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Archive for September, 2009

Great Egret, 5/07

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

Great Egret, 10/08

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

Great Egret with Black Vultures, 10/08

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

Great Egret with roosting Black Vultures, 10/08

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

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Styro-sandpiper, 9/09

September is the month that the smaller shorebirds begin their migrations through our area towards warmer southern climates.  We see a variety of different species at the Falls of the Ohio.  Here is one impromptu tribute to them made from polystyrene foam.  This one is a Styro-Sandpiper dragging its wing in mock injury.  Among the materials I used to fashion him include:  Styrofoam, blue- insulating foam, river wood, plastic (around the collar and the bill is the tip from a cheap little cigar).  Oh, the eyes are tiny bits of coal.  You are not allowed to collect fossils in the park and I sometimes wonder if this applies to the coal as well?  Anyway, here are some images of genuine shorebirds photographed in the park.

Least Sandpiper, 9/07

Small bands of Least Sandpipers explore the margins along shallow pools of water covering the fossil beds during this time of year.  Their bills probe the algae for the small invertebrates that live in the green mats.  These are our most common sandpipers followed in number by Spotted Sandpipers.  This time of year the Spotted Sandpipers actually have barred flanks and bright white bellies. We will have to wait for spring to see them with their characteristic spots and dots.

Semipalmated Plover, juvenile, 9/09

Tiny Semipalmated Plovers have traveled from the Arctic tundra and some make a stopover at the Falls.  The autumn birds seem to be mostly juveniles.  Piping Plovers, an endangered species, have been recorded in the park, but I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing one here.  By far, our most common plover is the Killdeer.  It’s hard to walk across the fossil beds this time of year without setting off their alarm calls.

American Golden Plover, juvenile, 9/07

For two years in a row I have come across American Golden-Plover juveniles.  Although they are a bit larger than the smaller “peeps”,  I decided to throw them in too because I like them and they show up this time of year!  I’m amazed that this bird started life on the Arctic tundra and is now traveling to South America. 

Short-billed Dowitcher, 9/08

Last year I came across this bird dozing on a well placed log and wondered what it was?  Its bill was tucked under the feathers on its back.  As I got closer, you can imagine my surprise when the bill was exposed!  I believe this is a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.  Here is another image of this bird.

Short-billed Dowitcher, juvenile?, 9/08

I watched this bird for a while and never heard it utter a sound.  Referencing my bird guides, the literature says that the best way to differentiate it from the Long-billed Dowitcher is by its call. The length of its bill is of little help.  Both bird species have been recorded in the park.  The Short-billed is listed as rare and more than likely encountered in the summer.  This bird was photographed last year on the first of September.  The Long-billed is seen occasionally in the fall.  After checking out several bird guides, there was something in its coloration and markings that said Short-billed Dowitcher for me.  Perhaps some one out there with more experience can hazard a guess?  Either way, it was a tremendous treat to come across it!  I’ll end this post with another view of my Styro-Sandpiper posed in the sand and coal.

Styro-sandpiper, 9/09

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Strolling Couple, 9/09

With summer drawing to a close and the weather being so moderate, our Styro-couple has decided to visit the fossil beds.  The water is low and there are always unusual and interesting things that have been left behind by the previous inhabitants of this land.  On occasion you can find some museum worthy artifacts.  Let’s take a look at what today has to offer.

Rusting Wheel, 9/09

Find # 1 didn’t take very long to come across.  With the river receding very tough and hard-weathering objects start to poke their “heads” above the water line.  This circular metal artifact must have taken great cunning to fashion.  It is now believed that these circular objects ( and they are made of different materials too) were associated with a religious cult and may reference the sun and moon or the changing of the seasons.  This area obviously held great significance for them.

Strolling Couple, 9/09

There is always life to be found near the water.  The Styro-couple moves closer to the beach.  Small flocks of shorebirds scatter before them.  Holes carved into the limestone by the rushing currents are good catch-alls for objects that have been washed out of the mud.  If we get lucky, maybe we will find something of interest?  The fun is in discovering the unexpected!

Muddy bottle, 9/09

It was about the fourth hole we poked our noses into when we came across this mud-washed object.  It’s made from a hard, brittle material and the beach is covered with hundreds of similar fragments.  When you hold some of these fragments up, light will pass through them in various colors.  It’s rare to find one of these objects intact!  So, you can imagine our excitement.  In the literature, it is believed these objects may be musical instruments because a scientist observed that when you direct a flow of air over the hole at just the correct angle…an audible tone is created.  By adding water inside the instrument, different tones can be produced.  The many fragments on the beach suggests these instruments may have been ritually destroyed after use.

