Posts Tagged ‘nature photography’

After a brief cold and wet spell I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio last Saturday.  The Ohio River was rising as were the temperatures which had dipped into the 30 degree mark  for a few days.  One look around here and there is no doubt that it is autumn in Kentuckiana.  The willow leaves were noticeably yellower and many of the trees were in the process of losing their foliage.  I was scouting around for what else was different in this environment and spotted this tiny butterfly moving about.

This small whitish butterfly was sipping on something on the sand.  I was practically nose to nose with it and recognized that it was a member of the skipper family.  Last year was such a banner year for butterflies at the Falls and to my eye…this year was a noticeable drop off.  After following this skipper for a few yards I was able to take this image of it.  At home I identified it as the Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis) which is considered a very common species.  It seemed rather late in the season for a butterfly, but I was able to observe a few rag-tag Buckeye butterflies and a few tattered Viceroys too.  Funny how I had never noticed this skipper before.  Nevertheless, I felt a sense of personal discovery as though I was the first person ever to see this tiny revelation. It was about this time I heard a distinctive tapping coming from a stand of willow trees.  Somewhere a woodpecker was plying its trade.

With its jet-black wings, white body, and bright red bill this bird is easy to identify…it’s the Pied Woodpecker.  About this time of year the northern population of this interesting woodpecker begins its southerly migration to the warmer climes of Central America.  Although I had added this bird to my “Life List” while on a family trip to Wisconsin…this was the first Pied Woodpecker I have seen at the Falls of the Ohio.  I observed it moving up and down the trunks of the willow trees exploring the crevasses in the bark for small insects.  It likes to move head down in its search for food like nuthatches are known to do.  Every now and then it would use its bill to chip away the wood to uncover the bugs it sought and it seemed quite unconcerned about me taking pictures of it.  I snapped as many as I could as I followed it on its path through the woods.

Soon it came to a grove of trees that were covered in wild grape vines.  The Pied Woodpecker explored the bark here too, but I saw it augmenting its diet with the tiny fruits this vine was producing.  Every once in a while it would make this nasally sound that I tried imitating.  Fortunately, this bird didn’t take offense and fly away.  Perhaps it “cut me some slack” for at least trying to talk to it in its own language…or at least that was my thought at that moment.

From the vine-covered trees, the woodpecker next flew to a large log with a large exposed root mass.  When this tree was living it must have been huge. The Pied Woodpecker didn’t linger here long and I watched its rising and dipping flight pattern as it crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky.  I wonder if I will ever see another of its kind here again?  That’s the funny thing. There are birds that are considered common and regularly recorded here that I have yet to see.  I’ve seen them elsewhere, but not here at the Falls of the Ohio.  That’s the thing about birds…their extreme mobility can make them unpredictable!

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After the briefest cold period, we have had a glorious week of perfect weather.  It’s been good to get back to the river after having the focus of the project shift away from the park and into a gallery.  Looking around, you can begin to detect those subtle shifts in color beginning to happen in the tree leaves.  Actually, there is quite a bit of color all around when you begin paying attention to it.  For instance, check out this morning-glory vine.

This purple flower is practically glowing.  And the Viceroy butterfly is all in burnt orange as it mimics the Monarchs that currently are migrating on their way south.  That large black vein crossing this butterfly’s hind wing is found only on the Viceroy.

Now blooming at the Falls are several species of the Composite flower family that look so close to one another that you need to have a few on hand for direct comparisons.   Many are yellow in color like these twin blossoms.

When I wasn’t noticing the local color, I was poking around for old booze bottles.  I found a few more to add to another piece I’m making at home.  I also came across the remains of another bowling ball and I added this one to my collection.  This is how I found it.

At first I thought I was going to dig this ball out of the dirt, but I didn’t need to.  What you see is essentially all there is!  It’s just a chip of the ball that happens to include a couple of finger holes, the ball’s brand name, and the name of its former owner…Gladys Coons inscribed on the surface.  I dropped the fragment into the water to clean it off and the metallic colors begin to shine.

