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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

What a year it has been for animal watching at the Falls of the Ohio.  The finite landscape at the park keeps continuing to change as the populations of Canada geese and white-tailed deer make their now daily presence felt.  I recall going years before finding a single deer track out here.  Not too long ago as I was working on an artwork in the sand…I was surprised by a doe and two nearly grown fawns that almost stepped on me in their hurry to escape their blunder!  Seeing deer out here has almost become a daily happening.  I’ve also seen several large bucks and managed a good photo of this regal specimen from earlier in the year.

Although some animals seem to be increasing…there are still the occasional rare and once in a lifetime encounters that can occur.  Moments like this are what keep me coming back to these shores and willow woods.  Recently, a red fox streaked across my path and while not a rare mammal was nevertheless a park first for me!  I have also been discovered by an assortment of raccoons, groundhogs, opossums, squirrels, and chipmunks as I bumble through their environment.  Still only two beaver sightings by me since 2003 and none this year.  Evidence of their presence here is everywhere, however, they seem to be the most active at night.  Now my next entry qualifies as a true event and I will linger on this a moment since I was also fortunate to take some nice images to enhance the tale.  Have you ever heard of a Clark’s shrewrat before?  Probably not, no offense, I presume here, but we have trouble remembering our own kind much less anything else alive we share the experience of life with.  Seeing one was my wildlife viewing moment of the year.  Let’s start by looking at one.

It was almost Halloween, a gorgeous late autumn day when hiking in the park, I glimpsed an unfamiliar mammal drinking from a pool of Ohio River water.  In size, it’s between a small house cat and a large squirrel if that helps at all?  As it warily moved around the muddy landscape it moved quickly and stayed very low to the ground.  I was able to observe it over the course of the next few hours and I’m positive it knew I was nearby.  It’s history is interesting.  Clark’s Shrewrat is named after William Clark who is believed to have supplied the first written descriptions and specimens early in the 19th century.  Clark, the brother of Revolutionary War hero General George Rogers Clark went on to his own renown as a leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  What was unclear was whether or not the shrewrat evidence was collected on that epic journey or was of more local origin?  Finding one here is important because it would suggest the latter since Clark’s Shrewrat was never common anywhere over its former range and very rarely seen now.  To date, we have no idea as to their numbers?  Are they more common than we think or on the verge of extinction?

Clark’s Shrewrat belongs to the Insectivorous order of mammals which also includes moles and shrews.  It is strictly carnivorous and will attempt to overwhelm any animal it thinks it can kill.  The bulk of its diet, however, seems to be birds, other small mammals, fish, insects, and is not averse to scavenging carrion.  As a hunter, it is stealthy and overwhelms with surprise and speed.  For prey larger than itself, it often first tires and wounds its victim before administering the coup-de-grace with a surgical bite to the throat.  It is relentless and will pursue fish underwater in otter-like fashion as I was able to observe.  Here it is just before enjoying a shad dinner!

Many years ago, I had two sightings of a mink that hung around for a couple of days.  Experiencing the shrewrat felt similar.  A frenetic, nervous animal in constant motion and ever guided forward by a hunger that it cannot satisfy.  It does seem to be at the mercy of its metabolism.  The few records that exist on its life span seem to suggest a short one of three or four years at most.  Since there is simply not enough information extent on this rarity…it seems the obvious next step is to continue to monitor whether Clark’s shrewrat is indeed becoming established in the park?  I hope so since the park needs to maintain as much diversity as possible.

Now, to talk about a few of the great birds I’ve seen over the year.  I won’t go into as much depth.  Here are a few of my avian highlights with accompanying imagery.  It does seem to becoming more common for uncommon birds to show up at the Falls of the Ohio.  Is this a potential signal that climate change could be at work?  Birds can appear almost anywhere and many do…however, it does seem that many long distance migrants are being challenged by habitat loss and important food items whose timing has been interrupted by a climate in transition.  Nothing like showing up at the usual time for a feast of horseshoe crab eggs, but their spawn happened a week ago and you still have thousands of miles to travel.

This inquisitive creature is called the Bark Bird and I happened to see one this summer.  It’s so named for its habit of searching through the crevices in tree bark as it searches for the small arthropods that make up its diet.  It often goes up and down the tree head first like nuthatches do.

The only true shorebird on this list is the Arctic Curlew.  It uses its long, blue bill to probe soft mud for small worms.  I chanced upon one in June while exploring the fossil beds.  This is an example of a bird that is at risk because the route of its migration is so long that maintaining suitable habitat along its route may prove too great a challenge.

Here’s another migrant, the Land Lark.  Usually, a bird recorded west of the Mississippi River.  I remember that this bird appeared at the Falls of the Ohio after some serious thunderstorms with damaging tornadoes  passed through the Midwest of the United States.  Simple but nice coloring with its green crest and bill and light blue wings against a snow-white body.

This lovely Yellow-tailed Thrush was another unexpected discovery.  Normally, found in the summer in the Hill Country of Texas…I’m not sure why it showed up here?  I was sure glad to see it and I have several other nice images of it.

