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

 

 

 

 

Nesting Birds of Missouri – Cerulean Warbler

Did you know…?

The Cerulean Warbler population has declined more than 80% since breeding bird surveys began in 1966?  Habitat destruction, in the form of mountaintop removal and stream filling in the Appalachians, and forest destruction for agriculture in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, along with wintering grounds destruction for coffee and cocoa production in South America are responsible.  Habitat preservation via cessation of deforestation in both nesting grounds and wintering forests are crucial if we are to continue hearing the Cerulean song.

Cerulean Warbler
Cerulean Warbler

Missouri’s Conservation Ethic

Did you know?  The Missouri program of The Nature Conservancy has protected nearly 150,000 acres of critically important natural habitat?  Their science-based approach to choosing important and biologically diverse habitats combined with their ability to work with private individuals, governments, corporations and a variety of other organizations has enabled them to protect forests/woodlands, savannahs/prairies and freshwater habitats across our great state.  Their annual update was released recently and in it are a few photographs I donated for it’s use.  Please have a read to see what The Nature Conservancy has been up to in Missouri this past year.  And please, do give some thought of making a charitable donation for your new-years plans.

IMG_2391 color

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 40mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/10 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

Currently I Dream…

“The trophy-recreationist has peculiarities that contribute in subtle ways to his own undoing.  To enjoy he must possess, invade, appropriate.  Hence the wilderness that he cannot personally see has no value to him.  Hence the universal assumption that an unused hinterland is rendering no purpose to society.  To those devoid of imagination, a blank space on a map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.  (Is my share in Alaska worthless to me because I will never go there?  Do I need a road to show me the arctic prairies, the goose pastures of the Yuckon, the Kodiak bear, the sheep meadows behind McKinley?)”

-Aldo Leopold-

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“Currently I Dream…″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM @ 165mm, ISO 100,  f/13, 1.3 sec

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

Big Spring 2012 – Autumn

This year Sarah and I timed our autumn trip into the Missouri Ozarks perfectly.  The autumn colors were near their peak and more spectacular than I can ever remember.  As is one of our favorite customs, we reserved one of the cabins at Big Spring State Park, located within the Ozark National Scenic Waterways.  Built in the 1930s by the CCC, rustic is the perfect description for these cabins and the nearby lodge.  We were a week or so earlier than normal this year and the cabins were a bit more full than usual, so we were not able to get a choice cabin that does not have a long flight of stairs.  Once I got all the unnecessary equipment and supplies we carry up these stairs and inside the cabin, we were ready to have some fun.

“Big Spring Cabin – October 2012″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 50mm, ISO 160,  f/11, 0.3 sec

Located a few miles from the town of Van Buren, Big Spring is in contention for one of the largest springs on the continent, pouring an average of 286 million gallons (13 cubic meter/sec) a day into the Current River.  I have never visited the spring without being mesmerized by the beauty and sense of peace that the spring presents as it flows from the base of the limestone bluff.  Autumn and spring time are by far the best times to make a visit.  The cool blue waters that seem to come from nowhere contrast nicely with the warm autumn colors displayed by sycamores and other trees that take hold along the bluff.  The image below showcases the watercress that is found here and in most of the large springs of the Missouri Ozarks.  Although watercress is an exotic species, it is now naturalized across most of the country, and does not seem to present much of a problem with the delicate ecosystems that these springs create.

“Watercress Garden″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 23mm, ISO 160,  f/9, 1.6 sec

Placed nearby the spring is this early Ozark settlement period structure.  These maples frame it nicely.

“The Autumn Homestead″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM @ 121mm, ISO 160,  f/11, 2.5 sec

As I have told anyone who has had the patience to listen, my idea of a perfect morning, one I could relive every day until the end of my days is getting up and hitting the trails surrounding Big Spring before sunrise.  The temperature is quite chilly, the air saturated to the point of a nice fog and I am usually greeted with the the crepuscular greeting of a Barred Owl.  Who cooks for me?  Why, Sarah will have some of the best french toast imaginable to go with my cup of french-press when I get back to the cabin sometime around mid-morning.  I better get to hiking these hills so I can burn some of those calories 😉

The morning this image was made was definitely memorable.  I actually carried my bird/wildlife lens along with my landscape gear.  Just past the confluence of the spring effluent, where those crystal-blue waters flow into the lazy Current River I eagerly watch the eastern sky.  Will this finally be the morning I see some color?  Yes indeed!  However, just after setting up the gear and getting ready to capture this scene, an Eastern Screech Owl starts vocalizing maybe 20-30 yards up the wooded slope directly behind me.  What to do!?  Go after the owl in attempts to finally get a photo of that bird or take the sure thing of a quickly changing landscape?  I decided to be satisfied with leaving the bird alone and concentrated on the sunrise while listening to one of the most beautiful songs imaginable.  There was no real fog, but what a morning!

“Current River Sunrise″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 40mm, ISO 320,  f/14, manual blend of three exposures

I also joke that I always take the same composition every time I visit the spring.  Here it is from this occasion.  I can’t help it and I won’t apologize.  I will hopefully get an original idea one of these years, but until then…

“Eternal Composition″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures

So, there is a bit of detail and a few of my favorite images from this autumn’s Big Spring visit.  It is surprising that so many people in the StL area have never even heard of Big Spring.  But I’m not complaining.  Let them take their expensive vacation to the popular destinations.  If I can have this place to myself, as I almost always do on these morning hikes, I’ll be satisfied and want for nothing.  Until the next time, I’ll be pining for my next visit home.

“Sarah & Bill – October 2012″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 32mm, ISO 160,  f/9, 1/5 sec