New Years – Welcome 2010

We drove down to St. Louis on Sunday afternoon and stopped at the Whole Foods Market to see what they had.  We got lunch at Qdoba, which is just like Chipotle Mexican Grill.  We checked into the hotel, hung out for awhile, and took the shuttle to the airport.  We met Mike and Racin as they got off the plane, got their bags and took the shuttle back to the hotel.  We got a late dinner at Steak and Shake, which the Californians had never been to. 

Monday morning we went to the Arch in St. Louis and we all rode the tram to the top, taking lots of pictures.  It had been more than 10 years since I had done that.  We went to the Anheuser-Busch bottling plant and took the tour.  We saw the Clydesdales and various parts of the facility, then got our free beer at the end.  We ate lunch at Red Lobster and stopped at the Petco and World Market.  I bought a couple of balls for Gretchen.  She doesn’t need more toys, but she was a little short on ideal retrieving balls.  We went home and hung about the house for the rest of the evening.

From New Year 2009/2010

Savannah, Stacey, Racin and Mike at the arch.  Click on the link to see more pics of everything.

From New Year 2009/2010

Racin and Savannah at the Bud plant.

Tuesday it was sunny in the morning so I took Mike and Racin down to look at the eagles at the lock and dam.  I gave them the 50-cent tour of Canton.  We got out the truck, loaded up sleds, and went down to the sledding hill.  There wasn’t as much snow as one might like, but it was adequate.  The ice-fishing sled was fast, but mostly uncontrollable, and we almost crashed it a couple of times.  The Flexible Flyer was only marginal controllable, but slower.  Both Savannah and Racin crashed on that.  We got some good video and photos of these episodes. 

From New Year 2009/2010

Savannah and Mike bracing for impact. 

We all went to see Sherlock Holmes at the movies that night.  We followed that with the Avenue of Lights, which I hadn’t seen in many years.

Wednesday we went down to Hannibal, first stopping at Stacey’s workplace, Douglass Community Services, for the grand tour.  We were going to go up and see Lover’s Leap, but the road was closed.  I guess it’s too steep to plow.  We went to the Mark Twain Cave just down the road.  We saw a large flock of wild turkeys on the way in.  We didn’t have time for the full tour, but there was no one else there, so the lady took us on a short tour for free.  We bought some stuff at the gift shop anyway.  We took Stacey to a Dr. appointment, then had lunch at Fiddlesticks.  We went to Quincy in the afternoon.  I picked up my new glasses and gave them the grand tour of my office and labs, while watering my plants.  When we got home, Mike and I started working on the Honda 70, which we put in the basement for warmer working conditions.  Unfortunately, when we had to drain the fuel and clean parts, it made the whole house smell like gasoline.  I opened the basement door and turned on a fan, which helped a lot.  We ended up taking out the entire fuel tank and carburetor.  A fuel line was plugged, and I happened to have some spare tubing, and we replaced it.  Still, it wouldn’t start.

From New Year 2009/2010

Savannah breaks the rules (the sign says “Stay back 3 feet”).

Thursday we had planned to go to the National Motorcycle Museum in Iowa, but the roads were closed.  Instead, we opted for another round of sledding.  This time there was a lot more snow.  We also mastered the control of our sleds, and used the truck to shuttle ourselves to the top of the hill.  Face first on the flexible flyer was the best ride, as the sensation of speed is enhanced, and directional control is much improved.  We also discovered that the ice fishing sled could be controlled by using the heels of the feet like left and right brakes.  We had just about had our fill and were getting ready to go to the top one more time, when a lady I know started screaming, “Call 911!”  Her daughter, who we have known since she was little, had slammed face first into a concrete sign at the end of her sledding run.  Blood was pouring out her nose.  We did what we could until our first responders arrived.  Joe LaCount administered first aid.  I found out later she had broken her nose and facial bone.  We decided not to take that last run down the hill, and went about running some errands.  We did some more eagle photography.  Mike and I worked on the Honda 70 some more, taking apart the carburetor and cleaning lots of parts.  I found some crud in the fuel filter, which had a big hole in it.  It still wouldn’t start, and we moved on to other things. 

