie.”  I asked, “Do I look like a Hippie?”  That was probably a mistake.  They said I kind of did.  I claimed that the hiking boots were from my earlier field class.  One student suggested it was my belt (blue nylon webbing that I made myself), another that it was my hair.  Blue jeans and a short-sleeve over long-sleeve shirt completed my ensemble.  They said all I needed was to stop shaving for awhile to become grizzled around the goatee.  Dang.  Guess I stand guilty as charged.

Friday I had to go in for a meeting.  When I passed the pond where the swans were, there were about 9 pick-up trucks there, and a bunch of guys working.  The birds were gone.  I stopped at Quinsippi Island, as a letter in the newspaper said there was one there.  There were a heap of geese and a few ducks, but no swan.  While I was there, who should show up but my buddy Leo.  He had read the paper too.  I shot some ducks and went on to meet Stacey for lunch.  We then went to my office for the meeting, then on to run errands around town.  I got some photos printed at Sam’s Club.  They are super cheap and the results are good, but their machines are so screwed up they couldn’t read all my files.  We worked on pulling pork for the benefit meal, and I mounted my prints in frames I’d gotten at garage sales last summer.  Later I uploaded the rest of my files to Sam’s Club web site and ordered the prints I wanted.  It was a lot easier.


Duck catches fish, geese chase duck.

Bottoms up!

Saturday I ran some errands then went into QU for discovery day.  Our division had good representation, with five faculty present.  I had a trifold for our table, and so did Laura, president of the Environmental Club.  We had one potential biology major show up, which is about average.  I had brought our leopard gecko for show-and-tell purposes.  It was a big hit with the students.  Laura was so impressed that we went to the pet store afterward and she bought one.  We tried to pick a male to mate with my female–after hers grows up a bit.  I went to the QU volleyball game for an hour.  A couple of my students played, but not the one I was looking for.  We won one set and lost one.  I guess we lost the game, but we won two the next day.  After I got home we went straight to the benefit.  This was an event for one of Stacey’s firemen.  As usual, Stacey did most of the work for it.  I was on the committee, but didn’t do that much.  I helped unload the car and do odd jobs until about 10 after 4 when there was a fire call.  It never fails.  About half the time the fire department has a fundraiser, they get called out.  Fortunately, the other firefighter wives and I were able to handle things in their absence.  I took auction donations, admissions and registered auction bidders.  The food was good.  I was worried we wouldn’t have enough people.  There were some other things going on in town.  Anyway, they had a little bit of auction, then a break, then a little more auction, then the band played, and so on.  It was a strange sequence, but it seemed to work.  The band was country-western, and pretty good.  They played mostly classic country.  I danced with Stacey and Savannah, and tried not to embarrass myself.  Stacey and I bought a few things at the auction–a couple of dinners, shirts, a cube of Dr. Pepper, and the basket of goodies I had gotten donated from QU.  I had donated a big, framed eagle print, and a couple of model cars.  One guy donated his old truck, or 50% of the proceeds therefrom.  It was a late night, but Stacey couldn’t sleep until she knew how much money we had made.  I was worried we wouldn’t even make expenses, but we did, and exceeded my expectations by a large margin. 

Indoor sports are hard to photograph.  This is about as good as I did.

Sunday morning when I got up it was snowing, and the temperature was about 9.  After lunch I went out to Lowell’s.  I don’t normally ice fish when it’s this cold, but we did.  We started at the catfish pond, but they were not biting at all.  We moved to the big lake and started nailing the bluegills right away.  The wind came up a bit, and it rapidly became hard to stay warm, especially our hands.  I caught something big at one point, and it wrapped the line around a limb.  I gave it some time to swim around, and it
worked itself loose.  It was a catfish, of course.  We later put it back.  I ended up with about 15 bluegills, and put about 5 back.  They were still biting, but we just had to run.  I wasn’t able to get my hand warmer lit.  Too bad, it would have helped. 

Here’s a buck that walked by while we were fishing.  Not really.  I took this earlier in the week at the Veteran’s Home corral. 

I thought the snow made the area barns look good. 

Monday I dressed in full hippie regalia, or as much as I could: long-sleeve tie-dye T-shirt with a protest T-shirt over the top (anti-mining in Ecuador, in Spanish), jeans with a hole, and the belt.  I didn’t shave, but I forgot my Birkenstocks at home.  I tried to convey the message that it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what’s inside that counts.  Too bad I’m rotten to the core.

In biology lab they adopted a plant today.  I’ll see if I can turn them into green thumbs.  

I never thought Ember was this stupid.  Perhaps it’s just the cricket’s last great act of defiance.

