Posts Tagged ‘heron’

It’s the Falls of the Ohio State Park in late summer.  We haven’t had any significant rain in a few weeks and the fossil beds are exposed as the river has retreated away.  This isn’t a permanent condition…just the way it is during this season. Visitors are walking over the rocks and admiring the many ancient fossil corals that during the rest of the year are under water.

The best time to get a sense of the extent of the fossil beds is during summer.  From the top of the riverbank you can get a good overview of the area.  You can see across the fossil beds to the high wall that keeps the Ohio River at bay. Bird watchers are scoping the rocks and the top of that wall on the look out for seasonal birds or that once in a lifetime rarity.  Well today was their and my lucky day!  I was sitting by the picnic table when in the far distance I noticed something large and white winging its way across the ancient limestone terrain.  At first I thought it was a pelican, but it clearly wasn’t big enough.  That’s when I heard one of the bird watching flock who also spotted it say that he thought it was a heron or egret of some kind.  I grabbed my camera and hustled down to the river.

I watched the white bird circle the area by the lower tainter gates and I anticipated its possible landing spot.  As I approached the area my mental field guide was going through all the possible species.  Great Egrets are seasonally common here and while they are white…they do not possess a black bill.  One white wader that does have a black bill is the Snowy Egret, however, it is smaller and has black legs with yellow feet.  Snowy Egrets come to the Falls but they are less common.  It couldn’t be a Whooping Crane because I couldn’t see any black tips on the wings.  For a moment, I even thought this bird might even be an albino.  Nevertheless, it was shaping up to be a mystery which are among the most fun birds of all.

I saw the bird alight in the sedges and grasses near the river which is where I took these photographs.  This beautiful bird was distinctive with its black bill and white head crest.  It’s tail feathers were also tipped in black.  I watched it catch and eat grasshoppers that were numerous in the weeds.  For the moment, I would concentrate on taking pictures and being discreet.  I could always identify it later in the comfort of my home, but already I knew it wasn’t a bird normally found here or in our country.  This bird’s beauty was enough and knowing its name wouldn’t make it more beautiful.  Time stood still until the bird spooked or just decided to fly off.  Later that day I saw the heron return to the river and I hung around hoping for just this opportunity.

I was struck by the great contrast between the snow whiteness of the bird and the dingy black of the tire resting in the water.  I thought the heron was exhibiting signs of distress or anxiety, but I was surely projecting my own feelings onto this animal…or maybe not!

In one of the most curious bird behavior moments I have ever observed, the heron walked over to a group of discarded plastic bottles and started hitting them with its bill.  I guess it was just checking them out?  A passing fisherman came too close and the bird was gone for good.  I took a deep breath and hoped that I had a few good images and turned for home.  The bird turned out to be the Black-billed Heron which is more accustomed to being found around the heat of the equator.  Few confirmed records exist of this species being seen this far north. But since it’s been hot just about everywhere this year, the right conditions were present for it to make this appearance.  This same individual would create quite a bird watching stir wherever it was sighted in the United States and even made the cover of several bird watching magazines.  The Falls of the Ohio was as far north as this bird was seen and for me it was a happy privilege to see a bird that even John James Audubon never saw.

Postscript:  Readers familiar with the riverblog know that the Black-billed Heron was made with materials deposited at the Falls of the Ohio.  These found materials include:  River polished Styrofoam, plastic, sticks, river tumbled coal, the black tail feathers were cut from the soles of cast off shoes.  Thanks for tagging along on this avian adventure!

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Fixed wier dam, 6/09

After several days that featured heavy thunder showers, Saturday morning opened clear and bright.  I had a feeling that this would be a special day and it didn’t take very long to be proven right.  In less than five minutes I had my first memorable encounter of the day below the fixed wier dam.

Mink, 6/09

Running along the shoreline,  investigating every nook and cranny was this mink!  Please excuse the exclamation mark, but this was the first one I had ever seen at the Falls. It’s been over twenty years since I first visited this place.  There have been times I thought I came across their tracks, but I’m no expert in this area.  This mink kept moving which made it difficult to photograph.  It ran right up the sloping concrete wall of the dam and I lost it in the underbrush! 

