Monday, August 14, 2017

Canoeing on Beargrass Creek

Beargrass Creek is the watershed for most of Jefferson County, Kentucky. It has a long and discouraging history if you are an environmentalist. Originally, it flowed into the Ohio River at 4th Street in downtown Louisville. In the early 1800's an outbreak of malaria caused the city fathers to drain all the small ponds and swampy areas, as well as moving several miles of the creek so it  flowed into the Ohio River from what is now known as the Butchertown area. In the rapidly growing city of the 1800's, sewage disposal was always an issue - what to do with it and how to pay for that disposal. Slaughterhouses along the creek dumped their offal directly into the creek, so bodies and blood floated and stank. A distillery caught fire and the creek burned with floating whiskey for 10 days. Looks like the same issues we have today. Yesterday, the Louisville Audubon Society sponsored a canoe trip on Beargrass Creek with David Wicks, a local educator, paddler and activist who has made Beargrass Creek something of a pet project. We rode in a big voyager canoe from the police station in Waterfront Park upstream to Beargrass Creek.
The Ohio River is a liquid highway through this part of the country. It was the easiest way for settlers to reach the west, and provided transport for commerce of all kinds for over 200 years now. The US Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the river, controlling it through a series of 21 locks and dams to keep the navigation channel at the proper depth.
As we turned into the creek entrance, we watched the Great Egrets fishing in the shallows. Human fishermen sat along the banks fishing as well. At one point, David informed us, Beargrass Creek had been declared a "dead" waterway due to all the pollution, so he says it is improved a lot since then.
I asked if all the trash was coming downstream or had floated up from the river and he said it was coming downstream. Can we reach out and remove some of it? No, it takes special equipment (gloves, etc) because of the poor water quality.

Although we paddled in mid-afternoon, we did see some birds - the Egrets, several Black-crowned Night Herons, ducks, and Barn Swallows. David said there were more birds in the cool of the morning.
Cliff Swallows had built their nests under the I-71 bridge. The Muddy Fork was straightened when they put in the Interstate because it was in the way. In many places, the creek in channelized in concrete banks to keep it from eroding and meandering.
 David says there are "bank beavers" in the creek, that don't build dams. I just saw a rat scampering along.
When the river floods, water can back up into the creek of course. MSD built a pumping station with gates to block the flow from the river at those times. Then as the creek builds up from the rain, they pump it over the flood wall, and back into the river. I understand that MSD (Metropolitan Sewer District) has a big problem and not enough funds to deal with it. Over time, they have been short-sighted, and we are paying the price now. When the storm sewers can't handle the rain, it flows directly into the creek, with raw sewage and anything else that washes into the drains from the street. It wasn't flooding for our trip, of course, and David wasn't sure why the gates were closed, preventing us from going any further upstream.
We got out to look around, and saw the next big problem. The city impound lot is right next door, and gasoline and oil leak out of the vehicles directly into the creek. There is a move to put the impound lot somewhere else and let the new Bontanica Garden have this property. The creek banks were also used as a dumping ground for tons of concrete slabs when the Belevedere was removed along the river downtown.

David Wicks has retired from teaching, but is dedicating his life to these waterways. You can learn more about his efforts at . You may become as engrossed with the issues as he is.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why Bird Again?

Barn Swallow
Why do birders continue to go out in all sorts of weather, spending all sorts of money, and traveling all sorts of miles sometimes, just to look at birds they have probably seen before? Some birders have done this for many, many years. Why do they continue looking for birds they already know? Think about it...why does anyone do something over and over again?
Gold Finch
I started photographing birds at the same time we started to watch them. I wanted to be able recall what I'd seen, or just prove that I actually had seen it at all!
Green Heron
For familiar birds, I am always looking for a better, clearer photo than one I got a few years ago. As an amateur, this is an ongoing struggle. I refuse to carry one of those cameras that take expensive accessories and weigh many pounds. Mine is a point and shoot that I leave on automatic most of the time. I am a serendipitous photographer, just grateful to get a new photo based on luck and persistence.
Black-throated Blue Warbler
We have been birding for about ten years, and there are still many kinds of birds we haven't found yet. We only keep a "life" list, while other birders keep separate lists for each year and every location they ever bird. Our life total is 572, including those found in the Galapagos and Costa Rica, and also including 5 new birds found on this trip to Magee Marsh. We struggle with finding and identifying warblers, sparrows, and shore birds, but are pretty good with ducks and woodpeckers.
Rusty Blackbird
My friends were amazed that we had never found a Rusty Blackbird before. Now that we found it here, and someone else positively identified it, we learned that it looks like a Grackle with a short tail. Maybe we did see it before and didn't know it. Education is ongoing.
Wilson's Phalarope
When there are large gatherings of birders like this, you learn to stop whenever there is a crowd and ask what they are looking at. Somebody in the group is probably very good at this, and will help you find a new bird. They even share views in their scopes. The female Wilson's Phalarope is brighter colored than the male and we would never have found it on our own. Now we need to learn how to work our own scope better!
Snowy Egret
You learn not to assume that every white bird here is a Great Egret. We found a Snowy Egret along the road, and I never expected to see this southern bird so far north. I'll have to check his range again. Sometimes a bird that you think is just another Turkey Vulture ends up being a Bald Eagle. Birders are optimists if nothing else!
Baltimore Oriole fanning tail
There's always new behavior to observe. At times, the behavior and habitat give better clues on ID than anything else.
Black and White Warbler
Then there's the matter of self-discipline. Just because that little bird is hard to find, don't let it stop you. Try, try again!
Black-throated Green Warbler
If nothing else, you can get a good laugh wondering how in the world some birds got their names. I don't see any green in this bird!
Blackburnian Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
White-crowned Sparrow
You learn by observing familiar birds in new environments or seasons. The White-crowned Sparrow comes to Kentucky to spend the winter, so I never hear him sing, but they sing all the time in Ohio in the spring.
We see Dunlins in Florida, but always in the winter. Now I find they have a beautiful black belly as their breeding plumage. This is such fun! There is always something to learn!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Migration Time in Ohio