A new park record…the first recorded instance of the Ohio Valley Blue-bill nesting with park confines.  I came across this bird sitting on its nest which I was shocked to see was an old barge cable that had snagged in a tree.  I think the blue-bill formed the nest by judicious pecking and pruning the fibers of this large rope.  I’ve saved my favorite bird for last.  Not because it is rare, but because the pictures came out so well!  Here is another the Blue-winged Merganser which is small, fish-eating duck that pursues its prey underwater like the shrewrat does.  Also like the shrewrat, this merganser has a bill full of needle-sharp teeth for holding onto slippery fish.

The crest of feathers atop it head give a regal appearance to this small red-eyed duck.  We often see the Common Merganser around here, but this was fun to observe as it pursued small aquatic life stranded in the pools of a retreating river.  I guess as this year may prove to demonstrate, we may see many more peculiarities in the natural world the more we mess with it.  I will continue to record and observe these changes within the park and post them in the trusty riverblog.  To finally end, one more image of Clark’s Shrewrat to savor!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

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Early morning view on the Ohio River, mid March 2016

Went out to the river, but to tell you the truth…I thought it would be too high.  Just a couple of days earlier, the Ohio River was once again over its normal banks.  Every year is different and this year the tail end of our winter was marked by warmth and high water.  Although the riverbank was muddy, I was happy to be able to walk around.  I’m having a show at a friend’s place in May and I was on the lookout for more washed up materials.  As it played out, this first official day of Spring would be a more memorable one than I had first anticipated.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf or Hammerhead, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf in view of Louisville, KY, March 20, 2016

One of the reasons that this can be an interesting time of the year at the Falls of the Ohio is the annual Spring migration of neotropical birds.  I have been known to set my collecting bag aside and just hit the woods on the look out for migrating birds.  The first time you see a male Scarlet Tanager or a Rose-breasted Grosbeak will make a bird watcher out of a lot of people.  This past weekend, which is still a bit early for the usual migrants…I came across something totally unexpected that I couldn’t identify at first.  I didn’t get many pictures, but what I have is here.  If you have never seen (or much less heard of) Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf, (Aviana indeterminus)…you wouldn’t be alone.  Hammerkopf translated into English is hammerhead and that description seems to fit.  Heisenberg’s bird is about the size of an American Robin.  Among the features that stand out the most are its massive red bill and the petal-like feathers found at the base of its neck.  The wings can be brown or white and it has been known to have a crest, but some individuals have been seen that don’t have this feature.  There is no consensus as to its overall population, but a few individuals seem to make the news each year.  This bird is an enigma and it seems to prefer things that way.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

The individual I came across is a second year male.  Looking at the info there is on this species did say that the unusual ruff of feathers around its neck could turn bright red as the bird matured and was ready for the breeding season.  What little there is in the scientific literature suggests that this is a highly variable species that can be found anywhere at any time.  With this bird, you really can’t pin down where it originates and it doesn’t seem to have a “normal range”.  It seems to be a very uncommon bird with a world-wide distribution.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf at the river's edge, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf investigating goose tracks, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

This individual kept surprising me.  I almost felt that it “changed” the more I observed it.  By that I mean at first I found it by the mud and then it changed habitat by going into the trees.  I lost track of it for a short while, but rediscovered it at the water’s edge.  From there, it moved back under the willow trees where I eventually lost it for good.  I saw it use its large bill to delicately probe the mud and hammer through a driftwood log and in both cases wasn’t sure of what it was eating if indeed it found anything to begin with?  I just saw enough of this bird to pique my interest, but I have had bird sightings that have lasted mere seconds that were satisfying enough to last a lifetime.

Chiel collecting driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

While I was out exploring the Falls environment, I did come across another individual who can vouch for me that this strange bird was indeed out here.  I struck up a conversation with him and as it turns out he is also an artist.  His name is Chiel Kuijl and he is from the Netherlands.  He has a residency at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky where he is working on a unique outdoor rope environment.  He was looking for select, interesting pieces of wood that he could incorporate into his art project and the Falls of the Ohio are a perfect place to do this.  Talking with Chiel, one of the things he is enjoying most are the new and unfamiliar birds he is encountering in this country.  I asked if he had ever seen a Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf before and he said that he hadn’t and it was really unlike what he was accustomed to back home.  I am sure I will see Chiel again, but what of the hammerkopf?

Final view of Heisenberg's Hammerkopf at the Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

I don’t often make an appeal to the larger blogging world, but if anyone should happen to see this bird or something similar to it…I hope that you will post pictures of it.  It might make an interesting research project to see where in the world this species will turn up and what it might have to say about those particular places where it is found.  For now, I will leave it here and hope you will follow along the next time I am hiking at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Goose tracks in the mud, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

 

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Exposed fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Once a year, usually in mid to late summer, the dam is closed and the water retreats off of and exposes the ancient Devonian fossil beds.  It is an other worldly landscape of blonde-colored rocks that preserves in limestone the proof that life existed over 400 million years ago.  This exact place during that time too ancient to imagine was in the latitude of the present day Bahama Islands.  Then it is was a marine reef supporting early salt water animals, most especially a large variety of corals. Today, this is a fresh water environment defined by the Ohio River. My goal is to cross over to the Kentucky side (where the majority of the fossil beds are located) by wading through the shallower areas near the tainter gates.  Unfortunately, and unforseen by me, all the recent high water has made the riverbank a slippery muddy mess and the current that is allowed to flow through a channel by the dam is still too strong to wade through.  I got almost half way across and found the footing treacherous.  I didn’t fear for my personal safety, but I didn’t want to risk dunking my camera and phone in the water.  Thwarted today, I will need to make better provisions for that the next time I attempt this.

