Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mammoth Cave National Park for All

Mammoth Cave Formations
When I think of National Parks, I normally imagine driving to another state, such as Wyoming or Montana. That's where you find National Parks - far, far, away. But Mammoth Cave is right here in Kentucky, less than a 2 hour drive from Louisville, and we tend to overlook it. And caves, right? You go in the hot weather to enjoy the cool cave tours.

Foamflower, Delphinium and Phlox

Even without the world's longest cave system, the above-ground land encompassing Mammoth Cave National Park would merit its National Park status due simply to its extraordinary density – and diversity – of plant life. While the acknowledged "showcase of vegetation" within the Park Service, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has approximately 1,500 flowering species in its more than 500,000 acres, Mammoth Cave National Park supports more than 1,300 species in only one-tenth of that acreage.

Accessible overlook ramp- Echo Spring

Caves and sinkholes are really only accessible to healthy people, able to climb. Folks in wheelchairs, crutches, or just with balance issues, don't dare go to many places at Mammoth Cave. Now, however, the parks people have been working to improve the Handicapped Accessible trails. Echo Spring Trail, for example, has been paved and large size porta-potties installed. Overlooks on the trail have been re-constructed to add clear panels, so people in wheelchairs can take pictures without trying to peer between parts of the fence. The trail has been completed to make a full loop, but the signs are a bit in arrears, so don't pay much attention to them. If you visit at the right times, you can find wild flowers and migrating birds in this valley as well. Since I have lost my balance somewhere, we walked the Heritrage Trail, near the Visitor Center, and down the steep hill to the Green River Ferry and Echo Spring Trail. So far so good for a couple of older folks.

Golden Seal

Then we got ambitious and drove to the Cedar Sink Trail, where we heard the wild flowers were terrific. Well, they were right, and the flowers were terrific, but so were the stairs. We managed to hike down the gravel and wood steps, but when we arrived at the metal stars going to the actual sink hole, I said NO, quite  firmly. If we walked down there without falling (doubtful) we still have to make it back to the car again. Since it was late April instead of earlier in the season, we saw a variety of different flowers along the trail. With no construction along the trail, Garlic Mustard was not found!


Foam Flower, May Apple, Delphinium

Fire Pink, Stonecrop and Ragwort

Foam Flower

Phlox and Jacob's Ladder

Bluegray Gnatcatcher
The day was gray, cloudy and windy. Another birder reported large numbers of birds found earlier, so we were hopeful. Although we heard lots of birds, we actually sighted very few of them. In a later email, this birder also reported finding few birds on the same day, which made us feel better. Thanks to Steve Kistler who knows all the birds and flowers in the park!
Northern Parula
When you are out on the trail, you soon find that there is no internet signal to be had. All the birders who rely on their electronic equipment as usually out of luck. Dick got his phone going though, and managed, after several attempts, to lure this Parula close enough for photos. Thanks Dick!
Hooded Warbler
A Hooded Warbler guarded his territory while we caught our breath on Cave Sink Trail. "I think I'll rent a video!" he called loudly from the lot of the trees. Unfortunately, this guy did NOT come down for a photo no matter how much we we called, or pished or pleaded. Since we know he was up there, I borrowed a photo of his cousin from another trip. Hey, it's acceptable!

Monday, April 19, 2021

The New Cherokee Park

Stone Bridge on Beargrass Creek
Of course, Cherokee Park in Louisville, KY, is not new by any means. In 1887, a city park system was proposed (and designed by Frank Law Olmstead) with three large suburban parks: east, west and south. The initial name of the eastern park was to be Beargrass Park, but in 1891, as was fashionable in the late 19th century, a name that evoked the romantic imagery of Native Americans was chosen, thus Cherokee, Iroquois and Senecas Parks. 

