Posts Tagged ‘Styrofoam sculpture’

wooden cable spool and willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, March 22, 2014

It’s a sunny Saturday and warm for this time of year.  One of those days I can’t wait to get to the river.  Spring is still slow in developing, but it can’t be much longer now.  I spent a good part of the day just filling up my canvas collecting bag with all types of odds and ends both man-made and natural that have washed up on these fabled shores.  I’m finding so much stuff that for practical reasons I decide to see if I can find a spot up the bank and under the willows that might make a good location for a temporary outdoor art studio.  I can offload some of my larder for future use while continuing to walk the edge of the river.  I’m enjoying the sunshine and taking deep breaths of the fresh air.

U.F.O. studio...Unidentified Floating Object studio, March 2014

U.F.O. studio, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I chose a spot bordered by a large log that keeps most of the driftwood at bay and what I call the U.F.O. or Unidentified Floating Object which is circular metal platform that was once painted white with blue trim.  It’s starting to show some rust now.  This large object washed over the dam during a high water moment three or four years a go.  Since then it’s changed positions with the rising and falling river levels and was once completely buried under driftwood.  The U.F.O. is a platform that normally would be anchored out on  the river.  Barges and other water craft can tie on to it if necessary.  Some how this one got loose and relocated to the park.  When I first discovered it here I also imagined that it was a giant bathtub plug that helped keep the water in the river.   I was lucky that I had the same outdoor studio for many years before this winter’s high water rearranged the landscape again and floated all my collected materials away.  I spent a few hours walking the river collecting Styrofoam and sticks and can’t wait to make something new.

Mega Spool figure in progress, March 2014

Completed figure at the U.F.O. studio, March 2014

The first figure I make here is from the largest chunks of polystyrene I had found on this excursion.  I used two fishing floats (one larger than the other for expressive effect) for the eyes.  The nose is a plastic piece from a fooseball table.  The mouth is a red reflector.  My figure has ears, arms, and legs that are pieces of driftwood.  The figure has a benevolent feeling to it and I can’t wait to photograph it by the river.  I did run into a young sculptor attending the Kentucky School of Art who was collecting driftwood for her own project.  Her name is Jenn and she approached me asking if I was the person with the show at the Carnegie Center for Art and History?  She and her classmates had seen the exhibition.  Jenn is building an installation at the school and promised to let me know when she completed it.  It will be fun to see art made by someone else from materials collected within the park.

Large Styro-figure on a tiny willow island, March 2014

Styro-figure on tiny willow island, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

When I first meet the river, I spend a little time looking around and scouting out potential locations to create the photographs that will represent this day in my project.  I decide that I like this tiny “willow island” which consists of clay and sand bound together by the living roots of this tree.  Waves and water wash all around it and at times it does look like an island.  As the river recedes to its normal pool, this tree will be high and dry at last.  It’s amazing what it takes to keep this tree in place with such a dynamic river always testing its resolve to survive.  During the highest river levels, this tree would be completely submerged underwater.  Many of the willows along this stretch of the river bear scars and wounds from large logs battering them, breaking branches, and grinding bark away.  I pose the figure on the root mass and move to the next shot which isn’t too far away.

Styro-figure and large, wooden cable spool, March 2014

Styro-figure and wireline spool, Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

Near tiny willow island is a large wooden “spool” for wire line or cable.  I’m amazed by this object’s heavy-duty construction.  This spool floated into here and is now partially sunk into the sand.  Small waves lap the shoreline and you can also see black coal dust swirling around the water’s edge.  Later when I see my pictures I’m struck by how similar this spool is to the circular platform that now forms part of my latest outdoor studio.  This new area to cache my materials is very visible and hence ultra public, however, if we have heavy spring rains…it’s very possible that all this will be washed away and rearranged again.  I often wonder what might go through people’s minds when they stumble upon my outdoor atelier?  It’s an odd archeological site of Styrofoam boulders, small piles of plastic toys, and a tangle of found roots and driftwood.  All the stuff you need to make an absurd figure!  I left my latest Styro-creation next to the spool.  I will go a head and tell you…I returned a week later and all I could find of him was his body and legs.  There must be headhunters out here?  I searched the area, but found no further trace of my figure.  As with most of my Falls projects, they continue to “exist” as images.  The exhibition that Michael Wimmer and I are participating in at the Carnegie Center of Art and History is entering its last week.  I’m so appreciative of the positive response I’ve received for my work.  The show will end with a tea and cookies closing.  If you are in the area, please stop by.

