Sunday, October 29, 2006
Ohio Valley Autumn
Since our return from a successful birding trip to Virginia, we haven't had a lot of luck in our birding endeavors. A trip to the Audubon Birding Trail in Western Kentucky took us to the Sloughs WMA near Henderson. The Sloughs are too wet to raise a good crop, but crops are planted in some of the fields to help attract birds. Small, rather rickety, observation platforms were built along the country roads. Killdeers flashed their white undersides constantly as they crisscrossed the fields around us. Hundreds of Redwinged Blackbirds called from the leaves. The brochure mentioned all the ducks that winter here, but we must have been too early and saw no ducks at all. A pair of Northern Harriers swooped low to the ground, and so fast that we couldn't get any pictures at all. I did get a nice shot of my first Lesser Yellowlegs, and saw, but didn't photograph a few American Coots. We followed a gravel road back into the Sloughs thinking to find deeper water and more birds away from the road. At times the road itself became flooded, and we watched carefully to avoid getting stuck in the mud when turning around to drive out. We saw many warblers in the trees, but the yellow-green of the fall foliage was perfect camouflage for the greenish yellow of the warblers, and it was hard to find them even with binoculars, let alone a camera. Downy woodpeckers abounded however. One area had mature trees growing in a flooded field. We wondered why the trees would grow so big in such a wet environment. As we walked along, we found that the water was the result of a beaver dam. Many trees were downed by the beavers, and at one point we saw a beaver freeway - a path from one pool to the other about 12 inches wide, with a rest area and a little beaver scat along it. Some bird built a large stick nest visible in the bare branches of a tree in the beaver pond. Might it be an osprey nest? The Sloughs themselves didn't look deep enough to have much in the way of fishing, but we don't know how far this was from the river itself. This fall has had an unusual amount of rain, both here in the Ohio Valley and upstream. The gates in the dam have been opened since September, and by mid-October, the gates were lifted entirely out, and water was pouring over the walls of the dam itself. Much too rough for birds, other than a few gulls coming down from the Great Lakes for the winter. Even though the river was rough, the sun shining on the foliage looks like flame. It's hard to decide whether to photograph the entire tree, a few individual bright leaves, or something in between. At least the leaves don't fly away as you focus on them!