Styro-couple, 9/09

Moving from the water’s edge towards a stand of trees near the eastern end of the site, we hope to find artifacts that have been long buried in the soil.  The periodic floods that can cover this area stir up the dirt and bring more fragile materials to the surface.  Earlier in this year, we experienced just such a flood.  It’s been a good day…are we greedy to expect more?

plastic jug and doll, 9/09

Rain-washed and sitting upon the rocks and driftwood are these two artifacts sitting side by side!  It’s every archaeologists dream to find an effigy figure like the one on the right.  Both objects are made from an unknown material whose exact chemistry is a mystery.  It has been observed that this is also a fragile material that breaks apart if exposed to the sun for very long periods of time.  The effigy, it is believed, is made in the likeness of the previous inhabitants.  Some are found complete with heads and limbs and others are not.  What exactly happened to this race is a matter of speculation.  The current theory is that some great climate changing event altered the world to a degree that doomed their civilization.  It will take many, many years of further research by our scientists before a consensus develops.  In the meantime, we will continue to collect their artifacts and be thankful that we were ready to inherit this beautiful world.

Styro-couple being made, 9/09

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The Sandman and Adam, 9/09

The day my son Adam made his dragon, this is what I came up with.  I call him the Sandman and I based him upon the nocturnal visitor familiar in children’s stories.  As Adam and I walked along the river, I found the blue plastic sand shovel and the idea for this piece fell into place.

Cicada, 9/09

While my son and I worked under the willow trees we were serenaded by the cicadas.  The rising and falling buzzing courtship song of the males is a familiar sound of summer.  This year I’ve noticed them more at the Falls than ever before.  Now I understand why the cicada killer wasps are also more common.  I wonder if the wasps detect their prey by sight or do they zero in on the cicada’s sound?

The Sandman, 9/09

This figure is made from the found materials that have become my vocabulary for my Falls works.   Polystyrene foam form the head and body.  Each piece of foam has traveled down the Ohio River from who knows where?  I only use materials that I find in the park and over the years I have been able to keep to this personal rule because so much stuff shows up here through periodic flooding.  The Styrofoam is shaped by natural processes and I add other natural and artificial materials as I see fit and come across them in the debris of the park.

The Sandman, 9/09

The Sandman comes to the Falls of the Ohio because of the quality of the sand.  He wanders along the river’s shore and carefully selects the right sand which he stores in a small bottle.  A little bit of sand goes a long way.  The bottle is worn close to the body with the help of a little waste fishing line which is unfortunately plentiful at the moment.  The Sandman may appear a bit ghostly, but he’s harmless.  His appearance has more to do with the unseen and unknown quality of the night.  So, when you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning…you will know where the sand comes from.  It’s a gift from the Ohio River formed over deep time.  Sweet dreams.

The Sandman, 9/09

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Connect at Bernheim, 9/09

On an absolutely perfect night, my family and I attended the CONNECT event at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.  Bernheim is located in Clermont, KY about twenty or so miles south of Louisville.  The event was the park’s attempt at creating a festival that centered on promoting a creative dialogue between artists, scientists, naturalists, and other progressive thinkers.  The following is a couple images from this event.

water canon at Bernheim, 9/09

The local press suggested that CONNECT would be our version of the Burning Man event.  Although it was far from that,  the absolutely perfect weather brought the curious out by the car loads.  Much of the festivities  centered around the park’s Lake Nevin.  Two water canons were present that children could play with.  Once darkness fell, lasers were projected upon the water canon’s mist.

Back lit screen, Bernheim, 0/09

Yes, there was a science aspect to the event, but it was presented informally and was fun for the kids.  If there was a loose unifying element it had to do with the presence and absence of light.  All around Lake Nevin screens for shadow play and video projections were set up and being engaged.  Perhaps this is a sign of the times since we have become so accustomed to reading information from screens of all types?

rainbow light cube, Bernheim, 9/09

As the sun went down the music began in earnest.  The fire sculptures on Lake Nevin were lit.  People were enjoying the food and drink.  Strategically placed telescopes allowed people to obtain good views of the planet Jupiter with four of its moons.  My two sons really enjoyed the telescopes and they insisted on looking at the night sky before we could go home.

video projection, Bernheim, 9/09

The artwork I found really mesmerizing was a series of video projections by Julia Oldham, who has accepted a residency at Bernheim.  The above still is from her work entitled ” Churr-churr Ziz Ziz Ziz”.   In her videos, the artist by using some skillful speeded up editing was able to use her body to accompany the incredible sounds made by insects and birds.  It is difficult to describe, but the work held people’s attention and I’m excited to see what she creates in Kentucky!  If you would like to see Oldham’s video, she has generously posted it on her blog, “Bee Sting Brose” and the link is on my blog roll.

