July 24th, 2008 - Cover me, I'm goin' in

There has been a lot of activity at the bluebird nestboxes this year, but I haven't had the time to witness it every day. Last year we had two broods in the Peterson boxes and some tree swallows in the Gilbertson boxes, which was more than we could hope for in our first year up, I would say.
This year the Gilbertson's seem to be the bluebird box of choice, (maybe those last inhabitants got caught on the housing bubble and trashed the place before they left, I dunno).
We've had two broods again this year on the little prairie.
Doo dee doo dee do, I wish that idiot with the long lens would get the hell out of here so I could get on with feeding the kids. I didn't even get my make-up on straight today...
What, now...? Jimmy you wanted a Papaburger and Gertie said a Teenburger with no pickle. Okay. Sheez, when do I get to eat? I'll be picking up a poopsack by the time I get back.
Okay, kids! Here we go! No fighting! One at a time! Those are Mary's fries! Jimmy don't eat that after you dropped it in the nest! Who knows what you could pick up. Some parasitic wasp eggs or something, and you don't want that, for cry-eye. How many times have I told you that. And quit your squawking, or I'll really give you something to squawk about!
What? Jimmy, you said you wanted cheese on it! Just take it off. We'll get you more ketchup. It's alright, lemme get a dishrag. Where's your father? You'd better not leave it that like that when he gets home. No Gertie, open your beak BEFORE you try to put the food in. Oy. That's right, you have to eat everything or no Dairy Queen! No Mary, you can't keep a pet spider. Yeah, well wait till you have chicks of your own someday.

July 23, 2008 - Hey there, Cutie

What we have here is a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly larvae. It is a caterpillar in it's late stages that is looking to build a chrysalis to begin it's change into butterfly mode. A lady and her family brought it into the nature center last night in an ice cream bucket after she said it fell out of a tall poplar tree next to her with a loud thwap. (She said she looked down and at first had thought her four-year-old daughter had thrown a dog turd at her)
Anyway, when somebody brings in anything from the insect world and wants to ID it, I say, "we might as well just get the field guides out right now" because there are WAY to many names in this animal kingdom for me to even attempt to remember, much less pronounce. But we nailed it down pretty quickly. The prominent "eyes", which are actually "false eyes" to make it look bigger and nastier to it's foes, are a dead giveaway.
Remember that one Jimi Hendrix costume he wore with the big eyes on it? The guy was ahead of his time.

Siah tells me the brown color is indicative of the last stages of caterpillardom, making it look somewhat of a cross between a Tootsie-roll and a Rapala.
Here she is already setting up some strings for the chrysalis (or cocoon, loosely translated), I'll be interested to see what that looks like.
I said we would give the family metamorphic updates and that they could visit again and see the progression. She's in with the Cecropias, it's a good neighborhood. I go back in tonight, I can hardly wait to see what happened!

Okay, big doin's ahead: work tonight at SB, this weekend photograph the entire Friends of the Mississippi River Canoe and Bicycle Challenge event, first rent a big lens from West, and get my Peace Garden photography cards and posters to JoAnn B. to sell on Sunday. Oh yeah and write the interpretive program to teach teachers about the Mississippi River Gorge from a 12-foot Voyageurs canoe while floating the river on Monday. Oh and make new business cards with the SmugMug address on them before tomorrow. First and foremost: Feed the turtle!

July 22, 2008 - Creeky Morning

Me and Hap got out early this morning, he is still suffering lingering semi-shell shock from 4th of July fireworks and the latent cracks and pops. He is still so over-sensitized that a truck shifting it's load gets his tail cranked up tight over his gonads and his head down with him grappling on all fours for the shortest way home. It's sad to see, and getting very unnerving when you want to take a relaxed walk along the waterway.
So morning seems to be the best time for him, because as we all know things get spooky when the night comes on. We got him a pheromone collar, and have tried to make light of any loud noises and calm him down as best we can, but he has a difficult time seeing past the anxiety. If only I spoke dog I could share all my therapy sessions and save him a ton of cash.
Came across this beautiful bouquet of Verbena hastata (swamp verbena) this morning growing out of the dew-soaked tallgrass. Took a shower getting over there but it's one of my favorite weeds. Had to look it up to be sure as there are probably at least a score of verbana species, not including the cultivars. It's the coney one.
Our Minnehaha Creek, low on water, high on trees. Still looks good glistening in the morning sun.