With the Styrofoam I also found out here I fashioned yet another figure and posed it next to an old tire that I had placed river found coal into.  First here’s the tire nearly overgrown with plants since my last visit.

Now for a more eccentric view with my Styro-figure posed above it followed by a shot that places things in better perspective.

It’s been a few years since I worked with coal as intensively as I have this year.  Our spring floods did a lot to redeposit this mineral in the form of rounded coal pebbles and gravel.

I reposed this simple figure several times mostly in the area that had the most coal deposits.  Much of the time I was filling empty bottles with coal for that other project I mentioned.  In places you can find “beaches” of coal gravel several inches deep.  Intermixed with the coal are white mussel shell fragments and a bit of brown tree bark.  I will post images of my bottle sculpture once it is finished.  For now, I will leave with a picture of where I left this particular figure in the park.  I found a different arm and placed this piece in the context of these beautiful flowers.

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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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It’s been nearly a month since I last visited the Falls of the Ohio.  My still tender twisted ankle and the brutal heat of this summer has me concentrating on other projects and exhibits.  Admittedly, I haven’t posted much and that periodic malaise that can affect bloggers hit me too.  My ankle is slowly getting better (intimations of mortality!) and with hope the oppressive heat is relenting?  I made the short trip from my home in Louisville to Clarksville, Indiana where the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center is redoing its exhibits.  I’m glad the mammoth skeleton will still be on display and I’m curious what else will be featured?

Each year the center’s foundation stages its “Rock the Rocks” fundraiser which features a silent auction.  I usually contribute one of my sculptures made from the river-born junk I find in the park.  This year my donation is entitled “Priscilla” and she’s a piece I made years a go and predates the old riverblog.  I hope she finds a nice home.  “Priscilla” with her dark eyes has a depth to her that seems to raise many questions.  Well, that’s how I read her!  The main question remains…why do we do the things we do that we know can harm the environment?  “Priscilla” knows she shouldn’t exist.

After my errand, I hung around to look at the Ohio River as it presents itself at the Falls of the Ohio.  Most of the fossil deposits are exposed and in my mind I’m walking out among them which in reality is always an interesting experience.  It’s easy for me to fantasize that I’m on another planet or a different place in time.  I know, however, that it will be a while yet before I wade across the shallow river and back out upon the water-scalloped limestone.  I don’t think my ankle is ready for that test yet.  It would be a long way to limp back.

I stopped and talked with several birders who had their scopes and binoculars fixed upon the distant fossil beds. Summer shorebirds were present including Great Egrets, Caspian Terns, Spotted Sandpipers, and an uncommon siting of an American White Pelican which had just flown away!  I missed it but was glad to hear that it had been seen regularly over the last three weeks.  I recall a few years a go, there was another young male bird that hung around for a while.  Once upon a time they were seen as far east as the Miami River in Ohio, but that was in the 19th century.  Now the pelicans are seen more frequently and might be extending their range again eastward along our great rivers.

I enjoy birds of all kinds and near the birdwatchers, a male American Goldfinch fed on sunflower seeds from one of the center’s flower beds.  I don’t know exactly what it is about the attraction to birds, but it lifts my spirits.  I go back to my car and collect the surprise within.  Although I haven’t physically been out here as much as a usually am…my thoughts don’t stray far from this environment.  I made a new figure in my basement and I’m eager to snap a few shots of it in the context of where the materials I used to construct it were found.

This is “Cubby” and he is eager to see the world.  We walked along the trail together and came across this spot where the morning-glory vines were growing in profusion.  Only in the shade did we find the blossoms still open.  The heat of broad daylight would shrivel them to nothing.  Along our walk we could hear the sound of cicadas and the smell of sun tan lotion was lingering in the air.  It’s the weekend and the park is full of visitors.

As we walk through the grass, the blades come alive with the many grasshoppers that are present.  “Cubby” and I check them out and we also notice a few nice Buckeye butterflies flitting about with their beautiful blue eye spots checking us out too.

