Monday, August 30, 2010

On the Wing

Have you ever heard of a canoe hike? A what, you ask? In a canoe hike, you canoe or kayak for a while, on the Ohio River in this instance, then pull ashore to go hiking, specifically for fossils.
In August, the Army Corps of Engineers closes all gates on the dam, and the water is lower than it gets any other time of the year. I often wonder how these trees at the river's edge survive at all, since the soil washes away, leaving only roots.
My job on Saturday morning, was to take pictures of the boaters. However, I got more involved with photos of the birds flying overhead! Fancy that! Our Osprey pair fledged several young this year, although I don't know how many. One of them flew over as I awaited the canoes and kayaks.
Double Crested Cormorants are common residents on the river. In the water all you see are their snake-like heads. Come fall migration, we will count 500-700 of them at a time sitting on the wall of McAlpine Dam.
This one flapped a while on the water as the canoe neared, then took off. They have to get a running start to actually lift off the water. Canada Geese are gathering in flocks to feed at the river, and they take off with their usual chatter.
My favorite soaring birds, however, are the vultures. They sit on the bare rocks during the morning, cleaning up any fish washed ashore. By 11:30, the sun has warmed the rocks enough to create thermals, and all the vultures take off at one time. When I enlarged this Vulture photo, I found another bird flying above it. Click to enlarge it. I feel pretty certain from the silhouette, that this is one of our Peregrine Falcons. What a lucky shot! You can't shoot photos and count at the same time, but there must have been at least 75 birds lifting off for the day.
The swoop and soar, and manage to not run into each other as they ascend the thermal.
I confidently told another volunteer at the Falls that these were all Black Vultures, since we saw black heads and white at the wing tips. I wondered where the Turkey Vultures were. On closer examination, though, I think some of them were juvenile Turkey Vultures. They also have black heads, but their tails are longer. Still no adults though...
When I played with the lighting in Photoshop, I also saw silver along the trailing wing edges. So I could be wrong about any individual vulture here. This Saturday, September 4, is International Vulture Awareness Day. Last year I made a special post for Vulture Day, but this may be it for this year. Raptor Rehab will be taking some Turkey Vultures to the Falls for Vulture Day, so I will participating in a new way this year! A young Red Tailed Hawk has taken up residence at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, and soared over the mansion this morning, searching the fields for breakfast.
His tail has not developed the red coloring characteristic of the adult yet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Butterflies Galore

Variegated Fritillary
This Saturday will be the second annual Butterfly Open House at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, and what a difference a year makes! Last year, Tavia and I chased through a field, trying unsuccessfully to catch some butterflies for the event. The children had better luck, but we still only had a small number. This year, we won't really need to catch butterflies to put in the netted pavilion at all. We can just walk out to two different butterfly gardens, and see dozens of them at once!

Red Spotted Purple

In the cool morning (the first "cool" anything we've had for weeks), I walked down Mahan Lane, the main trail, startled when clouds of butterflies rose around my feet. In delight, I noticed that they were feeding on the wild cherries lying on the ground rotting. Wild cherry is the host plant for the Red Spotted Purple butterfly, and I understand why so many were around.


After taking pictures, I decided to put them into a Flash file for the Creasey Mahan website. Enjoy!

Tawny Emperor
The field guide I used described the Emperors, both Tawny and Hackberry, as "pugnacious," an odd adjective for butterflies, I thought. They aren't afraid of people, and don't hesitate to land on us looking for minerals on our skin. I think they laugh when they tickle us while walking around.

Red Admiral - top

Many butterflies close their wings when they land, so it can be difficult to identify them from the bottoms only, let alone get a good photo. The wing bottoms usually bear little or no resemblance to the tops, and not all field guides give pictures of both.

Red Admiral - bottom Eastern Comma - top Eastern Comma - bottom
Common Buckeye - top
Common Buckeye - bottom
I wonder why there seem to be so many more butterflies this year than previous years. Something about the hot weather? More butterfly gardens? Simply being more aware of them, now that I'm in the nature business? Whatever the reason, they are absolutely gorgeous!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Peregrine Falcon Release

