A gray day with the Ohio River rising and I’m exploring this huge driftwood mound created by last spring’s flooding. Over the last few months this section has seen other minor floods and even a fire. It’s interesting to me to see how the river has a leveling effect as it flows under and moves the driftwood pile. The shifting reveals new “treasures” that were formerly buried. I’m out here to see what I can find and possibly reuse. Soon I uncover a sign that tempts me.
Yes, I have a found sign collection as well and you can see it on my Pages section where I keep other collections of stuff I have stumbled across. First, let me tell you why this particular sign caught my eye. In this neck of the woods, we still remember the now mythic frontiersmen who explored and settled this great land. Daniel Boone, Audubon, Lewis and Clark, and one Davy Crockett are among these pioneers. Seeing this sign caused me to “flash forward” and I speculated what Crockett’s descendants were now doing after taming our great wilderness. Did they as Joni Mitchell once sang “…paved paradise and put up a parking lot” and here was the sign to prove it? As signs go, this one was interesting because it’s double-sided and the reverse message is different and says “Life Vest Required” in red stenciled letters. Here is a detail that I like.
I was contemplating whether I wanted to drag this heavy and muddy sign with me when an unexpected thing occurred. Life happened! My activity flushed out a bird I didn’t recognize and it flew right over my head and landed in an area of bottom land just east of the railroad bridge. I kept my eyes on it the whole time and I saw where it landed. I forgot about the sign and grabbed my camera gingerly stepping over the driftwood. I would hate to twist my ankle again as I anticipated my rendezvous with this rare bird. After quietly searching the underbrush, I located it and excitedly snapped the following images.
I have the honor of announcing the first documented sighting of the Temperate Bird of Paradise ever seen at the Falls of the Ohio! I found it at the water’s edge skulking among the litter and downed logs. FYI, this is the only bird of paradise found in North America (hence temperate) from a family of birds that are almost exclusively tropical. You are more likely to encounter a bird of paradise in New Guinea or the Aru Islands than here. Interestingly, the first tropical examples to reach Europe were ethnographic specimens and the prepared bird skins were missing their feet and sometimes their wings. This resulted in the early European naturalists assuming that the birds of paradise were forever on the wing kept aloft by their magnificent feathers. (That’s a true story!) Here are a few more pictures of this magical bird.
What this bird has in common with the other birds of paradise are very unusual feathers that the males use in courtship displays. You can see the wiry, blue, flower-like feathers near the base of the tail. In the wild, the males compete against each other for the affections of the females by wildly dancing and showing off their unusual plumage. Once mating has occurred, the female builds a nest near the ground and the male takes off and plays no part in raising the young. The particular bird I was observing was a juvenile male and lacked the small tuft of feathers found on the heads of the adults.
While I was taking these pictures and recording my observations, a train was passing overhead on the bridge. I could tell it was making my visitor uneasy.
The diesel locomotives were noisy as they hauled their great loads over the span. My bird of paradise began walking nervously back and forth and then flew away. I was, however, able to snap one more image of it before it disappeared for good. I returned to the area over several days, but it definitely left the area. This is my final picture of the bird of paradise at the Falls.
Because this was a juvenile male, I’m hoping that this signals that the Temperate Bird of Paradise is on the increase and this young bird is seeking out new territories. The bird initially became rare during the hey day when exotic bird plumes worn on fancy hats were all the rage. Since then, habitat loss and the fact it is a ground nesting species makes it more vulnerable. Excitedly, I rushed home to view my pictures on the computer! I forgot all about the sign and I’m not sure it is still there anymore? The rising Ohio River may have reclaimed it. The next time I’m out there, I will look for it and the rare Temperate Bird of Paradise in case it returns.