July 23 – Catfishing and dragonfly hunting

Sometimes I am asked if I fish for the well known giant catfish in the Mississippi River, and the answer is that I don’t, at least not often.  This kind of fishing is a specialty that takes years of learning to master, and I haven’t been willing to put in the time.  Fortunately, I have a relatively new friend that has put the time in to learn these skills.  Plus, he has all the necessary equipment.  He generously offered to take me out one day recently for a day on the river.  I am sworn to not reveal his secrets, however.  We started before sunrise, got bait, and scouted for locations.  We tried a few likely locations, but couldn’t raise a bite.  We were targeting blue catfish, which grow to be the largest of all the species in the Mississippi.  The world record 124-pounder was caught downriver near Alton just a few years ago (2005).  We weren’t counting on anything in that size range, but we were prepared.  Finally, around noon I got a hit on one of my rods.  When I picked it up, I couldn’t believe the pull it was giving me.  Part of it was the force of the river current on the fish.  I had to pump it in like it was a marlin.  It was a blue cat, thankfully.  At 17 lb, it was not exceptional by any means, but it was still the biggest catfish I’ve caught ever.  My goal is to catch one over 30 lb, which is the minimum for a Missouri master angler award for that species.

A fighting belt might have been appropriate.  My one and only blue cat–so far.

My buddy caught a small flathead catfish, and that was our take on the day, though we released them both.  It got pretty hot out and we hit the road.  One of the fun things we did was drive the boat around below the dam and make the Asian carp jump.  They really come out with a lot of force.  I’m glad none hit me in the head.  It was fun to watch around the outlet for the hydroelectric dam the current makes the little Asian carp jump against the wall.  A group of American White Pelicans hangs out nearby, presumably picking off the ones that stun themselves.

As I did last year, I had the good fortune to go to Shaw Nature Reserve to teach high school kids about dragonflies.    The afternoon I arrived was overcast, and I had little opportunity for photography.  I went out anyway to see what I could find.  I got some interesting effects just by using all the camera setting tricks I could think of and holding the camera very still.  The dim light resulted in an almost ethereal quality.

Male blue dasher Robber fly

The first day it rained on us right away.  I had neglected to bring my rain jacket, and got soaked.  However, the sun came out and we all dried out and got plenty warm.  We saw two new species, the jade clubtail and the red saddlebags.  I was photographing everything in sight, of course.  The second day, it was just plain hot all day.  Click through to see the complete “greatest hits” collection.  I was happy to get some dragonfly behaviors recorded (feeding, mating, oviposition) in addition to standard portraits.

Black swallowtail Halloween pennants mating

Zebra swallowtail.  I’ve been waiting ~5 years to get a shot like this Slaty skimmer

Male eastern pondhawk eating male eastern amberwing Blue dasher ovipositing

Male eastern pondhawk eating a pearl crescent Yellow-billed cuckoo. A long wait for this opportunity as well.

I found this conehead while mowing the lawn.  He was a great subject for the insect studio.


I spent one afternoon collecting wasps at the rental house.  There was a colony of Great Black Digger Wasps nesting under the porch.  What luck!    I got about 10 data points out of them.  They forage on katydids, and they have a hard time getting them through a crack in the concrete.  So various birds have learned to steal from them, mostly house sparrows and robins.  They also steal from each other.

Sphex pennsylvanicus with its prey, a bush katydid (Scudderia).


Vacation 2010

Stacey and I left on vacation, taking Gretchen along with us in the Lil Egg.  We spent most of the day on the road, but made Mitchell, South Dakota, in plenty of time to see the famous Corn Palace,  It was in great condition, with something of a transportation theme this year.  I especially like the canoe and motorcycle.  After we saw the gift shops and surroundings, we went to the nearby campground for our first night of tent camping.  I have not seen such a horde of mosquitoes in many years.  After considerable searching, we could not find our bug spray,  After we paid double for a can of DEET at the campground store, I found ours, of course.  It was hot and humid, so we were having difficulty falling asleep when the campground manager came around in a golf cart to warn us that a big thunderstorm was coming in about an hour.  The temperature dropped suddenly, the thunder and lightning came, and the wind threatened to turn the tent over with us in it.  It rained most of the rest of the night, while our nearly new tent, which I had seam-sealed twice, leaked little drops on us.  

The famous Corn Palace We are there.

As usual, click on any image and you will be taken to a web album with more images from that time and place.
We struck camp and headed west to our next destination, world famous Wall Drug.  The place takes up an entire city block.  We saw everything we wanted to in an hour or so.  Gretchen stayed in the car and howled a bit, at least while she could see us.  We bought a few trinkets and hit the road again, but it wasn’t far to Rapid City, where we checked into our hotel and crashed.  We had sleep to catch up on.  We had planned to see the fireworks at Mount Rushmore that night, but it was canceled this year because of the pine beetles having killed so many of the trees.  The fire hazard was too high.

Classic pick-up truck. World famous Wall Drug.

We stopped at a souvenir shop call the Coyote Claw.  They actually had some good bargains.  We stopped at the little tourist trap of Keystone for more souvenir window shopping.  Onward we went to Mount Rushmore.  It looked great under overcast skies.  I hiked the little presidential trail and photographed the presidential heads about 100 times. 

Stacey gets an angelic glow around historical monuments.. Let’s put our heads together…

We went to Crazy Horse, which is the not-yet-finished equivalent of Rushmore.  It was fairly disappointing, as everything, including admission, was overpriced.  At least they let us take Gretchen in.  We drove on through Custer State Park via the Wildlife Loop, which I had been looking forward to.  It did not disappoint, as we saw a variety of the large mammals.  We drove some extremely twisty and steep roads, which is why, I suppose, so many motorcyclists come here.  We went back to the Hotel again.

What Crazy Horse looks like now. What Crazy Horse will look like in about 1000 years.

Young pronghorn leaping. Prairie dog just chilling.

We started out on the long loop to Devil’s Tower, WY.  It was a cold, rainy day.  We stopped at a gas station at the same time as a pair of Goldwingers who were freezing their butts off.   When we got to Devil’s Tower, it was shrouded in clouds.  We didn’t pay to get into the National Monument, as all you can do is drive around the thing.  We stayed out by the souvenir shops on private property and I took about 150 shots of the ~800 foot rock as the clouds came and went.  Fortunately, I had a bread bag to keep the rain off my camera.  Actually, it was brought along as a dog doo bag for picking up after Gretchen.  We continued on the loop, stopping a couple of times for different perspectives on the monument.  Driving out of Tower Valley, I thought it was some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen.  We stopped at Belle Fourche.  One of our challenges was finding places to eat with a dog.  Sometimes we did fast food joints that have outdoor tables.  Here we found a grocery store with a deli and ate in the car.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, shrouded in mystery.

Deadwood was terribly disappointing, as there is nothing there but an endless array of casinos.  So we went on to Sturgis.  It did not disappoint.  It was a month away from the bike rally, but the town is still all about motorcycles.  Main street is full of interesting shops and night clubs.  After spending some time there, we went to the 4th and 7th Cavalry Museum at Fort Meade.  Stacey went in, while I paraded Gretchen on the grounds.  She pooped somewhere near the WWII memorial. 
We had checked out of our hotel in favor of the more economical cabins at Happy Holiday Resort.  This was a huge campground for everything from tent campers to million-dollar RVs. 

A Sturgis nightclub Proof we were there (note banner over street).

We were tired of driving around so much, so we hung around Rapid City, seeing the downtown and a few outlying shops.  There are bronze statues of the Presidents on all the street corners.  It’s fun trying to figure out who they are from a distance.  Stacey, with a degree in history, outscores me handily.  We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in the cabin, while the tent dried on the picnic table.  That evening we took a drive through the wildlife loop again, on the theory that the animals would be more active in the evening.  We were right.  We saw three herds  of buffalo.  Some were crossing road, and we pulled up to get a close look.  One stopped to rub its neck on our car.  Gretchen had been very interested in them at first, but this close encounter scared her.  She never did bark at them.  We saw a lot more deer as well, plus some turkeys and a few pronghorn.  It rained on us on the way down, and even hailed a bit.  Not fun for the motorcyclists, who stopped to wait it out.

