Following a rainy period this spring, Casey and I visited a few spots in the Shawnee of southern Illinois. Some of these spots are well known, but can be difficult to visit. Another location is not nearly as well known, but easier to get to. The Shawnee really does canyons, large rocks and water features well. This is but a small sample of what can be found there.
A few images from our recent deep freeze. Casey and I visited the St. Francois Mountains and collected some images along the Little St. Francis River and Little Rock Creek.
This year I was fortunate to be introduced to two new-for-me shut-ins in the southern region of the St. Francois Mountains. Both of these locations are currently on private land and with assistance from a couple of friends, it was quite a thrill to be able to visit and photograph these stunning geologic features.
What surprised me most about both of these locations was that they were not covered in Beveridge’s “Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri”. I am not sure if this was because he did not know of them or because he chose not to feature them for some reason. I sure hope it was the later.
My recent delves into geology and astronomy have really been eye-opening, tying together everything else I know of natural history into place. There is so much more for me to learn, with Geology I know almost nothing, but it has been such an aid for me in remembering that most of what everyone worries over is so insignificant compared to the real that is right under our noses.
This is all I have to share from these two locations for now. I am looking forward to visiting again with hopefully more water flow and at different season. Thanks for visiting.
The NEOWISE Comet, whose actual name is C/2020 F3, was a pleasant surprise for the astronomical community who await such events as a newly discovered comet. First discovered in late March, the comet grew steadily brighter, eventually becoming the brightest comet to be seen in the northern hemisphere since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. According to the experts, this comet had an orbital period of about 4,400 years prior to making its latest trip through the inner solar system. It will now be another 6,700 years before beings on earth will be able to see it again.
I have long had a very strong interest in astronomy and astrophotography and the current pandemic has allowed me to do quite a bit of studying on both topics. Hopefully soon I can get the practice in this area that I desperately need. Although it has some issues, I was relatively pleased at capturing the closeup of the comet pictured above.
Although I had a star-tracking mount that would have been perfect for this situation, I had not yet used it so I did not make this the first time. This image was “untracked” using a full-frame camera and a 200 mm lens. It is comprised of 20 “light” images (the actual photos of the comet) taken at 3.2 seconds per exposure. The aperture was f/2.8 and the ISO/gain was 6400. I combined these images with 10 “dark” frames for noise reduction purposes.
The processing here could be better and I might give it another try sometime. But, both tails of the comet are visible and I think the background stars came out alright as well.
After awhile the comet began to dive towards the horizon with the remnant glow from twilight. I happened to show up at Lee’s Bluff on the same night as accomplished Missouri nightscape photographer, Dan Zarlenga, and so we both turned our tripods around to the south and found this lovely scene. Here, the Milky Way has recently risen above a nice foreground of trees. Again, I wish I would have been a bit more prepared with a plan, but I guess this isn’t too bad.
I have had some opportunity lately to try for infrared landscapes with my converted Canon 5D mkii. There is still so much I want to try with this, but between summer laziness and a lack of time and opportunity, I get by with what I can. The image above was taken in an Illinois woodland.
I found this white oak in the same woodland and it screamed for the IR treatment. I’m still getting the hang of processing the images from the “supercolor IR conversion” of this camera. Although the basics are simple, I find the plethora of options one has in processing these files to be a bit intimidating. I’m trying to go a little more on the subtle side with these, but there’s a fine line between just enough and too much.
These final three images were taken at Hughes Mountain C.A. – a place that I find begs for the infrared photographic treatment. These were taken on one of the evenings of potential for extra color from the Sahara sandstorms. There was nothing extra for the sunset due to these storms other than increased haze, but the high clouds made for interesting skies in IR.
Finding green plants in the glade areas is important in getting the contrasts for an IR image. This hasn’t been a very wet summer but there was some green still left among the rocks. Optimally, it would be best to try in late spring to early summer to get this setting just right.
So these were some of my first serious attempts at IR landscapes with the newly converted camera. If you have any suggestions for improvement, particularly in the processing area, I would be grateful to listen.
I’ve posted images of the cascades on Black Mountain before. After some good rains, Casey and I visited this past March with hopes of making it to the top. This is not an easy hike, but Casey had not yet seen most of the cascades. This was our intention, but it was quickly realized that the overcast afternoon we were promised was not going to be. So, we utilized the few clouds remaining to the best of our ability and climbed high enough to find some falls hidden behind canyon walls that blocked the harsh afternoon sun.
