March & April, 2014 — Spring interrupted

There has been a steady diet of winter waterfowl on the nearby Mississippi River.  Canvasbacks, redheads, buffleheads, scaup, common mergansers were around during the colder months.  Several were cooperative enough to swim close to the shore and give me a decent look.  The American White Pelicans moved in at about the same time that the eagles moved out.  The pelicans are extremely abundant this year, and hanging around for a long time.  Some years they just pass us by.

We’ve just about completed a major effort in making maple syrup. I had a grant to ramp up our production.  So I thought that getting an off-the-shelf evaporator would make our lives easier.  I may have been wrong about that.  The fine unit we bought, the Leader Half Pint Evaporator, came with some (OK, all) assembly required.  I had to find a brick mason to brick up the wood-furnace interior.  I bought a garden shed to put it in as well.  Fortunately, our physical plant guys put the shed together and placed in on a leveled site.  They even installed the stove pipes, which I also had to track down and purchase.  After many hurdles, we got the thing to work.  Two of my students did almost all the work.  You have to actually watch the thing all the time to make sure it doesn’t run dry, and to keep the fire hot.  They did produce some fine product, however.  One morning I stopped in to check on their progress.  As soon as I stepped into the sugar shack, my glasses fogged up. I took them off, folded them and hung them from the front of my shirt collar.  A few minutes later I was checking out some sap, leaned over, and my glasses fell right into the bucket.  I said, “Damn.” The guys were cracking up.  I fished the glasses out of the sap and carried them back to my office for a thorough rinsing.
After the time change (Spring forward) I was heading in to work an hour earlier.  I stopped at the riverfront to photograph the sunrise, and found that the abundant birds crossing in front of the sun look very cool.  I got quite a number of interesting shots in this theme, including pelicans, eagles, gulls and ducks.
My nephew Racin Coelho came out to visit QU as a prospective student.  I had lined up some fun things to do, including photographing the sunrise and birds around town.  One afternoon we harnessed up Big Guy and took him out in the street.  I had just bought a longboard.  They didn’t have these when I was a kid.  It’s just an oversized skateboard, but it is a sweet ride.  We got the dog onto a favorable street and let him pull Racin for about a mile.  I had Gretchen, and as long as we stayed ahead, Big Guy had incentive to keep pulling.  Fortunately, Racin has some skating skills, and had no trouble with the ride.  
A couple of weeks later Stacey and I went on a walk.  OK, I didn’t walk; I let Big Guy pull me on the longboard.  It was a lot of fun. I had a helmet camera to capture the adventure on video.  I edited the footage down to just a few minutes of the most interesting bits.  Watch it here on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/WLWgqTUMnYQ
The ice ducks left, only to be replaced by the spring migrating puddle ducks.  We often get them in the retention ponds inside the levy. Normally, mostly blue-winged teal accumulate there, but this year we have good numbers of northern shovelers as well.  In previous years the shovelers have stayed out in the flooded fields, but the fields are not currently flooded.  My bonus. I keep stopping by in the afternoon to try to catch the light when it’s right, but it always seems to be overcast or windy or some darn thing.
One night I was coming back from a garden club meeting in LaGrange and there was a lightning storm north of Canton, but not actually in Canton.  I parked down by the brush dump and took a lot of pictures.  These conditions are so rare that it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to photograph lightning.  I had forgotten the camera settings and procedures for doing it.  After I got those worked out I finally captured some decent images.
One of my students showed me a mouse embryo he had prepared in the developmental biology class.  It was cleared and stained.  I thought it looked very cool, and had to photograph it, of course.  
One day coming home from work I pulled up the Canton exit and saw a hawk on a road sign.  I thought I could shoot it from the outer road, so I pulled around and did so.  It looked fairly relaxed so I parked and stalked it from behind a cedar tree.  I’m sure it could see me as I shot from behind the branches, but it didn’t seem to mind.  I’ve never succeeded in stalking a red-tailed hawk before, and that was definitely the closest I’ve ever gotten to one.  
The wildflowers are popping up now.  I expect you’ll see plenty of them in the next blog, as the Plant Field Biology class will take me all around the area for them.