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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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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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Vine covered Danger sign, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It’s the end of the year and I have a handful of posts and projects I intended to present here before the date on the calendar changes.  I will do my best to try to catch up.  I’ll start with this outing along the Ohio River that happened in November.

I have finally had a bit of a lull from my day job and so I want to start catching up on posting images and stories of my Falls of the Ohio adventures over the last few weeks.  It’s also a bit of a relief from the disappointing presidential election we have just endured.  Hanging out at the river is always a good tonic for the soul.  May it always be that for me and other “river rats” who are drawn to moving waters.  For this post, I will concentrate on an assemblage I made using found bottles, jugs, and other plastic containers that I have collected from the banks of the Ohio River in this small state park in southern Indiana.

Picking up a plastic jug at the Falls of the Ohio

The Falls of the Ohio State Park is not a very big place as parks go, but it is a very historic and dynamic environment.  I remember when I first started coming out here it really bothered me to see so much junk along the riverbank.  It still does and  I tried standard recycling before settling on making art from what others preferred not to see or acknowledge.  What this unique space lacks in size, it makes up for by being a very dynamic environment.

For most of the year, the river behaves itself and lets the Army Corps of Engineers pretend that it is in control of its flow.  Every once in a while, however, the river reminds us through flooding and by going around the barriers set in its way to control it.  It is during these high water moments that all the rubbish sins of the world come down the river from environs both local and from parts north in our watershed.  As this blog documents, I find “stuff” all the time and unfortunately discarded plastic is high on the list.

Found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, summer 2016

Here is found plastic that I brought back to my outdoor atelier under the willow trees.  I didn’t have to travel far to pick up all I wanted.  I realized as I drove to work this morning that my “outdoor atelier” is now under water.  A few days ago, we finally received enough rain to raise the level of the river.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have tried to do anything with plastic on this scale.  Only when I couldn’t deny the bright, unnatural colors any longer that it occurred to me to try to do something “artistic” with all this waste plastic.

Sorting the plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

After I have selected a site for a project.  I move my materials to the chosen location and when I’m ready, I start sorting objects according to color.  I like to reference the electromagnetic spectrum and rainbows because they are about light.  Plastic is made from petroleum which is sun energy that has been harnessed by prehistoric plants and stored in their tissues.  Over deep time, heat, pressure and the vagaries of geology either liquefies this ancient material into crude oil or compresses it into coal.  It is interesting to think about how much our contemporary world is dependent on using the energy from our sun that shone millions of years a go!

found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, October 2016

More found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It will be a leap for some, but “light” in my mind is not only a part of the problem here, but also implies a solution.  We need to do a better job of using our innate creativity to capture the light of today’s sun.  Leave that “ancient energy” in the ground and we certainly don’t need anymore plastic.  Through a little trial and error, I found an arrangement that suits me.  If I am lucky and park visitors or the river decide not to erase what I’ve started then I expand and tinker with my outdoor composition.  If I’m correct, then this piece is already gone taken just today by the river. It lasted many weeks longer than I thought it would.  Thanks for tagging along with me!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Colorful found plastic assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

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Landscape at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

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

Trumpet Creeper Vine, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

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

Purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mosquito bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

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

The Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

Diving Mosquito Bird, Falls of the Ohio, June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passionflower vine, Falls of the Ohio, July 2016

 

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

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

Found plastic panda or other bear, late March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petrochemical arrangement, Falls of the Ohio, late March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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Early morning view on the Ohio River, mid March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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High water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

It was Leap Day, February 29 when I went back out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  For the third consecutive week the Ohio River has been high and all my usual spots are underwater.  This post is being written a week later and the river is still covering most of my spots along the riverbank.  For the past month, I have been active mainly in the western section of the park.

