March 27 – Birds of prey know they’re cool

Tuesday night I went to the Evening with Wildlife here in Canton.  The MO Dept. of Conservation puts this together in a different county every year.  I guess it hasn’t been here for 15 years or so.  There were lots of booths with different artifacts and stuff.  I enjoyed talking to the forester we had had out a Lowell’s a couple of years ago.  There was a raptor demonstration that was kind of interesting.  It was tough photography though.  I knew I should have brought my external flash.  I ran into a lot of people I knew, which was fun. 

Harris Hawk, a native of the southwest.

Whitehawk from South America.

An African vulture.

American Kestrel.

Eurasian Eagle Owl, Eastern Screech Owl.

European Barn Owl.

Bald Eagle–haven’t seen one of those in awhile!

Wednesday morning I took the Vert Field class out to the Stream Team site.  The water was so high, there was no way we were going to do stream team this week.  Moreover, there weren’t many birds or other wildlife around.  We drove about, and at one point stopped where four turkey vultures were feasting on a dead deer.  We also stopped in a driveway to look at ducks on a pond, but someone came out in a pickup truck and we had to leave to open the driveway.  We stopped at Quinsippi Island again, seeing wood ducks, American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants.  New species all for this group. 

Friday I had no classes.  I did a WalMart run for supplies, then went to a meeting.  After the free lunch I went back to my office and worked.  Stacey and Savannah came to town and we had dinner at the Abbey.  We ran some errands and went to QU to see the play, “The Wizard of Oz.”  Two of my students were in it, and I really wanted to see one of them sing.  Unfortunately, tickets were sold out.  I couldn’t believe it.  We went home.

A Common Flicker was hanging out in the back yard.  I took 200 frames, but it was overcast–not enough light.  This was the best shot, except for the darn grass.

I love the red Y on the back of the neck.

The black markings are very contrasty.   Looks like a funny mustache and bib.

Saturday morning we took Savannah to QU for a Discovery Day.  I think they made a favorable impression.  I saw places I’ve never seen, like the inside of the dorms, and learned a few things I didn’t know.

Grey squirrel burying something in the prairie.

Sunday we woke up to snow.  My plans for fishing or cutting wood were pretty much over then.  We stayed home and dinked around.  I filled the bird feeder and got some response from our birds.

Apparently, robins can catch worms in the snow.

The squirrel found the feeder.  He’s either shedding or mangy, by the bare patches on his shoulder.

Mourning dove.

Tufted titmouse takes a sunflower seed.

Monday the photosynthesis lab actually worked.  It was the first time we had actual CO2 consumption in a couple of years.  I had gotten 100W compact fluorescent lights.  Most of the students had plants that were in pretty good shape, except for a couple that just had stems with no leaves.  They’ve been raising them from cuttings since the beginning of the semester.  I think we had one CO2 sensor that was wonky. 
Tuesday was the last day of classroom work for the scuba class.  Yay!  The instructor mentioned my unbroken record of perfect quiz scores.  I said I had to do that or I’d get a lot of crap from my students in the same class.  Next week we get in the pool and get familiar with our gear.

March 18 – R.I.P. Kane

Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day.  Quincy seems nuts about it.  Some bars open at 5 A.M., and people actually go to them.  I went to a St. Pat’s party at my friends’ place.  They’re really into it, and have a party every year.  One couple from India was in attendance and they wondered what the heck all the fuss was about.  Hard to explain that one. 

In the afternoon we had our scuba class.  It was all classroom and booklearning, but it was fun and I learned a lot.  He had some great underwater video.  I knew most of the students in the class, one way or another. 

