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Archive for August, 2015

Exposed fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Once a year, usually in mid to late summer, the dam is closed and the water retreats off of and exposes the ancient Devonian fossil beds.  It is an other worldly landscape of blonde-colored rocks that preserves in limestone the proof that life existed over 400 million years ago.  This exact place during that time too ancient to imagine was in the latitude of the present day Bahama Islands.  Then it is was a marine reef supporting early salt water animals, most especially a large variety of corals. Today, this is a fresh water environment defined by the Ohio River. My goal is to cross over to the Kentucky side (where the majority of the fossil beds are located) by wading through the shallower areas near the tainter gates.  Unfortunately, and unforseen by me, all the recent high water has made the riverbank a slippery muddy mess and the current that is allowed to flow through a channel by the dam is still too strong to wade through.  I got almost half way across and found the footing treacherous.  I didn’t fear for my personal safety, but I didn’t want to risk dunking my camera and phone in the water.  Thwarted today, I will need to make better provisions for that the next time I attempt this.

Black vulture on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

So, I did the next best thing which was to explore the riverbank and nearby Willow Habitat.  The resident colony of Black Vultures was hanging out under what shade some of these willow trees could provide.  The bird in the above image is a sentry maintaining its post outside of where the main group of birds were resting under the nearby trees.  The vulture flock doesn’t seem as large as it has been in the recent past.  Perhaps the prolonged conditions of having a high river forced some of these large birds of prey to seek greener pastures?  The vultures would allow me to only get so close before jumping into the air in search of thermals to lift them even higher.  I continued my modified trip by walking towards the fossil cliffs below the Interpretive Center.

cracked, drying mud at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

It was a very hot day and in places you would come across areas that were once very wet and had dried revealing a wonderful network of cracks.

Artist at Exit 0 re-hydrating, Falls of the Ohio, mid Aug. 2015

I’m proud of myself.  In addition to wearing a cap…I made sure to bring along plenty of drinking water on this very hot and humid day.  Here my bottle is wrapped in a heavy mil plastic bagel bag.  I used this to keep the other items in my pack dry just in case this bottle leaked.  I continued my hike to the fossil cliffs when I could see something snow-white in color moving along the ground.  At first I thought this was a piece of paper disturbed by the breeze, but soon noticed it was moving in bird-like fashion.  I continued approaching very carefully yet deliberately and had my cameras at the ready.  Here is my first image of what would soon be many.

The Yellow-collared Sandpiper at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Switching over to higher magnification, I could see my new bird was a species I had never encountered out here before.  In the comfort of my own home I was able to identify this little guy as the Yellow-collared Sandpiper (Caladris fascinati).  This is a tiny shorebird more at home in the Pacific Northwest and has rarely been recorded east of the Mississippi River.  This is the first recorded instance of this bird at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  So, what was it doing here so far away from home?

Yellow-collared Sandpiper, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

Yellow-collared Sandpiper, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

It is not unusual for this park to record rarities during the migration seasons in early spring and autumn.  To see this bird here outside the normal times shorebirds would be migrating through our area makes me think this bird is here by accident.  Perhaps one of the monster storms we have experienced this year blew this little one way off course?  Looking at my reference guides, I identified this as being a juvenile of the species.  You can tell that by the pink bill.  Once fully mature, the bill turns dark, nearly black in color.  I have recorded other juvenile shorebirds migrating through the park on other Falls of the Ohio adventures.  In particular, I remember seeing juvenile Golden Plovers and once…even saw a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.  What makes these sightings all the more incredible for me is knowing that a few short weeks ago…these birds were beginning life as eggs in shallow nests located in the high Arctic tundra.  Normally, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper migrates down the Pacific coastline of the United States, crosses into Mexico, and winters in Central America.  This is a journey of several thousand miles.

Yellow-collared Sandpiper at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, mid August 2015

I observed this bird for about a half hour or so.  I watched it feeding around the margins of small pools of water that had puddled on the fossil beds.  It used its pink bill to probe the soft mud in search of the tiny invertebrates that make up the bulk of its diet.  The bird seemed not to be concerned about me and I took many photographs to document its presence in the park.

