Saturday, September 22, 2007

American Pelican

A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill can hold more than his beli-can. He can take in his beak Food enough for the week; But I'm damned if I see how the heli-can. Dixon Lanier Merritt

The first rule in birding is never say never when it comes to what a bird will do or where you might find it. At the Falls of the Ohio, we have seen Avocets, Willetts, Black Backed Gulls and now an American Pelican, none of whom belong in this area of the country. Usually, these visitors fly in while trying to outrun a storm in their home territory. I’m not sure where this Pelican came from. We hear regular reports of Pelicans in Western Kentucky, but so far we’ve only seen one at the Falls. According to the Peterson field guide, the American Pelican has a wingspan of 8.5 to 9 feet. I can see a resemblance to a Pterodactyl! I first saw it three weeks ago up by the railroad trestle. This afternoon, I went down to the George Rogers Clark cabin where people reported seeing it all day. At first, it was in the channel that feeds the power plant, too far away to take a picture. One might guess it to be a swan, given the color and shape of the back. But look at that bill - no swan has a bill like that. Then it spread its wings and flew over to our side of the river, just upstream from the cabin. What a photo op! It didn’t seem interested in fishing at one o’clock in the afternoon, but just swam about, then went back to the other side again. I was surprised at how quickly it swam from one side of the river to another. I always enjoy watching the Brown Pelicans along the beach. This one was from Chesapeake Bay, skimming close to the water’s surface. It’s especially great when a group fly in a line. How can any animal so large be so graceful?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Special Fun at the Falls of the Ohio

When the river is low and the fossils are fully exposed, we have many special activities at the Falls of the Ohio. Last year, it started raining in September and didn’t stop until May, so some of these events had to be cancelled. This summer has been exceptionally dry and the special events have been very successful. Paul Olliges and other volunteers led trips to the Outer Fossil Beds, taking hikers though the spillway under the dam, down along the wall, and back again, stopping to examine Devonian fossils along with way. Bet Etenohan, one of the park Nature Interpreters, had a good turnout for her canoe hike. A canoe hike combines canoeing upstream from the Clark Cabin boat ramp up to the Outer Fossil Beds, to pull the boats on the rocks and hike around exploring the fossil formations – thus a Canoe-Hike.
Rock the Rocks is the annual fundraiser dinner for the Falls Foundation. We invited some special friends this year and just went to enjoy the food, music and a beautiful evening on the river. God himself came to this sunset, and I took his picture. I always think that the sun’s rays stretching from the horizon to the skies are God’s own hand. Now I’m having trouble deciding which of these sunset pictures to share on this blog! The Festival vendors and speakers come from all over with rocks, minerals, and of course fossils of every shape and size. Geodes are very popular and you can find unopened geodes, or others that have been split and polished. The amethysts are exceptionally beautiful in the sunlight. Hanson’s Quarry brought in three loads of dirt this year – one of Waldron Shale from the Silurian period, one from the Devonian era, and one with minerals from a quarry in Illinois. Since fossil collecting in the park is prohibited, this gives everyone, young or old, the chance to dig in the dirt and find their very own fossil. It’s much more exciting to find one yourself even though the purchased fossil may be much prettier. One boy in particular was dedicated to both his dig and his “hard hat”, which kept sliding down in his face! As much as I enjoyed the beautiful rocks and fossils, the birds were beautiful too on this perfect autumn day. I started walking through the woods early to get a good start on the migrating birds, making pishing and kissing noises trying to attract them. The spider webs were much easier to find. A few warblers were curious, but landed in a tree directly above my head, as warblers do, giving me a stiff neck and effectively keeping their identities a secret. How are you supposed to tell what bird it is when all you see is belly and the underside of a tail? The predators were much more cooperative though. A Cooper’s Hawk swooped over my head and landed in a tree along the river. Both Ospreys were in the air at the same time, and a Peregrine Falcon flew by several times. An Osprey landed on a branch so the visitors could see it through the scope, a first for many. Another volunteer said he saw a Red Shouldered Hawk, and I had already seen a Red Tailed Hawk. Towards the end of the day we even saw an American Kestral. The American Pelican from two weeks ago didn’t show up, but it was a great birding day for raptors. I started calling it a hat trick – Osprey, Peregrine and Cooper’s – but don’t know what you could call a day with SIX different raptor species on the list other than OUTSTANDING!