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Posts Tagged ‘creative ornithology’

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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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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high Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb., 3, 2013

The Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio is even higher now since my last visit with the fishermen.  We have had some wild weather in the interim.  First it gets unseasonably warm and then a cold front collides with a wet weather system originating in the Gulf of Mexico.  The results of this can be very dangerous as this is the perfect recipe for a tornado outbreak which did occur south of here.  My family was awakened to the sound of tornado warning sirens at 4:30ish in the morning.  We began that day in the basement of our house which was a rude awakening even for the family dog.  Luckily, we didn’t experience any damage although it rained hard and was very windy.  And after the cold front blasted through it became extremely cold and was followed by snow.  I think we have seen the gamut of winter weather and I was glad to hear the “groundhog” did not see its shadow in Pennsylvania meaning that winter would come to a normal end this year.  That is if you believe animals can predict the weather?

floating trash in the river, Feb. 2013

I am certain this time that my outdoor studio under the willows is history by now.  The Ohio River has claimed the spot and my cache of art materials.  Unfortunately, there is a ready re-supply floating in the water.  It seems I begin many a post with what amounts to a weather report, but please bear with me.  My blog concerns itself with the local conditions which are the context that my adventures and stories are set in.  I’m also amazed and concerned that I can detect variations in our weather patterns having lived in this area for so long.  Much of the time I feel I’m bearing witness to events of importance to us all.  What is happening here is also occurring in other places in the world.  As I was walking through the woods on this day, I was surprised by the bird life I was encountering when I expected to see nearly nothing.  My Eastern Bluebird friends were still hanging around and they had company.  I saw White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Brown Tree Creepers and many more especially near the river’s expanding edge.  I also saw and photographed another amazing bird which makes up the bulk of this post.

Snow Cock at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 2013

Fellow bird watchers had put the alert out that an unusual visitor was seen hanging out at the Falls.  A young, male Snow Cock was seen near the Woodland Loop Trail which is a bird not seen in these parts since the late 19th century.  As you can imagine this is a northern bird used to the cold and snow…in fact it depends upon these conditions for its survival.  The Snow Cock (like some ptarmigan species) turns nearly white in winter.  The rest of the year it sports plumage that is more like leaf camouflage.  Regardless of the season, the Snow Cock is a cryptic animal and is shy and retiring.  Except of course when it’s time to choose a mate when the males make it a point to be as noticeable to their own kind as possible.  I was hoping the bad weather would cause this wayward Snow Cock to linger and I was rewarded by its presence.  I took as many photographs as possible.  I have a feeling that I won’t ever see this exact species out here again.

detail of Snow Cock head, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock in natural habitat, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock, back view showing tail fan, Feb. 2013

The Snow Cock is also called the “Snow Turkey” and “Styro-grouse” because of the large fan of tail feathers it uses for courtship displays.  That’s how I found this particular bird which wasn’t all that wary.  The young male was rehearsing his dance and song and establishing a lek or territory where he would fight other males for the attention of the females.  Although this bird wasn’t going to hang out at the Falls forever, it was nevertheless, practicing this important survival skill.  Other interesting field marks included a head crest, an unusual beard growing from his chest, and a long bill for seeds and insects.

Snow Cock at the water's edge, Feb. 2013

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I watched the Snow Cock look for just the right spot to strut its stuff.  It was frequently hopping from one vantage point (usually a tall stump) to the ground and back.  The call of the Snow Cock as you might guess is very chicken-like and not particularly beautiful in its own right.  To my eye, it seemed very interested in the water which was noticeably spreading over the land.  This might be the first flood it has ever experienced?

