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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I have always felt that if you did the research, you must publish your results.  Here it is the tail-end of July and what?? not a single post this month from the Artist at Exit 0!  Of course I have been out to the river on a couple of occasions and had a wonderful time.  So far, it has been a relatively easy summer.  We haven’t had spells of daily high temperatures pushing a hundred degrees that have marked some previous summers.  Knock on wood.  Every year and every season is different and 2016 will no doubt climatically distinguish itself locally in some way before this annual orbit around the sun is history.

Trumpet Creeper Vine, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

According to the WordPress folks, this is Riverblog post #450!  They are much better at keeping count than I am and so I will trust them on that.  I mention this not in the way of a boast, but rather from personal amazement that I have found enough content out in the Falls of the Ohio State Park to help keep it going!  I have a good friend who is also an artist and he used to blog on WordPress.  He stopped writing right around his 500th post!  He became a little disappointed that it was so time-consuming and didn’t lead to more sales or artistic opportunities.  I guess he also got to a point where he had said everything he wanted to say?  This post will combine a couple of river adventures together and is set for the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It’s getting to be high summer.  I can tell by the heat and the blooming trumpet creeper vines growing on some of the cottonwood trees.  Have you ever noticed that many of these trumpet creeper flowers have large ants in them?

Purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Where moist conditions are prevalent out here, you will find great patches of Purple loosestrife plants growing under the cottonwoods and willows.  The loosestrife is by far more common in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio.  Despite being a very invasive species, they do add a beautiful pinkish-lavender color to the landscape and insects (particularly butterflies) seem to love their nectar.

Cabbage White butterfly on Purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

I am sure to visit this area several times while the loosestrife flowers continue to bloom.  Over the last several years, I have come across more butterfly species feeding off of these flowers including many swallowtail species (Tiger, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush, Pipevine, and Giant Swallowtail).  These flowers are also favored by several different skippers which occupy this strange position between being true butterflies and true moths.  It seems skippers possess qualities of both lepidoptera groups.  Here is a nice Silver-spotted Skipper ( Epargyreus clarus ) I came across also feeding on the odd blooms of a Cephalanthus buttonbush.

Silver-spotted skipper, Falls of the Ohio, Late June 2016

There were other butterflies out on this sunny day, but I didn’t get good pictures of all of them.  I did see my first Red Admirals of the year.  I did manage this image of a Tawny Emperor ( Asterocampa clyton ) butterfly using the camera on my cell phone.  It takes a bit of stealth to get the phone near enough to take a good image without scaring your subject away.  Over the past two years, I’ve become accustomed to taking my cell phone with me on my trips to the river.  I love that the device is so small, lightweight, and fits in my pocket and gives me a few more options than the digital SLR that I have.  I have to imagine that these little digital cameras are just going to continue to get better and even more useful.

Summer time butterfly at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I am also on the alert for any bird movements or sounds in the area.  On this expedition to the Falls of the Ohio I scored big by sighting two new bird species for my life list and getting decent pictures of both to show to any of you unbelievers out there!  After walking in direct sunlight for over an hour, I decided to cool off by walking in the shade of the large cottonwood trees that grow along the edge of the river.  I especially like the way this cottonwood tree fills the whole photo frame.  When these trees release their fluffy, light seeds it can almost appear as though it is snowing in slow motion.  The cotton fluff builds up and forms wind aided drifts on the ground.

Large, Cottonwood tree, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I had directed my reverie up into the canopy of the trees when an unfamiliar bird flew just above my head.  This bird is fast and I got a quick sensation of colors…light blue, white, and green.  I was extremely lucky to get such good pictures of it in full flight.  Check out how the tail feathers help with lift and aerial maneuvering…perfect for high-speed flight between the tree trunks.

The Mosquito bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

I was elated when I realized that what just went whizzing by my ear is a species I have not seen in the park before.  It has a couple of common names.  Some people refer to it as the Cumberland Mockingbird (Mimus appalachians ) and around here I’ve heard people call it a “Mosquito bird”.  This specimen was actively picking off in midair several small flies that I could detect in the sunshine flying over my sweaty head.  The thought occurred to me that this bird and the Zika mosquito have moved into our area at about the same time.

The Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Diving Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

The Cumberland Mockingbird seemed to be able to “read” the air and wind currents around structures like trees and high river banks.  I observed it daringly flying and diving very near objects in its pursuit of an insectivorous meal. I saw it chasing another Falls of the Ohio specialty, the Eastern-eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus ).  This is the largest member of the click beetle family and can get 2 1/2 inches long.  It is said that its cryptic coloring is meant to mimic bird droppings.  As it happened this beetle was able to escape becoming the Cumberland Mockingbird’s lunch by hiding under some loose tree bark.

Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

These click beetles always seem to be out at the Falls of the Ohio during the summer months.  They are harmless as adults.  Their larvae grows in decaying wood and are carnivorous.  Our area usually has an abundance of decomposing wood because of periodic flooding and the water-logged trunks that come with it.  I decided to move out of the shade because the mosquitoes were catching up with me and using me for snacks.  Not even an actively feeding Mosquito bird could turn these small flies away from their blood mission.

Dodo of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Dodo of the Ohio in courtship display, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Returning to the sunlight seemed to do the trick of chasing the noisome insects away.  I moved away from the shade of the trees and returned to the intermittent light by the fossil outcroppings nearer the riverbank.  All was right with the world.  A cormorant was swimming in the river as an osprey flew overhead with fish in talons.  I was happily engaged in my little world…when I heard the most unusual animal call of all.  I just had to find out what could make such a mournful noise!  I found a likely spot along a trail and just went quiet and motionless.  If the gods were with me then I had a good chance of seeing this mystery animal which was continuing its two-syllable call as it drew nearer to me.

Dodo of the Ohio with Passionflower and fruit, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

Dodo of the Ohio and Passionflower, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

There was a movement low to the ground and a parting of vegetation when a dingy white bird emerged onto the trail in front of me.  It puffed its body up and displayed its tail feathers in a showy fan.  A few wiry blue feathers on his head forms a crest that moves and down with the hopping dancing motion this species requires for courtship.  With a certain amount of fanfare, my first ever “Dodo of the Ohio” ( Pseudo dodo kentuckiana ) let itself be known that it was looking for companionship.  I had also found it in the context of a flowering and fruiting Passion flower vine ( Passiflora ) growing over the sand.  A pair of round, green fruits seemed to be the object of the dodo’s attention.  Our dodo is not at all related to the extinct species, but it is far from being a common bird.  Fortunately, it can fly, albeit weakly.  This at least keeps it off the ground while it sleeps at night.  I watched the dodo for several more minutes before it flew off.  The chance meeting of these two exotics was an amazing and unforgettable happening that helped make July an incredible month.  See you again sometime soon from the Falls of the Ohio.

Passionflower vine, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

 

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Small creek leading into the Ohio River, Falls of the Ohio,  late March 2016

It’s the end of March and Spring is in full swing at the Falls of the Ohio.  Today, I have a bigger block of time and so I’m going back to the western section of the park to see how flooding has affected this area.  I am expecting to find lots of plastic and who know’s what else…and this trip did not disappoint.  Just about everywhere I looked, I found plastic and other trash.  I will begin with a few images of stuff I came across.

Found plastic panda or other bear, late March 2016

Quite unexpectedly, I found myself immersed in a bear theme.  I found this little blue plastic bear intermixed with the driftwood.  It may actually represent a panda, but I think the latest thinking on this unique animal is that it is indeed more closely related to bears than to raccoons.  Looks like it’s sucking its thumb.  And now for bear number 2.

Plastic bear teething ring, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Here’s a piece that was originally intended for a little person.  I’m going to venture that this is a teething ring.  From the wear on the surface of the plastic, it looks like this object has spent some time in the river.  If this is not a teething ring…I have no idea what it was originally intended to be?  Okay, here is bear number 3 and it is a lot larger that these first two examples.

Large, plush Teddy Bear sinking into the gravel, late March 2016 at the Falls of the Ohio.

This piece is spectacularly integrated into the surrounding gravel!  About half of it is visible and the rest is hidden by gravel deposited here during the last Ice Age glacier.  I posted this image on my Facebook account and it resonated with a lot of my friends.  I could go on and on with the junk I’ve found out here, but I think I can also do that by showing you my latest artwork which is of course, composed of found junk.  On this beautiful day, I decided to continue my explorations using colorful found plastic and made a new variation on this theme that I think turned out pretty well.  I’ll start with a few in process shots.

