Posts Tagged ‘ecosystem’

spider's web in the morning light, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013The Falls of the Ohio is a special place in the history of life.  From the ancient marine creatures whose remains are preserved in limestone dating back more than 370 million years a go to the contemporary creatures that inhabit the park today…it is my goal to celebrate life here in all its diversity.  I’m going to use this post to present images of recent finds.  I was exploring the western side of this state park recently and saw this spider’s web high off the ground catching the early morning light.  I’m sure its architect would prefer a buggy meal over the photons it has snared instead!  Looking at this web image, I’m struck by how similar this  looks to the cross-section of a tree.  Can you see that too with the outermost silk rings resembling a tree’s growth rings?  In the Purple Loosestrife stands, butterflies were having a nectar feast and I presented many images of them in a previous post.  Here’s one more to add to that portfolio.  I have seen this butterfly species wind up on the spider’s menu before.

Dog Face Butterfly on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, late Aug. 2013

This is the Dog Face Butterfly (Colias cestonia ).  It is often difficult to photograph this butterfly in the wild with its wings open because this species prefers to feed with its wings held together.  Through the strong light passing through the forewings, you can get the suggestion of a dog’s head in profile.  Imagine the black rimmed spot as the “dog’s eye” with its muzzle pointing down.  When open, the dark interior margins of the wings are a warm black color.  I was exploring the interstitial sandy zone between the river and the willow woods…when I came across this interesting amphibian.

The American Toad at the Falls of the Ohio, August 2013

American Toad, dorsal view, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

If this American Toad ( Bufo americanus ) had not moved…I doubt I would have seen it.  It’s coloration is wonderfully cryptic easily blending into the sand.  The toad was busy hunting among the debris and driftwood for any insects and invertebrates it could find.  I don’t encounter many amphibians out here…so finding a common toad is a noteworthy event.  Let’s move up the evolutionary ladder a bit.  I was busy working on one of my Styrofoam sculptures at my outdoor studio when I felt I was being watched.  When I lifted my eyes up from my artwork…I found myself looking eye to eye with this critter.

Woodchuck or groundhog at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

This is the common Groundhog or Woodchuck ( Marmota monax ).  As its scientific name suggests, this large rodent is a member of the marmot family.  Woodchucks are successfully established at the Falls and I encounter them often.  They are fast diggers and live in an extensive system of burrows.  Woodchucks usually don’t stray too far away from the entrances to their burrows.  Succulent greens are the preferred foods.  This particular woodchuck regarding me is a young individual and may be seeking territory of its own?  Usually, I don’t see them this close to the river.  I did have an interesting recent encounter with a very different animal in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Have you ever heard of an animal called the Camelope, (Antilocapra fallsei )?  It is very rarely seen.  The flora and fauna at the Falls can be roughly divided between forms that are “natural” and “unnatural”.  The spider, butterfly, toad, and woodchuck fit in the natural fauna category, while the Camelope is definitely on the unnatural fauna side of life and may represent evolution at an accelerated pace?  The many stresses to the environment and its myriad ecosystems have required a dramatic response and creatures like the Camelope may be nature’s way of responding to these changes?  I’m not a trained scientist, but that is my educated guess.  Discovering and documenting these recent life forms has become a passion of mine.  Anyway, let’s look at a Camelope.  Let’s start with an image of its head.

Camelope, detail of head, August 2013

It’s called a Camelope because its head generally resembles that of a camel’s.  This is a browsing animal and accepts a wide range of vegetation growing along the river.  It has dark eyes that are always nervously looking around for potential predators.  This park is also home to Feralocitors that prey upon Camelopes.  This particular species also has an acute sense of smell.

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

I came across this Camelope in a more isolated section of the park.  It was hiding among the stands of loosestrife and drinking water from the springs that flow downhill and into the river.  It is ever alert and very nimble with quick feet and seemingly at home climbing on rocks or navigating through dense vegetation.  Their bodies resemble that of deer or antelopes…hence Camelope.