July 21st, 2008 - But I don't feel tardy

I'm here, I'm here! I'm just busy scratching insect bites and looking thru a ton of photos. As I'm SURE you all will remember, I was off to Ely, MN last Tuesday for a four-day environmental educators workshop, PLUS an additional daytrip via canoe into the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area & Wilderness). All of which was great. Lot's of learnin', books & swag, good Northern MN food (lumberjack breakfast, lunch & dinner. Phew, I'm poppin' my buttons here) and many beautiful nature photo ops on our field trips. And in town for that matter. Ely defies description in any language.

Here a dragonfly is munching down on a Cattail Mosquito while resting on Zoe's nice warm Fossil watchband. (There's something ironic about that, but I can't exactly put my finger on it.) The Mosquito's leg is still hanging out. It must be like trying to eat Buffalo Wings without using your hands.

I'm getting an odd image of Godzilla picking his teeth with a telephone pole.
Many, MANY dragonflies and damselflies were landing all over us and everything while we were stream-gauging and sampling macro-invertebrates. My theory is they knew what we were up to and were looking for an easy meal. A pan full of collected inverts sitting next to the creek must be like the buffet line at Red Roof Inn coming over to your patio.
Dewdrop defying gravitational forces were at work on a blade of grass on the lawn of Vermilion Community College in Ely, MN.
Yes, it was on the SIDE of the blade.

Impassioned email

I received an impassioned email yesterday, it was so sad:
"My name is David Ibrahim, a merchant in Oman. I have recently been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer..."
I was choking up as I read on, full of sympathy...
"which has defiled all medical treatment."
WHAT! You bastard! You've defiled all medical treatment! You've ruined it for the rest of us! We'll never get that personal health care now! Your name will go down in the annals of infamy with Judas, Hitler, and Mark Chapman! Darn you.
Then, being the peaceful, forgiving man that I am, I was getting out my wallet when I noticed the email at the end of the letter did not match the email in the from box!
The domain in the from box was "@gmail.com" (a trustworthy enough source) but the email I was supposed to send all of my money to was "@beagolfer.com"! Of all the lowdown dirty shysters! That's the LAST time I believe anything. Now on to those Nigerian faxes...

Jus trying' ta git cawt up 'yar

Hey, hey, how about those United Airlines!
Still tick-free after 4 days...

As far as we know.

Let's see, I was almost caught up here before setting up the photography sales site, which I think was a good idea but immediately had a server problem as soon as I got everything posted. heh. It's pretty slick now tho, except I have tons more stuff I want to put up there and diddle with.
Visit often and buy lots.

Then there was the screen top for the Turtlearium:


Because a dog named Happy, q.v.,

Who, me? Innocent, yet randy.


...had developed a nasty habit (or compulsion, really) to want to pick the little turtle up in his mouth and carry her around, and then spit her out in the dirt and paw at her to get her going again. After accomplishing this while my back was turned with her in the Turtlearium, he got yelled at and bopped on the nose, but there was some primal curiosity there that he just couldn't overcome. He would go out to pee, prance around, then have a
surreptitious quick sniff around the turtlebox for her even if she wasn't out there, while taking guilty looks over his shoulder to see if he was being watched. Hey, you're not bad if nobody sees, right?
So I decided the answer was a large-mesh wire screen stapled onto a ramshackle frame built out of furring strips. She got to spend her first camp-out overnight last night in a little storm, and seemed pretty content with the new setup. There seemed to be some reduction in aquatic snacks in the "pond" as well, which is what I was hoping would happen after she got used to the "real" world and off the canned shrimp treats a bit.


Ahhh. I seem to be the biggest creature in the world now.