When Dick and I were younger (define that as you wish), his folks had a house at the top of  Maple Road which leads down into the park. At the time, all the roads were two-way, and Dad used the park as a short-cut to everywhere else in Louisville. As he drove his big Cadillac down Maple Rd., I closed my eyes, praying that no one would try to drive UP the narrow street while we went down into the Park. Mom had a few bird feeders, but Dad was mostly concerned about keeping the deer out of his roses. We seldom walked down Maple Rd. to see the flowers bloom. Now I see that those limestone cliffs are home to many species of Kentucky native wildflowers. If we went to the park at all, is was on the roads.

Last year, in 2020 after my cancer recovery, we saw lots of emails from birders listing the wonderful birds they saw in Cherokee Park and Nettleroth Bird Sanctuary (which is part of the park). This spring, however, I have lost both my balance and some of my vision somewhere, and I'm limiting myself to flat locations, such as Cherokee Park, and searching more for wildflowers than birds (who make me dizzy flying over my head). The city is blocking off some of the trail bikes, making it safer for pedestrians. We still stay on one side of the park, and get lost quickly if we try to explore those trails leading to the other neighborhoods in town. 

Much of the park was heavily damaged in the April 3, 1974, tornado Super Outbreak. The tornado was an F4 on the Fujita scale. A city forester surveying the aftermath said, "I don't believe that anyone alive today will see Cherokee Park as it was before the storm." Since then, many of the re-planted trees have grown back, but invasive plants have really taken hold. Because of the loss of thousands of mature trees, a massive re-planting effort was undertaken, financed in large part by a grant from the United States government under the Disaster Relief Act of 1974. However, to qualify for these funds, the park had to be restored to its pre-tornado design as faithfully as possible. 

Dogwood Tree in bloom
Sessile Trilliums and others
Since the pandemic, the city closed all the roads in the parks to vehicular traffic, which I appreciate. It seems that most of the park users I see are running, pushing baby strollers and walking dogs (mostly on leases). Sometimes you find a birder with binoculars. I an amazed at the native wildflowers growing in the park, and have focused on the flowers this spring.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Bernheim Early Spring

Rue Anemone
It's always a challenge to find the white Trout Lillies in bloom at Bernheim. They bloom early in the spring, and we looked for them earlier in March, without success. On March 31(Wednesday), Dick heard that another volunteer had seen them blooming the Saturday before. The sun was shining, so we said "Let's go!"

Spring Beauty

Bloodroot going to seed
 As we strolled down the walk along Mac's Lake towards the Troutlilly patch, we saw lots of Rue Anemone, and it was the True Rue. False Rue has five petals and True Rue has more than five. (It took me several years to remember that one.) Spring Beauty and Toothwort were popping up too. 

White Troutlilly

As we reached the right spot, we walked between the trees. Plenty of speckled  troutlilly leaves were around, but only one was actually blooming. The ones we saw were beginning to go to seed pods. Well, we said, it's cloudy and windy today and they like bright sunshine to show off. Also, by the end of March, we may simply be too late. Better luck next year!

Virginia Bluebells

As we turned behind the edible gardens, we remarked that early wild flowers are much like migrating birds, except they don't fly away when you try to take their pictures. Both are exceptional at camouflage. The forest floor is covered with brown leaves, and that's basically all your eye sees. The wildflower plants are short and hard to see until you are right next to them. They don't grow well in disturbed areas. In fact, I expect to see more at Bernheim since it has not been farmed for so long. We think we heard a Pine Warbler in the pines, but couldn't spot him among all the pine cones that look like birds from a distance.

Cascading Creek
Rock Run is the best trail to find wild flowers in my opinion. The creek in front of the parking lot was full of water, when normally it is quite dry. We must have had more rain last night then I thought. We carefully walked the trail to avoid mud, leaves and killer roots and rocks.

Rue Anemone
Once again, Rue bloomed more than anything else. One side of the valley is sunnier than the other and things bloom there first.
Sedge and Moss

Star Chickweed
Normally we think of chickweed as a weed, but the native Star Chickweed is quite lovely.
Toothwort also closes its blossoms if the sun isn't shining. 

