Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Visiting the Ozarks

I'm sure the Ozark Mountains have many claims to fame, but perhaps their crayfish fauna is not the one that immediately springs to mind. For most people, that is..... I, on the other hand, saw a conference presentation about them many years ago and vowed that I'd get to visit them one day, and that ambition has been achieved, thanks to Bob DiStefano, the guy who gave that conference talk.

Following the crayfish conference in Columbia, twelve of us went off on a two day tour of the Ozarks, visiting some nice little creeks, seeing lots of crayfish (and fish, and frogs, and turtles, and even some snakes) and having a day-long "float"in canoes down a wild river.

Fourche Renault Creek.
Water temperature? Well over 25°C.

Lots of crayfish.

Fish too.
This is a bullhead.

We left Columbia very early in a small convoy and drove south for a couple of hours, then made a series of stops in crayfish creeks, and in the little town of Arcadia for lunch at Aunt Mary's, where I had a catfish sandwich.

Aunt Mary's, Arcadia.
Run by an Italian lady.

Lunch at Aunt Mary's.

The last stop was to walk down through oak and hickory woodland to a very large spring, gushing out from the limestone. But underground water runs more or less at the annual average temperature, in this case about 12°C, very much colder than the streams we had been wading in all day. Hardier souls than I went swimming; I just paddled.

Greer Spring.
Fast and cold.

Young people don't feel the cold.

Now you see him, now you don't!

We spent the night in a roadside motel that advertised clean rooms and waffles. We had to sign a declaration that we would not keep pets in our rooms.

The Honeysuckle Motel, Mountain View, Mo.

My waffle for breakfast.
Made it myself!

This was next door to the motel.
What could it be?

Where vending machines go to die.

The following day we took the canoes to the Jack Fork River and descended, two to a canoe. Once we had mastered the steering the rest of the day was idyllic: perfect weather, and warm clear water in which we could see fish, turtles etc. The river is shallow and without any serious rapids; in fact in one of two places we had to get out and haul the canoe over shallows. We stopped regularly to catch crayfish, swim and to visit a large cave in the bluff along the river.

Jack Fork River.
Canoes to go.

Jack Fork River.
Idyllic cruising.

Gently down the stream.

That's how they catch crayfish in Missouri.

Cave on the Jack Fork.

Strange, pale cave creature.

We were on the river for 6-7 hours, and in that time saw just one other party on the river bank. This is in sharp contrast to several other rivers in the area, where "outfitters" rent canoes and run fleets of yellow school buses to pick people up from downstream. In these places a cooler for the beer is apparently and essential part of the equipment.

The Jack Fork supports many different fish species.

Monday, July 19, 2010

.....Summer in Missouri

From Tasmania at around 10C to Missouri in the mid 30sC in 24 hours is a more than a bit of a shock to the system! I'm here for the eighteenth meeting of the International Association for Astacology, to meet all my crayfish pals, drink beer and swap stories for a week. That's what conferences are for, aren't they?

The trip over was no bother, except that my suitcase thought we were going to San Antonio again, and got to Dallas before someone caught up with it and delivered it here to Columbia, 24 hours later. I arrived a couple of days early, partly to take a look around and partly because I forgot about the International Date Line. In the event this was a Good Thing. I spent the first day (sock-less), exploring Columbia and the University of Missouri campus (which takes up a major part of the town). I'd hoped to buy some fresh socks, but downtown Columbia is stronger on coffee and pizza than on socks, but I coped and tried to stay out in the fresh air.

The "Mizzou" campus is impressive for its stock of neo-classical buildings, and indeed its sheer scale. Columns are big in Columbia, and the reasons stand in front of Jesse Hall, the centrepiece of the campus. The university was the first west of the Missouri River and the original building was on the grand scale, with great columns supporting its portico. But someone decided that the crowning dome would be a good place for a store of munitions (Civil War?), but the building caught fire...... and all that is left are the columns.

Jesse Hall, the epicentre of the Mizzou campus.
Note the columns.

Ecclesiastical, eh?
Actually, its the Students Union building.

Having got my bag I was able to dress appropriately (shorts and teeshirt) and I hired a car to get out and see some birds at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation area, which is a restored wetland of many hectares on the floodplain of the Missouri. It was only a few miles out of town, and the traffic here is a good deal more placid than in Texas. But oh my it was hot, and so humid that it almost felt as though you could swim through the air. By lunchtime I had to retreat and find food, which I did at "Lucy's", the only option in MacBaine, Missouri.

Eagle Bluffs wetlands.
So hot, so humid.

Missouri River.
The only place where mosquitos were a bother.

Lucy's, at MacBaine.
Airconditioned refuge, with cold beer (lite, of course).

Swarm of tiny fish in a Missouri backwater.