From New Year 2009/2010

Savannah plows a furrow with her face.  Racin smiles.

From New Year 2009/2010

Savannah and Racin catch some air.

From New Year 2009/2010

Mike speeds down the hill on the Flexible Flyer.

Friday Mike, Racin and I went out to Lowell’s.  We walked nearly all the trails looking for cottontail rabbits.  Racin had my .22 rifle, Lowell had his Thompson Contender, I had my bow, and Mike had a video camera.  We flushed a rabbit right away.  It stopped a short distance away under a cedar and I took a shot.  I missed and it ran again, but we couldn’t find it.  Shortly thereafter we came upon a scene of death on the trail.  A red fox was lying there stretched out, frozen stiff but without any blood or marks on it.  The snow was torn up all around it like there had been a big fight.  The other tracks were from a large canid, which suggests that a dog killed the fox.  We saved the fox so that a kid we know can take the pelt.  All I want is the skull.  Not long afterward, we found a dead opossum, also frozen solid.  It angers me to see that.  People let their dogs run loose and they kill wildlife.  Anyway, we saw bunnies at almost every turn, ending up with a total of eight.  Racin shot at a couple of them on the run, but none of them would stop in range to offer us a decent shot.  Lowell and I gave Mike and Racin the 50-cent tour along the way, showing them some highlights of the place.  We saw a covey of quail, which is somewhat uncommon.  At the end we stopped at Lowell’s shooting range and put my old motorcycle helmet on a post.  I had been about to throw it in the trash when I realized it would make a fun target.  We shot many holes in it with the .22, then finished it off with a couple of shots from the .410 Contender.  The .22 put holes all the way through it, but the shotgun pellets didn’t even penetrate the face shield. 

From New Year 2009/2010

Helmet violated.

When we got back we set to work on the 70 again.  Mike thought there was something plugged in the carb, as we couldn’t get the bowl to fill with fuel.  After much searching, we found that there was crud blocking the slow idle jet.  We got that out with a piece of wire, reassembled everything, and it started on about the 4th kick.  I rode it around in the snow and made donuts in the back yard.  We celebrated with a beer.  Meanwhile, Racin had gone to the movies with Savannah and Matt.  They saw the Chipmunks Squeakquel.

Saturday we all got up early and drove down to St. Louis (except for Savannah, who had to work).  We dropped Mike and Racin at the airport.  They never called, so I assumed everything went well (and it did).  We stopped at Whole Foods again and picked up a few things.  We had brought Gretchen with us and walked her on the grass there.  Mike had had a pair of boots from Target I kind of liked and there was a store right there so we went in to look for them.  They were on clearance, but they didn’t have my size.  On our way home we passed another Target (at Dardenne Prairie?) and stopped there.  They had my size, and they were even cheaper.  My feet are much warmer while walking the dog now.

Sunday I didn’t accomplish much, but did shoot some birds out the back window.

From New Year 2009/2010

Blue Jay

From New Year 2009/2010

White-throated sparrow.

Monday I did a lot of odd jobs around the house.  I was cleaning the snake cages and had the trash can full of newspaper and snake poo right next to me.  I had a snake wrapped around my neck so I could work on the cage with both hands.  Gretchen stood up on the trash can and knocked it over.  I said, “NO!”  And at that moment the snake stuck its tail in my mouth.  Much spitting ensued.  I went to the brush dump, unloaded our ashes, and picked up a small amount of firewood.  I went to photograph eagles, but they weren’t very cooperative. 

Christmas 2009

We hope everyone had as nice a Christmas as we did.  We opened our presents on Christmas morning, as usual.  Some highlights: Savannah got a car stereo, a hair straightener and a tie-dye kit.  Stacey got a double boiler, a pair of rubber boots and a necklace/earrings set.  I got a motorcycle helmet, a fishing rod carrier and three pairs of blue jeans.  Gretchen got a pile of new toys, including one from her “cousin” Molly in California.  On the other hand, Savannah got a gift from Gretchen, which ended up being an electric razor.  We had a nice dinner of prime rib roast, and Savannah’s beau Matt came over for that.  He brought me a small gift, which was very nice.  I was teasing him that it better be something from Scheel’s, which is an awesome sporting goods store at the mall where he works.  It was two spinnerbaits and a Scheel’s T shirt.  What a laugh. 

