January 2012, Eagle season

The cold weather has arrived, and with it the bald eagles.  I’ve been going down to the riverfront here in Canton to photograph them on cold, clear mornings.  Sometimes it works.  On other days, the birds don’t cooperate.  One day the eagles weren’t flying, but as I drove out I spotted an American Kestrel on a wire.

American kestrel with half a mouse, From January 2013
When I saw it was eating something, I took my time and got plenty of shots.  I like to capture any kind of natural behavior these days.  A bird on a stick just doesn’t excite me any more.
Two eagles, one fish.  From January 2013
So I was excited to see these two eagles fighting over a bloody chunk of fish three days later.  Too bad the camera took two frames to focus.  In the earlier ones, the eagles were one above the other, the lower bird perfectly upside-down, and the fish in between them.  For years, I’ve been trying to get a perfect shot of an eagle catching a fish while flying straight toward the camera.  I almost got it this time.  It was just a bit too far away and a little out of focus.  Click through to the album to see the big fish it caught.
Caught!  From January 2013
One morning I arrived early enough to see the sun rise.  The mist rising on the Mississippi River created a nice effect.  
Sunrise over the Mississippi, From January 2013

The Canton Ferry, From January 2013

One day I took the vertebrate field biology class down to Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy. My former student Brent is the park ranger, and took us up onto the dam.  Eagles were abundant, and we saw 5 or 6 fighting over one fish.
Look closely to spot the fish.  From January 2013
I used to think eagles were rather stupid for stealing fish, when they are so abundant.  Sometimes you can see them floating by.  But I have since read that this could be a type of play or training behavior.  We tallied over 30 that day, and got a few close fly-by’s down by the launch ramp.  There was, as is often the case, a flock of ducks at the outlet from the sewage treatment plant.  An eagle dived on them.  I was just picking up a fish, but they took no chances and scattered.  They returned almost immediately, presumably because they’re addicted to the submergent vegetation that grows in the high nutrient water at that spot.
I’ve been wanting to try a nifty photo technique I read about recently.  It’s a type of light painting.  I’ll let you figure out how I made it.  Those in Canton Camera Club will hear at the next meeting.
Hint: not a spirograph.  From January 2013

After recovering from a persistent cough that had kept me indoors, I took a morning to go out to Lowell’s.  We went down to the fish house to check out the fox den Lowell discovered.  I should have taken a flashlight, as I could not see very deep into the hole.  As we hiked around the lake, he noticed that the tree was gone.  By the tree, I mean the tree I had tried to cut down a month or so ago and drop into the lake.  Unfortunately, I was a little out of practice in felling trees.  I botched the cut and the tree ended up leaning away from the lake.  We decided to leave it there in hopes that the wind might blow it back in the right direction.  I came back a week later with plastic wedges to try to pry it in the proper direction, but by then the kerf of the chainsaw had closed up, and the tree was leaning even more in the wrong direction.  I had some idea later of using a jack  to push it over, but never had a chance to execute it.  We hiked around the north arm of the lake and down the peninsula to the tree.  Much to my surprised, it had heeled over and fallen neatly into the lake.  Many shouts of joy and surprise ensued.  We are a couple of lucky bastards.  There had been a big wind recently, which had also blown the pontoon boat around on the lake. It must have taken down the tree.  Good thing it didn’t drop the tree on the boat.  There’s another dead tree next to the lake that needs to be similarly cut, but I’ll be more careful next time.  
I had some leftover little pumpkins from Halloween (yes, they can last that long) that I took out to Lowell’s for target practice.  It didn’t take long to figure out that the air gun was no longer sighted in.  I had dropped it on the scope that morning.  After considerable shooting to get it close, I finally shot one of the pumpkins, using heavy pellets.  It had a devastating effect.  Who needs firearms?!
I hiked around on a short hunt.  I saw one cottontail, but it performed a disappearing act like no magician’s bunny I’ve ever seen.  The best thing I found was an owl roost tree.  Lowell and I later went out and picked up the owl pellets.  On the way home I stopped by Wakonda State Park to look for the swans, but they weren’t there.  Maybe next time.
Smashing Pumpkins, with little pieces of lead.  From January 2013