Camelope reacting to an unfamiliar sound, Aug. 2013

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Since it is a relatively new animal…not very much is known about it.  I was able to conceal my presence long enough to manage these images.  I either moved or the wind shifted, but anyway my presence was detected and with a quick bound, the Camelope disappeared into the brush.  I hope I may come across it again and learn more about its secretive life.  Regardless, I will keep my eyes open and my camera at the ready for any new “unnatural” life forms I discover.  It occurred to me on my way home that my Falls of the Ohio Project is now officially ten years old!  I started exploring this fascinating park as the Artist at Exit 0 in August 2003 when the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was being celebrated.  Reading early 19th century accounts of the natural abundance of our country and this place in particular made me wistful for a world that no longer exists.  Two hundred years later…that process continues and no doubt will two hundred years from now.  I have often thought of this riverblog as a historical document as relevant today as Lewis and Clark’s notebooks and journals were back when this country was first being described.  I hope this park and its remarkable history will continue to inspire people for a very long time.  In closing, I would like to present an image of Canada Geese on the water near the fossil beds.  Their coloration gives them in my mind’s eye a formal quality and lends dignity to the landscape.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Canada Geese and fossil rock at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Read Full Post »

This was my Labor Day adventure which spanned two days of hanging out by the Ohio River.  The remnants of Hurricane Isaac came through and gave us some much-needed rain.  I was excited to return to my old studio spot and didn’t mind exploring and working through the drizzle.  My clothes got soaked and muddy, but as long as I was able to keep my camera dry…I felt okay and had fun.  It has been two months since I last laid eyes on my Styro-cache.  Most of these polystyrene chucks were collected in the spring.  I had heard that there were a few scheduled river clean-ups, but they obviously didn’t find my spot.  It wouldn’t have hurt my feelings in the least if all this white trash had disappeared.  The more public areas did look better, but I have a feeling that as long as people are around…there will be litter at the Falls of the Ohio.

Because I was dodging little rain showers, I quickly created a figure and moved him out into the river landscape.  A nice family who said they were familiar with some of my other Falls projects happened upon me.  Their daughters India and Esmay were interested in “Mr. Rednose”, so named because his nose is a burnt out light bulb from a string of Christmas lights.  I asked permission from the parents to take the girls’ picture before posting something.  Esmay seemed the most interested and kept sticking her finger into “Mr. Rednose’s” mouth.  It’s cool when people I meet out here get what I do and appreciate my small call for creativity.  I have a real concern for what kind of world our children will inherit.  My own sons are now 11 and 16 years old and I remember when they were much smaller and followed me to the river to make a few memories of our own.

“To exist or not to exist…that is a choice.”  Perhaps meeting little kids inspired me to play dress up with this figure.  But I also kept finding props I could do this with.  This blue blanket was just draped over a log and I wondered why someone would leave this here?  Over the years, I have come across small camps that homeless people would just leave their stuff behind as though they planned to return.  It was eerie when they didn’t.  By the river, I came across yet another potential prop.

A fisherman had left behind as trash this polystyrene minnow bucket and “Mr. Rednose”picked it up.  Since it was beginning to rain more regularly it seemed appropriate to try to use this bucket for a hat and here is what that looked like.

It was about this time that I decided to call it a day.  The rain was coming down more heavily and consistently.  I hid the figure in high, wet  grass where it was waiting for me the following morning.

My second day out here was more about discovering nature.  No sooner had I rescued my figure than I had one of my most thrilling bird sightings.  This time it was an actual bird and not something I created myself!  Walking through the wet grasses I unintentionally flushed a bird into flight that I recognized immediately.  It was a Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis).  It’s a small blackish bird with a short bill.  It has white speckles on its flanks and a very diagnostic rusty-colored nape.  Rails are the smallest member of a group of wading birds that include herons and egrets.  The literature says that they are very secretive and seldom encountered.  You are more likely to hear one at night along the eastern salt marshes, but there are a few that live in the Midwest.  There are over 260 bird species listed in the official Falls of the Ohio checklist, but the Black Rail is not one of them.  This is a second time I have spotted a bird not officially recorded in the park.  I tried to let the park and our local bird club know about my sighting and I hope somebody else was able to see it?   The flushed rail flew to a nearby willow tree and with camera in hand I tried to get a picture.  Unfortunately, I was not successful.  I will, however, look for it again in the same place the next time I come out here.  The Black Rail was not the only interesting creature out in the park today.  Newly minted butterflies were flitting about and I counted several species including the Viceroy which mimics the Monarch butterfly.

