Archive for May, 2011

Regular visitors to the riverblog know that I comment on everything that doesn’t belong in this environment which takes in more than man-made debris.  Invasive species, non-native species, and domesticated animals turned loose are changing the ecosystem too.  Recently, I posted about the growing feral cat problem I’ve been observing in the park.  Kind hearted people have been trying to take care of them by dumping dry cat food around the picnic tables near the Interpretive Center.  As a reminder, here is another photograph illustrating this.

Sometimes I see what seems to me to be a ridiculous amounts of food spread out in this area.  Returning from a hike in the park’s western section, I stopped to watch three cats that were eating dry cat food that had been spread along the curb of the parking lot. 

From the corner of my eye I saw something moving in the brush and thought it might be a fourth cat joining in the feast…but it wasn’t.

It was a raccoon and only the second one I’ve seen in broad daylight out here.  Usually, these animals are more reclusive than this and prefer to operate under the cover of darkness, but here was this adult raccoon making a bee-line for the cat food.

I don’t view this as a good thing for all species concerned here.  Granted, the high river was probably cutting off some of the territory that the raccoon would forage over and this animal was hungry.  Wild animals that become habituated to man usually don’t fare well.  And in this case, there is a real danger that if this raccoon had rabies…it could transmit it to the cats who regularly come in contact with people.  By being out in broad daylight near an area populated by people, this raccoon was already displaying atypical behavior.

To my eye, the cats seemed less wary than the raccoon who is supposed to be a wild animal.  This scene was broken up when visitors with a dog on a leash came too close and the cats and coon ran into the woods.  I’m confidant that whomever is dumping cat food out here is not thinking about unintended consequences…but they should.  I’m not against cats, but I don’t think we should encourage them to live near wild life.  Recently, I found two objects left behind by the flooding that illustrate our affection for felines and I’ll end this post with them.  Until next time.



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Okay, by now you know that we have had our share of floods, etc…at the Falls of the Ohio.  The Ohio River has gone up and down a couple of times over the past two months.  This post is devoted to toy finds that I have made during the moments I could access the riverbank and surrounding environs.  I think one of the biggest reasons I love visiting this place is that I always find something interesting left behind by the river.  This activity keeps me from spending money at the flea markets and antique malls and yet satisfies my need for visual stimulation.  I came up with my post’s title by looking at what I found recently.  Weirdly, this time I found three Mickey Mouse related objects and searching my brain…I don’t think I have even found one previous one before?  It all started with the first image in this post and …

…then I found these broken glasses.  A week or so after that find came this.

I think this was some kind of self-inking stamp.  And now for the piggies and they come in graduating sizes.  Let’s start with the smallest.

This pig is next in line.

Now this was a bit of a disturbing find bobbing in the waves and it’s considerably larger in size than the previous pigs.  I’m not sure what kind of toy this used to be…but here it is.

I have found other plastic farm animals and here’s the latest selections.

I’m surprised I found this because it’s a small, neutrally colored fragment.

I also find a lot of different kinds of heads.  Perhaps the most common are doll heads.  These are the most recent.

I even found a couple different types of Santa Claus heads.

Although he’s no Santa…this guy does have a beard.

Even more heads!!!

I think this is some googly-eyed clam or something?

This find was different.  It’s the first fake nose I’ve found out here and reminds me of Woody Allen’s early comedy entitled “Sleeper”.

I have an “impressive” fake food collection going and here’s my latest goodies.  In my last post I showed one fake banana…and here’s the other.

A bunch of celery followed by conjoined plastic hot dogs.

There is just so much of this stuff out here…now for some other random finds.  I especially like this Flintstone toy and wonder if it’s old?

A whistle shaped like a banjo?

Telephone number one.

Telephone number two…proof of evolution?

I could go on for a while, but realize this is a lot to take in and so I’ll close with the keys to my heart.  Take care everybody!

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The Ohio River has receded by the Falls of the Ohio.  For many weeks the river was loath to relinquish the territory it had recently flooded.  I ventured down the river bank and explored the more eastern section of the park.  The following post is some thoughts and images made during this expedition into a very moist and muddy area filled with debris and wildlife.