Final shot from the big spool and tiny willow island, March 2014, Falls of the Ohio

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Beloved, once again I evoke you from this beautiful water world I have discovered.  Repairs to my ship go slowly, but progress is being made.  Because of the uniqueness of this world and its potential importance to Styrosia, I continue to venture forth from my hiding places to discover what other life forms call this planet their home.  I continue to monitor the “bipedal humanoids” learning what I can from translating aspects of their culture using our technology.  The humanoids are unpredictable and possess enough data to be dangerous.  They are best seen and experienced from a distance. What I have also observed is that the humanoids have a great curiosity about their own world.  They are constantly engaging in explorations of discovery and seem to exhibit a need to know how the universe functions.  The irony here is that while they express concern for life at large, they are also systematically working to undermine the very conditions necessary to preserve and promote as much diversity of life as possible.  Every day life forms become extinct before they are even formally acknowledged as existing by their sciences.  This is a great topic, perhaps one for a future communication?  Today, however, I want to transmit a few images of interest to amuse and delight you from this alien world.  I would like to begin with an unusual characteristic that is exhibited in the local rocks and has been revealed through water’s ability to dissolve and shape the chemistry around it.

The appearance and proliferation of life on this planet is its most outstanding feature.  No where else in the explored universe can rival this world for the sheer variety and numbers of life forms that have uniquely evolved here.  At my current location are the preserved remains of life forms in calcium carbonate rocks of marine organisms that originated more than 350 million years a go.  Ancient as this is, the history of life is traceable to more than 2 billion years a go.  The humanoid scientists measure one year as being the amount of time it takes their planet to make one complete revolution around its star.  I believe it is correct to assume that life began in the ancient waters or “primordial soup” as the humanoids envision it.  Life and this planet have grown up together and each has influenced the other.  This planet is far from static and its oceans and land masses have shifted across the globe over deep time.  Today, humanoids travel great distances to peer at these local rocks.  What are they ultimately looking for in this ancient coral reef?  My hypothesis is that the humanoids are drawn to seeking a feeling of connection to the history of life on their own home world.  There is something in their behaviors that also suggests that they are mystified by the phenomena of their own existence.

While the humanoids look for the proof of their connectivity to the history of life on their planet, many other interesting forms don’t question this and simply “be”. I have especially grown fond of the sessile life forms that have decided to flourish in the spots most favorable to them.  Once a year, these stationary forms decide to  climax in an electromagnetic spectrum display that is pleasing to the eye.  I have decided to take as many self images in the company of these “flowers and plants” during this “flowering” using my self as a measure of scale.

Many of these “flowers” participate in symbiotic relationships often with very diverse and contrasting species.  This particular sessile life form attracts flying animals that feature exoskeletons.  The flowers provide nourishment for these animals and the plant finds an agent to move its genetic material from itself to others of its own kind.  I have observed more of these smaller, exoskeleton-bearing creatures than all the other animals combined and they would make a rich field of enquiry that could occupy the careers of many Styrosian scientists.  Here is a different example of such an animal.

This is what the humanoids call a Mourning Cloak butterfly and I observed it warming itself in the star light.  It’s reverse coloring is cryptic and resembles a dried plant bio-solar panel.  Its mouth parts have been adapted over time to make a tube that can easily extract sugary liquids produced by the plants that these butterflies favor.  There is an exchange of services that benefits both life forms involved in this process.  Other flying animals with a very different morphology also inhabit this space.  Here is a sequence of images from what the humanoid data base refers to as a Black-throated Green Warbler looking for “insects” among the “willow trees”.  Their movements are quick and this species is just traveling through on its way to a warmer environment in the southern latitudes of this world.

These animate life forms are called “birds” and have internal skeletons made of a lightweight material.  They also have an unusual outer covering that gets shed once a year and helps these animals to fly.  Here is a different and much larger bird I came across feeding at the water’s edge.

From the streaked markings and lighter coloring I identified that this is a juvenile Green-backed Heron.  I disturbed its hunting and feeding along the water’s edge.  Observe that it has a crest on its head which it uses to register increased alarm.  In the next moment, the heron jumped into the sky and with a few quick wing beats was gone from view.  My love, I think you will enjoy the sessile life forms as much as I do!  The humanoids refer to them as either “flowers” or “weeds” and they don’t try to escape if you express interest in examining one like the animate life forms do.  Following is a small portfolio of self-images and some of the variety in these self-sufficient life forms I have experienced on a single solar day.