Wood Betony

Water Leaf

Some plants are starting their leaves while the blossoms will come later in the season. 

Walking Fern
Christmas ferns and Walking ferns don't bloom at all of course.


Yellow Troutlily
In another week or so, on a nice sunny day we can try the Rock Run Loop again and find lots of Yellow Troutlillies blooming, but today there was only one brave enough to give it a try. 

Actually, we don't mind a little rain. It's run to listen to the creek chuckle with joy at being filled with life-giving water!

Monday, March 29, 2021

March Miscellany

How often do you get to use the word "miscellany" in a birding blog? This is just to bring things up to date before the migration season shifts into high gear. The owlets at Cave Hill are growing fast. They are eating whole mice now from their parents, and should start climbing around on the branches soon.  I plan to return to Cave Hill frequently to keep up with their progress. Assuming, of course, they are active during the daytime.

When they started building the East End Bridge several years ago, they found an active eagle nest  in the construction area. Debate went back and forth for a while - should they change the plans for the bridge? It was finally decided to proceed, and the eagles didn't seem to mind. A few years later, however, they lost a chick, then the nest tree came down altogether in a storm, and they decided to  move. The new nest was built nearby, so I decided to look for it. Found mom on the nest and dad keeping a watch nearby. Good news!

Arctic weather made Creasey Mahan and the Louisville Audubon Society cancel the event for Great Backyard Bird Count. This Saturday started cloudy and windy but improved as the day moved on. Tavia limited the number of attendees, because of the COVID, but everything worked out well. Tavia took people into the Woodland gardens to look at the wildflowers. I hope folks will come back to see how the blossoms change during the rest of the season. Lee Payne and I, as LAS Board members, led two groups around the Nature Preserve looking for birds. Our visitors were mostly inexperienced birders, so we talked about how to get started birding and how to use binoculars initially.

I guess being the leader made me nervous. I forgot to start an eBird list, and I didn't take many photos. Too busy talking to the group. When we got to the meadow, the day became a success as we saw Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows and Bluebirds!! Many of the common birds I saw earlier in the week didn't make an appearance for us. The long week of cold weather and storms was rough on many Bluebirds, so I was delighted to find these. We even saw the Kestrels who have moved into the nest box out by the totem pole.
I explained to the group how to tell the difference between mistletoe, squirrel nests and bird nests in a tree without leaves. We found a nest of sticks behind Mahan Manor, and closer examination found Adell, our resident Red Shouldered Hawk sitting on eggs!
Pine Warbler by Lee Payne

Lee is the "Owl Whisperer" who knows where all the owl nests are, so after the official walks, we headed into the woods looking for owls. I started losing my balance, so we didn't stay long enough to find an owl, but we did track down a  FOS Pine Warbler. It's yellow, it's trilling and it's in a pine tree -- got to be a Pine Warbler! April is coming soon - what wonders wait to be found!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Cave Hill Owl Nest

 Owls are nocturnal, right? They are active at night, and I am more likely to hear them than see them at any time. (Except for Short-eared owls and maybe Burrowing Owls, of course). I spent 10 years working at Raptor Rehabilitation Of KY, and most of my owl photos are of our education birds, rather than birds living in the wild. 

Now I have a new birder friend that we call the "Owl Whisperer." I swear, I think this man knows where every owl nest in Jefferson County is! Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. And he is a fantastic bird photographer. Birding ethics makes me reluctant to ask him where these owl nests are. After all, they have a right to privacy. He works at Cave Hill Cemetery, which seems much more than a graveyard in this community, and he is familiar with all the birds and other animals (such as foxes) who live there. He shared the location of this Great Horned Owl nest at the cemetery, and I hoped I would be able to find it. Until all the other birders showed up too!

It looks like she has taken over an old hawk's nest. With no leaves on the tree yet, the lighting is great for photos. She has 2 chicks, although I only think I saw one, and the male was off sleeping somewhere. We will have to go back in a few weeks to look for "branching" owlets, who are walking on the branches of the tree, and flapping their wings.