Monday, February 18, 2008

BlueRiverGlades sunset

I spent the last 30min of daylight at the glades. The southern horizon was dark and there was a heavy blanket of cloud weighing down the sky. The sun has peaked in and out of the clouds all day. At times it was nothing but clear, blue skies. Other times it was dark and gloomy and snow flurries fell.
The sun fell lower and lower. soon it was nothing but shadows and silhouettes. A small woodpecker flipped through the sky- From one side of the glade to the other with the deep blue to its back. A pair of barred owls started up. I never saw them, but their duet seemed to be rising from the creek bed below the glade and off the hill across the way.
The moon was bright and almost full- it sat craddeled in any tree i wished it to- as long as I was willing to do some moving around. Wednesday it will be eclipsed and made dark and red by the earths shadow- In the evening from 9:01 - 9:52 pm-- It will be fully eclipsed for only a moment around 9:30.. good luck if you choose to watch!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Minor Park

The weather was at a peak of its roller-coaster ride this afternoon- it was very nice! I hit minor park to see what the river was doing. There was not a hole lot of life besides the V's of Canadas that flew above me. I was there for a little over an hour and found a couple of woodpeckers and a flurry of chickadees enjoying the warm air in a mess of grape vines.
The river is up. Many of my favorite gravel bars are still underwater and more little islands have formed. I walked along the bank- snapping the occational photo and watching the ground for any interesting plants or rocks. The water was clear. Usually when the river becomes swollen the water will be turbid and become 'dirty' or milky-lookin. I fliped a few stones a few inches from the bank, but I found only a few snails and a small caddis larvae webbed into it's upside-down stone sleeping bag.
I poped over a bank and spooked the handful of chickadees that were feeding off of the poison ivy and grape vines that had overcome a small tree. They hoped a few inches at a time in every direction as if they were performing some intricate dance to accompany their songs. Each individual let out a long, high-pitched whistle followed by an abrupt cherp. I'd never heard it from them before. When one was done, another would reply with the same call.
As I got further from the birds their calls changed to be more recognizable and complicated.
A large hawk flew over. Red-tail. I noticed no change in the chickadees behavior- maybe they are not afraid because the larger hawks generally pose no threat to small birds. Dinner and a show!
The sun was low and I headed for the truck. In the woods a large man was pacing along the cement wall near the entrance. He was in sweat pants and a t- He followed me out of the park. I unfolded the knife in my pocket, but as I came closer to truck a read dodge charger pulled up. The man who had followed me out of the park spoke briefly to the charger and they both went back into the woods. Creepy.
There are three main threats to Blue River Parkway: Pollution (waterquality and litter alike), Invasive/exotic species and erosion.

GARLIC MUSTARD (above)- greening now and is growing in patches along the river. The plant was brought over from Eurasia for food and is now threatening our wild areas. It will bloom clusters of small white flowers in later April-

BUSH HONEYSUCKLE- Another nasty of Minor park. Its taken over several part of the park and is removed several times a year by KC WILDLANDS. The bush will begin to green in March and will bloom with the Garlic Mustard.

EUONYMUS- this too, is green now. From asia, the plant is a very invasive vine. It has a wax coating that makes herbicide useless. It is thick where it is along the bank and on the slopes above the first bank.

LITTER- A new raft has arrived! It is partially deflated and sits on the far side of the ripple closest to the entrance. A red car, too, has settled into the bank over the past few years just a few hundred yards upstream. Fishing line, tires, bottles and household trash are among the largest threats to Minor park. Besides the few who dump on the area, many people do not think to collect their waste from the river's banks. There is also a temporary camp-lookin set up on a lagre gravel bar now.

EROSION/WATER QUALITY- Construction of buildings and roads dump alot of silt into the river. the loose soil on the banks is carved violently when we get heavy rains by unnatural flooding. Because so much of it's watershed is now paved and impermeable, the blue river recieves a lot of water all at once instead of getting water over a longer period of time from that that is soaked by the earth. We have taken most of the marsh-type areas from the watershed. These areas are essential for filtering water for the river. They collect contaminants and silt, release water slowly and support many important and rare plants/animals that cannot otherwise survive. There are still a few marshes around and much of the Blue has been protected withing parks to create a greenway. However, the health of the river depends greatly on the water that it recieves from its tributaries and goundwater withtin it's watershed- these sources of water are not so clean.
Even with all of these threats, the blue river is able to keep balanced due to efforts made by all sorts of individuals and local organizations. In many spots, the river resembles a more ozarkian scene and is very beautiful.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Squaw Creek NWR

The weather was nice- well... in Kansas City. North of St. Jo the snow was several inches deep; near the refuge drifts were as deep at 3 ft! It was about St. Joe before I realized that the camera bag that I had grabbed contained my lenses, filters, batteries, cards and anything else I could want- except for a camera! My mother had a small point-n-shoot in the glove box.