January 13 – First week of classes

My first class Tuesday morning was Bio II, with most of the same students I had in Bio I last semester.  I started out with some videos of guys doing stupid things and hurting themselves, the perfect introduction to natural selection (Thanks to my brother Mark for those).  After class I didn’t have anything scheduled, and got caught up on a lot of little stuff.

Wednesday morning we had our first lab of Vertebrate Field Biology.  We went to a friend’s place who lives only a few blocks from North Campus.  Leo has good feeders, but the birds weren’t hitting them too hard.  We saw many of winter’s usual suspects in the bushes anyway.  A neighbor had gobs of birds at his feeders.  The temperature was dropping, however, and I didn’t want to frighten the students on the first day out.  We went back to the classroom and warmed up.

Thursday morning it was 10 degrees below zero F.  I had forgotten how stinkin’ cold that is.  Most schools were cancelled, including Savannah’s, but not mine.  Thursday was the first meeting of senior seminar.  All of them have been to the Galapagos, either last year or this year.  So that’s all they ever want to talk about.  I’m sympathetic.  In the afternoon I did a WalMart run to stock up on things around the lab.  I got almost everything I needed.  I went to our basketball games in the evening.  We won both against really good opponents.  I bought a T shirt from one of my students.  The back is signed by all the members of the women’s team.  As usual, our star player put on a show.  She had over 30 points and did an amazing thing (she does at least one per game).  This time it was while she was falling down under the basket.  She threw up the ball and it went in.  Because I was gone all day the furnace ran down.  Savannah tried to feed it, but took from the wrong wood pile.  Green stuff won’t burn.  I revived it somewhat, but we still had no hot water by morning.  I’m sure luke warm shower was a motivator for Savannah.

Friday I stayed home.  It was only -3, but I had no classes or meetings.  I’m telecommuting!  I went to get the truck to haul my ashes, but it wouldn’t start.  Batteries don’t like cold.  I put the charger on it.

I finally got around to compiling my 2008 statistics.  I have a table with numbers and comments.




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afield                           91                           most ever

taken                        13,918                    most ever, 4000 more than
last year


Bass                 135                         average for recent

Bass                           73                           way above average

catfish                    8                              about average

Bluegill                                   7                              pitiful

crappie                       6                              not bad

crappie                         5                              ditto

Herring                    3                              first in 11 years

Total                              237                         second highest ever

Deer                              1                     hadn’t killed one for 4 years

Overall, a very satisfying year.  As in last year, and uncharacteristically, I killed no birds.

Saturday I got the truck started.  We had a meeting of the eagle committee at the Java Shack.  I went out to Lowell’s for some ice fishing.  It’s been about three years since I’d done it.  I thought we’d catch some of those big bluegills out of the catfish pond.  We started near the dam, but it was kind of shallow and we got no bites.  I put a hole out in the middle where it was deeper.  It wasn’t long before I had a fish on, and a big one.  It pulled out drag and fought awhile.  I had left my gaff near the dam, so I had to lift it out by hand–a big ole catfish.  I bit later I caught another, smaller one that fought longer and harder.  I put a hole near the dock for Lowell.  It wasn’t producing so I put another out closer to the middle.  He never got a bite there either.  I spudded another hole near my other good one and started running two rigs.  I caught a bluegill and a small bass, and put them both back.  We went to lunch, but on our way to Ewing the road was blocked due to an accident.  I turned around and we went to LaBelle.  We walked into Bubba and Doc’s and were surprised to see the waitress that had always waited on us at the old Ewing diner.  Apparently, she had switched when the one in Ewing closed.  Both Lowell and I got the Bubba Burger.  It’s good, maybe the best in the area.  When we went back to the pond I reset my rigs and got bites on both of them right away.  They both got off, including another large catfish.  They got bitten again before too long, and I had to have Lowell reel in one while I fought the other.  They were catfish as well.  We put them back.  The wind was blowing pretty hard.  Every time I got up, it knocked down my lawn chair, except for the time when it blew it across the pond, still standing up.  We packed up and left, having caught 5 channel cats, one bluegill and a bass.  I kept just two cats, which I filleted when I got home.  They were still alive and I had to whack them on the head with a hammer.

Sunday I took the ashes to the brush dump and picked up a little firewood there.  After unloading it at home, I went up to the Stookey’s and cut a pick-up load there.  It was about 32 F and snowing lightly, perfect conditions for chainsawing firewood.  You don’t get to hot or too cold.  After lunch, Stacey and I unloaded and stacked it.  We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.  Savannah had to work all day at Orsheln Farm & Home.  I went up there at one point and bought some bird food and a big fillet knife.  Cleaning big catfish with a small knife had not been fun.

Monday was a holiday.  First I went down to the river to shoot eagles, as the sun was shining.  The eagles were pretty active, providing me with plenty of opportunities. 

