Ozark Bill Goes Down Under!?!?

Wilson’s Promontory National Park. The hills in the Prom peak at about 550 meters (~1640 feet).

The Australia trip is over and I’m finally getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Our flight miles added up to nearly 21,500 miles and Collin and I drove approximately 3,400 miles in country. I have been spending lots of hours during the past few days going over the nearly 6,000 photos I took during the trip and have roughly finalized my bird list – 89 species, with a couple yet to ID from photos. Not nearly enough to match my dreams, but getting to see a bit over 10% of the continent’s birds (~850 species) while on a work trip is nothing to complain about, I guess.

Here is a good look at tea tree scrub and heath habitats that cover much of the Prom.

On our last day in country we visited Wilson’s Promontory National Park. What an impact this place had on me. Take something like our Yosemite NP and surround it by ocean on three sides, fill it with unique habitats, exotic birds and marsupials and you have an idea of what the ‘Prom’ is like. Of course, one day was only enough to wet my appetite. Two weeks would have been better.

This is looking upstream of Tidal River, the largest river in the park. Birds and wombats were plentiful.

Entry fees for national parks in Australia vary by state. In Victoria, all NP’s are free to enter and all other states charge a very affordable rate. This makes me wonder why the cost of our parks are going through the roof and why so many state parks (not in MO) charge an entry fee. Priorities, I guess.

A higher elevation look at Tidal River. On this short hike we we chorused by Laughing Kookaburra and saw a number of parrots.

Here are a few of my favorite landscapes from the Prom that should give an idea of the diversity of habitats this place offers. All of these were taken less than three miles from the few roads that lie within the park.

A pano showing the meanderings of Tidal River.

 

The coastlines of the Prom were magnificent. If it weren’t for the 40-50 mph steady winds, coming in from the ocean, Collin and I would have loved to explore these areas more. Silver Gulls were the predominant bird species along these western-facing beaches.

 

Another look at the coastline. The interesting plant in the foreground is Euphorbia paralias (sea spurge). I found out later that, unfortunately, this is an exotic invasive from Europe that is causing problems along the coast of southern Australia and Tasmania. I wish I’d have known. I would have spent a few minutes pulling.
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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

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

 

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

 

Birds of Quivira – The Egrets

Great Egret
Great Egret

This Great Egret is in full breeding plumage and has acquired the green mask that are indicative of adult birds.  This one has also sustained an injury to its bill, perhaps from an aggressive encounter with another male?

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

What is more striking than a Snowy Egret?

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

Finally, I realized I haven’t included too much in terms of habitat shots of Quivira.  Here is a pano of one of the more productive sections of the reserve.  It’s a pity to think of how much of this habitat has been lost on this continent.  How many care or even know?

Heaven Lost?
Heaven Lost?

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.

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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