While exploring the park it is not unusual to run into others who are curious to see what the river has left behind.  Sometimes just a nod of recognition and some small gesture to reassure that one poses no threat is made and each party then attends to their own business.  And then sometimes a more sustained conversation occurs where information of mutual interest is exchanged.  Such was the case on this trip where I ran into this fellow of short stature with a bulbous blue nose who had been investigating the same stretch of river as me.  We tagged along with one another for a short time before family duties called me home.  I believe our initial conversation had something to do with the muddiness of the area.  In places, things looked safe and dry enough to stand on…and then the mud below would reach up and grab you by the ankles.  Sometimes small, blue crabs would pop out of their holes to check out whether the trapped parties would be good to eat.

In my case, I am simply too big for them and once the crabs realized this they scuttled away.  Getting back to “Mr. Blue Nose”,  (funny how we didn’t think to ask each other’s name?), we were both astonished by the debris left behind by the retreating river.  After witnessing several other high water incidents over time…this is fairly representative of the stuff we found.

As you can see it’s mostly plastic containers, polystyrene (aka Styrofoam), and lots of shredded bark and wood chips.  Every once in a while, something more interesting would turn up.  While exploring, Mr. Blue Nose and I found two sign fragments and I kept these for my Found Painting and Sign Collection.  Here are the two precious finds.  The first one is kind of self-explanatory.  I like to muse that this is one way the universe communicates to me by leaving these things in my path for me to ponder.

I’m not sure what it is asking…Please don’t litter or Please, only you can prevent forest fires, whatever its actual message, this is at least a polite sign.  The other one is more reclusive, in fact it is “shy”.  Here’s a picture of this enigmatic sign.

I like the hand-routed and painted “sign” for a person.  I think this fragment may originally have asked dog owners to leash their pets…but its shy and won’t tell me for certain.  Other found treasures included my second banana of the season…naturally it went into the old collecting bag to later join the other artificial produce I have found out here over time.

I also find other kinds of foam out here.  Here’s an interesting found sculpture made from polyurethane.  I have come across busted aerosol cans of this stuff where the foam has expanded out resembling entrails.

Mr. Blue Nose called my attention to a log that something had torn into and he wondered what could do this kind of damage.  Chunks of bark and soft decayed wood were scattered all around. 

I was happy to inform my new friend that this looked like the work made by a Pileated Woodpecker and I showed him images of this great bird I had taken just a few hours earlier.

Since no one can verify that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is still alive along some wild river in Arkansas…the Pileated Woodpecker has the distinction of being our biggest living woodpecker.  For years, I have observed a pair of these crow-sized birds in the park.  This one is the male and can be identified by his red mustache.  The female lacks this and has more black on its head.

The Pileated Woodpecker has a large bill that goes through wood in a hurry.  Carpenter ants and beetle larvae can be found in these decaying logs and make up the main diet of this magnificent bird.  If you look closely at the photo above you can see a nice grub about to be swallowed.  This bird was so intent on looking for food that I was able to get closer than usual to it.  A couple of weeks a go, I found a Bessbug beetle which is a nice sized insect that uses decaying wood in its life-cycle.  This beetle is also known as the Patent-leather Beetle.  Here’s an adult I found sunning itself on a piece of Styrofoam.  These beetles can get nearly two inches long or about  five centimeters.  I wonder if our country will ever adopt the metric system?  Anyway, these beetle grubs make nice woodpecker snacks.

Thanks to my new companion we were able to make one other nice bird sighting on this day.  Mr. Blue Nose alerted me to some commotion happening in a nearby stand of trees. 

My friend said that he saw several blackbirds (grackles) chasing a larger bird from tree to tree.  I have observed this behavior before when birds of prey are present.  I gathered my camera up and went to see if I could find out what was the object of all this attention.  It turned out to be this beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk.  Here are a couple of pictures of it before the smaller birds drove it out of the area.

I always feel lucky when I see such beautiful birds in the park.  Before flying away, I saw this bird’s mate arriving and the two flew away together.  Soon it was time for me to fly away too and I left my companion on the river bank.

We parted near the railroad bridge and perhaps we will see one another again?  My last image is from an overlook area popular with visitors who want a better view of the tainter gates.  I have taken many pictures here over the years, but this one is different.  To give you an idea of how high the river was…this log was deposited on the fence by the retreating river!  Or, I hope so…I would hate to think it jumped up here!  So long for now!!

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As usual I’m a bit behind in my river reports.  I calculate I could write at least several more posts about the flooding we have experienced with the Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio.  As I write, the river is still high, but all the attention has shifted to the Mississippi River which is experiencing an epic flood.  I’m sure some of the same water molecules that flowed past our location are contributing to the woes down along the Mississippi.  For those unfamiliar with our geography, the Ohio River flows directly into the Mississippi River in far western Kentucky.  The confluence of these two great rivers is an awesome sight.

