Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Weekend at Bernheim Forest

My husband volunteers at Bernheim Forest and won a night at the lodge maintained for VIPs, so we took advantage of the offer last weekend. The 95 degree heat continued, and our hikes were less ambitious than they might otherwise have been. Sitting out by the lake in the evening, watching the stars come out, the airplanes overhead, and spotting bats, an owl, and the occasional shooting star across the sky, topped the weekend's activities. We talked about nothing and everything--something that married couples don't do very often.
Despite the heat and drought, we managed to spot a few firsts for our birding list. Bernheim "Forest" has a large prairie near the entrance, which was full of Field Sparrows. We've heard them before, but this is the first time we ever actually saw them. The grass bends down when the bird lands to eat the small seeds, but not too much since the birds are lightweights. This one posed and sang to confirm his identity. In a nearby tree along the edge of the prairie, a flash of bright yellow turned out to be a Prairie Warbler (I think) rather than a Gold Finch, although the Gold Finches were the most common bird we saw or heard all weekend.
Along Lake Nevin we found a Great Blue Heron just standing in the shallows preening himself. He should have moved to the shade though, because the heat made him pant. A juvenile Green Heron came by a little later. We brought the spotting scope out to really appreciate the Heron, but left the digiscoping adapter at home. We got some nice pictures of the inside of the scope, but nothing of the birds! A pair of grebes paddled along in the middle of the lake, then disappeared when they dove under the water. Barn Swallows swooped over the lake for bugs and a drink of water on the wing. The light bellied birds may have been Tree Swallows, or female Purple Martins. A group of Martin houses stand by the lake, but I wasn't sure if the birds we saw were Martins or not. The lake was down quite a bit, since it's been so dry all summer, and the edges were muddy, just the right spot for Killdeer.
The list for the dry, hot weekend includes:
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Killdeer
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Juvenile Green Heron
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Eastern Woods Peewee
  • Canadian Geese
  • Carolina Wren
  • Cardinal
  • Barn Swallows
  • Song Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Owl (unknown variety)
  • Gold Finch
  • Field Sparrow
  • Bats

We'll have another night at the lodge, I'm sure, when we can light a fire in the fireplace, toast marshmallows and listen to old records. This weekend, we were just glad the air conditioning worked!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Hazy, Hot and Humid - The Dog Days of Summer

The "Dog Days of Summer" come with the Kentucky State Fair, and I've always called it Fair Weather. We have conditions of 95 degrees in temperature, 95% humidity and Indiana disappears altogether in the haze and pollution when you try to look across the river. Now, schools start in mid-August, so children have to concentrate while sweating if they are in non-air conditioned buildings. We've always had this kind of weather in late summer, I suppose, but you notice it more when moving from A/C to non-A/C. I remember moving to the basement in the summer as much as possible when I was growing up. Even with air conditioning, my interest in outside activities lessens in this hot weather, thus the lack of entries in the blog in the last few weeks.
At the Falls of the Ohio, the Army Corps of Engineers closed down the gates in the dam in May this year, since there was not a steady supply of rain. The river depth at the gauge above the McAlpine Dam is about 12-12.5 feet now. The barge companies are complaining that they cannot put a full load on their barges due to the shallow depth of the water. Occasionally, the Corps will open the gates just a bit to flush out the stagnant water at the Falls, and all the birds appreciate it. Castellations cut in the dam allow water to flow into the ponds and marshes required by the birds and animals all year. Small springs feed puddles on the Lower Fossil Beds, and early in the morning ducks such as this female Wood Duck come to look for bugs and small aquatic life before the people and heat arrive.
As the water recedes, more rocks are exposed, covered with a layer of silt that proves attractive to many birds. Herons and Egrets leave their tracks in the mud. They take flight if you come too close to the mudflats and go sit in a tree in the shade - not a bad idea. Yesterday we saw two Ospreys on a branch overhanging one of the waterfalls, and then they moved to the shallows where they just sipped water and waded around. Either it was just too hot to fly and fish, or these were juveniles who have not perfected their fishing skills yet. I suspect the later. It was great to get them in the spotting scope and invite our visitors to watch them, since we don't see the Ospreys as often as the other birds.