Found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

This is some of the found plastic I came across on this day.  I brought two collecting bags and filled them both up.  I then scouted around and found a large blue plastic tub that I pressed into service before incorporating it into my finished arrangement.  The yellow object on the left is a water cooler minus the lid.  I had to do a bit of navigating around an obstacle course of downed trees and built up driftwood.  I’m usually still stiff and tired the day after I do one of these because I guess I’m not used to getting that much exercise anymore!  My two sons are quick to tell me that I’m not a young man anymore and yes I do get goaded by their trash talking into trying stuff that on occasion is more physical than I need to attempt.

Dividing the found plastic into colors, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

After selecting a site to build my latest arrangement.  I separate out all this gathered up plastic into their various color groups.  On this day, orange and purple items were in short supply, but I worked around that.  I set up this piece next to a log that looks to me like it was split in half.  The side you can see that is rough and beautiful and takes the setting sun well.  From the opposite side of this log…you wouldn’t be able to see any of the plastic.  It is intended as a surprise for those who come across it on this side of the park.

Finished plastic arrangement in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

I will begin with a view that incorporates more of the local scenery.  This piece is located next to an old cottonwood tree that has a severe lean to it.  I can imagine that at some time in the not too distant future that this tree will eventually fall over.  Even from this far away, you can see the color introduced by these plastic containers and such.  Let’s get closer.

Plastic arrangement set up next to leaning tree, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Now you can get more of a sense for the degree in which this tree is leaning towards the river.

Petrochemical color arrangement in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Petrochemical color arrangement in plastic, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

There are essentially two layers stacked up here.  The big blue plastic tub has a found board that finds its partner consisting of the yellow water cooler sitting on a plastic yellow child’s chair.  The span is pretty level.  The rest is a matter of picking and choosing color hues that you think will work best together.  These plastic elements are not fixed in some way.  Everything is free-standing or leaning against what is next to it.  I have by accident…set off chain reactions where the whole arrangement collapses down like dominoes.  That is where a little patience comes into play by beginning again and hopefully learning from each individual situation.

Red and yellow plastic, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Yellow into Green found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Blue plastic with a touch of Purple, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

I can see elements in these three details that I know I have used before in other projects and were later scattered across the park when the river floods.  Perhaps you might recognize the green plastic Tug Boat or the “Hulk Hand” also found in the green section?  They have appeared in other posts in my riverblog.

Petrochemical arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

Plastic color arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

I hung out by this piece and the river for many hours.  A few people came by, but nobody said anything.  Perhaps this comes across as being an example of “unusual or eccentric behavior” to some people?  Best to provide a wide berth around this one!  Who knows…couldn’t be any stranger than the people who make all this plastic and set it free into the world.  At the end of the day, I could not make up my mind which I thought provided the definitive view of this project?  I think some of the more successful arrangements look good in their contexts, but also provide some information on what individual elements have been brought together to create this “whole” experience.  After I felt I had enough pictures and the thought of a shower was sounding good.  I picked up my stuff and headed home.

Late sun filtering through the cottonwoods, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

The trees are just budding out and this past week took a significant turn towards the green.  I’m still on the lookout for migrating birds that come into our area.  I often wonder about the Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf I had the distinct pleasure of observing and photographing out here a few weeks a go.  I wonder where in the world it flew off to?  I was just alerted by WordPress that this week is my seventh anniversary of blogging with them!  For all the people who have dropped by and sampled something from the Falls of the Ohio State Park through this riverblog…I give my heartfelt thanks!  I hope to continue out here for a bit longer still.  This is the Artist at Exit 0 signing off for now.

unraveling barge rope, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

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Early morning view on the Ohio River, mid March 2016

Went out to the river, but to tell you the truth…I thought it would be too high.  Just a couple of days earlier, the Ohio River was once again over its normal banks.  Every year is different and this year the tail end of our winter was marked by warmth and high water.  Although the riverbank was muddy, I was happy to be able to walk around.  I’m having a show at a friend’s place in May and I was on the lookout for more washed up materials.  As it played out, this first official day of Spring would be a more memorable one than I had first anticipated.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf or Hammerhead, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf in view of Louisville, KY, March 20, 2016

