Archive for the ‘birding’ Category

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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It’s raining as I write this post.  It has seemingly rained the entire month of April in my area resulting in a swollen Ohio River.  I think we are on another collision course with the record books for most precipitation during April.  Only once this month have I been able to access what passes for our normal river shore line and it was very muddy!  We have had tornado warnings and flooding this Spring.  The following adventure occurred between the two episodes of high water we have experienced.  I was walking along the Woodland Loop Trail at the Falls of the Ohio State Park when I was stopped in my tracks by this hand painted sign the river deposited during the first flood.  Is it another way that the universe is trying to communicate to us?  Is nature saying we are taking a big chance with our treatment of the environment?  I wonder who will win and what the prizes are?  Care to buy a ticket?  I decided to pass, but there were plenty of consolation prizes all along my walk courtesy of man and a too high river.  Since this is Indiana, I thought it was fitting to find one of these.

For thousands of years the Falls was home to a sizeable population of native people.  Now, you are more likely to find one of these.  Another piece of Americana I came across I added to my fake food collection.

What can be more iconic than a fake cheeseburger?  What’s sad is that this isn’t the only one I’ve ever found out here.  I even have found a couple of plastic crinkle-cut french fries too.  Let me see if I can find a picture of one…hold on…yes, I also found this recently.

Moving along the trail, the unmistakable smell of skunk kept getting stronger and stronger in the humid air.  It’s possible that one of these animals drowned in the flood and its carcass was deposited here.  Or, one of the many birds of prey could have taken it.  At the odor’s epicenter, I discovered two species of vultures polishing off what’s left of the unfortunate skunk.  There were three black vultures and one large turkey vulture taking turns at the miserable remains.  Here’s one of the black vultures keeping an eye out while his friends gnosh.  I could see them around the tree trunks.

The dominant bird here was a big turkey vulture which is unusual from what I have observed at the Falls of the Ohio.  I normally see them retiring when the black vultures arrive.  This bird was the last to leave the skunk and the first to return.  Here he is giving me the “eye” from a low hanging branch.  As I approached, he joined the other vultures in a tall tree with a vantage point of me and the skunk. 

All that was left of the skunk were a few innards and its skull.  Perhaps the vultures will eat this too?  That skunk odor was so pervasive and offensive, I’m amazed that these vultures could stomach this, but then again, they have probably had worse meals.  Not to far from the birds, I did find a big piece of Styrofoam that was washed into a bottomland area.  Using what I could find nearby, I constructed this unnamed figure, photographed it, and kept moving down the trail.  Where I left this figure was in the center of a trail loop that curled back towards the Interpretive Center.  Here are images of this improvised piece.  It was an especially pitted and worn hunk of polystyrene.

I circled around and could see the sculpture from another angle.  Funny thing is that while I write this…I know it is no longer standing and was probably swept away again by the Ohio River for parts unknown.  It occurred to me recently that this month is the riverblog’s second anniversary.  As long as the river keeps things interesting, I will try to do the same through these posts.  I have many other images of recently found junk and once this more recent flooding subsides…no doubt will be able to fill this virtual collecting bag.  My parting image is the last picture I took of this short-lived artwork.

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I ventured out over the weekend to see what I could see.  The Ohio River is still very high, but receding.  All along the riverbank you can see how far the water rose because large logs and plastic trash reveal the high water marks.  Once all this water reaches its “normal” level…there will be a huge amount of trash left behind to challenge any clean-up attempts.  Today I wasn’t out looking for garbage, but other signs of life.  Perhaps it is a bit early to look for migrating birds although I can feel that is just a short time away and getting closer.  Already species like the Red-winged Blackbird are staking out nesting territories.  Species we see all the year round like the Northern Cardinal were singing at the tops of their lungs and I enjoyed standing under one bright red bird that was doing just that!