Yellow-billed Sandpiper on the fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

The mouse-like bird moved like a wind-up toy on the fossil rocks.  When it moved, its tiny legs seemed to be going as quickly as they could.  The sandpiper had a curiosity for the world and checked out every clump of vegetation and crack upon the limestone surface as potential sources for food.  Perhaps it was the hawk that flew high over our heads casting a fast shadow upon these ancient reefs that scared it away or perhaps it just grew tired of my company…regardless, the Yellow-collared Sandpiper flew away in a blur of brown wings.  I thought I could detect a high “peep” call note as it went skyward.  Heading back to my vehicle, I had one more pleasant surprise in store for me.  While this is not on par for rarity, seeing the beginning of the Monarch butterfly migration going through our small piece of the planet is still an awesome occasion.  Like the Yellow-collared Sandpiper, the Monarch butterfly has a very impressive migration of its own as it moves from Canada to Mexico and back again.  On my way home, I said a little prayer asking for the continued safety of all the small things moving through the world.  I guess that’s it for this time at the Falls of the Ohio.

Monarch butterfly feeding at the Falls of the Ohio, mid August 2015

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Detail, Western Petroleum Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

Hot, sticky, and the humidity had me sweating the moment I entered the park.  Today’s outing seemed more like an extreme sport than an attempt at art making.  I decided to focus my efforts in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I knew the recent flooding we had experienced would more than likely deposit a lot of junk and debris along the driftwood cluttered shoreline.  I was right about that, but first I had to “earn it”.  To access the shoreline in this area of the park required going over, under, and around large trees that had either blown over by high winds or were undermined by the soil being washed away from the riverbank.

Driftwood on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

One thing I noticed being in this section of the park…was that all the purple loosestrife seemed to be gone.  Normally, one can expect to find a whole host of butterfly and other insect species sipping nectar from the colorful flowers.  On this expedition, I did not see one bloom from this admittedly invasive species.  I think the Ohio River’s recent bouts of high water must have affected them?  I find this somewhat unusual since I associate them with growing in very damp areas.  Perhaps in their case, too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing?  I will do some research to see if my hunch is true.  Regardless of no purple loosestrife, there were plenty of vines to snag and trip over making the footing tricky…as if the soft mud and irregular surfaces of the driftwood weren’t enough of a challenge!

My walking stick and found plastic items, early August, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

With the hot sun beating on me, I faithfully search the riverbank and collected the colorful discarded items that were first “gifted” to the river and then to me.  Walking from one promising area to another…I found enough plastic junk to make my next site specific piece.  Here’s another look at some of the objects that I found on this day.

River junk, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

The really bright and colorful plastic objects virtually scream at you when you bother to pay attention.  Otherwise, it’s all just part of the material crap we create and dispose of indiscriminately.  Maybe because I’m looking for this kind of thing…I see it more easily.  I’ve trained my eye to spot the unnatural colors mixed among the gray and brown tones of the driftwood.  I decided to set up a display in a particularly promising area between two debris fields that was also close to the river.  I looked around and gathered some old milled boards and set them up on short, cut logs and before long had a table-like altar to lay my plastic treasures upon.  Following are several looks at the completed work.

The Western Petroleum Rainbow assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

Here’s a view from behind the piece.  You can see other bottles and junk mixed into the driftwood in the foreground.  I set this piece up on an area of cracked and drying river mud.

Western Petroleum Rainbow, early August 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Now a view from the front.  I placed this work here to take advantage of the sunlight which was beginning to set in the late afternoon.  I also wanted the verdant darkness behind all the colors to help create greater contrast.  There are three tiers of boards that I used for this display.  As is usual, I found less of some colors and more of others.  In this instance, I could have used a few more orange plastic objects, but just one small plastic bottle was all I found this time.

Angled view, Western Petrochemical Rainbow, early August, 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Detail view, Park West Petrochemical Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

In the late afternoon, all the various colors in this plastic are energized by the sun’s electromagnetic spectrum which causes this junk to glow.  It’s the “golden hour” and one of my favorite times of day for its ability to infuse and unify the everyday with magic.  I have stayed out on the river far longer than I first anticipated.  The gnats and mosquitoes have had their way with me.  Plus all my granola bars for energy have been consumed and my water ran out a couple of hours a go.

Back view, Park West Petrochemical Rainbow

I’m fading fast and still have a long hike to make.  All the obstacles that were there on the way in will also be there on the way out of the park.  I took one last look back at my most recent project and decide that it is the best I can do at this particular moment.  I’m calling this one, the “Park West Petrochemical Rainbow” so I can remember what section of the park I visited when I assembled this piece.  I picked up my collecting bag and walking stick and made sure I wasn’t leaving something I might need behind me.  The rest is one foot in front of the other.  I let the fading beauty of the light distract me from my discomforts.  Food, water, and a nice shower are waiting for me at the end of the line.  See you later from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Sunset at the Falls of the Ohio, early August 2015

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After the last high waters, late July, 2015

Eventually, the water does go back down and reveals after the fact, all the newest changes that the river has made in the park.  You saw part of that in my last post with the way one favorite willow tree has been shaped by this latest event.  In many places in the park, you can find logs that floated here from some potentially far away places.

