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Archive for October, 2014

Great Blue Heron tracks in the mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

Fan-tailed Gnatcatcher, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

fallen willow leave on mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

stone and concrete ring by the dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

Sun light reflecting with the stone ring, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

rock and concrete ring, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

rock and concrete ring, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Detail of silver driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

 

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.

Visitors interacting with my art, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Park visitors interacting with my driftwood star, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

Girls making a driftwood shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Girls posed under their improvised shelter, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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.

tiny composite flowers with bee, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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Coal figure near the waterfalls, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I waited a few days to return to the exposed fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  My earlier trek went so well that I was determined to walk a little farther dragging my collecting bag full of water worn coal with me.  I had the same idea as before, namely creating figurative images using the coal in site specific areas.  Today I was determined to walk around Goose Island which is accessible by foot in the summer and early fall when the river level is diverted towards the locks and thus exposing the many layers of this ancient Devonian reef.  It won’t be too much longer until the autumn rains replenishes the water along the Ohio River Valley and submerges this part of the park again until next summer.

Dancing Coal figure, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As before, I crossed over at the Lower Tainter Gates in the eastern section of the park.  I walked along the Fixed Wier Dam reaching the area where some waterfalls that flow into Whiskey Chute remain.  This is where I created my first coal figure of the day.  From above, the figure appears to be dancing and this is one of my favorite images from this new series.

Water flowing thru notch in fixed wier dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Going around the waterfalls, I walk through ankle to knee-deep water and continue following the dam’s wall westward.  Strategically placed notches at the top of this concrete wall provides a flow of water to a small wetlands area that harbors a variety of life.  In this place natural waterfalls and cascades have been replaced by artificial ones.  As I wade through it is a bit humbling knowing that the level of the Ohio River is at the top of this wall.  I saw many water-loving birds including Belted Kingfishers, Blue-winged Teal, Caspian Terns, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great Blue Herons that favor this part of the park.

A pair of Grass Carp, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Many of these birds were here because this area also attracts fish.  Numerous grass carp were eating algae in the shallows and small schools of juvenile fish were startled by the sudden appearance of my all too white legs as I walked through their space.  If I stood motionless for a while, the carp would return and I could observe them more closely.

Scene along the northwest tip of Goose Island, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Goose Island Coal Figure, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Goose Island has sandy banks.  As I was wading along the southeast side of the island, I set up this figure with up raised arms in an open spot among plants that were growing in a row parallel to the water’s edge.

Bleaching Goose Island Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Evaporating pond on Goose Island, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I left the water and walked along the edge of the island walking westward.  This section has a cottonwood habitat.  I came across a large cottonwood tree that had fallen off the high bank and was now bleaching in the sun.  Driftwood snagged around this tree’s root mass marks how high the water can get when the river is flowing.  There was a strong smell of urine around this shrinking pond and the many deer tracks proved these animals frequented this place.  Hundreds of tiny toads were hopping through the grass near this waterhole!  I had never seen anything like this out here before.  I wished I had taken at least one image of these toads in my hand for scale.  Although they were tiny, they also looked like perfectly formed adults that had been miniaturized.

Goose Island with distant view of the hydroelectric dam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Continuing my walk on Goose Island, I can see the wall of the Fixed Wier Dam and the hydroelectric plant in the distance which is situated on Shippingport Island.  The plants in the foreground with their prickly, ripening seed pods are Jimsonweed.  Along the sandy bank,  I could see slides where beaver have dragged their tree cuttings from the nearby woods into the water.  There is probably evidence of a dam nearby, but I did not see it on this trip.

Goose Island sand dunes, Lower Tainter Gates in the background, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

This is as far as you can walk in this part of the park.  Goose Island’s western edge ends at the Upper Tainter Gates.  This is a popular area for fishermen who reach this spot by boat.  I did see several Osprey circling the sky here.  There is a small section of sand dunes on Goose Island that are shaped by wind and wave.  In the above image, bird tracks crisscross the sand.  I placed my final coal figure of the day here at the edge of a dune.  This time the figure has been turned on its side. Plumes of sand were blowing up and away at the dune’s edge by wind.  In the image below, the distance from the top of the dune to the riverbank on the right is deceiving.  I estimate that this is a seven or eight foot drop and a short roll to the river.

Coal figure on Goose Island sand dune, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

From this area I start my hike home on the north side of Goose Island and start heading east.  It has been a great day interacting with this environment.  I have several other images to show before closing that were shot on this walk.  Fortunately, there isn’t as much plastic junk to find on this side of the park, but of course there were a few things that caught my eye.

plastic squirt gun, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Here’s another squirt gun to add to the collection.

blue plastic hand on fossil rocks, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

A goofy blue plastic hand rests on a fossil bearing rock .  If you look closely, you can see bits of a crinoid stem by the  thumb.  I did take other images of fossils along my walk.  Here are more crinoid pieces found near the Upper Tainter Gates.  Crinoids are often described as sea lilies and were sessile marine animals that filtered and captured small animals from a flower-like calyx.

Fossil crinoid pieces, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

On the walk home, I kept walking by different fossil corals exposed in this ancient limestone.  Corals are colonial animals and you get a sense for this in my next image.

Exposed fossil coral, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The park prohibits collecting fossils and I begin to wonder if this heavy bag of coal that I have lugged around the island would count?  Technically speaking coal is a fossil material.  Although I found all my coal within the park, it did not originate here.  I retrace my steps crossing the exposed fossil beds and by the time I reach my vehicle…I am one tired guy.  If my luck holds, I might be able to take one more walk out here before this area becomes the bottom of the river again.  If it doesn’t happen…there is always next year!