This particular bird has many rivals.  I could hear many other cardinals singing across the landscape.  I could almost imagine the spaces they were occupying by the volume of their singing…every hundred meters or so it seemed a different bird was calling out.  I wondered how the poor females went about the task of choosing which one to form a pair with?  I did see a few Yellow-rumped Warblers which are usually the first warblers to arrive and among the last to leave.  The other warblers will be winging their way here shortly…or at least I hope they stop here ever so briefly on their way northward.  Over the last two or three years it seems there are more changes to the environs around the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I know that there are many other better choices all along the Ohio River than here. It seems we have decided to put people’s needs first over what birds might need.  During my wanderings, I did see my first butterfly and here it is…

…this is the Spring Azure butterfly.  Here it is mid March and this tiny ( no wider across than my thumb nail) bright blue-violet butterfly was visiting plants.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t obtain an image of that beautiful blue coloring, but with this species, the underside or ventral wings are more helpful in identifying it.  Since there were no dark marks on the dorsal wing tips, this helped me determine that this butterfly was the male of the species.  I was really excited to see this little wonder and thought that this could be a really uncommon species…but it wasn’t.  It’s fairly common, widespread, and has many morphs.  Formerly, this species was scientifically named Celastrina argiolus, but is now called Celastrina landon. With this species, there is still much taxonomic hair-splitting to do.  It’s just that variable over a large area of North America.

As I walked along the riverbank, I came across a few familiar signs now mostly underwater.  Here’s what happens when you throw “Caution” to the water…you get this view.  And here’s one that partly hides a “No Trespassing” sign near a storm sewer that feeds into the river.

As I moved along where the faint hearted fear to tread, I was hoping that my slogging through the mud and muck would be rewarded.  Earlier I had seen a few Blue-winged teal which is a small species of duck and so I was hoping to see another small, but rare duck that sometimes mixes in with these teal as they migrate.  Today was my lucky day and here are three images of the very unusual  Mud Duck.  This bird likes to really get into the underbrush particularly during floods to take advantage of feeding areas usually restricted to other ducks during normal river levels.  It is a very oily duck and highly buoyant on the water and as a consequence…it almost never dives beneath the surface of the river.

The price of observing this unusual fowl was foul boots.  I became so coated with mud from my knees down that I didn’t worry about my foot gear until I was ready to go home.  This mud is particularly sticky and each rise of the foot is accompanied by a sucking sound.  You definitely need to tie your laces tight, otherwise you risk stepping right out of your shoe or boot.  I stopped every so often to clean the bottoms of my boots because the weight of the mud made each step an additional burden.

So far, I haven’t seen any of the large pieces of Styrofoam that found temporary refuge in my plein air studio.  They are probably half way to the Mississippi River by now.  It may take another week for the water to fully retreat and then it will be even more time before the riverbank dries out some.  I’ll close for now with another flood view.  Over the years, these sycamore trees have been a good marker for high water.

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It’s the Falls of the Ohio and it’s nearly midwinter.  The quality of the light feels like it’s coming from banks and banks of incandescent tubes in the sky.  It doesn’t even feel like light, but more like a heavy presence more  akin to fog than photons.

There are fewer people out today.  The last of the last snow lingers on in the cool places and tomorrow it will probably be gone.  I’m trudging along the river and getting muddy.  I use the stick I brought along to test its sticky depth and tap the thickness of what ice I encounter.

Close to shore dozens of mallard ducks are dabbling in the muck.  I wonder what they are finding to eat?  Whatever it is it seems to be worth the energy expense to go after it.  The normally iridescent colors on the drakes are now subdued and await the splendor of the sunlight to reveal their gaudiness.  Watching the ducks I slip and slide in the less secure places along the riverbank.  My wife is not going to like seeing these shoes!  Once in a while, I find a good spot to rest and scrape mud off the bottoms with the edges of a stick.

I walk by familiar spots along the way to my open air studio.  I like checking out the uprooted trees and appreciate their exposed root masses like the fine subterranean sculpture they seem to me.  Seeing a tree like this is an odd sensation because you know the roots that supported and nourished this tree claimed a space in the earth that was hidden from view.  I often think of these conceptualized spaces.  There is a complete lack of greenery that lays the structural aspects of the park open for inspection.  Sometimes the driftwood feels like the bones of the river.