Red-winged Blackbird
When it's May in Louisville, everyone's thoughts turn to horse racing and mint juleps. This year, it rained for three solid days during Derby Week, and I was glad to stay home and ignore the entire event.
Red-winged Blackbird female
However, in the world of birding, all eyes turn to the birder's Mecca, Magee Marsh in Northwestern Ohio on Lake Erie.  This is the shortest distance across the Great Lakes to Canada for birds migrating  northward to nest. If the weather is bad, they all hunker down in the many parks and nature preserves, eating bugs and getting ready for the flight across Lake Erie.
Common Yellowthroat
Birders migrate in from all over the United States as well, on the lookout for their favorite warblers in particular. Dick and I drove almost 5 and a half hours through pouring rain, and waiting to get around accidents in Cincinnati. We used the time to bone up on our bird calls, especially some of the warblers. They are especially difficult, in my mind, since they are small, hop around ALL the time, and mostly seem to stay directly overhead, resulting in "warbler neck" for the birder below. Another birder found some Nashville Warblers and a Blackburnian, so I got good looks at them, but no photos.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak male and female with Red-winged Blackbird
When we arrived in Oregon, OH, our hotel room wasn't ready, so we went down to Maumee Bay State Park, headquarters for the Biggest Week in Birding! The park has a boardwalk through a large marshy area. Altogether, we saw and heard 30 species today.
 Of course, not everything you see will have feathers. This little raccoon hid in a hollow tree.
Eastern Screech Owl
The park provides nesting boxes for owls, swallows, wood ducks, and anything else that wants to move in to one. This little red Screech Owl hid behind some leaves for a snooze, knowing that nothing would be able to find him behind the leaves.
Blue Jay
We are meeting Dick's sister and her new boyfriend who is a birder. They haven't been to Magee Marsh yet, and it's been several years since we last came. Lots of great birds to find in the next couple of days!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Not a Bird

When I think of the tropics, birds come first to mind, of course. But I expect to see  many other kinds of animals as well. People come to Costa Rica to see sloths and monkeys, for example. We didn't have too much luck finding exotic animals this trip. Perhaps they live in other parts of the country we didn't visit.
 We did see some nice butterflies... orange bee...
 ...and a Giant Schnauzer that loved chasing Glenn's laser pointer light.
 Not sure what kind of lizard this is, but it certainly blends in well with the rock wall where we found it sunbathing one morning.
 This basilisk was really impressive though. Must have been at least 2 feet long, with an impressive frill or sail all the way down its back.

Squirrels and this single white-nosed coati were the only mammals we found, other than the dog of course. We were starting to count cows and horses just to say we'd seen some mammals.
Walking across the yard at Rancho Naturalista, we found trails of bare dirt, 1 - 2 inches wide. Stand around for a while and you would find leaf cutter ants on their super highway. The cut the leaves from plants, then take them back to huge underground nests to feed them to the aphids they farm. It was just like National Geographic!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Costa Rican Water Birds

Great Egret
One day, we drove to a nearby university which had a large lake on the campus. A lake was filled with both familiar and unfamiliar water birds. Nesting was the activity of the day!
Cattle Egret
Breeding plumage was displayed for all to admire, and admire it we did!
Cattle Egret Rookery
What in the world are all those white spots in that big bamboo overhanging the lake?
Cattle Egret Nests
Oh yes! The Cattle Egrets don't care about personal space when they are nesting. I guess there is safety in numbers.
Anhinga and chicks
The Anhinga chicks are large enough to be very demanding. Feed us NOW! They look about ready to fall right out of the nest.
Jacana and chicks
The Northern Jacana chicks are precocial and ready to walk around looking for food soon after hatching.
I love their long toes that allow them to walk on the lily pads.
When they come in for a landing, they have yellow wings and an extra "finger" extending from their wrists. This was way across the lake, sorry it's not closer.
Purple Gallinule
The Purple Gallinule which we just saw in Florida, pulls up the edge of a lily pad and holds it down with his long toes while searching the underside for edibles.
Boat-billed Heron
I thought this was a Black-crowned Night Heron at first. Then Glenn told us to look at the beak. Not sure what advantage this large thick beak gives him.
Torrent Tyranulets
The American Dippers swim in the raging mountain streams, just like they do in Colorado. But these little Torrent Tyranulets are flycatchers, living in the highlands of Costa Rica. Instead of perching on a twig, they do their flycatching from a big rock in the stream.
Sun Bittern
We walked down a long and muddy road looking for a Sun Bittern along the rocks. We tracked it along the rocks for a while, but did not see it displaying.
According to Cornell's website, the spectacular frontal display of the Sun bittern has been documented only in threat and defensive situations, with little evidence supporting any role in courtship behavior The defensive role of this display also is supported by the fact that the colorful wing patterns are obtained by both sexes with no intermediate plumage types, as well as by the fact that young Sun bitterns begin practicing the display at an early age.
Amazon Kingfisher
The Amazon Kingfisher has an extra long and heavy bill, but seems to behave just like the ones we know here at home.