The birds are coming to our feeders now.  We haven’t had much sunlight, but that didn’t stop me from some taking some photos.

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Female downy woodpecker.

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Blue jay with sunflower seed.

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Female Northern Cardinal.

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Male Northern Cardinal with blowing snow.

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Stacey taking Gretchen for a walk in the back yard.

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Squirrel on my feeder.  Gretchen hates these almost as much as I do.  Don’t let their cuteness fool you.  They’re obnoxious suburban rats.

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American Goldfinch on our new finch feeder.

The day after Christmas we did lots of odd jobs around the house.  I was walking Gretchen out front when I flushed a sharp-shinned hawk out of our spruce tree.  It flew back into my neighbor’s yard.  After the walk, I retrieved the camera.

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It flew around to different perches, landing for awhile on the neighbor’s roof.

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It perched in this maple a lot.  I think it was trying to get some sparrows out of the bushes.

December 18 – Eagles ahoy

Tuesday afternoon I picked up Stacey in Hannibal and we went down to St. Louis.  It was our first time to make the MONEP Holiday Show.  There was a nice dinner, then the show.  They put hundreds of excellent slides to music.  It must have run 45 minutes.  I think they used all of the ones I submitted.  I certainly had the only bat photo!  I talked to the people from Shaw Nature Reserve afterward.  They want to have me back next summer.  I’m already looking forward to it.

I got my finals wrapped up on Wednesday.  It sure as a unique semester.  Teaching two courses in double-time was tough, but at least it was only two preps.  Thursday I ran errands around town with the truck.  I had Gretchen strapped into the passenger seat with her harness.  She hated it.  She whined almost the whole time.  I stopped to photograph eagles for awhile, and she really got worked up over the eagle calls.  I cut some firewood down at the brush dump.  I started stacking it in the old dog kennel.  It should hold nearly a year’s worth, once full.  Friday morning I ran more errands.  I had to get the Taurus registered.  First stop: the auto shop for an inspection.  They have a little dachshund puppy there, and Gretchen had a great time playing with her once they got acquainted.  I stayed a little longer than necessary, just to make sure they were both tired.  Gretch didn’t like the big lab as much.  He’s totally harmless, though he was sniffing her private parts a little too much for propriety.  She rode great in the car, I think because I didn’t strap her in.  She sat  in or layed down on the passenger seat.   I took her into the license office.  The guy said, “No killer dogs.”  I said, “She’s hardly killed anyone today.”  She pooped on their lawn, too.  When we got home, she crashed.  All the playing tired her out.  She has lost two teeth already.  Savannah crawled around on the floor trying to find them.  She had no luck, and was more upset that “our little baby is growing up!”

I saw an eagle out in a corn field eating a road kill on the way to the auto shop.  Too bad I didn’t have my camera.  It was pretty close, too.   Here are a few from earlier in the week.

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Not bad for an eagle on a stick.

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Caught this one in the act of flying.

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This is what happens when you give a cardboard tube to a puppy with a chewing jones.

Sunday morning was the Christmas bird count.  I picked up Leo and we drove through our area.  A few bonus birds we saw were the pileated woodpecker and the northern harrier.   We were driving through the flood plain ag lands when we saw a big flock of small birds on the road.  Neither of us recognized them.  After looking hard and consulting the field guide, we decided they were lapland longspurs.  That was a life bird for both of us!  We passed a really cool waterfall right by the side of the road.  I’ll have to go back and photograph that one.  Things got kind of slow until the very end when we found some houses with bird feeders, and we picked up a few more species.  We ended up with 22.  That’s not bad for a winter count, but hardly compares to our >50 last spring.

At home I was getting ready to take Gretchen for a walk when I saw the Japanese yew bush explode, and a hawk flew out and landed in the sweetgum tree.  I grabbed a camera and got a couple of shots before it took off.  It didn’t get a sparrow, sadly.  They usually hide in that bush because it’s next to our feeder. 

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A rather disappointed sharp-shinned hawk.

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Who’s been naughty this Christmas???  One guess. 

