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Posts Tagged ‘site specific artworks’

What a year it has been for animal watching at the Falls of the Ohio.  The finite landscape at the park keeps continuing to change as the populations of Canada geese and white-tailed deer make their now daily presence felt.  I recall going years before finding a single deer track out here.  Not too long ago as I was working on an artwork in the sand…I was surprised by a doe and two nearly grown fawns that almost stepped on me in their hurry to escape their blunder!  Seeing deer out here has almost become a daily happening.  I’ve also seen several large bucks and managed a good photo of this regal specimen from earlier in the year.

Although some animals seem to be increasing…there are still the occasional rare and once in a lifetime encounters that can occur.  Moments like this are what keep me coming back to these shores and willow woods.  Recently, a red fox streaked across my path and while not a rare mammal was nevertheless a park first for me!  I have also been discovered by an assortment of raccoons, groundhogs, opossums, squirrels, and chipmunks as I bumble through their environment.  Still only two beaver sightings by me since 2003 and none this year.  Evidence of their presence here is everywhere, however, they seem to be the most active at night.  Now my next entry qualifies as a true event and I will linger on this a moment since I was also fortunate to take some nice images to enhance the tale.  Have you ever heard of a Clark’s shrewrat before?  Probably not, no offense, I presume here, but we have trouble remembering our own kind much less anything else alive we share the experience of life with.  Seeing one was my wildlife viewing moment of the year.  Let’s start by looking at one.

It was almost Halloween, a gorgeous late autumn day when hiking in the park, I glimpsed an unfamiliar mammal drinking from a pool of Ohio River water.  In size, it’s between a small house cat and a large squirrel if that helps at all?  As it warily moved around the muddy landscape it moved quickly and stayed very low to the ground.  I was able to observe it over the course of the next few hours and I’m positive it knew I was nearby.  It’s history is interesting.  Clark’s Shrewrat is named after William Clark who is believed to have supplied the first written descriptions and specimens early in the 19th century.  Clark, the brother of Revolutionary War hero General George Rogers Clark went on to his own renown as a leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  What was unclear was whether or not the shrewrat evidence was collected on that epic journey or was of more local origin?  Finding one here is important because it would suggest the latter since Clark’s Shrewrat was never common anywhere over its former range and very rarely seen now.  To date, we have no idea as to their numbers?  Are they more common than we think or on the verge of extinction?

Clark’s Shrewrat belongs to the Insectivorous order of mammals which also includes moles and shrews.  It is strictly carnivorous and will attempt to overwhelm any animal it thinks it can kill.  The bulk of its diet, however, seems to be birds, other small mammals, fish, insects, and is not averse to scavenging carrion.  As a hunter, it is stealthy and overwhelms with surprise and speed.  For prey larger than itself, it often first tires and wounds its victim before administering the coup-de-grace with a surgical bite to the throat.  It is relentless and will pursue fish underwater in otter-like fashion as I was able to observe.  Here it is just before enjoying a shad dinner!

Many years ago, I had two sightings of a mink that hung around for a couple of days.  Experiencing the shrewrat felt similar.  A frenetic, nervous animal in constant motion and ever guided forward by a hunger that it cannot satisfy.  It does seem to be at the mercy of its metabolism.  The few records that exist on its life span seem to suggest a short one of three or four years at most.  Since there is simply not enough information extent on this rarity…it seems the obvious next step is to continue to monitor whether Clark’s shrewrat is indeed becoming established in the park?  I hope so since the park needs to maintain as much diversity as possible.

Now, to talk about a few of the great birds I’ve seen over the year.  I won’t go into as much depth.  Here are a few of my avian highlights with accompanying imagery.  It does seem to becoming more common for uncommon birds to show up at the Falls of the Ohio.  Is this a potential signal that climate change could be at work?  Birds can appear almost anywhere and many do…however, it does seem that many long distance migrants are being challenged by habitat loss and important food items whose timing has been interrupted by a climate in transition.  Nothing like showing up at the usual time for a feast of horseshoe crab eggs, but their spawn happened a week ago and you still have thousands of miles to travel.

This inquisitive creature is called the Bark Bird and I happened to see one this summer.  It’s so named for its habit of searching through the crevices in tree bark as it searches for the small arthropods that make up its diet.  It often goes up and down the tree head first like nuthatches do.

The only true shorebird on this list is the Arctic Curlew.  It uses its long, blue bill to probe soft mud for small worms.  I chanced upon one in June while exploring the fossil beds.  This is an example of a bird that is at risk because the route of its migration is so long that maintaining suitable habitat along its route may prove too great a challenge.

Here’s another migrant, the Land Lark.  Usually, a bird recorded west of the Mississippi River.  I remember that this bird appeared at the Falls of the Ohio after some serious thunderstorms with damaging tornadoes  passed through the Midwest of the United States.  Simple but nice coloring with its green crest and bill and light blue wings against a snow-white body.

This lovely Yellow-tailed Thrush was another unexpected discovery.  Normally, found in the summer in the Hill Country of Texas…I’m not sure why it showed up here?  I was sure glad to see it and I have several other nice images of it.