I have noticed that the humanoids have reserved some animosity towards the sessile life forms that they refer to as “weeds”.  To my sense organs, I can not tell the difference between preferred species and the ones considered to be undesirable?  If one quality of a “weed” is its ability to thrive in a variety of conditions…one would think that the humanoids would admire this since this is a quality they share with “weeds”!  This is certainly a planet of mysteries and contradictions and how I wish you were here to experience it with me.  I have observed that the photons emitting from the local star are traveling farther to reach me with each day.  The temperatures have also been getting cooler and the sessile life forms are undergoing changes to the cellular solar panels which are turning color themselves and in some cases falling off the main body of the life form.  There is a frenzy among the smaller exoskeleton animals to gather as much  energy from each plant as possible.  I’m predicting that this world will go into a dormant period before re-emerging in the warmth of a new solar year.  It is also now time for me to end transmissions for the moment.  How I hope you and my fellow Styrosians are receiving them? Finally, I will conclude with two images.  One is a self-image of me in front of small white and yellow “weeds”.  The last image features some of the flying exoskeleton animals attracted to this plant.  Until its time for my next communication…good by from the water world.

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I think today’s post will be shorter than usual, but will need to type it out to be sure.  On this visit to the Ohio River I found it rising which surprised me because we haven’t had much in the way of either rain or snow this year.  When I arrived on the scene, many of the familiar places I visit to make my art were already underwater.  I had to keep moving west in the park to access the shrinking riverbank.

I came across this picnic table near the Interpretive Center.  The river is now enjoying what is normally a cozy place to share a few sandwiches.  I wonder if this table eventually floated off?  I kept walking along the retreating shoreline being mindful not to step into the ever creeping waters.

I have my collecting bag with me, but there’s not much to find today.  It will probably be different after the river retreats. The trash left behind will mark how far the waves pushed the debris onto the land. I came across this nice-sized chunk of eroded polystyrene and decided to use it in today’s project.  A short distance from this find was an even larger hunk of Styrofoam and I was in business for the day.

This second piece of foam was nearly as large as me.  It took a bit of struggling to get it positioned where I wanted it near the rising river.  In this section of the park much of the driftwood I was finding seemed dried out and brittle.  I never did come across the right sticks, but had to make do with what today presented.  I did like the happy-go-lucky expression on this figure’s face.

Here’s a full shot of the figure at the place where I left it.  It’s gone now and the few ducks who were around were probably the only witnesses?

A slightly different view this time.  This figure’s eyes are large fishing bobbers I already had in my bag, however, the nose is some rolled piece of foam that I found out here.  I’m glad the sun came out and made the day a bit more cheerful.  That white object in the distance is another hunk of Styrofoam riding the waves…perhaps my next sculpture?

The river was rising and the light was beginning to fade and once the wind started to pick up…I decided to call it an early day.  One last look back at my saluting figure and this final image of it.  I’ll return once the river recedes and let you know what I found.

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August has been the toughest month and I have two measly posts to show for it.  The ankle is better and thanks for all the well wishes I received.  I guess my other newsworthy item is that my trusty camera broke while on expedition to the Falls of the Ohio.  I received the dreaded “lens error restart the camera” message and of course everything I tried after reading whatever I could about fixing it…didn’t work.  Now, I will need to have the pros look at it.  Although I have  never dropped my camera, I am, however, guilty of working in a dusty and sandy environment.  I’ll bet a well placed grain of sand is all it takes to render the most precise instrument useless.  If my camera proves to be a lost cause…then this was its last adventure.

A couple of weeks a go I was approached by a person who was looking for a friend that was last seen at the Falls of the Ohio.  The missing individual had made a phone call to his friend stating where he was and that he would remain at the Falls for a while, but had not been heard from since then.  I was being asked to guide the concerned friend to the places mentioned in their phone conversation.  Perhaps the missing individual would still be there or some clues as to what happened to him?  Our journey took us to the western section of the park over the sweltering fossil beds.  Like I mentioned earlier, August has been a bear.

We walked by large areas of purple loosestrife flowers that were growing in the moist soil and sands near the edge of the river.  For a few moments, we lingered over the flowers and watched all the insects drawn to them.  There was a profusion of butterflies and more than a few exotic wasps and bees.  Each year it seems the loosestrife flowers are spreading and their nectar should make the insects very happy.  The place we were walking to was just a head of us.  I featured it in a recent post called the “Mahalo Tree House”.  It’s a wonderful old cottonwood tree that recently was turned into a “club house” by kids I think?  Here are two recent views as we approached the tree.

My guest became excited to see this unique tree house and mentioned to me that it was exactly as described in his friend’s conversation.  We walked over a couple old fire pits that proved this site had been occupied recently.  I made a few mental notes of other changes I observed since my last visit, but kept those to myself.

My companion grew excited when he spotted the plastic rabbit in his clay niche.  This was one of the details mentioned by the missing friend. There was another clue as well.

