Archive for June, 2011

June began all bare bones in the aftermath of our minor flooding and now at month’s end it passes overgrown with vines.  Near the tainter gates, a massive raft of driftwood lies intertwined with the landscape.  We haven’t seen such a wooden mound in many years.  June had some odd and compelling images and here are a few more before we turn the page.

The willow trees are the heroes here tenaciously clinging to the sand and clay.  This taunts the Ohio River which sends high water and a battering ram of floating logs their way every once in a while.

Willow wood is flexible and the sustained high water’s flow is echoed in the shape of these trees.  I imagine the river as an artist shaping its garden at the Falls of the Ohio.  There’s a bit of that bonsai- look if you can get past the larger scale.

The willows’ branches do their part in snagging some of the flotsam and jetsam floating loosely in the retreating waters.  Branches become decorated with plastic bags, fraying barge cables, driftwood, the occasional dead deer, refrigerators, fishing line, and whatever is present in the Ohio River.

Here plastic sheeting has been caught and stretched some length across these trees.  It looked like something some installation artist might attempt.  I also came across a “nylon crinoid”…in actuality, an unraveling barge cable that made me think of the extinct sea lilies of ancient oceans and in fossils which are pages in the book of life.

Walking across the sand I came across this unusual view which gave me the idea for the title of this post.  Very nonchalantly, this mostly destroyed hippopotamus was standing its ground.  I’ve read somewhere in a book that the name “hippopotamus” means “river horse” in some African language?

Another view, but this one from the top.

I made another Styrofoam figure on this day.  I imagine this as being a figure of some exotic Spanish dancer with fancy combs in her hair.  I won’t say this is the best figure I’ve ever made, but it’s also not the worst.  It just happens to be how things turned out when I picked this group of materials and objects to make something with at that particular moment.

Now for a full length view.  That pink radiating thing is made of plastic and helps to add other visual interest.

Before leaving for home on this day.  I watched a couple of guys using a throw net to catch shad to use for fishing bait.  I couldn’t help but see them in the context of the Ohio River which was so many more feet above their heads.  Here we are at the bottom of the valley.

Since I’ve used the book metaphor a few times in this post…it’s fitting that I end with this picture taken on this day.  It’s really a small plastic photo album whose transparent sleeves were full of coal gravel and water.  Until next time…


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Squirt guns and water pistols are among the many toys that the Ohio River washes ashore at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  To see more of this collection…click on the Squirt Gun Collection in my Pages section to the right.  Thanks artistatexit0.

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In my hands was the head of a small Styrofoam figure I made at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I found all the parts while walking along the northern shore of the river.  The eyes are fishing bobbers and the nose is the plastic cone from a moderate-sized bottle rocket.  I can’t remember what I used to make the purple lips!  I was on my way to see one of my favorite trees and wondered how it was doing after this year’s flooding?

The great tree with its amazing roots had survived in fine shape.  Approaching I could see that recent visitors had added new amenities to enhance the natural room existing under the trunk of this tree.  Long a go the river washed away the river bank, but the tree’s roots held fast and kept growing.  Here’s a side view.

I ran into Steve the Arrowhead Man earlier in the week and he told me that teenagers had discovered this tree and turned it into a party hangout.  Nailed to the tree was a hand-drawn sign that read “Mahalo”.  Driftwood had been collected and neatly stacked near an improvised kitchen area that had counter space, a stone-lined fire pit, and a plastic trash bag to carry garbage out.

I like the counter-top plank that also helps frame this view out the window.  The skyline of Louisville can be seen on the farthest shore.

Sitting in the Mahalo Tree was more about fantasy than reality.  The fire pit was located too close to the tree!  Still I admired the sense of play and creativity and decided to leave the figure I was making now named “Mahalo Man” as a present for the next visitor to the tree house.  I finished my figure with materials I found around the tree.  Here’s a portrait of my latest creation.

First, I moved Mahalo Man by the sign nailed into the tree…but I didn’t like it.  So, I reached into the old collecting bag and pulled out a plastic bunny rabbit I had found on the walk out here.  The rabbit had a coin slot in the back of its head.  I finally left Mahalo Man under the earth and rootlets beneath this great tree.  Here is another view of this figure with his rabbit companion.


The rabbit figure lent a certain Alice in Wonderland quality to the ambiance surrounding the Mahalo Tree.  I hope to check back here sometime during the summer and see what other changes have been made by man and nature.  I  will close with a final rabbit picture next to the hole in the bank our friend now calls home.

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Just left or east of the railroad bridge at the Falls of the Ohio is where this adventure occurred.  The river was still high but dropping.  I was enjoying working in a section of the park that I don’t normally hang out at, but have discovered is both full of wildlife and potential art materials.  Evidence of our recent flooding was everywhere and I was exploring what there was to see and find.

While I was exploring this area I could hear Beatles’ music quite clearly drifting over the water.  It was the annual Abbey Road on the River Festival at the Waterfront Park in Louisville.  I guess the goal of each tribute band is to sound as closely to the original Fab Four as possible because I couldn’t detect much variation from one group’s rendition of a familiar song to another’s.  I did, however, notice that the Belle of Louisville’s steamboat calliope was in direct competition with the bands.  Like last year’s festival…snatches of 19th century tunes intermingled with pop hits from the 1960’s.  Baby, baby…Do dah day.