Black vulture on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

So, I did the next best thing which was to explore the riverbank and nearby Willow Habitat.  The resident colony of Black Vultures was hanging out under what shade some of these willow trees could provide.  The bird in the above image is a sentry maintaining its post outside of where the main group of birds were resting under the nearby trees.  The vulture flock doesn’t seem as large as it has been in the recent past.  Perhaps the prolonged conditions of having a high river forced some of these large birds of prey to seek greener pastures?  The vultures would allow me to only get so close before jumping into the air in search of thermals to lift them even higher.  I continued my modified trip by walking towards the fossil cliffs below the Interpretive Center.

cracked, drying mud at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

It was a very hot day and in places you would come across areas that were once very wet and had dried revealing a wonderful network of cracks.

Artist at Exit 0 re-hydrating, Falls of the Ohio, mid Aug. 2015

I’m proud of myself.  In addition to wearing a cap…I made sure to bring along plenty of drinking water on this very hot and humid day.  Here my bottle is wrapped in a heavy mil plastic bagel bag.  I used this to keep the other items in my pack dry just in case this bottle leaked.  I continued my hike to the fossil cliffs when I could see something snow-white in color moving along the ground.  At first I thought this was a piece of paper disturbed by the breeze, but soon noticed it was moving in bird-like fashion.  I continued approaching very carefully yet deliberately and had my cameras at the ready.  Here is my first image of what would soon be many.

The Yellow-collared Sandpiper at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Switching over to higher magnification, I could see my new bird was a species I had never encountered out here before.  In the comfort of my own home I was able to identify this little guy as the Yellow-collared Sandpiper (Caladris fascinati).  This is a tiny shorebird more at home in the Pacific Northwest and has rarely been recorded east of the Mississippi River.  This is the first recorded instance of this bird at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  So, what was it doing here so far away from home?

Yellow-collared Sandpiper, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Yellow-collared Sandpiper, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

It is not unusual for this park to record rarities during the migration seasons in early spring and autumn.  To see this bird here outside the normal times shorebirds would be migrating through our area makes me think this bird is here by accident.  Perhaps one of the monster storms we have experienced this year blew this little one way off course?  Looking at my reference guides, I identified this as being a juvenile of the species.  You can tell that by the pink bill.  Once fully mature, the bill turns dark, nearly black in color.  I have recorded other juvenile shorebirds migrating through the park on other Falls of the Ohio adventures.  In particular, I remember seeing juvenile Golden Plovers and once…even saw a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.  What makes these sightings all the more incredible for me is knowing that a few short weeks ago…these birds were beginning life as eggs in shallow nests located in the high Arctic tundra.  Normally, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper migrates down the Pacific coastline of the United States, crosses into Mexico, and winters in Central America.  This is a journey of several thousand miles.

Yellow-collared Sandpiper at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, mid August 2015

I observed this bird for about a half hour or so.  I watched it feeding around the margins of small pools of water that had puddled on the fossil beds.  It used its pink bill to probe the soft mud in search of the tiny invertebrates that make up the bulk of its diet.  The bird seemed not to be concerned about me and I took many photographs to document its presence in the park.

Yellow-billed Sandpiper on the fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

The mouse-like bird moved like a wind-up toy on the fossil rocks.  When it moved, its tiny legs seemed to be going as quickly as they could.  The sandpiper had a curiosity for the world and checked out every clump of vegetation and crack upon the limestone surface as potential sources for food.  Perhaps it was the hawk that flew high over our heads casting a fast shadow upon these ancient reefs that scared it away or perhaps it just grew tired of my company…regardless, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper flew away in a blur of brown wings.  I thought I could detect a high “peep” call note as it went skyward.  Heading back to my vehicle, I had one more pleasant surprise in store for me.  While this is not on par for rarity, seeing the beginning of the Monarch butterfly migration going through our small piece of the planet is still an awesome occasion.  Like the Yellow-collared Sandpiper, the Monarch butterfly has a very impressive migration of its own as it moves from Canada to Mexico and back again.  On my way home, I said a little prayer asking for the continued safety of all the small things moving through the world.  I guess that’s it for this time at the Falls of the Ohio.

Monarch butterfly feeding at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

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Christmas Bird at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

In the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park I came across a remarkable bird.  As far as I know, this is the first documented sighting of the so-called Christmas Bird (Xmasii noelensis) in our area.  The bird’s red crest, green collar, and azure-colored wings are diagnostic as is the bicolor beak.  I was down at the river on a rather foggy morning when I noticed the bird flashing its wings in mockingbird fashion which is a distant relative of this species.