This Viceroy was taking advantage of the minerals present in a fairly large bird dropping!  Out of the fossil beds, Great Blue Herons were outnumbered by the slightly smaller and all-white Great Egrets.  Soon the egrets will be moving off to warmer climes, but the Great Blue Herons are year round residents.


Moving away from the river and back towards the willows, I stopped to admire several flowers including members of the Evening Primrose family.  “Mr. Rednose” enjoyed the slight fragrance emanating from this tall flower.


I finished this adventure where it began.  I moved my figure to the place he first took form and where he now stands guard over my Styro-larder.  He might still be there welcoming visitors…or not.  I look forward to returning the following weekend to experience all the surprises both great and small that this environment presents to me.


Read Full Post »

At long last I’ve made it back out to the river!  It’s been about eight weeks now since my last visit.  Today I have a double purpose…the first is to drop off one of my Styrofoam and recycled material sculptures for an annual fund-raiser that the Falls of the Ohio State Park Foundation hosts every year.  I’m glad to do this and hope my donation does well in their auction.  Despite the years I’ve been making stuff out here it still strikes me that most of my materials are literally trash.  I suppose I will never get over that. It seems to me that it takes a certain kind of person who would want to own one of these creations!  The other more fun purpose is to check out what’s different along the river and maybe make something new.  Immediately, I can see that the hot summer continues to take its toll.  At first, it was the relentless heat, but now that is coupled with a serious lack of rain.  The river is low and everything looks dry.

Over the course of this summer we have had just enough rain not to be considered a disaster area.  This is hardly a ringing endorsement and I find a small laminated notice tacked on to a bulletin board that reinforces how dry it is.  I think to myself that some of the people I’ve encountered out here over the years who do shoot off fireworks or build fire pits are not likely to read or heed this warning.  When I’m in the park, my preference is to move away from the most public areas and so with my walking stick in hand I head down the Woodland Loop Trail.  I’m still not confident enough to want to test my repaired knee too vigorously, but this trail is fairly easy.

The trail is shaded which I welcome since it’s still over 90 degrees out here.  I pass many what I would consider late summer blooming plants that have flowered earlier than usual.  I did see several stands of tall Pokeweed plants with their black berries, but even these weeds have wilted leaves.  I guess what moisture these plants could muster up went into the production of their fruit?  These berries are a favorite food of several bird species.  In the past, I have used the intensely dark purple juice from Pokeweed berries as a pigment in some drawings I have made.  This color, however, is fugitive and ultimately fades in the light.  As I walk, one distinctive sound I keep hearing is the tell-tale sound of gray squirrels gnawing on the rock-hard walnuts that are  clustered around the few walnut trees along the trail.  There’s not much meat inside one of these nuts and it seems like a lot of work for little reward.

Out on the exposed fossil beds the sun is baking, but under the shade of the trees it is still fairly green.  Since my last visit,  however, I noticed a lot of dropped tree limbs and a few whole trees that have keeled over and appear to be the result of wind damage.  I have seen a few birds including two Hairy Woodpeckers and as I walk along the trail I keep getting scolded by Carolina Wrens who resent my intrusion.  In the distance I recognize the calls from the Killdeer plovers that are looking for food along the water’s edge.  The rarest and most unusual bird, however, is  just up ahead.

I’ve only seen a couple of the more common and native Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds this year…and so I was taken aback and delighted to come across what I later identified as Isaac’s Hummingbird (Archilochus isaaci ).  To my knowledge, this is the only recorded instance of this Cuban species reaching this park.  I’m guessing that Tropical Storm Isaac (purely coincidental, but also appropriate) which is threatening the GOP conference in Tampa Bay at this moment may have blown this rarity our way?  Hummingbirds of which there are over 300 hundred recorded species have been known to wander thousands of miles away from their more familiar haunts.

I came across this hummingbird dozing on a fallen branch.  It would open its eyes every once in a while and regard me.  I kept my movements to a minimum and completely forgot about my aching knee in the process of creating a few images of it.  I was able to snap off six pictures before it took off.  As you can see, this bird (also known as the Yellow Saberbill) has a bright yellow bill it uses to extract nectar from flowers.  Its light blue body, brown wings, silver tail, and whitish-head are diagnostic of this species.  I don’t know what it is about the Falls of the Ohio, but I have seen other unique hummers out here before.  Digging through the archives…I present two of them again.

