What began overcast and dreary blossomed into a gorgeous, sun-filled autumn day. The exposed fossil beds by the Upper Tainter Gates are now covered by water rushing at break neck speed. The Ohio River has once again reclaimed its ancient limestone bed with man’s help. The Falls of the Ohio are like Niagara Falls which can also be regulated with the flip of a switch. There’s a good chance that I won’t be visiting that side of the park again until next summer’s heat returns. Today I concentrated my attention and energy along the riverbank under the Conrail Railroad Bridge. This is an area where I have had good luck finding materials to work with and many of my best bird sightings have also occurred here. The autumnal migration is under way. Many of the birds that had passed this way going north in the spring are now moving south towards wintering grounds in exotic locations in Central and South America. I ducked under the Black willow trees whose leaves are turning bright yellow and was soon rewarded by a bird species new to me.
This is the Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher and this is the first time this species has been recorded in the park. I had the greatest luck hiding behind the trunk of this willow and was able to observe this bird at extremely close range. If it spotted me…it demonstrated no concern at all and continued its search for small insects and spiders hiding among the furrows in the tree’s bark.
The Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher is a diminutive bird. I watched as it dutifully searched the tree for food. It had no problems going down the tree head-first in nuthatch fashion. In this species, both the male and the females are similarly marked. This young bird (identified by its lack of a feathered crest on it head) was just an egg a couple of months a go and has flown here from northern Canada.
I was literally at arm’s length to this bird and it was a such a treat to observe something new and at close range. I loved the coloration on this bird. The tail feather’s blue fan is balanced by the bird’s bright blue beak. Rusty-colored wings are set off by the arctic-white hues along the head and body. Like many bird encounters, I was only able to observe this bird for a minute or two at the most, but it was an experience that will last a lifetime. As it flew off…I wished the bird well on its long journey and I hoped I could count its kind again among the park’s willow trees.
I lingered in the moment for a while. No sense in rushing things. When I was confident that no other birds were in the area, I moved back to a spot where the Fixed Wier Dam joins the Lower Tainter Gates. This would be the site for my next project.
The dam at this location has curtains of water flowing through openings that are lower than the top of the wall and represents the true water level of the river. This flow feeds a small channel that leads back to the river and is a favorite place for fishermen. I had earlier noticed among the large broken sections of concrete and loose rock that some other creative soul(s) had started what looked like a stacked stone ring in the water. There was the remnants of a foundation and I decided to build it back up for a look-see and to elaborate on it if possible. I guess this in effect is a collaboration with an anonymous individual. The image above was taken after I began reconstructing the ring.
As I kept building up the ring, I would document my progress. This is one of my favorite shots from the series. Here I was able to center the sun’s reflection within the ring’s interior. In my mind it became a portal to some other place far beyond the river. The image of a passage way or tunnel is one that recurs in my Falls projects.
I would have added the rectangular rock in the foreground, but it proved heavy and sunk into the mud. Interestingly, the water within the ring was much calmer and created a safe harbor which contrasted with the swiftly flowing water around it.
The ring’s slightly irregular shape was determined by its placement. The ring is situated on the edge of where the water cascading off the dam’s wall has worn a deeper channel in the shallow bottom. Since it was such a beautiful day I decided to spend more time at the Falls. I made one other site-specific work where the center is a point of focus.
What I love about the driftwood at the Falls of the Ohio is the way it changes color as it ages. After a summer’s worth of sunlight, the wood here takes on a silvery-gray color. I collected lengths of wood from the immediate area and laid them in the sand. The silver driftwood radiates away from a central point. While I was engaged with my “Silver Star” four very nice people stopped by and asked directions to the fossil beds. These park visitors became interested in what I was doing. I appreciated that they wanted to participate and play along in their own way. Here are a few additional images. I’m assuming they are two mothers with their daughters enjoying an outing to the river? Here one person is photographing the cast shadow on my wood piece.
I think I may have inspired the daughters to attempt their own project? Before too long they were picking up pieces of driftwood and making a make-shift shelter of their own design.
The girls looked very happy under their driftwood shelter! When my sons were younger, this was a favorite activity of theirs and this day brought back those good memories. This park is such a great playground and allows one to exercise both your body and imagination. I wonder if these ladies ever found the fossil beds? It probably doesn’t matter since it looked like a good time was had by all. Soon enough it was time to go home and I gathered up my collecting bag and walking stick and admired the late season flowers as I walked back to my vehicle. Thanks for tagging along and I hope to see you next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.