The Christmas Bird, Louisville in the background, Dec. 2014

I was looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and odd items washed up by the Ohio River when I came across this bird.  This is a long distance migrant and one that hails from as far north as the Arctic Circle.  The Christmas Bird earns its name in a couple of ways.  Of course, its complimentary plumage is rather seasonably inspired and it does seem to migrate to the lower 48 states around the time of the holidays.  Where the bird will appear is rather unpredictable, however, it is a welcome sight in most any location.  Here I have photographed the bird “flashing” its wings against its body while perched upon a driftwood log.  The park is in Southern Indiana and the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the Ohio River.  After taking this shot, the bird flew off.

Display of the Christmas Bird, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I said to myself…”Well, that’s that”.  I fully did not expect to see this rare bird again, but I received a “gift” of a rather unexpected nature.  Underneath the old iron railroad bridge, not too far away from my initial sighting, I came across this “decorated” nest and recognized its significance.  This is a display from the Christmas Bird.  Using an abandoned mud-lined nest of an American Robin, (Turdus migratorius), the Christmas Bird has created an assemblage involving red berries and the remains of a string of old Christmas lights that washed into the park with the other river-bourn detritus.  From this evidence, I suspected the bird had “claimed” this area.  If I in turn displayed patience…I might get another opportunity to photograph this unusual species.

Christmas Bird with its display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I waited about an hour and the Christmas Bird did appear to my great joy!  It arrived at the nest with a red berry in its beak which it added to its growing collection.  It is believed that this bird is attracted to the color red.  Usually, berries from the holly tree are used, but in this instance I recognized them as the fruit of the Nandina plant.  The bird probably discovered them growing in a private garden in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is suspected by ornithologists that the southerly migration of the Christmas Bird, which brings it to warmer climates, may trigger this unusual nest-like and courting behavior.  The Christmas Bird is known for its ability to tolerate extreme cold and it takes a great drop in temperature to stimulate it to migrate.

Close up of the Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Christmas Bird with display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was able to observe this bird making about ten trips back and forth between the nest and its berry source.  If the bird was aware of my presence…it did not appear to be overly alarmed.  Once in a while, the bird with crest erected, would cock its head back and forth trying to differentiate my form among the willow branches.  I held my breath and tried to remain still and as unthreatening as possible.

The Christmas Bird with its seanonable display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The weather grew damp and cold and the sun looked like it was not going to appear from beneath its blanket of clouds.  I made the decision that I had enough images and it was time to leave this bird in peace and go home.  On the ride home, I felt I had been given this great gift, the gift of nature which remains priceless and timeless!  For me, nothing packaged in a box and wrapped with a bow can equal this living blessing.  To all who have followed my adventures by the river this year…I offer my sincerest good wishes during this season of holidays!  I hope that at least once in your lifetimes, you will be visited by the Christmas Bird bringing red berries for your nest.

Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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Louisville seen from the Falls of the Ohio, early May 2014

We have seen a lot of water flowing over the dam at the Falls of the Ohio this season.  The month of May has been punctuated by intense storms and ample sunshine.  Rainfall across the Ohio River Valley has been plentiful.  On this particular excursion, the river was high and many of the places that I like to sit and work were inaccessible.

wood and debris in the Ohio River, May 3, 2014

 

There was plenty of wood and trash in the soupy brown water and despite the beautiful sunshine, I was thinking that I might need to go home early today.  Instead, I decided to do a little exploring along the margins of the high water and see how far I might be able to go.

high water at the Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Skirting the margins of the high water, I was able to walk over logs and driftwood and reach small pockets of higher land that remained dry.  After initially feeling that my day in the park would be a loss…I started to feel excited again!  In part, this was due to the abundant bird life I was seeing and hearing.  This particular area has always been good for me and finding birds.  There is enough shelter here under the cottonwood trees and willows that provide relief from the wind and is close enough to the water.  Among the species I was encountering included this colorful grouping of birds: Baltimore Orioles, Northern Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Palm Warblers, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, and a tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Here’s an image I captured of a Gray Catbird singing.

Gray Catbird singing, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

These birds are very territorial and the males chase one another out of their areas when interlopers trespass.  Catbirds have a wide variety of sounds they make including a “mewing” call that reminds people of cats.  Usually, I hear catbirds before I see them.  Thus far, this has also been a good year to observe some warbler species.  Warblers are my favorite group of birds to see because they are diverse, beautiful, transient (they are famous for their long migrations) and challenging to photograph.  Here’s a picture of a Palm Warbler that I recorded on this day.

Palm Warbler, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

This guy hung around for a while.  The guidebooks say that this warbler species summers in the northern bog lands and really has nothing to do with palm trees. That was an unfortunate bit of naming.   The Falls of the Ohio are just one stop among many that this bird will make and I was glad to see him.  In addition to birds, I was also finding plastic junk and other bits and pieces including a miniature plastic banana…I’m sure you want to see that?

miniature plastic banana, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

This banana (my second of the year) will enter my Fake Fruits and Vegetables Collection which now numbers hundreds of pieces found in this park.  Here are other found objects, some of which I will use to create a new figure.