The sculpture group I’ve come to call the “The Choir” is still standing.  I’ve enjoyed seeing what happens to these guys.  Visitors are still playing with them and I notice small changes here and there.  As the eyes, ears, noses, and mouths fall off, the character of each personage changes.  The starkness and artificiality of my material choices contrasts with all the wood that surrounds them.  When I work in my spot, “The Choir” watches my back.  I like this recent photo of my studio spot.

The wood tells its own story.  All the sticks that wiggle, twist, and reveal character are grouped together and await their potential to be realized in just the right sculpture.  This site looks like it could be ancient.  I remember photos seen in a book about Andeevo in Russia where entire winter structures were made from the remains of mammoth skeletons covered in prepared hides.  That was life 15,000 years a go.  I can picture my site covered by a tarp and maybe I’ll try that this year if the river allows it and the opportunity presents itself.

Meet “Skippy” who is named after the glass I used for one of his ears which came from the bottom of a peanut butter jar.  I found it in the sand. The raised letters told me the brand name.  “Skippy” is also made from Styrofoam found along the way, plastic fishing bobbers, rubber, a plastic mouth guard, and various woods.  The “Choir” is visible behind the studio site.

I don’t have a good story to go along with this figure.  I did kind of imagine that Skippy was checking out the river line and looking for fresh and unusual flotsam and jetsam.

Cold, wet, and muddy Skippy entertains himself by looking for colorful or unusual artifacts such as these found on this trip.  The joy in finding is its own reward.

So many lost toys almost all of the time.  Each time I come out here I find some plastic representation of life.  I usually take a picture of the object as found and then it goes into my collecting bag.  I like that relationship between images and objects…although the years worth of objects is starting to take up serious space.

This is where I last saw Skippy.  He was standing by the snow with a willow tree framing the view behind his head.  The bright blue of a plastic drum adding a note of wondrous color in an otherwise drab riverscape.  We have a way to go before Spring and everyone I know is already sick of winter.  I’m going to try to stay positive and look for the beauty in the common place.  I wonder what the groundhog’s shadow will say?

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Come along on this vicarious adventure to the Falls of the Ohio.  The seasons and river help make this a dynamic environment.  I stole a couple of hours during a very cold day to visit the park and was rewarded with a riverscape transformed by ice!

Right at the river’s edge was where I found the ice.  The driftwood, logs, and living willows looked as though clear glass had encased their forms.  I love being a witness to all the transformations that happen in this relatively small place.  It literally can change before your eyes.  Ice at the Falls is always a magical event and one that doesn’t last very long.

Ever wonder what it takes for ice like this to form?  The conditions need to be just right.  First it takes a river where the water is warmer than the air around it.  The river appears to steam and fog can form.  The warmer water vapors come in contact with the colder trees and rocks, condenses, and turns to ice as the temperatures fall below freezing.  You also need one other element and that’s an engineer or architect to direct the action.

If you look closely you can see the architect of this scene in the center of this low growing willow tree.  Here he is seen from a different angle.

The little fellow I was observing was a true artist and had such mastery over his materials.  All he had to do was simply point and wave his arms around and an ice fog would cover the trees and other structures within reach of the river.  In this way he painted the Falls in ice…take a look.  Here he is again doing his thing along the riverbank.

Judging from the slightly mischievous smile, he seems to be enjoying his creations.  I followed along and recorded him in action.  He never slowed down and moved from tree to tree in a methodical way.

The architect made ice that varied in appearance.  Some trees he thickly covered and others he decorated with frozen sausages and jellyfish hanging from the slenderest of branches.

I watched the architect will the ice into place according to an intention and plan known only to him.  I suppose if one were to study this…there  probably are some mathematical equations that can explain all this?

But when it’s this pretty and magical…who cares what the numbers are doing?  It’s nature exhaling and gathering itself before the next big breath restores and awakens the land.  As I left the architect to finish doing his work.  I walked alone admiring what he had left behind.  To end, here are three images my camera recorded along the river.  The last one in particular was lucky…and ducky!

