Steelville Natural Bridge

Located mere feet from the Meramec River in Crawford County, I came across this natural bridge – named “Steelville NB” in Beveridge’s “Geologic Wonders and Natural Curiosities of Missouri” while visiting Zahorsky Woods.  An adjoining lot’s owner invited me to hike his trails and gave me directions to it’s location.  I’d love to go back following a heavy rain.

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Fast Action Photography

No, I do not mean catching a bird on the wing or some split second sports action in camera.  Sometimes the landscape photograph has equal timing requirements and this one will serve to remind me of what could have been and to be ready and prepared whenever in setting.  I hiked to the top of Hughes one early spring evening with the full kit.  Arriving at the top, I was a bit disappointed in the lack of clouds for a potential sunset shot, but I can never be in the dumps at this location no matter what nature is presenting.  So I just decided to sit and enjoy the silence and see what may come my way.  Not paying much attention I suddenly noticed a fairly small, beautifully pastel-colored cloud popped out of nowhere and was positioned in the perfect place, just in a perfect frame along with blooming Service Berry in the foreground.  Of course the gear was where it was nice and safe – all wrapped up in the camera bag.  I could tell this cloud was ephemeral and sprang into action.

Pulled the tripod off and extend the legs, unzip, pick lens, attach lens to camera, attach polarizing filter, attach shutter release cord, attach camera to tripod, shoot, I forgot the graduated neutral density filter, which one do I need, OK, how to compose?  Compose? Just hurry up!  By the time I had everything ready and was hitting the shutter the cloud has diminished by more than three fold and lost all of that wonderful color.  I then identified that irritating high pitch noise I was hearing.  I was screaming.

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Falling Spring

Twenty years from now…

…you want me to tell you that story that happened that night at Falling Spring?  You sure?  Alright, it’ll be your sleepless night.

 Me and my cuz were giggin’ frogs down in that beaver pond one spring night when out of the blue we saw a fella wearin’ a strange hat walkin’ alone.  We asked him what he was doing out here all alone and where he came from.  He answered he came from a place with tall buildin’s and he was searching for answers that nobody had. 

He stood there, the palest, most pathetic creature you’d ever seen.  Paler than the moon standin’ above us, when all of a sudden eery red lights started comin’ from inside that old mill shack!  Now, we had been standin’ outside there fer hours and hadn’t seen a soul inside or out.  Before we could think, a sound that was louder and more fierce than a 10′ tall hoot-owl started and the trees began moving back and forth, even though there tweren’t a bit a breeze on the air to be had!

My cuz and I had grabbed our poles and slowly backed ourselves out to the road and the safety of the truck.  We looked over to where the stranger had been and noticed he was walkin’ towards the old shack!  We shouted something to the effect of what the Sam Hill are you doing?  He replied that he was going to see if the agnostics were right.  I couldn’t get at what he was sayin’, and we couldn’t get him to stop movin’ towards that obvious poltergeist.

The last question I asked was what his name was.  He said something like Beelzebub, Bufford, Ozark Bill, or somethin’ like that.  The last time I saw him he was walkin’ inside and stripping down to the suit he was born in.  The lights got brighter and hotter.  So hot and bright I had to turn away.  We heard a screech worse than a Tom cat trying to mate with a pot belly stove and all of a sudden everything went back to normal.  

As we were making dust away from that place I heard a really sweet, low and soft voice singing…

‘Way down in Missouri where I heard this melody
When I was a little feller on my mommie’s knee
The old folks were humming the banjos were strumming so sweet and low

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A Flooded St. Francis

Early this May, Steve and I had the good fortune to visit a couple spots along our St. Francois Mountains the day after a front brought about three inches of rain to the area.  One of these spots was the Einstein Dam at Silvermines Recreation Area (St. Francis N.A.).  The power of the water surging through the breaks in the dam was mesmerizing.  A sense of near vertigo became apparent as I stared into the sheet of water that dropped nearly ten feet downstream.  I knew Steve would have almost no chance if he slipped into this torrent, but my photo needed some scale!  So I asked him to have a seat on the edge.

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We arrived with little light left, but tried to take it all in while I made a few images.  We had visited the previous autumn when the water was much lower

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Imagine dropping into this in your kayak?  We pondered if this would be advisable or not.  If you think it doesn’t look all that bad from this photo, be sure to watch this.