Found objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

And…here is the figure I constructed on this day.  He’s pretty outlandish looking and another in a long line of pieces that reflect how I feel about our species’ absurd handling of the environment.  For the moment, he remains unnamed, but if one comes to you…please share!

Unnamed figure, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Styro-figure with white plastic bleach bottles, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

He’s made mostly from insulating foam, plastic, and driftwood and sports one jaundiced eye and what appears to be a unique, pink moustache.  The area I was working in had so many plastic bottles lying around that my latest Styro-figure decided to put some of the colorful ones to use.  Every year, the park does its best to keep this special place clean and orderly.  Unfortunately, most of the trash I use and show originates elsewhere…mostly along the Ohio River flowing north of here and is carried to this down river location during flooding and high water.

small, plastic container, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

various colorful plastic oil containers, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Looking around the immediate area I was able to locate various colorful plastic oil containers and my Styro-figure decided to line them up for a photo opportunity.  Here’s the results.

Styro-figure with plastic oil container color spectrum, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

 

It’s an oily color spectrum of sorts.  The Styro-figure seemed happy with it and for this day…left it at that.  I have used this similar idea for other plastic found objects discovered in the park.

Styro-figure under the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Soon it was time to go home.  The day turned out to be a more creative and productive day than I originally thought it would be.  I gathered up my collecting bag, camera, and walking stick and made the very short walk up to the parking lot.  Looking back, I spied a Canada Goose taking advantage of the high water to feed from bushes it normally could not reach.  This seemed as good an image as any to end this post with.  Thanks as always for tagging along on another day at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Feeding Canada Goose, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

 

 

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Canada Geese, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

It’s springtime at the Falls of the Ohio and life is less shy about revealing itself.  Wasn’t too long ago that finding even the most common bird could be a challenge due to the harshness and length of our winter.  Now the spring migrants are winging their way northward and even the indigenous species are easier to locate.  This is the time of year when the pair bonds are strongest.  The resident Canada Goose population appears to have overwintered in fine fashion and it won’t be too long before the first goslings are in the water.  As you may have ascertained, this post will be about one of my favorite Falls subjects…birds.

osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

This is a composite image of three different Osprey that were simultaneously circling my position at the river recently.  The trio were flying in ever-widening circles and taking advantage of the wind currents and thermals.  It’s a thrilling site to observe these fish hawks diving into the water and being rewarded for their efforts with a freshly caught fish in their talons.  I’ve heard about, but not yet seen, the Bald Eagle nest that is just west of the Falls area.  On occasion, I have seen eagles, but considering how near they are to this area I would have thought that sightings would be more common.  I’ve recently seen other birds of prey including Peregrine Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, and our next featured bird, the Black Vulture is beginning to return to the Falls of the Ohio in numbers.

Black Vulture and dead fish, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Black Vulture, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Black Vulture feeding on a dead fish, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

To my eye, it appears that the Black Vulture population has been increasing while our other vulture…the Turkey Vulture presents itself less frequently.  The Black Vultures are more gregarious and aggressive which probably keeps the Turkey Vulture from showing its featherless, naked, red-head more?  Recently, I came across this individual Black Vulture feeding upon a dead fish.  It let me get quite close, but there was also a minimum distance that it would tolerate me.  Whenever I would get closer to its comfort zone, the vulture would grab the fish with its sharp beak and drag it to where that minimum distance was re-established before it resumed feeding.  We did this dance for a few minutes before the vulture decided it had enough and flew away.  My next bird is one that I have never observed in the park before.  Some of my most memorable sightings have come from species seen just once and maybe for a few seconds at that.  Hardcore birders (they wear black leather jackets with chains hanging off them) are familiar with this phenomenon.  Friends have asked me why I don’t indulge my avian passion in a more organized fashion, but frankly I don’t like the sense of competition that can exist in some of these groups and clubs.  I appreciate that birds are fellow life forms that are inhabiting the same time and space with me and are more than feathered abstractions to cross off on some list.  If you pay attention, birds can tell you much about the state of nature and this planet.

Orange-collared Piper, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Orange-collared Piper, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

 

The new bird I recently came across is the Orange-collared Piper.  It’s a shorebird that undertakes  a tremendous journey starting at the tip of South America and it won’t stop moving northwards until it reaches its breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.  Landing at the Falls, it is a little more than half way to where it needs to be.  This piper is a rather small bird and easily overlooked in this particular environment.  Its white body and head look remarkably like the polystyrene that litters these shores.

Orange-collared Piper at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Orange-collared Piper, April 2014

The bird is so named because it sports an orange ring around its neck.  Other field marks include diminutive size, brown wings, and a sharp yellow bill it uses to probe sand and mud for the tiny invertebrates it eats.  Also true to its name, this bird makes a high-pitched “piping” call it uses while it feeds.  To he honest, I did not hear this call with this particular individual.