Lake Nevin fire sculptures, 9/09

In the afterglow of the Lake Nevin fires, I hope the organizers of CONNECT were encouraged by the public’s response.  Perhaps it’s too soon to tell if this will become an annual event?  The need to find common ground among the various disciplines is a useful excercise and the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is a beautiful and contemplative place to host this gathering.  If CONNECT should happen again next year, I would suggest advertising an earlier opening time since it was hard to get around to see all the displays before the light went down.  Throughout the year, Bernheim is a great place to visit and if you want to learn more about its history and programs…I have attached their link to my blog roll on the right.

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plastic octopus, sand toy

The inspiration for this post comes from a couple newspaper articles that appeared in the Courier-Journal a few years ago.  Seems somebody found a dead, but genuine octopus at the Falls of the Ohio!  Since our fair area is over a thousand miles away from the ocean and its salty water this was quite a discovery.   How did it get here?  On occassion one hears about other unexpected sea life (I’m thinking of sharks) that have been recorded swimming up rivers.  The octopus, however, is another matter.  In the follow up article to this story the truth of the situation was learned.  A young film enthusiast was making his own monster movie and had procured a dead octopus to use as a prop.  When he was finished with it, he left it to the elements where it was discovered by a passer-by.  Mystery solved.

plastic marlin

In honor of that discovery I thought I would present a few of my own finds from the Falls that carry the sea life theme along.  I regularly collect and photograph in situ the objects the Ohio River washes up at the park.  Here are six plastic toys I have come across.  You have already seen my octopus.  The yellow fish in the above image I think represents a marlin?

green plastic seahorse

Over the years I have found two seahorses.  This green one was discovered just recently, while the orange seahorse is from three years ago.  The fact that millions of years ago this place was a thriving marine ecosystem isn’t lost on me.  Potentially, this will happen again perhaps several times before the earth itself becomes history.

orange plastic seahorse

I have come across a couple of crustaceans as well!  The plastic lobster is a toy sand mold and appeared brightly against the driftwood.

plastic lobster

One of my personal favorites is the realistic red crab I found and photographed around sunset.  It is somewhat by chance that these things would appear here and that I would find them.  Makes me wonder about the other plastic sea life that I know I missed and continued on a journey to the ocean.  After several years of drifting with the currents, these items would find a new home in the ever growing plastic dead spots that are now a fact of today’s oceans. 

red plastic crab

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Adam's self-portrait, 9/09

You can tell by looking at this photo that Adam is the life of the party!  I hand my son the camera and the first picture he takes is of himself!  The two of us went to the Falls the other day.  We hiked around and then made some art together.  Here are a few words and images recording our adventure.

Adam crossing over, 9/09

The river is in its summer pool meaning that it’s low this time of year.  The water in this photo is barely ankle to knee deep (and that’s if you step into a hole).  I usually wade over to get to the fossil beds on the Kentucky side.  Adam decided that he prefered the challenge of walking across this old telephone pole someone else had laid across the water and it was a good test of balance.  That’s what I like about walking over driftwood.  You need to pay attention to where you are going.  As we were exploring, Adam came across a piece of wood that reminded him of a dragon’s head and he decided to see if he could make the rest of it from other found materials.  I wonder where he got that idea?

Adam's Dragon head, 9/09

As you can see, Adam has a pretty good eye.  This old beat up piece of wood does resemble a dragon’s head or snapping turtle skull (that was my vote).  The eye socket is in about the right place and it does have a complete mouth with maxilla and mandible.  The other side looks just as good too!  Adam carried his driftwood from the river’s edge to the site that has served as my outdoor studio for months now.  Recently, I did a little “house” cleaning by rearranging  all my found materials.  While I worked on my piece, Adam was busy working on his.  Little Styrofoam people watched from a safe distance and from behind a tree.

Adam working on his dragon, 9/09

Finding material for the body and limbs was on hand, but there was the challenge of what to use for the wings.  Adam did a little scouting around and found this blue, foam-like mat that he cut in half with my knife.  The wings are pegged to the body to hold them in place.  I did help him when he asked for it…which was when we hammered the legs into the body with another piece of wood.  As we worked, I asked him how third grade was going and other topics of conversation, but there were also periods of silence as we focused on our projects.  I heard that’s how you can tell when men are comfortable with one another….when time goes by and neither utters a word to each other.  They don’t need to.

Adam's Dragon, facing right, 9/09

At last the dragon is finished and the beast seems to be roaring its approval.   Adam seemed happy with his efforts.  I’m pleased that for now, he still thinks its fun to come out with Dad to explore, make things, and use our imaginations.  I can’t conceive of  how a person can develop a love for nature unless you have some experience in it?  The outdoors can help nourish the body and spirit in ways that are hard to replicate in school.  We had some fun playing with the dragon which is a dangerous thing to do because they are proud and fickle beasts and one can never completely relax around them.  If you do… than this can happen!

Adam bitten by the dragon, 9/09

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