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Water moving in every conceivable direction!

Enjoying the Gems Under Your Nose

I have often said I am more interested in the places the Ozarks have to offer compared to the possible visits to iconic destinations in the rest of the country.  I know I would love and appreciate those spots, of course.  But the millions of photographs generated are probably enough without my lousy contributions.  I am more interested in showcasing the animals and habitats that can be found in the Show Me State, the places with names that so many who live here have never even heard.  I’ve come to realize lately that I am guilty of ignoring a few places less than an hour’s drive from my doorstep that have a lot to offer, passing them by on my three hour drives to more exotic Ozark locations.  These places include Castlewood, Washington and Babler State Parks, Emmenegger Nature Park, Bush Wildlife and a handful of other Conservation Areas.  The place I’ve gotten to know much better this spring is the location spotlighted in this post, St. Francois State Park.

St. Francois SP, located just north of Bonne Terre, MO, has a lot to offer the nature lover.  I have now hiked the three primary trails and they each offer unique features that should satisfy any true Ozarker.  Sarah and I enjoyed a nice hike on the Swimming Deer Trail a couple weeks ago and stumbled across the best bunch of Bluebells I have seen personally.  I did not bring the camera on that hike, but later that week we took a few days break to travel south and made sure we stopped back here again.  I was hoping the show would still be ongoing and I was not disapointed.  We were even fortunate to have a nice overcast sky and relatively little wind.  So the poor photography is my own blame.  Picking out compositions that worked was more trouble than I anticipated, of course.

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“Bluebells and Limestone″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 23mm, ISO 320,  f/13, 0.3 sec

This trail also contains the largest number of Ohio Buckeyes that I have seen at one location in Missouri.  These trees and their emerging, distinctive leaves were found everywhere.  Along with Pawpaws, these small trees fit in perfectly beneath the larger oaks and hickories that dominate the upper canopy.  Pictured below is one of the larger buckeyes I found on this day.

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“Bluebells and Buckeyes″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 70mm, ISO 320,  f/18, 0.5 sec

Along with this great display of wildflowers and trees, the Swimming Deer Trail offers nice views into the Big River valley from atop tall bluffs that are adorned with the characteristic Eastern Red Cedars who are so adept at holding on to cracks and crevices to get the best possible looks as the seasons fly by.

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“Bluebells and Woody Vine″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 400,  f/16, 0.4 sec

I apologize for so many vertical compositions.  I once read a photography e-article that suggested this tendency was more typical of the “stand up, aggressive, masculine” (male) photographer, whereas women photographers (and painters I assume), who are assuredly the “weaker sex” are more apt to produce horizontal landscapes, obviously the more passive and prostrate the compositional choice.  If there is any truth to this hogwash, I wonder what it says about the artist who prefers the square ratio?  😉

Anyway, back to the nature stuff, right?  Well, any nature photographer who still cares to keep his union badge has to shoot the cliched Bluebell macro shot, right?  Here it is.

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“Nature Porn″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/8, 1/10 sec

Of course, anywhere in the Ozarks at this time of year is going to be heaven for any birder who is worth their salt.  St. Francois SP is definitely no exception.  During my several visits over the last month, I loved listening and watching the nesting wood warblers and other songbirds as they busily setup their territories, build nests and feed themselves.  I used to think the Romanticists’ metaphorical descriptions of spring as a bunch of overly sentimental hogwash.  Now I find myself just as captivated by this line of interpretation as I do the underpinning that natural history presents.  What heaven is spring!

A week or so following Sarah’s and my trip, Steve gave me a guided tour of the last trail I had yet explored at St. Francois SP: “Mooner’s Hollow”.  A beautiful sloped-shelf waterfall, rocky outcrops and wonderful examples of spring ephemeral wildflowers along the river bottom of Coonville Creek Wild Area were the expected highlights.  What we were not expecting was the fortunate stumbling upon of a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher’s nest!  The second smallest bird in the state, these guys build a nest that is similar in size and construction to that of the state’s smallest, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  In the picture below you can hopefully get a look at the construction materials of plant fibers, spider webs, fur and lichen, which is used so beautifully to camouflage the nest.