One of the reasons that this can be an interesting time of the year at the Falls of the Ohio is the annual Spring migration of neotropical birds.  I have been known to set my collecting bag aside and just hit the woods on the look out for migrating birds.  The first time you see a male Scarlet Tanager or a Rose-breasted Grosbeak will make a bird watcher out of a lot of people.  This past weekend, which is still a bit early for the usual migrants…I came across something totally unexpected that I couldn’t identify at first.  I didn’t get many pictures, but what I have is here.  If you have never seen (or much less heard of) Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf, (Aviana indeterminus)…you wouldn’t be alone.  Hammerkopf translated into English is hammerhead and that description seems to fit.  Heisenberg’s bird is about the size of an American Robin.  Among the features that stand out the most are its massive red bill and the petal-like feathers found at the base of its neck.  The wings can be brown or white and it has been known to have a crest, but some individuals have been seen that don’t have this feature.  There is no consensus as to its overall population, but a few individuals seem to make the news each year.  This bird is an enigma and it seems to prefer things that way.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

The individual I came across is a second year male.  Looking at the info there is on this species did say that the unusual ruff of feathers around its neck could turn bright red as the bird matured and was ready for the breeding season.  What little there is in the scientific literature suggests that this is a highly variable species that can be found anywhere at any time.  With this bird, you really can’t pin down where it originates and it doesn’t seem to have a “normal range”.  It seems to be a very uncommon bird with a world-wide distribution.

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf at the river's edge, March 20, 2016

Heisenberg's Hammerkopf investigating goose tracks, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

This individual kept surprising me.  I almost felt that it “changed” the more I observed it.  By that I mean at first I found it by the mud and then it changed habitat by going into the trees.  I lost track of it for a short while, but rediscovered it at the water’s edge.  From there, it moved back under the willow trees where I eventually lost it for good.  I saw it use its large bill to delicately probe the mud and hammer through a driftwood log and in both cases wasn’t sure of what it was eating if indeed it found anything to begin with?  I just saw enough of this bird to pique my interest, but I have had bird sightings that have lasted mere seconds that were satisfying enough to last a lifetime.

Chiel collecting driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

While I was out exploring the Falls environment, I did come across another individual who can vouch for me that this strange bird was indeed out here.  I struck up a conversation with him and as it turns out he is also an artist.  His name is Chiel Kuijl and he is from the Netherlands.  He has a residency at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky where he is working on a unique outdoor rope environment.  He was looking for select, interesting pieces of wood that he could incorporate into his art project and the Falls of the Ohio are a perfect place to do this.  Talking with Chiel, one of the things he is enjoying most are the new and unfamiliar birds he is encountering in this country.  I asked if he had ever seen a Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf before and he said that he hadn’t and it was really unlike what he was accustomed to back home.  I am sure I will see Chiel again, but what of the hammerkopf?

Final view of Heisenberg's Hammerkopf at the Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

I don’t often make an appeal to the larger blogging world, but if anyone should happen to see this bird or something similar to it…I hope that you will post pictures of it.  It might make an interesting research project to see where in the world this species will turn up and what it might have to say about those particular places where it is found.  For now, I will leave it here and hope you will follow along the next time I am hiking at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Goose tracks in the mud, Falls of the Ohio, March 20, 2016

 

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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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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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Under the railroad bridge, Tainter Gates, Sept. 2014

Two years have passed since I last set foot on the fossil beds on the Kentucky side of the river.  I had to wait until I fully trusted a bum knee to be well enough to walk upon the hard, irregular limestone surface that for most of the year is underwater.

This is after all, the bottom of the Ohio River and accessible most summers when water is diverted to fill water levels at the McAlpin Locks and Dams.  The Ohio River is a managed river for much of its length.  Closing the snow plow shaped tainter gates helps regulate water levels for commercial navigation and flood control, but it also exposes the majority of the fossil beds to inspection at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

I have rolled my ragged jeans up and I’m wearing a pair of shoes for sloshing through knee-high deep water at best.  As I move under the old iron railroad bridge, I walk past the gigantic concrete and metal gates holding the river back.  Something in their hieratic designs reminds me of ancient Egyptian art.  Here on a massive, civic-project scale, abstracted silhouettes of seated pharaohs serve the gods of engineering.  My goal today is to reacquaint myself with this unique environment and mark the day in some way.

The railroad bridge looking back to the Indiana side.  Sept. 2014

From experience, I know that there are far fewer materials to access on this side of the fossil beds.  Most of the Styrofoam, plastic, and driftwood I frequently use is driven by wind and river currents to the Indiana bank where I’ve preformed  most of my projects.

Being out in this environment with its varied materials often inspires me to want to make something, but what will I do today?  I take advantage of the river polished coal I found around the railroad bridge and envision an image I can work with site specifically.

