Posts Tagged ‘osprey’

Canada Geese, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

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

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

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

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

Black Vulture, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

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

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

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

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


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

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

Orange-collared Piper, April 2014

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

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

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

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It’s hard for me to believe that October has come and gone.  There isn’t much sand left in 2012’s hourglass.  I’m virtually alone (if you are only counting people) at the Falls of the Ohio today and it’s understandable.  The weather is cool, gray, and an occasional spit of rain falls against my face.  I like it out here when it feels a bit lonelier because my chances of seeing wildlife increases.  Such was the case today when I explored the area next to the tainter gates and under the old railroad bridge.  This area is sheltered a bit from the wind and many times I have found birds in the high grass and low trees near the sloping riverbank.  Today I observed Song Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Hairy Woodpeckers in immediate proximity to each other.  In the sky, the first of the Ring-billed Gulls has arrived and a pair of Osprey with their broad wings searches for unwary fish too close to the surface of the water.  Many of the tree leaves have dropped and it looks like we will have a bumper crop of cockle burrs as I pull dozens of them off my shoe laces and socks.  Their prickly hooks irritate my skin as they work through the fabric of my clothing.  On days like this I’m just trying to attune myself to the subtleties of this landscape and I’m amazed at how often my patience gets rewarded here.  As I was walking to photograph uprooted trees against the flood wall…

…I spotted something shockingly white moving near the water’s edge.  Carefully moving as close as I could…I recorded this image of another rare bird seldom seen at the Falls of the Ohio.

A few more pictures in relatively close succession and I was able to identify this beauty as the Lattice-necked or Brown-winged Ibis.  I prefer using the Lattice-necked moniker because the long neck with its unusual patterning is distinctive to this bird alone.  I happened across an individual that was hunting for food and stalking the margins of the water.  I did observe it feeding on black snails that were common on the rocks. I recall from my old art history days that the ibis was a sacred bird to the ancient Egyptians and often was mummified to accompany dignitaries on their journeys to the afterlife.  In my mind I made the association that this ibis species in front of me was sacred to the life of this river.  Enough gabbing, here are a few more pictures.

This ibis species is more commonly seen around the Gulf coast and points south of here.  Every once in a while, a storm or hurricane will blow a few individuals into the heartland where they are a welcome treat to the hardcore birders.  The Lattice-necked Ibis has always been less common than the other larger shorebirds.  It is less aggressive than the herons and egrets which out-compete the ibis for prime nesting and feeding sites.  This bird did spy me and flew away, but only a short distance away.  I was able to catch back up with it and captured these final images of this graceful and dignified bird.

Here is the same ibis that found a nice fishing spot next to a small whirlpool. Every now and then a little fish would get caught by the rotating water only to find itself food for the lightning quick ibis.

I felt refreshed and energized by my encounter with the ibis.  I left the river  with a song in my heart which I whistled all the way back home.  Above me, two osprey I had seen earlier were circling in the clear, cool blue sky…another blessing of this day.

BONUS FEATURE…in process shots of how the ibis was made.  The head and body are pieces of Styrofoam I found out at the Falls of the Ohio.  The bill of the bird is a plastic handle from something…perhaps a feather duster?  The bird’s eyes are two small pieces of coal.  The neck I’m guessing is the plastic arm of a hanging flower planter?  At the base of the neck, I attached a small bit of white plastic hose I came across. The brown wings are the soles of two mismatched shoes I found.  The tiny tail and legs are found wood.  These are all the materials that make up this sculpture which owes something to the tradition of decoy making.  Thanks for tagging along with me on another adventure by the Ohio River.

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It’s been a brutal and tough summer…one of our hottest yet.  When you are at the river’s edge there’s no place to hide.  It’s just rock, water, and sky.  Life in all its forms is trying to expend just enough energy to keep going on.  That also includes me.  The mosquitos and gnats were extra annoying and chased me from the cool and shade under the willow trees to the open light and heat of the riverbank.

In the air above me, a pair of osprey makes repeated visits to the dam.  Every once in a while, one of them would fold its wings slightly and dive into the river.  I wonder how they know that the water here is shallow?  On occasion their daring would be rewarded with a fish.  Birds, however, are not the only ones ignoring the heat today to chase fish.

This guy has just landed a catfish and is extracting the hook.  Around him is his fishing tackle which includes several poles and a small throw net.  To me it all appears very primal and it wouldn’t have surprised me at this moment to see him take a bite out of this fish.  Observing people fishing out at the Falls is like watching one of those nature documentaries where large bears intercept the salmon on their return home.  People arrange themselves along the most productive sites and arriving early helps. Not all the fish caught by the fishermen are kept.  The rough so-called “trash fish” are thrown back in a weakened, wounded condition.  I have seen the osprey picking those fish off and flying away with them.

Butterflies are seen in profusion during this time of year.  I have been watching which species like to congregate around the willow trees to sip up what I assume is tree sap.  I have seen as many as six different species lining up on the same tree.  I think areas where these trees have been damaged (from collisions with water born logs) are the preferred feeding areas.  These places that the butterflies like (this includes flies and wasps too) are on the margins of where bark has been worn away.  The above photo features two species…the larger Red-spotted Purple and the Comma butterfly.  I later watched these two individuals engage in a combat over a favorite spot on the tree.  The Comma was by far more aggressive.  So much for the idea of describing a butterfly as being meek.

I did make one plastic discovery tangled in the driftwood and sand.  I came across this Indian dressed in his Plains garb.  He’s obviously has led a hard life too and has come to rest at the Falls of the Ohio.  I snap his picture where I found him and dropped him into the collecting bag.  I may or may not use him in some other creation of mine.  We will see.

When I reached my studio under the willows, I found this image.  The helmeted figure made a month a go is still here, but he was leaning over with a “spear” thrown into his body.  There wasn’t any other signs of damage or disturbance.  I removed the spear and set the figure up in another location and proceeded to make a new piece.  This is what I came up with before the bugs chased me out into the bright light.  With all the heaviness that life throws at us…I made this figure to remind myself to do a little dance every now and then.  It seems to help!

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