Wednesday I had the 8 A.M. lab.  The students took a quiz, then I asked them where they wanted to go.  One said, “To bed.”  I think they stayed up too late.  We just walked around North Campus and the neighboring park.  It was slow at first, but in a patch of woods in the park we saw a variety of birds, including some new ones for this class:  hairy woodpecker and song sparrow.  We actually used the BirdJam software on the iPod in the field to identify the sparrow, which was pretty cool.  On the way back we saw a bluebird box that had a bird hanging around it.  I can use that one for camera fodder.  We were almost back to the classroom, on the bridge on 18th, when a Cooper’s hawk flew over.  That was a nice bonus. 
Some of the Environmental Club members wandered in.  We took the remaining seeds, soil and large supply of pots donated by my friends (Thanks, Nancy, Lowell and Leo) and filled the green house with hopeful plantings.
That night we received our Nintendo Wii, which Stacey had ordered, bundled with the Wii Fit.  I unpacked it and set it up.  Goodbye VCR!  We hadn’t used that in living memory.  The game consoles now fill its hallowed space.  Coincidentally, we received a box with new batteries and memory upgrades for our laptops.  I installed those too.  They run a lot better, and it beats buying new computers.

Thursday was fairly routine, except that I gave a couple of make-up exams and went to a meeting at main campus.  At one point I heard a loud explosion and about jumped out of my chair.  It was our chemist, once again, doing the hydrogen/oxygen-filled barrel explosion.   He only does it once a year, and it gets me every time.  I went back to the bluebird house we had seen the day before, this time with camera in hand.  On the way I flushed a cottontail from a brush pile by a ditch.  The bluebird was nowhere to be seen.  On the way back I heard something in the ditch, and assumed it was the aforementioned bunny.  To my surprise, what came out was, in fact, a woodchuck.  I pulled out the camera as fast as I dared and walked along the opposite side of the ditch as it ran south.  Out of the many shots I took, one actually turned out OK.

I think he saw his shadow–and ran like hell to get away from me.

Friday morning I took Kane in to the vet.  He had been limping on his left foreleg, and it’s been getting so bad that he wouldn’t put any weight on it.  He also would spend all day lying in his dog house, presumably because it hurt too much to move.  The vet said he had lost another two pounds since we had been there last, just a month or so ago.  He was down to 55 lb from 79 a few years ago.  She was amazed that he was 13 years old.  It turned out there was nothing wrong with his foot, to my surprise, but his shoulder was so bad she couldn’t move it at all.  He either had a bone tumor or extremely severe arthritis.  In any case he was in a lot of pain and was likely to stay that way for the rest of his life, which wasn’t likely to be long.  He would continue to atrophy and lose weight because of his inactivity.  I decided the best thing would be to put him down.  The vet agreed.  I said my goodbyes, shed a few tears, and left him there.  It was a hard thing to do.   For the first time in about 15 years, we are dogless.  (No, I don’t want another dog.  Don’t offer me one, please).

This is one of the last photos I have of Kane.

Here he is with a brace of buffleheads.  Those were younger years for both of us.

Savannah and I went to Hannibal.  She had her eyes examined and picked out some new glasses.  Stacey met us and we all went to lunch.  We went to Stacey’s office, where I gave a talk on the Galapagos.  People actually showed up.  It went pretty well.  It was the first time I’ve given a lecture in front of Stacey and Savannah.  After we came home I did yard work while Savannah took a nap before going to work at Orscheln’s.  Stacey went to fire training that night.  Meanwhile, our Canton High School girls basketball team was playing in the state championship game.  They took second, which is great.  It’s been an amazing season.

Saturday I got up early and drove to St. Louis for the biannual MONEP seminar.  They bring in nationally known photographers for this.  It wasn’t the best ever, but I did learn some good things.  Afterward I stopped at a nearby pet store to buy Elodea, then went to the Cheesecake Factory to meet one of my former students.  I haven’t seen him in about 5 years.  He’s doing well, working for a chemical company.  It was a long drive home, but at least I made it before bedtime.

Sunday it rained, which put me out of my plans to either fish or take a bike ride.  I stayed home and got some work done, but mostly goofed off.  We all took a round on the Wii.  Most of the exercises are not that strenuous, but I actually got sore from some of them.  And they are generally fun. 

Monday I had to drive home during the lunch hour because I had forgotten the dang Elodea at home.  I’ve never had to do that before.  I guess it was worth it because my lab worked very well.  Stacey had a fire dept. meeting that night and Savannah had a date.  I was home alone.  I keep having nagging urges to let the dog out in the morning and let him in at night.  It’s hard to break old habits. 