Christmas 2012, Port Aransas, TX

We became snowbirds for the first time this year, at least temporarily.  After attending a friend’s wedding, where Stacey performed the ceremony, we headed south with both dogs in the RV.  This trip was the first time we would be towing the Lil Egg (Toyota Echo) behind.  We’d had the tow bar, which came with the RV, and in the previous week I installed a base plate on the Lil Egg to match.   Gusty winds made the first day’s driving a bit unpleasant, though the straight, flat roads helped a lot.  We made it to Grenada, Mississippi and Frog Hollow RV Resort.  It was quaint.  It was my first time in Mississippi, so I can cross that state off my life list.  

Frog Hollow RV Park, From December 2012
We bugged out the next morning, passing through the foot of Louisiana and into Texas.  Stacey really didn’t like the Achafalaya Basin, where you drive over what is essentially a 20-mile bridge.  In Beaumont, TX, we spent the first night at Gulf Coast RV Resort.  It was spotlessly clean, with paved pads and top notch facilities.  On the other hand, it resembled a Wal-Mart Parking lot as much as anything.  
First thing the next morning we packed up and moved literally down the street to Hidden Lake RV Resort, which had a nice lake, trees and a hiking trail.  I hiked the trail and took some photos.  It was warm enough that I broke a sweat.  Sadly, I didn’t have time to fish their lake using their sweet canoe or kayak.  We spent Christmas day there, mostly hunkered down in the RV while a horrendous wind and rain storm blew.  We were even under a tornado watch.  We were doing some laundry when the power blinked off repeatedly.  As a result, the dryer kept forgetting that I had just put quarters in it.  I ran out of quarters and our laundry was still wet.  We had to stretch a clothesline down the middle of the RV and hang our clothes to dry.  We enjoyed the little flatscreen TV I’d installed, also on its maiden voyage, while weathering the storm.
We pulled up stakes on Boxing Day and headed further south.  Stacey didn’t like the huge bridge linking Corpus Christi to the island, but I enjoyed seeing all the waterfowl in the shallows.  When we pulled in to I.B. Magee Beach Park in Port Aransas, the sun was setting on a warm day.  We camped in the water/electric area, which is tucked in behind some dunes, though there were others camped right on the beach itself.  I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that you can drive your auto on the beach.  The sand is very hard-packed there, with little chance of getting stuck.  
Sunset at Port Aransas, From December 2012

Unfortunately, the next day was cool and wet.  I bundled up and walked down the beach to check out the jetty.  People were fishing, even in the light rain.  I saw two guys catch sheepshead in rapid succession.  They were easily edible size.  There were also lots of birds around.  There was a flock of black skimmers hanging out on the beach, which gave me a life bird right there.  I discovered a small boardwalk behind our campground that surrounded a little pond.  The pond held more black-crowned night herons than I’ve ever seen.  
Black-crowned Night-heron, From December 2012

Black Skimmer.  Note mandible much longer than maxilla.  From December 2012
Friday morning we took a guided beachcombing walk.  I learned some interesting things right away.  The yellow strands washed up in balls on the beach were sea whips, a kind of soft coral.  We saw a few other curiosities, such as dead jellies, sea stars and various shells.  A guy was sucking ghost shrimp out of their burrows in the sand (using a pump made of PVC pipe) and let us look at some.  I’ve used them before as bait.  They are not the kind of shrimp you eat–way too ugly. The dogs like walking on the beach, but not the water too much.  Neither one is much for swimming.  They loved the sand, and sniffing every decaying animal on the shore.  They sure enjoyed hanging out with us in the RV, or driving around town in the Lil Egg.  The main problem they had was the sand burrs all around the campground.  We had to check their paws every time they came in.  Even then, Stacey found a couple of burrs in her bed.  I swear I didn’t put them there.  The dogs traveled well.  They barked at other dogs in the camp, but that’s to be expected, and they weren’t nearly as bad as some of the other dogs.  They have an incredible ability to sleep almost all day while we drive, and then sleep all night.  
Life’s a beach.  From December 2012

