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

 

 

 

 

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Nesting Birds of Missouri – Pine Warbler

Perhaps the most appropriately named warbler, this special bird is said to nest almost exclusively in pine trees and is one of the earliest nesting warblers within it’s range.  These special birds were a thrill for us to find and watch.  Closeup images of the male bird were taken at Big Spring State Park, while the nest was located in a Short-leaf Pine located on a parking lot within Shaw Nature Reserve.

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

The chicks were adorable and near-helpless, only able to open their gigantic craws at anticipation of a juicy insect meal.

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Pine Warbler Chicks, Shaw Nature Reserve, May 2014

During the time Steve and I strained our necks watching the child care from ~50 ft below, we were able to observe that when dad visited the nest he always approached from the side of the nest facing us as seen in the image below.  Mom always visited on the opposite side, affording us poor looks.  It was interesting to observe that both parents approached the nest in a slow and indirect manner, usually starting low in the nest tree or an adjacent neighbor.  They would then hop from branch to branch, often in a spiral up the tree to reach the nest.  I do not remember watching either parent make a direct flight to the nest.

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Pine Warbler Father with Chicks, Shaw Nature Reserve, May 2014

I’ll leave you with the Pine Warbler advertisement song and with hopes of seeing them as soon as possible in the next spring.

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Male Pine Warbler, Big Spring State Park, April 2014

 

 

April Remembered

About three months ago Steve and I made a trip to southern Missouri in perfect time to catch the songbird migration near its peak.  Our primary areas of focus were the two largest springs in Missouri – Big Spring and Greer Spring, two areas located within Ozark Scenic National Riverways.  This National Park contains some of the best habitat in Missouri for newly arriving nesting birds as well as good stopping grounds for those birds heading to more northerly destinations.

I was very fortunate in being able to take first photos of several new species during this trip, one of which was this amazing Broad-winged Hawk – a species whose diagnostic vocalization is often heard among the treetops in densely wooded areas but is less frequently seen.

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk

Another species that I finally captured on camera was this Yellow-throated Vireo.  This species advertising song is quite similar to the Red-eyed Vireo.  The difference being that the Yellow-throated will give you a chance to answer his questions, whereas the Red-eyed won’t shut up long enough for you to respond!  😉

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Yellow-throated Vireo

Next up is a species that was just passing through, on its way to nest in northern Canada or Alaska.  The Grey-cheeked Thrush is the least studies of North American Catharus species.

Grey-cheeked Thrush
Grey-cheeked Thrush

Greer Spring is always a place of great beauty, although usually stingy with pleasing compositions.  On this visit we took the plunge into the first deep boil immediately outside the cave opening.  An unforgettable experience!

Greer Spring in Bloom
Greer Spring in Bloom

At the trail-head on the way down to the spring, Steve found this Pheobe nest with mom on eggs.  She patiently sat while I took a few photos.

A Step Back In Time
A Step Back In Time

Probably the most exciting find and photographs for us was this resident Swainson’s Warbler.  This warbler is likely the least common of Missouri’s nesting songbirds and is considered endangered in the state.  Loss of its preferred habitat of thick shrubby understory within flood plain forests has caused this species to decline across its entire breeding range.  The boat dock at Greer Spring is one of the few locations that this species can be expected to be found every spring in Missouri.

Swainson's Warbler
Swainson’s Warbler
Swainson's Song
Swainson’s Song

This last image, which may be my favorite of the trip, shows a singing Ovenbird, a species of the understory within high-quality hardwood or hardwood/conifer forests.  It’s song, often described as teacher, teacher, teacher, can be confused with the similar sounding song of the Kentucky Warbler.  We have noticed the difference of habitat preference between the two species, which may aid the novice birder.  The Ovenbird is most often observed in dry upland areas with sparse vegetation, whereas the Kentucky Warbler prefers lower, wet areas with dense undergrowth.

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The Ovenbird

In my opinion, one has not experienced anything in the Missouri Ozarks until having spent a sunrise on an April morning listening to the newly arrived nesting songbirds and those just passing through.

There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.

An April Morning
An April Morning

Big Spring Trip – Autumn, 2013

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life — the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.

-Claude Monet

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“Ageless Banks”

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“Amber Mists”

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“Changing Time”

Big Spring Handles Big Waters

Sarah’s and my recent trip to Big Spring country provided us with lots of different looks that only the Ozarks in spring can provide.  On our second day the region was subjected to a strong storm front that dumped nearly five inches of rain in about a 12 hour period.  Although that limited the time spent outside cabin or vehicle, it did bring some learning opportunities.  I have often wondered with what speed and “precision” these large Ozark springs and their karst systems reacted to new rainfall in their watershed.  Would a deluge such as this become immediately apparent in the relative rate of discharge at Big Spring?  Or would the dynamics take a longer period of time?  My prediction would have been that the system would take up some considerable slack and act like a sponge.  That the effluent from the spring would rise eventually, but not as quickly as the rains came.  I turned out to be wrong.  During the first 12-18 hours, the increase of discharge from the spring seemed to keep pace with the rate of rise in the Current River.  This photo was taken at mid-morning the day after the rains.  Here the spring’s aquamarine  waters are flowing into the already mud-laden flood waters of the Current.  I estimate the waters were about two to three feet above normal at this time.

