Enjoying the Gems Under Your Nose

I have often said I am more interested in the places the Ozarks have to offer compared to the possible visits to iconic destinations in the rest of the country.  I know I would love and appreciate those spots, of course.  But the millions of photographs generated are probably enough without my lousy contributions.  I am more interested in showcasing the animals and habitats that can be found in the Show Me State, the places with names that so many who live here have never even heard.  I’ve come to realize lately that I am guilty of ignoring a few places less than an hour’s drive from my doorstep that have a lot to offer, passing them by on my three hour drives to more exotic Ozark locations.  These places include Castlewood, Washington and Babler State Parks, Emmenegger Nature Park, Bush Wildlife and a handful of other Conservation Areas.  The place I’ve gotten to know much better this spring is the location spotlighted in this post, St. Francois State Park.

St. Francois SP, located just north of Bonne Terre, MO, has a lot to offer the nature lover.  I have now hiked the three primary trails and they each offer unique features that should satisfy any true Ozarker.  Sarah and I enjoyed a nice hike on the Swimming Deer Trail a couple weeks ago and stumbled across the best bunch of Bluebells I have seen personally.  I did not bring the camera on that hike, but later that week we took a few days break to travel south and made sure we stopped back here again.  I was hoping the show would still be ongoing and I was not disapointed.  We were even fortunate to have a nice overcast sky and relatively little wind.  So the poor photography is my own blame.  Picking out compositions that worked was more trouble than I anticipated, of course.

IMG_3770

“Bluebells and Limestone″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 23mm, ISO 320,  f/13, 0.3 sec

This trail also contains the largest number of Ohio Buckeyes that I have seen at one location in Missouri.  These trees and their emerging, distinctive leaves were found everywhere.  Along with Pawpaws, these small trees fit in perfectly beneath the larger oaks and hickories that dominate the upper canopy.  Pictured below is one of the larger buckeyes I found on this day.

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“Bluebells and Buckeyes″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 70mm, ISO 320,  f/18, 0.5 sec

Along with this great display of wildflowers and trees, the Swimming Deer Trail offers nice views into the Big River valley from atop tall bluffs that are adorned with the characteristic Eastern Red Cedars who are so adept at holding on to cracks and crevices to get the best possible looks as the seasons fly by.

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“Bluebells and Woody Vine″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 400,  f/16, 0.4 sec

I apologize for so many vertical compositions.  I once read a photography e-article that suggested this tendency was more typical of the “stand up, aggressive, masculine” (male) photographer, whereas women photographers (and painters I assume), who are assuredly the “weaker sex” are more apt to produce horizontal landscapes, obviously the more passive and prostrate the compositional choice.  If there is any truth to this hogwash, I wonder what it says about the artist who prefers the square ratio?  😉

Anyway, back to the nature stuff, right?  Well, any nature photographer who still cares to keep his union badge has to shoot the cliched Bluebell macro shot, right?  Here it is.

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“Nature Porn″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/8, 1/10 sec

Of course, anywhere in the Ozarks at this time of year is going to be heaven for any birder who is worth their salt.  St. Francois SP is definitely no exception.  During my several visits over the last month, I loved listening and watching the nesting wood warblers and other songbirds as they busily setup their territories, build nests and feed themselves.  I used to think the Romanticists’ metaphorical descriptions of spring as a bunch of overly sentimental hogwash.  Now I find myself just as captivated by this line of interpretation as I do the underpinning that natural history presents.  What heaven is spring!

A week or so following Sarah’s and my trip, Steve gave me a guided tour of the last trail I had yet explored at St. Francois SP: “Mooner’s Hollow”.  A beautiful sloped-shelf waterfall, rocky outcrops and wonderful examples of spring ephemeral wildflowers along the river bottom of Coonville Creek Wild Area were the expected highlights.  What we were not expecting was the fortunate stumbling upon of a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher’s nest!  The second smallest bird in the state, these guys build a nest that is similar in size and construction to that of the state’s smallest, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  In the picture below you can hopefully get a look at the construction materials of plant fibers, spider webs, fur and lichen, which is used so beautifully to camouflage the nest.

I watched the nest for a couple of hours.  In this little time I noticed the pair did not stay at the nest, which makes me believe there were not yet any eggs.  The pair stopped at the nest for no more than 60 seconds.  During this time one of the pair would enter the nest, add a bit of lichen or other material they had brought, do a little manipulation and then they would leave again.  This would be repeated every 15 – 20 minutes.  I hope to visit the nest soon to see if eggs, or perhaps even chicks might be found.

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“Not Just Gnatcatching”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/6.3, 1/320 sec

This spring I have been fortunate to spend a fair amount of time in the rugged, karst topography that is so unique to the Ozark Highlands.  This continues to bring to mind what it must have been like to travel and exist in this country before ‘modern conveniences’ were introduced to muddle the experience.  A great series of roads can take you to within a ten mile hike or less to basically any spot on the map in Missouri.  For now, I leave with a great quote from that Confederate bushwhacking bastard, Sam Hildebrand.  This is in reference to a cave that is apparently located within or nearby St. Francois SP.  A reason for further exploring some day.

“We passed quietly through Butler County, along the western line of Madison, then through St. Francois and across Big River to those native hills and hunting grounds of my boyhood, known as the Pike Run hills.  The reader must bear in mind that these hills possess peculiar advantages over any other part of the country between St. Louis and the Arkansas line.  They look like the fragments of a broken up world piled together in dread confusion, and terminating finally in an abrupt bluff on the margin of Big River, where nature has left a cavern half way up the perpendicular rock, now known as “The Hildebrand Cave,” mouth to which cannot be seen either from the top or bottom.”

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“Fragments of a Broken Up World″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/8 sec
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4 thoughts on “Enjoying the Gems Under Your Nose

  1. Ah, you nailed the grapevine/bluebell composition. My attempt looked ridiculous.

    Just noticed that the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers appeared to have anchored their nest on either side to lichen patches already growing on the tree. Makes me wonder if this is requisite for nest site selection among all pairs. Probably not, but certainly aids in the disappearance of this one.

    If you find the cave in which Mr. Hildebrand apparently saw nothing but his own shadow, I might suggest that a renaming in accordance with Thoreau’s policy is long overdue: “If the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men, let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone.”

    Thank you for the reprieve, sir.

  2. Thanks for the comments, my friend.

    “…in which Mr. Hildebrand apparently saw nothing but his own shadow”
    Perfect description, Steve! And, I completely agree with your suggestion.

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