A new park record…the first recorded instance of the Ohio Valley Blue-bill nesting with park confines.  I came across this bird sitting on its nest which I was shocked to see was an old barge cable that had snagged in a tree.  I think the blue-bill formed the nest by judicious pecking and pruning the fibers of this large rope.  I’ve saved my favorite bird for last.  Not because it is rare, but because the pictures came out so well!  Here is another the Blue-winged Merganser which is small, fish-eating duck that pursues its prey underwater like the shrewrat does.  Also like the shrewrat, this merganser has a bill full of needle-sharp teeth for holding onto slippery fish.

The crest of feathers atop it head give a regal appearance to this small red-eyed duck.  We often see the Common Merganser around here, but this was fun to observe as it pursued small aquatic life stranded in the pools of a retreating river.  I guess as this year may prove to demonstrate, we may see many more peculiarities in the natural world the more we mess with it.  I will continue to record and observe these changes within the park and post them in the trusty riverblog.  To finally end, one more image of Clark’s Shrewrat to savor!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio State Park.

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Plastic Thumb Moth, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Beyond the Woodland Loop Trail in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio is where today’s river adventure finds me.  It has been many months since I last visited this side of the park.  I have been looking forward to walking on the driftwood that accumulates on this riverbank.  As always, I’ve got my trusty walking stick and collecting bag with me.  It’s time to find what there is to find and make something from that.  Right away, I found this plastic butterfly or moth (fireworks perhaps?) and enjoyed taking several images of it juxtaposed with the riverbank landscape.  Just a quick look around and I can see lots of plastic and polystyrene to potentially use.  I will also keep my eyes open for a good site to do one of my plastic arrangements that I have been having fun with of late.

Brown Bagging it, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I was fairly confident that I would find as much plastic debris on this shoreline as I had found in the eastern section of the park.  That would prove to be correct and I brought an extra collecting bag along to help with the gathering process.  I have been enjoying organizing the colorful plastic bottles and containers that I find into mostly chromatic and rainbow-inspired arrangements.  The driftwood and sand out here is unified in coloring presenting a monochromatic landscape where bright, colorful plastic notes sing out among all these lost trees.  You soon realize as you sort out the plastic from the driftwood, how much of our material culture is intermixed into everything else.

Found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan 30, 2016

Colorful, found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

After walking the high water line for a couple of hours, I dumped all the colorful plastic I had collected onto the sand.  I thought I had picked a good location that was between the water and the riverbank.   I picked up a nice plastic milk crate along the way to assist with the gathering.  I notice that I usually pick up intact items preferring them over plastic bits and pieces…although, I will use fragments too especially if they are a hard to come by color.  Most all of the plastic bottles and containers I find have had their labels washed off by the river.  I put a lot of trust in the cleaning power of millions of gallons of water.

Sorting plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Using the patterns and intervals of driftwood that the river had previously laid down here as a supporting structure where today’s found plastic is sorted by color and staged.  Here is where you might find out that you picked up more green bottles than yellow or that purple was that day’s hard to find color.

Found plastic on the riverbank, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Here’s a view looking eastward with a bit of the skyline of Louisville suggested through the distant trees.  From my experience, fewer people visit this section of the park and many who do often prove to be residents of Clarksville which is just over the flood wall.  Let’s show a few more images of how this piece rounded into shape.

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Western Park Plastic Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I like the big wooden beam lying parallel to the plastic.  Not all the driftwood out here is of the wild variety.  I find lumber cut-offs and planed planks of all kinds and have used them in my art as well.  These shots were taken on a beautiful end of the month day where we had a respite from the cold and grayness.

Western park plastic arrangement, Jan. 30, 2016

There was one large blue plastic drum that was buried in the sand and had water in it as well.  I didn’t like how it intruded into these pictures and so tried to take it away.  Well, it was much too heavy for one person to life out of the sand.  Fortunately, among the few people I did see on this day were old river rat friends who gave me a hand with this.  The blue drum nearly folded in half takes its position at the end of the line.

Variation on an image, Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30,2016

detail of Western Park Rainbow, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

I hung around and admired all the bright colors as they revealed themselves in a setting sun.  I think this is the most complex plastic assemblage (as far as variety and number of individual pieces used goes) that I have made thus far.  I will go ahead and tell you that this work no longer exists except as digital images.  Over the past week, we had strong rain storms that went through the Ohio Valley resulting in a high river.  Although the rains didn’t affect us directly, all the water that was dropped into the watershed caused it to inundate many of the familiar places on the riverbank that I like to work.  The river has been unpredictable of late and I have had at least three new projects washed away.  As I walked home, I did find an interesting bottle that I walked over before.  I’m fairly sure this is Fred Flintstone based on the diamond pattern on his “garment”.  A quick inquiry over the internet yielded some results.  This find was originally part of a four plastic baby bottle set that featured Fred, Barney, and their kids Pebbles and BamBam.  This vintage baby product was more than likely manufactured between 1977 and 1984!  I wonder if its possible for my find to be that old?  Judging from the wear and tear and severe fading…that’s a distinct possibility.  Happy with my new find…I dropped it into my collecting bag.  I think it is the unusual items I come across that make this such a fun way to spend time at the river.  With the sun going down, the temperatures are getting cooler…time to go home.  Until next time from an ever-changing Falls of the Ohio.

Very faded Fred Flintstone character plastic baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

Fred Flintstone baby bottle, Falls of the Ohio, Jan. 30, 2016

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