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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.