For the first time since junior high I did not watch a single down or minute of the NFL this season and I couldn’t be happier for it. Rape my town three times, NFL – shame on you. I’ve been pleased to get those precious free minutes back for my Sundays, several of which I found I could spend not dreading the upcoming workweek.
When the forecast showed a near perfect meteorological condition for shooting the Short-eared Owls of BK Leach, I figured this could be promising. While most other naked apes with functioning vision would be in front of the picture box and ingesting mass quantities of wings and beer, I would enjoy the warm and lightly breezy evening in my own kind of chair with friends of a different sort.
Of course there is never a sure thing. Often, when I have expected the best due to light and temperature, the owls don’t show where I set myself. On this particular day, all conditions came together and I had a super time.
I want to give huge thanks for my lovely and talented wife, Sarah, for the special help she gave me this season in getting my best to date SEOW in flight shots.
A perfect day ended in the perfect way – with a great sunset on the Lincoln Hills.
Until next time…
“The Pinnacles are not easy to reach but a visit to the site is worth a considerable amount of time and effort. Differential weathering of vertically fractured pink porphyry created a sheer bluff cresting a hundred feet above the bed of the Little St. Francis River. Individual columns rising as monoliths above the bluff are responsible for the name, but the bluff per se is even more spectacular than the pinnacles. The site could be compared to the Palisades of the Hudson and merits photography but defies the lazy or poor planner.”
Thomas R. Beveridge
Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri
Eight different pinnacles are listed in the Legacy that Dr. Beveridge left this state. This particular pinnacles, along with associated geological features, is located in the St. Francois Mountains, just a stone’s throw away from a number of other classic destinations of this area. Steve and I had been discussing our potential route for this excursion for quite some time. We had tried once for an overland route but could not find or did not wish to aproach the private property owners and so decided that a water route was the best option for us. This past November, with leaves being mostly fallen and temperatures being much warmer than average, was the perfect opportunity to try out our designed route.
This destination lies on a stretch of the Little St. Francis River (LSF) approximately 1.5 – 2.0 miles upstream from its confluence with the St. Francis River. We knew that water levels were on the low side but we were completely uncertain what this would mean for traveling upstream into the LSF. Would there be any navigable water at all? If not, would it be possible to navigate within its bed by foot? Facing the possibility of failure, we decided to give it a shot. We loaded the canoe onto the powerful, symmetrical all wheel drive Subaru Forester and hit the road.
We dropped off Steve’s truck at our takeout – the Cedar Bottom Creek bridge and put into the St. Francis at Silver Mines Recreation Area. With the sun directly in our eyes (as almost always seems to be the case), it was a pleasant and short paddle downstream to its confluence with the LSF. See the following map for the highlighted route that we took that day.
Arriving at the confluence, our spirits were lifted. We were forced to push a little to get over a sandbar, but the route upstream was slow and just deep enough to allow for paddling most of the way. We portaged a few times, but we expected worse.
After taking in the initial views of the bluffs, we were naturally drawn to see the pinnacles themselves up close. A quick lung-burning climb and we were there.
Although not the tallest of these spires, this monolith was the more picturesque. I have other photography plans in mind for this guy if I can ever visit again. See below to see Steve in the frame for scale.
The views from atop the bluff were quite nice. The primary hill that faces south was Tin Mill Mountain and Pine Mountain lies to the north. Here is an example of the rhyolite porphyry that composes the majority of this bluff.
This place reminded us a lot of Lee’s Bluff, which was not surprising due to how close these locations are to one another. However, the pinnacles here brought a bit more visual interest. Here Steve poses with a small, but likely ancient cedar, clutched within a crack that is probably older than the human species.
To conclude, here I captured Steve doing a belly crawl to the edge of the bluff. As I say so often, I long for another visit here. It seems the LSF has several other features to share. I hope we can one day float the entire ~15 miles with a couple or more feet of water. There are apparently a couple of stretches of shut-ins that shouldn’t be missed.
