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