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Head in Hand, Aug. 2014

Each trip I take to the Falls of the Ohio results in lots of other images recorded on site.  Although I may think all of my photographs are interesting in some way, for brevity’s sake…they can’t all make it into a post.  If a storyline develops while I’m at the river, I will try to prioritize that and hope that at some other time in the future some of these other photographs will fit in somewhere?  This post is an attempt to include some of the other pictures that were taken during my last excursion to the river.  Although that visit resulted in my last published post about this tiny artist persona with a penchant for creating micro installations with plastic cup lids and straws…there were a few other sights at the river that caught my eye on this day.

Wild Potato Vine bloom, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

The Wild Potato Vine is a common flowering summer plant at the Falls.  The flowers are large and its leaves are heart-shaped and grow on very long vines.  This plant is named for the large tuber it produces.  I’ve noticed that out here, these large blooms attract large bumble bees.  This is a genuine and indigenous wild flower which contrasts with my next discovery.

Yellow-flowering Mud Nymphea, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

In a pool of stagnant water I came across this other interesting bloom.  Don’t bother looking it up in a field guide to flowers because you won’ find it.  I discovered it and so I take credit for naming it.  I call this the “Yellow-flowering Mud Nymphea” and it “mimics” members of the lotus family.  This plant has a single leaf that floats on the surface of still water or upon particularly juicy mud.  Rising from that leaf is a large blossom (about the size of a child’s hand) that is a dingy yellow color and the petals have a cloth-like texture.  Most fascinating of all…there are fake droplets of water that “bead up” on the individual petals.  Imagine if you took hot glue and applied small drops to the petals…well, it would look a lot like what is happening on this plant.  Knowing how this plant functions out here will require additional study.  The Falls of the Ohio is a highly disturbed place and oddities are springing up all over.  This just happens to be the latest mutant plant to add to a growing list.

Grass growing from small hole in a plastic, toy wheel, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Another topic I have explored in a past post see “Life in a Bucket” are real plants that grow in less than promising circumstances.  Like many people, I have marveled at how plants can grow in narrow cracks in the sidewalks. The next trio of images are related to that phenomena.  On my last adventure, I found three examples to share with you that demonstrate how opportunistic life can be.  The image above shows a couple of sprigs of grass that are growing out of a small hole in a plastic, toy wheel.  The wheel was probably originally part of a child’s tricycle.  Over time, the detached hollow wheel filled with dirt and silt and retained enough moisture to allow grass seeds to germinate.  Next is another wheel/plant combination that I see more commonly in the park.

Tire garden, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

This is a tire garden.  Because old, ruined automotive tires are frequently thrown in the river (out of sight, out of mind) they frequently wash up here.  Over time, they sink into the sand and mud and are very difficult to move.  Opportunistic seeds colonize the central space where wood, silt, and other nutrients collect and before long you have a mini ecosystem growing out of a circular island in the sand.  My next image is an amazing willow tree that I have posted images of before.  Let’s look at how it is doing this year?

Willow tree growing out of a tire, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Amazingly, this willow is growing through the metal holes of the wheel.  Previously, I had speculated on whether or not this tree would lift the tire into the air as it grew or be choked to death as the holes became too small?  This year’s seasonal flooding has tipped the wheel up on one edge and exposed the roots of the tree.  So far, it appears to be okay.  I will be keeping tabs on this tree to see how it fares in the future.  How the natural and artificial come together in the wider environment is an area of great interest for me.  Our next example is a good illustration of this.

Willow roots and strands of frayed barge cable, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

willow roots and barge cable merge, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

I walked passed this willow tree and noticed that a frayed, root-like, barge cable was intertwined with the living tree’s root system.  Perhaps it’s the cable’s bright colors contrasting against the natural tones of the willow roots and earth that give it an aggressive appearance to me?  The actions of the river help unravel these large nylon ropes used to moor and secure very large barges.  Interestingly, I have seen various bird species hasten this process by picking apart the fibers for use as nesting material.  The Baltimore Oriole is especially good at this and uses the colorful fibers in the construction of their hanging basket nests.  The Ohio River, per tonnage moved, is one of the busiest waterways in the world for commercial navigation.  I find the remnants of old barge cables frequently washed up upon the shore and buried in the sand and on occasion have integrated them into different projects.