I watched the nest for a couple of hours.  In this little time I noticed the pair did not stay at the nest, which makes me believe there were not yet any eggs.  The pair stopped at the nest for no more than 60 seconds.  During this time one of the pair would enter the nest, add a bit of lichen or other material they had brought, do a little manipulation and then they would leave again.  This would be repeated every 15 – 20 minutes.  I hope to visit the nest soon to see if eggs, or perhaps even chicks might be found.

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“Not Just Gnatcatching”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/6.3, 1/320 sec

This spring I have been fortunate to spend a fair amount of time in the rugged, karst topography that is so unique to the Ozark Highlands.  This continues to bring to mind what it must have been like to travel and exist in this country before ‘modern conveniences’ were introduced to muddle the experience.  A great series of roads can take you to within a ten mile hike or less to basically any spot on the map in Missouri.  For now, I leave with a great quote from that Confederate bushwhacking bastard, Sam Hildebrand.  This is in reference to a cave that is apparently located within or nearby St. Francois SP.  A reason for further exploring some day.

“We passed quietly through Butler County, along the western line of Madison, then through St. Francois and across Big River to those native hills and hunting grounds of my boyhood, known as the Pike Run hills.  The reader must bear in mind that these hills possess peculiar advantages over any other part of the country between St. Louis and the Arkansas line.  They look like the fragments of a broken up world piled together in dread confusion, and terminating finally in an abrupt bluff on the margin of Big River, where nature has left a cavern half way up the perpendicular rock, now known as “The Hildebrand Cave,” mouth to which cannot be seen either from the top or bottom.”

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“Fragments of a Broken Up World″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/8 sec

Bill & Steve’s Excellent Adventure, or On Quest to find an Overland Route to Jam Up Cave

I had read about and viewed photos of Jam Up Cave along the Jacks Fork River for a number of years.  Every source I could find made specific mention that the only way was by boat along the river.  The case being that I am still most comfortable and knowledgeable on my lug-soled boots, I figured it would be a while before I got a chance to see it.  Then, in one of the recent cover stories from the MDC’s Conservationist, Brett Dufur highlighted the Upper Jacks Fork and mentioned Jam Up Cave that lies at the confluence of Jam Up Creek and the Jacks Fork.  This prompted my friend Steve and his father to find an overland route via the Jacks Fork Natural Area.  Within a few days of their visit Steve graciously showed me the way.  I have marked what I believe was our general route to the cave from a small pullout.  County Rd OO 491 can be accessed off of OO north of Hwy 60 just east of the town of Mountain View.

Jam Up Cave Route

The hike was not too long, but it deserves highest marks in terms of the difficulty of the terrain.  We bushwhacked our way mostly along ridge tops but enjoyed the burn of moving up near 500 vertical feet.  I had my first look at the end of Jam Up Creek, a losing stream that vanishes underground among boulders and rubble of the karst topography that dominates this watershed.  We then entered the rear of the cavern where we were treated to views like these.  Can you find Steve in this one?

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“The Grand Perspective″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 400,  f/8, manual blend of three exposures

This next one is a bit deeper into the cave looking towards the front entrance across the forbidden pool.  The drop from this side to the pool would have been near 30-40 feet.  From both sides of the pool, impressive looks can be had of an underground waterfall.  Try as I might, I could not find an interesting way to make a photograph of it.  Did we find Smeagol?  We’ll never tell.

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“The Forbidden Pool″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 25mm, ISO 320,  f/11, manual blend of three exposures

From here we made the climb out of the cave and up to the top of the bluff that offers great views of the Jacks Fork as it bends its way around the bluffs.  The ancient cedars attached to the edge of the bluffs were quite impressive and are not easily forgotten.

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“Jacks Fork Lookout″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/100 sec

The “front door” of Jam Up Cave is this cavernous maw, the roof of which stands at over 100 feet high and nearly as wide.  This opening funnels into a much narrower tunnel that leads through a rubble field for ~500 feet to the other side of the forbidden pool that I discussed above.  This is a classic karst feature of the Missouri Ozarks and should rank up there with Grand Gulf, HaHa Tonka, the classic Ozark Springs and Devil’s Well.

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“Cavernous Maw″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 100,  f/11, manual blend of three exposures

On the way out of the cavern we saw this impressive site and decided to give it a bit more sense of perspective by putting a certain pathetic creature into the scene.

