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Archive for September, 2013

Black Vultures on the Fossil Beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The resident flock of Black Vultures were taking advantage of the fossil beds now exposed on the Kentucky side  of the Falls of the Ohio.  The wier dams were temporarily closed and with it the flow of water.  With the river level reduced much of the sculpted limestone normally underwater is briefly seen again.  Fishermen have been accessing new fishing spots along the freshly revealed fossil beds which turns out to be a boon for the vultures.  Not only do they get to feast on fish left by the anglers, but they also enjoy any other trash including left over fishing bait.  Early autumn is a transitional season among the park’s bird life as residents gear up for over-wintering or prepare for the southerly migration.  Birds from the northern latitudes particularly Canada and the Arctic Circle pass through our area on their epic journeys to Central and South America.

Canada Geese feeding on grass, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The vultures will fly away, but many of our Canada Geese will brave it out.  We seem to have at least two distinct flocks of Canada Geese sharing the area around the fossil beds.  It’s amazing how intolerant each group is of the other.  There is competition for the best food sites and each group frequently bump into one another with much squabbling.  That’s what makes the next image interesting to me.

Domestic goose mixed with the Canada Geese, Falls, Sept. 2013

Canada Geese can have limits on how much mingling occurs between their own species, but in this case, are willing to accept a true outsider.  This domestic goose seemed integrated into its adoptive flock.  It swam with its wild cousins and accompanied them to a favorite feeding location and was never bothered by the other geese.  Recently, I came across a young Cooper’s Hawk and I was surprised when it did not immediately fly away after I bumbled across it.  There was a good reason why it didn’t leave.

Young Cooper's Hawk, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The hawk sized me up and then jumped down off the log it was standing on to retrieve something it had dropped.

Young Cooper's Hawk with prey, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The hawk had what appeared to be a freshly killed Mourning Dove.  After securing its prey with its talons, the hawk seemingly jumped into the sky and  vanished within moments.  I thought I saw it disappearing into the tree tops of a stand of willow trees within walking distance.  I did investigate the area, but never saw the bird again.  I love it when I get to observe behaviors.  Life has a job to do and can’t wait around posing for pictures.  Here’s a different kind of behavior being demonstrated by an American Robin.

American Robin bathing at the Falls of the Ohio, Summer 2013

I love this image which I captured earlier in the summer.  This American Robin is focused on taking a bath.  Its head is under the shallow water and droplets and beads of water are splashed over its body.  Our resident American Robin population is doing well and seem to be increasing at the Falls of the Ohio.  Some of the robins will hang out over our gray winter, while others will seek warmer climes.  My last adventure to the Falls resulted in images of a bird that I had never recorded previously in the park.

Gross Blue Bill at the Falls of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

Gross Blue Beak and flowering plants, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Gross Blue Beak is strictly passing through and in fact, this is the first recorded instance of this bird appearing in the park.  Good thing I have all this photographic proof that the bird was here because the resident birders are a skeptical lot.  Reputations and lifetime bird lists are at stake and there is a great burden of proof to produce irrefutable documentation.  This bird has traveled thousands of miles from the edge of the Arctic Circle in Canada and is bound for the Argentine coast.

Gross Blue Beak with corroded aerosol can, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

portrait of a Gross Blue Beak at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Gross Blue Beak receives its name not because it has disgusting habits that require an out-sized bill.  Rather the “Gross” idea comes from the German word for “large” .  The Ohio River Valley was settled by many immigrant groups and the Germans were among the most prominent.  This bird’s beak is a heavy-duty tool it uses to crack open nuts, crush mollusks (particularly snails), and jack hammer soft decaying logs in pursuit of beetle grubs.  All three of these food sources are found at the Falls of the Ohio.

Gross Blue Beak at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I was able to get quite close to the Gross Blue Beak to snap off these images.  I’ve noticed before that many northern migrants of various species will allow me to approach more closely than the local birds that are around people more.  Perhaps that’s the key?  For the moment, the region around the Arctic Circle has seen less of our influence than other places in North America.  To close, I have one other bird image, but it is noteworthy because of the people in the far distance.  Recently, I received a question about the back wall that is a part of the system in place to produce a stable pool of river water for commercial barge traffic.  I’ve heard that the Ohio River carries more tonnage of goods along it’s 800 plus miles than the Rhine River does in Europe.  The back wall of this dam is quite high up and the actual river level is perhaps a meter or so below the top of the wall.  Beyond the Great Blue Herons, the small band of hikers provides some sense of scale on how the river would be over their heads!  When you are walking the now exposed fossil beds…it’s a sobering thought!