The garbage bag that had been left behind during my last visit was now full.  Who was going to carry it up the bank to dispose of in a responsible manner?  There were other signs that started to make me feel uneasy.  What do you make of this?

Do you think it is respectful to the tree to spray paint it?  I think not.  There were other ill omens all around us.  Someone or some group had been decorating the place with found bones.  Several clusters of bones were hanging on the end of strings attached to the tree.  Here’s an example of this.

The oddest bone creation, however, was the weird face we found.  It was made from a pelvis and vertebrae that I think originally belonged to a small deer.  Some man-made elements in the form of fishing float eyes and a fake flower were also added.  It took me a moment to register where the eyes might have originally came from.  Black magic marker was used to draw additional designs on the bone.  The head’s eyes had a way of following you around the interior of the tree house.  The bone additions definitely made the place seem primitive.

My guest and I were feeling uneasy when we made the discovery.  We found the missing friend or what was left of him behind the main trunk of the cottonwood tree.

It was too difficult to tell if the friend had succumbed to natural causes or had help of some kind?  All that was left were the bones and fortunately none of them was used to decorate the tree.  One part of the mystery had been solved…the friend had been found.  It was decided to leave the remains were they lay so that law enforcement could conduct their investigation.

All that was left now was to say good-bye and retrace our steps along the river.  My companion was quiet for the most part.  The one time he broke his silence was when we passed two barefoot boys playing next to the water.  The surviving friend said it reminded him of his own childhood when he and his late sidekick would skip rocks off the surface of the Ohio River.  Here’s hoping September will be a kinder month.

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The Ohio River has receded by the Falls of the Ohio.  For many weeks the river was loath to relinquish the territory it had recently flooded.  I ventured down the river bank and explored the more eastern section of the park.  The following post is some thoughts and images made during this expedition into a very moist and muddy area filled with debris and wildlife.

While exploring the park it is not unusual to run into others who are curious to see what the river has left behind.  Sometimes just a nod of recognition and some small gesture to reassure that one poses no threat is made and each party then attends to their own business.  And then sometimes a more sustained conversation occurs where information of mutual interest is exchanged.  Such was the case on this trip where I ran into this fellow of short stature with a bulbous blue nose who had been investigating the same stretch of river as me.  We tagged along with one another for a short time before family duties called me home.  I believe our initial conversation had something to do with the muddiness of the area.  In places, things looked safe and dry enough to stand on…and then the mud below would reach up and grab you by the ankles.  Sometimes small, blue crabs would pop out of their holes to check out whether the trapped parties would be good to eat.

In my case, I am simply too big for them and once the crabs realized this they scuttled away.  Getting back to “Mr. Blue Nose”,  (funny how we didn’t think to ask each other’s name?), we were both astonished by the debris left behind by the retreating river.  After witnessing several other high water incidents over time…this is fairly representative of the stuff we found.

As you can see it’s mostly plastic containers, polystyrene (aka Styrofoam), and lots of shredded bark and wood chips.  Every once in a while, something more interesting would turn up.  While exploring, Mr. Blue Nose and I found two sign fragments and I kept these for my Found Painting and Sign Collection.  Here are the two precious finds.  The first one is kind of self-explanatory.  I like to muse that this is one way the universe communicates to me by leaving these things in my path for me to ponder.

I’m not sure what it is asking…Please don’t litter or Please, only you can prevent forest fires, whatever its actual message, this is at least a polite sign.  The other one is more reclusive, in fact it is “shy”.  Here’s a picture of this enigmatic sign.

I like the hand-routed and painted “sign” for a person.  I think this fragment may originally have asked dog owners to leash their pets…but its shy and won’t tell me for certain.  Other found treasures included my second banana of the season…naturally it went into the old collecting bag to later join the other artificial produce I have found out here over time.

I also find other kinds of foam out here.  Here’s an interesting found sculpture made from polyurethane.  I have come across busted aerosol cans of this stuff where the foam has expanded out resembling entrails.

Mr. Blue Nose called my attention to a log that something had torn into and he wondered what could do this kind of damage.  Chunks of bark and soft decayed wood were scattered all around. 

I was happy to inform my new friend that this looked like the work made by a Pileated Woodpecker and I showed him images of this great bird I had taken just a few hours earlier.

Since no one can verify that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is still alive along some wild river in Arkansas…the Pileated Woodpecker has the distinction of being our biggest living woodpecker.  For years, I have observed a pair of these crow-sized birds in the park.  This one is the male and can be identified by his red mustache.  The female lacks this and has more black on its head.

