June 2013 – Summer begins

One day I was dinking around in the back yard and noticed Gretchen confronting something next to the little fish pond.  Upon examination, I found it was a black rat snake, most likely the same one that Stacey saw at the front of the house and which had most likely eaten the bird eggs (featured in my last missive).  When I returned with my camera, it was climbing my skinny catalpa tree, and using the classic concertina motion to do so.

From June 2013

This phenomenon is not one that you observe every day.  Hence, I took many images. Fortunately, Gretchen was not bold enough to enjoin physical battle.
Normally, I do nature photography, but every now and then I have an idea that can only be composed through staging.  After finishing my first real batch of home brew, I put a six-pack into each of Big Guy’s saddlebags and got him out in the back yard.  By the way, if all Ollydog products are built as well these, then I highly recommend them.
From June 2013

This one doesn’t show the beer to best advantage, but the dog provides lots of character.  Write your own caption.  I prefer, “GOOD dog!” There are a couple more such images in the online album that show off the beer better, if not the dog.

During our big spring storm, Lowell’s lake got up very high, the pontoon boat broke loose from its moorings, and the wind blew it into a shallow arm of the lake.  After the water went down, the boat was stranded on the muddy ground.  We spent half a day trying to get it out using cables, chains, and a winch, moving it about 10 feet.  Upon reflection, using calculations, vectors and the magic of physics (OK, Lowell did that part), we figured we needed a more upward angle to our cable and, of course, MORE POWER!   On our next attempt involved fresh batteries and my generator as a back-up.  I moved the end of the cable to a tree to give us the angle, but the winch, even with adequate electrical power, was unable to move the boat.  I moved the cable to the side and extended it with another chain.  We vainly tried to pull it with the Mule (the Kawasaki type, not the horse X donkey type).  Lowell brought his tractor around, but was not able to get it through the mud to the pulling site. We would have to wait until the mud dried out.
As we had plenty of time left to the day, I had planned to cut down a dead oak tree for firewood.  Since it was right next to a trail, it would be easy to back my truck right to it.  First, I had to pull a huge poison ivy vine from it. I was trimming some lower branches when I noticed it had a bird house attached.  I began to pry it off when I heard the distinctive BZZZZZ from within.  There was a bumblebee nest in the birdhouse.  I put on a long sleeve shirt and my chainsawing helmet, pried the house from the tree, and carried it over to a nearby tree.  No bee flew out to sting me.  I hated having to move them, as I am a lover of bumblebees.  While I was cutting the tree down, a worker returned and buzzed around, looking for her home and making me feel guilty.  While I was cutting up the butt log, I rolled one segment over and found a distinctive black spider.  It was, in fact, a Black Widow.  Imagine my surprise.  I’ve been telling people for years that they don’t occur here.  Lowell had seen only one previously, and that was in 1950.  I used sticks and my gloves to get it back to my truck, where I secured it in a pill bottle.  I photographed it in my insect studio a few days later.
Ventral view, From June 2013

This shows the diagnostic hourglass on the opisthosoma (fancy new word for abdomen).

Dorsal view, From June 2013

The local subspecies has a series of red spots on top as well, unlike the familiar black widows from back home in California, which are uniformly black dorsally.

Now, back to our story: Lowell returned after a few days when the mud had dried somewhat.  He got the tractor through and made the attempt.  The tractor, even with 4-wheel drive, could not pull out the boat, its tires just spinning.  He went back later with yet another cable and moved the tractor out to drier ground and…success!  He was able to pull the boat onto the lake.  We’ve been fishing once, and it turned out to be a good day for it.
Our area is enjoying a bloom of Common Woodnymph butterflies.  Lowell’s woods has tons of them, and I was eventually able to find a cooperative one.
From June 2013

Their beauty is subtle, but pleasing.  

From June 2013
Abundant spring rains, and presumably Lowell’s TLC, have produced a massive flowering of rose bushes.  
Stacey and I spent the Father’s Day weekend camping at nearby Wakonda State Park.  Camping was apparently popular at that time, as the campgrounds were nearly full.  The weather put a stop to that.  We were comfortably ensconced in the Minnie Winnie, while those surrounding us were all in tents.  Friday night brought minor storms that were a mere prelude to the main event.  Saturday evening severe storms were predicted.  We picked up our camp chairs and rolled up the awning before it began.  Our neighbors started striking camp as the storm began.  At the point when they were taking down their rather large tent, the storm was at its peak, with high winds and rain pouring down buckets.  They absconded, leaving behind the collapsed tent and a bunch of trash.  I don’t know where they spent the night, but at least they came back the next morning and cleaned up.  The other tent campers packed up and left in the middle of the night.  Strange.  Luckily, the falling limbs missed us.  On the positive side, I had a lovely long walk with the dogs on Friday morning, and a turn at kayak fishing on Saturday.  A number of different friends stopped by to visit us as well.  
Gretchen meets a turtle.  From June 2013
Big Guy carried water for all of us.  From June 2013
Hackberry Emperor.  From June 2013

I had another idea (that’s two in one month, for those keeping track) to take some photos of a guitar.  With a macro lens, you get some interesting geometric forms.  
From June 2013

Click on this one to go online and see the rest.  Enjoy.