Bottoms up everyone, till next time!

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I have been to the Falls of the Ohio this year and made something from the junk I’ve found, but this is not that post.  As 2010 was winding down, I looked at the year’s images to see if there were other stories that could be created from them.  Yes, I found a few, however, what was really needed were more hours in the day.  Before I could get to them…2010 became history.  And so now, I’m doing a little backtracking and enjoying placing myself in a warmer landscape than currently occupies the view out my window.  I had the idea of showing how other people enjoy recreating in this unique place.  To begin, if the conditions are right, you can fly a kite.  I came across this guy many months a go and I don’t think there was enough wind for him to get the lift he needed.  Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the river.

One of the Falls activities I see many people pursuing is fishing.  There are a few gem days during the course of the year when the fishing is just fun and excellent.  That primal aesthetic to catch one’s meal finds contemporary expression in angling.  It can be as sophisticated as you like using only the best gear sold in the catalogs…

…or it can be a rather simple activity not requiring a lot of fancy fishing equipment.  In fact, you don’t even need a shirt!

I can remember the look of delight on this man’s face when he had the fish in hand.  What worries me is that I’m seeing more and more people taking fish out of here to eat.  Although the river is supposedly getting cleaner, there are still toxins concentrated in the fish’s tissues.  It’s still a good idea not to eat too many too frequently.  And, the bigger the fish, the more likely more toxins will be present in the fish.  Some folks will go to some lengths to reach the fish that others can’t reach.  It certainly helps to have a boat. 

I think this guy looks like he would be more successful at fishing than he actually was.  The river bottom here is extremely rocky and the current swift.  It’s very easy to lose lures and bait netting you a major case of frustration.  Sometimes just the boat is enough!

Paddling kayaks in the rapids created from water being released under the tainter gates is gaining in popularity.  I have to admit there have been many times I’ve thought how handy it would be to have a small boat out here.  I have even thought about taking some of the larger chunks of Styrofoam that I find and making my own makeshift water craft, but then I come to my senses.  I may still do it one day…we’ll see.

Some folks don’t go much further than the Interpretive Center where they can enjoy the exhibits or listen to one of the volunteers give a talk about nature in the park.  Birdwatching is a popular activity and one I enjoy too.

I don’t mean to pick on these guys…but I’ve noticed many birdwatchers feel that they need to look the part too!  Was it the late Wally Cox who crafted the classic nerdy birdwatcher look complete with khakis and pith helmet?  I suppose it’s better than wearing a feather suit!  In 2010, I did see people doing an activity out here that I had never seen before.  First, seeing these guys gathered at this place along the rocks piqued my curiosity and I moved in closer.

What I found was a competition under way among members of a club who operate remote control cars.  Their cars were designed to roll over rugged terrain and the contest was to see who could best negotiate a course laid out at the Falls and its fossil rocks.  Here’s what the cars looked like.

These cars were amazingly powerful and rugged.  With their outsized tires, many of these cars could crawl up nearly vertical rocks and boulders.  It takes some skill on the part of the operator to navigate around the hazards in the least amount of time.  And then, there are people who see the Falls in more practical and utilitarian terms like this man.

I ran into this fellow on a couple of occasions and each time he was doing the same thing.  He was salvaging the metal wheels from these tires.  He would cut away the rubber and take the metal rims with him to the salvage yard.  He seemed thrilled that there were so many wheels out here.  I also see people collecting driftwood to decorate their gardens and to make arrangements with fake flowers that they could then sell.  One man I spoke with said he received $25.00 an arrangement.  Based on the mental image I formed of his driftwood art, it didn’t sound all that appealing to me.  But I need to not be so judgemental in such matters since as this blog is proof of…beauty and utility are in the eyes of the beholder!  Here’s to another year of river art and adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

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Today there is a leafy smell in the air at the Falls of the Ohio.  Already, most of the leaves are on the ground and every gust of wind takes a few more away from the branches.  I often think about John James Audubon walking these grounds two hundred years a go looking for birds to draw.  Many of his earliest avian subjects were captured on paper here.  Audubon’s time at the Falls gave him training as both an artist and naturalist that would serve him well later in his career.  In my own eccentric way, I’m creating an alternative ornithology that parallels the genuine one.  Here is the day’s birding adventure.