March 15 – Leviathan

Sunday I planned to go out to Lowell’s.  We had some logs lying about in the woods that we needed to stack.  I also suggested we scout for more dead trees and maybe install the new trolling motor on the pontoon boat.  He said we should go around the lake a couple of times, just for grins.  The lake is open, and it was going to be a warm day.  Still, the first outing of the year is almost always a skunk, so I somewhat reluctantly packed my tackle box and rods in the Lil Egg.

On the way, I stopped for a red-tailed hawk on a power pole.  This one actually let me snap a few frames before it took off. 

It’s a juvenile, as the tail reveals.  Perhaps that’s why it was so tame.

First we walked out in the woods and found the firewood logs that had been left the last time I was out.  We stacked them and kept on walking, scouting for dead trees and anything else of interest.  No wildflowers were up yet, but a few frog species were croaking like mad.  We stopped at the cattail pond, where their calls were deafening.  Yet even at close range, they were hard to spot.  I finally picked one out near the shore.

Spring peeper.

Another spring peeper.  There were chorus frogs in there, but we just couldn’t spot them.

As we came back toward the house, we saw a little bird in a tree.

Eastern Phoebe.  This was a male singing from a perch.  Normally, they nest in a nearby shed.  I can think of at least 4 places they nest at Lowell’s.

So we decided to fish for awhile.  I pulled out the only rod that already had a lure attached, a small baitcaster Lowell had traded me for a vintage rod.  We got halfway around the lake and I put a new skirt on the spinnerbait, as the old one didn’t have too many rubber bands left on it.  I also cut off the frayed part of the line and retied it after getting snagged in a tree.  I had gotten a few bumps that might have been bites, or more likely were sticks I bounced off of, but neither of us had caught a fish.  We turned into the northern arm of the lake, which should be the warmest.  We approached the shallow end.  As usual, Lowell was running the trolling motor and fishing the deep water, while I fished toward the bank. 

I cast somewhere in this area, about where that little tree is leaning over the water, reeled a couple of revolutions and got a bite.  It wasn’t fighting much, so I slowed down to make sure I had a fish on, as opposed to a stick.  It was definitely a fish, but I couldn’t tell how big.  I kept reeling, and when it reached the surface I saw a huge head and immediately said, “Net!”  It was clearly going to be the biggest largemouth bass I had ever caught.  It was pale and sluggish in the cold water.  I grabbed the net and maneuvered the fish into the net, picked it up and put it on the deck of the pontoon boat.  Lowell and I were in stunned disbelief.  I was probably yelling a lot.  I put it in the livewell and filled it with water.  I kept the pump going to give it a constant supply of fresh water.  The ice chest that is the livewell is 20 inches long, and the bass exceeded that by a large margin.  We speculated about the fish’s size, but had to go back to the dock for verification.  The battery in the scale was dead and we didn’t have a long enough ruler.  Lowell went to the house for a fresh battery and tape measure.  I changed lenses and tried to remain calm.  When Lowell returned we took many photos and measured the thing in all the usual ways.

Vital statistics
Weight: 8 pounds, 6 ounces
Length: 25 inches
Girth:  17 inches

For the record, this fish is the largest fish of any species ever caught at Lake Lowell, including catfish.  It exceeds Lowell’s previous record of 7 lb 14 oz.  I think he has forgiven me.   I’ve been fishing at Lowell’s for just over 9 years.  He joked that he’s going to start running the boat in the opposite direction, so he’ll get the bank and I’ll get the deep water, for the next 9 years, or until he catches one bigger than mine.  We haven’t caught a fish over four pounds here since 2004, and despaired that any were left.  I don’t have fish mounted anymore, and I don’t eat big bass.  It would be a crime to kill a fish like this.  I released it.  Overall, we are encouraged to know that there’s at least one lunker in there, and probably more.

Lunker in the livewell.

I’ve been bass fishing for about 30 years.  It took forever just to break the 5 lb level, at La Belle Reservoir a few years ago.  This one does exceed the minimum for a Missouri Master Angler Award, 6 pounds.   That will be enough of a memento for me.

The winning combination.

The release.