Great Blue Herons and hikers on the fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

This post is the last of this year’s summer posts and documents a walk I made at the Falls of the Ohio State Park one week before autumn officially began.  As you can see by the pictures…it was a very beautiful day filled with all kinds of discoveries.  There was a profusion of yellow-flowering plants of various species including goldenrod and sunflowers.  Here is a detail, I think from the Woodland Sunflower?  I wish I was as confident about plants as I am in identifying animals.  When I break out my flower books, I realize it would aid identification greatly to have an example on hand.  Collecting plants is not allowed within the park limits…so I try to take photos that might be of use in discerning the various closely related species.  Besides, I don’t think pressing these plants flat would even work?  I ask myself, what leaf shape does it have?  Are the leaves serrated, smooth, or hairy and how many rays do the flower heads have and other such questions of concern to the botanist.

Sunflowers at the Falls, Sept. 2013

I suppose I’m more of an imaginative botanist at heart who also appreciates the beauty and variety the many flowers add to the temporal landscape.  I do, however, stumble upon plants that I wonder if anyone else is noticing?  I’ve posted about these anomalies before and as the seasons change, the parade of these “unnatural plants” and “faux flowers” continues.  Consider these fresh blooms.

The Surprising Poinsettia, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I call this one the “Surprising Poinsettia” because it comes shockingly red and completely unexpected.  Its sepals are rather fabric-like and its stem is grafted upon this sunflower by some unknown means.  The next plant is more subtle.

Orangey-tickseed, Sept. 2013

This is “Orangey-tickseed” and at first blush, one might be tempted to pass over it.  I had to do a double-take on this one, however, my instincts told me something was not quite right here.  Indeed the orange-colored flowers are not at all like the yellow plant it is cohabiting with.  Again, the texture is very much like plastic.  One final plant before moving on to other interesting discoveries.

Pink Sand Lily, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I found this beautiful flower growing near the river in the sand and I have designated it the “Pink Sand Lily” because I’m not sure what else to call it?  It is for the most part, a low growing plant and the “flower” appears at the terminal end of a wiry green stalk about four inches tall or so.  The flower petals are composed of a string-like fiber while the stamens are hard and have pseudo-pollen on them.  These unusual plants were not my only discoveries on this fine day.  I nearly always find some doll or doll part that the river has washed into here and today was no exception.  I spotted a form in the wood chips and bark bits and went in for a closer look.  Dusting off the form revealed this doll body.

"rubberized" foam doll body, Sept. 2013

This was quite unlike any other doll “body” I’ve found before at the river.  The material was obviously made from a foam-like material, but it had the flexibility of rubber.  Nearby, I also discovered  an unusual serpent.

red, plush toy snake, Sept. 2013

Approximately a foot long, this red plush snake had large black eyes and had just a bit of its tongue sticking out.  This is the first of one of these objects that I have come across .  The river was flowing nearby and I walked over to the edge of the riverbank.  The water level has finally leveled off to more of its seasonal pool and the fossil banks on the Kentucky side were exposed for the first time this year.  Looking along the water’s edge, I came across this Freshwater Drum that an angler caught and released.  Unfortunately, for the fish…it did not survive being captured.  Here is its final portrait.

Freshwater Drum, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) is a widespread fish and common in the Ohio River.  It has several molar-like teeth in its mouth that it uses to crush and eat snails and small clams.  The drum is not considered a desirable food species around here.  Here’s another fish I found on this walk that is also inedible.

red plastic fish bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The second “fish” I came across was this plastic bottle.  I’m guessing that the bottle may have contained shampoo for children?  Regardless, I was struck by the level of abstraction occurring here.  The tail is minimally represented and the gills are indicated by two lines near the eyes, but there is enough here to suggest a fish.  My next find is mid way between the drum and the plastic bottle being closer to the latter than the former.  Here are two views of it.

