July 31, 2013 — California


The drive to Dave Jones’ place was hot but uneventful.  I did see some firefighters putting out a
small grass fire in the median.  Dave and
I caught up on a lot of things, as I hadn’t seen him in four years.  He is one of few men I know that keeps more
potted plants than me.  Evelyn came over
and we had a grilled steak dinner.  Dave
had a nice Yamaha guitar, and we played with that for awhile. 


In the morning I hit the road early.  Traffic wasn’t bad on the 210 through Southern California. 
There was only one traffic jam, and I don’t think I ever had to come to
a complete stop.  Gas was $4.21/gal, and
the RV has a 40-gal tank.  Ouch. The
Grapevine was a challenge, as it was under construction.  The lanes changed unpredictably and trucks
were everywhere.  At one point it got
down to one lane.  I stopped at the rest
area near the end to shake off the nerves. 
And to pee.  I-5 seemed to go on
forever.  At least it was smooth, but
towing vehicles are limited to 55 mph, which limits progress somewhat.  I made it to the Ranch at something like 4,
and greeted Kristen and her boys.  I
unhitched the Lil Egg, packed what I thought I needed, and went to my brother
Mike’s house.  We had a yummy El Gallito
dinner.  We went to a car show in Brentwood that was fairly good.  In the evening I got out the charango.  Racin got his acoustic guitar and we jammed
for a long time.  It was a blast.


I processed pics and worked on this journal in the
morning.  Cindy and I went to Target so I
could get some pants for the viewing.  I
made a quick run out to the ranch to retrieve some stuff from the RV.  I met Racin’s girlfriend when he got home
from school.  Seems very nice.  Mike loaned me a shirt. We all got dressed
and went to my Dad’s viewing.  I talked to
lots of people I hadn’t seen in years.  I
guess that was the up side.  We went to dinner
at a Mexican place that Dad used to like a lot. 
I ran back to the funeral home because some relatives that had arrived
late were about to leave.  More reunions.


Mark loaned me a nice suit, so we dressed up and went to the
funeral service at the Catholic Church in Byron.  The setting was perfect, as we were directly
adjacent to an alfalfa field, with a haystack nearby.  There was a view of Mt. Diablo
and we were right down the street from our hill property.  Every family member who had one (or two)
collector cars drove it to the church. 
This was a great tribute to my Dad, whose love of hot rods trickled down
to his brothers and the next generation. 
Mathew and Mark gave moving speeches during the service.  The four of us brothers and 3 of the
grandsons were pallbearers.  After the
interment we went to the reception at the funeral home in Brentwood.  Again, I spoke to many people I had not seen
in years, sometimes decades.  We had
sandwiches for the catered meal.  The
five of us offspring had a congenial meeting near the end to discuss family
business.  We finally all left.  We had Chinese food at Mike’s house with
Marlene and Melissa, with lively conversation.


In the morning, Mike, Cindy, Matthew, Racin, Racin’s friend
Caleb and I went to a huge flea market at the drive-in theater in Concord.  It took all morning to see it.  There was a dizzying array of stuff.  I looked at a million cameras and lenses, but
bought none.  All the fishing rods and
reels were junk.  I did get a deal on a
pair of hiking poles and a guitar amp. 
Racin got a set of rotor toms (drums). 
Mike got a battery tender, and Matthew got a first aid kit.  We went to Kinder’s for lunch and then to Guitar Center.  Incredibly, I didn’t buy anything.  They have an insane number of guitars.

When we got back, Mike and I went out to the Ranch to work
on my RV generator.  After some
experimentation, we determined that the fuel pump and/or filter were not
allowing enough fuel to the carb.  Once
all the fuel in the line was used up, it died. 
That’s why it will only run for ten minutes.  Sadly, only an authorized dealer can work on
the darn thing.

We had dinner at Marlene’s, as Melissa made pasta with
Bolognese sauce.  Yum.