I was in this section of the park because I was searching for larger sections of Styrofoam.  This last bout of flooding pretty well wiped the slate clean as far as the materials that I had collected last year.  There is no shortage of smaller chunks throughout the park, but the larger pieces that are remnants of floating docks were in shorter supply.  I did find this piece that still had wood attached to both sides and set it upright, stelae-style.  Here’s what it looked like right after I assembled it.

I had the turtle piece going too while this six-foot figure was under construction.  I also happily observed Northern Orioles chasing one another through the Cottonwood Trees.  I taught myself how to imitate the oriole’s song and on occasion can lure a curious bird closer by whistling to it.  I’m still trying to get a primo photograph of one of these birds, but they do tend to stay in the tops of the trees.  Out on the river, I observed a boat going back and forth along my side of the river and I’m speculating that they are looking for some poor lost soul that the river may have claimed?

I left my Styro-sentinal in place, but returned a couple of days later to discover it had fallen over.  This time I moved him to a different place facing the river and changed its arm positions a bit.  Originally, he held one of those soft nerf-type footballs.  I haven’t been back since and he may or may not be still guarding this section of the river bank.

Among the items I “found” out here include this ruined Jet-ski.  Which…

…bookends nicely with the miniature version of it I found in the western section of the park also courtesy of the Ohio River and its recent flooding.

Butterflies and other insects are becoming more prevalent as the season progresses.  I saw what I thought was a familiar butterfly, but wasn’t totally convinced it was the species I thought I knew…so I photographed it and researched it a bit in the comfort of my home.  Here is my first image which shows two of these “different” butterflies.

Here’s a single, resting individual with its wings spread open.  This butterfly shows more black than the Pearly Crecents that are common out here. 

I cross referenced my butterfly guides at home and was glad that I was able to take a picture of this butterfly’s ventral surface because it helps to identify it.  I was leaning towards the Eastern or Harris Checkerspot but decided that this is the Streamside or Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis ). Here is the view that was most helpful.

I’m looking forward to seeing many other butterfly species out here this year.  I will try to keep a checklist of what I see just as I do for the many bird species that visit or call the Falls of the Ohio State Park home.  On my way out of the woods, I “felt” something looking at me and after checking around…discoverd these eyes following me which is as good a way to end this post as any!



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First, I would like to thank all the people who checked out my last post on the box turtles.  The response has been pretty overwhelming and I’ve enjoyed everybody’s comments.  The Eastern Box Turtle isn’t the only turtle to be found at the Falls of the Ohio State Park and this post is about that other mysterious and rare reptile. It’s called the Cottonwood Turtle (Terrapene populus) and its habitat overlaps that of the box turtle.  On a warm and humid morning I was exploring the eastern section of the park around the debris line formed by a retreating Ohio River.  Plastic bottles and containers and the ever-present polystyrene chunks helped define the high-water mark.  We have had so much rain here and it’s officially Kentuckiana’s wettest spring on record!  I was mesmerized watching and listening to the Cedar Waxwings pursuing each other from mulberry tree to mulberry tree and whose fruits are just now beginning to ripen to a glossy black.  The air was filled with the fine downy fluff produced by the catkins of our giant cottonwood trees and seemed like so much snow falling in ultra slow motion.  The chances of inhaling this fluff are real and white airy drifts were forming on the ground where the air currents pushed this gossamer material with its tiny secret of seeds within.  With so much going on, I was surprised to catch a slight bit of movement inside a nearby hollow log.  I remained still and this is what I saw.

Emerging into the light of a new day was this very ancient looking turtle.  Of course I recognized what it is and determined to follow it and make a record of my observations.  I kept a discreet distance away and tried not to make any sudden movements or loud noises so the turtle would act as naturally as possible.  I kept up with it for a several hours and then I had to pull myself away for home.

The Cottonwood Turtle is characterized by a high-domed carapace that the original inhabitants of the Ohio Valley used for war and ceremonial helmets.  Unlike the box turtles which it shares some affinities with…the Cottonwood Turtle cannot retract its head and limbs fully into its shell.  This makes it vulnerable to predators.  I watched my turtle crawling over the plastic and Styrofoam debris left by the last flood.  It seemed to be going somewhere with a purpose and I followed discreetly behind it.

The previous night we had another tremendous rain storm with high winds.  Mud, broken branches and leaf litter evidence can be found everywhere.  I followed my turtle to a large cottonwood branch and saw it engaging in the activity that gives this remarkable reptile its name.

Over the course of about an hour, I watched the turtle carrying mouthfuls of the Cottonwood fluff to a hole that it had previously prepared.  It made about a half a dozen trips back and forth from the downed branch to what looked to my eye to be an abandoned groundhog hole that the turtle retrofitted for its own purpose.  The fluff was carried  into the hole where a special chamber was being prepared for this turtle’s eggs!

