Location Spotlight: The Canyon-land of Ferns and Waters – Hickory Canyons Natural Area

Today’s post spotlights a few images I took recently at the least well-known, but perhaps my favorite, of the Ste. Genevieve trio gem locations found in south-eastern Missouri, Hickory Canyons Natural Area.  The other two nearby locations are Hawn State Park and Pickle Springs Natural Area.  Much of the exposed rock in this area is known as LaMotte sandstone and was deposited around 500 million years ago under the Paleozoic sea, which covered this region except the igneous knobs of what are now called the St. Francois Mountains.  Unlike the other sedimentary rocks – like dolomite and limestone that compose much of the Ozarks, sandstones are generally much more resistant to erosion.  This results in rock features that are often quite spectacular to the eye and the canyons, bluffs and other exposed sandstone bedrock have become favorites for hikers, rock climbers and other travelers to this region.

“Addressing the Optimates”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 89mm, ISO 320,  f/20,  0.4 sec

Two short hikes are available at Hickory Canyons N.A.  Both offer great views of the rock formations, including wet-weather waterfalls like the one shown below.

“The Bath House”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 70mm, ISO 320,  f/16,  1.3 sec

The overhangs and cracks created in these box canyons, gorges and cascades provide opportunities for ferns, mosses and lichens.  In fact, these three spots mentioned above in Ste Genevieve Co are the only place the fern enthusiast need travel to in Missouri.  The well-draining, sandy and acidic soils found here are perfect for species like wild-rose azalea, hay fern and rattlesnake orchid.  White oak, hickories, sugar maples, short-leaf pine and flowering dogwood are the primary tree species found at this location.  A few trips during spring time are definitely worth it to find some of these fantastic plants in bloom set against these dripping canyons and ephemeral cascades and waterfalls.  The wild-rose azaleas bloomed about six weeks early this spring and I missed them.  Oh well, something to look forward to next year.

“The Senate”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 28mm, ISO 160,  f/16,  2.5 sec


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 93mm, ISO 250,  f/16,  1 sec

Virere Candere

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160,  f/16,  1.6 sec

Arboris Relictus

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 160,  f/16,  0.5 sec

As the glaciers of the last major ice age retreated, species that required lower temps and had higher water requirements moved back north as well.  These canyons provide cooler and wetter environments for relict species like the one pictured above, the partridge berry.  This evergreen vine-like tiny shrub can be found throughout the canyon and hollow floors along with lichens and mosses.


Location Spotlight: Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

“Traditional Boundaries”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/10, 1/1250 sec

I’m finally taking a few of the images I made during my first visit to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge last autumn and putting them into a blog post.  Living within miles of the Mississippi River Flyway – an ancestral route many migratory birds follow in their north-south seasonal movements – I have all sorts of options in visiting well-managed wetland areas to watch and photograph waterfowl.  Of all these locations none has the opportunities for getting great looks at numbers and diversity of bird species that can be found at Squaw Creek NWR, located near Mound City in north-western Missouri, not too far from the Nebraska Border.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 1600,  f/5.6, 1/125 sec

The big stars at Squaw Creek around Thanksgiving and surrounding weeks are the Snow Geese.  For years I had read about and seen images of the more than one million birds that pass through this location every fall.  At peak times more than 500,000 birds can be counted on the reserve at one time.  I had images in mind that I hoped to make if I could find the birds present in these kinds of numbers.  I really had little clue of where and when I needed to be set up and if I had the ammunition (lenses) to make the images I had in mind.  I feel the photos I was able to get are of mixed success due to several reasons.  I was quite lucky in the numbers of birds that showed up.  A week before my visit the counts were only a little more than 10,000.  The day I arrived the latest weekly count suggested there were more than 250,000 on the reserve.  This is shy of the 500-600K that can be found during peek times, but for my first visit, it was quite a treat!  Of the 1.5 days I had to spend here, one full day was very cloudy and dark, making bird photography particularly troublesome.  Around noon on my last day the sky cleared and I was able to get some nice light.  Hopefully I can spend a few days more during my next visit.

“Let My Army Be The Rocks And The Trees And The Birds In The Sky”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/8,  1/1250 sec

Snow Geese are not the only waterfowl that can be found in good numbers here.  In almost every one of these types of images Greater White-fronted Geese, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Mallards and more can be found as well.

“The Snow & the Mist”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 1600,  f/8,  1/100 sec

Squaw Creek NWR and its 7500 acres was established in 1935 just in time.  Close to 98% of the original marshes and related wetlands that border the Missouri River in the state of Missouri have been destroyed or permanently altered – mostly for use as farmland.  Thankfully sportsmen realized the importance for providing habitat for migrating and over-wintering waterfowl and a series of these man-made marshes were built near Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis.  This image is actually a composite of two separate photographs – the foreground and the background, both taken in extremely cloudy and grey conditions.  I was surprised by how well this blending worked and I feel it represents what it was like on this first day, the geese constantly taking off in large groups and others taking their place in the marshes.