Another eagle poo shot!

There are a few common goldeneye on the river.  A few thousand.

From there I went out to Lowell’s for more ice fishing.  We went out on the big lake to see what we might get.  I put a couple of holes in by a big sunken tree that often yields fish.  Right away I got a bite and pulled up a big bluegill.  More followed at a fairly rapid pace.  I haven’t had that kind of ice fishing action for years.  Sometimes it was one after the other as fast as I could get the jig back in the water.  Most were quite large early on, but the small ones found us and I had to start throwing them back.  I ended up keeping 20 and throwing back 16.  Lowell had iced 4 and threw one back.  He was having tackle problems that we didn’t really straighten out until the end.  We were done before lunchtime, and went in for some of Stacey’s leftover chili.  I used a new fish bag to haul the catch.  It leaked in the trunk of the car.  The new fillet knife worked much better.

January 8 – Last week of break

As you know, I delight in tormenting my daughter.  The other day, we were working outside and for some reason she said, “I think I was a dog in a former life.”  I said, “I think you’re a dog in this life.”

We were watching a NOVA episode on the 1848 Franklin Expedition to the Arctic to find the northwest passage (they didn’t).  At one stop, three of the sailors were buried in the ice.  Recently, researchers exhumed them to determine the cause of death.  Otherwise well preserved, the corpses had blackened noses and foreheads.  Savannah said, “Obviously, they’re freezer burnt.”  Turned out it was tuberculosis.

Thought I’d lead off with a red tailed hawk.

Tuesday I went up to the Stookey’s and finished disassembling their old horse shelter.  It was made of a lot of good treated lumber, which I hauled down and layed under the boat to get the warps out of the boards.  More eagles beckoned.

These came out fairly crisp.

Wednesday night I had a small gathering at the house before the basketball game between QU and Culver.  Lowell and two of my students and their significant others came over.  I barbequed the deer backstraps, which I had marinated overnight.  They were delicious.  We won the game, even while playing somewhat flat footed.

On this night we learned that Stacey was promoted to Second Captain at the fire department.  She gets to wear a red helmet, have her gear near the front of the line, and people actually have to listen to her.  We are very happy.

Thursday was fairly cold.  I went down early to watch eagles and got some good activity.  I spent the rest of the day backing up my computer and watching movies. 

I posted this one at a higher resolution so the details could be seen.  The rest are so compressed you can’t really appreciate them.

They reach far forward with their feet just before they grab the fish.  In this way, they don’t lose flight speed during the capture.

Friday I went out to Lowell’s for some bunny hunting.  We did flush one out of a brush pile, but it ran off and we didn’t see it again.  Under one brush pile we found fairly fresh raccoon skull and vertebral column.  If there’s a bunny living there, it’s the Foul Beast of Caer Bannog.  We didn’t see much else, but the weather was lovely and warm.  We ate out at the little diner in Ewing, which has reopened again.  They did some serious remodeling to it.  More importantly, the food was good.  When Savannah got home from school I went with her down to her school to give blood.  While I was waiting, I picked up a book out of a pile of free ones.  The Great Escape.  I thought my recent trip to Ecuador might take me out of donating, but the places I went are relatively disease free.  Savannah started before me, but she bled so slowly, they had to rearrange the needle in her arm to get her to produce.  I finished in 5 minutes, well before she did.  When we got home, she ran to catch Boots, got light-headed and had to sit down.  She couldn’t hear for a bit and nearly passed out.  It was her first time giving blood.  She only makes the minimum body mass by about 5 pounds, so a pint is a larger proportion of her blood volume than for larger people.  I gave her a big glass of water, which she drank.

Saturday Stacey and I ran errands in the morning.  In the afternoon, Savannah went to Quincy with a friend.  Stacey went to practice driving the fire truck, which went really well.  I stayed home, played Guitar Hero and watched a movie.  In the evening, Savannah, Hannah and I went to the high school basketball games.  As predicted, our girls won and boys lost.

Sunday we all hung around the house.  I worked on my computer measuring parts of wasp genitalia on electron micrographs.  My eyes were fried by the end of the day.  We watched some movies too.  I stayed up late watching Return of the Jedi.  You just have to watch the Emperor die.

Monday I went into the office.  My plants were nearly dead and the aquarium pump was sucking air instead of water.  After getting all the living things in order, I worked on my syllabi, filed all the stuff from last semester, and attended to a million tiny things that have to be done.  It snowed hard, but nothing stuck.  In the evening, Savannah and I went to the High School basketball games.  Our JV team nearly lost by a factor of two.  Missed it by one point.  Our varsity team was actually ahead for nearly the entirety of their game, but lost it at the end after a few bad ref calls.

Tomorrow: first day of class!