Here is the Cottonwood Turtle about to finish laying her eggs.  I observed about five ping pong ball-sized eggs being deposited upon their bed of cottonwood fiber.  I suppose the fluff cushions the eggs and perhaps as this material decays provides some modicum of warmth to assist in the incubation?  From what I have read, new turtles should be emerging from their subterranean nursery after sixty days.  After the turtle covered her nest with her back legs she moved on.  From this moment, the eggs and baby turtles to be are on their own.  I gently uncovered some of the soil and photographed this single egg.  Afterwards, I placed the egg back into the nest, re-covered it and went on my way happy to have witnessed this ancient rite of life.

It occurred to me on my walk back through the tangle of bottomland, that this turtle might be benefitting the tree as well?  I haven’t heard or read anything concerning a link, but what if?  The fluff contains minute seeds and the act of burying them might aid in propagating this tree.  The turtle places these seeds a little deeper than usual which might encourage stronger and deeper root growth.  Since this area is frequently altered by the river, it would make sense for the tree to have a deeper hold on the soil?  I came across another downed cottonwood branch and admired all the fluff it was producing.  It all looked so beautiful and magical in broad daylight.

Overhead the orioles were collecting their own materials to build their amazing hanging basket nests.  And the Cedar Waxwings were fueling up on the mulberries in preparation for their long migration up into the north country.  One last image of one of these waxwings.  Such an interesting and beautiful bird so uniquely marked.

Although I may have fooled some people out there (wink, wink)…the Cottonwood Turtle doesn’t actually exist!  I made it from junk I found here in this very real environment at the Falls of the Ohio.  The shell or carapace is the cushioning from inside an old bicycle or motorcycle helmet and I have found several of these helmets after the last flood.

I used three pieces of Styrofoam…the shell, head, and one piece under a chunk of fiberglass-like material to fill the space inside the helmet.  Limbs are pieces of found wood attached to the lightweight fiberglass.  Everything is joined and pegged together with wood skewers.  I did use some found plastic for the actual neck and mouth of the turtle.  The eyes are round lead fishing weights and the nostrils are pieces of coal.  Thanks for tagging along!

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With the record rains and high water at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, 2011 has already become a memorable year.  Of all the wildlife I have observed this Spring, the sightings of so many Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) has added to the mystique of this year.  My history with this engaging turtle in this park is slim.  During the eight previous years I’ve come across live specimens only twice.  On two other occasions I’ve found the intact carapaces of deceased turtles, one of which had a pellet-sized hole in its shell.  Their relative scarcity reinforced the idea that although this is a widespread turtle in our country, it was becoming less common for many reasons including habitat loss, road kills, and wild animals collected for the pet trade.  What I’m about to present is a portfolio of eight individual box turtles that I have seen and photographed over the last two months.  No doubt the flooding helped concentrate them in ever shrinking territories and this is why I came to find them.  I tried to be careful in handling and left them where they were found.  The first turtle I came across was in the western section of the park and here are two images of it.

This one was found after the first flood.  It has really interesting and colorful beading on its neck.

The Box Turtle #2 was found swimming to higher ground during the height of the second flood in May and in the eastern section of the park.

Box Turtle #3, I found twice in the same day in the eastern section of the park.  Here is what it looked like. Note that the second scute bears what looks like a lower case letter “a” on its shell.

And now for the opposite side of turtle #3…

Here’s the same turtle the second time around and this time he has found a friend!

At first I thought this was a male and female turtle, but I didn’t check anything but eye color which in this case was on the red side indicating the chance they were both male.  When I came across them, they were certainly aware of each other.  The larger of the two box turtles may have been the older specimen based on how worn its shell was.  I’ve heard that counting the growth rings on these turtles is not a reliable way to determine their ages.  My field guides indicated that this is a long-lived turtle with individuals easily living to 40 to 50 years and in rare cases possibly a 100 years old.  Here are three images with Box Turtle #4.

Box Turtle #5 …I only have one image of it mostly retracted in its shell.  This one is also from the eastern section of the park. 

Box Turtle #6 is very colorful and was found near the Interpretive Center during the height of the flood.  Although it’s hard to tell…it’s standing on the remains of a refrigerator that floated in with the Ohio River.

The next two turtles are the smallest ones I’ve found thus far and each was found in the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  This is Box Turtle #7.

Here’s the underside of the same turtle showing the plastron and the hinge that allows the box turtle to completely hide inside its shell.

To close, I have three images of Box Turtle #8 and its the smallest yet.  One other thing I noticed about this little guy was that it was missing part of its left front foot which had healed from whatever injured it.

Another image to help provide scale using a quarter for a guide.

Of all the info I learned about box turtles, the fact that most surprised me is that if left alone they can live their entire lives in a relatively restricted area the size of a football field. They become so habituated to this territory that if they are moved from their familiar surroundings they can become dislocated and fail to thrive.  This is a good reason not to take these turtles out of the wild. I placed #8 on the ground wishing it well.  It pleased me knowing that there were at least this many box turtles in this small park.  I wonder how many others I will come across before year’s end?

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