Until next time…
Ask the average gringo about their perception of Puerto Rico’s climate and habitats and I am sure most would describe heavy rains associated with tropical rainforests. However, due to rain shadow effects from the central mountain chain known as the Cordillera Central, much of the southern coastal regions receive very little direct rainfall. On my first day of exploring southwestern Puerto Rico, I found myself a 20 minute drive west of Ponce in the Dry Forest of Guanica. Guanica receives about 30″ of rainfall per year, which is very close to the annual average for the state of Missouri. However, with the harsher tropical suns, coastal winds and rocky/sandy soils, this amount of precipitation does not go nearly as far in Guanica. This coastal habitat is much more dry-adapted than the comparatively lush Ozark forests of Missouri.
Typically dense and developed as Puerto Rico tends to be, the entrance to this reserve was literally on the edge of a subdivision, which is where I found myself with an hour to wait near sunrise before the gates where opened. No worries, I grabbed the camera and the binocs and did some of my first real birding on the island. With about 12 named trails of who knows how many total miles, Guanica (~10,00 acres) offers a lot to see, including a Guayacan tree estimated to be over 700 years old. The photo below shows a monument I was to see elsewhere on the island. These identification markers were carved by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (“Las Tres C” in Puerto Rico). I had never given a thought about the CCC’s presence in U.S. territories like Alaska and PR, but it turns out they were quite active in PR – not only building roads and other structures but replanting forests as well. Applauds to these guys for replanting so many trees and helping to set up these reserves. However, along with the National Forest Service the CCC unfortunately participated in bringing exotic, “desirable” trees like mahogany, teak and eucalyptus. Many of these trees were chosen for their fast-growing ability and their tendencies to suck up a lot of water in order to dry out the island. Consequently, in Puerto Rico’s protected natural areas, a significant amount of the forests’ composition is Australian or Asian and completely altered.
I parked at the visitor’s center, which is located on the site of an old sugarmill ruins. I was unable to find a single trail sign. I had read the park ranger on duty spoke English, but if the attendant on this Saturday morning did, maybe he was hesitant to do so with the sweaty, ginger gringo who wielded no more than a dozen words of Spanish (see below).
Always a good idea while out in wild areas, but definitely a good idea in PR is to use a GPS device. Every map I could find was deficient in more ways than one. The GPS unit I found to be the best during my visit was the map app on my iPhone. Also, as you might have guessed, the Guanica Dry Forest is DRY. Bring plenty of water. I thought the three liters I brought on this hike was a bit of overkill. However, at the end of my ~ eight miles of hiking up and down these coastal hills under extreme heat and sun, I was completely dry. I decided to head out on the most promising of the retired forest road trails and it wound up being the one I hoped it was, leading me to the coast where I was to find Fort Capron that was built by Americans in 1898 and is really more of a lookout tower. There is also a lighthouse nearby, but not all that interesting either.
Okay, enough with the tour guide stuff. Early in the day, I made my first acquaintance with what would turn out to be my favorite bird of the trip – the Puerto Rican Tody. Check it out…
I would find these guys all over my travels in southwestern PR. They are related to and behave somewhat like the Kingfishers, are slightly larger than a Chickadee, are nearly as bold as a Kingbird and as brilliantly colored as a Parrot. I captured the one below as it tackled a stick insect.
Much of the trails of Guanica are old forest roads that cut through the habitat, mostly along hilltops. Along most of my hike I was faced with thick walls of scrubby vegetation about 10- 20 feet high, often so thick that I was faced with a mere meter or two of visibility. Even though I could hear bird vocalizations, I was often at a lost to see or identify the species. With patience, however, views can be had. Near the fort, where the hillside slopes got steeper and the coast loomed near, I heard what I immediately knew to be cuckoo on their way up to intercept the trail – the Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo. These birds were at first so close, I couldn’t possibly get one in the frame without cutting off significant portions.
Towards this end of the reserve I was presented with more open views.
I was quite fortunate to find the quiet and shy Mangrove Cuckoo during this hike.
Abundant in Puerto Rico and across Caribbean coastlines, the Magnificent Frigatebird is a seabird that feeds by catching fish on the wing. This is a long-lived species. The one pictured below is a juvenile.
It seemed that the closer I was to the coast, the drier the habitat became. The Caribbean Sea is just behind me where I stood to take the picture below.
Well, that covers my trip report for the first of three days. Southwestern PR is a great place for the birder-naturalist. Of the approximately 17 or so endemic birds on the island, all but the Puerto Rican Parrot can be found here. Also, highly varied habitats can be visited within short driving distances. Stay tuned for my next day’s trip-log where I will be summarizing my day spent at Cabo Rojo NWR and Salt Flats.
If you made it this far, thanks for visiting!