I usually hear the Carolina Chickadees before I see them.  They are to my mind comical birds because they seem to get into every position possible in their quest for food.  They will examine from every angle whatever it is that is the object of their attention.  Most of the time I see this bird in pairs which makes me wonder if the males and females stay together year round?  I will have to read up on that.  As far as I can tell, there isn’t a good way to tell the sexes apart in this species.  You can walk in the woods and not see or hear anything …and then suddenly it seems the birds find you!  I’ve noticed that different species will flock together as they travel through the woods.  Here’s a sampling of what I saw along with the Chickadees today.

Migrating southward from their boreal homes in the north, Golden-crowned Kinglets mix freely with other species.  They are tiny, ever on the go birds, and it is difficult to photograph them.  The kinglet in the above picture is a male identified by his orangey crest.  The female’s crest is pale yellow.  This is another bird I hear before seeing with their “dee, dee, deee” call notes.  It’s common to see woodpeckers and their allies joining into this group.  Here’s a female Downy Woodpecker plying its trade among the tree bark.  The male has a red dash on the back of his head.

 Woodpeckers have adapted very stiff tail feathers that they use to brace themselves as they hammer away on the wood.  You can see the same thing on a bird that is so cryptically colored that it is easy to miss.  I saw several Brown Creepers flying with the Chickadees and Tufted Titmice today.  This was the better of the Brown Creeper images and you can see how easily it would be to overlook this bird.  Notice its stiff, v-shaped tail feathers that it uses to brace itself as it probes the wood.

Looking just like wood bark, the Brown Creeper will fly to the base of a tree and work its way up.  It is looking for small insects that are hiding in the crevices of the bark.  These bird are also very small.  It’s also common to see this bird also traveling in the company of migrating nuthatches.  Such was the case on this day, here is a White-breasted Nuthatch that was on an adjacent tree to the creeper.

Aptly named, this nuthatch has a snowy-white breast feathers.  It likes to explore the tree’s surface in a head down position and has this nasal sounding call note that it frequently gives as it hunts for food.  Of course, I have saved one specialty for you that is very rarely glimpsed at any time of the year.  Patient birding rewarded me with this sighting of the Thick-billed Thrasher that was also traveling with these other birds.

From this detail, it is easy to see why this bird is called the Thick-billed Thrasher.  It is a seed eater and specializes in pine nuts.

Males and females of this species are also difficult to tell apart.  I spotted this bird resting among the willow branches in the eastern section of the park.  I noticed others of its kind exploring the leaf litter for whatever food supplements its main diet.

A final look at the this thrasher doing something a bit unusual.  This bird has discovered some barge cable wound around a branch and it seems to have stimulated a nesting response.  It sat on this rope for a few minutes before moving off with the rest of the traveling birds.  The Thick-billed Thrasher’s ultimate destination are the pine forests of the southern United States.

On my way back to my car, I made one other special bird sighting.  I also heard these birds before I saw them and immediately looked up into the sky.  Flying high above me in wavy, v-shaped formations, flocks of Sandhill Cranes were winging their way south.  For me, this is another sign of the season and I always associate the coming of very cold weather with seeing these cranes.  I wonder if Audubon felt similarly?

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What he remembered was sitting in the car with his master and enjoying the ride over to the park.  His head hanging out the open window the sights and sounds went rushing by.  He wondered why they didn’t do this more often because it was fun and helped build up their sometimes frazzled relationship.  Upon arrival, the leash was attached and the two of them, dog and owner, went for a walk.  After tugging the master the whole way, they reached a point where they both stopped.  The man took the leash and the collar off and the dog bolted down the beach excitedly.