Soft drink can in the water, Aug. 2014

Sometimes it’s just the incongruity or coincidence that I feel just finding the trash in this context.  The photo above finds a partially crushed “Sunkist” brand soft drink resting upon a piece of rusty-colored concrete in the water on a sun-kissed day.  I later noticed at home, the small damselfly that is also resting on the concrete.  Do you see it?  Or, how about the next one?

squished plastic "Real" lemon juice container, Aug. 2014

Washed ashore upon the fossil rocks was this smashed plastic lemon.  It once contained “real” lemon juice.  Over the years, I have found many of these lemon-shaped bottles.  What I find interesting here is the presented combination of image and substance…a plastic lemon that once held genuine lemon juice.  It doesn’t take much to pique my interest!  I never know what I will find on any given day at the Falls of the Ohio.  The river washes in “fresh” material on a regular basis.  The river is like our subconscious and who knows what lies below its depths or floats upon the surface to be discovered by someone walking its shoreline?

people fishing at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Note on wood piece, Aug. 2014

A hot and sunny August morning and over Louisville’s rooftops I could hear the river’s siren song calling my name.  “Al”…Al…where have you been?”  The call was getting louder and more irresistible by the moment.  What’s a fella to do but heed the call?  I slurped down the last of my cold coffee, gathered my collecting bag and walking stick and twenty minutes later I transported myself to the Falls of the Ohio.  The river was receding into its summer pool and most of the riverbank was now exposed.  Here and there fishermen were trying both their luck and patience.  If birds could laugh, the numerous herons were enjoying themselves for it looked to my eye like they were having more success than the other bipedal hunters holding long rods and bait buckets.  I did a quick look around the old railroad bridge, filled a found, empty, glass liquor bottle with coal pebbles and headed for my spot under the willows.  Among my stash of Styrofoam and driftwood I came across a piece of wood I had previously picked up…and found this simple message written in ink… ” Hi Al”.

My stash of found art materials, Aug. 2014

Whoever penned this simple note at my discovered spot remains a mystery.  In my mind, I associated it with any of my many artist friends who also find inspiration among the driftwood…but it could have been the river too.  This place has been utilized by artists for many years.  Each new generation seems to discover this place for themselves and I hope it always remains this way.  I lingered under the shade for a bit and watched a mix flock of chickadees, warblers, and gnatcatchers move through the tree canopy.  With the show over and satisfied that my haul of river junk with all of its latent potential remained in place…I headed back into the bright sunlight.  Other mysteries and visual delights would await me.

plush Tasmanian Devil toy, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Imagine coming face to face with the Tasmanian Devil!  Well, I did and lived to tell the tale.  Actually, this plush toy (which I found face down) was quite small and easy to overlook upon the driftwood.  Seems I’m always finding cartoon characters out in this landscape.  I suspended him by his arms upon the exposed roots of an overturned tree stump.  Someone may find him and give him a new home…or he might just fall apart over time eventually finding his way back into the river?  Walking through the sunlit clearings between willow stands, I came across this interesting found composition.

Upright red straw and cup lid with willow stumps, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I must have stared at this for an indeterminate amount of time?  Perhaps it was the upright and very bright red plastic straw that caught my notice?  Or, it could have been the very careful placement and arrangement I was discerning?  I felt I was looking at a rather intimate and odd bit of public art.  I found myself thinking…why didn’t I think of this!?  In my heart and mind I saluted the anonymous person who created this scene and walked away appreciatively.  A little further down the riverbank I came across a similar example.

Plastic straw and cup lid wedged in rock crack, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Wedged in a limestone crack was another plastic straw and disposable cup lid “sculpture”.  This time the straw was white with red stripes running down its length and the lid was an opaque white color.  Like the previous straw sculpture, this one seemed to activate the space it occupied and caused me to notice what else was happening in this micro-location.  The remains of ancient horn corals that lived in a shallow sea millions of years ago were preserved on the surface of the stone.  The straw was strategically placed in a deep silt-filled fissure which was the only place that would allow it to stand upright on this hard rock.  Finding a second upright straw and lid piece confirmed that the first one was not just a happy accident.  There was someone moving through the area with a purpose.