The Silvergill, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

Silvergill, Sept. 2013, Falls of the Ohio

This is a Silvergill which is closely related to the Iron Gill (which I have posted about previously).  Differences between the two species include size (this fish is smaller) and some of the fins are not the same shape or in the same position.  The Silvergill is much more rarely encountered than its larger cousin.  It is found in water of average to poor quality and often associated with coal and coal dust. It is omnivorous and eats aquatic insect larvae and algae which it grazes off of rocks.  I’m assuming that it washed up here a victim (like the Freshwater Drum) of an angler looking to catch something more worthwhile.  I took a few photos and then moved on.  The fossil beds were beckoning and I could see the resident flock of Black Vultures congregating on the rocks.  No doubt they had discovered a fish or two on their own.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Fossil beds and Black Vultures at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

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Orangeman, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Orangeman was really excited to see me and asked me breathlessly, “Where have you been lately?”  I filled him in about my busy life and work and then turned the table by asking my friend what all the hubbub was about?  He knows that if I could I would spend most of my time down by the river and probably go completely native and become a river rat in the process.  He also knows that if there is something not to be missed down by the Falls of the Ohio…that I would do my best not to miss it!  The Orangeman explained that he had several things he wanted to show me beginning with a monumental discovery he came across in a discarded plastic five gallon bucket.  This would be Exhibit A.

plants growing in a found bucket, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The slightly sun-faded blue bucket or pail was sitting on an angle in the sand…just as the river had left it.  River mud and dirt more than filled the bucket up passed the midway point.  Orangeman walked me over to the bucket and said “Peek inside and tell me what you see.”  I did as he asked and more than a little perplexed I replied…”Well, I see a few small plants and vines growing in the dirt.”  Orangeman groaned…”That part is obvious, however, the deeper meaning lies in how resilient life is and even within the confines of a plastic bucket…life wants to grow and express itself.”  I had to admit that the Orangeman was making an interesting point here.  At home, I keep flowers and plants in flower pots and other containers made for the purpose and get pleasure from seeing them thrive and be beautiful.  What I hadn’t considered was the idea that any container also acts as a barrier.  Life wants to join with life and be a part of the interconnected whole.  The roots of these bucket plants were only going to be able to spread so far.  Still, as the Orangeman explained…”The will to live and grow is strong even if there are limitations present.  There was more to see and the Orangeman walked me over to Exhibit B.

plant life growing in a shattered plastic drum, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I must admit that I was impressed by the second example that my friend the Orangeman showed me.  In a shattered plastic drum, various grasses and so-called weeds were sprouting through a large hole in the top of the container.  Years ago, dirt and sand filled the barrel through the actions of river water and wind rendering it too heavy to pick up and move.  Different plant seeds found their way into the barrel and discovering this small niche…set out to colonize and thrive as best they could.  Perhaps these grasses will find enough of what they need to move through their life cycle and produce seed for another generation?  Or perhaps they won’t due to all kinds of other variables, but the point remains that life will take that chance.

Orangeman speaks, Sept. 2013

I hadn’t seen the Orangeman in such a didactic mood before and I was impressed with his earnestness.  Previously, he had struck me as a happy-go-lucky guy and not especially bothered by all the serious stuff in the world.  I certainly was seeing a different side of my friend that I hadn’t seen before.  We walked and talked together and before long reached the last sight he wanted me to see.  We might as well designate this as Exhibit C of the day.

Orangeman and willow/tire tree, late Aug. 2013, Falls of the Ohio

The Orangeman stopped next to an old discarded tire and with a flourish of his arms and hands and said, “Here it is!”  The “it” part was a small willow tree that was growing through the center of the tire.  I didn’t tell my friend this but, I already knew about this particular tree and another one I had discovered very similar to it in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I had even photographed this very tree on several occasions.  This is how it looked in late spring.

willow tree growing through a tire

We had a relatively cool spring and it seemed to my eye that the plants at the Falls got off to a slow start.  The willow-in-the-tire took its time ‘leafing out”, but eventually it did.  Now I must say that a tree growing through the middle of a tire is a remarkable thing, however, there is more to admire about this particular tree.  The Orangeman invited me to make a closer inspection.

