Friday, September 24, 2010

Is it Autumn Yet?

The most enjoyable part of spending the night at Bernheim Forest is dawn and dark. We sat down by Mac's Lake, and the full moon was so bright we didn't need a flashlight to return to the lodge. When the sun started to rise we went for a pre-breakfast walk, just to enjoy the fresh light and cooler temperatures.
This summer has been dreadfully hot and dry. Two more record high temperatures were set while we were at Bernheim this week. The rainfall is 2 inches below normal for September and another 1.5 inches below normal for August. Have you ever noticed all the yellow flowers that bloom in the fall? Why are they all the same color? Tavia, my wildflower expert, says yellow attracts the butterflies and other pollinators. There are also ultraviolet colors in the flowers that we can't see, but the insects can.
Goldenrod is the state flower of Kentucky, and there are more than 30 species found here. Goldenrood pollen does not make you sneeze though. It's too heavy and sticky to blow in the wind. Ragweed is the primary source of allergies.
Trees are affected by the drought too. Walnut, sycamore, and tulip poplar normally lose their leaves earlier than other trees, but they also turn yellow before falling off. This year, I fear there may not be many colors for the fall festivals. As we walked down the trail, the dry blowing leaves sounded almost like rain as they tumbled to the ground.
When we hike in the country, I start to think about what life was like in the pioneer days, 200 years ago. I'm very much a city girl, I'm afraid, and I have trouble imagining what it would be like to live away from other people. Look at this picture of Harrison Fork, in Nelson County. You can see many small valleys that look like this - the stream is up against the side of the valley, and the rest is broad and available for raising a crop. The pioneers straightened the streams, removing the bends and meanders, to increase their acreage. This particular creek is down to bedrock, which is hard enough to be used as a road. In fact, it looks like wagon wheel tracks in several places. An endeavor like this must have taken a community effort to dig a channel, then move the stream and fill in the old bed. Now Bernheim has several projects to put the meanders back into the streams to improve wildlife habitat.
Nuts and berries are flourishing. This sawtooth oak was a real head scratcher, until we found a nametag on one of the trees.
Butterflies, beetles and bees don't seem too troubled by the dry weather. Dick took a net to practice catching butterflies, and they all seemed aged with drab colors and tears in their wings.
How many insects can you find on this thistle...
...or this wingstem? You won't see the chiggers, but they see you. I'm going to be scratching my ankles for another week at least!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall Birds at Bernheim

Dick and I spent the "weekstart" (the opposite of "weekend," of course, being Monday and Tuesday instead of Saturday and Sunday) at Bernheim Forest, our favorite nature place in the area. Dick spends so much time there volunteering, that we enjoy a chance to get out and explore for our own fun. Although birding wasn't the primary focus of our ramblings, I can't resist taking bird photos whenever the opportunity presents itself. Vultures are always good subjects when they fly slowly overhead. If you look carefully at this Vulture though, you can see that it looks as if it is being chased by a dragonfly! I love these serendipitous shots!
Bernheim is working on a project to restock the quail population on the property. They hatch the eggs, and feed them till they are ready for release. We ran across one of the workers on the project who let us take a look at them. Sometimes raccoons find the cage, and chase the babies around till the partner raccoon can grab it through the fence. Apparently they like to eat the heads.
Last weekend artists designed bird houses, which they hung along a trail. This is my favorite - a true sign of the times.
As the sun crept down, we spied this Green Heron perched on a rock in the shallow end of Lake Nevin. The profile of this heron is so distinctive, you don't have to have a close look to know what it is. The weather has been so dry here in Kentucky, that all the creeks and lakes levels are down quite a bit.
As I waited in the car for Dick to return the lodge key, I heard something singing sweetly in the branches above, and thought I better look for it. We had seen a Redstart flying through the branches, lots of LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs - otherwise unidentifiable to us), and scads of migrating Blue Jays. I hoped for a warbler I could get a good look at, and this time I lucked out. I think this is an immature Magnolia Warbler. (I later asked a good birder friend, who said she thought this was a Pine Warbler instead.)
What a sweet little thing it is! Yes, I'm stretching it a bit to call this a bird, but it is an Eastern Pond "Hawk," one of the hundreds of dragoflies hunting over the Great Prairie. I expect to see them around water, and am surprised to see them over dry land as often as we do.
Click on the photo for a larger version, and sit in awe of the delicacy and strength of these transparent window pane wings! They look like a work of art in glass to me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stormy Sunset

I can't resist storm clouds at sunset. The sun shining on the white top of a dark gray cloud is so beautiful. I have to pull the car over, and take some photos before the opportunity is gone!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Busy Weekend

My husband thinks I'm getting too busy. Sometimes at the end of the evening I agree with him, but I enjoy all of it. Here's an example of my weekend's activities.
Friday morning I arrived at Raptor Rehab around 7:00 am to get birds and go to a program in Georgetown, KY. The weather was wonderful, and the birds behaved themselves. The Scott County 6th graders enjoyed themselves, and so did we. When we arrived back at the center after lunch, John had a Great Horned Owl ready for me to release in Frankfort, KY, later that evening. About 25 parents and children from the school where the bird was tangled in a soccer net arrived to watch it being released. It posed regally for photos for a few minutes, then when it spied familiar woodlands, spread its wings, and I just let go. This was my first release, and very rewarding.
Saturday morning, the Beckham Bird Club met for Breakfast with the Birds. You guessed it - a great picnic breakfast followed by birding on the Anchorage Trail. The weather called for a 60% chance of rain, which did not deter us in the least, but the light was pretty bad. Also, I've been having trouble with my vision lately, and kept getting floaters in front of the warblers through my binoculars. Wild flowers are larger and hold still, though, so I took lots of photos. Our garden is mostly finished blooming, so we are looking for some fall flowers to add for next year.
I know Hummingbirds like red things, but they also love the orange jewelweed that flourishes along the creek, and we saw many of them.
As we neared the lake, we heard the familiar chitter of the Belted Kingfisher, who perched atop the Wood Duck box on the other side of the lake. The water is very shallow, and we kept watching a still, blue colored object. Is it a rock? Some piece of debris? A turtle reflecting the dull sunlight? I guessed a Green Heron, and when it finally moved, that's what it was, and everyone applauded!
The more we walked, the more beautiful fall flowers I found along the trail.
In the middle of the hike, someone's phone rang. A Say's Phoebe had been sighted on the farm of one of our members. Well, Say's Phoebes don't show up very much in Kentucky. We saw them when we were in Arizona. Everyone got excited, and about half the group ran for their cars to see this rarity. The other half finished our hike, finding an Olive Sided Flycatcher, also a very good bird for this area. Then we drove to take a look at the Phoebe! By now, I would have expected Brainard's cows to be accustomed to birders coming into its pasture....

In the evening, I went to the Falls of the Ohio for Rock the Rocks, our annual fundraiser. All chance of rain ceased by the time we began, and the crescent moon and Venus looked spectacular through a birding scope. Sunday afternoon, I'm going back to the Falls to lead a fossil hike, and I'm trying to get hold of someone about releasing a Barred Owl. Do you think I'm too busy?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

International Vulture Awareness Day 2010

Evidence of Vulture awareness: "I never knew they are so beautiful." Music to our ears!