Also, there was the getting ready for the Sunset photo hike tonight, and the thinking about the big 5-day nature workshop up in Ely (MN) next week. Should be great: visiting the underground mine, learnin' about Cuba, eatin' pizza, scratch that, ...learning about MN history, forestry, stream gauging, macroinvertibrate sampling, the wolf center, and a canoe trip in the BWCA!
Woo hoo!
In addition I finally got the images off of the laptop at Springbrook that I took last week when I got to help out with the John & Pamela's Dragonfly program, a.k.a. "Digital Dragonflies in an Analog World."
The coolest part was getting to shoot with Siah's Canon setup (I know Nikon friends... yes, I touched it and everything.) It wasn't so much the camera but the stack of lenses, tubes and multipliers. Enough optics to make the Hubble envious. I don't know the Canon system very well, but I think it was a 500mm zoom (?) lens with a #2 extension tube and a 1.4x multiplier. All I know is, clamp it on a tripod and it's quite a chunk of metal to carry around in 90 degree humidity. I had never shot with a lens whose barrel was so heavy you had to put the focus lock on before tipping the camera forward or the weight of the lens would start to telescope itself slowly out as you turned rings and pushed buttons and levelled things and cursed at dragonflies for not holding still twenty feet away. It's good to try new things tho. Even when all the buttons on the camera are in a completely different place than you're used to. It's like Helen Keller's parents rearranging the furniture or something. Just when you get used to it one way, BAM! It's not there when you need it, and what's worse, it's someplace else.

Lot's of dragonflies and damselflies were to be found, tho nothing that didn't belong here. I like these 4-spot skimmers, they always look so jovial. (I know, anthropomorphizing again. What can I say, I'm only human.)
I know they're blood-thirsty killers, predators throughout all of their morphic stages, so the fact that it looks like they have a perpetual smile on their face is actually kind of creepy. (Woops, did it again)

I learned something cool at the program, it's that recent research has shown that dragonflies will actually tip their bodies up so that their point of their smallest surface area faces the sun to reduce heat-absorption if they are too hot.
Cool.
Literally.

Something I was wondering about was when the etymology of the word "dragonfly" came about. "Dragon" had to come first, I figured. That comes from Greek they think, as in "dracon". Tho from Middle English it's something like "derk", which means "dark." Ironically enough, they mentioned some stuff about it in this book about the History of the English Language I was just listening to. There are a bunch of regional words for dragonfly, the Dictionary of American Regional English lists nearly 80 of them! Darner, darning needle, devil's darning needle, ear sewer, mosquito fly, mosquito hawk, needle, skeeter hawk, snake doctor, snake feeder, and spindle being a few. The greatest variety of terms is to be found in the South, where the most widespread term is "snake doctor" (a name based on a folk belief that dragonflies take care of snakes). The Midland equivalent is "snake feeder." Speakers from the Lower South and the Mississippi Valley are more likely to refer to the same insect as a mosquito fly, mosquito hawk, or, in the South Atlantic states, a skeeter hawk.
The imagery outside the South often alludes to the insect's shape rather than its behavior or diet. Speakers in the West, Upper North, and New England call it a darner, darning needle, or, less commonly, a devil's darning needle, and those in the Upper North also refer to it just as a needle; those in Coastal New Jersey, a spindle; and those in the San Francisco Bay area, an ear sewer, that is, a creature that sews up your ears.
In many other languages "dragonfly" comes up as something similar to "libellule", which is also the name of a common genus of dragonflies, but nothing like "dragon" in other languages, which is usually pretty close to "drache", "drago" or the like. It goes back a long way too, into Teutonic, Greek, etc.
Seems like people always had a word for a weird, threatening, dangerous-looking thing they didn't understand. Something to do with anthropomorphizing, I guess.

Ticks on a plane: insects delay United Airlines flight from Denver to Des Moines

This story popped up yesterday, Sharon sent it to me from work. I read it and thought it was ludicrous.