Orange-collared Piper at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Both the male and female Orange-collared Piper look about the same.  At its breeding grounds, the pair incubates about five or six tiny, black speckled eggs in a rather shallow gravel depression.  No fancy nest for this bird…it lays its eggs directly on the ground where  cryptic coloration helps protect them from the numerous Arctic predators.  This bird is considered threatened due in large measure to habitat loss and other environmental degradation.  Its amazingly long migration probably also puts this bird at risk since so many things can go wrong on such a long trip.  I watched this particular individual for about forty minutes or so.  It moved among the driftwood in very careful fashion stopping here and there to probe the sand with its sharp yellow bill.  When the bird decided to move on…there was a flash of wings too quick to see and it was gone.  I hope that it reaches its destination and resurfaces at this park again.  I have one final “bird” that I recorded the same day I saw the Orange-collared Piper.  Perhaps you will recognize this one?  It’s most distinctive field mark is the sunglasses it wears while floating on the river.  Happy birding!!rubber duck with sunglasses, April 2014

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The Falls of the Ohio beneath the railroad bridge, March 5, 2014

The Ohio River water level has been bouncing up and down these last few weeks.  On this excursion, I caught up with it while the river was receding.  The shoreline that I am accustomed to seeing is still underwater, however, if you walk carefully between the wet and the dry, there are areas you can explore.  I brought a fairly empty canvas collecting bag along in anticipation of river treasure.  After a couple of hours, I took a break and dumped the bag out and here is what caught my eye.

Collecting bag contents, early March 2014

Literally, a mixed bag of junk including many familiar items that I have long-standing collections formed.  The Styrofoam is for a small sculpture I have in mind.  The flip-flop sandals, well…I have been collecting them for a while and I have a vague notion of an artwork that I want to make with them.  I have ideas, but I’m waiting for the river muse to send me more signals.  The same holds true for the small, plastic wheels.  I have about two hundred of them stacked in a pile on my basement floor.  I thought I could finish the wheel piece for the exhibition at the Carnegie, but it remains unresolved.  I have also gathered several found combs and the variety of forms a simple object can take always interests me.  Recently, I gave my comb collection to my friend Jeff for his birthday.  He is probably one of the few people I know who would like receiving such a gift.  Jeff was once a middle school art teacher and he keeps a cigar box filled with the smallest pencils in the world.  Each pencil had been sharpened to within an inch of its existence by his former students.  Here’s an example of an interesting comb followed by other images of objects found on this day.

comb from a vacuum cleaner, March 2014

Later, it was determined that this combination comb and brush is from some kind of vacuum cleaner.  Now whenever I go out the river, my friend asks me if I have any other combs for his collection.

plastic corn on the cob, March 2014

My Fake Food Collection keeps expanding.  I found several new pieces on this excursion with this one being the most memorable.  Plastic corn on the cob with a little pat of butter melting into the kernels.  In the background, you can see how much junk is intermixed with the wood debris.

hand-formed duct tape ball, March 2014

Here’s the latest addition to my hand-formed ball collection.  This one is made from duct tape.

pink plastic octopus sand mold, March 2014

I’m starting to develop a large collection of sand toys of all kinds.  Here’s a pink plastic octopus sand mold.  I think I will photograph this collection soon.

two found plastic dinosaur toys, March 2014

I found two plastic dinosaur toys on this trip.  I believe these are intended to be the same species…Dimetrodon which was an early reptile with mammal-like characteristics.  Dimetrodon hails from North America and the early Permian period.  When the Falls of the Ohio was an active marine ecosystem (about 370 million years a go)…Dimetrodon would still be about another 200 million years into the future.  The vast stretches of time and the ebb and flow of life forms is mind-boggling.  I am in the here and now and what I have noticed on this trip to the river is how few other life forms I’ve seen.  The spring migration of neotropical birds is not too far off and I always have my eyes open for early arrivals.  Today…I get lucky.

detail, head of the River Roller, March 15, 2014

The River Roller, March 2014

I was poking around the shifting shoreline when I spotted this heavy bodied bird in a willow tree.  With its blue head, yellow ocher body, and light green tail…I knew I was looking at my first River Roller.  Rollers are a family of old world birds and this is the only representative on this continent.  This species has a rather large and heavy bill that serves it well when it feeds on the nuts of hardwood trees.  At the Falls of the Ohio, you can always find walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns.  I believe that this was what this bird was doing…looking for food.

River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I think this is a female roller because the colors are not as bright as the pictures I’ve seen of the males.  In size, this bird is comparable to the American Robin.  I observed this bird checking out the holes and hollows in the willow trees which is pre-nesting behavior.  The females are the ones that choose which sites are suitable to raise their chicks.  This bird will eventually move on to the northern portions of the Ohio River Valley.  The River Roller has never been documented nesting in this park.

River Roller among the willow rootlets, March 2014

River Roller investigating willow roots, March 2014

The River Roller hung around for about five minutes before flying off for parts unknown.  During the time I watched it, the roller demonstrated a strong curiosity for the environment at the river’s edge.  It seemed especially interested in the willow trees themselves.

