OZB’s Favorite Images from 2013!

Yeah, I know.  We are almost through two months of 2014, however that’s possible.  But, I really wanted to make a post like this (I still don’t have all of 2013’s images processed) .  I know it’s popular in the photo-blog community, but I think it really is a nice way to cap the year.  I had quite a time in narrowing this list to ten.  I’m not saying these are my best images of the year, but these are the ones I found to be the perfect combination of capturing something special, being meaningful for me and being at least competently captured.  Follow the links to the posts that each image was featured in.  I apologize to the images that did not make the list.  😉

Here we go…

#10) “Confluence Contradiction”

Taken on a trip to Big Spring this April, this one was something I had never seen in all of my visits to this feature.  Sarah and I were really excited to see the Current in high water and I was lucky to make this image before the water from the river had overtaken the blue colored spring effluent later on this day.

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#9) “Autumn Regality”

Taken early one cloudy autumn morning following an evening storm, the diffused light, and saturated foliage worked well with the complacent attitude of the alpha buck.

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#8) “Singing Cerulean”

Observing multiple Cerulean Warblers was one of several things that made putting up with the heat and insects worth our while.

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#7) “Greater Prairie Chickens in Flight, February 2013

Lifers for both Steve and me, spotting and photographing two of Missouri’s literal handful of Prairie Chickens was the highlight of our trip to Prairie State Park last winter.

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#6) Untitled composition taken at Lee’s Bluff on the St. Francis River

This was a recent finding for us, and one in which I hope to get back to soon and often.  This relatively easy S-curve was but one of many potential compositions that I tried to capture.

#5) Untitled composition of Short-Eared Owl

I’ll never forget the day when we were able to watch multiple SEOW up close and personal.  The highlight was taking a shot of this one perched on an MDC sign at B.K. Leach C.A.

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#4) “Coward’s Hollow”

I had been looking for this spot since I first started exploring the MO Ozarks several years ago.  This year I was able to find it, and just after an incredible amount of rain!

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#3) Untitled composition of Sandhill Crane in flight

Taken with my newest bird lens, I was in the right place at the right time to squeeze off this keeper.

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#2) Star Trails at Dunn Ranch Prairie

Among so many other unforgettable experiences from Steve’s and my trip, the chilly July night spent working on my first serious attempts at astro-photography ranks near the highest from 2013.

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#1) “Are You Sure It’s Dead?”

With my medically documented disorder for decision making, it’s an official miracle that I was able to narrow down the subject and the specific image for the top spot in my favorite images of 2013.  Finding such a nest at just the right place and time to observe these parent Scissor-tailed Flycatcher raising a healthy brood was such serendipity.  This image was taken at Tucker Prairie C.A., the first stop of this particular journey.  We were torn between watching these guys until fledging and heading on to the other great spots along our route.

Well, I hope I did my 2013 collection justice with this list.  I can’t imagine 2014 could top the experiences of last year.  If the experiences and associated photographs of 2014 even come close in comparison, I will truly be a fortunate creature.  Happy New Year.

Ozark Bill

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A Warm Winter’s Day in the St. Francois

With forecasted highs near 60F, there was no question what I would be doing this past Saturday.  The only problem was where to take a hike!  Being mid-January and a warm, sunny day, I knew that Lower Rock Creek would not disappoint.  As expected, the Ozark Witch Hazel was in full bloom and beautifully fragrant.  The sky was completely clear and the lighting harsh for much photography of the many water features the area has to offer, but of course I had to try.  Ultimately I just tried to enjoy the hike and experience the wilderness that life continually rips from my fingertips.  There were a good number of ice formations still left on north-facing canyon walls and this particular patch was beginning to melt, releasing its maker into a mirror-like pool that ultimately fell down this drop and married with the rest of the stream.  I looked for ways to get closer to these formations but could not find a safe passage.

