Floating the Upper Current

Upper Current in Autumn
Upper Current in Autumn

I’m finally ready to share a few more images from a float down the upper third or so of the Current River that Steve and I had the great fortune to experience this past October.  We started at navigable mile 8.0 at Cedar Grove Access and pulled out three days later at mile 51, the confluence of the Current and that other, oh-so desirable, Ozark stream – the Jacks Fork.  If one floats slow and quiet, the opportunity to see wildlife is very high in this National Park (Ozark National Scenic Riverways N.P.).  I’v shared a couple of images of these guys previously.  I believe we found 8-9 Mink during the first day of this float.  It was enjoyable watching them busily hunt along the stream banks, mostly oblivious to our presence.  As usual, Steve did a great job in keeping us quiet and pointed in the optimal direction for capturing some images.

American Mink
American Mink

It was quite a challenge to keep up with these guys as they fished.  This one below had caught a nice-sized crayfish and barely slowed to stop and enjoy his snack.

Ozark Lobster!
Ozark Lobster!

Here is a photo of one investigating the water prior to dipping back in.

Testing the Water
Testing the Water

Not only does a float down the Current allow for great observations of wildlife, but many geological features are most easily seen by being on the river as well.  Cave Spring can now be accessed via a nice newer trail, but it is much nicer accessing it by boat.  The endpoint of a vast and interesting karst drainage system, Cave Spring rises from the back of a short cave.  At the rear of this cave one can guide a boat over the vertical conduit of the spring, which is ~155 feet deep!  What an eerie sensation it is to shine your light down and still see no more than a fraction of the length of the conduit shaft.  In the image below, I am on a dry exposed shelf adjacent to the spring’s outlet and Steve is guiding the canoe towards the river.

Cave Spring
Cave Spring

Pultite is a spring found on this upper stretch of the Current River that is surrounded on all sides except the river by private property.  This means that one must boat or wade/swim to visit it.  At only ~ 1/10 the output of Big Spring, Pultite is still quite a good-sized spring with and average daily output of ~ 25 million gallons.  The effluent channel on this one is quite attractive and I hope to visit more often.

Pultite Channel
Pultite Channel

If day one was for the Mink, day two was our River Otter day.  We had no Mink, but 5 or 6 of these large weasels were spotted.

North American River Otter
North American River Otter

Not to forget the birds!  These days, a trip to nearly any permanent Missouri water source will likely bring an encounter with a Bald Eagle.  Observing these guys in the Ozarks will never get old to me.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Another constant companion on these floats are the Fish Crows, here pictured finishing up a little Ozark lobster.

Fish Crow
Fish Crow

We were fortunate in having mostly clear and dry skies on this trip, which allowed us to throw our bags directly on whatever gravel bar that struck our fancy and sleep directly underneath the stars.  A morning fire was necessary – not only to burn the dew off of our sleeping bags, but of course, for the river-water French-press coffee.  Dark skies on these streams afford great opportunities for astrophotography.  My only wish for this trip is that I was a little more tolerant of the cold, tiredness and laziness that limited my patience for getting better nightscape images… 😉

Nightscape on the Upper Current
Nightscape on the Upper Current

I will be posting more images of this trip on my Flickr account in the near future.  Thanks for visiting and I hope to post again in the near future.

-OZB

 

An Autumn Trip Down the River

American Mink
American Mink

Steve and I just returned from five fun filled days in which we spent some great time floating the upper Current.  Of course, I will be processing images for some likely months, but I wanted to share a couple now.  We found five American Mink along the banks of the river during our first day.  They were mostly unconcerned with our presence as we floated along, following them as they fished and foraged.

American Mink
American Mink

We were fortunate to find most favorable weather during this break.  The nights were cool and clear and the days warm and blue for the most part.  We were able to find and follow a number of forest friends and I’m looking forward to sharing them.

-OZB

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

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”

A Walk Through Blue Spring Natural Area

This past June, Steve and I took a walk through one of the highest quality woodlands our Ozark hills have to offer.  The short hike from the head of the spring to the Powder Mill trail-head and back offered an amazing diversity of life.  Here are just a few of the things we were able to find and capture on camera.