After lunch at the diner in Ewing, we went back for another couple rounds of the lake.  I had one more fish strike at my lure, but didn’t hook it.  Lowell was skunked.  I only caught one fish all day.  It was the catch of the day, and the fish of a lifetime.

March 13 – End of spring break

Thursday I went up to the Stookey’s and cut half a load of firewood.  I took advantage of the frozen ground while I could.  After unloading, I pulled all the fencing out from the prairie.  The ice storm of December had destroyed much of it anyway.  I think the plants are mostly big enough to withstand the onslaught of cottontail rabbits. 

Friday I stayed home, balanced the checkbook and did other jobs mostly on my computer.  I’ve had the camera and big lens on a tripod in the kitchen for the past three days.  With the cold weather, the birds have been hitting our feeder pretty hard.

Male house finch.

Female house finch.

Male cardinal.

Female cardinal.

I don’t like grackles much.  They’re obnoxious and they mob my feeder, but they’re pretty up close.  They are not the “blackbirds” we think they are.

On the ground; courtship display.

Iridescent green; stretching a wing.

American Robin.

Curious chickadee.

Saturday Stacey and I ran a bunch of errands around town.  She raked some leaves in the yard and I hauled them back to the woods.  Otherwise, it was mostly a relaxing day.  Savannah worked at Orscheln’s.  Now they have bunnies, too.  She spent the night at a friend’s with a few other girls.  They did not sleep much, it would appear.

Sunday I went out to Lowell’s, but that was the subject of a special entry.

Monday was a fairly normal and routine day at work.  I did learn one interesting thing.  I was pitying a member of the men’s volleyball team because they had gone to New York, Pennsylvania and other cold places over the break.  On the other hand, the softball team had gone to Florida, which I deemed a much superior destination.  Until one of the players told me that the house they were staying in in Florida was broken into and all their stuff was stolen.  Bummer.  Also, their starting center fielder broke her leg.  They don’t like Florida anymore.

March 9 & 10 – Lake Taneycomo

At Lake Taneycomo (Taney COunty, MO), the Great Blue Herons are abundant and not shy.  While floating downstream on a pontoon boat, it was easy to put down the fishing rod and pick up the camera.  I took something over 500 frames.  I show just a few highlights here.  Several other species make special guest appearances.

This one was not catching a fish (a behavior that eluded me), but cleaning its bill on the stick.

Both of these were well lit with dark backgrounds.  The gape is a bonus.

Wood ducks were flying up and down the lake, but usually didn’t let us get too close.

Poised for something.

Must have had an itch that needed scratching.

A pair of pileated woodpeckers seemed to have a system of holes in many of the sycamore trees.

I like the way the wind blows the breast plumes in different directions.

This red-shouldered hawk was cruising about, never very close.

Stretched out and hunkered down.

A kingfisher in flight. 

Left-legged heron.  I like the mossy green background on these.

This blue-winged teal drake was hanging out with wood ducks.  I think he’s having an identity crisis.

The sun really highlights the plumes on these.

Here’s a close-up.  Many of these images were nearly frame-filling.  They are big birds, I had a long lens, and we got fairly close.

February 4 – Spring Break

Wednesday morning I was driving to work when I saw a small dog running along the side of the road.  With the sun behind it I couldn’t quite make it out, but when I got beside it I saw that it was actually a coyote.  I often see them in this area (Taylor), but I wished that my class was there to see it.  In the afternoon  I took the vert field class out to Siloam Springs State Park.  I’ve never taken a class there, and hadn’t even been there in years.  It’s a good 40 minutes out.  We hiked a trail that one of the students had taken recently.  We didn’t see many birds, but the rock formations and icicles were pretty cool.  We saw driving out three new species for us: turkey vultures (sure sign of spring), eastern bluebirds and wild turkeys.

Brian, Sam, Kass, Shawn

I tried some artsy shots of these icicles, but this basic one came out best.

I shot this bluebird out the car window.  Should have cut the engine, image might have been cleaner.

Here’s a male house sparrow from the back yard.