It’s amazing what a month can change around here.  It seems so verdant and overgrown.  We find evidence that some of the recent and powerful thunderstorms have blown over a few old trees.  This seems to happen with increased frequency.  When it does rain, it seems to be accompanied by strong winds and torrential downpours.  There is so much moisture and energy in our weather systems as the fronts move along the Ohio Valley.

It’s been a year of contrasts.  Our spring was so wet and led to some flooding.  Several months later the driftwood evidence is all around.  The park staff have had their hands full re-establishing the walking trails.  Chain saws and small bulldozers are required for that job.  All this wood will just sit here until it decays or washes away with the next flood.  The Ohio River is a dynamic element that continually shapes this park.

I made “Cubby” for an exhibition that will be held at Bellarmine University in September.  It’s a two person show and my exhibit partner, Scott Scarboro, also uses found materials, but his works are of a more urban nature.  He likes using discarded mechanical toys and using sound in his work.  I will post more about that show as it happens.  As for “Cubby”, he derives his name from the unique head-gear he wears.  Last year, I came across the “skin” of a river-exploded teddy bear and saved it into the collecting bag.  This is how that find manifested itself.  To further reinforce the bear cub idea I added a small plastic bear head image that I think came from a pacifier.  It holds his breach cloth in place which comes from the lining of an old glove.  And in case you were wondering…he’s also anatomically correct underneath.  If you are bothering to cover the loins…there might as well be something there!!!  Well, I guess that’s it for now.  It feels good to blog again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Seldom seen and thus aptly named, the River Ghost is an unusual small mammal living at the Falls of the Ohio.  Over the course of several days I was able to photograph a young adult as it was surveying potential territory.

Don’t let the cute face fool you.  The River Ghost is a relentless pursuer of anything it can catch and eat.  It’s diet includes birds, fish, other mammals no larger than twice its size, eggs, reptiles, and if necessary, insects and carrion.

The River Ghost has a long and flexible body that allows it to pursue its prey through underground burrows.  It also utilizes abandoned burrows to raise its own young.  Two kits are usually born, but only the strongest will see the light of day.

I photographed this specimen walking along the mud line that was deposited by the recent flood.  The mud is a five-inch thick layer of “fudge” and very soft and moist.  That’s my boot print in the picture.

This mud is also perfect for recording the foot prints of other animals that cross over its surface.  Scientists are uncertain which senses are most important to the River Ghost, but it seems to have a keen sense of sight and hearing.  This odd animal has kinship to both rodents and weasels and may be a throw back to an older evolutionary line.

Despite having formidable survival skills…the River Ghost is not thriving for a variety of reasons and primary among them is habitat loss.  More and more the riverine bottomlands it prefers are being divided and developed.  It’s prey species are also experiencing a decline in populations.  Many species are dependent on large areas of intact ecosystems in order to remain viable.

It would be a shame to allow this curiosity among the local fauna to disappear before its time.  Humans have coexisted with this intrepid predator for thousands of years.  The native people have legends and myths about the River Ghost’s ferocity and toughness and its way of getting out of trouble that it starts.

The last time I saw our River Ghost it had moved onto higher ground around the Interpretive Center and Woodland Trail.  It seemingly followed every lead and poked its head into every hole looking for food to satisfy its insatiable hunger.  It occurred to me, that it was heading for the picnic tables where people have been spreading dry cat food on the ground.  I wondered if the River Ghost “knew” that other animals would be attracted to the feeding station…or was it here for a bite of cat food too?  Perhaps I will see it again?

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This is a post from the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  The high waters from the recent flood have taken their sweet time abating.  I slogged through a lot of mud, but have to admit I had a good time exploring.  Along the way, I could see odd items that had been snagged by the trees and here they will stay until they decay or another flood carries them away.  Here’s a wooden stand of some kind that found refuge in the branches of this tree.

And here is part of a hurricane fence that the river deposited high and dry onto another tree.  Nearly every where I go I can find (mostly plastic bags of all sizes) stuff caught by the tree branches.  Sometimes this items “decorate” their new homes for years to come.