I have come to like working with coal as a material because it is timely and is also invested with so much meaning.  In Kentucky, coal is currently a big political issue and many good people truly believe there is a war on coal and climate change is a not supported by the facts.

Anthracite is a deeply, shiny-black crystalline material out of the mine… but the river can tumble it into dull, but smooth feeling, egg-like forms.  I prefer the more river polished pieces of coal.

I’m guessing I’ve picked up about 10 or 12 pounds of coal which I carry in a canvas collecting bag.  Okay, I have my material and my feet are already wet.  With walking stick in hand, I walk along side the high walls that separate the Ohio River from the now exposed Devonian Age fossil beds.

Wall seperating Ohio River from fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

 

The dam’s concrete wall that separates the river from where you are standing on the fossil beds is maybe 18 to 20 feet tall?  It’s up there and sobering as well because the Ohio River’s waterline is just below the top of the wall which is just on the other side!  A series of pre-formed notches along the top of the wall allows water to flow over a section of the fossil beds.

A small wetlands area has been encouraged here that draws many water-loving birds.  Among the species I observed on this day included:  the Belted Kingfisher, Caspian Terns, Great Egrets, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, Killdeer plovers, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard Ducks, Black Vultures, and an American Coot.

Although it’s not hot today, there is little to shade you from the intense light out on the open fossil beds.  Most of these beds are high and dry, but the surface is pockmarked in places with potholes that hold water.  Most of the shallow pools that caught fish when the river level dropped have been cleaned out by the water birds.

In the above photo, a large log has become stranded on the top of the wall placed there when the Ohio River was receding from flood stage.  It was in this area that I set down my heavy collecting bag and laid out my first Coal Man design on the fossil surface.

Coal Man variation, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

The figure has a marionette-like presence, but I relate more to it as a simple sign for figure.  In my head I’m seeing an ancient landscape marked here and there with this contemporary pictographic/petroglyph.  The Falls of the Ohio have been occupied by man for thousands of years and I like relating to this history.  The water is shallow and green from algae.  Molted bird feathers define the circumferences of many of these water holes.  Annoying small flies and gnats fly around the potholes and around your head seeking salt or other moisture.

Coal Man Series, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

This figure has been laid out on a table-like boulder surrounded by very shallow water.  It’s a very temporary site-specific expression on a very tiny island.  I have heard people describe the exposed fossil beds as being a “moonscape” and it does feel like this landscape could be from another planet.

Seated Coal Man on Fossil Beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Many of the fossil beds are in layers or courses and here I am trying out some of the pictorial possibilities using my now seated Coal Man.  The Interpretive Center is the structure in the far distance.  After a while,  it’s time to cool off a little and have a good sit.  There’s a series of small cascades up ahead that are the nearest to imagining what the Falls may have originally looked like and I head that way.

Coal Man by the Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

I see in my mind’s eye, each different Coal Man design introducing a different feature on this side of the park.  I have been wading in shin-high to knee-high water to reach this place.  It’s like an oasis on the exposed and fossilized ancient coral reef.  I like resting here and having a water and snack break.  If you remain inconspicuous you can often spot many different bird species here.  The shallow but swiftly flowing water has small schools of baby fish seeking places of safe harbor.  I’ll bet the oxygen levels in this water is very high?

Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Cascades, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

I cool off wading and exploring this area before moving on.  This space has a bit of the amphitheater feeling about it.  The cascades take on a larger horseshoe formation connected by many small waterfalls.  In the recent past, much larger cascades existed and put on a water show that I wish I could have seen.

Cascade at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Time to move on and dry off.  Today, I’m only planning on walking to the beginnings of Goose Island where I will make my final images with this Coal Man.  I definitely see returning out here again soon while the river level remains low.  It won’t be too much longer before autumn rains and winter snows replenish the Ohio River and re-submerges these fossil beds until next year.

Skyline of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

So far, I had kept the Coal Man dry.  At this location which was the extent of today’s visit…I took advantage of clear, shallow water to create these pictures.

Coal Man Series, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

Coal Man Swimming, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2014

The wet coal turned deep black and I liked how many of the images graphically benefited from that.  I guess this is Carboniferous Man swimming above the Devonian Age?  From here I bagged the coal and started the walk home over the fossil beds.

Before closing, here are a few actual fossils I photographed along the way.  This was once an active coral reef over 300 million years a go.  Life was in the oceans.  The species first discovered here have greatly expanded our knowledge of life at this time.  This was the high point for corals and sponges and also gave rise to the first fishes.