Snow Cock sipping water, Feb. 2013

Snow Cock by large Osage Orange tree, Feb. 2013

I kept my distance from the bird and quietly followed it through the woods.  I observed it drinking from melting ice and I left it be hanging out near a large Osage Orange tree along the trail’s path.  The wind was beginning to pick up again and more flakes were in the air.  Despite wearing good gloves, my finger tips were cold and painful.  I decided that now was a good time to go home and I did.  I hope the next time I’m out here that the conditions will be more favorable for an extended visit.  I had one other small surprise waiting for me along the Woodland Loop Trail.  I passed the spot by the creek where I watched the fishermen catch sauger and was amazed and amused that the figure I had made from river junk that day was still there!  He was missing his nose, but otherwise he was intact.  I guess the fishermen appreciated him as I do you for tagging along on another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

Styro-figure along the loop trail, Feb. 2013

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At long last I’ve made it back out to the river!  It’s been about eight weeks now since my last visit.  Today I have a double purpose…the first is to drop off one of my Styrofoam and recycled material sculptures for an annual fund-raiser that the Falls of the Ohio State Park Foundation hosts every year.  I’m glad to do this and hope my donation does well in their auction.  Despite the years I’ve been making stuff out here it still strikes me that most of my materials are literally trash.  I suppose I will never get over that. It seems to me that it takes a certain kind of person who would want to own one of these creations!  The other more fun purpose is to check out what’s different along the river and maybe make something new.  Immediately, I can see that the hot summer continues to take its toll.  At first, it was the relentless heat, but now that is coupled with a serious lack of rain.  The river is low and everything looks dry.

Over the course of this summer we have had just enough rain not to be considered a disaster area.  This is hardly a ringing endorsement and I find a small laminated notice tacked on to a bulletin board that reinforces how dry it is.  I think to myself that some of the people I’ve encountered out here over the years who do shoot off fireworks or build fire pits are not likely to read or heed this warning.  When I’m in the park, my preference is to move away from the most public areas and so with my walking stick in hand I head down the Woodland Loop Trail.  I’m still not confident enough to want to test my repaired knee too vigorously, but this trail is fairly easy.

The trail is shaded which I welcome since it’s still over 90 degrees out here.  I pass many what I would consider late summer blooming plants that have flowered earlier than usual.  I did see several stands of tall Pokeweed plants with their black berries, but even these weeds have wilted leaves.  I guess what moisture these plants could muster up went into the production of their fruit?  These berries are a favorite food of several bird species.  In the past, I have used the intensely dark purple juice from Pokeweed berries as a pigment in some drawings I have made.  This color, however, is fugitive and ultimately fades in the light.  As I walk, one distinctive sound I keep hearing is the tell-tale sound of gray squirrels gnawing on the rock-hard walnuts that are  clustered around the few walnut trees along the trail.  There’s not much meat inside one of these nuts and it seems like a lot of work for little reward.

Out on the exposed fossil beds the sun is baking, but under the shade of the trees it is still fairly green.  Since my last visit,  however, I noticed a lot of dropped tree limbs and a few whole trees that have keeled over and appear to be the result of wind damage.  I have seen a few birds including two Hairy Woodpeckers and as I walk along the trail I keep getting scolded by Carolina Wrens who resent my intrusion.  In the distance I recognize the calls from the Killdeer plovers that are looking for food along the water’s edge.  The rarest and most unusual bird, however, is  just up ahead.

I’ve only seen a couple of the more common and native Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds this year…and so I was taken aback and delighted to come across what I later identified as Isaac’s Hummingbird (Archilochus isaaci ).  To my knowledge, this is the only recorded instance of this Cuban species reaching this park.  I’m guessing that Tropical Storm Isaac (purely coincidental, but also appropriate) which is threatening the GOP conference in Tampa Bay at this moment may have blown this rarity our way?  Hummingbirds of which there are over 300 hundred recorded species have been known to wander thousands of miles away from their more familiar haunts.

I came across this hummingbird dozing on a fallen branch.  It would open its eyes every once in a while and regard me.  I kept my movements to a minimum and completely forgot about my aching knee in the process of creating a few images of it.  I was able to snap off six pictures before it took off.  As you can see, this bird (also known as the Yellow Saberbill) has a bright yellow bill it uses to extract nectar from flowers.  Its light blue body, brown wings, silver tail, and whitish-head are diagnostic of this species.  I don’t know what it is about the Falls of the Ohio, but I have seen other unique hummers out here before.  Digging through the archives…I present two of them again.

