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Archive for the ‘birds and birding’ Category

A late winter landscape at the Falls of the Ohio and what has to be one of our warmest February’s ever!  I can’t recall ever having an 80 degree day in winter before…not in Kentuckiana in mid February to boot.  We had just a trace of snow to speak of and while nobody missed living through the freeze and gray monotony of winter…somehow we know “pay backs will be hell”.  The cost will come in more insect and weed pests at least.  It will be interesting to see how many and how severe our spring storms will be.  Will they be full of energy violent and remembered for deluges of rain?

With a name like the Falls Pheasant, you would expect to find this bird here.  Alas, our only native pheasant started disappearing when stands of river cane became less numerous.  Once thought extinct, this colorful pheasant has started reappearing in once familiar places.  I wish I could also report that the river cane is also coming back, but it hasn’t so far.  Perhaps what’s left of these pheasants are the ones who will accept other habitat?  It’s all about being able to adapt with the changes?  Some birds pushed to the fridges of their comfort zones found new areas to live.

This is a young male of the species.  As an adult, the center tail feather becomes twice as long and the head becomes a bright shade of turquoise.  I chanced upon it during a period of high water investigating small islands of trees and driftwood where potential food would become concentrated by the rising river.  The females are so cryptically colored that you can’t see them when they sit on their nests.  The Falls Pheasant produces a small clutch of four white eggs with brown speckles on them.

From his driftwood mound vantage point, the pheasant sees noisy Canada geese he would rather avoid.  Hopping from one bleached and weathered log to another it was soon on the ground.  Reaching a stand of weed stalks, I was so surprised at how quickly the pheasant could completely disappear.  I doubt this bird decided this area was a good place to stake a claim.  The Canada Geese here are aggressive and then there are all the other predators too.  Stray cats, dogs, compete with coyotes, foxes, raccoons, minks, humans, and birds of prey from the air patrol this space.  Better to keep moving on.

Our story doesn’t end here.  Just a few weeks later and at a spot not too far away from where I saw the pheasant…I came across another great rarity.  I have always maintained that “chance favors a prepared mind”.  I think subconsciously, I am always looking around for something different or out-of-place.

It was late in the day with the sun slipping quickly to the horizon line, when I spotted this distinct red color moving through the willow trees.  Hiding behind the trunks as best I could, I was able to get close enough to snap four or five images.  I would need to wait until I got home to make the identification which was a personally exciting thing to do!  This was one bird completely unfamiliar to me and a new Kentucky and Falls of the Ohio record.  This is the Elfin Flycatcher or Sugarbill as it is better known in Northern Quebec.  This bird can truly be considered an “accidental” because it is so far away from its usual home range.  In its winter home of Cuba…it is an insectivorous bird known for its aerobatic hunting of small flying insects that live in the warmth of the tropics.  During the spring breeding season, the Elfin Flycatcher undergoes a long journey along the Atlantic coastline until it crosses over into the coldest reaches of Quebec.  It arrives before the northern insects have hatched and to supplement its diet, it drills into hardwood trees (similar to our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) to collect the nutritious sweet tree sap that pools in the drill holes.  It feeds on sap until clouds of mosquitoes and midges arise from the waters of the north to change this bird’s diet.

The bright yellow tail and the purple crest mark this as an adult male of the species.  The brown wings were continuously flicking like some nervous tic this bird was experiencing.  How this bird got so far off track is a mystery.  Sometimes large storm events along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast will cause birds to travel great distances to get out-of-the-way.  There is another concern, less with this bird, but more so with other migratory species.  As climate change scrambles the natural clocks, timing is crucial to migrating birds.  Routes have developed over time to source food when it appears and if it doesn’t…what happens to these long distance migrants?

 

This is what has so many biologists concerned.  What happens to all those species that find the changes too challenging and can’t readily adapt?  For now, I will keep making my anecdotal observations from the Falls of the Ohio State Park and work my best to try not to get too depressed about it all.  Drawing a deep breath of fresh air, I picked up my collecting bag and that day’s trophy river finds and turned for home.

 

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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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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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First snow at the park, Jan. 12, 2016

The new year is off to an auspicious start.  First we had a bit of minor flooding that rearranged the park and the new and improved Interpretive Center has successfully opened.  I was curious to see what the river had left behind and make my first foray upon the riverbank and fossil beds.  On the day I had prepared to venture forth, well, it snowed the night before and covered many areas with a light dusting of what looks like confectioner’s sugar upon the landscape.