I drove out to Mark and Alex’s in Vacaville in the morning.  Alex’s Mom and Dad were visiting and we all
went to see Mark’s empty lot, which will at some point grow a house.  We went to a Rock Shop, which I kind of
wanted to see, but it was closed on Mondays. 
We happened to go right by a Camping World, so we stopped and I bought a
new plug for the towed vehicle lights. 
We went to the Travis AFB air museum, but they were closed on Monday as
well!  We still saw all the airplanes
that were outside.  After lunch at the PX
we went back to Mark’s and I showed pictures and videos from my travels.  Alex made a nice salmon dinner, and we talked
until bed time.  I slept on a mat on the
floor with a Barney blanket. 


In the morning I drove straight from Mark’s to the Ranch, and
fixed the RV wiring.  Mark and the others
showed up right after I did, and we all picked leftover tomatoes from the
field.  We went to lunch at In-n-Out
Burger.  I rode with Kristen to pick up
Kaden, then back to the Ranch.  I took
the RV to the nearest service station and gassed up.  I went back to Mike’s before anyone else was
home.  I had a hard time finding Molly in
the back yard, as she didn’t come when I called. 


I went to see Jeff Krey, a high school buddy I had not seen
since graduation.  We had a lot of
catching up to do.  I told him my daughter looks just like me, but disguises it with hair and make-up.  We had lunch at El
Gallito, as I said we should when I first mentioned I’d be in the area.  I dropped some stuff in the RV at The Ranch,
went back to Mike’s, wired up his TV & Blu Ray and installed a cycle computer on his bike. 


Marlene picked me up and drove to Concord. 
We met Mark, who took us to the trust attorney, who did not seem to be
too well organized.  From there we went
straight to the ranch corporate attorney for another meeting.  He was personable and well organized.  We learned some important things.

Marlene, Melissa and Mathew came over and we all had sopas
that Mike had saved since the Portuguese Festa a month ago.  By chance, Savannah texted me with a picture of jackpot
she had cooked, saying that I could be jealous. 
I send her a picture of the sopas, and a text: Checkmate.  Racin and I played several songs for those
present, with him on acoustic guitar and me on charango.  By then we were in fairly good practice.  I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun. 


I packed up the car and headed to the ranch early.  I hitched the car to the RV, bade a tearful
goodbye to Kristen, and pulled out.  I
must say, Highway 4 on the levy between Byron and Stockton is the worst!  The drive was fairly pleasant going up the
Sierras, as the scenery was nice and the road was peppered with classic cars on
their way to Hot August Nights in Reno.  I think it was in Nevada that I hit a dust devil.  It made the RV turn on axes that it
shouldn’t, but I didn’t wreck.  I’d hate
to think what a big one might do.  The
salt flats of Utah
were boring as usual.  I almost made it
to Salt Lake City.  I spent the night in a truck stop parking


The climb up the Rockies out of Salt Lake
was beautiful.  I think I saw a
road-killed porcupine. I saw some pronghorn in Wyoming, and stopped to photograph some rock
formations.  I stopped in Sidney, Neb.,
to visit the Cabela’s mothership store. 
I looked hard at a kayak, but only came out with a pair of shoes.  I spent the night at a nice campground in North Platte, Nebraska.


The day brought thousands of acres of corn.  Missouri
was comfortingly familiar territory, and I arrived home at about 5:30.  The dogs mauled me, at least more than Stacey
did.  I greeted the new cat.  The tomatoes had made the trip in a paper bag
in the shower, but some of them had softened to the point where the bottom of
the bag was soaked, and, hence, useless. 
The sweet corn I had brought home was a bit moldy too.  Guess it’s hard to bring fruits and
vegetables back from California.  Savannah
got home not long after I did, with Royce now driving an Avalanche.  I unloaded some of the stuff, but saved the
rest for later days.  I think I totaled about 4500 miles on the trip.

July 28-30, 2013 — Ruby

7/28/13 End of BugGuide gathering

Most people left the BugGuide meetings on this day, and we said our goodbyes.  I mostly hung out in the classroom or around
the station, though we did chase down a nice Black Witch Moth.  I took a nap in the afternoon and when things cooled down worked on
the generator. 
It would run for 10 minutes then shut off.  When I opened the access panel and saw the
mouse nest, I had an idea of what was going wrong.  I couldn’t get all the mouse nest out because
of a curved piece of sheet metal that cannot be removed without wholesale
disassembly of the generator.  Maybe I
can blow it out with an air compressor when I get a chance.  I spent a fitful night of sleep, wondering if
the slide out would come in with the small amount of battery power I had
left.  It did. 

