Sunday, April 17, 2011

Up and Down, and All Around

Shivering in the 40 degree temperature on our final morning at Carter Caves State Park, we joined Evelyn Morgan on a bird hike. Only a few of the roads along the ridge tops are even close to flat, so we hiked down to the stream, then up again to another ridge.  It's strenuous, but beautiful.  All the streams emerge from caves, or another small opening in the sandstone cliffs, then run down the hillside eroding smooth paths from layer to layer in the rocks, growing larger as they are joined by smaller streamlets on the way down. The high muddy levels from yesterday had all gone down, so we enjoyed clear water again. 
After you follow the stream bed for a while, enjoying the splashing sound as it leaps from one rock to another, suddenly the splashing grows louder, as the water swirls around and dives underground! Sometime it seems to sink right down, but in one spot, the water circled around like bathwater in a tub before disappearing! We climbed a steep ridge, then down the other side, and guess what -- the same stream emerged again. The water has an easier time, I suppose, since it only has to go down, and never climb up again!
When you get out of breath from climbing those hills, you can always stop for a little bird watching, and no one will notice the huffing and puffing as everyone scans the trees for that elusive warbler singing just above you!  Today, we focused on the woodpeckers.  Loud drumming on a nearby tree sounded like Pileated, but when we saw one fly across the trail, calling "wacka-wacka," our guess was confirmed.  We saw the pair of Pileated inspect the nest hole in a tree, then climb right in.
The Red Headed Woodpeckers chased each other all through the woods, calling loudly.  I've always wondered why most of the woodpeckers are colored black, red and white in some combination. Think about it...
As we entered the steep valley on the Horn Hollow Trail, it reminded me of our trip to the Pacific Northwest. It seemed to be a mature forest, with lots of dead trees laying on the ground, slowly decaying.  Moss and ferns covered the trees, and other plants got a start in the moss, just like the nursery trees in Olympic National Park.

The moss was ready to produce spores, just as the flowering plants are reproducing, but moss grows its own little forest on top of a log!

Then the trail turned up the hill for the longest, steepest climb of the day.  Moisture stayed in the valley, and sandstone sparkled in the sun, but very few flowers bloomed in the dry upland conditions.  Signs at every sinkhole advised visitors that special permits were required to enter these caves.  In fact, many caves in Kentucky will be closing soon because the White-nose Bat disease is now officially found in Kentucky, along with all the other states nearby.  This fungus infects hibernating bats, and some caves have had almost 100 percent fatalities, so everyone is very concerned. On the uplands, the sandstone is worn to this lattice like appearance, but I couldn't guess if it was done solely by wind, or if water used to flow here.  Can you picture little bats peering through these windows in bat condos?

1 comment:

Jen said...

Ooh I love that woodpecker shot... Never seen one of those guys before. I do wonder why that color combo...