Fossils from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

Fossils from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

This was my last river excursion of the summer.  It is amazing how quickly this year is flying by!  I was really happy that my left knee did not give me any problems.  I am feeling encouraged and I still have this bag of coal I can keep playing with on a future visit.  Thanks again for coming along…from the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park…so long for now.

Fossil Beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, Sept. 2014

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Louisville seen from the Falls of the Ohio, early May 2014

We have seen a lot of water flowing over the dam at the Falls of the Ohio this season.  The month of May has been punctuated by intense storms and ample sunshine.  Rainfall across the Ohio River Valley has been plentiful.  On this particular excursion, the river was high and many of the places that I like to sit and work were inaccessible.

wood and debris in the Ohio River, May 3, 2014

 

There was plenty of wood and trash in the soupy brown water and despite the beautiful sunshine, I was thinking that I might need to go home early today.  Instead, I decided to do a little exploring along the margins of the high water and see how far I might be able to go.

high water at the Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Skirting the margins of the high water, I was able to walk over logs and driftwood and reach small pockets of higher land that remained dry.  After initially feeling that my day in the park would be a loss…I started to feel excited again!  In part, this was due to the abundant bird life I was seeing and hearing.  This particular area has always been good for me and finding birds.  There is enough shelter here under the cottonwood trees and willows that provide relief from the wind and is close enough to the water.  Among the species I was encountering included this colorful grouping of birds: Baltimore Orioles, Northern Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Palm Warblers, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, and a tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Here’s an image I captured of a Gray Catbird singing.

Gray Catbird singing, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

These birds are very territorial and the males chase one another out of their areas when interlopers trespass.  Catbirds have a wide variety of sounds they make including a “mewing” call that reminds people of cats.  Usually, I hear catbirds before I see them.  Thus far, this has also been a good year to observe some warbler species.  Warblers are my favorite group of birds to see because they are diverse, beautiful, transient (they are famous for their long migrations) and challenging to photograph.  Here’s a picture of a Palm Warbler that I recorded on this day.

Palm Warbler, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

This guy hung around for a while.  The guidebooks say that this warbler species summers in the northern bog lands and really has nothing to do with palm trees. That was an unfortunate bit of naming.   The Falls of the Ohio are just one stop among many that this bird will make and I was glad to see him.  In addition to birds, I was also finding plastic junk and other bits and pieces including a miniature plastic banana…I’m sure you want to see that?

miniature plastic banana, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

This banana (my second of the year) will enter my Fake Fruits and Vegetables Collection which now numbers hundreds of pieces found in this park.  Here are other found objects, some of which I will use to create a new figure.

Found objects, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

And…here is the figure I constructed on this day.  He’s pretty outlandish looking and another in a long line of pieces that reflect how I feel about our species’ absurd handling of the environment.  For the moment, he remains unnamed, but if one comes to you…please share!

Unnamed figure, found objects from the Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Styro-figure with white plastic bleach bottles, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

He’s made mostly from insulating foam, plastic, and driftwood and sports one jaundiced eye and what appears to be a unique, pink moustache.  The area I was working in had so many plastic bottles lying around that my latest Styro-figure decided to put some of the colorful ones to use.  Every year, the park does its best to keep this special place clean and orderly.  Unfortunately, most of the trash I use and show originates elsewhere…mostly along the Ohio River flowing north of here and is carried to this down river location during flooding and high water.

small, plastic container, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

various colorful plastic oil containers, Falls of the Ohio, May 2014

Looking around the immediate area I was able to locate various colorful plastic oil containers and my Styro-figure decided to line them up for a photo opportunity.  Here’s the results.

Styro-figure with plastic oil container color spectrum, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

 

It’s an oily color spectrum of sorts.  The Styro-figure seemed happy with it and for this day…left it at that.  I have used this similar idea for other plastic found objects discovered in the park.

Styro-figure under the railroad bridge, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

Soon it was time to go home.  The day turned out to be a more creative and productive day than I originally thought it would be.  I gathered up my collecting bag, camera, and walking stick and made the very short walk up to the parking lot.  Looking back, I spied a Canada Goose taking advantage of the high water to feed from bushes it normally could not reach.  This seemed as good an image as any to end this post with.  Thanks as always for tagging along on another day at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

Feeding Canada Goose, Falls of the Ohio, May 3, 2014

 

 

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