The Pileated Woodpecker has a large bill that goes through wood in a hurry.  Carpenter ants and beetle larvae can be found in these decaying logs and make up the main diet of this magnificent bird.  If you look closely at the photo above you can see a nice grub about to be swallowed.  This bird was so intent on looking for food that I was able to get closer than usual to it.  A couple of weeks a go, I found a Bessbug beetle which is a nice sized insect that uses decaying wood in its life-cycle.  This beetle is also known as the Patent-leather Beetle.  Here’s an adult I found sunning itself on a piece of Styrofoam.  These beetles can get nearly two inches long or about  five centimeters.  I wonder if our country will ever adopt the metric system?  Anyway, these beetle grubs make nice woodpecker snacks.

Thanks to my new companion we were able to make one other nice bird sighting on this day.  Mr. Blue Nose alerted me to some commotion happening in a nearby stand of trees. 

My friend said that he saw several blackbirds (grackles) chasing a larger bird from tree to tree.  I have observed this behavior before when birds of prey are present.  I gathered my camera up and went to see if I could find out what was the object of all this attention.  It turned out to be this beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk.  Here are a couple of pictures of it before the smaller birds drove it out of the area.

I always feel lucky when I see such beautiful birds in the park.  Before flying away, I saw this bird’s mate arriving and the two flew away together.  Soon it was time for me to fly away too and I left my companion on the river bank.

We parted near the railroad bridge and perhaps we will see one another again?  My last image is from an overlook area popular with visitors who want a better view of the tainter gates.  I have taken many pictures here over the years, but this one is different.  To give you an idea of how high the river was…this log was deposited on the fence by the retreating river!  Or, I hope so…I would hate to think it jumped up here!  So long for now!!

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The Ohio River continues to rise because the sky continues to rain.  This flood will be one for the record books…perhaps in the top ten when it’s all said and done.  But who knows when that will be?  The weatherman hasn’t been very encouraging of late.  The timing of this flood is especially bad because it overlaps with the Kentucky Derby Festival and its two weeks of partying and activities which culminates with the most famous horse race in the world.  The additional water will keep the tourists away.

These images were taken just a couple of days a go and now the river is even higher.  In the City of Louisville, some of the most powerful pumps outside Holland are working around the clock pumping water from the low-lying areas.  Streets have been closed and the flood gates are up.  For the people who live nearest to the river…they have packed up and left a few days a go.  By now, the water has reached the roofs of their homes.  There’s nothing more that can be done.  It’s sit tight and see how much more rain will come and how high the river will rise.

My son Adam was curious to see the extent of the flooding and so we visited the Falls of the Ohio.  The familiar wooden steps that lead to the river bank were now half way underwater.

We watched a box turtle flushed from its home in the underbrush swimming to higher ground.  Fortunately, it received an assist in the form of currents pushing it to land where it was able to escape drowning.  Watching this greatly affected my son who has a tender heart when it comes to all animals.  He really gets upset when the nature shows on television become too graphic. He doesn’t understand that life feeds on other life and that this has been the way of the world for a very long time.  This flood has also affected my creative routine at least by the water.  I’m forced to hopscotch back and forth between events in time which I think is a healthy thing in my life.  I was beginning to feel a little too linear anyway.  So, here’s another Styrofoam project I made sandwiched between the last flood of a couple of weeks a go and now.  This project is also now a memory remembered by these images.

I really thought the previous inundation would be it for the year.  And so I set up shop atop this immense pile of wood and explored what was mixed in with all the natural debris.  Among the “treasures” was this toy gas hose…but that’s not all that I found!  Here’s something unusual too.

I set it up to help orient it for the photograph.  It’s what’s left of a taxidermed deer head.  The tanned skin that would have been stretched around it is now gone, but the remnants of the deer’s actual skull and broken antlers are screwed into the molded foam form.  This is another object that exists at the intersection of the natural and the artificial which I find curiously to be another sign of the times we live in.  When this trophy was intact, it probably was praised for its life-likeness.

I also picked up this Styrofoam fragment of what I’m guessing was perhaps a Halloween novelty?  Amazingly, the little skull image survived.  I found another human bone reference out here on the wood pile.  It’s a miniature pelvis made out of plastic.  Luckily, I have never found the real deal and probably would freak out if I did.  Here’s that hip bone and a second image with some other fun stuff I picked up including one of the smallest and cutest squirt guns I’ve seen.

Sitting on a huge log, I started getting comfortable on my new spot.  I thought I could last here until the summer heat drove me under the willows.  I began to gather materials to make sculptures with like I had done with my previous plein air “studios”.  Mother Nature was providing all the material I needed to keep me and this project going for a long time.  Here’s my Styro-cache with its river-polished foam.

