I come to the river because I like the sound of the water. It does more than act upon the sand and driftwood here. After hanging out at the Falls of the Ohio I feel relaxed because the rhythm of the water is also the rhythm of nature. The waves that move back and forth slow my own internal sense of timing and puts me in sync with the universe. The work-a-day life begins to lift away and a calm seeps in. I don’t even need to be aware of the sound. I know it is there and I trust it. This restorative quality of water is not to be underestimated in this fast-paced, multitasking world and it is free if you are open to accepting its magic.
Spring is late in arriving this year. It’s been an up and down cycle of mostly cool to cold temperatures. Also, it seems that the river has been a little higher for a bit longer than I remember over the past several years. 2012 was positively balmy compared to this one. It’s amazing how much difference a year can make . Today is nice and the sun is shining and I get an early start on the day.
Currently, there is plenty of driftwood lining the riverbank. By studying how the driftwood was deposited, I get a sense for the water and how high it rose over the land. Since this is Spring…I’m also on the lookout for seldom seen birds that are traveling through our area. On my last outing, I was walking over the lines of driftwood when I spotted an unusual shorebird. I managed a few images of it and I would like to share those with you now. It was right in the middle of the driftwood and if it hadn’t moved…I might have gone in a different direction and missed it. I live for these moments.
This is the increasingly rare Great Lakes Oystercatcher, (Haematopus polystyrenus) as seen at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. It has a large red bill like the two other oystercatcher species that live along our country’s marine coastlines. Unlike them, this bird is strictly Midwestern and prefers fresh water wetlands, creeks, streams, and rivers. The large bill is used to pry open the shells of fresh water clams and mollusks…although it is known to take crustaceans and other invertebrates upon opportunity.
The reason this bird is becoming scarce has everything to do with it losing its main food source. The Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys are the world’s epicenter for fresh water mollusk diversity which is a little known fact. Unfortunately, because of the many changes that have occurred with our rivers, these clams have become our most endangered animals with many species having become extinct already. These clams are fascinating in their own right and have complex life cycles. Wherever you find them is usually a good indicator of the quality of the water. The Great Lakes Oystercatcher won’t find much in the way of its preferred food at the Falls. The original clam diversity is missing and these days you are more likely to encounter Zebra Mussels or Asiatic Clams and both are well-established, invasive, nonnative species.
I was delighted by this almost comical bird which is rarely observed in this park. It went about its business examining the driftwood and probing the sand for morsels of food. I also watched it fly to the water’s edge and it was intent on checking out what the river was washing ashore. The whole encounter lasted about 20 minutes before the bird flew off for parts unknown. Satisfied with the day, I gathered my collecting bag and headed home.