I took a running jump into a wall of snow off of a gravel road. The sunlight pierced the drifts and lit the shaded spots with a light blue. My legs sunk to above my knees and I left a snow angel on the edge of the corn field.
It was in the lower forties, but the wind made it feel much colder. ITs force never failed. My mother and I drove the first third of the refuge before we found anything exciting. Some eagles- juvi's and adults took turns flying against the wind. They did not make too much progress and most returned to a muskrat mound or the ice soon after taking flight.

We had come to see the swans! A waterfowl report told of 50 trumpeter swans and a small group of tundra swans that had accumulated on the refuge as of the end of last month. This was the first time this season that tundra swans had been found on the refuge. Being unfamiliar with the species, I asked one of the 'local experts', Linda Williams (, about them. She gave me some tips on how to tell them apart from the trumpeters.

I spotted the first group of swans far in the distance- 13 of them! They all appeared to be trumpeter swans. A bit further we spotted th rest of them on the ice and in the water. There were many and they were all the same distance from the road as the first group. Closer to the car- only about 100yrds- a smaller duck paced the perimeter of a tiny puddle of open water. His lake was 10 feet in diameter- an island in an ocean of ice- The bird was dark and oddly-shaped. It had a small white spot on his cheak and a white neck and breast. "A Bufflehead or Goldeneye" I identified, honestly not knowing the difference- When I gained access to a field guide I decided that the bird we saw was defenitaly a Common Goldeneye. The pattern of the wings and size were the difference. When my attention turned back to the swans in the distance, I noticed that they were standing and swimming amongst a thinck crown of smaller dark birds. Most of them were Canada Geese and Mallards. The swans were too many to count- but they were giant when they stood next to the geese. Several had the darker necks and two had green bands. I searched the group for the smaller Tundra Swan, but never noticed one.

A small goup of eagles stood on the bare ice behond the swarm of waterfowl. They stared, and probably dreweled, but I could not see any strings of saliva from their beaks.
My mother spotted a pair of great blue herons that I could not. She gave me the Nocs and directions. I found the birds, but they were not herons. The two were tall with a more round body- not much of a visible tail. I saw a hint of red and identified them as Sandhill Cranes. In disbalief, she took the binoculars from me and confirmed my id- she said that when one lifted its head she saw the distinct profile of a crane. I have never seen them this fas east, and never this far north this late in winter! I suspect that they had come in with the geese and stayed with the flock. EXCITING!!

The rest of the drive was about scenery and critters. The icey landscape reflected the sun in ways it does only in the mountains and far north. Most of the wetland was frozen, and any plants were pressed to the ground by the heavy snow. On the long, strait stretch of the road that is under the canopy of trees there was an opossum. He edged the side of the road in the snow. I jumped out of the van and joged to intercept him for a photo on the other side of an old tree. I waited several seconds, but he never showed himself. My mother told me to look in the tree- above me. I circled, but never found him... he had *poofed!*

I found a hole low in the trunk. There was hair on the bark. I turned the flash on on the camera and thuck it deep into the hole to flash a photo. Upon review, I discovered a big hairy butt looking back at me. I took some more photos and went on my way. Further down the road, but still amongst the flooded forest, we spotted another, much larger oppossum. As we neared the exit/entrance of the refuge I noticed a familiar sillouhette on the ice. A cat!? It was a raccoon- a BIG racoon! We watched him go about his business for a few moments before we visited the centre.

Took the hike to the left of the center- at the far end of the parking lot. Followed it in the thick snow until it was no more. The surface of the snow had melted with the day and then froze again- it was about 4:30 and the sun was getting low. Each step was acompanied by a crack of the ice, a crunch of the snow, and another crack as my foot broke the surface upon exiting. My poor choice of footwear left me with some pain and the sensation of walking on my ankles.