Associated Press

July 9, 2008
DES MOINES, Iowa - Some wayward ticks delayed a United Airlines flight from Denver to Des Moines.
Flight 1178 was delayed for nearly six hours on Tuesday after a passenger informed a flight attendant that she found a tick in economy class during a flight from Washington, D.C., to Denver.
The airline decided it couldn't fly the plane until it was cleaned of ticks, so passengers had to wait while another plane was flown from Colorado Springs to Denver. The flight was further delayed because of thunderstorms in the Denver area.
United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said between one and three ticks were discovered. Urbanski said the airline hasn't figured out how the ticks got on the plane or what type of ticks were found.
"I don't know if we'll be able to find that out," Urbanski said. "When possible, we do try to look into those type of things, and hopefully try to look for its origin."
The replacement plane shuttled the 107 passengers to Des Moines.
The plane with ticks had begun its day in Chicago. It was cleaned of ticks, checked and put back into service.
No ticks were found on passengers.

OK. What, now? They can't fly because of ticks? Why not? Didn't pay for a seat? I could see if there were hundreds of ticks, dozens maybe. But, between one and three? How many is that? And how many are left when they say they didn't find any, between zero and two?

This must have been a airline company press release, because they would kick you out of a Jr. high journalism class for writing a story this lame and devoid of facts:

Professional Spokesperson:
The Airline hasn't figured out how or what...
Don't know...
When possible... (means we'd do it if under legal duress)
Hopefully try... (means we won't do anything)

Spoken like a true Spokesperson or White House Publicity agent.

"The plane with ticks had begun its day in Chicago. It was cleaned of ticks, checked and put back into service."

How exactly did they check it to be sure there wasn't any ticks left? Brought the drug dogs on board and forced them to roll around in the aisles and sleep in all the seats for six hours?

Oh well, if the ticks laid their thousands of tiny eggs in the cracks of the seat mounts, we won't have to worry about them as they won't mature for about two years or so.

Thank you for flying the itchy skies of United.

July 3rd, 2008 - It's a small world, after all

Sometimes no wider than a blade of grass.
Nice wrap-around Oakleys, dude.
And from the kitschy dashboard department, isn't that um, cute.
It's the muddy Mississippi! Check that, it's the Land of Sky Blue Waters!
Plantennae.
Medusa plant. Try not to look at it for too long.

July 2nd, 2008 - Plants and Birds and Dogs and Things

What goes on here?
The hypnotic undulations of the Sargasso Sea, after months of staring blindly into the crests, shipwrecked on a small raft??? Ah, no. It's that bloody Reed Canary grass that moved in last year when our sacred creek was so low. It still undulates tho. Sort of.
Mmmm. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Soon it will be deep purple and licorice scent will waft profusely from Waseca to Wannamingo.
Buthidae's favorite, the Catalpa flowers are in bloom. Why doesn't AirWick Solid or Glade ever smell this good...?
Dance of the Swamp Milkweed. This is the part where the butterflies come in.
Quoth the Raven, "Waddaya lookin at, ain't ya neva seen a ravin standin' on toppa Pergola befowa..??? Ya ring-ding!"
The mysterious pink eggplant, um, flower, thingie.

My buddy Megan the Aussie Shepard getting ready to howl and slobber all over my wrist. Talk about wearing your emotions on your sleeve, she lets you wear hers on your sleeve.

Miscellanies

A few years ago I purchased the remnants of the company I used to work for, NORD Photo Engineering. We made package printers for the school picture and wedding industries, and except for a couple specialized products were all but pulverized by the switch to digital image technology.
I'm finally to the point of scrapping a lot of the printer parts, and it's always a bittersweet feeling when I have to leave more of this legacy by the wayside.
However, along with the remaining inventory, jigs, and tools I inherited, I also took possession of all the assembly drawings. Since this company had it's roots in the 1970's all the drawings were painstakingly hand-drawn by draftspeople, whited-out, revised, redrawn, and some with a list of ECO's (engineering change orders) a mile long.
Some of the drawings I still need, but most are long obsolete, becoming a real burden: piles of heavy paper, large, dusty, tending to slide into a floor-covering mess if you try and stack them, hard to scan, and some, the true "blueprints" not accepted by the recyclers.
What to do? There is so much work in them, so much detail, but still I have to face it and get rid of them somehow.

One answer: they make great, classy, interesting, GARBAGE BAGS. The material is somewhere between plastic and paper and deals with wet coffee grounds famously. Above you see #42856 Vacuum platen, print box, living out the last of it's legacy. You have served me well to the last. Sniff.
So if anyone is interested, I'm also selling the real paper drawings as wrapping paper. I figure a nickel a piece plus postage because I'm always saying, "If I had a nickel for every one of these frickin' drawings, I'd be a rich man." So place your orders now, no guarantee which part number you will receive, that's part of the fun. Please specify, A, B, C, or D size. Order now and be ready for the holidays.