American Widgeon, From December 2012
In the afternoon I drove around to some of the local birding sites.  As expected, there were many types of ducks and other waterfowl.  There were no life birds among them, but plenty of good photo opportunities, even in the sometimes dim light.  What I had not expected was all the butterflies that were out.  Plenty of familiar species were present, plus some odd sulfurs and blues that I need to identify.  One site had a butterfly garden and a live monarch caterpillar was on the butterfly weed.  Crazy.  I went back to the little pond that afternoon to shoot the night herons again when suddenly a huge flock of black skimmers came in and skimmed the pond for drinks of water.  They repeatedly circled and skimmed.  I even got some on video (to be posted later).  I’d never seen the bird before this trip, but seeing the skimming behavior was too much to hope for.  There was a lovely sunset that evening, and it formed a nice backdrop to our camp.
Great Blue Heron, From December 2012

A lycaenid.  From December 2012

I got up early the next morning to photograph the sun rising on the ocean.  I hiked down the beach looking for a good spot.  I couldn’t find a place without human elements in the foreground, and decided to use them to advantage.  I climbed up on a dune and composed the shot.  The clouds were perfect: enough to light up with color, but not to block the sun.  I bracketed my shots and got a series of many different stages of the sunrise.  I had to remind myself NOT to look at the sun when I began to get blind spots.  I used the bracketed shots to make an HDR image from the best series.  I’m sure people driving by thought I was a nut standing up on that dune with a tripod and camera.  
Sunrise over the gulf of Mexico.  From December 2012

I went to a few more of the birding sites.  No more life birds, but I got photos of some species I don’t get to see very often, such as the American Widgeon.  There were a couple of other photographers out, but few birders at that hour.  Later that day, Stacey and I went out to a few of the tourist-oriented shops.  We bought some fresh sea food and Stacey cooked up some nice shrimp for dinner in the RV.  
That night we prepared for an early departure.  In the morning we made the final preparations, dumped our waste water, and headed out.  A different route back would take us through San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth.  We saw a whole lot of Texas.  We made it to Ardmore, Oklahoma, spending a brief night there.  I didn’t hook us up to water because I wanted to use up our onboard supply.  Stacey showered first, and apparently did not conserve.  I was about half way through my shower when the water pressure dropped to a trickle, though I could hear the pump running constantly.  At least I managed to get all the shampoo out of my hair.  I drained all the water systems before we pulled out.  
I know that XX beer (Dos Equis) comes from Mexico and XXXX (Fourex) is Australian, but I kept seeing signs for XXX along the highways.  I’ve never heard of that beer.  Anyone know if it’s any good?  The bars selling it, including Megaplex, Dreamers and Trixie’s, didn’t have any windows.  I also noticed that one of my favorite bands from the 80s, XTC, has opened a night club in Texas.  I wish I’d had time to stop and see them play.  No windows on their place either.
We stopped at a convenience store for breakfast.  Stacey got me some cinnamon rolls and a big cup of coffee while I gassed up the RV.  I took the coffee back to the kitchenette, opened a cabinet to get some sugar, and a canister of spaghetti noodles fell out.  It hit the coffee cup squarely on top, knocking it over and spilling the entire cup of coffee on the counter.  I threw some dog towels on the mess.  Stacey finished the clean-up job while I went back in for another cup.  Lesson: beware the settling of contents in transit.
Somewhere in the middle of Kansas the rain turned to snow.  It was never very thick, and didn’t accumulate in the roads.  It got worse around Kansas City, then suddenly abated.  The roads were clear all the way back through Missouri, and we got home at 9:30 p.m.  We slept through the New Year, but were glad for it.  We now have sub-freezing temperatures and several inches of snow on the ground.  Makes me miss South Texas.
Click through to see more photos.