Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Life and Everything...

Welcome to the World, Kittrick Alan Carson!
Born Sept. 25, 2011 at 5:52 am.
Weight: 7 lb. 15 oz. Length 20 in.
Proud parents, Brian and Mary Beth...

Grandparents, Dick and Kathy.

He's not too excited, is he?

Brian is 6 feet tall, and his dad was 6' 7", so Kit may grow into those long legs!
Now the adventure begins!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Falls of the Ohio Updates

I have volunteered at the Falls of the Ohio State Park for eight years, and love it. The park is not large as parks go, but there is always something new to be seen outside along the river.

The Interpretive Center at the Falls of the Ohio State Park opened in 1995, surviving a major flood only two years later when it became an island for a while, but the inside has not been updated since that time. School children remember the rotunda as the home of a mastodon skeleton and prehistoric fish.

Click on photo for a larger version
As an Indiana state park, there isn't a lot of money for building improvements, but the Falls of the Ohio Foundation is there to save the day. Their Crossroads Campaign is raising money to entirely re-vamp and update the exhibits inside the building to be more interactive. The first step is to re-design the rotunda making it more open.  Many of the creatures that used to take up the center have been moved to other locations, and the mastodon is now the entrance to the auditorium.
Glass sculptures hang from the ceiling, and the introductory movie is being revised. The new exhibit design will replace current exhibits with state-of-the-art immersive experiences emphasizing four key themes of the region’s scientific, cultural, and natural history, and strengthen the connection between the Interpretive Center and the outside fossil beds.
The entrance to the Interpretive Center has always been at the front of the building, facing the road. But the parking lot is in the rear, and visitors grumble a bit at having to walk all the way around the building to reach the entrance (especially when they just need the restrooms really fast).  Part of the renovation will move the entrance closer to the parking lot. Given time and money, it will be exciting to watch the developments come to life.

Of course getting there is more of a challenge than it was a few weeks ago.  Louisville has three bridges crossing the river - two are for the major interstates, and the third is more for local traffic only. The bridge for I-64 going into New Albany has been closed indefinitely due to major cracks in the structure built in 1962. The newspaper article quoted one of the inspectors as saying he wouldn't let his family drive across it!  Proposals to build a new bridge, or bridges, at Louisville have been kicked around for about 20 years, without any success.

 The I-65 bridge took years just to re-paint and cost more than the original construction. So now all the traffic on two major interstates must be routed across that one bridge, and rush hour is taking over two hours for commuters. But at least no one ended up falling into the river on a collapsing bridge. We did a raptor program at the park near the Kennedy Bridge, and inspectors were walking across the top to make sure it can handle the extra load.  You couldn't pay me enough money to do that!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Ecuadoran Hummers

Cotopaxi Volcano
After seven wonderful days in the Galapagos, we stood in lines at the airports, and suffered through two different flight changes before arriving back in Quito, Ecuador. After one day of touring the city, we headed out of town to Guango Lodge on the other side of the mountains for some hummingbird viewing.  The weather was unusually clear, and we got great views of Cotopaxi Volcano. The guide told us there are 65 volcanoes in Ecuador, and 32 of them are active. I was surprised that so many of the buildings in Quito seemed to be made of simple cement blocks. When the big quake comes, there may not be many buildings left standing.
Driving at Risk
Of course, actually reaching the Lodge was a risky undertaking. The roads leading through the mountains wind up, down and almost in circles. The pass was about 13,500 feet above sea level, with chill winds making us wish we had warmer jackets on. The roads are in good condition, but only two lanes, not surprising considering the height of the mountains. When the grade steepened trucks and buses such as our own slowed down, but the cars were impatient. Despite the double yellow lines, and inability to see around the next corner, no one seemed deterred by ther danger. They just stepped on the gas and roared passed us. Actually, we did so ourselves one time when stuck behind a truck filled with cement blocks proceeding at about 5 mph! 
Collared Inca Hummingbird
The birds were worth it though! Kevin saw 37 species in all, including hummingbirds and others, but I didn't see half that many. Of course, hummigbirds fly really fast, as you know, and it was hard to find/identify them in the shadows. This black and white bird was probably the most common, a Collared Inca. Several species had white feathers around their eyes, making them look like big eyes from an Egyptian tomb. After a sip at the nectar, the little birds smack their beaks - or so it appears when their tongues dart in and out.

Chestnut-breasted Coronet
This Chestnut-breasted Coronet claimed one particular branch as his own. After sipping at the feeder, or chasing the other birds away, he returned to the same branch all day, basking in the sun, and watching to see what we were doing.

Buff-winged Starfontlet
The Buff-winged Starfrontlet was another aggressive bird, chasing the others away from the feeders.

Long-tailed Sylph
One of my favorites was this Long-tailed Sylph - just look at that tail!

Long-tailed Sylph
And his face glowed in irridescent green. You'd think he'd have trouble flying so fast with such a long tail.

Sword-billed Hummingbird
On the other hand, we wondered how in the world this Sword-billed Hummingbird got anything to drink at all from the feeders, given his long, long bill. The book says this is an uncommon bird. He can't land at the feeder...
Sword-billed Hummingbird
...and after feeding, he back away, then tips his bill up to make sure it all slides down. And, no, we didn't see any of them fighting duels with their bills!

Rio Guango
The Rio Guango rampages down from the heights, and believe it or not, some people kayak on it.  The problem is that there aren't any calm places to take a break after paddling for a long time.
Torrent Duck Female
Torent Duck Male
Who would expect to find ducks in a river like this? How about the aptly named Torrent Duck? They actually swam upstream against the torrent!  We felt like these ducks the next day, fighting upstream with immigration, customs and security at both the Quito and Houston airports the next day. Although we really thought we would miss our flight in Houston, we made it with seconds to spare, and arrived home safely. So this should be the end of the posts for our big trip. Adios South America!