It’s all gone down river now, but before that happened I made one other figure out here.  I called him “Hoser” and set him up next to the “Danger” figure.  First, I started with making a head.  The eyes are old fishing floats.

I felt very meditative in this setting.  I could see the skyline of a city with its proximity to nature and it made me speculate on how it all was going to turn out?  Would we eventually strike some kind of working balance with the planet or was this a taste of what was coming or even worse?  I would walk around my wood pile looking for a stick or branch I could use for a limb to help blow life into this Styro-man.  This is how he eventually turned out.

With gasoline approaching four dollars a gallon I decided to put the fake gas pump nozzle and hose to good use.  I strategically placed this object into the figure’s polystyrene body more as a reference to the fact that here was another resource that we pissed away.

I located “Hoser” near the “Danger is My Middle Name” figure, took my photographs, and walked away.  That was the last I was to see of them.  Within days, the river started to rise more from rain that fell north of here and then it started to rain in earnest in the Ohio River Valley.  That was two weeks plus…it’s still raining and the river keeps on rising and the adventure continues.

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When we last left the Adventurer he was marooned on the riverbank waiting for the Ohio River to return.  Until the water reappears his crudely constructed log raft is stuck.  Taking advantage of the downtime, our hero is exploring and seeing what there is to see.  At this place called the Falls of the Ohio there appears to be a good variety of butterflies present.  Following are a few images that were relayed to me by the Adventurer along with a small lesson he gave me about Lepidoptera.  Here’s a sequence of images that our friend wanted me to share with you not only because he found this to be beautiful but interesting too!

How lovely!  This is the first of our “Question Marks”.  In fact, this is the common name of this butterfly that is known in the scientific community as Polygonia interrogationis.  This is a fresh specimen in its fall form with its powder-blue wing edges.  The spring and summer forms sport much darker hindwings on their topsides.  The wingspan is about 3 inches across.

Here is the same butterfly with its wings folded and as you can see it looks very much like a dried leaf.  The Question Mark derives its name from the small, silvery “?” question mark-like design on the ventral side of its hindwing.  This specimen in this image doesn’t show this to its best advantage, however, what the Adventurer wanted to share is that other smaller butterfly entering the picture on the top left corner.  This is something not noticed until the pictures were downloaded from the camera.

Here are the two butterflies sharing a leaf.  The plant is a cocklebur and you can see its ripening seeds in the background.  Soon these burrs will develop their Velcro-like hooks and attach to the clothing of autumn hikers.  I have had dozens attach themselves to my shoe laces!  Now for a close-up of that little butterfly.

This is the second “Question Mark” because neither the Adventurer nor I know what to formally call this one!  I enjoy collecting field guides of all kinds and I like to cross reference material as a way of learning more about the subject on hand.  I know this is a member of the skipper family which are primitive butterflies that share characteristics with moths.  In fact, some scientists don’t consider skippers to be true butterflies at all!  In my guides there seems to be many of these small, golden-colored skippers and identifying them is tricky and best done by experts.  This butterfly was so tiny and perfect and almost…unnoticeable.  In the enlargement it appears to have a forked proboscis for feeding.  I wonder how this design will help it eat and does it go for the usual butterfly fare?  Okay, moving on… let’s look at the Commas.

The Eastern Comma or Polygonia comma is a common butterfly in this environment.  As you can tell it is closely related to the Question Mark butterfly.  It derives its name from the small comma (,) like mark on the underside of its hindwing.  Both of these species are angle-winged butterflies and when their wings are folded up, appear like dried leaves.  These guys can be fairly aggressive as butterflies go and as proof…the Adventurer wanted you to see this specimen photographed against the silvery driftwood of the Falls.

He said this was the most ragged specimen he ever saw that was still alive!  This butterfly seemed to have no issues with flying despite its hindwings being mostly gone.  You can see how alert this one is by the attitude of its antennae.  This Comma is near the end of its seasonal run and its wing condition may be due to aerial combats with other butterflies and insects.  I imagine as Comma butterflies go, this one may have revelled in being a Comma!  This one may have been among the fittest of its kind?  The Adventurer hope you enjoyed this little side track and in closing offers another view of that nice Question Mark butterfly.  Thanks for visiting!

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At last we have some respite from the dreaded heat of this summer.  Today is gorgeous!  The air feels fresh, and there is a nice quality to the light.  I decide to spend my time in the western section of the park on the Indiana side.  I heard that the butterflies were plentiful on the loosestrife flowers and that this could be a good time to take pictures.  First, I needed to find an officially sanctioned butterfly guide to show me the way.  He’s supposed to be somewhere over here…yes, there he is right on time.