I’m always on the look out for signs of life.  On this trip I came across a flock of American Coots, but they swam away before I could take one decent image of them.  In the soft mud all around me, were the tracks of the various small animals that call this place home.  I believe these are tracks made by raccoons next to this plastic baby toy that floated in with the river.

Investigating the other debris, I nearly missed seeing this Eastern box turtle.  He looked like an old-timer and because it was still a cool day…he was moving slowly.  This allowed me to take several pictures and I had a great opportunity to check him out.  Here is a series of images of it.

The weird part is that earlier in the day, I came across a completely different kind of turtle.  This one is usually found in close proximity to sand and has a penchant for children’s company.  While the previous turtle embodied substance and image…this one is all image.

I also came across my “Mud Duck” which was hanging out in an area that was much drier than before.

This duck and all the genuine birds and small animals better look out this spring and summer because the feral cat population keeps increasing.  On my way back to my vehicle, I came by this site near the Interpretive Center.  Frankly, this “blew me away”.  There were two picnic tables and each one had the equivalent of a large bag of dry cat food spread under each table.  I’m sure this person has a kind heart and means well, but I don’t see how this helps the other wildlife in the park.  Well fed cats still catch birds and hopefully they will also catch the rats that I’m sure this scene also attracts.  I’ll end with these two images, but will be posting more post-flood pictures very soon.  Until then…

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I’m looking forward to new adventures at the Falls of the Ohio and once the river subsides I’ll be able to do that.  What I knew so well over the past year is just that…the past.  Floods always rearrange the riverbank around here and a new supply of “stuff” will be deposited…unfortunately.

There is so much trash and debris floating around here it is a bit amazing and depressing.  Just for the record, most of the trash is not coming from my home city of Louisville.  It’s not that we are any better than anyone else, but the fact is this garbage has traveled with the river from as far north as Pittsburgh and other venues north of us.  The Falls of the Ohio seems to catch-all particularly at this very spot.

This was the view under the railroad bridge on Sunday.  A tremendous amount of debris has been concentrated here and once the water recedes there will be mountains of driftwood with garbage mingled throughout.  You can see how daunting a task it would be to try to remove what can be recycled here from what should decompose naturally.  The prevailing currents and wind push all this floating debris against the Falls of the Ohio until the next bout of high water adds or subtracts it from here.

Yes, it’s very colorful, but completely unwanted.  Most of what you can see here seems to be plastic drinking bottles.  I guess it’s much easier to throw them in the river than to deposit them in some recycling bin!  Once the river backs down, I imagine I will find all sorts of “treasures”.  A good friend of mine who also happens to be an artist has a difficult time reconciling why I spend so much time down here making art from Styrofoam, etc… I tell him that there are more important issues in the world than what occurs in the art world and that I’m worried about the planet.  Making something creative from this junk is my way of calling attention to the problem.  It’s not just the objects, but the context that all this is presented in that’s more crucial.  It’s not a gallery or museum but rather the very space of life itself.

As far as floods go…this has been a fairly gentle one for us, thus far.  More water up north will translate to an increase in the river level again.  We may go through this a few more times over the next couple of months.  There were record snow falls this year and all the melt water from that has not been reckoned with yet.  The staircase beyond the sign is a common way that people access the riverbank.  Now let’s check out the stairs themselves.

I walked along to all my favorite spots…or at least the ones I could reach.  My boots were a wet and muddy mess, but it felt good being outside.  I saw a few of the early migrating birds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Rufous-sided Towhees, Belted Kingfishers, and yes the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which I believe to be the same woodpecker that I have spotted visiting the same sweetgum tree for the last four years.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good day for bird photography, but maybe next time!

This is a view near the Interpretive Center.  The rising water does so centimeter by centimeter in very undramatic fashion.  It can be very disarming, however, to feel your feet getting wet when just a few minutes before the ground you were standing on was dry. 