 7/29 Bugging out

I went up to the field station in the morning and watched
the hummingbird tagging.  It was quite a
sight.  I talked awhile with Val, the
only other straggler from the BugGuide meetings.  I saw the Cooper’s hawk land next to the
stream and jump in briefly.  I was taking
photos the whole time, of course.

Finally, I packed up the RV, hitched up the Lil Egg and hit
the road.  Once in Green Valley,
I stopped at the McDonald’s for the free wi-fi, and caught up on things.  While I was there, my brother Mike called and
told me my father had passed away.  After
dealing with the grief, I had to figure out how to alter my trip.  I decided I was so close to Ruby, I should at
least go there and see what bugs were out. 
I met Sundog at his new place in Arivaca and got the short tour.  We drove out to Ruby and met the new
caretaker, who was nice enough.  We
walked around “The Dune” of mine tailings. 
Incredibly, there were quite a few of the little wasps (Tachysphex) that I wanted to work
on.  Many, if not most of them were even
carrying prey, tiny grasshopper nymphs. 
Given this development, I thought I could get some significant research
done, even if I only had a couple of days. 
Sundog and I stopped on the way back to Arivaca to mark some milkweed plants.  I was distracted by a mushroom and walked
through some Mala Mujer.  My ankle was on
fire.  But only for a few minutes.  I took the RV to the Universal Ranch RV Park,
which, though having a much improved web site, is physically less impressive
than it once was.  Apparently, a large
dust devil destroyed the laundry room a few years ago. There was no one there
to check me in, so I was able to choose from the many open sites.  I picked one with a tree and without a Pogonomyrmex ant mound.  It felt good to hook up to water and
electricity, even to dump the black and grey waters.  I took a shower and loaded the car for the
next day’s research.  Sundog came by with
some fresh jackrabbit and we had a feast of burritos.

7/30 to Ruby

Rather than drive the whole RV and car-in-tow out to Ruby, I
commuted. The road is rough and rutted. 
I knew I could do it if needed, but it wasn’t worth doing for just a day
or two.  I loaded the Lil Egg with everything
I thought I might need. Sadly, I did not see a mountain lion on the way.  When I arrived, the male wasp activity was in
full swing.  I caught a bunch of males
and video recorded some activity.  I
weighed all the males and their thoraxes, some of which were around 1 mg, the
limit or resolution of my balance.  These
are the tiniest wasps I’ve ever worked on. 
The females began provisioning at 9 a.m., and I began to catch them as
well.  I soon figured out that, rather
than netting them, I could usually sneak up and slip an epitube over the top of
them and their prey.  Or I could wait for
the female to go down the burrow, put the tube over the top, and catch her on
the way out, adding the prey afterward. 
I had 10 female-prey pairs fairly quickly, but it took an hour to
process them all.  By this time I knew I
would be able to get a decent sample size, so I shot for 30 females.  I was done before 4 p.m.  I even took video of provisioning females.  Mission
accomplished.  While I was there, I
achieved another major goal: photographing the Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata).  I’ve seen these on every trip to the
southwest, but they’d never land.  This
one lit in the dried out edge of the lake, where it was probably picking up
salts from the sand (AKA puddling).  It
was very cooperative, allowing me to get frame-filling shots.

When I got back to Arivaca I paid the campground manager and went out to Sundog’s place to
do some more photography.  He gave me a
tour of the grounds and found me a regal horned lizard (Phrynosoma solare) to photograph. 
We had jackrabbit pasta for dinner, which was delicious.  After an evening of chit-chat, and speaking
on deep matters, I went back to the campground and pinned out all my prey
specimens before bed.

July 25-28, BugGuide gathering

In the interest of time, this blog will be done journal style, with a single slide show at the end.

7/22 Canton to Dalhart, TX

There was a big storm over Kansas just north of the highway.  I pulled over a couple of times to photograph
it, resulting in it catching me for a short distance.  Driving the RV in wind is the worst, and I
caught the gust front.  It was windy off
and on that day.  Once I hit Texas the speed limit
increased to 75 mph.  On a two-lane
highway. Sadly, the RV doesn’t feel safe to drive at that speed in any kind of
wind. There was a construction stop that made me about 20 minutes later.  I stayed in Dalhart, TX,
and when I pulled into town I thought I had a leak in my sewage tank.  When I got out I found that the smell pervades
the whole town.  The reason was revealed
the next morning when I drove through the huge feed lots to the West.

