How I Spent Superb Owl Sunday

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.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

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.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

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.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

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.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

A perfect day ended in the perfect way – with a great sunset on the Lincoln Hills.

Sunset on the Lincoln Hills
Sunset on the Lincoln Hills

Until next time…
-OZB

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Location Spotlight – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles

Missouri's Palisades? Little St. Francis River Pinnacles - Madison County, MO
Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

“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

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Missouri’s Pallisades? – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

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.

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Love. It’s what makes a boxer a boxer…

 

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.

stfrancis

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.

Steve Emptying his Boots
Steve emptying his boots

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.

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Ozark Monolith – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

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.

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Monolithic – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

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.

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Rhyolite Porphyry Bluff – Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

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.

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Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

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.

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Little St. Francis River Pinnacles – Madison County, MO

Until next time…
-OZB

 

Day One in Southwestern Puerto Rico – Guanica State Forest and Biosphere Reserve

Guanica Monkey
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo

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.

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Welcome to Guanica

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.

CCC-Puerto Rican Style
CCC-Puerto Rican Style

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).

Pathetic Gringo
Pathetic Gringo

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.

Fort Capron
Fort Capron

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…

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody

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.

Puerto Rican Tody - IMG_2351
Puerto Rican Tody

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.

Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo

Towards this end of the reserve I was presented with more open views.

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Guanica Hillside

I was quite fortunate to find the quiet and shy Mangrove Cuckoo during this hike.

Mangrove Cuckoo
Mangrove Cuckoo

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.

Magnificient Frigatebird
Magnificent Frigatebird

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.

Cactus Scrub
Cactus Scrub

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.

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody

If you made it this far, thanks for visiting!

OZB

 

 

 

 

OZB’s Favorite Images from 2014!

Hello again.  Although I promised myself I would get this post out on time this year, here we are on Valentine’s Day.  Of course, I still have not processed everything I intend to from 2014, but I think I’ve finished the major images by now.  Like last year, this is not necessarily my “best” images of the year, but a list comprised of images that captured something special to me, while being at least a competent photograph.  Once again, I was nearly frozen by the list of images to choose from.  I had one fewer landscape and one more wildlife image this year compared to last, for whatever that is worth.  Follow the links to the posts that each image was featured in.

#10) “Acadian Flycatchers – Feeding Time”

Although it lacked a happy ending (see original post), Steve and I were absolutely thrilled in getting an opportunity to view and photograph a sought after nesting species.  The nest location was poorly lit, being well concealed in the foliage at Hawn S.P.  However, with a tripod and shutter release cable, it is something to see how slow you can take the shutter speed in these situations.

Acadian Flycatchers - Feeding Time
Acadian Flycatchers – Feeding Time

#9) “Wild Horizons”

This one was from our last stay in the cabins at Big Spring S.P. for a number of years (due to closing during renovation work).  It turned out to be a pretty interesting sunset, with just a couple minutes of fire.

Wild Horizons
Wild Horizons

#8) “Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014”

From our vernal Big Spring trip.  I was quite happy with this image, although I was hoping the white dogwood blossoms behind the bird would be a little more distinct.  Oh well, always room for improvement.

Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014
Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014

#7) “Bald Cypress”

From our literally unforgettable day in the canoe in the waters of Mingo.  This image was taken later in the day and showcases what a sun-star pattern from a nine-bladed aperture diaphragm can look like.  Kudos to Canon for putting this feature in all of their new f4 zoom “L” lenses in the past several years.

Bald Cypress
Bald Cypress

#6) “Rufous-tailed Jacamar”

I had to place at least one image from my time in Brazil from this year.  I was able to make images of quite a few species, but this patient Jacamar might be the most memorable.  We came across this guy in Serra do Mar State Park in Brazil’s Atlantic Rain-forest while on a birding/nature hike.  It sat while we got great views and some photographs.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Rufous-tailed Jacamar

#5) “Timber Rattlesnake”

Although I questioned why I would want to bring up the memory of not having an appropriate lens to shoot snakes on “Snake Road”, I still love this image and the memories it contains of shooting this Timer Rattlesnake with a 500mm “bird lens”.  Shoot, I bet most of you are thinking I did have the most appropriate lens for the job.  😉

Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake

#4) “Twin Cottonwoods on Tetons”

Taken on Sarah and My trip out west this past September.  This image was taken inside the National Elk Refuge.  In the waning light, Sarah and I came across these two cottonwood with nicely shadowed foothills lying before the Tetons.