I've volunteered at Raptor Rehab of Kentucky, Inc. for a little over a year now. This is the first time I've attended a release, and it was a real thrill. This is Pe Fa 113 (Pe Fa is short for Peregrine Falcon, of course.) She was found near a restaurant on the Ohio River in June, and brought to us for rehabilitation. The same pair of Falcons have nested on the Big Four Bridge across the river for quite a few years. If a bird falls out of the nest, there is nothing beneath but water. We treated her, and put her in a flight cage to build up her wing strength. She even got live pigeons for food sometime so we were sure she knew how to catch her prey. Now she is on the way to the Kenneth Coleman Station - a Big Rivers Electric power station near Hawesville, KY, about an hour and a half downstream from Louisville. Kate Heyden, Avian Biologist for the Ky. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, will be there to band the bird, and complete the release. Fish and Wildlife is placing nesting boxes in various locations around the state to either attract wild birds, or place Falcons from rehabilitation. Since this is a juvenile Falcon, she doesn't have a territory of her own to return to, making her a prime candidate for this new box.
I was pleased to see the interest shown by the plant employees. Many of them joined us for the banding, and then followed us out into the blistering heat to watch what she did when released. She is a high energy bird, and wanted to fly off as soon as John Wicker (RROKI co-director) removed her from the travel crate.
Kate explained the banding process. This Falcon's information will be entered in a database, accessible should she be caught in the future.
John held the bird firmly while Kate applied loose bands on both legs....
...but she let us know in no uncertain terms what she thought about it.
John took her around for all the plant personnel to see up close. Believe me, I was not the only person clicking away in that room! This will be "their" falcon, and everyone wanted to take a good look.
In order to keep her calm while she was transferred to the box, Kate put a falconer's hood on her....
...but she wiggled out of it in no time at all, then turned to glare up and bite Kate's Visitor's tag to express her displeasure.
When you look at some of the Falcon cams, you find nesting boxes installed on the roof of a tall building. This time, the nest box is installed in the side of a tall building, to re-produce the cliff ambiance, safe from both above and below, accessible only by wing. Of course, there is a door inside the building to the box, so future banders don't have to ride up in a crane to band chicks born there. Luckily, we did not have to climb up several stories with Kate, and moved around to the other side for a better view.
Here is the building from where we stood...not close at all, but at least we found a spot in some shade! Look at the top of the blue building, on the right side and you can see a small something sticking out of the wall. That is the entrance to the box, with perches for convenience. We waited, and sweated, and tried to keep focused on that small box, waay up there. Be ready, we said. When that door opens, she'll shoot out of there so fast, there will only be one chance for a photo.
Well, the door opened, and she came out to sit on the perch, looking around to see what's going on. Anything above? She seemed very interested in the sky, but did not see the Kestrel flying on the other side of the same building.
OK, the wings are stretching. Get ready now!
Here it comes! She's going to fly! Click on the photo to enlarge it, and you can see the bands on her legs. But after a good stretch, she remembered that Kate left a nice fat quail in the box, and decided to go back in for lunch. We stood there for a while, and finally decided it was time for our lunch too. While we were a little disappointed not to see her flying, it was a good sign that she felt comfortable enough to eat. I'm sure she took an aerial tour of the plant after a little after lunch nap! Good Luck to you, Pe Fa 113.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Life in the Raw

Saturday afternoon we visited some friends who own 140+ acres in nearby Shelby County, KY. Portia is a natural plant landscaper, and President of the local chapter of Wild Ones, while her husband is part of the Louisville Metro Parks system- both real nature professionals. Although they reside in a house in town, they live at this property, and I can certainly see why. They have planted much of it in native grasses and wildflowers, along with frog ponds and wetlands. The rest is moist forest, perfect habitat for Barred Owls and Red Shouldered Hawks. We walked and drove around for hours having a wonderful time. Portia blithely rattled off the Latin names for every plant we passed, and I couldn't remember even half of the English versions I pressed her for, but she was patient with me nonetheless.
Insects, of course, play a vital part in this ecology, with bees, dragonflies and butterflies of many varieties flitting about. The bees are particularly hard workers, as evidenced by the gigantic pollen saddlebags on this guy, err girl.
Jerry mentioned something about giant bee killing insects, when we came upon this dramatic scene. Since this predator was concentrating on dinner, it paid us no attention. The meal wiggled her legs a bit, but had no chance of escape. I'm glad I couldn't hear her screaming.
I looked for this insect under wasps or hornets with no luck. Tavia thought it might be a fly instead, and we found the ID there -- a Robber Fly (efferia). It's about 2" long, and definitely a killer. I don't know what robbery might have been going on here, but it changed into felony murder, if not premeditated murder pretty quickly. Today Portia emailed me, "Sunday morning we discovered a mating pair right where we had set up to work on the roof; still attached they flew away just long enough for Jerry to ascend their special rung on the ladder. Later in the day we discovered a single bee killer/robber fly on the sidewalk a few feet away. A group of ants were devouring the fly for dinner. So I guess what goes around comes around again."
Even when the sun set peacefully, we knew that Nature would proceed during the night as it had all day long, with each creature finding and consuming the food it needed. Life in the raw...
It's Tuesday, and I spent the day at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, as usual. We needed some new photos, so I hiked around for about and hour and a half. I saw a bird atop one of the Bluebird boxes, and from a distance thought it was a fledgling Bluebird. As I approached, it turned out to be an adult male Bluebird that was BALD! I've seen this condition in other wild birds, and heard that it was feather mites. Poor guy! I hope he can make it till winter and the mites will die then. I am concerned though, since there are newly hatched babies in this box. Katdoc sent this link to an article by Bill Hilton about bird mites like this.
Tavia replanted a big meadow with native flowers and grasses last year, but evil Johnson Grass has taken over much of the area. She mowed it all down again, and may have to reseed. One flower variety is new to me though, and I hope it survives. This is a Passion Flower. Not like True Love, but as in religious Passion. To the priests traveling with Spanish Conquistadors, the 3 styles and stigmas in the center represented nails, the 5 stamens beneath them were Christ's wounds, the fringe was the crown of thorns, and the 10 petals and sepals behind the fringe were the apostles, except for Judas and Peter.** Whew! That's a lot to read into one flower!
It is a vine, and host plant for the Gulf and Variegated Fritillary butterflies. Medicinal use of this herb began in the late 19th century in the United States, especially for treatment of anxiety resulting from mental worry or overwork. I'd say many people need to grow this one in their gardens! The fruit is edible, Tavia says, but this one isn't ripe yet. It's not what you know, it's who you know!

**Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians, co-authored by Tavia Cathcart. It's so fun know a real author!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Women Imaging Women

Our friend Debra Lott, the Artist, opened her new exhibit this weekend at Pyro Gallery on historic West Market Street, in Louisville, Kentucky. We always enjoy her work, which provokes feelings on my part, as well as thought. The first exhibit we saw is shared in my Viewpoint posting. Her canvases are 72 inches tall (that's 6 feet) and you gain a different perspective by moving closer and farther away.
In this exhibit called "Women Imaging Women," Debbie focuses on mothers and daughters, including a series of paintings called "Dreams of My Daughter," a visual interpretation of her daughter's graphic descriptions of lucid dreams. I don't remember ever discussing my dreams with my mother, but Debbie does a wonderful job understanding her daughter. In this one, her daughter has the common dream about falling or flying, which everyone has from time to time.
In "Deep Sea Dreams," exotic fish swim in and out of reality, forming the pillow and sheets of the dreamer. Click on the picture to enlarge it a bit. Can you see the fish?
My favorite is one called "Blue Heron Dreams," where once again Great Blue Herons can be found surrounding the dreamer if you look just right. Here is the full image...
...followed by a focus on the girl's head...
...with a closeup of the Heron in the sheets. In this piece, Debbie says, the Herons indicate disappointment, worry and nagging problems. These creatures point to situations that the dreamer refuses to confront, and those that are causing fear and insecurity. Movie makers commonly make dream scenes, all blurry and moving, but Debbie worked harder, I think, to capture a moving dream on canvas. Wow, sounds like she studied more than art in school! explains her views on her art in a terrific video. Check it out!
Another artist at the exhibit is Betty Levy, who works with fabric. She followed the genealogy of 100 women in her family back to 1840, free stitching their names on antique linen handkerchiefs, then arranging them on the wall as a family tree. Her family came from Poland and Lithuania, so she sometimes had trouble finding the names, and embroidered those handkerchiefs as "Unknown Glazer" for one branch of the tree.
Betty shared her thoughts about this work with us, and I was truly moved. Thanks to Debbie and Betty for sharing themselves with all of us through this exhibit. It would be a frightening thing to put your feelings out for everyone to look at in a gallery.

I sometimes think about how little I know about my own family and background. My father was involved with his family genealogy, and we teased him that he had 200 years of dead relatives in his computer. But I was never really interested in too many of the details, which disappointed him. One set of my grandparents came from Vanceburg, KY, but I couldn't tell you anything more than that about them, even though I spent a week or two with them every summer as a child. James Michener is one of my favorite authors, and the continuity he draws for a family or region always strikes me. What will my grandchildren learn about us, when they are born? I've done nothing famous, or even particularly interesting. This area of the Ohio River Valley was so pivotal to the development of the entire country, yet the personal details are mostly hidden or forgotten. I would like to work with a historian on the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve property. Even though I'm not related to any of the people, I would like to have some connection to their stories. Is this a sign that I'm getting old?