7/23 Dalhart to Tucson,

The next day I stopped to photograph some weed flowers.  I wish I had been able to stop for the nice
mule deer, including a large buck, and pronghorn at the roadside.  Once I crossed the border into New Mexico, the speed
limit went back down to 65.  When I got
to Tucson, my exit
was closed for construction.  Even the
frontage road, which the GPS wanted to send me on, was being worked on.  The road to the campground was all torn
up.  It was certainly not the nicest
campground I’d ever stayed in.  Most
curiously, the parking site was too narrow. 
A nice guy was helping me try to squeeze it in, but the RV was an inch
or so too wide.  I had to unhitch the
car, back up, pull around and back into the spot. 

Around that time, my old school buddy (dating back to 5th
grade) Dan Uroff showed up.  I hadn’t
seen him since our 10-year class reunion, 22 years ago.  Like me, he is still thin and has all his
hair!  We had an outstanding dinner
(including Mariachi) and caught up on each other’s lives.


In the morning I went to Ft. Lowell City Park,
which I had visited back in 2006.  There
were many lizards and birds, but not many insects.  Had a nice conversation with an 80 y old
couple.  The guy was a weed
scientist.  They were watching Beechey
ground squirrels.  I didn’t tell them I’d
killed hundreds of them in my youth.  I
stopped and bought a couple of fresh avocados and made guacamole for lunch.

In the afternoon I went to the nearby Camping World and
picked up a few things we were needing. 
Later I went to Dan’s condo and met his roommate.  We went out to pizza dinner and got more catching
up done.  It had rained while we were
eating and when we came out the streets were flooded.  There are few storm drains in Tucson.

7/25 Tucson
to Santa Rita Experimental Range, AZ 

Since I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway, I thought I’d join the BugGuide Gathering in southern Arizona on this trip.  

While striking camp I pulled the cover off the
power cord plug.  I didn’t want to go
back to Camping World again, but I luckily found National RV Center along Hwy
10 & got a new plug.  The road to the Florida field station, where the BugGuide gathering was to be held, turned to gravel,
but it only got rough through a big wash. 
The RV had no trouble with it.  I
met my old friend Eric Eaton, then a whole lot of new people.  First, we went bugging down the road and
around the station.  There were lots of
beetles, etc.  The most exciting for me
was the Snow’s toothpick grasshopper and the big blue/green iridescent Chlorion wasps.  Almost everyone had dinner at Los Agaves,
good Mexican food.  I met lots of nice,
interesting people.  That night we did blacklighting
around the station.  (You set up a black
light above or in front of a white sheet; bugs come to the sheet and you can
catch them.  There were lots of moths,
large & small, beetles & more. 
Strangely, there’s no late night partying with this group because
everyone is up late tending the black lights. 

I was dry camping, which Stacey and I seldom do, in a gravel
lot far from the field station.  So I had
no shore power, no A/C or water supply. 
This was a good experience because I learned some of the
limitations.  Propane and battery power
actually last a long time.  I ran out of water
before anything else.  I shuttled it in
big jugs from the field station as needed. 
I slept fine, although I always sleep well in the RV, plus I was pretty
tired from hiking each day.


