April Remembered

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

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

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk

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

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Yellow-throated Vireo

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

Grey-cheeked Thrush
Grey-cheeked Thrush

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

Greer Spring in Bloom
Greer Spring in Bloom

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

A Step Back In Time
A Step Back In Time

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

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

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

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The Ovenbird

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

There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.

An April Morning
An April Morning
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Big Spring Trip – Autumn, 2013

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

-Claude Monet

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“Ageless Banks”

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“Amber Mists”

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“Changing Time”

Big Spring 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

Winter’s Bone

I found this spot on a recent scouting trip in Warren County over the holiday break.  When I was driving on the higher main roads the outside thermometer on my all-wheel drive all the time Subaru Forester read 33 degrees.  When I reached this spot down near the bottom of the holler, it read 16 F.  This was probably the coldest weather I experienced in this so-called winter we are having.  I saw the frost-touched post, barbed-wire and vegetation with the forested hill and the sun rising beyond that and of course I had an opportunity to try my new graduated ND filters.  If you’ve ever tried to do intricate photography or any other kind of work in such temperatures then you know how challenging this can be.  Overall, this trip yielded some interesting images even though I discovered my main sought after location looks to be surrounded by private property and I did not press my luck in getting there.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 35mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/10 sec

“The sky lay dark and low so a hawk circling overhead floated in and out of clouds.  The wind heaved and knocked the hood from her head.  That hawk was riding the heaving wind looking to kill something, rip it bloody, chew the tasty parts, let the bones drop”

-Daniel Woodrell

“Winter’s Bone”

Alluvial Furnace

This image was taken on a chilly October morning as I was driving to make my first visit to Tower Rock Natural Area in Perry County near Altenburg, Missouri.  I am always looking for a nice composition I can capture that features fog or mist.  This rarely happens because it takes so long to drive from the city to a pleasing spot like this where fog may form.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 19mm, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/80 sec