Fossil beds with the skyline of Louisville in the distance, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

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On the dry Indiana bank, Falls of the Ohio, Oct 2014

After my all day excursion to the Kentucky side of the fossil beds…my next visit to the park was a relatively short one.  I had a few hours to work with and decided to check out the riverbank on the Indiana side.  It has been very dry of late and I heard on the radio that farmers have begun revising their optimism about this year’s corn crop.  Once again, we have had a season that seems atypical in a few respects.  Most notably, our summer has been a cool one.  No temperatures in the high 90 or 100 degree range…that would be about 35 to 38 degrees on the Celsius scale.  Climatologists point to the cold Arctic air that came sweeping down from Canada during July as the reason our summer was not as hot.  People around here aren’t complaining about that, but after last year’s polar vortex winter… folks are wondering if that bodes well for this year’s fall and winter?

Cracked, drying mud, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

In addition to the coolness, it’s also been dry of late.  Seems that we haven’t had a significant rain storm to speak of in weeks and the river continues to recede.  New pools are formed stranding fish in them and many creatures take advantage of this bounty.  Walking along the cracked riverbank I find evidence of this.

Dead Longnose gar and decaying Bull gill, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I soon came across dead fish left behind in the wake of weekend fishermen.  In this picture, an armored and toothy Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) lies side by side with an equally interesting fish that is rarely found here.  With its thick body, white caudil fins, and unique pectoral fins…I identify this smaller fish.  It’s more commonly called a Bull Gill, but science also recognizes it as (Taurus opercula).  I wonder if there are any other specimens hiding in the deeper pools around here?  To find out, I gather waste monofilament line found all along the riverbank along with a found lead-headed jig and before too long I have improvised a hand line for fishing.

Bull Gill on a hand line, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Bull Gill on the line, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

After some trial and error, I succeeded in catching a Bull Gill by bumping my jig along the bottom of a wide, but shallow pool.  The fish was well hooked and after a short struggle I was able to bring him up for a better look.

Bull Gill in hand, Falls of the Ohio, October 2014

Captured Bull Gill facing left, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

I hurriedly take as many photographs as I can.  My intention is to release this fish back into the water after I document its presence here at the Falls of the Ohio.  As you can see, this fish contrasts greatly with the dead gar we saw earlier.  The gar is in fact a more ancient and primitive fish that relies on its hard armor for protection.  The gar is mostly a surface fish mimicking a floating piece of wood while it stealthily seeks out smaller fish to ambush.  The gar’s strategy has been so successful that it has changed little after millions of years.  The Bull Gill evolved much later and lacks prominent scales on its more compact body.  It too, however has evolved a unique method of feeding.

Bull Gill seen head on, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

Bull Gill supporting itself on its pectoral fins, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The Bull Gill gets its name from its powerfully muscled head.  Just below and behind its gill covers, the unique pectoral fins have evolved so that this fish can support itself on the bottom of a swiftly moving stream or river.  I was able to demonstrate this with my specimen.  I placed my fish upon the rocks by the riverbank and it was able to support its body off the rocky surface using its strong and rigid fins.  In the water, the Bull Gill secures itself on the rocky bottom with its stiff pectoral fins and with its head facing upriver.  The Bull Gill is a predatory bottom feeder.  As prey fish swim by, the Bull Gill with a quick burst is able to capture its food and swallows them head first before returning to its spot on the river bottom.  I had this fish out of water for just a couple of minutes before releasing it safely back into the Ohio River.  I had to say that I enjoyed encountering a creature you don’t see every day.  It’s presence here is a good sign since the Bull Gill needs good quality water to thrive.   I gathered up my collecting bag and walking stick and decided to check out my stash of Styrofoam under the willows.

Up the riverbank and under the willows, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

The willow trees are up the riverbank and the leaves are beginning to yellow more noticeably.  Along the way you pass by a couple of courses of deposited driftwood.  I love the silvery color of this wood which is due to exposure to the sun and elements.  I had a great surprise in store for me once I ducked under the cover of the trees.  For many years I have known that White-tail Deer are present in the park because their tracks are all over the place.  These ghost deer are fairly close to a populated area and extremely wary of people.  They must move around the park in the middle of the night or really early in the morning to avoid detection.

The deers' resting place, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

deer tracks in the sand, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

As I moved near my spot, I spooked a doe and her late season fawn.  I could still make out the spotted pattern on the fawn.  They were bedded down near a large log that floated into the park last year.  I first saw the doe which rose and ran off upon sighting me.  The fawn then stood up and followed after its mom.  I was unable to take a photograph because this sequence happened in just seconds.  I then followed to see if a second glimpse was possible and I even doubled back to this spot should the deer attempt the same maneuver.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get another look at them, but since they are near my outdoor studio, I will be sure to check for them next time.

My stash of Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

It had been many weeks since I last visited my larder of river-gleaned materials.  I could tell that people had been through here, but there is obviously nothing of value.  I mean what could one do with water-tumbled polystyrene and sticks?  If the river doesn’t rise anytime soon, I will come back and make something from this odd deposit.  My next post, however, will come from the Kentucky side of the fossil beds.  After this adventure, I returned with my river-polished coal and explored a few more areas around Goose Island and the hydroelectric plant.  I think I made some compelling images that speak of a sense for place and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Fall color at the Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2014

 

 

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