I woke early.  I made
coffee using a new percolator we had bought many years ago but never used.  It made great coffee, for the first time. I
used a hand grinder for the coffee beans. 
I took the long lens up the hill and shot the Cooper’s Hawks that hang
around the station.  They were very
cooperative.  I went to hardware store
for a UV flashlight (for scorpions) and other stuff.  I met the others at a restaurant for
breakfast, but I just had OJ.  I rode
with Lou from Williamsville/Poplar Bluff, MO to Montosa Canyon.  We stopped in the Santa Cruz riverbed, which was dry.  There were lots of beetles.  One cottonwood tree was nearly defoliated by
a great number of big, green Cotalpa
beetles.  Farther up the canyon, a guy
released a huge centipede and a tiger rattlesnake.  I saw a hummingbird on the nest as well.  More toothpick grasshoppers lined the
roadside.  That night we blacklighted in Madera Canyon.  More big moths and beetles.  Most people are interested in tiny, obscure
things.  All the big, pretty insects have
been thoroughly described and, as such, are considered old hat and ignored.  Except by me and the children.  Yes, some people brought their kids.  Using the blacklight flashlight I was able to
find a few small scorpions.  They really
like to hide in the cracks of rock walls. 
They don’t just glow faintly, they shine like a darn beacon.  I made some preliminary efforts at
photographing them while they glow.  I
helped a couple of nice people start up their brand new Honda generator (for
powering their black light and mercury vapor lamp).  I told them they could thank the Canton R-V
Fire Protection District for those skills.


A few of us took a short walk in the morning up the nearby
trail.  We saw some grasshoppers,
beetles, and the dreaded cactus weevil.  I
packed a lunch and dinner because we planned to go to Pena Blanca reservoir at
11 and not return until long after nightfall (because of the blacklighting
again).  I rode with John in his rented
Ford Escape and another rider, Michael. 
First we went to the grocery store in Green Valley
so that everyone else could buy food. 
That’s when I found out Stacey had been in a car crash.  I had a hard time getting cell reception
there at first.  I knew we’d have none at
Pena Blanca, so John and Michael rode with some other folks, and John loaned me
his rental car.  I waited in the
McDonalds until I had sorted things out with Stacey.  She’s fine; car’s totaled.  Naturally, it was the Prius, only a year
old.  She was all worked up about
it.  I know our insurance is good.  Toyota
will be happy to sell us another one. 
It’s only material goods, and readily replaceable.  She was in Indiana
visiting family at the time with Savannah
and the dogs.  Fortunately, her sister
Krystal would drive them to Champaign, IL, where they could pick up Savannah’s car.  I went back to the field station where I was
able to relax, work on this journal and fill the RV with water.  I didn’t really want to go to Pena Blanca for
that long anyway.  It’s very close to
Ruby, where I’ll be for a long time. 

I worked on processing my photos and updating this
journal.  Lou didn’t go to
Pena Blanca either, and I invited him down to barbecue and beer at my
camp.  We had a good time telling hunting
stories.  In the evening, he put up his
blacklight rig while I spotted scorpions. 
I found a large cooperative one, and got all the settings worked out for
the photos.


Most people left on this day, and we said our goodbyes.  I mostly hung out in the classroom or around
the station, though we did chase down a nice Black Witch Moth.

July 18, 2013 — Heat wave

Much of the recent past was spent on home improvements and completing deferred maintenance on the house, which didn’t leave much time for fun.  But when my brother  Mike and sister Marlene arrived from California, the fun began.  We started with a tour of Lock and Dam 19 in Keokuk, which was celebrating its 100-year anniversary.  It was a rare opportunity to see its inner workings.  We went to Primo’s here in Canton for lunch, where Mike was rather taken with their sandwiches.  

