The Riverlands

Woolly Bear

The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty-brown or black. According to legend, the wider the rusty-brown center section (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter. Based upon this small sample size of one, it looks like it will be a very mild winter indeed. Upon further reflection though, this specimen is not a normal Woolly Bear, but a Yellow Woolly Bear that doesn’t have stripes and can’t predict the weather.

American Pelican on a Mississippi Mud Flat

Anne and I  drove up to the Riverlands to do some birding on Friday. We saw many egrets and herons and the beginnings of the pelican migration. The river was very low, making for prime habitat for wading birds. It being a school day the place was overrun with field tripping students. The most interesting group were the kids out canoeing in Ellis Bay, a little backwater off of the main channel. A busload of them were out on the water in three large multi-person canoes that were reminiscent of the ones used by Lewis and Clark and their men on their voyage of discovery to the West coast. 

Young Voyagers

The Riverlands is across the river from the site of Camp Dubois, where the expedition first gathered. Lewis and Clark couldn’t form up in Saint Louis, because that was still French territory at the time. So, they organized in Illinois, which was US territory and then set off in the late spring after the Louisiana Purchase was completed. I’m sure that these kids are getting an ear full of American history, along with a good workout. 

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Anne, Joanie and I attended the Eagle Days festival at the Riverlands. These seasonal river fêtes celebrate our winter migratory avian visitors. Bald eagles are the main draw and we saw a few of these, but there were way more Trumpeter swans to see than all of the other birds combined. I’m guessing about a thousand were present. They are the largest North American waterfowl. I’ve since learned that it also holds the dubious epitaph of being the heaviest North American bird. We also saw a kestrel, American pelicans and a host of other birds. The captive Red-shouldered hawk was on display at the Audubon center. It is a rescue bird.

Both the Mississippi and the Missouri are ice covered. The water is low and it looks like barge traffic has halted. In addition to the swan’s honking, we also heard the deep almost sub-audible creaking of the ice. People were walking on the ice, which seemed risky until I saw that someone had been heaving thirty-pound paving stones on to the ice, without making a dent. The paper said that this is our longest, continuous subfreezing cold snap in thirty-five years.

Afterwards, we headed over to Alton, IL, for lunch at Just Desserts. This eatery and quilt shop is always a fave with the ladies. The food is good, but the pie is to die for and is why we dine there. The day’s menu is written on chalkboards and items are erased when they run out, but sometimes new items also appear. We always order our desserts first, because life is often short and uncertain and the very best pie slices run out first.  

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans at Dawn

After I dropped Anne off at school this morning, I drove up to the Riverlands. I got there not too long after dawn. The Mississippi was high, but wasn’t in flood. This seemed strange, since we have been experiencing red flag warning for the last couple of days. These warnings result from a combination of dry tinder, low humidity and high winds, similar conditions to those in California, except for no spark yet. I didn’t see any ice on the river, but the inland sloughs were halfway covered. There was a myriad of swans, geese and other water fowl on these waters. The Trumpeter swans roost overnight on these sloughs, but come dawn they fly off to the surrounding cornfields, in search of fodder. Most of the trails in the Riverlands are closed to the public at this time of the year, giving winter migratory birds plenty of sanctuary, but you can still see plenty from the road. 

Crossing the Streams

Anne and Deb at the Confluence

In the picture above, you have the Anne and the Missouri River on the left and Deb and the Mississippi on the right. Yesterday, we all drove up to the Riverlands for some bird watching. Then we headed down to the Confluence, where these two rivers meet. The state park where it is located is officially named after Ted Jones, who was a local rich man and got this park named after him, after the 1993 flood. The photo below is of a Bald eagle sitting on its nest, which is located in Illinois off of Route 3, across the road from the Mel Price lock and dam. As you can see, this nest is huge. It has been there for years and I assume that the same nesting pair of eagles returns to it year after year. They must add-on to it each year. 

Our parade through the Post-Dispatch’s list of the 100 best restaurants in Saint Louis continued on Sunday. We started off at the Southwest diner for brunch. The food there was good, as always, but unfortunately we were seated at the table right next to the door. So, whenever someone came in or out and the door swung open we got a chill. Coming in at #18, dinner was at Reeds American Table in Maplewood. This is a relatively new place and it was brand new to us. The food there was excellent and was only outdone by their service. I am definitely going back there again. We capped things off with a nightcap at Ted Drewes, famous for their frozen custard. Now it is time to do some fasting.

Bald Eagle and Nest

Women’s March on Saint Louis

Screech Owl

Screech Owl

Anne and I are going to participate this Saturday in the Women’s March on Saint Louis. (January 21st @ 9 AM – Union Station) Be there or be square! The weather is supposed to be gorgeous. It has been a while since I last demonstrated, but I don’t think that I have lost the knack. To that end, I spent the best part of the day making two protest signs, one for Anne and one for me. I gathered the necessary materials and then assembled the signs. They look rather sturdy, if I do say so myself. It was an enjoyable exercise that I reveled in and allowed me to release my inner engineer once again. Right now both signs are blank. Anne has her own ideas about what she wants her sign to look like, but I am more ambivalent. I have culled a set of ten candidate slogans from various online lists of ideas. Also, I have created a poll below, so that you the reader can help me select the best slogan for my sign. I have listed ten slogans that I liked, but couldn’t choose between. Please vote, because I promise you, unlike last November, this time your vote will be heard. Voting ends Friday the 20th at 5 PM CST, because that is when I’m going to make my sign.