Fallen Tree and high water at the Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

In the western area of the Falls,  the riverbank rises to greet a sliver of woods.  Standing on the top most level along the bank, this latest high water we are experiencing is about 8 to 12 feet below your feet, but in most places the river directly butts up to the bank and so there are few “beaches” to stand on and explore.  It is during these moments that you can most directly see and feel how a high river can upset and erode the riverbank.  I imagine that over time, the river will keep getting wider as the trees are undermined by the waters.  As I was searching for new sites and materials to work with…I decided to walk a bit more in the woods than I usually do.  Right now is a good time to do this before the vines and mosquitoes make it more difficult and unpleasant.

Found whitetail deer skull, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

As I was walking along the muddy paths I couldn’t help noticing how heavy the deer traffic was in this area.  Their tracks were everywhere and almost on cue, I came across five antler-less whitetail deer that were moving away from me near the tree line.  I liked this little area mostly because I came across small stands of bamboo-like river cane.  The old timers say that river cane used to be more plentiful and once helped to define the area more than it does now.  Walking along, I saw something white laying on its side and it turned out to be a deer skull from a small doe.  In the early days of my Artist at Exit 0 project, it was uncommon to come across deer tracks and years passed before I actually saw one out here.  All that has changed now.  This is the third deer skull I have found in the park in the last two years.  Their presence throughout the Falls of the Ohio has visibly increased which is probably not a good thing for such a small park as this one.

Deer skull mounted on a tree, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

I decided to leave the skull behind for someone else to discover.  Finding a suitable tree along the path, I mounted the skull on the knobby remains of a branch to mark this area as being particularly deer favored.  It was just a short hike from here to reach the river’s high edge again.

Wood debris in the water, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Eventually, I did find a hundred yard or so stretch of muddy bank that I could access and walk around.  It was located in a sheltered area where this was a slight bend in the river.  The prevailing currents and wind had pushed a large amount of debris against the bank and most of it consisted of wood and bark bits with the now expected plastic garbage mixed in for good measure.  I immediately began to find “stuff” and here are a few pictures of my “prized” finds.

Plastic drumstick, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Here is something for my Fake Food Collection…a small, plastic drumstick.  Over the years, I have found a few of this exact plastic poultry leg and so this is not exactly a unique find.  Note the teeth marks probably from the family dog?

Found green plastic frog toy, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Although the spring peepers are starting to be heard in our area…this one will never make a sound.

Found plastic toy hammer, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

I now have an impressive collection of found toy hammers and mallets and they are all made of plastic.  I need to take a photo of that collection and post it which is another in a line of weirdly specific things I have found out here.

Found Smiley Faces, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Here are two more “Smiley Faces” that are the latest ones I have found out here.  The larger is a volleyball and I’m not sure what the smaller one was intended for?  I haven’t looked at it again since I dropped it into the old collecting bag.  As I was exploring, what I couldn’t help but notice along this particular stretch of riverbank was how common toy balls of all sizes and sports that I was finding.  I decided to pick up all the ones I could access and make a collection of them all.  Here is that image.

A pile of various found balls, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

Detail of found balls, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

So, what is your sport?  In this motley collection of forty plus river-found balls we have American footballs, soccer balls, basketballs (of course since this is major basketball country), golf balls, tennis balls, playground balls, Styrofoam balls, softballs, a plastic bowling ball, a volleyball, several ball pit balls, and couple of novelty balls, etc…  Of course, balls are the perfect floating object since they are round and roll easily and since they are usually inflated with air they are buoyant as well.  As the day was starting to get late and I had found all the balls in the area that I could reach…it was time to start for home.  I’m looking forward to the river dropping down and the temperatures to begin to rise.  Soon the spring bird migration will be passing through and I’m hopeful of seeing a few Rose-breasted grosbeaks and maybe a Scarlet Tanager or two.  One more image of my made on the spot ball collection looking back on an interesting day at the Falls of the Ohio.

Improvised Ball Collection, Falls of the Ohio, Feb. 29, 2016

 

 

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