willow growing through holes in a metal wheel, Sept. 2013

Amazingly, this willow tree was growing through the holes in the metal wheel that were still in the tire!  The tiny, wispy seeds from a willow tree must have passed through one of the holes and taken root in the mud and soil beneath the tire.  Hungry and thirsty for light, the various branches moved through the holes.  I told the Orangeman that this was indeed an amazing example of life making do in very unpromising circumstances.

willow/tire tree, June 2013

I’m going to monitor this tree with the Orangeman’s help because I’m curious to see if it can continue to thrive and grow.  Will it eventually lift the tire into the air like some perverse hula-hoop as the trunk thickens and becomes more pronounced?  Or, will the holes in the metal prove too restrictive and choke the life out these branches?  Or, will something else out of the blue change the situation?  The river usually gets the last word and flooding could easily send a flotilla of battering logs the willow tree’s way.  The Orangeman and I parted company, but not before I thanked him for his time.  Indeed, he had given me much to mull over.  The idea that life is very resilient and will find a way to endure was comforting to me…especially as the physical world continues to change around us.

plastic pine growing out of a stump, Sept. 2013

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Soap Bubble Wand Collection, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

Consolidating some of my river finds revealed this fun collection of soap-bubble wands all found within the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  This is many years worth of walking the riverbank and sampling choice bits of plastic and other displaced objects.  All the bubble wands I’ve found thus far are made of plastic.  Most of these wands were sold inside plastic bottles filled with prepared soap-bubble solution.

Detail, Soap Bubble Wand Collection, Sept. 2013

Simply dip the wand into the soap bottle. Remove the wand allowing a film to form over the loop.  Then gently blow air through the soap film and bubbles should result. With this found wand lot however, the bubbles probably wouldn’t be very big or long-lasting.  The soap-bubble wands you can fashion at home with common materials (along with creating your own bubble mix) can produce spectacular results.  These wands were more than likely lost by kids playing near the river.  I’m frequently amazed by the variety of design solutions intended for such a throw away item.  I mean who holds on to these wands to reuse once the bottle is empty?  I did find some novelty items in the mix.  Check these examples out.

Mini Wedding Novelty Soap Bubble wands , Sept. 2013

Here are two mini soap-bubble nuptial wands.  These are usually in tiny plastic bottles left on the guests’ tables.  Blowing bubbles on the newlyweds frequently substitutes for the traditional rice throwing send off.

soap bubble plastic pipes, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I also found these two soap-bubble pipes.  Personally, I’ve never had much luck making bubbles with pipes.

Plastic Ice Cream Cone bubble wand and bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

Plastic Ice Cream Cone Soap Bubble wand and bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

This novelty didn’t look good in the frame, but it is one of the nicer soap bottle with wand items I’ve found.  This fake ice cream cone also has that black river patina suggesting it was out floating around for years before I came across it on these fable Falls shores.

Detail, Star Wand, Sept. 2013

I have a couple of wands that aren’t soap-bubble wands, but since they are wands nevertheless…I keep them in the collection.  The Star Wand is more than likely from a princess costume or magician’s outfit.  The other wand is perhaps more of a plastic scepter.  Originally, the handle lit up with a colored light.  Again, more disposable plastic items.  I’ll keep walking the riverbank a little while longer and I’ll bet I find a few more of these objects to add to the river collection.

found pink plastic bubble wand, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

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spider's web in the morning light, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013The Falls of the Ohio is a special place in the history of life.  From the ancient marine creatures whose remains are preserved in limestone dating back more than 370 million years a go to the contemporary creatures that inhabit the park today…it is my goal to celebrate life here in all its diversity.  I’m going to use this post to present images of recent finds.  I was exploring the western side of this state park recently and saw this spider’s web high off the ground catching the early morning light.  I’m sure its architect would prefer a buggy meal over the photons it has snared instead!  Looking at this web image, I’m struck by how similar this  looks to the cross-section of a tree.  Can you see that too with the outermost silk rings resembling a tree’s growth rings?  In the Purple Loosestrife stands, butterflies were having a nectar feast and I presented many images of them in a previous post.  Here’s one more to add to that portfolio.  I have seen this butterfly species wind up on the spider’s menu before.