The next few days were mostly occupied with fireworks.  On the 2nd, we went to the nursing home grounds to see their fireworks.  On the 3rd we bought a huge batch of our own to light off.  Note that all these types of things are illegal in California.  When we were gathering our things to go to the LaCounts and set off our fireworks.  I said we needed to put some beer in a cooler.  Mike said, “You mean we can get drunk and light fireworks too?”  I said, “Welcome to Missouri.”  It was a good time.  I bought all the insect-themed fireworks I could find and filmed them for a possible paper to write on cultural entomology.  On the 4th of July we went to the Illinois Veteran’s Home to see the big Quincy fireworks.  The park band was playing when we arrived.  I cracked a smile when they played John Phillips Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell”, the theme to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  
Stacey and Savannah took Marlene on a shopping expedition to Quincy, while Mike and I went out to Lowell’s.  We toured around the place in the UTV, and, using the chainsaw, I dropped some dead oak trees in the lake for fish habitat.  Mike filmed some of these.  I need to post them somewhere.  Over the course of the week, Mike and I accomplished many projects.  We put new tires and chain on the Honda 70, and got it running again.  There is still a bedeviling headlight problem.  We changed the oil on the Minnie Winnie.  We salvaged a seat from one of Lowell’s old mowers and put it on mine (which was also Lowell’s, come to think of it).  And in our bonus time (see below) we fixed the fence where the tree had fallen on it a couple of months ago.
We went to Hannibal on the 5th, while they were having Tom Sawyer Days.  I’d never been to that event, and there was quite a craft show.  We looked at all the downtown shops and went on the evening riverboat cruise.  We had a nice dinner, and my colleague Steve Parke was playing trumpet with Ben Bumbry and the Messengers.  
Saturday we went to St. Louis to see the Arch and other sights before their plane was to depart.  There was a big Fair happening in the Arch grounds.  We stood in line, but the Arch “ride” actually sold out.  I stayed out while everyone else went in to see the gift shop.  I saw a new band playing that I now like, Scarlet Tanager.  Named after a bird–you have to like that.  At some point Stacey learned about the plane crash in San Francisco.  As that was the airport that Mike & Marlene were flying into, we figured there would be implications. We went to the Budweiser plant and while on the tour we found that their flight was cancelled.  To make a long story short, we ended up having dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack and drove back to Canton.  We found productive things to do with our time, including one last trip to Orscheln’s Farm & Home, which has become another favorite of Mike’s.
Stacey’s patient phone work got them booked on another flight, so it was back to St. Louis again.  This time we made the arch tour, although it was almost certainly made more interesting by the presence of 1000 (or so it seemed) children in that confined space.  We had lunch at a nice barbecue place and i dropped them off at the airport.  Ultimately, they did get a late flight out.
Seeing the sights.
The following week brought us the Lewis County Fair.  Stacey and I went and got some of Jayme’s famous lemon shake-ups.  We watched the cowboy shoot out, which, thanks to perfect high overcast light, I got some great shots of.  
Cowboy shoot out.
My prairie is in full bloom and I’ve had a lovely time photographing yard bugs. We’ve had gazillions of bumblebees visiting our Monarda. Sadly, the honeybee colony in our hollow black locust has absconded.  At least I was present to see the swarm form and take some photo and video.  We do have a single monarch caterpillar munching on our milkweeds in the front yard.  He’s provided many minor mysteries as he moves from plant to plant and we lose him then find him again.  We let the milkweeds grow there mostly for monarch food.  The pleasant-smelling blossoms and lush vegetation are a bonus.  I still have a wasp farm in the back yard.  I spotted a carpenter wasp with a caterpillar in a bush outside our window.  It should be the last image in the slide show below.
I had a great day fishing out at Lowell’s, catching about 10 largemouth bass, a crappie and a bluegill in a few hours.  We saw a fox cross the road on our way to lunch.  And on the way there I hit a meadowlark, or, rather, it flew into my car.  Later that night Savannah found it still lodged in the grill!  


I’ve been spending most of this past week preparing for my research expedition.  The RV is prepped and packed.  The current plan is to go to the BugGuide.net meetings near Green Valley Arizona, visit an old friend in Tucson, spend three weeks or so in Ruby doing wasp research, then swing through California on my way back.  Details will follow, but not for awhile.  
This time I’m embedding slide shows in this blog.  You probably need to have the current flash player installed.  If they don’t play, you should be able to click through and see each image gallery.

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?

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!

April 25, 2013 – Spring arrives, finally

It’s been a long time since my last entry, which had eagles and snow in the photos.  Winter held us in its grip for too long this year, and most spring events are about two weeks behind schedule.  Consequently, I still have some wintry events to share with you.  First, I took some macro shots of a melting icicle.  For the maximum effect, you need to click through to the online gallery, then hit the right arrow to see those that follow.

Drip, drip.  From March 2013
We were graced with large flocks of American White Pelicans all along the Mississippi River in our area.  I was able to get many shots, but I’ll share just the most unique one.  There are more in the online gallery.
Against the snow.  From March 2013
I’m not a big fan of European Starlings by any means, as they are one of our most egregious invasive exotic birds, but they can be pretty close up.
Get off my feeder.  From March 2013
We took a brief vacation to Indiana in the RV over a Easter weekend.  We were pretty cozily parked in Stacey’s Mom’s driveway.  We were able to visit with nearly all relatives from that side of the family.  John Whetstone and I got together for some primitive guitar practice.  We all went out to a country diner and hear a live band after dinner.  And, of course, there were obligatory visits to Dairylicious.  The first sign of spring was a group of crocuses in the yard. 