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Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 40mm, ISO 200,  f/11, manual blend of two exposures

On the way upstream, I stayed off the trail as much as possible; I preferred following the creek bed although wet and icy rocks often made this a challenge.  A couple of times near bends I was forced to go up and over a ridge because of lack of good foot or handholds above the creek.  After about three hours of rock hopping with my 30lb pack, fatigue started to creep in and I twisted my ankle bad enough to cause a minor sprain/strain.  This was very close to this wonderful swimming hole, so I pulled my boot and sock off and dunked my foot into this spring-fed water… for about 30 seconds.

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 Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 25mm, ISO 100,  f/11, manual blend of two exposures

 On the way back downstream I followed the trail most of the way, shedding layers as the temperature rose over 5oF.  Along the route I was fortunate to spot a coupling couple of Eastern Garter Snakes.  These light-bodied snakes, much like grasshoppers and Morning Cloak Butterflies, will often wake up and see what’s happening on a warm winter day.  And usually, the males have something other than food in mind.  As can be seen in this image, the female was about two thirds larger than her mate.  Following a successful copulation, the female can store sperm until closer to the warmer months, and many snake species can and do copulate several times and will actively select sperm of her choosing.  I tried my best not to disturb this pair too much.  They were rather laid back and didn’t seem to be alarmed, even when I lowered the diffuser mere inches from them.  When I left the male was still busily making his intentions known, while she kept her eye and tongue focused in my direction.

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Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/11, 1/40 sec

 After having some lunch at the car I tried my best at finding the John James Audubon Trail that I have been wanting to visit for a while.  After some fruitless searching I was unable to find a single trail-head, placard, sign or blaze marker that I was confident in.  Unless I hear otherwise I will consider this a defunct trail.  So I decided to visit the Castor River Shut-ins and spend the remainder of the daylight hopping around on even more rocks.  The lighting was still rather poor and I had little inspiration for finding a composition so I experimented a bit, focusing on the effect of minute changes in exposure time on capturing the movement of flowing waters.

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 Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 60mm, ISO 320,  f/7.1, 1/13 sec

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Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 80mm, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/40 sec

The Nature Photographer Does Not “Sleep-in”

It’s the day before Thanksgiving.  I was fortunate again to be able to have most of the week off of work.  This day I decided I would allow myself the uncommon treat of “sleeping in” and catching up on some rest, allow myself some down time.  I rarely do this and I think it helps to “turn off” every now and then to help slow down, to say, it is OK to not be productive.  So that was the plan, and I even stayed up pretty late.  Then, just a scant few hours after I shut my eyes, I hear a voice, far off.  Eventually I realize it was Sarah trying to convey some sort of message.  I believe she had to repeat herself no fewer than four times before I comprehended – “The weather guy is saying this may likely be one of the foggiest days in St. Louis history.”  She knows I am a sucker for a foggy day.  Because we live so far from many of the great nature scenes, more often than not, I cannot get to a destination before the typical morning ephemeration has burned down.  Figuring this would likely be the case on this particular morning, I almost said forget it, and went back to sleep.  But, as Sarah knew, I would definitely have kicked myself repeatedly if I at least did not get out and try.  If nothing else, the least I would get is a nice hike on a beautiful morning.  I chose the relatively close Castlewood State Park.  Sarah and I had recently tackled a particularly scenic trail with bluff views along the Meramec River, and I knew that a thick fog could be used well for a dramatic composition.  Here are a few images I’ve had the opportunity to process so far.  My “immortal thanks” to Sarah for waking me and to Mr. Whitman for his lines that follow.

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“Retrospection″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM @ 116mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/10 sec

To think of time – of all that retrospection,

To think of today, and the ages continued henceforward.

Have you guess’d you yourself would not continue?

Have you dreaded these earth beetles?

Have you fear’d the future would be nothing to you?

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“The Beginningless Past″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM @ 135mm, ISO 100,  f/13, 1/8 sec

Is today nothing? is the beginningless past nothing?