Nothing can be mentioned about this location without first discussion of the spring itself.  The Osage Indians referred to it as “Spring of the Summer Sky”, a most apt description for a spring who’s appearance defines the color blue.  And in summer, when the flow is not overly encumbered by the suspension of dissolved limestone from heavy rains, the crystal-clear waters afford a look to the bottom of the spring, some 250 feet below the pool’s surface.

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“Blue Spring Run”

The small nooks and crevices carved over the ages into the limestone and dolomite that overlook the spring pool make the perfect shelter for the Eastern Phoebe to make their nests.  Most folks have likely seen the nests of this species under overhangs on human-made structures.  It has only been within the last year that I have been fortunate enough to observe these nests in their more natural of settings.  A perfectly placed snag within the spring’s pool makes for a fine resting place for a young Phoebe that is taking a break from the carrying on that was taking place near these nests.  It was also a great place and time for us to take a break and take in everything this spot has to offer.

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Eastern Phoebe on a Snag

Back on the trail a few minutes later Steve and I were pleased to find this guy.  A first for the both of us, this Dung Beetle was moving this “resource” with full conviction.  We couldn’t figure out where she was moving it, but she was sure not going to let us get in her way.  When gently stopped she would climb to the top of her ball and let it be known that it was claimed.

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King of the Hill

Here’s a little “motion pan” to give an idea of the speed at which she could move her grocery towards its future larder.

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The Cache”

Our primary goals for this early summer day where to see if we couldn’t find and photograph any or all of three of the more rare warblers that are known to nest in this area.  These would be the Swainson’s, Cerulean and Hooded Warbler.  Although we did get a few confirmed vocalizations from a Swainson’s, we could not get our eyes on the sneaky guy through all the vegetation.  A few quick and loud playbacks did, however, coax 4-5 male Cerulean Warblers to descend from the forest canopy in order to meet the new male who had apparently set up shop amidst their territory cluster.

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Singing Cerulean”

This was a sweeter treat for us than spending time with Willy Wonka (Wilder not Depp) and Heather Graham in a chocolate factory.  They seemed totally curious and intrigued as they moved among lower branches, foraging and singing as they went.  Did you know this species has suffered more than 70% population decline since the 1960’s?  Approximately 500,000 birds are the current population estimates and habitat destruction and fragmentation continue to threaten this species.  Check out The Nature Conservancy for more information on this great bird, and consider checking out Cerulean Blues.

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Cerulean with Insect

Finally, I present a pair of gorgeous Northern Water Snakes that were basking on some exposed rock not to far from shore along the Current River.

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Basking Water Snakes”

A Hike Down Rocky Creek

I have been wanting to make the hike down Rocky Creek to its confluence with the Current since I read about the idea in Louis C. White’s Ozark Hideways.  This past Saturday, Steve and I were both aching to get on the trails, to be with nature on a beautiful late winter’s day.  This hike was high on the ever-growing list of potential day-hikes, so we decided that this was the day for this one.  As was the plan, we started at the Rocky Falls N.A. parking lot.  We found that the water level in Rocky Creek was a bit higher than we expected.  While this is fantastic if your goal is to get some nice flowing water shots, it can make for some wetter than desired hiking and stream crossing.  Although this stream is not officially in the St. Francois Mountains, the exposed red rhyolite reminds me of the scenery there to the north-east.  We would see three of the best shut-in areas to be found in the Missouri Ozarks, with Rocky Creek Falls being first.  This image was taken on a previous visit.

Rocky Falls

“Rocky Creek Falls″

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 23mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/4 sec

The first half mile or so of the hike is spent walking alongside the creek, past an impressive beaver-pond until this little side-spur hooks into the Ozark Trail.  A right turn leads to Stegall Mountain, one of the “higher” peaks in Missouri and Peck Ranch C.A.  We turned left to keep along with Rocky Creek and head ultimately to the Current River.  The OZT comes and goes from within sight of the stream.  When possible, Steve and I strayed from the trail and kept close to the stream.  About a half mile from the Hwy NN crossing, we came across the next series of major shut-ins, those at the base of Buzzard Mountain.  The photo below was made on a previous visit.