Artist at Exit 0 in winter gear, Jan. 12, 2016, Falls of the Ohio

I come prepared…mostly.  Even covered up, I could feel the wind and the cold which was blowing hard enough that it made my eyes water.  Reaching into my trusty Dutch field jacket, I pull out my vintage “Wind-Dodger” goggles and put them on.  I came across these goggles still new in their 1950’s box at a favorite junk store that is now gone.  They were manufactured by the Kono Manufacturing Co., of Woodside, N.Y.  I think the graphics on the side of the box sold me as to their value.  Printed in red ink it read:

“The scientific construction of the Wind-Dodger fits the natural contours of the features-providing maximum exclusion of wind and rain and all foreign particles in the air.  The elastic tape holds the Wind-Dodger firmly in place under every condition of work and play in all kinds of weather.”  I am a big believer in the value of science.

Further more, printed on the side of the box, was added they were suitable “For Work” and “For Play” and would be useful to railroad men, farmers, mechanics, construction workers, as they engage in sailing, hunting, fishing, flying, skiing, and driving.  It was a natural leap for me to assume that they would also be perfect for a river junk artist like yours truly.  One thing that the Kono Manufacturing Co. forgot to say is that they also steam up inside the goggles and require frequent drying.  Still, they prove to be better than nothing.

The scarf I’m wearing is the oldest piece of clothing I own.  It was given to me by a friend and artistic mentor back in the mid 1970’s and somehow I have held on to it over the years.  I realize that with a lot of the clothing I own…I can be ridiculously sentimental.

Snow on driftwood, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

The biting wind and cold are a concern, but so is the footing.  The snow covers up a multitude of sins that cannot be seen.  It is still slippery out here and in places the mud hasn’t completely frozen.  Much of what I think I can find out here will remain hidden until warmer weather returns.  But, I’m out here anyway and so I make a quick walk around some familiar places and record what I can with my camera phone.

Bent over willow tree, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

I discover that a favorite willow tree is now almost completely bent over and resting on the ground.  A huge log that the river deposited on top of this tree has shattered one of its main branches.  I suspect that it is not long for the world.  Spring flooding will repeat this battering process and I assume the tree’s prognosis is not good.  Of course, there are other things that present themselves in this frigid landscape that rode in with the high waters.

Purple plastic rocking toy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

My eye is immediately drawn to this purple plastic “dragon” rocking toy.  I find another giant reptile reference on the rocks nearest the river and here it is.

Plastic dinosaur, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

This plastic sauropod arrived in a fresh water wave.  I believe this species was formerly called “Brontosaurus”, but has been renamed “Apatosaurus” since it was discovered that an earlier scientific find gave the new name priority over the older, more familiar name.  I briefly allow myself to soak in the irony of finding an object made from ancient petroleum that washed up on these even older fossil beds that references this prehistoric animal.  Heady stuff indeed!  Nearby, was my next find that continued this line of thinking.

Plastic, Shoveler duck decoy, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

And, what happened to some of the dinosaurs?  It is believed that they evolved into birds.  Right on cue, I find this plastic duck decoy!  It represents the male Northern Shoveler, (Anas clypeata).  I have found many other plastic duck decoys out here, but this is the first for this pretty species.  The winter river at the Falls of the Ohio is a good place to see different duck species.  In fact, winter may be the only time of year to see many of them.  The river is steaming because the actual water temperature is warmer that the surrounding air, but the wind is a little fiercer too.  I decide to keep walking and soon come across an old project I did from last year.

Site specific, green plastic bottle assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

Site specific, green plastic bottle project, Jan. 12, 2016

snow-covered, green plastic bottles, Jan. 12, 2016

I created this site specific piece using green plastic bottles after last year’s flooding.  It was sited high upon a big mound of driftwood that was too big for this recent minor flooding to affect much.  Originally, I had filled the underside of what I think is the remains of a boat dock with the green bottles.  Time has shifted the bottles to the bottom of the wood form.

snow-covered vines, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

While the snow is beautiful and transforming as these snow-covered vines can attest to….it is also getting ridiculously cold!  The fingers on my right hand hurt and sting from the cold because I have to take my glove off to operate my camera.  Soon images of a hot cup of coffee began to intrude upon my winter reverie.  It’s time to go home, but there was yet one more very pleasant surprise waiting in store for me.