If the future is nothing they are just as surely nothing.

To think that the sun rose in the east – that men and women were flexible, real, alive – that everything was alive,

To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our part,

To think that we are now here and bear our part.

Not a day passes, not a minute or second without an accouchement,

Not a day passes, not a minute or second without a corpse.

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“To Think of Time″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 105mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/8 sec

To think the thought of death merged in the thought of materials,

To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking great interest in them, and we taking no interest in them.

To think how eager we are in building our houses,

To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent.

Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth – they never cease – they are the burial lines,

He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall surely be buried.

One Grand Palimpsest

“When a page is written over but once it may be easily read; but if it be written over and over with characters of every size and style, it soon becomes unreadable, although not a single confused meaningless mark or thought may concur among all the written characters to mar its perfection.  Our limited powers are similarly perplexed and overtaxed in reading the inexhaustible pages of nature, for they are written over and over uncountable times, written in characters of every size and colour, sentences composed of sentences, every part of a character a sentence.  There is not a fragment in nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.  All together form the one grand palimpsest of the world.”

-John Muir-

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“One Grand Palimpsest″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 45mm, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures

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

“Floralia”

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.

Seven Days of Mina Sauk Falls – Day Seven

“Taum Sauk Eternal”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 40mm, ISO 200,  f/14, 0.6 sec

Hi everyone.  Here is the last in my planned succession of image postings of Mina Sauk Falls of the Missouri Ozarks.  This photograph may be my favorite of the day.  The textures of the rock and the patterns of the lichen suggested to me that this would make a nice black and white.  I added a light Orton effect to enhance these contrasts and bring out the highlights a bit more.  The pool of water might be my favorite aspect of the image.

I had another great Saturday exploring and photographing in the Ozarks.  We really had some magnificent lightning displays from thunderstorms that went through the region in the afternoon.  I hope none of you had any damage or other worries from these storms.  I started my day with an actual plan and had to make changes due to the weather.  I started my day in the Labarque Creek Watershed, thinking the storms we had on Thursday may have filled the drainage creeks and there would potentially be lots of falls, cascades and other water features to shoot.  I also realized that the spring ephemeral wild flowers would be really getting going.  Well, the water flow was next to nothing.  The rain from early in the week had either drained quickly or was not enough to get things flowing.  The spring ephemerals were exactly what I expected.  Spring beauty, rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, hounds tooth and blood root were all present in the thousands.  I wish I had actually spent more time shooting these, but I had other plans as well.

My plan after Labarque was to head to the nearby Shaw Nature Reserve to photograph the early happenings of the Red-shouldered Hawk nest located there.  I hauled all my photo equipment and my spotting scope and my chair and snacks, set up, had an opportunity to take a few shots when the rains came in.  So, I packed up and started back home.  I knew the weather would also interfere with my plan to photograph a local Great-horned Owl nest that I was planning on visiting in the late afternoon and evening.  I went back home, ate dinner and checked weather.com.  There looked to be a gap between 5:00PM and 7:00PM where the chance of rain was significantly lower.  I suspected that the 0.5-1″ or so of rain we received this afternoon may be enough to really get the ephemeral drainage creeks of Labarque flowing.  So, I packed up and headed back to Eureka, knowing it still might rain for another few hours and I may not even get out of the car.  When I arrived, it was barely sprinkling so I put my rain gear on and covered my camera pack with its rain cover and with my hiking pole and trusty Tilley to keep my head dry, I started on the trail – anxious about the weather and quickly cover the mile or so to the features I most hoped would be filled with water.  The situation was not perfect.  It rained about half the time I was on the hike.  I was able to pull the camera out and do some shooting, but the light was very low, even for shooting moving water!  In a couple of brief deluges I carried myself and my gear to a small cave to wait it out.  This was one of the most memorable hikes of my life.  The light, sky, fog water and life all around me seemed to be changing by the minute.  At least half a dozen frog species were singing and the Eastern Towhees were constantly telling me to “Drink your Tee!”.  I heard the ever-vocal Red-shouldered Hawks and the hoots of Barred and Great-horned Owls.