I came across one of those things that made me chuckle out loud on the internet the other day: Bad Translation.
Surprisingly enough, this one was from a Sony website that I was searching for a printer driver:

"For specifying the defrosting place of a compressed file, double click..."
of course, "We would appreciate your kind understanding."

But that can't top the Chinese bicycle parts manufacturers, home to such web gems as:
"Bicycle parts at fabulous prizes!"
and
"Dae Yung Tire Co.", your trust is important to us.

I also think it's interesting that Blogger spel-chek reminds me that "internet" should be capitalized. I thought we were way past that...

July 1st, 2008 - Happy July from the Pog Dark!

Happy is happy.
Ahhh. El Sol, usted es muy bueno. Me gusta mucho.
Sharon passing thru the StarGate, about to end up by the Egyptian pyramids from another century.
He likes his Dog Park.

June 30th, 2008 - Nokomis West

We took Hap for a walk around the West side of Lake Nokomis, west of Cedar Avenue that is, which is kind of the "short loop." Right away we came across a relative of Jackie the Painted Turtle digging a nesting hole by a parkbench facing the lake. She sure was doing a great job digging with her back feet and not seeing what she was doing, but location-wise she might as well have put an ad in the paper for every raccoon, snake, weasel, crow and mischievous kid to come hassle her eggs. It doesn't help that turtles just lay them and leave, never to see them again.
All the best, little turtles. Live long and prosper.
The tail of a Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), also known as a "scouring rush." The slender shoots contain silicon crystals and were purportedly used to clean up after cooking in the wild. Just a plain cool plant that kids (and others) can't help messing with. Good thing there are a lot of them. Momma has got her ducks in a row. She is going into the shadows while all the ducklings are in the light and it looks like one of those "identity obscured for privacy reasons" images. heh.

June 28, 2008 - FMR VOM @ L&D #1

One of my sideline volunteer projects is photographing and writing the "Volunteer of the Month" profile for Friends of the Mississippi River, a local river conservation advocacy non-profit.
I got the call-up for next month and was thinking that the first Lock & Dam on the river would be a good place to do the pictures. Not only have we not used it yet, but it's right down the street. Plus, this edition will feature a volunteer couple, one of whom is an ironworker. I figured it would set the stage for some good contrasts.
For a little background, the purpose of the Lock & Dam (okay, Locks & Dam, there are two sides) is to float boats gently up or down a change in river elevation. So what they do is, if the vessel is going downstream, the change in elevation is lower so they gather the boat or boats (and it can be anything from a kayak to a grain barge) in the lock, which is sort of a big bathtub, close up the massive doors, and pump the water out until the vessel(s) are lowered down to the outlet side elevation of the river. Kind of like pulling the plug on a bathtub full of water and floating your rubber ducky from the lip down to the drain level. Except they don't pump ALL the water out, or bad things would happen. Bad things do rarely happen tho, like in the old days when a barge captain tried to leapfrog the waiting line of barges and rammed the door of the Lock, causing a huge hinge to fail and stacking up all traffic on the river for days. Rumor has it that he abandoned ship under the cover of darkness and went "inland." I've also heard tales of boats tying off the line that they are supposed to be letting out, so that as the water level recedes, the boat tips to one side and gets raked on the side of the Lock, hilarity ensuing.
It's pretty straightforward nowadays, but I have to admit it is a strange sensation to be in the big bathtub when the water is running out.
It's all about barges at the L & D. Even their Purple Martin house is a barge. Mailbox on the pilothouse, dual antennae and everything. Probably an EPIRB in case the water level gets to the top of the pole too, I suppose.
Here's the "up" side of the lock, with the bathtub ready to fill. In the background are the Ford Bridge, Ford Parkway, Ford Motor Company Plant, Ford Hydro Dam, and some bloody apartment building that snuck in under the zoning code for tall buildings on the river. Not sure what they are going to call everything after the Ford plant closes, as they say it will pretty soon.
An expert fisherman plying the big river, the Black-crowned Night Heron. Looks like he's got his eye on something.
I suppose I had better get back to scribbling out a profile, deadline's creeping up...