“Squaw Creek Eagle”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 800,  f/5.6,  1/400 sec

Waterfowl are not the only birds or wildlife that utilize the reserve.  Although you can see more Bald Eagles in spots along the Mississippi River, I have never been able to get as close to these birds perched as I did during this visit.  This is true with the wildlife in general.  The auto-route roads were set perfectly in the reserve, in my opinion.  Getting close enough to the wildlife can be troublesome from the roads at other places I visit, but here the roads are much better situated near the pools and the wildlife never seem to be overly stressed.  During the time of my visit with cloudy weather and poor light, I was able to get closer to several duck species than I have ever been able to before.

“White Ibis”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6,  1/640 sec

This White Ibis was actually a very late bird for this part of Missouri and it made a bit of noise in the MO birding community.  This was also one of my best looks at this species.  I had found it the day before and took some rather poor photos.  I was happy to see it still in the same pool the next day when light was better.

“Snow Geese on Loess”

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 150mm, ISO 100,  f/10,  1/200 sec

This image is probably my favorite from this trip.  To me, it really captures the essence of the place and I believe this is what this area looked like when Lewis and Clark first laid eyes to this part of the country.  The bluffs in the background are known as loess hills and are formed by the actions of glaciers.  Along with draining the natural wetland habitats along the Big Muddy, European settlers also got busy destroying many of the impressive loess hills, using the fertile soil for numerous development and farming projects.  Many of these features are still being harvested and destroyed to this day.

There are several more nationally well-known reserves like this throughout the country that scores of photographers, nature lovers, biologists and sportsmen flock to every year.  I can’t imagine a spot being more suited for these activities than Squaw Creek NWR.  I hope to make an annual pilgrimage to this location on Thanksgiving week.

If you make the visit and are looking for a nice place to eat, I highly recommend “Klub”.  This is a great place to enjoy a late dinner after spending the day at the reserve, which is only about ten minutes away.  They have a great menu using a lot of fresh, local ingredients.  I ate here twice during my visit and I was quite surprised to find such a quality establishment in such a little town like Mound City.

Thanks for paying a visit.  You can find more photographs taken from this location by visiting my Squaw Creek Flickr Set

I Got Your Oxalis Right Here!

“Violet Wood Sorrel”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160,  f/10, 1/15 sec

Dedicated to my bros Brian K. and Jeff H.  They’ll know what I mean. ;=)

The name “sorrel” comes from the sour-like taste these plants give.  This taste comes from oxalic acid and these guys were the first source from which this compound was isolated.  I have recently read that much like most of the forbs in the Ozarks these guys were used by Native Americans and early European settlers as a food source to spice up salads as well as having intended medicinal values.  Don’t eat too much, however, as the concentrations of oxalate in these plants are even higher than in spinach and tea and apparently kidney stones could be a consequence.

Violet wood sorrel grows from tiny bulbs beginning in mid spring in the Ozarks and is usually found in acidic, rocky open woods, fallow fields, prairies and roadsides according to Steyermark.  These guys will bloom multiple times across the growing season, usually following a cool rainy spell.

I spent most of yesterday hiking Hawn State Park, where these guys were one of the most abundant wildflower in bloom.  I hiked all three loops, Whispering Pines North and South and the White Oak trail for the first time in one day.  Including the connector trail I believe this was a bit more than 15 miles.  With my 27 pound pack and lunch + water, let me tell you I felt it during the last five miles or so.  I didn’t take the camera out much, being mostly interested in the hike and not seeing too much that interested me composition-wise anyway.

I’m still stunned about the schedule spring has taken and I can’t stop talking about it.  I went to Hawn hoping to time the bloom of the wild azaleas, which usually do not start to bloom until the last week of April or the first week of May in the park.  Yesterday I found only two or three bushes that were still in bloom along sheltered north-facing hillsides.  The rest had bloomed and were nearly in full leaf!  Everywhere I look vegetation is 4-6 weeks ahead of typical schedule.  I was waiting to see if bird migration might be early as well.  We have seen some evidence of this.  There have been reports already of new early arrival state records of warblers and yesterday all the usual nesters seemed to be in the area and setting up territories.

This time of year at Hawn can be quite useful for the birder-by-ear.  Yesterday, several hard-to-discern trillers could be found and compared in the field at one time.  Within my hike I found the Pine and Worm-eating Warblers, the Chipping Sparrow the Dark-eyed Junco and Swamp Sparrow all singing their trill-like advertisements.  Every spring it seems like I have to start my ear from scratch, the Worm-eating Warbler being the most distinctive to me.  After a couple weeks I finally think I make some progress and then forget again soon after.  Usually I can go by location; the Junco leaves pretty soon and the other two sparrows are usually found in more open, grassy habitats, which leaves the two warblers to discern.  There, as its name suggests, the Pine is found in concentrations of the short-leaf pin in our region and the Worm-eating is more often found amongst deciduous tree tops.