After chasing a few squirrels and finally having the freedom to follow his nose…the dog realized that his master was nowhere to be found.  The dog did his best to retrace his many footsteps, but it was no use.  The man was gone without so much as a whistle or a “See you later boy”!  Fear began to set in because the dog didn’t recognize where he was or what to do about it.  For a while, he followed a path in the woods and did come across other people, but they were unfriendly and chased him away  In fact, the whole woods was starting to seem mysterious and scary.

The trees were tall and the woods held shadowy places.  Even some of the birds gave him a start.  There was one odd bird with a very large and sharp-looking beak that made the loudest noises and was unwelcoming.

It flew back and forth in the treetops and seemed to be scolding him until he left the area.  There were other unusual and questionable critters out here too.  He was hounded by bugs he had never seen before like this one.

These evil-looking flies chased and bit him.  The dog thought about how in his former life he didn’t have to worry about much.  Yes, there was the occasional flea, but the food bowl was usually full.  In the ways of his kind, he was generally accepting of most everything.

After several days, the dog began to get really hungry.  Once he found some scraps near a picnic table and garbage can and he ate greedily.  Later the dog began to feel some odd stirrings within him and he began to visualize the chase.  What if he could run down and catch other animals…perhaps he could even eat them?  He decided to give it a try with the next animal he came across in the park and before long…he had his chance.  Among some fallen trees he came across an unfamiliar animal. 

The new animal had no legs and looked like a wiggly stick.  Still, it moved quickly over the ground and every time the dog tried to grab it with his mouth, the strange animal tried to bite him back.  After a while, the dog tired of this and the stick-animal escaped into some driftwood.

The dog decided to check out the river.  Perhaps something like a dead fish had washed ashore and although this wasn’t his favorite food…his wasn’t in a position to be picky.  The air was still and it seemed sound was carrying well across the water.  Before long he could hear and then smell a human approaching in his direction and the dog quickly found a place to hide.  From behind a large stump this is what he saw.

Whistling to himself the figure we have come to know as the Adventurer was strolling down the path.  The Ohio River was on his right and the sun was shining warmly above.  The season was about to change and the cottonwood trees’ leaves were turning yellow.  The Adventurer had been marooned in the park himself now for several weeks.  The raft that bore him here was still stuck high and dry and he couldn’t continue his journey down river until it rained again.  As the days became weeks, the Adventurer started to yearn for his more familiar surroundings and the company of his friends.  This park was nice, but it wasn’t his home.  He was growing a little wistful himself when he heard something in the bushes off of the path ahead of him.

Parting some branches near a large stump the Adventurer saw one of the most bedraggled dogs he had ever seen.  Talking reassuringly, the Adventurer carefully offered the dog his hand to sniff and was rewarded with a few tentative wags of its tail.  The dog came out of his hiding place and allowed the odd figure to check him out.  Although the fur was matted and full of cockleburs, there wasn’t any sign of injury.  Reaching into his pocket, the Adventurer produced some food which the dog quickly ate.

There was something in the moment that these two very different animals recognized in each other and they bonded.  From now on, wherever the Adventurer would go,  the dog would follow him.  They became inseparable and shared in many stories together at the Falls of the Ohio.


The Adventurer figure we have seen before.  He is made from found insulating foam, Styrofoam, plastic and wood collected at the Falls of the Ohio and assembled there.  The plastic dog toy I came across on one of my walks and this is how he first appeared to me.

Imagine my surprise to see an old childhood friend mixed among the other river debris!  I recognized the character as being “Huckleberry Hound”.  A little research revealed that this dog who spoke in the cartoons with a southern drawl was originally named after Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” which seemed appropriate in my context.  The cartoon first appeared in the late 1950’s and I caught up with it during the next decade.  Huck’s other friends include Yogi Bear and BooBoo, Magilla Gorilla, and others who were cartoon staples of after school television shows.  It’s been awhile since I heard of any references to this character.  Examining the plastic toy, I could find no date or country of origin, but much of the original paint is gone.  I’m sure this is some retro toy since it seems in too good of shape to be older.  My two sons have never heard of Huckleberry Hound and think I made it up!  Okay, to end this post…I’m going to show you another picture of that fearsome snake which I was able to catch with my bare hands!!!  Enjoy.