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“Confluence Contradiction″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 58mm, ISO 320,  f/10, 1/25 sec

The next morning the scene looked quite different.  It looked to me the Current had gained enough water to rise over the shallow points of land this far into the effluent channel.  Water was everywhere, completely covering the lower section of the Chubb trail, completely covering the dock and railings surrounding it, and blocking access to the spring accept by the main road.  Even with the extra water the boil from the spring was still quite noticeable.

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“Current Rising″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 65mm, ISO 640,  f/9, 1/20 sec

This scene is always one of my favorites.  This tree’s load of mistletoe is easily seen.  Thanks for pointing this out to me, Steve!

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“ ‘Planely’ Flooded ″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 75mm, ISO 100,  f/10, 0.4 sec

Since the spring had lost a good deal of its potential for interesting compositions, I played a bit with some macro work.  Here is that symbol of Missouri’s Natural Area System, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, taken within the Big Spring Natural Area.

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“Jack in the Pulpit″

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

Snow in SEMO!?!?

The forecast suggested the day in which I had been waiting for years might finally be here.  Finally, the combination of snow in the big-spring country of south-eastern Missouri Ozark region, a vehicle that can move through these hilly, un-plowed roads and a day off to enjoy myself in them.  I was also fortunate to have a friend who was just as excited about it as I was!  I told Steve I’d pick him up from his place and we would visit Big Spring and whatever other places we desired and had the daylight to enjoy.  This is the second winter season I have owned my current 4WD vehicle, but considering our winter last year, this was really the first time I’ve gotten to drive it under snow and icy conditions.  It definitely lived up to my expectations.  Remembering one must still drive slow and anticipate braking (as the three 4WD vehicles in the ditch that I passed demonstrated) we took our time and arrived at Big Spring State Park with a minimum of butt-clenching.  It was definitely worth the drive!  My photos do not begin to capture the beauty and peacefulness of our surroundings.

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“Ozark Whitewater″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 19mm, ISO 100,  f/13, 1/10 sec

Nothing can beat a day spent during or after a snow at a place such as this.  Although definitely slower and quieter during this “blue season”, life was still obvious in surrounding us.  Mosses and lichen were wet and vibrant, and the bright green watercress contrasted nicely with the deep blues and sharp turquoise of the spring effluent.  A first for my eyes was the conspicuous in-this-season mistletoe bunches that are evergreen and apparently still robbing their Sycamore hosts even during the “dead of winter”.  I imagine I have observed these plants in the past, but assumed they were dead leaves potentially put together by a squirrel.  And the birds!  The birds were very abundant immediately surrounding the spring.  Nothing beats being able to observe a Bald Eagle and a Belted Kingfisher simultaneously without having to turn your head.  The photo below shows the geology that is not as visible in the green months.

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“Big Spring, Winter 2012″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 36mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/60 sec

Every slight change in viewing angle resulted in noticeable changes in color of different sections of the spring’s effluent.  I don’t believe I have ever seen so many shades of blue in one place at one time.  I converted the image below to black and white, then toned as a “duotone” by bringing a selenium tone to the shadows.  I hoped to focus attention on the textures in the water and the heights these waves reached.

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“Exhalation″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 17mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/8 sec

After getting a satisfactory but still much too short experience at Big Spring, we left what unmarred snow was remaining and headed to the next spot I was eager to see with a cap of snow, Falling Spring.

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“Falling Spring Mill-house, Winter 2012″
 Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 40mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 0.4 sec

It always brightens my spirit to see that this delicate structure still stands and in relatively little disabuse.  The spring’s discharge was light on this day, but the noise of the water falling the ~20 feet to the pool below was enough to drown almost every other sound.  A nice point of visiting in the winter was being able to trek around the beaver pond a bit.  Steve discovered the beaver den with obvious “trails” moving outward from it in the water.  The picture below was taken facing away from the spring and shows the fiery warmth of the late-day sun that was cut by the height of the hill.  I love the contrasts provided by the bare Sycamore branches and the reflections from the beaver pond.  A stunning view indeed!

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“Holding the Sun″
 Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 85mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 0.6 sec

Seeing what can be found on a day like this and how few people were out to make these experiences ensures that I will definitely be down here to capture more scenes like these.

Cold Origin of Life?

Fire and Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Will the world ultimately end in fire or ice, desire or hate?  I don’t know, but a multitude of fascinating theories exist for the origin of life on earth.  I’ve recently read an interesting theory that suggests ice-cold conditions were more conducive for the origin of the first complicated molecules.  Although cold temperatures are a detriment to most life on earth, several potential problems are alleviated by this as well.  An interesting read if you like.  Pictured below is the main boil of water that is released from Big Spring located in the Missouri Ozarks

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“Cold Origins″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 19mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/6 sec