The River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I wish this bird well and hope it reaches its intended destination.  I feel this way about every bird that migrates through this area.  After seeing this once in a life-time rarity I felt that my day like my collecting bag was full and it was time to go home.  That wraps it up for another river adventure.  See you next time.

View at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

 

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Skyliner, Falls, late Feb. 2014

We are all getting antsy for spring to arrive…winter has been hanging on and on for dear life.  It’s been hard to access the river because the water level has been high.  Most of the places I visit at the Falls of the Ohio State Park are currently under muddy water.  We have had just a handful of nicer, warmer days, but that has accelerated the melting of the snow and ice throughout the more than 800 hundred mile long Ohio River Valley.  I don’t mind the cold so much, but it’s harder to do what I like to do on a swollen waterway.  Here’s how one of my spots under the railroad bridge looked during my last visit.

muddy, high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2014

Not a pretty picture seeing a river as brown as gravy.  Lots of logs and wood floating on top and when you look more closely…there is also plenty of plastic and polystyrene in the mix too.  Another view this time with me standing on the wall that separates one side of the river from the other.

high river at the Falls, Feb. 2014

All those white spots are pieces of Styrofoam.  With my usual haunts inaccessible I moved further east…just outside the park’s entrance.  There has been a lot of activity in this area that has caught my notice.

Skyliner on the riverbank, Feb. 2014

There has been a campaign on the Indiana side to make the river more accessible particularly in areas that afford a good view of Louisville’s skyline.  To do this the vegetation has been bulldozed away.  I came across an elderly person walking her dog and she said to me quite unsolicited..”Bout time they did something to clean up this mess!” as she pointed a thin finger in the general direction of the river.  In this case, one person’s mess is another creature’s habitat.  The true “mess” comes from all the plastic bottles and chunks of man-made junk that make it into the water.  No amount of removing trees and creating views will help with this and it seems what we prefer looking at is a very selective process.  I brought my collecting bag along.  I’m hoping to pick up materials to use in an upcoming art workshop at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, but I find a few other interesting items as well and photograph them upon discovery.

Taco Bell cat toy, Feb. 2014

I came across this smiling yellow cat toy that I think came from a fast food establishment.

plastic containers for paint, Feb. 2014

Finding these paint containers made me realize how hungry I’ve become for color.  I’m looking forward to the world turning green again with color notes supplied by wild flowers.

bright orange plastic paratrooper, Feb. 2014

This plastic man with his bright, radioactive orange color was hard to miss.  He was a skydiver or paratrooper in a former life and probably fell to earth using a plastic parachute.

Skyliner with the City of Louisville behind him, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2014

There were other signs from life that the season’s are about to change over.  I’m ever alert to what the birds are doing.  I spotted my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year and they are among the first migratory species to arrive.  Male Northern Cardinals are singing their courtship songs and scouting out the best spots to build a nest.  On the river, however, I spied what I consider a bird sign of winter.  A nice sized flock of Lesser Scaup ducks were mostly sleeping and relaxing on the surface of the water.  In this area, it seems we see more duck varieties in late fall and early winter. Here’s a peek at the scaups.

White-winged Scoters, Falls of the Ohio, Late Feb. 2014

Before I move away from the ducks…I found one other to add to my growing collection.  This is a Mallard decoy made from plastic.  Not too long a go, I found another plastic decoy representing the Pintail Duck.

found plastic Mallard duck decoy, Falls, Feb. 2014

One other bird note…I heard them before I could see them, but I knew what they were instantly.  The familiar calls of migrating Sandhill Cranes winging their way back north.  Like geese, they fly in V-shaped formations to avoid the air turbulence created by other cranes flapping their wings.  These birds are high flyers and this was the best I could do in taking their picture with the camera I have.

high flying Sandhill Cranes, Feb. 2014

As February becomes March…the forecast for the Kentuckiana area is calling for freezing rain and snow.  It appears that Old Man Winter will be hanging out for another week.  Spring will eventually get here and already you can tell that it stays light outside longer with each passing day.   I am, however, really eager to see how the river has rearranged this familiar landscape.

Skyliner on the Ohio River's edge, Feb. 2014

Once the Ohio River recedes there will be a new landscape to explore and who knows what I will find?  I like that each year is different from the last.  Well this post is drawing to a close.  Thanks for visiting and see you soon…from the skyline of Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio.

Looking toward the skyline of Louisville, Late Feb. 2014

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plastic pine growing out of a stump, Sept. 2013I consider this a great honor that fellow blogger Isaac Yuen focused one of his posts around my art projects from the past year and the tales I’ve created around them. For several years now, I have enjoyed Isaac’s award winning blog Ecostories. He has made me a believer in the power of the spoken and written word to convey universal truths particularly when they speak about our evolving relationship with nature. Stories are important and everyone has a story to tell. Isaac has a great way of taking on complex narratives and making them understandable. I encourage you to check out his thoughtful, positive, and beautifully written blog.