Black-crowned Night Heron, 6/09

Bird life was plentiful today.  I was scolded by wrens and laughed at by chickadees as I sat in my outdoor studio surrounded by the materials I have gathered to make my sculptures.  I watched orioles and blue jays, catbirds and grackles, and a pair of eastern kingbirds courting and chasing away every other bird to enter their territory.  I also watched the herons and decided to try to make one from my poor materials.  The bird above is the Black-crowned Night Heron and there were many out fishing today.

Foaming Brain's head, 6/09

When I reached my “studio’, I could see that the site had been visited.  Most of the sculptures that I had made over the previous weeks had been damaged or destroyed.  As I have mentioned before, this is an experiment in human nature…albeit one without a hypothesis.  For the most part, I want to believe that people are good…until I’m proven wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt.  One of the many services my art seems to perform is as an outlet for unfocused aggression.  Naturally, I would have liked it better if instead of destroying these figures, new ones were created by other hands than mine.  I leave all the materials I’ve gathered on site for others to use if they feel so inclined. I’m also alright with the idea that if someone liked a piece…they can take it home with them.  Whatever is left behind nature eventually claims anyway.  I remind myself that it’s also okay to let this stuff go…it’s liberating and besides, I’ll just make more.

Styro-heron, 6/09

Styro-heron, 6/09

Since today’s action was happening near the wier dam, I photographed the Styro-heron I made near this area.  This bird is primarily polystyrene foam, driftwood, plastic and that’s it.  I have no idea what the object serving as tail feathers is, but it’s made from Styrofoam too.  The eyes on my bird are tiny, plastic fishing bobbers.  The blue herons around the Falls are very difficult to approach, but they do love it here.  Through spotting scopes, I’ve seen as many as fifteen birds fishing together from the fossil rocks on the Kentucky side.  World wide, this is a very successful species.

Styro-heron, 6/09

An alternate shot and one that shows the other side of the sculpture.  I’ll end with an image of a real Great Blue Heron taken at the Falls a few weeks ago during a time of high water.

Great Blue Heron, 5/09

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high water bottleman, 5/09

My latest figure made from river junk comes at a time when the river is getting higher.  We have had a lot of rain today and so for the next few days the river should continue to rise.  When you live on the Ohio River, this is important information.  For example, the morning talk was of a small fishing boat going over the Falls that needed rescuing…that and a large white pelican was sighted again.  Might be the same bird from two years ago.  Didn’t hear anything else about the fisherman…hope they are ok.

high water and interpretive center, 5/09

foot of steps, high water, 5/09

Two views looking east…the top shows the interpretive center and the steps leading to the river.  The next shot is from the foot of the steps themselves.  It should be interesting to see how high up the steps the rising river level will creep. During the Great Flood of 1997 the river completely climbed the steps.  This event shouldn’t be that bad.  Fishing has been great with lots of anglers catching striper hybrids, catfish, skipjacks, and an occassional sauger.  Did see many large carp trying to leap over the fixed wier dam as in classic salmon pictures. 

Bottle man, 5/09

I moved the Bottleman to another location to get a better sense of his context.  A couple days ago, you could walk by the trees that are now submerged.  Most of the fossil rock formations are underwater.  The Bottleman is on some sort of mission just one step ahead of the river.

heron and fridge, 5/09

Took a little time to do some birding and had some success.  Saw my first Black-headed Blue Warbler, male and female traveling together.  They were here and gone before I could get a snapshot.  I did, however, find this Great Blue Heron fishing from floating logs as an abandoned refrigerator went by.  Years ago, when I first started this project, I found a refrigerator lodged in the top of a tree and I couldn’t believe the river could get that high.  Other notable birds…lots of Magnolia Warblers, various thrushes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Indigo Buntings, and a few Scarlet Tanagers were still around.  Double-crested Cormorants were fishing all along the river and close to shore.

bottleman and stash, 5/09

This is where I left the Bottleman by a log with a large hole in the side.  Perfect for stashing away plastic bottles in case of an emergency.  The figure is made from pink insulation foam, regular polystyrene, hickory nuts for eyes, part of a walnut husk for a mouth, wood, plastic bottlecap nose, and a fork for emphasis.  He’s near the water and probably gone by now.  The logs rolling over one another in the water made the strangest creaking and squeaking noise and reminded me of my father grinding his teeth in his sleep.  We will see how high the river gets and if that pelican hangs around.

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