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After finding all my sculptures smashed, I decided to give that section of the park a rest.  I will eventually return there and make new pieces from the remains.  Today’s walk is along the western section of the park.  It is an area I have come to appreciate more.  In part, because fewer people venture this way and there are different points of interest.  It’s fall migration time and I’m always on the look out for birds.  The birds that are just passing through are of particular interest, but I also like the species that can be found here year around.  I came across this really noisy Northern Flicker on a branch and snapped its picture.

This is a fairly large woodpecker.  In the old guides, this would have been identified as the “Yellow-shafted” form.  The feathers under the wings and tail are a bright yellow which can be seen as the bird flies.  The black “mustache” extending away from its bill identifies this as being a male.

Chasing small insects among the fall leaves is this Yellow-rumped Warbler.  This is the park’s most common warbler and one that hangs around longer than any other of the park’s 35 sighted warbler species.  I have seen most of them, but they are easier to identify in the spring when their plumage is more colorful.  Fall warblers can be a challenge and I’m still learning all their nuances.  I have seen more different warbler species this year because I have tried a little harder to look for them.  Still, when you are out on the land, you just never know what you will cross paths with and that is the subject of this post.  I saw my first Water Chick on this expedition and managed a few decent images that I can share with you.  First, can you spot the Water Chick in this photo?

I bet you found this interesting bird?  It’s snow-white in color and has a bright red bill.  It’s only occasionally found in this park and the habitat it prefers matches exactly the kind of landscape you see here.  The Water Chick is usually found near water and also needs dense vegetation to hide and raise its young.  Over the course of a couple of hours I ran into this bird several times and here are a few “portraits” I was able to manage.

The Water Chick is usually found on the ground, but reportedly, is a decent swimmer as well.  Although it can fly it is reluctant to do so.  It much prefers hiding and taking advantage of the local cover where it seeks out small insects and spiders that make up its diet.  I surprised this one investigating a decaying log.  Here’s another image of this bird.

As you might be able to discern…the Water Chick is a small bird and relies on its diminuitive size and secretive habits to go unnoticed.  I believe I heard (not entirely sure though) a low piping sound when this bird noticed me and became alarmed.  It high-tailed it into the loosestrife clumps as quick as can be.  This is precisely the type of ground bird that I worry about being preyed upon by feral cats and in fact, ornithologists report that this species is on the decline for multiple reasons.  While I was birdwatching, I did come across another bird predator.  However, this one is so large that I doubt that it would bother taking a Water Chick.

I see Peregrine Falcons on occasion out at the Falls, but this is the first one I could get a picture of…unfortunately part of the tree obscures the bird, but it’s still distinctive enough to identify this large bird of prey.  I have actually seen these falcons more in the city where they nest on the taller buildings in Louisville.  Like other parts of the country, we nearly lost this magnificent bird to DDT poisoning.  Since banning this pesticide they have made a comeback, but we could use more to help keep the pigeon population in check.  I located the Water Chick one more time before heading home.  It was along the fossil beds that rise above the river level which is still down from an acute lack of rain.

I was on my belly laying on the limestone rocks when these photos were taken.  I think it helps give an idea of what it must be like from this bird’s perspective?  After taking these images, I decided that I disturbed this bird enough and backed off.  I hope it forgives my intrusion, but I had never seen one of its kind before…and maybe never will again?  This bird is bound for our Gulf Coast where it spends the winter in the swamps.  Turning for home, I also came across small stands of this rather large flower and thought this a nice way to end this post.

I’m not sure on the identification of this plant? Many in this stand were over six feet tall.  I need to bring a guide with me into the field to help with this.  In the moment, I’m happy for the color this large flower brings which contributes to the beauty of the season.  Thanks for tagging along on another of my walks at the Falls of the Ohio.  See you later!

