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Archive for April, 2014

Canada Geese, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

It’s springtime at the Falls of the Ohio and life is less shy about revealing itself.  Wasn’t too long ago that finding even the most common bird could be a challenge due to the harshness and length of our winter.  Now the spring migrants are winging their way northward and even the indigenous species are easier to locate.  This is the time of year when the pair bonds are strongest.  The resident Canada Goose population appears to have overwintered in fine fashion and it won’t be too long before the first goslings are in the water.  As you may have ascertained, this post will be about one of my favorite Falls subjects…birds.

osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014osprey, Falls of the Ohio, 2014

This is a composite image of three different Osprey that were simultaneously circling my position at the river recently.  The trio were flying in ever-widening circles and taking advantage of the wind currents and thermals.  It’s a thrilling site to observe these fish hawks diving into the water and being rewarded for their efforts with a freshly caught fish in their talons.  I’ve heard about, but not yet seen, the Bald Eagle nest that is just west of the Falls area.  On occasion, I have seen eagles, but considering how near they are to this area I would have thought that sightings would be more common.  I’ve recently seen other birds of prey including Peregrine Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, and our next featured bird, the Black Vulture is beginning to return to the Falls of the Ohio in numbers.

Black Vulture and dead fish, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Black Vulture, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Black Vulture feeding on a dead fish, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

To my eye, it appears that the Black Vulture population has been increasing while our other vulture…the Turkey Vulture presents itself less frequently.  The Black Vultures are more gregarious and aggressive which probably keeps the Turkey Vulture from showing its featherless, naked, red-head more?  Recently, I came across this individual Black Vulture feeding upon a dead fish.  It let me get quite close, but there was also a minimum distance that it would tolerate me.  Whenever I would get closer to its comfort zone, the vulture would grab the fish with its sharp beak and drag it to where that minimum distance was re-established before it resumed feeding.  We did this dance for a few minutes before the vulture decided it had enough and flew away.  My next bird is one that I have never observed in the park before.  Some of my most memorable sightings have come from species seen just once and maybe for a few seconds at that.  Hardcore birders (they wear black leather jackets with chains hanging off them) are familiar with this phenomenon.  Friends have asked me why I don’t indulge my avian passion in a more organized fashion, but frankly I don’t like the sense of competition that can exist in some of these groups and clubs.  I appreciate that birds are fellow life forms that are inhabiting the same time and space with me and are more than feathered abstractions to cross off on some list.  If you pay attention, birds can tell you much about the state of nature and this planet.

Orange-collared Piper, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Orange-collared Piper, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

 

The new bird I recently came across is the Orange-collared Piper.  It’s a shorebird that undertakes  a tremendous journey starting at the tip of South America and it won’t stop moving northwards until it reaches its breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.  Landing at the Falls, it is a little more than half way to where it needs to be.  This piper is a rather small bird and easily overlooked in this particular environment.  Its white body and head look remarkably like the polystyrene that litters these shores.

Orange-collared Piper at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Orange-collared Piper, April 2014

The bird is so named because it sports an orange ring around its neck.  Other field marks include diminutive size, brown wings, and a sharp yellow bill it uses to probe sand and mud for the tiny invertebrates it eats.  Also true to its name, this bird makes a high-pitched “piping” call it uses while it feeds.  To he honest, I did not hear this call with this particular individual.

Orange-collared Piper at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Both the male and female Orange-collared Piper look about the same.  At its breeding grounds, the pair incubates about five or six tiny, black speckled eggs in a rather shallow gravel depression.  No fancy nest for this bird…it lays its eggs directly on the ground where  cryptic coloration helps protect them from the numerous Arctic predators.  This bird is considered threatened due in large measure to habitat loss and other environmental degradation.  Its amazingly long migration probably also puts this bird at risk since so many things can go wrong on such a long trip.  I watched this particular individual for about forty minutes or so.  It moved among the driftwood in very careful fashion stopping here and there to probe the sand with its sharp yellow bill.  When the bird decided to move on…there was a flash of wings too quick to see and it was gone.  I hope that it reaches its destination and resurfaces at this park again.  I have one final “bird” that I recorded the same day I saw the Orange-collared Piper.  Perhaps you will recognize this one?  It’s most distinctive field mark is the sunglasses it wears while floating on the river.  Happy birding!!rubber duck with sunglasses, April 2014

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Mr. Mosquito Nose, April 2014

I’ll bet some of you out there might have wondered what’s happened to the old riverblog?  Here it is near April’s end and there is nothing to show for what occurred during this month.  Let me reassure you that the Artist at Exit 0 has been as active as the river has allowed him to be.  Exploring the line between culture and nature is personally important.  Between periodic high water, the exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, the Kentucky Derby Festival, and life in general…posting stories has needed to take a back seat.  The process, however, is ongoing.  I have been to the river on multiple occasions and observed the transition from winter to spring at the Falls of the Ohio.  Making art remains a priority and I realize that I just feel better if I have the opportunity to make something of my own.  Don’t be surprised if I end this month with a flurry of posts in an attempt to catch up.  Let’s start at the beginning of April and see how far I get.  Here’s a story featuring Mr. Mosquito Nose who had an experience with a young journalism student interested in what the Artist at Exit 0 does on an ordinary trip to the Falls.