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“Jam Up″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 47mm, ISO 160,  f/11, manual blend of three exposures

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.

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“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.

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“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

Location Spotlight: North America’s Most Endangered Ecosystem, Tallgrass Prairie – Part II

So, a week or two after the weekend trip that Steve and I made to SWMO Sarah told me she had a hankering to go on a bird/photo trip to the same area.  She didn’t have to ask me twice.  😉  We loaded up the N.E.V. even though we were getting reports that the world had ended the day prior due to a dumping of snow and ice.  Not really knowing what to expect, I shoveled enough of the ice and snow to back out of our driveway and hit the road.  We were expecting to travel the whole way doing 30 mph or so and we knew we might even be forced to turn back if the conditions were too dicey.  Well, I guess it goes to show how unused to driving in winter weather we have become in this state, because once we got outside StL County, the roads were perfect the entire trip!  We did make our way north for a stopover in KC for some BBQ before heading back home, and they did get a foot or more of that weird white stuff, but by the time we made it there on Sunday, the roads were in pretty fair shape.

Okay, enough about our life, get with the picture making and depressing conservation talk, right?  We arrived at PSP with about a half day’s worth of light remaining to do some birding from the car, watch the bison, shoot some landscapes and visit the visitor’s center.  Dana was there, but he seemed pretty busy so we didn’t stop to chat this time.  The park was beautiful!  They had obviously received more of the “freezing rain” type of precipitation (on the east side of the state it was mostly “sleet” and snow), as nearly all the vegetation was enveloped in ice.  The look of the prairie was captivating as I hope I recorded in some of these images.  The sky was partially cloudy and moving quickly, and every five minutes the lighting changed dramatically pulling the eye this way and that from our vantage point from top of one of the higher hills.  After throwing a handful of fruits, nuts, grains and grubs into my mouth, I put the gear together, jumped onto the hood of the car and made this image…

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“Welcome Back to Prairie State Park″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 29mm, ISO 100,  f/16, manual blend of two exposures

Sunlight was bouncing around the ice-encased grasses and branches.  The light did very little to battle the frigid temperatures and cruel winds on this lookout.  Sarah shot this closeup of what the prairie looked like.  I can’t say for certain, but I think this made it a little more difficult for the Harriers, Shrikes and Kestrels to catch their rodent prey.

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“Mighty Mouse’s Fortress of Solitude″

Technical details: Panasonic DMC-FZ50 Camera, 28mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, by Sarah Duncan

Don’t think I forgot about the bison.  Although we could watch them from afar during this visit, they were not close enough to the roads to take any photos.  Here’s one from the previous trip.  This is far from an artistic or technically perfect shot.  But, shooting at dusk with a 500mm and getting something usable with 1/40 second is pretty nice.  The rig was on a tripod, there was almost no wind, I used “live-view” and a remote cord to release the shutter.

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“The Inquisitor”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 1250,  f/5.6, 1/40 sec

I’m still astounded by how much the bison will move in a day.  There isn’t a spot in the park that does not show signs of them.  Even though they were quite a distance away, the tracks we found in the snow declared they had been where we stood at least 12 hours previously.

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“The Forgotten Herd”

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 33mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/40 sec

I know what you’ll think about this next image.  “Oh my! That pathetic creature must have stood outside under 17F and 30 mph winds for too long.  It must have been a painful death, his face being all contorted in that death-mask.”  Nope.  That is me…smiling.  It’s true.  I’m not sure, maybe it’s too many years of corporate America taking their toll.  Perhaps it’s the self-imposed, lifetime ban on cigarettes, Ben and Jerry’s and pig’s feet, but this is apparently how I smile now.  I’ve tried this in front of the mirror a few times since I saw this, and I’ve decided I won’t be doing it any longer.

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 “Pathetic Creature″

Technical details: Panasonic DMC-FZ50 Camera, 50mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/640 sec, by Sarah Duncan

One of the more abundant bird species we observed during our visits in the prairies was the Northern Harrier.  As pictured below, their method of hunting is to fly low over the grasslands while listening for their prey.  These birds have keen hearing and specially developed facial disks like those of owls that help amplify sounds by directing them towards the ear.