Stranded logs on the wier dam wall, with the City of Louisville in the background, late July 2015. Falls of the Ohio

Just a few weeks earlier, I posted images of Asian carp jumping over this very same spot.  The walls of the dam were no obstacle then.  Now the dam has been “graced” with many logs that were stranded along the top.  They will stay here until the next flooding event or until something else shifts the balance.

My green bottle piece after the latest flood, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Because this is summer and we have experienced so much rain, all the vegetation is really lush.  Familiar paths are overgrown and the heat and humidity seem trapped at ground level.  I am completely sweaty in no time at all.  I went and checked out the green bottle piece I had made many weeks a go and it is still relatively in place.  I assembled it on top of a large driftwood mound that this latest bout of high water was unable to fully reach.  I can tell that the mound has shifted some and all of the bottles have settled within the upturned boat dock.  Now, the entire mound is covered in vines.  This makes it especially tricky to walk over.  I snapped a few pictures and moved to the safety of the riverbank.  There are lots of areas to explore and who knows what we shall find?

River coconut, Late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Slogging through the mud and wetness along the river’s edge, I make this amazing discovery.  It’s a River coconut!  I wonder what the tree that produced this hairy fruit looks like?  Since much of the water that reaches us here flows from the north downward, I imagine that this is one hardy tree.  I guess the coconut’s shagginess is a coping mechanism for cold winters?  As we walk, there are more discoveries to be made.

Giant toy watch or ?, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Further down the riverbank I encounter this object.  I am holding it as I am because initially, I thought this was an extra-large toy wristwatch minus the hands and numbers.  Since I have been able to examine it more closely from the leisure of my home…I am now thinking that this is a child’s pro wrestling inspired championship belt?  All the glued on rhinestones must have fallen off while the river carried it away from wherever it originated from.

Broken, blue plastic dolphin riding toy, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Walking further west…I discover the remains of a riding toy.  This is a blue plastic dolphin that came to rest in the Willow Habitat.  There are more plastic items to find.  Next was perhaps my favorite find of the day.

River patinated, plastic doll shoe, late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

This is so small, that I’m surprised I spotted it among all the other small items both natural and artificial.  It’s of course a plastic doll shoe, but this one has a nice patina acquired from being in the river for a while.  I still find many dolls and doll parts, but this little doll accessory is a rare find.  Unfortunately, there is also plenty of other plastic in the park that isn’t so hard to find.  Here’s one such example as I found it in place.

Plastic jugs in a mud puddle, Late July 2015, Falls of the Ohio

Three plastic bottles and containers rest in a pretty disgusting looking puddle.  The orange color is actually something I find occurring here naturally and may be due to some red oxide that exists below the many levels of clay and sand.  Of late, I have been collecting various plastic bottles and creating other site specific pieces with them.  On this particular day, I made a relatively small one due to time constraints.  I have often found that it is good to have some limits with this river art.  Simply, there are so many things one can work with and I have added to my vocabulary of forms and materials slowly over the years.

Plastic bottle composition, heavy with the black, Falls of the Ohio, late July 2015

detail of colorful bottle piece, Falls of the Ohio, late July 2015

Like some of my previous efforts, I chose a particularly promising area that seemed to have a “wealth” of plastic bottles and containers.  I then set out to find colorful examples to make an assemblage with.  I like contrasting the high artificiality of these bright objects with the more subdued organic efforts of Mother Nature.  The high-keyed colors are often cheery.  I think that even on a subconscious level, we recognize the former products that were in these bottles even without their original labels which have washed away.  From our own household experiences and uses, we are reassured by the soap that will clean our clothes or the oil that keeps our engines humming and in good condition.  That’s where the tension lies in these simple assemblages…we know that this is far from the case.   Since we now know that these containers and the products they once held were extracted from nature at great cost.  In the aftermath of use…that cost continues as the packaging is disposed of irresponsibly.  This particular artwork is heavy on the black which influences things as well.  I simply found more black containers on this day and used them.  After a few photographs, I picked up my collecting bags and headed home exhausted from slogging through the mud, heat, and humidity.  I’ll leave this post with one more view from the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  On the way home, I noticed a small flock of Canada Geese gliding past the skyline of Louisville and the river seemed at peace for the moment.  Catch you later from the Falls of the Ohio.

Skyline of Louisville with Canada Geese swimming, Late July 2015

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