Mr. Mosquito Nose at the river's edge, April 2014

This day began with a rendezvous at the river.  I arrived early and was scouting out the situation.  The Ohio River had just been up and I knew the riverbank was reconfigured with different driftwood and new junk  waiting to be picked up.  I had been contacted previously by Taylor Ferguson who is a journalism student at the nearby Indiana University Southeast in New Albany who requested to tag along with me on one of my Falls of the Ohio adventures.  Taylor has a creative project of her own…to create a short, documentary video and she wanted the Artist at Exit 0 to be the subject.  This was the first time anyone has requested this and so I agreed to do it.  With a cool and sunny day before us we left the still leafless willows and walked out onto the riverbank.

Taylor at the Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

Taylor turned out to be a super friendly and very interested in my projects.  I will admit that it was odd being tethered to a microphone and I felt a little self-conscience talking to myself so openly with a video camera pointing in my direction.  I usually have some dialogue running through my head as I explore this environment, but to hear it in such an audible fashion was different.  I brought Taylor to my U.F.O. (Unidentified Floating Object) art site where I keep my river materials and demonstrated how I went about making an absurd figure from the poor stuff of the world.  With Mr. Mosquito Nose in hand, the three of us left my outdoor studio and explored the environs near the railroad bridge.  Along the way, Taylor would ask me questions about when and why I started this project.  By now, those are familiar questions.  I enjoy looking for what is interesting about each day.  So, now it was time to walk the riverbank with Mr. Mosquito Nose and be present in this moment.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and orange barge cable, April 2014

The lack of footprints in the sand told me that few others had recently passed this way.   As we walked along, I kept an eye out for those little micro-contexts that I could pose this latest Styro-figure in.  After making an object…I’m interested in using it to create an image.  With luck, the images might then be used to tell a story.  Here we have come across an old, frayed barge cable that the river washed into the park.  It seemed a good location to take a few photos.

figure next to an old camp fire site, April 2014

Near the cable, we came across the remains of a camp fire.  Brick and rock define a shallow pit that still had some ashes in it.  For a few years now, I have also photographed old camp fire sites with the intention of publishing them here as a collection.  I’m always struck by the elemental nature of this activity and what its importance has meant for our species’ survival.  We set up Mr. Mosquito Nose by the fire pit and now those photos are a part of this record.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and plastic sprayer, April 2014

Among the other objects we came across was this old sprayer.  The figure’s arms are raised in warning because this might have potentially been used to spray herbicide or worse.  Caution is required whenever you come across something that could possibly harm you.  Knock on wood, I’ve been doing this project for more than a decade without any physical reactions or incidents from the stuff I’ve encountered out here.  I place a lot of faith in the diluting power of millions of gallons of fresh water.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and various bottles, April 2014

Moving on to another location, I collected a few glass and plastic bottles along the way and made this composition.  Some of these containers have mystery contents of their own.

Mr. Mosquito Nose and dog food bowl, April 2014

Later we came across this pet food bowl that was half full with water.  The water in this bowl could have collected here as the river level dropped or been filled up by rainfall?  It is another example of an incongruous object making an appearance at the Falls.Mr. Mosquito Nose, April 2014

Taylor and I came across another barge cable that had been snagged by a low hanging willow branch and created this final photograph with Mr. Mosquito Nose.  The day was moving along and both of us were needed elsewhere.  About a week later, Taylor called me up to say that most of the audio the microphone picked up had interfering  sounds of wind and water.  This seemed perfect to me because that’s what I usually hear out here as well with the occasional bird call thrown in for good measure.  Taylor had three hours of footage that needed to be edited down to three minutes which sounded like a daunting challenge in its own right without the audio difficulties.  I later caught up with Taylor in Louisville and did a quick voice over recording that I hope will do the trick for her project.  At the time of this writing…I haven’t seen the finished video, but hope it turns out for Taylor and that she gets a good grade for it.  Okay, that’s it for now from the Falls of the Ohio State Park…one last image then I’m calling it a post.

Sand, driftwood, and disposable drink cup, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

 

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