This is the ultra rare Arctic Hummingbird appearing at the Falls of the Ohio to sip nectar from the equally scarce Ice Blossoms.

I encountered this Cumberland Greencrest back in 2010 not far from the place that I saw the Isaac’s Hummingbird.  Both of these rare hummingbirds stayed in our area for a couple of days before moving on.  This is what keeps me coming out here…I just never know what I’ll find or discover! This was a short, but eventful trip and I thank you for tagging along.  Here’s another view of the river with the exposed Devonian fossil beds.

POSTSCRIPT:  The inspiration for this particular post comes from another WordPress blog I enjoy entitled “Ekostories”.  Isaac Yuen is its creator and he’s an aspiring environmental writer.  Issac has a talent for weaving stories and making connections about responsible stewardship of our planet.  At the time of this writing, Isaac has a wonderful post about a book entitled the “Flight of the Hummingbird” that I think you may enjoy…so please check it out.  Here is his link:  http://ekostories.com/ Finally, one last peek at this elusive hummingbird checking out a flower blossom.

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A gray day with the Ohio River rising and I’m exploring this huge driftwood mound created by last spring’s flooding.  Over the last few months this section has seen other minor floods and even a fire.  It’s interesting to me to see how the river has a leveling effect as it flows under and moves the driftwood pile. The shifting reveals new “treasures” that were formerly buried.  I’m out here to see what I can find and possibly reuse.  Soon I uncover a sign that tempts me.

Yes, I have a found sign collection as well and you can see it on my Pages section where I keep other collections of stuff I have stumbled across.  First, let me tell you why this particular sign caught my eye.  In this neck of the woods, we still remember the now mythic frontiersmen who explored and settled this great land.  Daniel Boone, Audubon, Lewis and Clark, and one Davy Crockett are among these pioneers.  Seeing this sign caused me to “flash forward” and I speculated what Crockett’s descendants were now doing after taming our great wilderness.  Did they as Joni Mitchell once sang “…paved paradise and put up a parking lot” and here was the sign to prove it?  As signs go, this one was interesting because it’s double-sided and the reverse message is different and says “Life Vest Required” in red stenciled letters.  Here is a detail that I like.

I was contemplating whether I wanted to drag this heavy and muddy sign with me when an unexpected thing occurred. Life happened! My activity flushed out a bird I didn’t recognize and it flew right over my head and landed in an area of bottom land just east of the railroad bridge.  I kept my eyes on it the whole time and I saw where it landed.  I forgot about the sign and grabbed my camera gingerly stepping over the driftwood.  I would hate to twist my ankle again as I anticipated my rendezvous with this rare bird.  After quietly searching the underbrush, I located it and excitedly snapped the following images.

I have the honor of announcing the first documented sighting of the Temperate Bird of Paradise ever seen at the Falls of the Ohio!  I found it at the water’s edge skulking among the litter and downed logs.  FYI, this is the only bird of paradise found in North America (hence temperate) from a family of birds that are almost exclusively tropical.  You are more likely to encounter a bird of paradise in New Guinea or the Aru Islands than here.  Interestingly, the first tropical examples to reach Europe were ethnographic specimens and the prepared bird skins were missing their feet and sometimes their wings.   This resulted in the early European naturalists assuming that the birds of paradise were forever on the wing kept aloft by their magnificent feathers.  (That’s a true story!)  Here are a few more pictures of this magical bird.

What this bird has in common with the other birds of paradise are very unusual feathers that the males use in courtship displays.  You can see the wiry, blue, flower-like feathers near the base of the tail.  In the wild, the males compete against each other for the affections of the females by wildly dancing and showing off their unusual plumage.  Once mating has occurred, the female builds a nest near the ground and the male takes off and plays no part in raising the young.  The particular bird I was observing was a juvenile male and lacked the small tuft of feathers found on the heads of the adults.