Styro-Snowman in snow, Falls of the Ohio, jan. 2016

Styro-Snowman, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

As I was heading back to the parking lot…I came across an old friend whom I was happy to see!  We first met at the Falls on an absurdly warm day in December when the temperatures were in the low 70 degree range!  I had photographed him as he was decorating river trees in advance of the holiday season.  My old Styro-Snowman buddy was just beaming!  At last, he was in his element and I’m so happy that his patience was rewarded.  Not wanting to intrude too much in his special moment, I bid farewell and took this parting shot as I left the river.  Stay warm everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-Snowman in his element, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 12, 2016

 

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Christmas Bird at the Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

In the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park I came across a remarkable bird.  As far as I know, this is the first documented sighting of the so-called Christmas Bird (Xmasii noelensis) in our area.  The bird’s red crest, green collar, and azure-colored wings are diagnostic as is the bicolor beak.  I was down at the river on a rather foggy morning when I noticed the bird flashing its wings in mockingbird fashion which is a distant relative of this species.

The Christmas Bird, Louisville in the background, Dec. 2014

I was looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and odd items washed up by the Ohio River when I came across this bird.  This is a long distance migrant and one that hails from as far north as the Arctic Circle.  The Christmas Bird earns its name in a couple of ways.  Of course, its complimentary plumage is rather seasonably inspired and it does seem to migrate to the lower 48 states around the time of the holidays.  Where the bird will appear is rather unpredictable, however, it is a welcome sight in most any location.  Here I have photographed the bird “flashing” its wings against its body while perched upon a driftwood log.  The park is in Southern Indiana and the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the Ohio River.  After taking this shot, the bird flew off.

Display of the Christmas Bird, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I said to myself…”Well, that’s that”.  I fully did not expect to see this rare bird again, but I received a “gift” of a rather unexpected nature.  Underneath the old iron railroad bridge, not too far away from my initial sighting, I came across this “decorated” nest and recognized its significance.  This is a display from the Christmas Bird.  Using an abandoned mud-lined nest of an American Robin, (Turdus migratorius), the Christmas Bird has created an assemblage involving red berries and the remains of a string of old Christmas lights that washed into the park with the other river-bourn detritus.  From this evidence, I suspected the bird had “claimed” this area.  If I in turn displayed patience…I might get another opportunity to photograph this unusual species.

Christmas Bird with its display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I waited about an hour and the Christmas Bird did appear to my great joy!  It arrived at the nest with a red berry in its beak which it added to its growing collection.  It is believed that this bird is attracted to the color red.  Usually, berries from the holly tree are used, but in this instance I recognized them as the fruit of the Nandina plant.  The bird probably discovered them growing in a private garden in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana.  It is suspected by ornithologists that the southerly migration of the Christmas Bird, which brings it to warmer climates, may trigger this unusual nest-like and courting behavior.  The Christmas Bird is known for its ability to tolerate extreme cold and it takes a great drop in temperature to stimulate it to migrate.

Close up of the Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

Christmas Bird with display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

I was able to observe this bird making about ten trips back and forth between the nest and its berry source.  If the bird was aware of my presence…it did not appear to be overly alarmed.  Once in a while, the bird with crest erected, would cock its head back and forth trying to differentiate my form among the willow branches.  I held my breath and tried to remain still and as unthreatening as possible.

The Christmas Bird with its seanonable display, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

The weather grew damp and cold and the sun looked like it was not going to appear from beneath its blanket of clouds.  I made the decision that I had enough images and it was time to leave this bird in peace and go home.  On the ride home, I felt I had been given this great gift, the gift of nature which remains priceless and timeless!  For me, nothing packaged in a box and wrapped with a bow can equal this living blessing.  To all who have followed my adventures by the river this year…I offer my sincerest good wishes during this season of holidays!  I hope that at least once in your lifetimes, you will be visited by the Christmas Bird bringing red berries for your nest.