Here at Louisville, the water has been receding and the amount of water-borne junk this flood has brought hasn’t fully hit home yet.  There are signs, however, everywhere I look that this will be a great challenge for any river loving clean-up crew.  I will try to do my part, but even if I were to try to be out here every waking hour…I wouldn’t  begin to scratch the surface.

Gas is over $4.15 cents a gallon for regular unleaded here.  I listened to the great oil company executives trying to explain to Congress today why they need a sweetheart deal from the American taxpayers when they already receive every tax break in the books and are suffering with their record, obscene profits.  When discussion turns to what can be done to reduce the amount of crude oil used the usual answer has something to do with increased engine efficiency resulting in more miles to the gallon.  Looking at the high water line I see another solution that doesn’t get as much play.  Why don’t we try to cut as much plastic out of our way of life as possible?  There would be more oil available for fuel and you wouldn’t have all these various compounds despoiling our water ways from the smallest streams to the largest ocean.  You can throw Styrofoam in this mix too since it is has petroleum pedigree as well.  We could just change the packaging we use and I bet that would make a huge difference.

You can look at the whole Riverblog as one long rant against pollution, but there is also more out here that is sweet and worth noting and enjoying.  I decided to walk along the Woodland Loop Trail and the air was fragrant with the perfume from what we call Honey Locust trees.  Some of these trees also sport large spines growing on the bark.  Their pea-like white flowers have the most wonderful scent.  Here is what a flower cluster looks like.

Along the trail, you can hear a variety of bird species singing.  Vireos, woodland warblers, orioles, chickadees, indigo buntings, various thrushes fill the air with their acoustic signatures.  The birds are here to feast on the many cutworms that plague the forest canopy.  There are also other larvae present…here is a small nest of tent caterpillars that will soon become moths.  Very few birds like these hairy caterpillars, but two that do ( the Yellow-billed cuckoo and the Blue and gray gnatcatcher) can be found in the forest now.

Ah, I also spot my namesake hopping along the trail!  This is a young Cottontail and he better be careful out here because there are so many predators both native and domesticated that would love to catch him!

Walking westward along the trail, you can’t help but notice the large grassy berm that flanks your right side.  It is additional flood control put in place after the disastrous 1937 flood which was our high water event on the Ohio River.  Up a head, I can see a network of large hoses with water gushing out and I decided to investigate.

I can see these large hoses coming down the berm and I wanted to see what’s on the other side of this earthen flood wall.  Here are a series of pictures of what I saw.  First looking up hill…

…now the view looking down towards the river.  What are these hoses for?

I came across a sign at the crest of this large hill that explains it.

On the other side of the berm is the small town of Clarksville, Indiana.  Rain water has pooled up in the lower lying sections of the city and are being pumped out and over the top where the water then flows into the park eventually finding release into the river.

It’s strange how I rarely think about the town that occupies the other side of this large grass and earthen mound.  The Ohio River is really at its front door all the time.  The little bit of woods I like spending time in is just a narrow sliver of ecosystem that exists between Clarksville and the river.

Well, that’s the story for now.  I have much more to present about the dominant environmental event of our Spring.  Already the temperatures are rising and I can feel the transition to Summer won’t be long in coming.  Thanks for hanging with me…until next time…the Rabbit Man.

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I came across a partial quote from Black Elk recently that served as a jumping off point for this post.  He said:  “Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.”  From the rising of the sun to the changing of the seasons it doesn’t take one long to find examples in our lives that illustrates this.  The Ohio River has been at its highest for the greatest length of time since I began this Falls of the Ohio project in 2003.  We have had a lot of rain. In fact April was Kentucky’s wettest since records have been kept in the 1870s with nearly 14 inches of rain.  I tell you it seemed like more than that to me.  The month of March was also a wet one which caused the river to rise high too.  Following are images that were taken after that first bit of high water.  The theme this time is found circles and here are a few recent pictures.  The first image is the washed up plastic hoola-hoop defining a circle in the wet sand.  Here’s another found circle.

After the initial March flooding subsided, I came across this sight in the muddy bottomlands and couldn’t resist taking the picture.  Here’s another from that day.

Near the water’s edge in the western section of the park, I came across this object.  Whatever was covering this Styrofoam circle was worn away by the river, but its fabric bow remained.  It’s a graphic reminder that life itself is a circle.

The above broken circle is a detail.  Here is how this image first presented itself to me.  It was swept into the trees by the water.

