Posts Tagged ‘ornithology’

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



Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

It’s Spring and I’m walking the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park looking for birds.  I have done this religiously for years and have seen most of the species that have been recorded in this park.  I love birds because they are such beautiful expressions of life.  I envy their extreme mobility with so many species able to call greater parts of the globe home than I will ever experience.  This is the time of year when many different types of birds that have been wintering in South and Central America undergo remarkable journeys.  Some will pass through this area on their way to locations as far north as the Arctic Circle. This is my chance to see them… if I’m lucky. The Falls of the Ohio also has another significant bird connection through the life and work of John James Audubon.  He essentially started his life’s work that would eventually become The Birds of America, one of the great achievements in publishing and the most expensive book in the world, by first drawing many of the birds he encountered at the Falls of the Ohio.  Audubon’s example and his journal descriptions of the world he inhabited are frequent touchstones for me and this project.  Two hundred years later…very little remains of the original landscape he was familiar with.  That process and transformation of the landscape is continuing and unfortunately not always in a positive direction.  Birds are such great indicators of the quality of the environment because they are sensitive to changes…the canary in the coal mine was a real thing.  To enjoy birds and birding is an activity that takes you out of yourself for a little while and causes you to engage life on its own terms.  On this day (which also happened to be April Fool’s Day)  I did experience many of the usual year round resident bird species, but did not see any of the neotropical migrants that make the Spring migration so special.  So, when this happens, I’m not above creating my own bird species.  This post is devoted to a new bird I discovered out here and I’ve named it the Variegated Oriole.

The Variegated Oriole receives its name for being multicolored. I first encountered this bird as various bits of detritus that I came across walking the shoreline of the Ohio River.  For the head, I used a small piece of river-polished Styrofoam.  Its brightly colored beak is part of a plastic and polystyrene fishing float that I cut with my pocket knife.  The eyes are small bits of coal.  I used a green foam gasket or washer to act as a transitional element between the head and the body.  It’s a trademark of mine that I seem to do with almost every piece I make out here. For the body, I found a blue piece of river-polished high density foam? that I cut a few slits into the sides to hold the wings which are made from pine bark.  I took one piece of bark that the river peeled off of a tree and I split that in half to form matching wings.  The tail is a piece of yellow plastic I found that reminded me of a bird tail!  I cut another groove into the blue body to insert and hold the tail in place.  The feet, are just rootlets that I sharpened and pegged into the body.  That’s it in terms of materials which I tried to alter as little as possible as not to trump what nature and the river had already shaped.  It’s important to me that this be a true collaboration.  If “we” are successful, then something of the spirit of a bird will take hold and inhabit this small sculpture.

After finishing the bird…I seek out environments that will help put this avian creation into some kind of context.  Everything matters and I hope my pictures convey something of the time of day, the season, the quality of light, the condition of the environment, etc…all those elements help create a sense of place.  I move through the willow trees posing the bird on various stumps and branches.  I usually take a lot of pictures.

Sometimes, I will imagine what kind of habits my new birds might possess.  In the case of the Variegated Oriole…it is not too different from the Northern or Baltimore Orioles that live and nest in the park.  They are among the migrants I look for. I heard one the other day calling, but didn’t see it.  The real orioles that live here are adapting to local conditions by using artificial materials (fishing line and barge cable fibers) in the construction of their hanging basket nests.  I’ve posted on this before in this blog a few years a go.  I think Audubon would have been interested in this.  Anyway, I left my bird sitting on a branch for anyone to discover.  It might still be there and I will find out today when I once again venture out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Perhaps new birds will present themselves to me? I will let you know what I find…next time.

One week later…I returned to the spot where I left my faux-feathered friend and he was no longer perched upon the branch where I left him.  I was able to locate most of him scattered on the sand except for one wing.  My guess was that he was felled by a well-aimed and thrown rock.  The head was shattered and will need to be replaced provided  I recyle these pieces back into a bird again.

Read Full Post »

The little red bird perched easily between my forefinger and thumb.  I was walking along the river bank and spotted it among the recently deposited debris…another small gift.  If I had to guess, I would say that the red bird was intended to be child’s clay tool.  It’s like a cookie cutter stencil only smaller.  I was on the look out for birds and my subconscious was on alert.  I think this is partially why the plastic bird appeared to me when it did.  The axiom about chance favoring the prepared mind touches upon this phenomenon.

While the river level was still high, I came across this pair of American Coots near the shore.  Logs and chunks of wood were bobbing in the water.  Their dark feathers took on the look of wet wood.  The odd appearance of these coots had to do with them standing on a log that is mostly submerged.  Among the other birds I found near the water were Canada Geese, Mallard Ducks, and high overhead…kingfishers.

Like little twittering machines, a male and two female Belted Kingfishers were chasing each other across the sky.  I watched them for over half an hour and hoped that one of them would perch in a tree near me.  Alas, this was the best image from that moment.  With its low profile, out-sized bill, and crested head, the Belted Kingfisher’s silhouette is distinctive.  Someday, I hope to stumble upon their nest built into the side of the riverbank.  I’ll prepare my mind for that moment and let’s see if chance intervenes!  I did spot an Eastern Phoebe which is an early migrant.  As the warmth and light speeds up the production of tree leaves, we can expect the arrival of the birds we share with Central and South America.  Their timing is exquisite and seems to coincide with the many small cut-worm caterpillars that will chew their way through the foliage of the canopy.

During migration, the Falls becomes home for several different thrush species.  Some of them can be notoriously hard to identify, but not the bird above.  It’s the White Thrush and it utilizes all the available habitats here to put on a little weight before moving northward.  I have seen them patrolling the water line and investigating the densest vegetation in search of food which can include insects, seeds, and berries.

