May 13 — another academic year ends

It’s a bit sad that my Plant Field Biology class is over with.  We did end on a high point, however.  My new friend, Jan Kitzing, guided us at Deer Ridge Conservation Area.  I’ve been there many times (used to hunt ducks there).  But Jan and her husband Mark have been going there for years.  Plus, she’s a complete wildflower freak.  She led us to some rather precious species, such as Green Dragon, Southern Blue Flag and Yellow Lady-slipper Orchid.  I had never seen the orchid before.  The students added quite a few species to their virtual plant collections.  At the same time, the place was absolutely swarming with butterflies.  There has been a huge influx of Red Admirals in this area, but we also saw lots of swallowtails, various nymphalids, and more Mourning Cloaks than I had cumulatively seen in my entire life.  We were walking down the trail and Jan literally stepped on the tail of a quite large black rat snake, as one of my students tried to catch her.  The trails were very muddy, though it didn’t rain on us. I fell on my butt at one of the steep spots.  At the location of the orchids, the pollen was so thick that I had a minor coughing fit.  Still, it was one of the best field trips of the entire semester. 

Yellow Lady-slipper  From May 2012
Giant Swallowtail  From May 2012

The next day I went to Kids Conservation Day to present my usual insect station, this time under the pole barns at the Extension Office to stay out of the rain.  Fortunately, I had a bio-ed student to assist me.  Thus, I did not have to give the same presentation eight times in a row.  Afterward, I went to Kibbe Field Station.  I hiked the same trail I always do, through the prairie, but it looks different every time.  The trails had a couple of inches of water on them.  Good thing I was wearing Bogs.  I had the place to myself.  The wind was calm and the place was so quiet, all I could hear was the buzzing of bees.  The multiflora rose was in bloom, and even with my poor sense of smell there was a perfume in the air.  It was magical.  It was the first time I’ve had a cooperative Eastern Towhee.  This bird normally hides in dense brush, but this one let me get within ten feet.  This species, among others, was split from the Rufous-sided Towhee some years ago, making my old field guide antiquated.   On the other hand, it instantly increased my life list!

Eastern Towhee From May 2012

This hike was the first time I carried two camera bodies around my neck: one with the long lens for birds, the other with a short lens for wildflowers and insects.  I think the best shot was a Spiderwort with a fly on one of the petals.  It turned out very sharp.

Spiderwort with bonus fly, From May 2012

The next day was the spring bird count, which I now do with LuBeth Young, a fellow faculty from the School of Education.  We got about the same area as last year.  It’s really too big, but we drove most of it.  I think we saw more indigo buntings than ever before, but the bonus bird was a Eurasian Tree Sparrow.   I got a decent shot of a Gray Catbird from the car.  They also like to hide a lot, normally.

Gray Catbird, From May 2012

The next night was the Super Moon, the full moon when it’s closest to the earth.  I figured the best place to shoot it would be at the riverfront.  We took the dogs down there and set up chairs and a tripod.  Our friends the Gonnerman’s showed up to do the same–what a pleasant surprise.  The moon came up not over the horizon but over some clouds.  That was a bit disappointing at first, but we were able to use the clouds for some interesting effects.

Supermoon, From May 2012

One day a stray cat was in the back yard.  They come around to eat Mr. Boots’s food, as he’s too old and emaciated to defend his territory at this point.  I thought I’d give the stray a scare.  I hooked up the leads on the dogs and slowly opened the back door.  Then we busted out, the cat ran down the back yard, with the dogs and me in pursuit.  I was at the end of a stride and already off balance when Big Guy hit the end of his extendable lead.  I was going down.  Rather than faceplant, I did a diving front roll and came back up on my feet.  Now, there’s the most athletic thing I’ve done in about 10 years, and no one saw it.  Not even the dogs.  Epilogue: The cat escaped into the woods.  The dogs never got near it, even though I let go of their leads when I rolled. 

Since I ripped off read this guy’s blog, I’ve been wanting to try full flash macrophotography.  I finally got the flash cable I needed, after ordering it with a bunch of other stuff, not getting it, filing a complaint and getting my money back.  You just can’t trust generic Chinese suppliers of knock-off photography accessories anymore.  Or maybe you can, seeing that I appear to have gotten it without actually paying.  Anyway, this technique works by strapping the flash parallel to the lens and angling it down toward the buggy subject.  I had to tweak the settings a bit, but in short order I was getting pretty spectacular results.  My first subject was a neat-looking (never to be identified) wasp in my prairie.  The rest were mostly various interesting flies.

Click on the album link to see the rest.  All the images are right out of the camera, not even cropped, though they were compressed in the upload to Picasa.  Oh, and all were hand-held–no tripod.

From 2012_05_12 Full flash macro

I just finished about the worst final exams week that I can remember.  I had no exams the first day, then was just swamped.  All of my classes were bigger than ever, and there was much grading to do.  I’d better stop the whining right there.  On the last day, when I was done, I drove home listening to the Duke album by Genesis.  The last two songs, “Duke’s travels” and “Duke’s end” are instrumentals that I particularly enjoy.  As I was rocking out, I got a feeling that I hadn’t had in years.  Remember when you were little, and the last day of school was over and
you went home? You had that awesome feeling of the entire summer
vacation stretching out before you? I had that for a little while.  I think it lasted until I figured out all the things I wanted to get done before I left on Monday.  As I write this, most are done.  Two trees felled, logged out, and brush hauled.  Dead bushes at the rental house are pulled out and hauled away.  Oh, almost forgot the moving of Savannah back home.  A couple of fire department obligations also ate into the weekend. 

Graduation is done.  Many people told me that the commencement speech was the worst ever.  I won’t go into details.  Tomorrow we leave for Ecuador.   Savannah is going this time, which should be fun.  When I return, I’ll have a new Galapagos blog.  Adios!

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