Finally, when the light was so low I couldn’t get anything shorter than a 30 second exposure, I headed back to the car.  Upon reaching the top of one of the steep ridges I saw a spectacular display of warm colors as the sun was able to break through a bit near the horizon and juxtapose itself with the cumulonimbus clouds and associated displays of lightning.

I apologize if this is boring any readers, but I am using this blog as a journal in as much as anything else.  I haven’t really looked at any of the photos I took today.  Hopefully the images will be close to what I hope they can be.  If not, I will always be looking forward to the next hike in the Missouri Ozarks.

Seven Days of Mina Sauk Falls – Day Four

“Spanning Time”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 200,  f/10, 1/4 sec

So how did Mina Sauk and her father mountain, Taum Sauk, get their names?  I am currently looking for an original and direct source for the telling of the legend of Mina Sauk.  Here are a few paragraphs collected from the web that were originally published by the Kansas City Star:

The Legend of Taum Sauk Mountain ~ A Native American “Romeo and Juliet” story as told to John Russell, from the Kansas City Star, by “Old Uncle Jim Connelly” back in 1953, the summer after the park became accessible by automobile to the public.  Uncle Jim, an ex-railroad worker, who for many years ran a service station and tourist court from his home near Ironton, knew a host of stories and Indian legends tied up with the mountain.

“Uncle Jim’s favorite story probably is one about Taum Sauk, the Piankashaw Indian chieftain after whom the mountain is named, and his daughter, Mina Sauk, for whom the beautiful waterfall on the northwestern slope of the mountain is named.

“Long before the white man came here,”  Uncle Jim relates, “this land of flowers, now called the Arcadia Valley, was the hunting grounds of the Piankashaw Indians.  The Piankashaws had a famous chieftain, Sauk-Ton-Qua.  Because the name was hard for the white man to pronounce, he was later call Taum Sauk.”

“Taum Sauk was wise and although the Piankashaws were not as large a tribe as the Cherokees or Osages, he was able to hold his territory against their invasions.  The Piankashaws lived in comparative peace in and around the Arcadia Valley, where they hunted and fished and raised a little corn in the summertime.  In the winter they would move to the limestone bluff shelters along the Mississippi river and stay there until warm weather.”

“Taum Sauk’s beautiful daughter, Mina Sauk, was greatly desired by all the young warriors in the tribe.  However, Mina Sauk met a young Osage warrior in the woods and lost her heart to him.”

“For a long time he wooed her secretly, but one day she was discovered in the arms of the young Osage.  The young warrior was captured and taken before the chieftain.  He was tried and condemned to death.”

“He was executed on the slopes of Taum Sauk Mountain, where a great porphyry outcrop form an escarpment overlooking Taum Sauk creek and facing Wildcat mountain. The young warrior was tossed from the parapet down a succession of benches on the mountainside, thrown from bench to bench with the spears of warriors.  He fell bleeding and dying in the valley below.”

“The grief-stricken maiden was restrained by the tribal women from interfering with the execution.  But at the fatal moment, she broke loose from her captors and threw herself to death on the same benches.”

“The old Indian legend says that this displeased the great spirit, and that the earth trembled and shook, and the mountain cracked.  Then a stream of water poured forth and flowed down the rock benches, washing away the blood.”

“The place is still known as the Mina Sauk falls and along the edges of the rivulet, even today, there grow little flowers with crimson blossoms which the Indians believed got their color from this ancient tragedy.”

 

-I really like this story and think it could be something special if it were fleshed out more fully.  I find it hard to believe that someone like Longfellow never picked this one up and turned it into a classic.  But, I guess this part of the country has never had too many literary classicists.  Maybe Woodrell can pick this up and give it a modern Ozark face.  Someone should suggest this to him.