June 27th, 2008 - Minnesota Monkeys

It was one of those hot, wet, buggy June nights that seem to inevitably turn into a thunderstorm. There was still a little bit of light left in the night sky, our house was a veritable sauna, and the only creature enjoying things was the turtle so me and Hap decided to strap on the flash and venture upstream. I really had it in the back of my head to get down to Lake Hiawatha bridge right at sundown, because if it's a clear night the view from the bridge rarely disappoints. So we took the "wild side" of the creek, the one with no bike or ped paths, just a self-guided trail along the creekside which was becoming overgrown with reed-canary grass and puddling up some nice mosquito breeding sites. I could see a giant mosquito rave was beginning in earnest and of course Happy insisted on sniffing every tree, so I steered things along towards the pump house and a break for daylight. As it were.
As we were galumphing by one of the taller trees in that area I noticed a ruckus overhead, with shadows jumping and much clawing and shinnying.
I immediately thought "squirrel" and looked up to see a single, very young raccoon (Procyon lotor) staring at me in a non-plussed manner, attached to the tree like Koala bear.

I took a few shots of him that all looked exactly the same, Happy seemed not to notice. As I was turning to move on, I sensed more eyeballs and saw what was either a two-headed raccoon that had evolved to see around both sides of the tree at the same time, or two raccoons peering at me questioningly.

After snapping a few pics of them, swatting a few more bugs, itching a few more bites and giving Hap a treat for being so patient (he knows when he's been patient, right after I take the camera down from my eye, whether he's been lazing in the grass or yanking my arm off and making it impossible to take a shot) I again turned to go and noticed the two raccoons had become three raccoons.
A few more shots, check the flash batteries, itch, swat, itch, no treat this time, and fully expecting to see NINE raccoons, figuring they were multiplying exponentially, I looked up to see....
Nothing. Procyon lotor (which incidentally means "the washer" in Latin) had vanished, shape-shifted, or divided by zero.

We did make it down to the bridge just in time for the sunset, and we were not disappointed. Here's one shot with a little fill-flash for color.

June 26th, 2008 - Night of the Long Flash Exposure & The Death Star Allium, Part I

I realized I hadn't been out with the "big" flash after dark for awhile, and it was such a nice clear night I thought I'd harness up the HapDog and go have a lurk around.
I played around with some conventional long exposures, then got stuck on my camera's "Night Mode" (nothing to do with a Bob Seger song).
Night mode is where the flash goes off, then the camera keeps the shutter open as along as the meter thinks it should. I think it reads a little fall-off of the light from the flash so things don't get too over-exposed. You can set the camera to flash "front-curtain" (before the long exposure) or "rear curtain" (after the long exposure) or both. The result is you get some amount of front-lighting with a nice saturated image from the long-exposure. If the backlighting is just right it starts balancing out the flash.
These pics are all front-curtain sync, but I found I needed to play with my flash output a little. Sometimes I bracketed from -1 stop to zero, I don't think I had to go + on anything. The long shutter time depends on where you point the camera's meter too, so there are a few things you can play with.
When you have other types of light sneaking into the long exposure, it's hard to predict what you'll get. That's why I like it. I didn't PhotoShop these other than cropping and maybe a smidge of contrast and saturation adjustment.
The white spots in the foreground are a mix of spray and gnats. You don't even see them without the flash on. Nice ribbony water.

June 26th, 2008 - Night of the Long Flash Exposure & The Death Star Allium, Part II

A strange video screen glows in the downstairs laboratory of Longfellow Manor.
Hey, the Simpsons is on maybe we should hang out awhile.
Are there any flowers that only bloom under moonlight? Wolfsbane maybe.
Ahh! It's the Giant Allium DeathStar! Dah, Dumpty Dah, Dumpty Dah!
Onion, I am your Father. Or maybe it's the other way around, we'll have to wait for the sequel.
The Columbine even looks a little more menacing after sundown.