I’ve had some fun taking macros around the yard.  
From June 2013

This is the best of them.  How many of you will become fly lovers?

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May 15, 2013–School’s out!

It’s been a couple of months since my last entry, so I’m going to have to summarize a lot. Classes are done and many students have graduated. I miss my field courses, as I had a great crop of enthusiastic students.  

Gretchen relaxes.  From April 2013
I’ve been busy with various projects, however.  Mushroom hunting at Lowell’s produced this rather phallic morel.
From May 2013
It was the best of a small mess that I found, mostly a few days too old.  Plus there were plenty of ticks.  Unfortunately, I only had my phone camera on the day I saw the double rainbow driving home.
From May 2013
I was finally able to bottle the batch of beer that I started back during spring break (early March), with some help from Savannah.  I think it turned out pretty well.  It has a lot of body and a relatively high alcohol content.
From May 2013
I found this chipping sparrow nest in one of my ninebark bushes.  I was going to track it on NestWatch.org and everything, but two days later the eggs were gone.  Something robbed it.  We still have two robin nests, a grackle and a phoebe nest on the premises.  There are probably more I haven’t discovered.  Sadly, I found a wren nest half constructed in our barbecue.  I had to remove it, as we grill almost daily.  I put up a nest box for a substitute, but I’ve had no takers.
From May 2013
Most of our yard flowers bloomed well this year (what with all the rain), including this columbine.
From May 2013
We have an abundance of garter snakes in the yard. So far, I don’t think I’ve killed any with the mower.
From May 2013
This male ruby throated hummingbird seems to have set up a territory in our neighborhood. 
From May 2013
We spent Memorial Weekend in Columbia at Cottonwoods RV Park.  Though it rained a lot, we had fun.  We were conveniently close to the Bass Pro Shop, anyway. Some friends came over one night and we barbecued, drank beer and played guitars.  We took the dogs to a nearby dog park.
From May 2013
Gretchen found it a bit too hot there, and cooled off by laying in this mud puddle.
I spent a morning at Kibbe with my two former grad students, mostly birding.  We can’t believe how old we all are.  On the way back, I spotted this eagle nest along the highway.
From May 2013
I had agreed to participate in a lip synch at La Grange appreciation days with my garden club, with me in the starring role as Tiny Tim.  We performed “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, which I thought was appropriate.  My young friend Taylor Gonnerman was there, and took a lot of photos with my camera.
From 2013_05_18 LGCC LG Appreciation Days
Nice wig, eh?  It must be the only time in my life when I wished my nose were bigger.  I actually played some chords before the ladies of the club came out to join me as back-up singers and dancers.
Picasa automatically makes little animations from sequences of photos taken close together.  This one’s pretty funny.  Click through to see a bunch more.  I have to say, this whole event was much more fun than I thought it would be.
From 2013_05_18 LGCC LG Appreciation Days
This one shows the spin move.
That same day there was a firefighter’s challenge.  This is Jason Darnell putting on his coat.
From 2013_05_18 Joe LaCount
This animation shows Joe LaCount putting all his gear on.

From June 2013
Stacey was surprised by this black rat snake as she was opening the garage door.  It was right at head height in the Japanese Yew, probably a foot from her face.  This is my strongest candidate for the robber of the chipping sparrow nest.
The Canton Camera Club currently has a gallery showing at the library in Keokuk, Iowa.  
From June 2013

This little video shows a panorama of the round room that holds our display.  We had a good time hanging the show, hosting the opening, and especially eating afterward.  Angelini’s Pizza is awesome!

From June 2013
The garden club toured an herb garden, then some member gardens recently.  I normally get some great photos during this event.  These syrphid flies (above) were abundant.  

From June 2013
I liked the way this rose turned out. 

From June 2013
These eggs may be that of a squash bug.

From June 2013
At the herb garden (Four Winds Farms), we witnessed the formation of a bee swarm, which is a rare event these days.  I already had a lot of great bee photos that day, but this is the first time I’ve ever photographed a genuine swarm.

From June 2013
Firefighting has its privileges.  A recent rescue call brought us to this crashed logging truck.  Though fairly spectacular, no one was injured.  On another rescue call, we found a decapitated deer. I won’t post the gory image here, but you can click on the link if you are curious.
From June 2013
The prairie at north campus is growing great this year.  It’s a bit overwhelmed by cup plants, but these primroses were a nice counterpoint.  
There are many more images online.  Just click on any photo to visit the album to which it belongs.  Enjoy!