Croaki.  From March 2013
Spring floods brought waterfowl to our shores, and by shores I mean fields full of water.  Normally, we get a variety of ducks, mergansers and others.  Unique this year were a couple of Great Egrets hanging about “The Slough” downtown.

Ready, swallow!  From April 2013
Spring wildflowers finally began to appear, starting with the typical early bloomers.  Various excursions with my students have provided opportunities.  Click through to see a few more.
Spring Beauties, because there are no spring uglies.  From April 2013
Stacey is now managing the Lewis Street Playhouse.  One of my buddies from the camera club, Dan Morrison, and I went down there to take some photos so that Stacey could have some better promotional material.  Most of mine weren’t too great, but I kind of like this window view.
Round windows.  From April 2013
We endured a severe storm, resulting in flooding and high winds.  We got to enjoy both, with water backing up into our basement, and a tree falling on our fence.  The fence we’ve had up for less than a year.  

Black locust down.  From April 2013
Although morel mushrooms have been in short supply, one of my students found these false morels by the stream near campus.  I was excited, not having seen any for about 20 years.  
These are toxic, but I’ve eaten them.  From April 2013
I spotted some mating bee flies while hiking with my freshman class.  We had plenty of wisecracks to share as I photographed them.
I’m an insect pornographer.  From April 2013
Most were not too perturbed by this Northern Water Snake, as we didn’t see it until we were 20 feet above on the Cedar Creek Trail bridge.
From April 2013
As we hiked back over the Tom Awerkamp bridge (18th St., Quincy), I thought the railroad tracks made a nice perspective effect.  I like it better in monochrome.
From April 2013
One night while leaving north campus to go to main campus, I saw 6 deer feeding under a neighbor’s crabapple tree.  I stopped and took some shots with the old Panasonic camera.  
Clearly, some kind of agonistic encounter is going on.  From April 2013
Incidentally, I was on my way to the awards banquet of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, who honored me as their Faculty of the Month for April.  

March 2013, Snow season

Winter has decided to stay late here in Northeast Missouri.  The eagles have hung around, and we’ve enjoyed some snow days as up sides.  After the big snow I went to Chicago for a conference, which was nice, but I missed the opportunity to enjoy the snow.  When I got back, the first thing I did was take Big Guy out to haul firewood with the sled.  He’s been doing really well with that–I think it’s easier to pull than the wagon.  He absolutely loves snow.  At his size and hairiness, he doesn’t get cold.  He’ll run around and play with Gretchen as long as she can stand it.  Here’s a short video of us working together: Snow hauling. Stacey was the videographer.

Big Guy pulls the load, From February 2013
I pulled out my cross-country skis for another attempt of last year’s skijoring adventure, when my boot broke after about 50 yards of fun.  This time I was equipped with a helmet cam and a newer set of boots.  He ran hard for about the first 70-80 yards, then slowed to my pace.  This is about the same sequence as when we run together.  I had no still camera, but the video is up on YouTube here, edited down to 5 minutes:  Skijoring.  My boot broke near the end (again!), but I have since glued it back together.
I revisited a photo technique that I had tried last year.  By prefocusing the camera at a point between a perch and the bird feeder I can capture birds in flight.  I still haven’t perfected it.
Although I don’t like photographing birds on a stick anymore, every now and then I get a good one.  Some of the species are hard to resist.

House Finch, From February 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, From February 2013
Recently, I gave a talk on the wildlife advantages of native plants and prairie.  While putting it together I noticed I didn’t have any images of birds eating seeds out of the dead plants in winter.

From February 2013
Next time I’ll be ready.

From March 2013
This Northern Cardinal looks unhappy about something.  

From March 2013
White-throated Sparrows seldom give you much of a look when they’re off the ground.

Sometimes Gretchen doesn’t like to come in from the back yard.  I let her stay out too long the other day.  The ground was thawed, and this is how she looked upon her return.
From March 2013
She had been digging for a mole.  I wouldn’t have minded so much if she had actually caught the mole.  

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