Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Falls Afterglow

As I waited for the bus Monday morning, I gave serious consideration to calling in sick. The air was cool, the breeze pleasant, and the sky absolutely cloudless, a condition we don't see often in July in the Ohio Valley. However, duty called and I got on the bus when it arrived. To my amazement, the same weather conditions held when I got home after work, so we jumped in the car to spend the evening at the Falls of the Ohio.
A man sat on the shore with a spotting scope, so we asked what he had found so far. "Not much," he replied. We were heading to the Point to look for Ospreys, and he and his wife decided to come along. Lucky for us, this was an experienced birder and member of the Beckham Bird Club in Louisville, and he saw more little birds than I ever would have seen on my own. His good scope came in handy too for the Cedar Waxwings, and other smaller birds. We found a Pileated Woodpecker heading into the nest for the night. At least, we saw it go in and not come out for about 10 minutes.
A beaver swam downstream, and a groundhog spied on us from his creek-bank den under some roots. The Osprey was sitting in a branch waaayy downstream. I don't know how Tom ever found it, even with the scope. We hoped to see the Screech Owl along the edge of the woods as the light faded, but no luck there. Tom also told us about a wetlands on the other side of the levy which I had not heard of before. We climbed the 1,000 foot levy (well, it felt that tall to me) to see several acres of wetland, backed up by at least two small beaver dams. Come back in November and see all the ducks here, Tom invited.
The sun turned the sky red, orange, and purple as it dipped below the horizon, with the color combinations changing every few seconds. It seemed that the water itself caught fire. A dog and his best friend waded in the flaming shallow waters, and Canadian Geese paddled serenely. As we drove out of the park, I talked about coming back another time with my tripod to take photos of the Louisville skyline at night. Well, no time like the present, tripod or not, so we parked the car at Ashland Park, where all good photographers go for skylines at twilight. I never knew before that the upstream side of the McAlpine Dam has a large, lit sign that says DANGER. Sometimes boaters a little the worse for their day on the river, float down pasted the bridges, too close to the dam. I hope the sign is enough to get their attention.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Peregrine Falcons on the Ohio

We have had a pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting in the old Big Four Bridge on the Ohio for several years. The Big Four is a railroad bridge that goes nowhere, since the approaches on each side of the river were removed at least 20 years ago. Unlike other cities where the falcons nest in boxes on a skyscraper ledge, we do not have any sort of live cam to track the falcons. Sometimes you get lucky, though, and see them flying around downtown.
Occasionally, we get really lucky and see them flying over the Falls of the Ohio too. Saturday morning was the first time I've seen them this year. I had walked up near the dam, trying for some good shots of the herons and egrets in the shallow water. Suddenly, I heard a kakkak-ing noise and looked up under the railroad trestle. One falcon swooped overhead carrying something in its talons almost half as big as it was. Close behind was another bird, about the size of a crow, chasing it. In the rear was another falcon, trying to chase off the crow. Given the size and apparent weight of the prey, the lead falcon eventually had to drop the prey. It was just too much to carry and maneuver at the same time. The crow went away, and both falcons landed on the trestle to re-group. Finally, a chance for me to get some photos of them, since the ones I got during the flight were pretty blurry. One seems to have a more buff colored belly, while the other clearly has stripes on the belly. I don't know if this is gender related, but I suspect that one of them may have been a juvenile.
One of the other volunteers said he had seen two falcons the other day over the river. They were calling loudly back and forth, and one had something in its talons. At some point, the lead bird dropped its cargo and the second caught it mid-air. Falcons teach their young how to hunt by such practices, so I think this was the parent and fledgling playing catch with a small bird.
PS: I heard from Adam Smith with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife about our falcons. He confirmed that the buff breasted one was the adult, and they more striped breast belongs to a juvenile. He also said that the Big Four pair fledged four youngsters this year, but one of the is in rehab for a while, and should get well enough that he can be released. Good news!