We strayed from the path, which was covered in tracks from deer, coyotes, rabbits, a turkey, and a small cat or fox, in search of photo's- Success!

I dont know why, but despite all the red in the grass and the blue in the sky, I like the Blk&W better- ive been playin with it alot lately- What do YOU like ?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Prairie Centre

I have not been to the area in forever, and could not remember what it was. When I arrived I immediately recognized the small stone house and the vast stand of prairie plants behind it. The grass was very thick... near rank. Its filled with small woodies, but was still very nice. A lone tree that cast a dark shadow on the dead grass made for an interesting subject. I completed a photography assignment with the tree and circled the perimeter of the park.

There were a lot of cardinals, some chickadees, titmice and some sparrows. A small kestral was startled by my approach- I only noticed him when he flew off. The bird was colorful.

It was warm, windy. The breeze felt nice and worked the golden grasses into waves. Each stem and leaf swayed with another.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Jerry Smith

The warm air made a daytime expedition all too tempting. It reached 68 degrees today and the sun had summoned the insects and spiders from their eggs. The grass and leaf litter was "crawling" with everything from ants and springtails to wolf spiders and short-horned grasshoppers. Flies and gnats humed through the air.
On the southern horizon grew large storm clouds- I dont know what you'd call them, but they were large, tall, white- What you would expect to see in a may thunderstorm.
I wondered through new parts of the park-used unfamiliar trails and found familiar landmarks. The ground is becoming green- moss is everywhere and the base of the bluestem is growing fast. I stumbled through a bunch of burnt cedars- the bare ground is supporting an odd fungi or lichen. The green/red parts of the organism look scaley- like a lichen; the dead parts seem more like a fungus. The tips of the 'flowers' are burnt from our late NOV. burn.

Found somebody's LEATHER GLOVE. Its a nice left-hand one with velcro, elastic and the initial M written on the back in red. Ive got it if its yours; I promise to only charge a minimal finder's fee!

I wondered a bit further- found myself on the pond-side of a fencerow that stretch from the barn to the prairie. An ancient osage shaded the edge of the prarie.

We expect as much as 6" of snow tomorrow- watch for new "winter" posts!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

HahaTonka & BennetSprings State Parks

Ive attended the Missouri Natural Resources Conference (MNRC) annually for several years now- a statewide conference for conservation held in a resort near Osage Beach. This years' was one of the best! A plenary speaker made an incredible speech about how to help our children avoid "Nature Deficit Disorder,"- the indoors, technology-centered lifestyle of todays youth. Another spoke about the differences between the generations that exist in the workforce today. His presentation focused on how to communicate to and between the generations. I was one of only a handful of the audience in the Mellenial generation-those under 27yrs old. It seems as if we are not able to recruit a younger audience because they have not been exposed to conservation.
NOAA forecasted 4-7 inches of snow for the evening Thurs- we only got about 2 inches, but the small hwys and roads that communities in the area rely on were a mess! We Visited
Lake of the Ozarks State Park
for a few hours over thursdays' lunch break. It was snowing and the park was empty. The lake was also empty and the surface was like glass- The few cedars in the parking lot held juncos, bluebirds and some sparrow-like birds. On the edge were cardinals, chickadees and an invisible one with a beautiful call!
A few large gulls flew above us.

HaHaTonka SP-
The roads were clear and it was warm outside after the conference. Some sections of the park were closed from yesderdays storm, but we made our way in on foot from the Oak Savannah trail. My mother and I were the first ones to visit the glade since the snow had fallen- a real treat! It was about noon when we started the trail- took us ~ 2 hours. We visited the nature centre and I spent some time watching their bird feeders. A mess of chickadees and juncos, a few titmice and a couple of small woodpeckers. Near the Water tower we spotted some common hawks and a couple of Pileated woodpeckers. After our hike we again took off toward
Bennet Springs SP,
where we got a room at the Sand_something hotel and Spent the afternoon at the Conservation Area on the Niangua river- only a block away. I fly-fished for an hour or so and caught 3 trout and about a dozen minnow things. Bleeding Shiner and Gravel Shiner were the most common. I watched Sculpins and darters feeding on the debris that I stirred up by walking in the current. The fish bit on a size 16? grey or tan scud and several trout rose for the small orange indicator!
Another Pileated flew above me- they seem LARGER every time I spot one! An adult Bald Eagle perched on a naked Sycamore on the other side of the river. Great Blue Herons spotted the blue sky and the orange sunset on their way to roost. Saturday morning we rose early. A couple of starlings perched on a branch created an assortment of songs and tunes before the moon had a chance to hit the horizon. My mother and I first visited Bennet Springs where we found Canada Geese and Herons on the Niangua, and all sorts of little birds in the bush. Mist smothered the five feet of anything above the water's surface and tapered off intil it was made unnoticable by a light, cold breeze. In the fog I found a small group of sparrows bouncing on the gravel bar and in the short shrub on shore. They were a bit larger and had a different shape than ours. I did not see the details on them, but took a blurred photo of one before I approached them in hopes of getting a sharper picture. They did not fly or even run, but fled by means of small groups of bounces or hops. Each bird jumped two or three times away before looking back at me and bouncing off again. I proceeded down the bank- driving a dozen or more sparrows to bounce to safety. WHITE-FRONTED SPARROWS?
I fished at the spring for a few hours while my mother took a hike in the park. I tied on a tiny copper caddis emerger thing and hooked several fish, though I only landed two. I switched to a scud and had more luck- I had the most strikes and caught the most fish of anybody around me. One man caught a large sunfish- the first I'd even seen from the park. A young girl hooked and landed a large Brown trout with some kind of green jig.
I sat on a disabled dock late in the morning. After a minute or so of watching the fish and letting my nymph drift in the slow current a large, round creature swam from the deeper side of the river. When it came quickly to only a few feet from my resting spot I identified it as a Muskrat- it held a long string of hornwort that streamed in the water over his back. A few minutes passed and another came with more plant and hid in a small cave in the cement dock. They looked like giant underwater rats and were cool to watch- I never saw them again.
When we returned to the Niangua access there was a man carrying his limit to his car. He had a small rod and a bait bucket- maybe he used minnows? I took a few casts with a tan scud and started collecting the minnows I caught in a light ripple in a five gallon bucket. I collected three Bleeding Minnows for my fish tank and then released 5 or 6 more before I waded into the river. My indicator disappeared as it drifted over a deep part in the main rapid. I got the trout in, killed it and packed it in snow in a plastic shoebox. I moved to the second large rapid and tossed my fly in about half way through the rapid and let it drift. The air was warm and the sun roasted my bare skin. A swarm of gnats flew over the shore, a fly on my arm and a stonefly floated on the surface of the water in front of me. A large fish rose for the indicator. I got excited and tried to duplicate the drift. My indicator submerged in the same spot and I yanked back. Resistence and then notheing. I tied in another scud- hoping this one wouldnt go to the monster. The first cast and he stole the second fly. It was about 2pm and I knew my mother was anxious to get home. I put the rod up and flipped a few rocks with a minnow net. In the net I found many scuds and some bright green caddis larvae. Another scoop in slower water revealed a small dark sculpin, a MONSTER crawdaddy and a few small mayflies. I took a second to release the lobster and get the sculpin into my bucket. The rest of the samples collected a large niangua darter- a protected species- many tan/black/red "Golden" crayfish, some small stonefly larvae and a giant black one and a few helgramites. When I returned home and opened the fish, I found only glitter(from bait), fishing line, some carwfish parts, a few darters and the remains ofa lrge stonefly larvae. It seems that their diets consist of maily the discharge of the State Park. Ive added the shinners and sculpin to my tank- the warmer water has evoked some incredible colours from them!
I found many incredible photo opportunities on this trip, but was only able to capture one or two to my satisfaction. I believe that being able to catch a moment is what makes a photographer a good one. Many people know how to work a camera and even more come upon amazing visuals everyday, but it is the photographer who can capture a visual with a camera. I cannot yet do that as well as I'd like- I am greatly limited by the lack of knowlege I have of my camera- I now compensate with the writings I have of my trips. I think that the best change I have now if to give myself as many opportunities to take a good photo as possible by being out there as often as possible. You never know what you'll find when you go on a hike- a curious critter, blooming flower or weather phenomenon can give you a photograph that you'd never expect! In nature, things change constantly- If you put yourself in the right place at the right time- *poof* youve got a great opportunity!