Yesterday was a glorious day for hiking at Hawn S.P.  As usual, I was surprised but pleased that I did not see more folks on the trails.  If a day like that can’t tear you away from the couch I don’t know what can.


Promise of a New Day

“Dawn at Shaw Nature Reserve”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 92mm, ISO 160,  f/18, 1/13 sec

First of all, I hope the title of this post doesn’t give too much away about my love for everything Paula Abdul.  ;=)  My hope for this post is to  present the possibilities of experiences that Shaw Nature Reserve offers the nature lover, hiker, birder, artist, or anyone trying to escape the confines of modern culture and everyday life.  SNR is located in Gray Summit, MO, about 30 minutes outside the St. Louis metropolitan area.  It is an easy to get to spot to find yourself in a well-managed and diverse range of native Ozark habitats.

I love spending the early morning hours at SNR.  I have spent many a Saturday morning, having arrived before first light, with the entire reserve to myself.  I try to have a plan for those ephemeral golden hours where I can pretend I am the only person on the planet: macro photography of wildflowers, a hawk’s nest, a particular landscape image, etc.  More often than not the weather or light or my desire to put some miles on the trails forces me to forget my plans and try to take advantage of the best available opportunity.

Everything in nature seems to be fully awake at dawn and just like the opportunities for the photographer the stimulus for the senses at dawn are almost infinite.  During this morning the frogs were still advertising, song birds – Towhee, Field Sparrow, Carolina Wren, and Redwing Blackbird are singing their unique songs, the Barred Owls are talking to one another.  The light and colors of early morning are constantly changing and the brisk temperatures and fog in the air are pleasant on the skin and a joy for hiking.

Being a little windy on this particular morning I knew that my goal of photographing spring wildflowers would be a bit frustrating.  I also felt that need to walk so I started on the trails knowing there would be ample opportunities for some early morning landscapes. This section of this trail emerges from denser woods to a savannah-like habitat with a cattail pond.  I tried several compositions and focal lengths and this one was one of my favorites with a Redwing Blackbird perched facing the sun.

So, please join the crowds and make a visit to Shaw after 10:00 in the morning.  Maybe I’ll see you on my way out.  ;=)

Location Spotlight: Black Mountain Cascades

This post features one of my favorite places to visit and photograph in my beloved St. Francois Mountains. Black Mountain and these cascades that tumble down more than 400 vertical feet in a series of steps lie southwest of Fredericktown and can be found literally alongside Highway E.  The waters run under a drainage pipe in the road and travel another few yards before dumping into the St. Francois River. I was first turned on to this place by a fantastic landscape photographer of the Missouri Ozarks named Mark Karpinski.  I highly suggest looking him up and buying a bunch of his photographs for your walls.  His images are the best I’ve seen of this region.

“Rivers or Veins”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 12mm, ISO 200,  f/13, 0.5 sec

As I mentioned in previous posts, this “winter” brought out possibilities for photography that I would normally be taking advantage of in the warmer months.  These images were taken in early February following a couple of rainy days.  These cascades run out completely in dry times, so you must carefully plan a visit following rainy periods.

“Roll of Ancient Thunder”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 10mm, ISO 160,  f/13, 0.4 sec

Before you make plans for a visit, listen to warning.  There are no trails here – it is just bush-whacking up the slopes.  Sometimes you will need to go up leaf-littered hills and sometimes you must climb hand and foot over rocks and the cascades.  There are all sorts of risks here.  The rocks are extremely slippery.  I highly suggest the use of felt-bottomed shoes or waders and take all precautions against water and your camera equipment.  You will get wet!  In the growing season I have been to few places with as much or worse concentrations of poison ivy.  If you visit in mid to late summer, cover yourself head to toe and then burn your clothes afterwards.  And ticks!  In early February I hadn’t given a thought to ticks.  This day I received a tick bite and found another three on my pants.  I learned my lesson to pay attention to the temperature and not the calendar.

“Crash of Molars”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 20mm, ISO 200,  f/11, 2 sec

I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent some great days on this mountain.  I have visited on 50% chance of rain days and was able to spend a few hours of cloudy, but relatively rain free weather – perfect for this type of photography.  If you are in shape and have the determination to make the hike to the top, the view of the St. Francis River valley below is sure worth it.  Pack a picnic basket!

“Firing Diamonds At Boots”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 16mm, ISO 200,  f/13, 0.6 sec

The titles of the images in this post I stole from the lyrics of a song called “Buried in Teeth” by Mariee Sioux.  I can’s stop listening to this song or Mariee’s music in general lately.  I realize this may be considered IP infringement, but I have trouble with titles and I also wanted to  try and give her some props, so to speak.

“Swallowed Into the Gut of Centuries”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 11mm, ISO 200,  f/16, 0.8 sec

Thanks for visiting the blog.  You can find more of my photos from this location here.  If you decide to make an excursion to this spot or anywhere else into the St. Francois Mountain region, please be careful, enjoy yourself, leave only footprints and take only photographs!