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“Icy Heavens”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/4000 sec

If I could do this, I wouldn’t have those crusty, woolen sleeves on these cold and windy days!  Look closely and you can see an example of something that plagues this herd.  Dana told us that they have a pretty bad time with conjunctivitis.  This has resulted in many of the animals having cataracts in one or both eyes as can be seen in this bull.  Good thing they have poor vision to start with?

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“Blind in One Eye, Can’t See Out the Other”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/640 sec

On our second day in SWMO, Sarah and I were dedicated to visiting a few prairies that we had not previously visited.  This was tough, because it meant leaving PSP.  But, we rose early and headed about 40 minutes north-east to the town of El Dorado Springs.  Our primary stops were two of the largest, eastern-most native tall-grass prairies – Taberville Prairie C.A. and Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie (Nature Conservancy and MO Dept of Conservation).  Because of the frigid temperatures, our hikes through these areas were limited and we spent most of our time birding from the car.  Wah’Kon-Tah, a term used by the Osage Indians to describe the “god-like” spiritual presence or life force that inhabits all things, was hilly and quite attractive.   A quick morning hike through a portion of Taberville resulted in very few birds, but many tracks were spotted, including coyote, in the fresh snow.

We also visited a couple of smaller prairies that were mere minutes away.  During a detour across snow and ice-covered farm roads to visit the backside of Monegaw Prairie C.A., we found our best bird of the day, a Loggerhead Shrike.  It was actively hunting while moving along a barbed-wire fence.

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“Loggerhead Shrike, February 2013”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6, 1/6400 sec

Another stop was the small, rectangular and down-right charming Schwartz Prairie.  This slice of prairie is owned and managed by the Missouri Prairie Foundation and is named for conservationists, Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz.  The Schwartzes worked directly towards prairie chicken conservation and were a fascinating couple.  Not only were they active conservationists, they were authors, film-makers and illustrators.  Libby and Charles were responsible for the superb field guide, Wild Mammals of Missouri, and Charles was the illustrator of Leopold’s landmark A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There.  I am looking forward to doing some more research on this couple and hopefully picking up some of their harder to find books and videos.  This photo of an Eastern Meadowlark was taken at Schwartz Prairie.

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“Prairie Land Ethic”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6, 1/1250 sec

So, that covers most of the highlights regarding the experiences and images I wanted to share from our recent prairie adventures.  A grand total of three short winter days are not nearly enough.  I am very much looking forward to future visits to the western side of the state, to witness these endangered habitats during the growing season.

“Whatever else prairie is—grass, sky, wind—it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness; there is no such thing as a small prairie any more than there is a little ocean, and the consequence of both is this challenge: try to take yourself seriously out here, you bipedal plodder, you complacent cartoon.”

-William Least Heat-Moon-

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“Frozen Oceans of Grass”

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 37mm, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures

Look for it…

“All this you surely will see, and much more, if you are prepared to see it, -if you look for it.  Otherwise, regular and universal as this phenomenon is, whether you stand on the hill-top or in the hollow, you will think for threescore years and ten that all the wood is, at this season, sear and brown.  Objects are concealed from our view, not so much because they are out of the course of our visual ray as because we do not bring our minds and eyes to bear on them; for there is no power to see in the eye itself, any more than in any other jelly.  We do not realize how far and widely, or how near and narrowly, we are to look.  The greater part of the phenomena of Nature are for this reason concealed from us all our lives.”

-Henry David Thoreau-

IMG_1883

“More Painted Leaves″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 75mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/13 sec

Earth & Sky

Along with being a place of limitless compositions, another reason I love visiting and making pictures at Elephant Rocks is the variety of those potential compositions.  The grander landscape shots are there; however, if you find yourself visiting on a late Saturday morning during the summer (why do most people venture to these places during the hottest times of the year?), you’ll find that these types of comps are not possible without catching little Johnny and his folks as well.  Trust me little Johnny and his mother don’t give a damn that you have been sitting in the same spot for over an hour waiting for just the right light or clouds to move in.  They’ll walk directly in front of your lens.  At Elephant Rocks there is also great potential for the intimate landscapes.  With these types of comps you can move right into the tight spaces and will have a much better chance of not having little Johnny and his booger-picking fingers in you final image.  Do be careful though, as little Johnny and his siblings will likely be climbing on these rocks and might easily come into contact with your tripod, which might be precariously setup on the same rocks they’re interested in jumping on.

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/4 sec