Savannah and I were eating lunch while Gretchen was sleeping in her dog bed.  I said, “Isn’t she cute?”  Savannah said something with a mouthful of food that I thought was, “She’s sainted.”  Turns out what she really said was, “She’s Satan.”  Both are partly true.

Monday morning I took in the recycling on the way to the office.  I met with one of my advisees and we figured out how to get her graduated.  And I went to the optometrist for an eye exam, the first one in about 8 years.  I have been losing visual acuity in my right eye.  I found out that the eyes continue to change in 3% of people who get lasik.  The odds have beaten me.  Why couldn’t I win the lottery instead?  Now, I get bifocals.  Merry freakin’ Christmas.  Since only one eye is really affected, I was hoping to get a monocle, but they didn’t go for that.  At least I can look forward to reading or being on the computer for more than an hour without getting a headache.

December 9 – Mouse hunt!

Last week one of my students posted on Facebook the “funniest thing ever”.  So clicked through and was taken to a video, which didn’t play because it said I needed a newer version of Flash Player.  I clicked through to get that and downloaded it.  I double clicked the setup.exe file and nothing happened.  Uh oh.  Eventually, what happened was that browser windows would open spontaneously and take me to various web sites.  I had gotten a Trojan Horse.  I tried to remove the malware, but had no luck.  Our IT staff finally came and took away my computer, but not before I had visited many of my usual web sites.  They said I needed to go in and change all my passwords before something very bad happened.  The malware could have been scarfing up my passwords.  I could imagine someone charging up all manner of goods on eBay.  They had to reformat the hard drive on my office machine.  I had mostly backed it up, so I didn’t lose much.  It will be a pain to reinstall all of my favorite applications.  All in all, it was a very bad episode.  Meanwhile, we had lots of internet connection problems at home.  I had to remove a bad DSL filter and restart my DSL modem.  It made me realize how dependent I am on the internet.

We got the blast of cold, but not the heavy snow.  In ecology we did the lab where I hide film canisters around north campus and the students find them by the GPS coordinates.  I hadn’t the heart to freeze them to death so I only planted one a piece.  Wednesday I sent off my book chapter.  It’s supposed to go to press in a year. 

Thursday I brought home some mice that were left over from the immunology class.  I gave a couple to Laura to feed her snake.  When I got home I had the idea of letting Gretchen play with one.  Schnauzers are supposed to be rat dogs, right?  I was going to put one in the middle of the floor and let her go after it.  What could go wrong with that?  Savannah said the mouse would get away.  I planned to guard against that.  I dropped the mouse in front of the dog, and she showed great interest, even more than she did in the cricket.  That is, she went nuts.  She wasn’t quite sure how to proceed, however, and the mouse ran away.  It got under a bookshelf, which had a very thin opening underneath that I had not noticed.  Savannah rightly said, “I told you so.”  We tried to extract the mouse using various implements, all the while with the frenetic dog getting in the way.  I ended up tilting the bookshelf over.  The mouse ran out and I flung it in the middle of the room.  Or I would have except that Savannah was in the way.  She freaked.  She screamed and moved faster than I remember her doing for quite some time.  Remember, this is a harmless white lab mouse.  On the second crack, the dog did a better job of things.  She actually caught the mouse and mouthed it for awhile.  I took it away, still alive and intact, and fed it to one of the snakes.  For Gretchen, it was an early Christmas present.

Friday Stacey and I took the truck all over northeast Missouri picking up and delivering toys.  We got to be Santa Claus.  We took Gretchen with us, with some trepidation, as we didn’t know how well she’d travel.  We put on her harness so we could strap her in when necessary, but she spent most of the time sleeping on the seat or on Stacey’s lap.  We took her out for potty breaks whenever we would stop.  Overall, she traveled very well.

I got an email from a woman who does bat flight biomechanics at Brown University.  She liked my bat pics from Ruby and wants to use one in an upcoming book she’s writing.  I’m glad someone appreciates these.  They were hard to get, and among the best I’ve done, but they haven’t placed in any contests.  Here’s one of my faves.