I found this to be an interesting and melancholy image.  Usually, picnic tables conjure up pleasant images of family outings, but the river obviously is disinterested.  This table has its legs up in the air like some dead cartoon animal.

Just a typical view of bottomland when the river rises.  I think the water accentuates the vertical elements in this composition and causes me to notice the trees more.

As I was walking along the Woodland Trail, I came across this storm sewer that services the town of Clarksville.  Why it’s exactly here next to park land is debatable?  While I was walking by I was startled by an increase in the volume of water gushing from this location.  This is another aspect of flooding.  So many of our small towns and cities need serious overhauls to their aging sewer systems and the increasing volumes of water exposes their weaknesses. 

The water here smelled like the combined scents of every laundry detergent known to mankind all mingled together.  There was also a “nice” foam head along the margins.

For now, I haven’t been able to do as much with my project on site.  At home and in my new studio room, I have been sifting through images and bits of plastic that I have accumulated over time and wondering what to do with it all?  I’ll end this post with one more recent flood image.  In a small back water area, I came across this flock of Canada geese who seemed to be like me…just waiting for the river to return to normalcy.

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What a day!  I was able to take my time and explore the western section of the park.  It had been a few months since I was last there and the change in location felt good.  As I passed the creek that defines the western most limit of the park’s Woodland Trail, I came across this nice view.  I like how the water has terraced the riverbank in particular.

The fine mud has left a record of the rising and falling water.  Plus there was something reverential to me in the pose of the fisherman.  Making himself humble in the face of this peaceful nature?  Who care’s if you catch a fish when it feels this good to be outside and breathing.

Crossing over, I soon came across a section of the riverbank that is the proverbial elephants’ graveyard for plastic.  I took many photographs of it all.  That’s stuff for a future post wahoo!  Yes, I found a lot of interesting stuff, but I also heard some birdsong as well.  In a month or so, it will be spring migration time for neotropical birds which is one of my favorite moments at the Falls.  I did come across some relics from earlier figures I made and it’s interesting to see how they weathered.  The one with the pinkish lips was last year’s butterfly guide.

How much of our history is based on fragments?  And because it is incomplete, filling in the blanks is guess-work.  Like many people around the world, our family was watching events unfold in Egypt and we were cheering for the people and their struggle for self-determination.  But our own notions of democracy were borrowed from the ancient Greeks, whose armless marble statues were once complete and probably painted as well.  American democracy is what evolved here and heaven knows it’s still a work in progress.  Whatever happens in Egypt will be their interpretation and will take in to account their civilization’s already long history.  I’m happy that the transition is happening now fairly peacefully.

Today, I found two plastic tanks on the riverbank!  Finding one would be unusual so what do you call it when you find more than one?  Just coincidence I suppose?

It’s to the Egyptian peoples’ credit that the military didn’t make this deadlier than it was.  It’s a measure of civilization on how well we take care of the least fortunate among us.  This is a quality that I find eroding in my own country where decisions are often made based on a bottom line.  Walking along, I found another little toy.  Over the years, I have found a handful of these.

Coming across this little plastic cowboy shooting his pistol made me wonder what it might be like if we were the ones experiencing a popular revolution?  With America awash in weapons, I shudder at the thought. 

I rested at this spot along my walk and ate my granola bars.  My left foot was aching a bit from walking along such uneven surfaces.  I wonder how old these trees were before the beaver got to them and what’s that yellow sandstone looking form?  Walking over to it, it’s a large hunk of some kind of expandable foam used for insulation?  There’s more than Styrofoam floating out here. 

It took some effort to roll this to a place where I could work on it.  Partially water-logged, it was really heavy on one side and that kept it from standing upright on the sloping bank of the river.  Over and over I reminded myself to be careful not to hurt my back.  Recently, I did tweak it a bit by being out of position when I lifted.  Anyway, in honor of recent events and because this block gave me the idea…here is the Ohio Valley Sphinx in several images.