Back out again I saw plenty of birds, to say nothing of frogs, turtles, jack rabbits and a raccoon. But the strangest thing was a noise that came rapidly from behind me, sounding like the crackle that comes before a big crack of thunder. But the sky was blue, what on earth....? And then half a dozen deer erupted from the dense corn alongside the levee I was walking on at full speed, so fast that one of the bucks had a whole sweet corn plant entangled in his antlers! They kept running for more than a kilometre, and indeed all the wildlife here is very wary of people and even cars, suggesting that they get shot at quite often.

I've been conferencing for a day now, renewing old friendships and listening to some interesting talks, but needing a jumper n the lecture theatre because the aircon is set so cold! It's a pleasure to get back outside, at least for a while.

In the middle day of the conference they took us out for the day to the Shaw Nature Reserve, which is an annexe of the Missouri Botanic Garden, one of the world's great botanic gardens. They started up at Shaw when the air pollution in St Louis started killing the plants in the 1930s. It's a patch of upland forest, some restored tall grass prairie, wetlands and rivers (with crayfish). We had a sweaty, but interesting, afternoon being guided around.

Shaw Nature Reserve.
Lots of flowers. I didn't catch the name.

Insects too.
Some gorgeous butterflies.

But this was the main event.

Meramac River.
Slightly frustrated crayfish biologists, since the water was too high to get into the river.

Now (Friday) the conference has finished officially, but we are off for a two day tour tomorrow.

And finally, hats off to Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish legend, Todd Walsh and wife Bronwyn, who have travelled to the conference and beyond with Oscar (3), and Vincent (10 months). And the boys behaved wonderfully.

Todd & Bronwyn, with Oscar and Vincent.
Temperature at least 34C, humidity in the 90s!

Winter in Tassie.......

Just a quickie to set up the huge contrast that I'm experiencing now (see next post).

Mid-winter is the time for the second (and much less-desirable) wader count of the year. Last year it involved a long walk along the beach; this year I only had to walk a couple of hundred metres, but the trade-off was that I had to be up at 6.00 am to make the crossing to Robbins Island. This can only be done at low tide in a 4WD, guided by someone who knows the way across the complex banks and channels (think Sands of Dee, or the Solway Firth).

Google Earth's view of Robbins Island. The island is about 20 km east to west.
We cross slightly west of the southernmost point.

And of course it's pretty dark at 7.00 on a mid-winter morning, and completely dark at 6.30pm, which was when we made the return trip. We travelled in the back of a Parks and Wildlife ute and our guide was John Hammond, who leases Robbins Island to run wagyu cattle which he sells to Japan. I appreciated his local knowledge as we were coming back; the route is marked with reflective posts, but it zig zags all over the place, so who knows which of those shiny reflections comes next?

Between those two crossings there was a lot of waiting around, before and after the hour or so so of formal counting around high tide. Fortunately there is a warm and dry hut just opposite our counting site at Wallaby Island, so Gary, my counting partner, and I were able to brew up before and after.

The Wallaby Island Hut.
It might not look much, but it's very welcome.

Inside the hut.
The floor is woodchips

And did we see anything? Not much is expected in the winter count since most, but not all, the migratory waders ought to be in Siberia, doing their reproductive business. But as it happened there were a number of birds that had decided to stay with us, probably first year birds. We saw a couple of the bog-standard Red-necked Stints, but also some Eastern Curlews with their ridiculous beaks, and a Whimbrel, all of which made the other counters quite jealous, the more so because our site was sheltered from the very sharp and squally westerly wind.

Our counting station.
High tide.
And at low tide.
(I know these are the wrong way round, but Blogger is having an off day)

And here are the curlews.

Jeannie stayed home, of course, but loyally got up to see me off, and had restoring hot dinner when I got back.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I blog, therefore I am

I find myself wondering just why I have been so long between posts. It's not that I haven't had the time, so it must be the inclination. I guess a major motivation used to be the Family in Exile in Texas, but I know that there are at least one or two other readers out there who might be interested in our doings.

And then there's the quest for the bloggable......

Well, we do have a view...
But all the leaves are gone now.

Life has largely rotated about Jo, Jac and Marty Roo since they returned in April. We were very glad to have them living downstairs while they got themselves organised, looked for somewhere to live, bought a car etc etc. It was great to have full time access to Marty, or at least "full time" in grandparent-speak, i.e. daylight hours. We found that the downstairs room is far enough from our bedroom to insulate us from any nocturnal activity apart from the bathroom fan. During the day he is a sort randomising influence, and we quickly found that we had forgotten the need to make the house crawler-proof. But Mr Bump didn't come to any serious harm, and neither did the house.

Oooh, Granma's pantry is such fun!
Papa's beer, bags of kiwi fruit......

He's convinced the Morso stove is some kind of robot.
And no, it didn't get lit while he was there.

Games on the floor.
Mind that brandy and dry.

This one may come back to haunt him.

By now, as Jac Wabbit readers will know, they have moved into a delightful little house which is just around the corner, really handy for shared meals, walks and taking Jac to work.

Otherwise, we have been enjoying seeing Hugh, Jess and the boys settle into their new home. The boys have lost of playing space, inside and outside. I'll try to post a bit about their place soon.

Here's Georgie Jacket, at our house.