Thursday morning I gave my freshman class the option of eating some Japanese rice crackers (wrapped in seaweed) and dried squid.  They wall went for it.  Both nearly gagged Savannah the night before.  I think extra credit makes things taste better.  I also fed the snake in front of them.  It took down one mouse pretty quickly.  The students weren’t too happy, as they had used these mice earlier in the week and given them names.   They thought he needed seconds, however, and I threw in another mouse.   He seized it by the tail and, as a result, didn’t get a good wrap on the body of the mouse.  It was still alive when he started to eat it.  The struggles induced him to put the final coils around the mouse and snuff it. 
In the afternoon I wandered around North Campus.  I spotted these mallards on the pond, but couldn’t get too close.

We had an Environmental Club meeting in the afternoon.  We went to Keller’s to buy some seed and planted stuff in little pots in the greenhouse.  It was pretty fun.  We put out the recycling too.  My student Laura noticed a striking resemblance between myself and one of her boyfriend’s collector G.I. Joes.  She brought it in to the office, they made a little insect net to go with it, and we posed it on my photo stand.

Ride ’em, cowboy!  Note the dork hat, mustache, sunglasses and vest. 

This is actually the “Wild Bill” version of GI Joe, but we call it GI Joe Coelho.  I’ve put a bid in on one that’s on eBay.

Friday morning I took the Taurus to the tire shop.  It had a pretty bad vibration/oscillation thing going on.  I had checked the tires, but apparently not the one that was showing wires coming out of the steel belts.  Well, at least we got about all the mileage we could out of that one.  After the new tires, I changed the oil, fixed the siren (with much cursing), vacuumed the interior, changed the air filter and cleaned the tree sap off the hood.  That shot most of the day until it was time for Lowell and I to go to the QU Basketball game.  Our women’s team has the best record in their conference, and, therefore, hosts the tournament.  We won the game, but it was hard fought.  Our star player had an off night–only 20 points.  The others compensated though. 

Saturday morning Stacey and I went to an estate sale.  I bought a few small things.  We ran errands around town, and spent the rest of the day housebound.  It rained pretty hard for awhile.  I packed for the Taneycomo trip. 

Sunday morning Lowell came over, we picked up Jim Behn and headed down to Branson.  We made the obligatory stop at the Bass Pro Shops Mothership.  I went through the catalog clearance center and was tempted by a few things, but didn’t get much.  When we got to Lake Taneycomo and Trout Hollow Lodge, Tom and Joe were already there.  In the office I had the lady check on the web, where I found that our women’s basketball team had lost the Conference Championship game.  Dang!  Maybe it’s better I wasn’t there.  Probably would have tried.   We rigged up and tried to catch fish from the dock, but got no bites.  This was a foreshadowing of events.

Monday morning we took out our rented pontoon boat and motored upstream as far as we legally could.  We drifted down and bounced our baits on the bottom.  We didn’t catch much right away.  I was hoping things would pick up when they stopped releasing water from the dam upstream.  It didn’t.  We stopped for lunch and ate at the Italian place across the street.  It was good.  All other meals we ate at the Farm House Restaurant, which is relatively cheap for any place in Branson.  It was also good, and I overstuffed myself one night with blackberry cobbler a la mode one night.  After lunch we went back at it.  We found a spot by the bridge that yielded a few fish, but that petered out too.  We gave up and headed back for beers around 5.  I had caught one small rainbow trout and a nice brown trout.

Tuesday we went at it again until noon.  Joe Dieker was having some success with gulp baits, which he generously shared.  I caught one rainbow with it, but that’s all.  Three fish the entire trip.  I think when I went two years ago I caught 46.  That was the best year ever.  This was the worst year ever.  On the other hand, the weather was great.  We didn’t get rained on (against prediction), and it was unusually warm.  I got to fish with guys I don’t get to go out with that much.  The best part for me was the opportunity I had to photograph great blue herons.  The birds are abundant because of the numerous trout and habituated to people because of…the numerous people.  I will publish a special entry with all the photos shortly.

Wednesday I slept in (ahhhhh).  But when I got up I got to work on things.  I started up the wood stove again.  It supposed to be cold for a few days.  I changed the oil on the Echo and vacuumed it out.  Then it was time to relax with indoor pursuits.