The strange-looking character said “Hello, are you the one who wants to see the butterflies?”  I replied that I was and we met face to face.

And what a memorable face he has with his mismatched eyes and lavender lips!  He told me to call him the Butterfly Man and that I had picked a good time to come to the river because it was now agreed that 2010 was a good year for butterflies in our area.  He also said that the place we wanted to go was a short walk ahead to where the purple flowers were growing.  Many different kinds of butterflies would be there.

Along the way, the Butterfly Man told me tidbits about the environment we were experiencing and what we might expect to see.  He explained that the loosestrife flowers are an invasive species and quickly take over these shallow wetlands.  Around here small springs trickle water down the bank towards the river and keep this area moist. These are perfect conditions for the loosestrife which has spread from last year.  Butterflies and other insects love the nectar from these flowers and if we encountered bees and wasps…not to be afraid because if you left them alone, they would do likewise.  Soon we were among the flowers and it didn’t take the Butterfly Man long to spot a terrific butterfly!

With its slightly elongated forewings and intense orange color the Gulf Fritillary ( Dione vanillae ) stands out among the loosestrife.  As the name suggests, this is a mostly southern species, but does venture north.  The ventral coloring sports mother of pearl and orange spots.  Not to far away on a different flower, Butterfly Man spotted a nice swallowtail.

This is the Eastern Black Swallowtail, ( Papilio polyxenes ) and I have come across a few of these and other swallowtails as well.  I have seen, but unable to get a photo of some of them because they never slowed down!  I saw a Giant Swallowtail, our largest butterfly, fly over my head and towards the river.  The Zebra Swallowtail, same thing, it was flying too fast and never alighted.  The Pipevine Swallowtail I saw was so ragged that I decided not to take a picture of it.  I’m sure over time I will get other chances.  Here’s an image I like of a very common butterfly.

This butterfly was introduced into North America in the 1860’s and has now spread over the continent.  The Cabbage White, ( Pieris rapae ) is the most common white butterfly that most people are likely to encounter.  At the Falls, we also find another immigrant, the European Skipper, ( Thymelicus lineola ) which was accidentally introduced in Ontario about 1910 and has since spread across the country.  These tiny gold skippers can be very hard to identify and probably depends on having one in hand.  I like the idea of capturing a photographic image because no harm is intended.  With their folded wings, many skippers don’t look like butterflies at all. 

After a while, the Butterfly Man said we should take a break.

He said he found something special earlier in the morning and it was somewhere in this vicinity.  There is another creature here taking advantage of the butterflies.  Sure enough a couple of bushes away we found her enjoying a snack.

We found such a beautiful and large spider sitting on her web!  The proof she selected the right location was entombed in silk.  I have seen other Black-and-yellow Argiope ( Argiope aurantia ) spiders at the Falls before.  This is the first for this year.  She’s a big spider and soon she will produce her egg case and die.  The baby spiders will overwinter in the case and emerge in the spring.  These orb weavers have a characteristic zig-zag silk pattern on the interior of their webs.  This spider has had luck catching Orange Sulphur and Viceroy butterflies.  I noticed many loose wings below the web.  There is an element of risk out here among the flowers after all.

 The Butterfly Man spotted a nice pair of Viceroys ( Limenitis archippus ) basking side by side on the same leaf.  There are many of these species currently out among the willow trees.  With their smaller size and black line crossing the veins of the dorsal hind wing they can be told apart from the Monarch butterflies ( Danaus plexippus ) which are also in the area flying down on their long migration to Mexico.

There was time for one last butterfly before turning for home.  Earlier I had spotted a few large yellow butterflies nectaring on the small Jewelweed vines .  I came across this Cloudless Giant Sulphur in a characteristic position with its wings folded together like a yellow leaf and created this composition.

After one final look at the loosestrife fields, I was reminded of French Impressionistic painting and thought this landscape worthy of a canvas or two for the purple colors and nice cloud formations.  You can also glimpse the fossil beds beyond the trees.

I left the Butterfly Man standing where I first met him by his home next to a downed tree.  I thanked him for taking the time to show me around and hoped to run into him again in another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

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Vulture Boy hung out with me today at the Falls of the Ohio.  He’s a bit of an odd character and I don’t see him often.  He spends most of the summer observing the resident vultures of both species that live here.  He’s studying them. Vulture Boy also thinks of himself as being a bit of a survivalist and when civilization collapses…he will be able to fend for himself by mastering primitive weapons. 

He’s still a boy after all and seems to gravitate towards sticks and stones.  There must be some primeval aesthetic operating here that’s hard-wired?  Regardless, what I enjoy are Vulture Boy’s stories and encounters with the wildlife he sees in the park.  He tells me that he saw some Black Vultures feeding nearby and would I like to watch them?  I pick up my camera and follow him to the river.

Along the way we surprise two flocks of large birds!  It’s another very hot day and both the vultures and Canada geese are taking advantage of the shade under the biggest trees.  It’s cooler, but they are also vulnerable standing on the ground.  Some passing fisherman got too close and both flocks spooked and went airborne.  I could practically feel the whoosh of air pass my face as the vultures struggled to lift skyward.

Reaching the river, we find a few Black Vultures feeding on a fish carcass.  They were completely unconcerned about the people around them.  I wonder in some way if the vultures recognize the relationship between the people and the availability of fish?  Vulture Boy says that they are smarter than you think and adapt to situations that benefit them.

Slowly I move a little closer doing my best not to scare the birds away.  It’s tricky though because the rocks are very uneven and slippery in places.  With their all black bodies, I wonder if they feel hotter on a day like today?  That’s when Vulture Boy lays this factoid on me!  He says that Black Vultures (and other vultures as well) can excrete their waste onto their legs to cool them.  The process is called “urohydrosis”.  Charming! 

I asked Vulture Boy what else he liked or thought interesting about these birds and this is what I remember.  He said that they form strong pair bonds that are usually only broken upon the death of one of the partners.  Additionally, they do not build nests preferring shallow caves or protected rock ledges to raise their young.  Although Black Vultures may roost together, they do not like being near each other’s nurseries.  There is still that competition for food and a pecking order exists not only within the Black Vulture group, but with other species as well.  The shy Turkey Vulture usually surrenders his find to the more aggressive Black Vulture.

With their naked heads and necks…these vultures look more like the dinosaurs they are descended from.  The lack of feathers around the head helps keep things a little cleaner.  Still, I’m amazed that these birds are able to stomach most anything!  I’ve seen Black Vultures using their feet to help leverage a food morsel from the toughest meal.

After watching the river vultures for a few minutes, it was time to go home.  Walking back the way we came Vulture Boy and I could see that some of the vultures had returned to the shade under the trees.  A few individuals were nervously posted along the outskirts acting as look outs.  We walked around them and left them be.  Nearby, we came across roosting vultures  high in a tree.  Occasionally, one of these birds would sun itself by spreading its wings and it seemed almost a reverential act.  Or, at least…that’s what I like to think! 

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This past June became our hottest June on record breaking a mark that stood since 1952.  Before the month slid into history, there was time for one more adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.  Rising from the polystyrene and insulating foam, I constructed this little figure to be my guide and companion as we toured the sights together.  Here’s his very first picture.

The little Tour Guide’s hat is the cap from a deodorant stick, but it fits his Styrofoam head just right.  He offered to take me around to see what we could see on this sweltering day and I offered no resistance.  Following are a few of the marvels we came across as we walked the riverbank.  The fishing had been particularly good and our guide was able to land a fish of his own.  I’m not sure what he used for bait, but this fish is like no other I have seen before.  Looking closely, I could see it is made from green foam.

The last high water incident deposited a lot of wood and junk upon the bank and there is plenty to discover.  Among the more unusual finds was this wooden Easter Bunny who offered our guide an egg.  I’m guessing that this was originally a seasonal yard decoration used in pagan celebrations?  With a pink dress, this is obviously the female and it made me wonder what the male looked like and was he carrying an egg too?

Near the rabbit was a truck tire.  I know what you are thinking…what could be so special about that?  I feature them in this blog all the time.  Well, this tire is also a record breaker being the largest one that I have come across in the last seven years I have been working this project.  I bet this thing was originally very expensive and now it’s apparently worthless.

It’s usually a treat to find artworks made by others out here.  This time our guide showed me a series of sand drawings he came across.  I think the one where abstract wavy lines are coming out of a drum is my favorite one.  The sand drawing featuring the head with open mouth is a bit naughty and so I’m only showing you part of it.  Here are three images in succession.

We moved off of the sandy bank and headed towards the Interpretive Center.  The little guide told me that the day lilies were looking especially colorful and I couldn’t wait to see them.  I snapped this image of the guide by some very intensely orange blossoms.  These flower beds are just past their peak and I’m glad I saw them when I did. 

This Fourth of July weekend is shaping up to be cooler and so I’m anticipating being able to work out here a bit longer.  Thanks for coming along with us on this outing…we enjoyed showing you the sights.  I’ll close for now with this nice image from the day lily garden overlooking the Falls of the Ohio.

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