I left my sphinx near the river where it could watch that other attribute of civilization wash ashore from far afield.  Good luck to the Egyptians and all the people of that region desiring a more humane life. I ended my last post by finding a plastic duck…and here is another!  What are the chances of that?  It was an old pull toy and is now missing its wheels.

Naturally, this artificial duck went into another collecting bag to join the decoy found on the last expedition to the Falls of the Ohio.

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I was walking through the woods on a sun-dappled day looking for migratory birds when I came across a new friend.  We talked for a little while before introducing ourselves.  Both of us remarked on the dry weather we have been having and I said that it’s official now.  September was the driest ever in the commonwealth of Kentucky since records have been kept dating back to 1871.  We have had a spits-worth of rain… that’s it.  Overall, this has been our third driest month ever, beaten only by two Octobers over the course of the past century.  We both wondered if this was an omen for this October?  We certainly hope not.  Having created some common ground, I introduced myself and she said to call her Minnie, Minnie Buckethead.

As it turned out, Minnie is an interesting old lady with a fascination for everything in the woods.  I asked if she had seen any migrating warblers and she had.  American Redstarts, Black and White Warblers, were moving with small groups of other birds including Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.  I had seen nothing.  I definitely need to get up earlier in the day to catch the bird show.  Perhaps Minnie was taking pity on me and she said that there were a few other things happening in the woods and would I like to see them?  How could I turn down such a nice offer from an old lady?

We walked over to a large willow tree and I saw Minnie crane her neck and squint her eyes from the sun and she scanned the willow bark.  “Here” she said and I checked out what she was pointing at.

At first I thought it was a bee, but it was larger and more robust and not as big as a bumble bee.  There were others.  Walking around to the shady side I could determine that they are hornets of some kind.  The hornets and other insects were licking whatever was exuding from the willow tree.

“Don’t worry, they won’t get you”, she said.  The hornets were so preoccupied with the sap that they were quite tame.  Walking around the tree gave us this sight.  Three different species of butterflies also taking advantage of the willow bark.  The one in the foreground is the Red Admiral.  Although I hadn’t seen the hornets doing this before, I did say to Minnie that I had observed many butterflies on these willows and wasn’t it nice that so many living creatures could set aside their differences to take advantage of this common resource.  She just smiled.

I was appreciative of Minnie showing me the tree and so I tried to impart a little knowledge to her about the local cicadas.  I had come across a dead female in the sand,(identified by the hypodermic needle of an ovipositor she uses to lay her eggs under the thin bark of a tree).  I asked Minnie if she knew anything else about their life cycle and she said she didn’t and so I went on.  I told her that after the egg hatches under the bark, the nymphs drop down and burrow under the ground and attach themselves to the tree’s roots.  With this species, after a couple of years of sucking tree juices, they emerge from the ground and become adults which for cicadas, is a brief moment in time.  They mate, lay eggs, and then die after a glorious two weeks or so.  You find their split skins where they transform as juveniles into adults near where they emerged from the ground.  Here’s a pictures of the dead cicada, the split cicada skin, and a fresh adult.

With any life cycle it’s hard to know exactly where to begin and I suppose that’s the classic which came first question… the egg or the cicada? I’ll leave that to brighter minds than my own for now. 

Minnie listened attentively and then asked me to follow her.  She had something else to show me before we parted company.  We walked away from the willow tree to an area where several large logs were decomposing.  She pointed a thin finger at a yellow patch on one log’s side and I could see it was some type of fungus.  It seemed to be spreading outward as it broke down the tissues inside the tree. 

It was both fascinating and oddly repellent. On another nearby log was yet another fungi which I could identify as a fresh bracket or shelf  fungus.  The bright colors also seemed on the lurid side to me.

Minnie talked to me about what a wonderful system that nature has created to break things down after death.  Like these fungi were doing to what were once living trees.  She talked about how life depended on materials being able to decompose in order to release the nutrients that are needed for life to move forward.  This is what it means to live naturally and that we should look at the systems that the planet has in place and to learn from them.  With that, I took my leave and waved good-by to the old lady in the woods.

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