While I was taking these pictures and recording my observations, a train was passing overhead on the bridge.  I could tell it was making my visitor uneasy.

The diesel locomotives were noisy as they hauled their great loads over the span.  My bird of paradise began walking nervously back and forth and then flew away.  I was, however, able to snap one more image of it before it disappeared for good.  I returned to the area over several days, but it definitely left the area.  This is my final picture of the bird of paradise at the Falls.

Because this was a juvenile male, I’m hoping that this signals that the Temperate Bird of Paradise is on the increase and this young bird is seeking out new territories.  The bird initially became rare during the hey day when exotic bird plumes worn on fancy hats were all the rage.  Since then, habitat loss and the fact it is a ground nesting species makes it more vulnerable.  Excitedly, I rushed home to view my pictures on the computer!  I forgot all about the sign and I’m not sure it is still there anymore?  The rising Ohio River may have reclaimed it.  The next time I’m out there, I will look for it and the rare Temperate Bird of Paradise in case it returns.

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After a brief cold and wet spell I made it out to the Falls of the Ohio last Saturday.  The Ohio River was rising as were the temperatures which had dipped into the 30 degree mark  for a few days.  One look around here and there is no doubt that it is autumn in Kentuckiana.  The willow leaves were noticeably yellower and many of the trees were in the process of losing their foliage.  I was scouting around for what else was different in this environment and spotted this tiny butterfly moving about.

This small whitish butterfly was sipping on something on the sand.  I was practically nose to nose with it and recognized that it was a member of the skipper family.  Last year was such a banner year for butterflies at the Falls and to my eye…this year was a noticeable drop off.  After following this skipper for a few yards I was able to take this image of it.  At home I identified it as the Common Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis) which is considered a very common species.  It seemed rather late in the season for a butterfly, but I was able to observe a few rag-tag Buckeye butterflies and a few tattered Viceroys too.  Funny how I had never noticed this skipper before.  Nevertheless, I felt a sense of personal discovery as though I was the first person ever to see this tiny revelation. It was about this time I heard a distinctive tapping coming from a stand of willow trees.  Somewhere a woodpecker was plying its trade.

With its jet-black wings, white body, and bright red bill this bird is easy to identify…it’s the Pied Woodpecker.  About this time of year the northern population of this interesting woodpecker begins its southerly migration to the warmer climes of Central America.  Although I had added this bird to my “Life List” while on a family trip to Wisconsin…this was the first Pied Woodpecker I have seen at the Falls of the Ohio.  I observed it moving up and down the trunks of the willow trees exploring the crevasses in the bark for small insects.  It likes to move head down in its search for food like nuthatches are known to do.  Every now and then it would use its bill to chip away the wood to uncover the bugs it sought and it seemed quite unconcerned about me taking pictures of it.  I snapped as many as I could as I followed it on its path through the woods.

Soon it came to a grove of trees that were covered in wild grape vines.  The Pied Woodpecker explored the bark here too, but I saw it augmenting its diet with the tiny fruits this vine was producing.  Every once in a while it would make this nasally sound that I tried imitating.  Fortunately, this bird didn’t take offense and fly away.  Perhaps it “cut me some slack” for at least trying to talk to it in its own language…or at least that was my thought at that moment.

From the vine-covered trees, the woodpecker next flew to a large log with a large exposed root mass.  When this tree was living it must have been huge. The Pied Woodpecker didn’t linger here long and I watched its rising and dipping flight pattern as it crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky.  I wonder if I will ever see another of its kind here again?  That’s the funny thing. There are birds that are considered common and regularly recorded here that I have yet to see.  I’ve seen them elsewhere, but not here at the Falls of the Ohio.  That’s the thing about birds…their extreme mobility can make them unpredictable!

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