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At the eastern end of the Falls of the Ohio State Park is where I see the most bird species.  It is also the area that seems to trap the most driftwood after we have had a bout of high water.  Material of all kinds collects between the high walls of the dam and the steep riverbank itself.  There is another sizeable collection of driftwood on the other side of the dam’s wall that is just waiting for the river to rise before depositing another layer of wood and debris in the park.  The bowl-like depression created in this space cuts across a few distinct habitats and is also protected from the wind which is why I think the birds like this spot.

On this day I was doing my birdwatching thing and trying to photograph some of the warbler species that migrate through here in the fall.  It’s a real challenge for many reasons.  First, there is still enough foliage around that it is hard to get an unobstructed view of a bird.  Second, the migrating warblers are now much duller in color having lost their breeding plumage, can be hard to identify.  In some cases, the differences can be dramatic between how a species appears in the spring and how they look on their autumnal migration south.  Added challenges also include that these birds are very small and extremely active.  They don’t sit still for long.  On those occasions when I get a picture that I like…I feel more like a fortunate opportunist than as a photographer with any skills.  I know I’m rambling, but I need to set the scene first before getting to the point of this post!  It took a bit of luck and patience just to obtain the above photo of this first year American Redstart and it looked like this bird was going to hang out a bit and I was well concealed and anticipating more images when something very interesting happened.  There was movement in the brush below the bird which flew off and I was left with this quickly snapped photograph!

I just witnessed a failed hunting attempt by the Flat-faced Cat.  It’s an unusual mutation that has occurred among the resident feral cats which seem to be gaining in population in this park.  To me, this is a big point of concern because in addition to the garbage left behind from picnics…they are also preying upon and eating the small wildlife found in the park.

So, where are these cats living?  I have literally found them throughout the park where they can find shelter.  I tracked the Flat-faced Cat back to a den under the driftwood.  The interlocking logs have created a structure that has many natural tunnels and rooms.  It can also be dangerous because the wood is always shifting under its own weight as it breaks down from environmental exposure.  I’m sure that it can’t be an easy life for these cats.

Since our first encounter, I have taken an interest in this particular animal.  It always runs away once it spots me and is now completely wild.  I see it the most when I’m in the Willow Habitat and I think we are after the same thing!  We are both hungry for wildlife, but in very different ways.  I recently observed and photographed this cat hunting lizards basking on the sun-drenched logs.  First an image of its intended prey.

The blue tail marks this as the young of the Five-line Skink.  This is a fairly common lizard in this park and the one most people are likely to encounter.  While I was hiding behind a sizeable willow tree, I saw the Flat-faced Cat attempt another unsuccessful hunt and took these images.

Now, don’t let its cute face fool you.  Out in the woods, this animal is all business when it comes to hunting.  I’ve looked at a few articles on the web about the cat predation problem and interestingly there is some controversy.  There are studies from Great Britain and California that suggest that feral and domestic cats take millions of songbirds and small animals a year.  Societies devoted to cats, however, dispute the evidence and say that there aren’t good studies to back this assertion up.  When all else fails…turn to anecdotal evidence!  How many of you out there who own cats that are allowed to roam outdoors have been “gifted” with dead birds and other little animals on your door steps?  I have a hunch that many cat owners have had this experience.  Now multiply these “gifts” with the millions of cats that are out in the world and the studies probably aren’t too far off.  The studies also suggest that the hunting instinct is so well engrained…that even very well fed cats can’t resist that little chipmunk running around the backyard.

Of course, feral cats are not the only cause for the decline in the numbers of songbirds.  There are pressures of all kinds and habitat loss and environmental degradation play their huge parts.  Still, the domestic cat is not something that occurs “naturally” in our wild environments.  Responsible pet owners should never set unwanted pets loose where they don’t belong.  Responsible owners also have their pets spayed or neutered to further limit the population of unwanted pets.  It’s kinder to all living things to do this. Looking through my archives, I remembered that I had seen another feral cat that looked a lot like the cat which is the subject of this post and here is its image.

I photographed this big tom cat on the fossil beds near the Interpretive Center.  It had only one eye and sported this murderous looking paw!  Who knows it may be a direct ancestor of the Flat-faced Cat?

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