Buzzard Mountain Shut-ins

“Buzzard Mountain Shut-Ins″

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 22mm, ISO 250,  f/14, 1/20 sec

Continuing past these beautiful formations of rock vs. water we followed the stream.  It was difficult to make progress, as around every bend there were shelves of exposed, upraised porphyry.  These ~ 3.5 billion year old “benches” were perfect traps for lounging and loafing, snacking and passing the time philosophizing, all the while listening to the ever present sounds of the crystal-clear water fighting its endless battle downstream.  This image was made in between our breaks.

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“Another World″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures

A mile or two past Buzzard Mountain we came across the third and last of the major shut-ins along Rocky Creek.  These shut-ins are at the base of Mill Mountain, and the Klepzig Mill can still be found here.  Somehow, after several visits I have still not photographed the mill structure.  Oh well, another excuse to return.  Below is a photo of the shut-ins made on a prior visit to the area.

 

“Mill Mountain Shut-Ins″

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 250,  f/16, 1/25 sec

About here we left the OZT to continue east with the stream towards its rendezvous with the Current.  The vast majority of the course of the stream has a very shallow base; in most places it can be forded without wetting your knees.  Once in awhile, pools deep enough to swim in would come about.  These pools held some decent sized fish and looked quite inviting for a swim.  Near one of these we stopped for a bite, including some tuna sandwiches that Steve brought along.  At one point Steve missed his mouth and a chunk of tuna  landed in the water along a shallow shelf.  We watched to see if a fish would come along for a free bite.  No fish found this piece, but in a few minutes this guy, smelling the oils leaching from the fish presumably, came out of the depths to scavenge our waste.

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“Spothanded Crayfish″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/4, 1/60 sec

Did you know…? The Missouri Ozarks are home to 25 species of Crayfish, seven of which are found nowhere else.  The ancient geology of the Ozark region has created spatially isolated streams, supporting varied aquatic habitats based on bedrock and erosional composition.  This has enabled high speciation rates of crayfish and other aquatic and riparian animals.

The Spothanded Crayfish is known to have specific color and other morphological differences between populations in Missouri.  In the western populations, such as this one found in the Current River watershed, the species is greenish in color and contains the dark spots  on the base of the pincers, while populations in the eastern drainages of the Meramec and Black Rivers usually do not show the spots and have red or orange tinted pincers.

Read more about the Spothanded Crayfish or any other of Missouri’s Crayfish by checking out this wonderful guide: The Crayfishes of Missouri, by William Pflieger.

Another two or three miles of stream-side bushwhacking, trail and forest road hiking and we found ourselves at the confluence, the now flat and tranquil Rocky Creek dumping its waters into the Current River.  The hike back was quicker and partially under the cover of darkness.  A highlight of our return was very close looks of an American Woodcock that we heard wobbling  among the dry leaves near the trail.  A favorite of mine.

We finished the day by grabbing a couple of pies at Saso’s in nearby Ellington.  The pies were fine, but no homemade baklava was on hand… 😦

I’ll end with the late-afternoon view we had from the point of the confluence.  Rocky Creek is moving in from the right.  The sun was pushing its last of the day onto the hills and was partially obscured by rapidly-moving clouds.  This resulted in the dynamic light across the landscape on the opposite bank of the Current.  I decided to go with a bit of a pictorialist treatment, but I am not completely convinced it was the best direction to go.  I used the clarity slider in ACR RAW to give the image a softer, less defined appearance, hopefully bringing attention to the changing tones as well as to the calmness of the water, which is juxtaposed by the images made upstream that were placed earlier in this post.

Well, I hope this wasn’t boring, and perhaps makes you wish to witness some of these locations for yourself.  Until next time, make like a camper and go take a hike.

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“A Place in My Heart″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 96mm, ISO 125,  f/10, 1/13 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.

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