I might have missed this next one if it hadn’t been for the color.  I believe it’s a toy meant to be thrown.  It flew into the river and here it landed.

I find so many automobile tires in proximity to the river that I almost stop looking at them.  But, their circular shapes always seem to catch my eye.  Here’s one recent tire with a small toy guarding the center space.

The rising and falling of the river is also a part of a great circle.  Soon these high waters will recede (that is if we don’t receive more record rains) and there will be a changed landscape to explore.  I found another quote I would like to end this post with and it’s from Albert Einstein and it seems appropriate.  He once said:

“Our task must be to free ourselves…by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”

I feel recognition that we are indeed a part of that circle and not outside of it is important to our future and the quality of life.  Until next time.

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For me, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a signal that Spring is underway.  I believe I have seen this very same bird in the same Sweet Gum tree for several years now.  Before the tree fully leafs out, he drills neat rows of holes in the tree bark which fill with the tree’s sap.  Visiting often, he then licks up the sugary mixture.  I have seen other bird species utilizing the work of this woodpecker including other woodpecker species, warblers and chickadees.  Before the insects and new seeds appear, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has accessed another food supply which he defends from all the other birds. 

Throwing his head back, this male Song Sparrow is expressing the feeling of the season.  Song Sparrows are year-round residents and have fully taken advantage of all the niches available at the Falls of the Ohio.  This year White-throated Sparrows have been more abundant than I recall from past years.  Every year is different from the previous ones and you never know what to expect next.  This year is off to a very wet start.

This is a male Prairie Warbler I came across recently.  I have “pished” this species closer to my camera’s lens by making little squeaky sounds that the bird found curious enough to follow.  I am hopeful of seeing other warblers before the Spring migration ends.  So far, I have seen Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and a brilliant male Prothonotary Warbler attracted by the flooded bottomland trees.  There are thirty-five different warbler species on the Falls checklist and I have had the privilege of seeing most of them over the years.

The Warbling Vireo is another bird that is more often heard than seen.  It’s such a tiny bird and it has the habit of staying in the tops of tall trees.  I found this one on the exposed section of an oak branch.  If it weren’t distracted by trying to attract a mate it would be in almost constant movement in search of the small caterpillars and insects that it eats.

A new bird to add to the old life list is the Blue-tailed Robin.  It’s an infrequent visitor to these parts and so when one is sighted it becomes an event.  You can’t see this in the photo, but there are ten other birdwatchers with cameras and binoculars trained on this fellow as it dances and practices its courtship dance.  Everybody was extra quiet so that this bird wouldn’t spook and fly away.  Here are more images.

The Blue-tailed Robin male does an elaborate dance on a fallen log where it sings and flaps its wings in different positions all the while it struts its stuff.  The real test will happen further north in central Canada where its ability to display and attract a mate will mean the difference between passing on its genetic distinctiveness or not.  No wonder this bird can’t afford the opportunity not to practice!

Singing very high up in a Cottonwood tree, this male Northern Oriole is also singing loudly in its territory.  So far, it’s looking and sounding like a good year for this species!  Nearly everywhere I hiked in the park I either sighted or heard Northern Orioles.  The orange color is so distinctive and it contrasts so well against the green of the surrounding leaves.  There is so much moisture in the air that my camera records this as a slightly foggy picture.  I hope for better images of orioles and the other great birds here.

Another rarely recorded migrant is the Dragonfly Tern.  I found one coursing along the river bank and was able to squeeze off a couple decent pictures.  Like the name implies, it specializes in capturing dragonflies which requires the ability to maneuver at high-speed.  It has swept back wings that give it the acceleration it needs in tight corners.  Here’s another picture of it buzzing over a fallen log near my position.

This bird soon will be off to the Great Lakes region where it also breeds.  It barely scratches together a depression in the sand and gravel that it considers a nest.  There are usually two eggs laid that are heavily speckled like the small pebbles that surround it.  It winters in South America and travels thousands of miles each year.

On my way home from the park, I chanced to see this Red-tailed Hawk on top of a utility pole and recorded its image.  It is one of our more common hawks, but since I haven’t featured it in the Riverblog before, I thought I would include it in this post.  As the year progresses, I hope to feature other birds that stop at the Falls of the Ohio. For me, the difference between a successful trip and a really successful adventure sometimes hinges on seeing one nice bird!  In closing here are two Canada Geese.  One is real…

…the other is just a tracing in the sand I made.  Happy birding !!

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