IMG_1944 High Clarity B&W
Twin Cottonwoods on Tetons

#3) “Swainson’s Song”

It’s a usable photograph of one of the rarest nesting birds in Missouri.  What else is there to say?  What a memory.  My only regret is always forgetting that my dSLR cameras are capable of taking great video.  Video of this guys singing would have been the icing on the cake.

Swainson's Song
Swainson’s Song

#2) “Otter Family”

Steve and I had two great experiences with River Otters in 2014.  This one was taken on the Eleven Point this autumn and shows mom and all four of the kids in one tight shot.

Otter Family
Otter Family

#1) Bald Eagle Nest Week Three – Mom Brings a Fish

I could have picked a dozen from the weeks spent at the nest to put into my top ten.  I’m not sure why I chose this one, other than it is among my favorites of hundreds of keepers from the nest.  Although mom never stayed to feed the young while we were watching, she did often bring prey to the nest as is seen in this image.

Bald Eagle Nest Week Three - Mom Brings a Fish
Bald Eagle Nest Week Three – Mom Brings a Fish

Well, that summarizes a good bit of what I was fortunate enough to capture in 2014.  Thanks so much to Sarah and Steve and everyone who was part of these experiences.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2015!

Ozark Bill Duncan – February 14th, 2015

 

 

 

A Couple Autumn Days in Forest and Stream

Back in October, Steve and I had the pleasure of spending a couple days doing our favorite things in the Missouri Ozarks.  We made our base at our usual, the cabins at Big Spring SP, our last stay here for at least three years as the cabins will be closed for construction.  For our first day, we decided to take care of something that had been on my list for a number of years, to hike the largest official Wilderness Area in the state – the Irish.  Named after the Irish immigrants who settled in this area in the mid nineteenth century, the Irish was visited and pushed for protection by Aldo Leopold himself.  The Irish was finally designated by law as an official wilderness area in 1984 after close to two decades of work by a number of caring people.  This area was virtually cleared of its timber by the early years of the 1900s, but was replanted with its current deciduous hardwood mix by the CCC in the 1930s.

Ozark Bill in the Irish
Ozark Bill in the Irish

Officially listed as 18.4 miles, the Irish Wilderness loop trail is typically tackled with a night or two of backpacking.  Being the athletic super-freaks that we are, Steve and I put down an estimated 22 miles, with some back tracking and assisting a lost backpacker (a GPS unit with topographic map display is quite the asset here), in about 16 hours.  It would have been more enjoyable with a night or two sleeping in the woods and spending more time, but we had other plans in store as well.  The image below is from an overlook of the Eleven Point River at close to the halfway point of the hike.  I will never forget standing here in the late afternoon light with hundreds of ladybird beetles covered the rocks and filled the air.

The Eleven Point
The Eleven Point

Covering 20 miles in a single day does not leave much time for taking photos.  After getting some much appreciated sleep back at the cabin, we arose early to arrive at Richard’s Canoes to be in the water by ~07:30.  We put in at Greer Spring Access (mile 16.6) and had the day to move the ~12 miles to our take out at Whiten Access (mile 27.6).  The Eleven Point offers a perfect mix of slower moving stretches and deep pools mixed with just enough class 2 rapids to keep things interesting.  Make sure to bring along some wet bags if carrying delicate camera or other electronic equipment.  We were offered autumn views like this around nearly every bend.

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Autumn on the Eleven Point

As if the landscape and feelings of being on the river were not enough, the wildlife opportunity are surely the highlights for a float trip like this, assuming you are quite and keep your eyes open.  This White-tailed buck was moving upstream when Steve spotted him.

Swimming Buck
Swimming Buck

Of course the birds will be abundant along any Missouri Ozark stream at any time of year.  We were thrilled to see this Osprey come in to perch nearby as we floated.

Osprey
Osprey

Within a couple of miles from our take-out point, we were presented with our pièce de résistance for the float, two groups of River Otters!  The images below are the first group, a mom and four pups.  These animals were venturing out of their den to play in the day’s last light.

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Three Pups

The pups seemed not too concerned, but mom kept a close eye on the floating log with ugly heads.