Dog Face Butterfly on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, late Aug. 2013

This is the Dog Face Butterfly (Colias cestonia ).  It is often difficult to photograph this butterfly in the wild with its wings open because this species prefers to feed with its wings held together.  Through the strong light passing through the forewings, you can get the suggestion of a dog’s head in profile.  Imagine the black rimmed spot as the “dog’s eye” with its muzzle pointing down.  When open, the dark interior margins of the wings are a warm black color.  I was exploring the interstitial sandy zone between the river and the willow woods…when I came across this interesting amphibian.

The American Toad at the Falls of the Ohio, August 2013

American Toad, dorsal view, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

If this American Toad ( Bufo americanus ) had not moved…I doubt I would have seen it.  It’s coloration is wonderfully cryptic easily blending into the sand.  The toad was busy hunting among the debris and driftwood for any insects and invertebrates it could find.  I don’t encounter many amphibians out here…so finding a common toad is a noteworthy event.  Let’s move up the evolutionary ladder a bit.  I was busy working on one of my Styrofoam sculptures at my outdoor studio when I felt I was being watched.  When I lifted my eyes up from my artwork…I found myself looking eye to eye with this critter.

Woodchuck or groundhog at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

This is the common Groundhog or Woodchuck ( Marmota monax ).  As its scientific name suggests, this large rodent is a member of the marmot family.  Woodchucks are successfully established at the Falls and I encounter them often.  They are fast diggers and live in an extensive system of burrows.  Woodchucks usually don’t stray too far away from the entrances to their burrows.  Succulent greens are the preferred foods.  This particular woodchuck regarding me is a young individual and may be seeking territory of its own?  Usually, I don’t see them this close to the river.  I did have an interesting recent encounter with a very different animal in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Have you ever heard of an animal called the Camelope, (Antilocapra fallsei )?  It is very rarely seen.  The flora and fauna at the Falls can be roughly divided between forms that are “natural” and “unnatural”.  The spider, butterfly, toad, and woodchuck fit in the natural fauna category, while the Camelope is definitely on the unnatural fauna side of life and may represent evolution at an accelerated pace?  The many stresses to the environment and its myriad ecosystems have required a dramatic response and creatures like the Camelope may be nature’s way of responding to these changes?  I’m not a trained scientist, but that is my educated guess.  Discovering and documenting these recent life forms has become a passion of mine.  Anyway, let’s look at a Camelope.  Let’s start with an image of its head.

Camelope, detail of head, August 2013

It’s called a Camelope because its head generally resembles that of a camel’s.  This is a browsing animal and accepts a wide range of vegetation growing along the river.  It has dark eyes that are always nervously looking around for potential predators.  This park is also home to Feralocitors that prey upon Camelopes.  This particular species also has an acute sense of smell.

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

I came across this Camelope in a more isolated section of the park.  It was hiding among the stands of loosestrife and drinking water from the springs that flow downhill and into the river.  It is ever alert and very nimble with quick feet and seemingly at home climbing on rocks or navigating through dense vegetation.  Their bodies resemble that of deer or antelopes…hence Camelope.

Camelope reacting to an unfamiliar sound, Aug. 2013

Camelope at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Since it is a relatively new animal…not very much is known about it.  I was able to conceal my presence long enough to manage these images.  I either moved or the wind shifted, but anyway my presence was detected and with a quick bound, the Camelope disappeared into the brush.  I hope I may come across it again and learn more about its secretive life.  Regardless, I will keep my eyes open and my camera at the ready for any new “unnatural” life forms I discover.  It occurred to me on my way home that my Falls of the Ohio Project is now officially ten years old!  I started exploring this fascinating park as the Artist at Exit 0 in August 2003 when the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was being celebrated.  Reading early 19th century accounts of the natural abundance of our country and this place in particular made me wistful for a world that no longer exists.  Two hundred years later…that process continues and no doubt will two hundred years from now.  I have often thought of this riverblog as a historical document as relevant today as Lewis and Clark’s notebooks and journals were back when this country was first being described.  I hope this park and its remarkable history will continue to inspire people for a very long time.  In closing, I would like to present an image of Canada Geese on the water near the fossil beds.  Their coloration gives them in my mind’s eye a formal quality and lends dignity to the landscape.  Until next time…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Canada Geese and fossil rock at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

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