How to scratch your head if you have antlers. How to scratch your nose if you’re a bison.
The big guy takes a walk. Baby takes a drink before Mom has gotten up.

We drove out to do the Badlands Loop, a road that passes through the famous Badlands, a National Grassland.  “National” means they charge you just like entering a national park.  The formations were pretty impressive, and a lot of people were out to see them.  We stopped in Wall for lunch, then back in Rapid City.  I bought a new pillow at WalMart, as my little travel pillow had torn.  As a result, I had woken up with little styrofoam beads all over my hair.  We had headaches, presumably from the brightness of the day, and took naps that afternoon.

Spiky badlands Grassy badlands
Cloudy badlands Mountain badlands

Buprestid beetle Ammophila wasp

We packed up and hit the road.  We stopped in Hot Springs to look at a few things, but not for long.  Soon we were in Nebraska, enjoying the views of the Sand Hills.  Shortgrass prairie never looked so good.  The area is not densely populated at all.  We stopped in Broken Bow for the night.  We got a nice hotel room for the whopping fee of $35.

Waterfall in Hot Springs, SD Gretchen surveys the Sand Hills
Unidentified dragonfly Unidentified plant

We stopped at an outlet mall somewhere around Lincoln, Nebraska.  We didn’t get much, but I got a chance to look around an Indian motorcycle dealership.  There aren’t many of those around.  We got into Canton around 7:30.  It was good to be home. 

July 2 – Biggest flower in the world

I’m issuing this on an off date because we are leaving on vacation tomorrow and I wanted to create a break point.  Furthermore, I have a big backlog of photos to share.  I went fishing three days in a row this week.  Monday I took the kayak out for it’s first voyage of the year.  At Wakonda Park I wasn’t expecting a huge day of fishing, but I was nearly skunked.  Fortunately, I caught a small crappie while trolling in deep water.  Tuesday evening I went to John B’s again.  Fish were not biting much, though it was a beautiful evening.  I caught maybe three small bass.  Right at sunset, John caught a big one that went about 5 1/4 lb.  It was a serious fish. 

This lake is surrounded by forest primeval.

Wednesday morning Savannah and I took the kayak out to Lowell’s, but not to fish…to take Gretchen for her first swimming lesson!  I don’t think she understood that the water did not have a firm footing under it like the ponds she’s used to playing in around the edges.  She jumped straight in and seemed surprised.  She did surface and swim on her own.  Her technique is not very graceful though. 

The kayak dog. Swimming lesson: beating the water to a froth.
Looks nearly hairless when wet. Learning to spot fish.

After the swimming lessons, we fished one and one-half circuits of the lake.  At one point Gretchen became interested in a piece of algae and tried to jump off the pontoon boat.  I grabbed her with one and and with the other dropped my rod into the lake.  That was my favorite outfit too.  It was only 5 feet deep so I took my shoes off and felt around in the muck until I came up with the rod.  It was a yucky experience, but I was glad to have the rod and reel back.  Lowell caught a few, and Savannah none.  She didn’t swim in the lake either!

I caught 7 bass, including this 17-incher.

That afternoon I went over to Nancy’s to look at her flower gardens.  I took the camera.

Unknown hemipteran. Blue-tailed flies.

Splashes of color. One of her lilies.  Click through for many more.

Thursday I took a motorcycle ride to Macomb.  It was a beautiful day for a ride: cool, no wind and little traffic.  My purpose though, was to see a titan arum in bloom at WIU’s greenhouse.    When I first saw it I’m sure an expletive left my mouth.  It was twice as big as I thought.  I took many photos.  Though known as the Corpse Flower, it didn’t really smell like a dead thing; more like poo.  The flower was past its peak, so the smell wasn’t very powerful unless I put my head in it.

Feed me, Seymour! Here I am for scale.  The flower is about 7 feet tall.

The spadix is hollow, relatively thin-walled…. …and tall.

That night the fire department was needed to stand by at the nursing home while the fireworks were set off.  It was easy duty, and I was able to take my camera.  I looked up the settings I had used last year, and got some really good results.  Click through for a bunch more images.

Orange glow. Multicolored splash.