Christmas Bird with red berry, Falls of the Ohio, Dec. 2014

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Canada Geese, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

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

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

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

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

Black Vulture, Falls of the Ohio, April 2014

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Orange-collared Piper, April 2014

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

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

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

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The Falls of the Ohio beneath the railroad bridge, March 5, 2014

The Ohio River water level has been bouncing up and down these last few weeks.  On this excursion, I caught up with it while the river was receding.  The shoreline that I am accustomed to seeing is still underwater, however, if you walk carefully between the wet and the dry, there are areas you can explore.  I brought a fairly empty canvas collecting bag along in anticipation of river treasure.  After a couple of hours, I took a break and dumped the bag out and here is what caught my eye.

Collecting bag contents, early March 2014

Literally, a mixed bag of junk including many familiar items that I have long-standing collections formed.  The Styrofoam is for a small sculpture I have in mind.  The flip-flop sandals, well…I have been collecting them for a while and I have a vague notion of an artwork that I want to make with them.  I have ideas, but I’m waiting for the river muse to send me more signals.  The same holds true for the small, plastic wheels.  I have about two hundred of them stacked in a pile on my basement floor.  I thought I could finish the wheel piece for the exhibition at the Carnegie, but it remains unresolved.  I have also gathered several found combs and the variety of forms a simple object can take always interests me.  Recently, I gave my comb collection to my friend Jeff for his birthday.  He is probably one of the few people I know who would like receiving such a gift.  Jeff was once a middle school art teacher and he keeps a cigar box filled with the smallest pencils in the world.  Each pencil had been sharpened to within an inch of its existence by his former students.  Here’s an example of an interesting comb followed by other images of objects found on this day.

comb from a vacuum cleaner, March 2014

Later, it was determined that this combination comb and brush is from some kind of vacuum cleaner.  Now whenever I go out the river, my friend asks me if I have any other combs for his collection.

plastic corn on the cob, March 2014

My Fake Food Collection keeps expanding.  I found several new pieces on this excursion with this one being the most memorable.  Plastic corn on the cob with a little pat of butter melting into the kernels.  In the background, you can see how much junk is intermixed with the wood debris.

hand-formed duct tape ball, March 2014

Here’s the latest addition to my hand-formed ball collection.  This one is made from duct tape.

pink plastic octopus sand mold, March 2014

I’m starting to develop a large collection of sand toys of all kinds.  Here’s a pink plastic octopus sand mold.  I think I will photograph this collection soon.

two found plastic dinosaur toys, March 2014

I found two plastic dinosaur toys on this trip.  I believe these are intended to be the same species…Dimetrodon which was an early reptile with mammal-like characteristics.  Dimetrodon hails from North America and the early Permian period.  When the Falls of the Ohio was an active marine ecosystem (about 370 million years a go)…Dimetrodon would still be about another 200 million years into the future.  The vast stretches of time and the ebb and flow of life forms is mind-boggling.  I am in the here and now and what I have noticed on this trip to the river is how few other life forms I’ve seen.  The spring migration of neotropical birds is not too far off and I always have my eyes open for early arrivals.  Today…I get lucky.

detail, head of the River Roller, March 15, 2014

The River Roller, March 2014

I was poking around the shifting shoreline when I spotted this heavy bodied bird in a willow tree.  With its blue head, yellow ocher body, and light green tail…I knew I was looking at my first River Roller.  Rollers are a family of old world birds and this is the only representative on this continent.  This species has a rather large and heavy bill that serves it well when it feeds on the nuts of hardwood trees.  At the Falls of the Ohio, you can always find walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns.  I believe that this was what this bird was doing…looking for food.

River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I think this is a female roller because the colors are not as bright as the pictures I’ve seen of the males.  In size, this bird is comparable to the American Robin.  I observed this bird checking out the holes and hollows in the willow trees which is pre-nesting behavior.  The females are the ones that choose which sites are suitable to raise their chicks.  This bird will eventually move on to the northern portions of the Ohio River Valley.  The River Roller has never been documented nesting in this park.

River Roller among the willow rootlets, March 2014

River Roller investigating willow roots, March 2014

The River Roller hung around for about five minutes before flying off for parts unknown.  During the time I watched it, the roller demonstrated a strong curiosity for the environment at the river’s edge.  It seemed especially interested in the willow trees themselves.

The River Roller at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

I wish this bird well and hope it reaches its intended destination.  I feel this way about every bird that migrates through this area.  After seeing this once in a life-time rarity I felt that my day like my collecting bag was full and it was time to go home.  That wraps it up for another river adventure.  See you next time.

View at the Falls of the Ohio, March 2014

 

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