This is the ultra rare Arctic Hummingbird appearing at the Falls of the Ohio to sip nectar from the equally scarce Ice Blossoms.

I encountered this Cumberland Greencrest back in 2010 not far from the place that I saw the Isaac’s Hummingbird.  Both of these rare hummingbirds stayed in our area for a couple of days before moving on.  This is what keeps me coming out here…I just never know what I’ll find or discover! This was a short, but eventful trip and I thank you for tagging along.  Here’s another view of the river with the exposed Devonian fossil beds.

POSTSCRIPT:  The inspiration for this particular post comes from another WordPress blog I enjoy entitled “Ekostories”.  Isaac Yuen is its creator and he’s an aspiring environmental writer.  Issac has a talent for weaving stories and making connections about responsible stewardship of our planet.  At the time of this writing, Isaac has a wonderful post about a book entitled the “Flight of the Hummingbird” that I think you may enjoy…so please check it out.  Here is his link:  http://ekostories.com/ Finally, one last peek at this elusive hummingbird checking out a flower blossom.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Reading the old journals from the exploration period…you can hear the authors’ amazement in trying to describe the overwhelming abundance that once existed here.  If you came across a flock of passenger pigeons numbering in the billions and as you watched them cross the sky like rolling smoke until they collectively blotted out the sun’s light how would you record the event?  But it wasn’t just flocks, there were also forests of trees, immense herds of bison and schools of cod and salmon.  In some cases, this was here less than two hundred years a go.  Now this seems remote and out of our living memories.  You don’t miss what you never knew.  Forgetfulness is another type of erosion.

Over the sounds of the river smacking the shoreline, I could discern a few grunts among a high almost “metallic” bugling/whistling in the air.  Or so I imagined as I introduce my latest Styrofoam creation.  In the old days, (which according to my youngest son is anything over nine years a go) the American elk or Wapiti was plentiful in Kentucky and through out the United States.  Several sub-species existed and were classified by geographic region and habitat.  The bulls of this large deer with their immense antlered racks are an impressive sight and are symbolic of nature’s majesty.  Well, mine is not nearly as good…but for the purposes of this post…will do fine!

We are lucky they are still with us today!  As loss of habitat occurred as well as hunting pressures…our elk were driven westward until they were gone east of the Mississippi River.  Eventually, the elk were allowed some federal protections and our herds are rebounding.  Kentucky has led the way in elk conservation by experimentally transplanting a herd to the eastern section of the state where they have thrived!  Their reintroduction has been so successful that a limited hunting season on them has been established.

During the Lewis and Clark trek across the country, elk meat made up a large percentage of the meat consumed.  It remained the meat of choice until the native Americans introduced the explorers to dogs and then that was preferred!  As the country was “settled”, elk continued to disappear from all kinds of pressures.  There was even a brief fad where elk teeth were used for watch fobs!

The elk is a member of the megafauna that was once was a large part of the North American ecosystem.  While I’m taking pictures of my sculpture, a smaller member of this ecosystem came hopping by.  To be honest, I don’t see many frogs out here and I’m surprised this Leopard frog isn’t in a more boggy area.  I think many people by now are aware that amphibians aren’t doing as well as they use to for a variety of reasons that range from climate change to exotic fungi.  If a Great Blue Heron spots this guy, then our frog friend will become bird food.  It’s as if life weren’t already difficult enough without adding to it.

The frog is a reminder that even the most humble of species plays its part in the bigger scheme of things.  So often it seems that the smallest players have the out-sized roles that make the biggest differences to the smooth operation of life at large.  My stag is bellowing and issuing a protest and challenge to protect the environment that sustains us all!  There is far too much in the river that doesn’t belong there especially items dependent on crude oil.

Take this stag for instance, it is dependent on crude oil for its existence.  The body, head, and parts of the leg are made from polystyrene.  In this case it is all river-polished Styrofoam.  The lower jaw is the sole of a shoe and also made from petrochemicals.  The eyes and plastic collar are plastic and derived from petroleum extracts.  Only parts of the nose, legs, antlers, and tail are biodegradable.  The Styro-stag is an animal we can afford to lose and it will be interesting watching the river for signs that the exotic materials that comprise it are on the wane.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: