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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Skyliner, Falls, late Feb. 2014

We are all getting antsy for spring to arrive…winter has been hanging on and on for dear life.  It’s been hard to access the river because the water level has been high.  Most of the places I visit at the Falls of the Ohio State Park are currently under muddy water.  We have had just a handful of nicer, warmer days, but that has accelerated the melting of the snow and ice throughout the more than 800 hundred mile long Ohio River Valley.  I don’t mind the cold so much, but it’s harder to do what I like to do on a swollen waterway.  Here’s how one of my spots under the railroad bridge looked during my last visit.

muddy, high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2014

Not a pretty picture seeing a river as brown as gravy.  Lots of logs and wood floating on top and when you look more closely…there is also plenty of plastic and polystyrene in the mix too.  Another view this time with me standing on the wall that separates one side of the river from the other.

high river at the Falls, Feb. 2014

All those white spots are pieces of Styrofoam.  With my usual haunts inaccessible I moved further east…just outside the park’s entrance.  There has been a lot of activity in this area that has caught my notice.

Skyliner on the riverbank, Feb. 2014

There has been a campaign on the Indiana side to make the river more accessible particularly in areas that afford a good view of Louisville’s skyline.  To do this the vegetation has been bulldozed away.  I came across an elderly person walking her dog and she said to me quite unsolicited..”Bout time they did something to clean up this mess!” as she pointed a thin finger in the general direction of the river.  In this case, one person’s mess is another creature’s habitat.  The true “mess” comes from all the plastic bottles and chunks of man-made junk that make it into the water.  No amount of removing trees and creating views will help with this and it seems what we prefer looking at is a very selective process.  I brought my collecting bag along.  I’m hoping to pick up materials to use in an upcoming art workshop at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, but I find a few other interesting items as well and photograph them upon discovery.

Taco Bell cat toy, Feb. 2014

I came across this smiling yellow cat toy that I think came from a fast food establishment.

plastic containers for paint, Feb. 2014

Finding these paint containers made me realize how hungry I’ve become for color.  I’m looking forward to the world turning green again with color notes supplied by wild flowers.

bright orange plastic paratrooper, Feb. 2014

This plastic man with his bright, radioactive orange color was hard to miss.  He was a skydiver or paratrooper in a former life and probably fell to earth using a plastic parachute.

Skyliner with the City of Louisville behind him, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2014

There were other signs from life that the season’s are about to change over.  I’m ever alert to what the birds are doing.  I spotted my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year and they are among the first migratory species to arrive.  Male Northern Cardinals are singing their courtship songs and scouting out the best spots to build a nest.  On the river, however, I spied what I consider a bird sign of winter.  A nice sized flock of Lesser Scaup ducks were mostly sleeping and relaxing on the surface of the water.  In this area, it seems we see more duck varieties in late fall and early winter. Here’s a peek at the scaups.

White-winged Scoters, Falls of the Ohio, Late Feb. 2014

Before I move away from the ducks…I found one other to add to my growing collection.  This is a Mallard decoy made from plastic.  Not too long a go, I found another plastic decoy representing the Pintail Duck.

found plastic Mallard duck decoy, Falls, Feb. 2014

One other bird note…I heard them before I could see them, but I knew what they were instantly.  The familiar calls of migrating Sandhill Cranes winging their way back north.  Like geese, they fly in V-shaped formations to avoid the air turbulence created by other cranes flapping their wings.  These birds are high flyers and this was the best I could do in taking their picture with the camera I have.

high flying Sandhill Cranes, Feb. 2014

As February becomes March…the forecast for the Kentuckiana area is calling for freezing rain and snow.  It appears that Old Man Winter will be hanging out for another week.  Spring will eventually get here and already you can tell that it stays light outside longer with each passing day.   I am, however, really eager to see how the river has rearranged this familiar landscape.

Skyliner on the Ohio River's edge, Feb. 2014

Once the Ohio River recedes there will be a new landscape to explore and who knows what I will find?  I like that each year is different from the last.  Well this post is drawing to a close.  Thanks for visiting and see you soon…from the skyline of Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio.

Looking toward the skyline of Louisville, Late Feb. 2014

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plastic pine growing out of a stump, Sept. 2013I consider this a great honor that fellow blogger Isaac Yuen focused one of his posts around my art projects from the past year and the tales I’ve created around them. For several years now, I have enjoyed Isaac’s award winning blog Ecostories. He has made me a believer in the power of the spoken and written word to convey universal truths particularly when they speak about our evolving relationship with nature. Stories are important and everyone has a story to tell. Isaac has a great way of taking on complex narratives and making them understandable. I encourage you to check out his thoughtful, positive, and beautifully written blog.

Ekostories

I t wasn’t my intention to continue with the art theme. But as the rule of three calls and  I learn more about writing and blogging, I found myself more inclined to follow intuition than push through to produce work that doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just easier to showcase other people’s incredible work instead of doing research for a long piece. Given the choice between being attuned and growing lazy, I’m sticking with the former interpretation.

I’ve been a fan of Albertus Gorman’s work over at The Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog ever since I began blogging in 2012. For the better part of the last decade, Gorman has used materials washed up at Ohio State Park to create sculptures and craft stories that explore the impacts we have on the places we inhabit. Some of his work from Ohio Falls is now featured in The Potential in…

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Black Vultures on the Fossil Beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The resident flock of Black Vultures were taking advantage of the fossil beds now exposed on the Kentucky side  of the Falls of the Ohio.  The wier dams were temporarily closed and with it the flow of water.  With the river level reduced much of the sculpted limestone normally underwater is briefly seen again.  Fishermen have been accessing new fishing spots along the freshly revealed fossil beds which turns out to be a boon for the vultures.  Not only do they get to feast on fish left by the anglers, but they also enjoy any other trash including left over fishing bait.  Early autumn is a transitional season among the park’s bird life as residents gear up for over-wintering or prepare for the southerly migration.  Birds from the northern latitudes particularly Canada and the Arctic Circle pass through our area on their epic journeys to Central and South America.

Canada Geese feeding on grass, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The vultures will fly away, but many of our Canada Geese will brave it out.  We seem to have at least two distinct flocks of Canada Geese sharing the area around the fossil beds.  It’s amazing how intolerant each group is of the other.  There is competition for the best food sites and each group frequently bump into one another with much squabbling.  That’s what makes the next image interesting to me.

Domestic goose mixed with the Canada Geese, Falls, Sept. 2013

Canada Geese can have limits on how much mingling occurs between their own species, but in this case, are willing to accept a true outsider.  This domestic goose seemed integrated into its adoptive flock.  It swam with its wild cousins and accompanied them to a favorite feeding location and was never bothered by the other geese.  Recently, I came across a young Cooper’s Hawk and I was surprised when it did not immediately fly away after I bumbled across it.  There was a good reason why it didn’t leave.

Young Cooper's Hawk, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The hawk sized me up and then jumped down off the log it was standing on to retrieve something it had dropped.

Young Cooper's Hawk with prey, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The hawk had what appeared to be a freshly killed Mourning Dove.  After securing its prey with its talons, the hawk seemingly jumped into the sky and  vanished within moments.  I thought I saw it disappearing into the tree tops of a stand of willow trees within walking distance.  I did investigate the area, but never saw the bird again.  I love it when I get to observe behaviors.  Life has a job to do and can’t wait around posing for pictures.  Here’s a different kind of behavior being demonstrated by an American Robin.

American Robin bathing at the Falls of the Ohio, Summer 2013

I love this image which I captured earlier in the summer.  This American Robin is focused on taking a bath.  Its head is under the shallow water and droplets and beads of water are splashed over its body.  Our resident American Robin population is doing well and seem to be increasing at the Falls of the Ohio.  Some of the robins will hang out over our gray winter, while others will seek warmer climes.  My last adventure to the Falls resulted in images of a bird that I had never recorded previously in the park.

Gross Blue Bill at the Falls of the Ohio, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

Gross Blue Beak and flowering plants, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Gross Blue Beak is strictly passing through and in fact, this is the first recorded instance of this bird appearing in the park.  Good thing I have all this photographic proof that the bird was here because the resident birders are a skeptical lot.  Reputations and lifetime bird lists are at stake and there is a great burden of proof to produce irrefutable documentation.  This bird has traveled thousands of miles from the edge of the Arctic Circle in Canada and is bound for the Argentine coast.

Gross Blue Beak with corroded aerosol can, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

portrait of a Gross Blue Beak at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

The Gross Blue Beak receives its name not because it has disgusting habits that require an out-sized bill.  Rather the “Gross” idea comes from the German word for “large” .  The Ohio River Valley was settled by many immigrant groups and the Germans were among the most prominent.  This bird’s beak is a heavy-duty tool it uses to crack open nuts, crush mollusks (particularly snails), and jack hammer soft decaying logs in pursuit of beetle grubs.  All three of these food sources are found at the Falls of the Ohio.

Gross Blue Beak at the Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

I was able to get quite close to the Gross Blue Beak to snap off these images.  I’ve noticed before that many northern migrants of various species will allow me to approach more closely than the local birds that are around people more.  Perhaps that’s the key?  For the moment, the region around the Arctic Circle has seen less of our influence than other places in North America.  To close, I have one other bird image, but it is noteworthy because of the people in the far distance.  Recently, I received a question about the back wall that is a part of the system in place to produce a stable pool of river water for commercial barge traffic.  I’ve heard that the Ohio River carries more tonnage of goods along it’s 800 plus miles than the Rhine River does in Europe.  The back wall of this dam is quite high up and the actual river level is perhaps a meter or so below the top of the wall.  Beyond the Great Blue Herons, the small band of hikers provides some sense of scale on how the river would be over their heads!  When you are walking the now exposed fossil beds…it’s a sobering thought!

Great Blue Herons and hikers on the fossil beds, Falls of the Ohio, Sept. 2013

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Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Falls of the Ohio, 2013

I’ve had some interesting birding encounters of late at the Falls of the Ohio and so I thought now is an opportune time to post them.  I took this image of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow recently.  To my eye, this species seems to be on the increase as is its cousin, the more familiar Barn Swallow.  This is especially good since they eat big quantities of flying insects.  Herons (especially Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons) are abundant and since the fishing has been good of late…I’ve seen plenty of both species.  Here are two more recent images.  The first is of a pair of Great Blue Herons that were taking advantage of the recent Skipjack Herring run.

Great Blue Heron pair, June 2013

The most common heron here is the Black-crowned Night-Heron.  They are considerably smaller than the Great Blues and have striking red eyes.  You can find them wading in the shallower waters looking for fish, crayfish, or small frogs.  This image was taken in the eastern section of the park and this bird was perched on a log stranded on top of the dam’s wall.

Black-crowned Night Heron at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

I’ve saved the two most interesting avian encounters for last.  A couple of weeks a go, I was sitting at my outdoor studio under the willow trees when I heard the sound of a young bird pleading for food.  Looking around, I was able to find the hungry bird and I snapped this picture of it.

young Brown-headed Cowbird, June 2013

I recognize that this is the young of the Brown-headed Cowbird.  What is fascinating about this species (and the two other species of cowbirds in North America) is that the adults do not raise their own young.  Cowbirds parasitize the nests of other bird species.  In the case of the Brown-headed Cowbird they have been known to lay their eggs in the nests of about 200 different species of birds.  Usually, the young Brown-headed Cowbird out competes the host specie’s nestlings.  I was curious to see who this bird’s “parents” were and it didn’t take long to find out.

Brown-headed Cowbird chick and Carolina Wren, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

In the case of this cowbird chick it is being raised by a hardworking pair of Carolina Wrens.  The baby is nearly double the wren’s size and vibrates its wings along with calling out to stimulate the wrens to feed it.  Here are a couple more pictures of the wren feeding the cowbird.

Carolina Wren feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird chick, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

Carolina Wren and Brown-headed Cowbird chick, June 2013

In case you were wondering, cowbirds are not the only species to lay their eggs in other bird’s nests.  In Europe, the cuckoo also does this, but parasitizes fewer species.  I often wonder how does the cowbird know it’s a cowbird especially if it is raised by a completely different species?  Obviously, some behaviors are “hard-wired” and innate .  In the early Spring, Brown-headed Cowbirds are early arrivals and always on the look out for other breeding species of birds and their nest sites.  Their courtship is not a thing of beauty with each drab Brown-headed Cowbird female usually being pursued by multiple males.  Moving on, here is a recent picture of an adult male and you can see why they are called Brown-headed Cowbirds.

male Brown-headed Cowbird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

Recently, I was in the far western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park where I saw my very first Indiana Rail.  Rails are much smaller relatives of the heron family and other wading shorebirds.  The Indiana Rail is a little smaller than a chicken and rarely seen since it favors dense underbrush and is usually more active at night.

Indian Rail at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

I was taking a break sitting on the fossil rocks when this bird with a long, bright red bill appeared from among the ever-growing vines.  I held still and was able to record this species with a small series of photographic images.  This bird seemed very interested in the holes situated among the rocks.

Indiana Rail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

Indiana Rail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

Unlike the cowbirds…both the Indiana Rail male and female participate in raising their own young.  Typically, four or five green mottled eggs are deposited in a loose bowl constructed of decaying river vegetation.  It is believed that the heat generated from this decomposing matter helps to incubate the eggs , but this is still speculative.  There is a lot left to learn about this enigmatic creature.

Head of the Indiana Rail, June 2013

Indiana Rail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

I watched the rail for about twenty minutes as it poked around the vines that were beginning to cover the fossil rocks.  Every now and then it would use its strong-looking bill to probe the cracks around the drying mud.  Just as mysteriously as it appeared…it disappeared leaving me with this wonderful memory and a hand full of pictures to prove it was here.  See you later!

Indiana Rail, Falls of the Ohio, June 2013

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willow, early May, Falls, 2013

Falls of the Ohio State Park…early May.  Many of the willows along the river whose fibrous roots are holding fast are also in bloom.

black willow catkins, Falls of the Ohio, May 2013

The yellow flowers are  catkins and open before the long, thin leaves appear.  It’s warm and windy along the river.  Tomorrow it will be different.  American goldfinches are feeding on the willow blooms.

male American goldfinch and willow, May 2013

American goldfinch, male, May 2013

goldfinch on willow, May 2013

goldfinch willow 4.5_1_1

American goldfinch on willow, May 2013

The sound of rolling river waves against Indiana are interrupted every now and then with goldfinch song.  The males are becoming more and more yellow.  Does the pollen of the black willow also help this bird?

black willow catkins, May 2013

For me, it’s blooming willow on Oak’s Day.  The derby is tomorrow.  I’ve a lot of river to explore for a few hours more.  Who knows what else I might find?

wet willows at the Falls of the Ohio, May 2, 2013

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walking goose drawing in sand, March 2013

I come to the river because I like the sound of the water.  It does more than act upon the sand and driftwood here.  After hanging out at the Falls of the Ohio I feel relaxed because the rhythm of the water is also the rhythm of nature.  The waves that move back and forth slow my own internal sense of timing and puts me in sync with the universe.  The work-a-day life begins to lift away and a calm seeps in.  I don’t even need to be aware of the sound.  I know it is there and I trust it.  This restorative quality of water is not to be underestimated in this fast-paced, multitasking world and it is free if you are open to accepting its magic.

river erasing sand drawing, March 2013

partly erased sand drawing, March 2013

Spring is late in arriving this year.  It’s been an up and down cycle of mostly cool to cold temperatures.  Also, it seems that the river has been a little higher for a bit longer than I remember over the past several years.  2012 was positively balmy compared to this one.  It’s amazing how much difference a year can make .  Today is nice and the sun is shining and I get an early start on the day.

detail of driftwood, March 2013

Currently, there is plenty of driftwood lining the riverbank.  By studying how the driftwood was deposited, I get a sense for the water and how high it rose over the land.  Since this is Spring…I’m also on the lookout for seldom seen birds that are traveling through our area.  On my last outing, I was walking over the lines of driftwood when I spotted an unusual shorebird.  I managed a few images of it and I would like to share those with you now.  It was right in the middle of the driftwood and if it hadn’t moved…I might have gone in a different direction and missed it.  I live for these moments.

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

head of Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

This is the increasingly rare Great Lakes Oystercatcher, (Haematopus polystyrenus) as seen at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  It has a large red bill like the two other oystercatcher species that live along our country’s marine coastlines.  Unlike them, this bird is strictly Midwestern and prefers fresh water wetlands, creeks, streams, and rivers.  The large bill is used to pry open the shells of fresh water clams and mollusks…although it is known to take crustaceans and other invertebrates upon opportunity.

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

The reason this bird is becoming scarce has everything to do with it losing its main food source.  The Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys are the world’s epicenter for fresh water mollusk diversity which is a little known fact.  Unfortunately, because of the many changes that have occurred with our rivers, these clams have become our most endangered animals with many species having become extinct already.  These clams are fascinating in their own right and have complex life cycles.  Wherever you find them is usually a good indicator of the quality of the water.  The Great Lakes Oystercatcher won’t find much in the way of its preferred food at the Falls.  The original clam diversity is missing and these days you are more likely to encounter Zebra Mussels or Asiatic Clams and both are well-established, invasive, nonnative species.

Great Lakes Oystercatcher, March 2013

Great Lakes Oystercatcher looking over its shoulder, March 2013

I was delighted by this almost comical bird which is rarely observed in this park.  It went about its business examining the driftwood and probing the sand for morsels of food.  I also watched it fly to the water’s edge and it was intent on checking out what the river was washing ashore.  The whole encounter lasted about 20 minutes before the bird flew off for parts unknown.  Satisfied with the day, I gathered my collecting bag and headed home.

The city of Louisville as seen from the Falls of the Ohio, March 2013

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sand sun sign, Feb. 2013

The sun is up and this is supposed to be the pick of the weekend.  So, a quick breakfast and cup of coffee and I’m out the door as soon as I can manage it.  I arrive at the Falls and there is still frost on the driftwood which vanishes except where the deep shadows shade the tiny ice crystals from the warmth of the light.  The Ohio River is noticeably down and I find a way to access the narrow sliver of land that is now high and dry…well nearly.  An occasional patch of sticky mud remains where a pool of water lingered longer than the rest of the river did.

Falls of the Ohio, post high water, Feb. 2013

I brought a large and empty collecting bag.  I’m anticipating finding some river treasures to fill it… which I do by day’s end.  As expected, the landscape is different, but the same.  Meaning there is lots of driftwood in a wide variety of sizes with plenty of other junk mixed in.  What is different is the exact context that had existed before is now rearranged.  Big logs have floated to new positions and have been added to by wood originating upstream from Louisville and southern Indiana.  I feel slightly guilty enjoying such a sunny day when I have friends on the east coast that are covered by the deep snow that fell yesterday.

frayed rope archway, Feb. 2013

During bouts of high water, stuff gets snagged in tree branches.  I do a little promenade through this frayed rope archway formed by the river.  It’s muddier under the railroad bridge, but the biggest tangle of catch-all driftwood is also here.  My site is just over this wooden mound and I wonder how it has fared?

female Downy Woodpecker, Feb. 2013

Along the way, I keep an eye out for birds like this female Downy Woodpecker investigating the furrows in tree bark.  I see a Belted Kingfisher, a Red-winged Blackbird, flocks of Canada Geese which are year round residents, Carolina Chickadees, and a Peregrine Falcon flying parallel with the river.  Usually, nature’s colors are subtle this time of year, but I also find this silly bird.  It’s bright non-naturalistic color is a quick tip-off that it is probably made from plastic.

pink rubber duck, Feb. 2013

I find lots of other plastic items particularly toys, but I will wait until later in the week to post those finds.  I did pick up this lucky duck to add to my expanding collection.  I like the two walnuts next to the duck.  How often have I used walnuts as a gauge for scale?

Figure with bear hat at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

We are nearly there…just under the willow trees.  Be careful of stepping on milled boards for they are the ones harboring bent and rusty nails.  The sun has climbed higher in the sky and I’m getting warmer.  This bear hat of mine is getting hotter, but I am glad I had it with me earlier in the day.

last year's Styrofoam, Feb. 2013

We have arrived…this is my old spot.  I guess I was partly right.  The river did reach my outdoor studio, but the water didn’t spread last year’s Styrofoam too widely.  The riverbank is slightly higher here and that makes a difference.  Walking carefully over the driftwood, I search over and under the wood.  Before too long, I am able to corral my wayward polystyrene.  I do a little “house keeping” and try to create a semblance of order under the willow trees.

Reassembled studio under the willows, Feb. 2013

I find not only much of last year’s Styrofoam, but some new pieces as well.  I empty out my collecting bag and add to the pile.  Interestingly, I did not find any really big sections and hopefully that bodes well for the river at large.  Some of the pieces I have here I have recycled many times before to make new figures.  I will try to embed these bright white shapes into my subconscious with the hope of creating new and interesting combinations with them.  I’m going to leave it here for now.  My next post will be a show and tell featuring some of the other items I picked up along the way and put into the old collecting bag.  See you then?

Figure with bear hat and driftwood, Feb. 2013

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