Upright red plastic straw with clear cup lid, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I soon came upon a third straw and lid site specific piece and it was different from the others.  While it was also made from plastic, the lid was clear and in the strong sunlight cast the most wonderful shadow upon the sand.  It occurred to me that I was following a fresh trail because the slightest bit of wind could easily knock these ephemeral works over.  I kept walking and as luck would have it, I came upon the artist responsible for these creations.

artist with orange hand on his head, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

With a big blue smile a diminutive persona standing at the edge of a stand of willow trees greeted me with a friendly wave of his thin stick arm.  He sported an orange hand symbol on his head and had very dark eyes as I recall.  He had a blue-collar around his neck and a yellow belt around his waist.  Otherwise, he was wearing nothing at all!  I heard him say that he had watched me from a distance checking out his last piece and what did I think of it?  I told him that I loved the simplicity of his works and admired how his careful placement made me more aware of the locations where they were sited.  They were such simple gestures made with the most economical of means.  I went on to gush about how surprisingly sophisticated I thought they all were, but he just stood there smiling.  It was then my turn and I asked him how he came upon the idea?  He said it happened quite by accident.  Reflexively, he set the first one up without any thought and liked the result.  On a hot, sunny day…it reminded him of an umbrella set up on a beach which further reminded him of a family vacation he made as child the first time he saw the ocean.  The other straw and lid pieces became tops spinning in his mind and on and on, but most of all…he was doing this to have fun.

artist with straw and lid sculpture, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

I asked if it would be all right to tag along for a short while with him and he said that it would be fine.  We passed by one of his earlier projects and I snapped this quick picture. He was looking to make another piece or two and there (unfortunately) didn’t seem to be any shortages of straws and lids to work with.  The artist recognized that these elements were not supposed to end up here.  Setting them upright was also a good way to get other people to notice these things and perhaps give a thought or two about the state of the environment.  We eventually worked our way back to the water.  Sure enough, my little friend found another straw and lid along a trail frequented by fishermen.

The artist and his materials, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

Just as the artist was about to plant his new-found straw and lid into the moist ground…a nice group of people came over and greeted us.  There were two brothers and a sister and a family friend who was taking them to the river to hang out and enjoy themselves.  They had also been collecting river junk and specifically looking for small, intact, glass bottles.  They were curious about the little artist and we talked for a while about being creative.  The group expressed an appreciation for recycling and reusing the cast off stuff of the world.  They asked if it was all right if they could pose with the artist to take their own pictures.  Here are a couple of those images.

Posing for pictures with the artist, Aug. 2014

The artist posed with his new family, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

The youngest of the group then asked if it was okay if the little Styrofoam artist went home with them?  There seemed to be no objections.  The little man with the orange hand on his head was open to anything.   I, however, did ask for a few things in return.  The first was that a nice piece of wood be found out here that would make a good base so that the figure could stand upright.   The second request was that a little bit of craft glue be used to hold all the loose parts together.  Doing these things would make the figure last a bit longer and remind the family for years to come of this time they spent together at the river.  I thought this was the perfect ending to a most entertaining day.  So long for now from the Falls of the Ohio.

Portrait of the straw and cup lid artist, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2014

 

Map detail of the Falls of the Ohio State Park

Most of the work that I have created at the Falls of the Ohio State Park was made between the two “P’s” on the above map detail.  I lifted this image from a recent brochure about the Ohio River Greenway.  I’m just noticing that the word “park” has an “e” at the end…what’s with that?  Is this a variation of Ye Old Park(e) or a simple misspelling?  Anyway, the green line that separates the dark blue river from the blonde fossil beds is the area I walk.  Most of my river finds and the pieces I make from them occur in this area.  The thicker black line is the old iron railroad bridge that I have  featured so often throughout this blog.  It’s been a while since I posted anything new here.  In fact, since I started the old riverblog, this is the longest I have gone without posting something.  I have had a series of misfortunes that have dented my mojo with the biggest being losing my day job.  I’m not one that easily compartmentalizes my life and occasionally things spill over and affect other areas.  Among the other changes included having to purchase a new computer.  It’s taken a while to get used to doing things in a different way.  I’m still in the process of transferring images and data from the old machine to the new one.  I have too many images that need parking in a “cloud” somewhere.  I debate with myself whether or not I absolutely need all of these pictures?  I do harbor the ambition to produce a book or two about my stories and collections, but I’m sure I have enough material already.  This blog after all, has over 3,ooo images that I have already published.  What it doesn’t have are the first five years or so of this project that are recorded on 4″ x 6″ color prints that were developed at the local drugstore.

At the water's edge, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

Although I haven’t posted much recently, I am still going to the river.  It’s been an unusual year out here and for much of this spring the river has been high.  Summer is now upon us and with that comes the high heat and humidity.  This adventure happened in early June after the willow trees had fully leafed out.  I believe this is also my first post using just images recorded with my cell phone.  I now have a new Nikon my brother gave me as a birthday present.  He is an avid nature photographer living in Florida and had a spare digital SLR he could part with.  I can’t wait to try out the new camera at the river and I hope to do this soon.

Old willow tree at the Falls of the Ohio, 2014

willow tree detail, 2014

I have really fallen in love with this old willow tree.  Last year, I photographed my “La Belle Riviere” piece using this tree as my model.  This tree is a survivor.  It’s managed to go through many floods and while it is severely bent over and its roots are exposed…it keeps on living and adding character to this landscape.  I have noticed that the center of its trunk is starting to hollow out a bit.  I wonder how long this willow has held this ground?  I was musing about these things when I noticed movement in a nearby stand of mixed maple and willow trees.  I picked up my collecting bag and walking stick and quietly moved over to investigate.  I was quite unprepared for what I was about to discover!  Here are a few of the first images I made of my new find.

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

It was another giant spider!  I recalled that it was about this time last year that I encountered the Giant Driftwood Spider which is a completely different animal from the spider I was looking at now.  It’s body was a bit over two feet long and a mottled white in color.  This seems to be another example of what I have come to coin as the “Falls of the Ohio Godzilla Effect”.  Over the years, this particular park has regularly produced freaks of nature.  The most striking of which are the giant insects (and now spiders) that pop up on occasion.  My theory as to why this happens here has everything to do with contemporary pollution and a degraded environment.  For some reason, arthropods in particular are sensitive to these ecological changes which can result in gigantism in these organisms.

Great Wolf Spider, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

Great Wolf Spider on a stump, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

I decided to call this the Great Wolf Spider, (Lycosa styreni).  Looking around, I could find no trace of a web and decided that this was a ground hunting species like other members of the family of wolf spiders, Lycosidae.  I imagined that this impressive spider subsisted upon the small mammals that it could capture within the confines of this park.  That would include many rodents including squirrels, rats, groundhogs, and perhaps the occasional beaver.  I also imagine that stray cats and dogs would be on the menu too.  This spider has large pink-colored fangs that gave it a somewhat bucktoothed appearance.  As long I kept my distance and did not make any threatening moves…the spider tolerated me.  I also noticed that this amazing creature also has unusual eyes.

Detail of Great Wolf Spider eyes, June 2014

From what I could discern…this spider sported four eyes total and all in a row.  It had two large and rather mismatched eyes.  One eye possessed a large red iris that leant a diabolical aspect to it.  On either side of these “great eyes” were two smaller, black vestigial eyes.  I wonder if the smaller eyes are used to detect peripheral motion?  It was disconcerting in the least to be the object of attention from these unblinking eyes.  I approached this spider with caution.  Although I was fearful once the spider moved…I, however, was never in any actual danger since the spider never took any aggressive actions toward me.  I was of course satisfied to keep my distance just in case!

Great Wolf Spider waiting in ambush, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

The Great Wolf Spider seen from behind, June 2014

My last images of this impressive arachnid show it blending into its surrounding environment.  The sun light filtering through the tree canopy produced a dappled light and dark pattern that helped camouflage the spider as it lay in wait of its next meal.  The only bit of movement that could betray it was the slight, subtle twitching produced by its driftwood-like legs.  It was at this moment that I decided to back off and head home.  I don’t know if this spider is a one of a kind creature or whether there are other examples of this species that could populate this park?  I’m inclined to believe that I was observing a single individual.  The question is…how long will it be before our continued abuse of the environment produces monsters we may regret?  Until the next adventure…

At the river's edge, Falls of the Ohio, June 2014

 

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

 

 

Taylor with Styro-sculpture, late March 2014

Taylor’s Artist at Exit 0 Video Link

Here’s a short video interview conducted by Taylor Ferguson on my Artist at Exit 0 project at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Taylor is a journalism student at the Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana and was nice enough to be interested in filming my process.  Our late March day at the river was a bit windy which the microphone picked up beautifully, however, it washed out the rest of the audio.  What you hear me saying is a bit of stream of conscious narrative which was edited into the video at a later date.  I previously published a post entitled “Touring with Taylor” that has some of my images and words made about the experience.

Mr. Mosquito Nose standing in a tire, late March 2014, Falls of the Ohio

Sand Rover

The Sand Rover, May 2014, Falls of the Ohio

 

A gorgeous morning at the Falls of the Ohio and the urge to explore is strong.  Our current spring pattern is holding.  We will have a few days of steady rain resulting in localized flooding which is then followed by the river rising as all that water seeks the lowest level and here we are after all at the bottom of the Ohio River Valley!  The latest reports on the potential effects of climate change for our area have been predicting this.  In the years to come, we can expect more fierce storms with heavier than usual rainfall causing periodic flooding.  Actually, that’s just one prediction among many.  There is also the specter of hotter summers and invasive, non-native species among other scenarios.  We will each do what we feel compelled to do to cope with it all.  For now the sky is mostly clear and the river has retreated and it’s time to break out the old sand rover and see what there is to see and find what there is to find on the banks of the Ohio River.

Sand Rover, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

We don’t need to travel very far to stumble upon unusual objects and startling sights.  The flotsam and jetsam that can’t evade the stronger currents and navigate that hard left turn westward towards the Mississippi River get deposited in the park.  Something flesh-colored has been spotted lying on the surface of the sand and our intrepid driver moves in closer for a better look.

Headless Barbie knock off doll, May 2014

Upon inspection it turns out to be a headless, knock-off copy of a Barbie-style doll.  It’s made from cheap, hollow plastic instead of the more rubberized material that the better Barbies are made from. Thus far, this has been a good year for finding dolls at the Falls of the Ohio.  I seem to find one or two new ones each time I come out here.  Of the common objects that I routinely find…all these dolls still strike me as being especially odd and sad.  Taking a picture, it’s back aboard the sand rover and on to our next stop.

Detail of Sand Rover driver, May 2014

We don’t need to travel very far for our next discovery.  With the sun up, there is a strong glare emanating from something shiny half buried in the sand.  Pulling up to the object, our driver is  startled and bemused to find a glass jar of spaghetti sauce!

Partially buried jar of spaghetti sauce, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Would you believe me if I told you this is not the first jar of pasta sauce found out here?  Because it is relatively easy to prepare…I’m assuming that spaghetti is among the more popular dishes among folks who like to recreate around the river?  Over the years, I have also found jars of pickles, condiments, soup, and one very large, memorable jar of bologna.

sand rover, May 2014, Falls of the Ohio

The sand rover crosses over the sand easily, but it’s a different story near the edge of the river where sticky, thick mud cakes the ground.  As the sun dries the water out of the fine silty mud, deep cracks appear and widen with the heat.

Sand Rover and mud, May 2014, Falls of the Ohio

The driver decides that caution is the proper way to navigate around this mud.  This surface can be deceptive and it’s easy to step ankle to shin deep in this sticky quagmire.  You could lose a shoe in this stuff and I’m speaking from experience!  Once your shoes are coated with this mud…it’s hard to get them clean again.  You can tell where I live by my front porch…it’s the house with the muddy shoes lined up in a row.

Sand Rover at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Carefully maneuvering around the pitfalls, the sand rover is once again safely on the shifting, but surprisingly secure sand.  There are other river treasures within view worthy of investigation.

baseball losing its cover, May 2014

A water destroyed baseball lies nearby.  This is more of an old-style ball because its core is still made with string wrapped tightly around a hard rubber core.  The covers, however, are not leather and so this isn’t an official baseball of any sort.  Just a little further down the beach is another toy that was immersed in the former liquid sand and now lies trapped in a fine granular matrix.

toy truck half buried in sand, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Once upon a time, this may have been a remotely controlled vehicle?  The style of this truck looks like military vehicles I have seen.  Having explored the sand, it’s time to cruise by the driftwood.

sand rover, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Having initially spotted something lying on the driftwood, the driver decided that he would check out the mystery object more thoroughly upon his trip home.  The closer the driver approached the stranger the object became.  In fact, he felt it was looking right back at him.  Parking the sand rover nearby, the driver climbed upon the driftwood to get a better look and this is what he found.

partial, artificial deer head, May 2014

It was heavily weathered, but there was enough present to suggest that this was the hard foam head of a deer.  The driver thought that this was perhaps part of a taxidermy trophy or maybe the head of a figurative archery target?  The object’s single dark eye was piercing and made the driver uncomfortable.  Satisfied for now, the driver climbed back aboard the sand rover and headed towards home.

head of the sand rover driver, May 2014

Well, there you have it, another interesting day at the river.  The driver was glad he came since each excursion promised new sights and mysteries to solve.  Already the next trip was being anticipated and all that was now required was for nature to cooperate.  It’s still spring and we shall see how it goes at the Falls of the Ohio this year.

Arching willow at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

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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