Ekostories

I t wasn’t my intention to continue with the art theme. But as the rule of three calls and  I learn more about writing and blogging, I found myself more inclined to follow intuition than push through to produce work that doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just easier to showcase other people’s incredible work instead of doing research for a long piece. Given the choice between being attuned and growing lazy, I’m sticking with the former interpretation.

I’ve been a fan of Albertus Gorman’s work over at The Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog ever since I began blogging in 2012. For the better part of the last decade, Gorman has used materials washed up at Ohio State Park to create sculptures and craft stories that explore the impacts we have on the places we inhabit. Some of his work from Ohio Falls is now featured in The Potential in…

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Black Vultures on the Fossil Beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The resident flock of Black Vultures were taking advantage of the fossil beds now exposed on the Kentucky side  of the Falls of the Ohio.  The wier dams were temporarily closed and with it the flow of water.  With the river level reduced much of the sculpted limestone normally underwater is briefly seen again.  Fishermen have been accessing new fishing spots along the freshly revealed fossil beds which turns out to be a boon for the vultures.  Not only do they get to feast on fish left by the anglers, but they also enjoy any other trash including left over fishing bait.  Early autumn is a transitional season among the park’s bird life as residents gear up for over-wintering or prepare for the southerly migration.  Birds from the northern latitudes particularly Canada and the Arctic Circle pass through our area on their epic journeys to Central and South America.

Canada Geese feeding on grass, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The vultures will fly away, but many of our Canada Geese will brave it out.  We seem to have at least two distinct flocks of Canada Geese sharing the area around the fossil beds.  It’s amazing how intolerant each group is of the other.  There is competition for the best food sites and each group frequently bump into one another with much squabbling.  That’s what makes the next image interesting to me.

Domestic goose mixed with the Canada Geese, Falls, Sept. 2013

Canada Geese can have limits on how much mingling occurs between their own species, but in this case, are willing to accept a true outsider.  This domestic goose seemed integrated into its adoptive flock.  It swam with its wild cousins and accompanied them to a favorite feeding location and was never bothered by the other geese.  Recently, I came across a young Cooper’s Hawk and I was surprised when it did not immediately fly away after I bumbled across it.  There was a good reason why it didn’t leave.

Young Cooper's Hawk, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The hawk sized me up and then jumped down off the log it was standing on to retrieve something it had dropped.

Young Cooper's Hawk with prey, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The hawk had what appeared to be a freshly killed Mourning Dove.  After securing its prey with its talons, the hawk seemingly jumped into the sky and  vanished within moments.  I thought I saw it disappearing into the tree tops of a stand of willow trees within walking distance.  I did investigate the area, but never saw the bird again.  I love it when I get to observe behaviors.  Life has a job to do and can’t wait around posing for pictures.  Here’s a different kind of behavior being demonstrated by an American Robin.

American Robin bathing at the Falls of the Ohio, Summer 2013

I love this image which I captured earlier in the summer.  This American Robin is focused on taking a bath.  Its head is under the shallow water and droplets and beads of water are splashed over its body.  Our resident American Robin population is doing well and seem to be increasing at the Falls of the Ohio.  Some of the robins will hang out over our gray winter, while others will seek warmer climes.  My last adventure to the Falls resulted in images of a bird that I had never recorded previously in the park.

Gross Blue Bill at the Falls of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

Gross Blue Beak and flowering plants, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Gross Blue Beak is strictly passing through and in fact, this is the first recorded instance of this bird appearing in the park.  Good thing I have all this photographic proof that the bird was here because the resident birders are a skeptical lot.  Reputations and lifetime bird lists are at stake and there is a great burden of proof to produce irrefutable documentation.  This bird has traveled thousands of miles from the edge of the Arctic Circle in Canada and is bound for the Argentine coast.

Gross Blue Beak with corroded aerosol can, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

portrait of a Gross Blue Beak at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Gross Blue Beak receives its name not because it has disgusting habits that require an out-sized bill.  Rather the “Gross” idea comes from the German word for “large” .  The Ohio River Valley was settled by many immigrant groups and the Germans were among the most prominent.  This bird’s beak is a heavy-duty tool it uses to crack open nuts, crush mollusks (particularly snails), and jack hammer soft decaying logs in pursuit of beetle grubs.  All three of these food sources are found at the Falls of the Ohio.

Gross Blue Beak at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I was able to get quite close to the Gross Blue Beak to snap off these images.  I’ve noticed before that many northern migrants of various species will allow me to approach more closely than the local birds that are around people more.  Perhaps that’s the key?  For the moment, the region around the Arctic Circle has seen less of our influence than other places in North America.  To close, I have one other bird image, but it is noteworthy because of the people in the far distance.  Recently, I received a question about the back wall that is a part of the system in place to produce a stable pool of river water for commercial barge traffic.  I’ve heard that the Ohio River carries more tonnage of goods along it’s 800 plus miles than the Rhine River does in Europe.  The back wall of this dam is quite high up and the actual river level is perhaps a meter or so below the top of the wall.  Beyond the Great Blue Herons, the small band of hikers provides some sense of scale on how the river would be over their heads!  When you are walking the now exposed fossil beds…it’s a sobering thought!

Great Blue Herons and hikers on the fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

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