Saturday I spotted a squirrel in the back yard trying to get suet out of the feeder.  I took Gretchen to the window.  Once she spotted it, she growled and started barking.  I let her out to chase it, but the squirrel ran up the tree and stayed out of sight.  Gretchen took the opportunity to pee in the prairie.  We took her down to Orcheln’s to get her picture taken with Santa Claus.  She wasn’t that cooperative, but I think they got some good shots.

Monday night was the Fire Department Christmas party.  I had spent part of Saturday putting together the video.  It should appear here:


December 1 – Two stories about cat barf

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I found a millipede in the basement the other day.  Time to break out the macro lens.

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I liked it better overexposed , however.

While I had everything set up, I decided to photograph some multicolored Asian lady beetles.  We have plenty of them in the basement.  This was done by request (of Nancy) and because it’s just a good idea.  I tried to capture some of the range of coloration and pattern expressed in this species.

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More of them look like this–dark red/orange with heavy spots.

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They can also be pale like this with almost no spots. A group of them may look like several species, when they are actually all the same one, Harmonia axiridis. These are the pesky ones that invade houses and buildings every fall.  We have our share, but not as bad as some people. My friend Terry wakes up with them crawling on him in the night.  Just to be clear, they are ladybugs, just not one of the hundreds that are native to the U.S.  They are not Japanese beetles, which are green and come out in the summer.

Wednesday in Ecology we dissected owl pellets.  For the first time ever, a student found a bird skull in one.  Other than that, it was the usual mice and voles. 

Thursday morning I looked over the back porch rail to find a decapitated cottontail.  Gee, thanks, Boots.  He often kills small bunnies, but this one was full sized.  He’s now ready to take on the foul beast of Caer Bannog.  I tossed the carcass into the woods before it began to smell.  I took Gretchen in to the vet that morning and got her three different shots and was microchipped.  She wasn’t too happy about all the poking and prodding, but she really made me proud when she did a “sit” on command in front of everyone there.  I took her rabies certificate down to city hall and got her registered.  Then it was off to work.  I gave an exam and we did part of a soils lab.  I hung around and read for awhile, then went to the basketball games.  We won the women’s game easily.  The men’s game was turning into an even bigger blowout, so I left at half time.  We played Maryville, which just moved up into our Division.  They still play like an NAIA team.  It was weird that I recognized a player that I had seen play against our high school team a few years ago. 

That night Savannah went into her room and I heard, “Oh, my God.  Are you kidding me?!”  Boots had barfed up the partially digested remains of the rabbit head–on Savannah’s bed in two large gouts.  I guess it didn’t sit well with him.  She ran to the bathroom and began making retching noises.  She was not happy.  All she wanted to do was go to bed, but she had to deal with this mess first.  I told her that much of life is this way: it’s a bitch and then you die.  I grabbed some paper towels and picked up the major chunks.  Savannah stripped the bed and Stacey washed the sheets.  That’s teamwork. 

I guess the ears don’t taste as good.

Friday I had a couple of meetings on campus, at which I learned some interesting things.  I got some grading done.  I stopped by the pet store and got some crickets on the way home.  I fed the two geckos, who were quite hungry.  Then I got the idea: give one to Gretchen.  I put it on the floor in front of her and she went nuts.  Her tail wagged like never before.  She chased and pounced on this cricket.  She was like a hunting dog when it’s “birdy.”  We’ll stick with these small game for now, but schnauzers are supposed to be rat dogs.

Saturday Lowell and I went to the QU basketball games.  We won both the women’s and men’s games, and handily.  There were a couple of slam dunks in the men’s game.  In the women’s game, one of our freshmen recruits threw a one-handed, over the head, no-look pass that her team mate didn’t see coming.  It went out of bounds.  I remember her highlights from high school on the TV news.  She has some moves.

Sunday I let the cat in in the morning.  He ate too much food too fast and started making that characteristic horking sound that generally precedes barfing.  I hurriedly grabbed him, flung the door open and threw him out.  Gretchen thought this was the greatest fun, and was jumping around like a maniac as if to say, “Can we play another round of Throw The Cat?”  I spent the morning on yard work and stuff, as our internet was down. 

Monday we woke to a nice coating of snow on the ground.  Gretchen loved it, and ate it.  I took the opportunity to get some artsy snow shots.

Sweet gum ball.