Otter Family
Otter Family
Otter Family II
Otter Family II

These guys will turn anything into a toy… 😉

Playing with a Twig...
Playing with a Twig…

I leave you with a sunset from the nearby Big Spring State Park and eternal thanks to those who worked so hard against heavy opposite forces so that, at a minimum, we have what we have today.

The day is almost upon us when canoe travel will consist in paddling up the noisy wake of a motor launch and portaging through the back yard of a summer cottage.  When that day comes canoe travel will be dead, and dead too will be a part of our Americanism…

-Aldo Leopold-

Wild Horizons
Wild Horizons

 

 

 

 

Ozark Bill Travels West – Part Two – Yellowstone and Grand Tetons – The Landscapes

Hi everyone.  Here we go with part two.  We spent three nights in YNP and two in the Grand Tetons and National Elk Refuge.  This was a sufficient amount of time to get a nice overview of these three places.  Now, we just need a month at each location to really get to know them… 😉

To keep the post size down, I have picked five landscapes to showcase and discuss a little.  I will be posting more on Flickr over time.

1) Dawn’s Progression

We’ll start with this one taken along the Yellowstone River on the final and coldest morning of our stay in Yellowstone.  Giving Sarah a morning to sleep in a little at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel, I hit the road before sunrise with the aim of heading down Uncle Tom’s Trail to get that famous view of lower falls.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the cold night (~15 F in September!), brought with it very thick fog.  Even if I would have made it down the stairs that lead to the falls, I and my camera would have little to view.  While walking around the parking lot, wondering where I should head to instead for my last few hours in the park, I saw from the corner of my eye what looked like a small thermal feature.  This turned out to be hot air escaping from the side-wall of one of my tires.  Destroyed.  I knew I had about three hours before checkout, so I replaced the tire with the doughnut-spare and headed directly to the nearest service station inside the park.  Along the road, I spotted this scene developing and I had to capture the fight between the fading overcast, fog and the rising sun.  I dared not take the time to setup the tripod and consequently there is some lack of depth of field.  But, I think things are sharp enough where they need be and it turned out to be a worthy memory of my last day in Yellowstone.

Dawn's Progression
Dawn’s Progression

2) Battle of Ice and Fire

Weather in Yellowtone changes quickly and frequently.  We experienced almost every possible weather scenario during our few days in September.  The next image was taken shortly after a small snowstorm.  I enjoyed the texture of the snow-covered conifer forest and the steam coming off the thermal feature in the background, merging with low cloud cover.

Earth, Wind and Fire
Battle of Ice and Fire

3) Moulton’s Ghosts

Described as the most often photographed barn on the planet, the T.A. Moulton Barn lies along “Mormon Row” just east of the Grand Tetons.  Of course in the short time we were visiting there were no clouds for that interesting sky, but I made my best attempt at an “original” photograph.

Moulton's Ghosts
Moulton’s Ghosts

4) Star Trails at Jenny Lake

During our stay at GTNP, we received word of a prediction of excellent views of the Northern Lights as far south as the great plains states.  Combined with predictions of clear skies during the same evening, I was definitely excited.  We hadn’t done enough scouting to pick the best place for setting up for astrophotography, but I did have Jenny Lake in the GPS.  This would have to do.  The Northern Lights never did materialize where we were located, but I made a number of shots that were later stacked in the computer for this star trails image.

Star Trails at Jenny Lake
Star Trails at Jenny Lake

Before moving on to the final image in this post, I wanted to plug a great sandwich and coffee shop we found in the village of Kelly, not far from both the Tetons and the National Elk Refuge.  Kelly on the Grose Ventre makes as good a cup of coffee as anywhere I’ve had.  The owner/barista is a pleasure to talk with and he is truly concerned that you enjoy your drinks and food.  It would be a crime to miss visiting this spot if you are in the area.

5) Twin Cottonwoods on Tetons

This final photograph was taken near the golden hour inside National Elk Refuge.  The sun, about to drop below the Tetons, performed magic by creating nice shadows on the foothills and back-lighting the leafless pair of Cottonwoods.  The National Elk Refuge has some wonderful wilderness characteristics, and I would love some more time travelling the roads and trails of this dry western landscape.

IMG_1944 High Clarity B&W
Twin Cottonwoods on Tetons