This bird was investigating decaying logs in search of a meal.  Every once in a while, the thrush would “scratch” the rotten wood with a backwards jump that would reveal small grubs and insects just below the wood’s surface.  These morsels were quickly seized by this agile bird.

Here’s a third thrush perched upon a vine near the Woodland Trail.  I observed this bird picking off very small midge-like flies and returning to this position.  On my way back home, I stopped at the Interpretive Center to pick up another bird list for the park.  My list is getting a bit tattered from use and I still have about half of the 268 bird species recorded here left to go!  I did spot one bird last year in the park that I’m surprised is omitted from the checklist and it’s the American Turkey.  It would fit easily in the Game and Marsh Birds category.  There are also birds “flying” inside the Interpretive Center and above the mammoth’s head and I’ll end this post with that image.

Read Full Post »

blue-headed vireo

October and the Fall migration is underway.  One bird I look forward to seeing is the Blue-headed Vireo.  I have spotted them the same week in October for two consecutive years now.  I watched a pair working their way around the willow trees and observed one eating a fat, dark moth it caught.  These vireos are less wary and found lower in the trees than the other vireo species recorded here.  The official Falls of the Ohio checklist counts six vireo species.  I’m still looking for the Yellow-throated Vireo, which like the Blue-headed is considered uncommon for the park.  I like the bright white spectacles around this bird’s eyes.  Here’s a different view of this bird.

Blue-headed Vireo, 10/09

A couple weeks back I made another bird from Styrofoam and just didn’t get the chance to post it till now.  I think it turned out well and I call it a “White Jay”.  It’s about the same size as a Blue Jay.  Materials used to create this sculpture include:  polystyrene foam, sticks, lead (one eye), bark (for the wings) and plastic.  I later attached it to a branch, as in early ornithological prints, and is in the present Galerie Hertz exhibit.  Again, here are a  couple different views of this piece.

White Jay, 10/09

White Jay, 10/09

Read Full Post »

Great Egret, 5/07

Where did our Great Egrets go?  I’m asking that question this year because they are a familiar summer time bird at the Falls of the Ohio.  Visitors are usually treated to their presence from May to October or for however the warm weather lasts.  Usually, you can see them along the water’s edge fishing along with Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and the occasional Green Heron and Snowy Egrets.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, this hasn’t been the  most typical of years.

Great Egret, 10/08

Although 2009 still has a few months left to go, this year has been among our wettest and our summer was the coolest I can ever recall.  I have lived most of my life in Kentucky and we hit the 90 degree mark only a few times early in the season.  Usually, summers here are hot, humid, and long.  Just about everybody I know has acknowledged that this has been another climatically unusual year, but nobody has been complaining about the cooler than average summer. 

Great Egret with Black Vultures, 10/08

A possible exception could be our Great Egrets.  I have been out at the Falls most of this year and have been trying to pay attention to when birds  arrive and leave our area.  As far as I can tell, the Great Egrets were only around for a week in July.  I recorded seeing them on July 19 and then they were gone.  More rain and cool weather followed their appearance and obviously they went somewhere else, but where? 

Great Egret with roosting Black Vultures, 10/08

The images of the Great Egret and roosting Black Vultures were made at the Falls during October of 2008.  They are among my personal favorite bird pictures that I have taken in the park.  I was walking  near the dam that separates the Ohio River from the fossil beds and came across this scene.  A previous flood had stranded a dead tree on the wall and made a nice resting spot.  I liked the contrast between the stately white egret rising above the fidgety and squabbling vultures.  I had to be extra stealthy in my approach since my camera isn’t equipped with the best telephoto lens.  The Black Vultures seem to be getting more ubiquitous and this year I counted one flock of over fifty birds.  Soon, they too will be migrating to warmer parts down south, perhaps they will be catching up with our Great Egrets?

Read Full Post »

Falls Brush Fowl, 5/09

Ornithological history was made today as the first photographic images of the rare and elusive Falls Brush Fowl were made public.  Seldom seen and rarely heard this bird was photographed by the park’s unofficial artist in residence.  The Falls of the Ohio is the same area where the legendary John James Audubon began his drawings for his monumental undertaking, “The Birds of America”.  Audubon, however, never recorded seeing this bird.

Falls Brush Fowl, 5/09

The specimen appears to be a male in full courtship display.  This bird was not particularly wary as it strutted it’s stuff on several prominant logs and branches often in bright sunlight.  The Falls Brush Fowl is known for the fan it creates from its tail feathers, much in the manner of grouse.  Dancing gingerly it trills its song into the deep underbrush, while its head is framed by a ring of pink feathers.  The exact numbers of this bird are unknown.

Falls Brush Fowl, 5/09

No response was noted from the male Falls Brush Fowl’s display.  As reclusive as the males are…the females are even more difficult to approach.  Nothing is known abouts its nest, eggs, clutch size, incubation period and chicks have never been seen.  Speculation exists that the eggs may be deposited in a hole covered with rotting vegetation.  The heat generated from the decay of leaf matter incubates the eggs, but this has never been proven.  The bird is more myth than fact and the photos are welcomed by the scientific community and the general bird-loving public.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, 5/09

Other birds noted in the area this day include:  the Chestnut-sided Warbler seen in the above photo.  Small groups of mixed species  traveled and fed together among the willow and cottonwood trees.  It was not unusual to find Yellow Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, Carolina Chickadees, and Indigo Buntings harvesting small caterpillars. 

Time Keeper and Wishing Well, 5/09

Lastly, yesterday’s figure entitled the “Time Keeper” was spotted in an a different location.  A park visitor moved the piece inside a wood structure called the “Old Colonel’s Wishing Well”…a curiousity deposited by the last high water.  I’m sure there is a story surrounding that object and if anyone out there knows it…I would love to hear it!

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: