Sunday, January 25, 2009

KansasCity's own!

Robert Gaines and Linda Williams, two of our city's most talented "nature-photographers," have been kind enough to share their artwork as well as their passions for the outdoors and the camera with anyone who may have expressed interest. Better yet, the Master Naturalists have taken the time and effort to facilitate the process by creating their personalized websites.
Though Robert's blog is not yet finished, it already contains a list of links to share some of his excellent websites. His photos and comments tell of his experiences in places like the Flint Hills, the Buffalo River and Big Bend Nat'l Park in Texas. Visit Linda's website for a handful of her nicest galleries or her Blog for all sorts of exciting local bird sightings (Linda had the opportunity to observe a Snowy Owl on Smithville Lake not too long ago!!!)
Please take a moment to check out the works of these outstanding naturalists- you will not be disappointed!
Linda Williams Photography or see HERE for Linda's Exciting blog!

As for me- I'm locked up in school for now. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I dusted off my Ancient MinoltaSRT. I bought a few rolls of Ilford100 and hit the streets with a 35mm camera for the first time in almost two years!
A long evening walk downtown and 24 exposures later, I found the antique to be very worthy of my hobby! Maybe it is that it is different or that I just have to be creative with the limited geometric subject matter- Shooting in the city and on campus is a bit more difficult than finding exciting photographs in the woods. I think I enjoy the old thing more than the digital camera; though it does cost about 50 cents per photo to have them developed- Almost 90 cents if you want small prints!

( I seem to have developed the nasty habit of disregarding the number of digital photos I take..)

Taking a photo with the heavy metal box, however, is a long, complex process of evaluations and decisions compared to the Point-Click-Pray method I shoot too many of the digital photographs with. Manual Apertures and Shutter Speeds must be quickly determined and manipulated while focus is had for an ever-changing world of fascinating subjects....Perhaps it is my romantic side coming out, or simply an intense appreciation for a dying tradition and the end of the era of honest photography. These photographs require effort and artistry and are so much more valuable when complete. I'd say its a bit like digging crystals; A quality stone which is bought is worthless compared to one that you put so much work into retrieving- like a special relationship is made with the thing by addressing it on such a personal level.
I spent almost ten minutes preparing for the Western Auto shot below, and I find it to be one of my favorites of my home town.
I cant wait to share photo's of Maryville with you! ...I am working on my second roll of film on this cold little town and the Missouri Northwest Campus, but there is nobody within ~100 miles who is able to develop the film. Lots of exciting spots around, though a very noticeable lack of public wild areas. - I'll get photos up soon! Enjoy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Parkville way

Took a nice walk down the riverside. I was interested in beachcombing- my mother seemed to enjoy all of the ice more! Last week's Arctic temperatures produced some major ice up north- much of which has been broken apart and sent downstream by warmer weekend temps and dropping river levels. In parkville however, most of the ice seemed intact! We skated upstream- the ice was very solid for several feet from the shore. New ice-bridges allowed us to avoid the mud and walk across many hundreds of feet of the Missouri River! We shuffled back and forth between the exposed dikes and the island-sandbars that they hid. Thick ice coated even the largest pools between dikes, but crossing these deep pools was too risky for us.
In many places the ice was solid all of the way down- the rocks and mud at the bottom of the slowest channels were made clearly visible by the ice.
Other things were under the ice too- shiny and colourful things and things that moved in an odd, swimming manner. These swimming things, however, were not swimming- they were flowing and they multiplied and divided like an erie shape-shifter. They came in all sorts of colors, shapes and size, though none stayed the same for very long, and they fled when chased- often dividing, sprawling and spreading when they ran.

It took a couple of glances, but the creepy things were bubbles- big, silvery masses of air trapped several inches beneath me. I ran a large one into a crack in the ice, but it did not burst like I'd hoped; instead the bubble slipped from under the ice and into the atmosphere.

Big 'ice lilies' sped past us- miniature slushy icebergs. many are round with raised edges and it wasn't until I watched them move today that I figured out why..
The ice that we stood on was 4-6 inches thick. It will shatter in place if the water level rises or falls dramatically before the ice melts. The shatters, some many feet long, are rigid and solid when the enter the flow of the river.
As the sheets float, they soften due to slow melting in the water and often accumulate the smaller soft bits of ice when they overtake them. The sheets are floated into each other and the frozen shore and jagged edges are ground to more rounded shapes. The "sawdust" that is made when the edges are polished is often pushed atop the iceberg.
The same thing happens to the ice that remains attached to the shore- it is ground and polished into shapes that accommodate the flow of the water and the excess ice is piled on the waterline. It is very cool to watch- the process is soo slow and reminds me of something like plate-tectonics. I image the ice that is pushed up to be mountains and the longest shore-side ones resemble a range the best.
The constant grinding, crushing, crumbling, shaving, rubbing, mixing sound produced by hundreds of collisions at any given time comes to sound a little more peaceful from shore. A chemical reaction was the first thing that came to mind; like when you add baking soda to lava-coloured vinegar to get a volcano eruption- that sort of soft, fizzing sound. When coupled with the sight of the river here, the sound is relaxing and allows a sense of tranquility that is not often had so close to home- almost blissful.

The concept, too, is inspiring and awesome.
We found some cool stuff, but for the first part of our trip, most of the agates and fossils were frozen to the ground. Mom found a very cool Bison tooth- fossilized and turned blue by time and polished by the river. I got the remains of the skull- it is busted up, but still very cool-looking!
-A pair of ancient antlers, too! My first thought was elk- We've found elk-parts before- but I think it may just be a very large deer. The base of the antlers are more that 1.5inches in diameter! I wonder where it started? Parkville? Leavenworth? Rulo? Maybe not even on the Missouri; Any of our beautiful artifacts could have come from somewhere up a Tributary! The missouri river Watershed drains water and bones from 10 states before it hits parkville- As far as the Idaho/Montana border!
A melting route made for some challenging (and exciting) moments on our adventure back! What Fun! Anyone wanting directions to the sandbars here should e-mail me; their treasures can be collected when the river is under 7ft (see USGS realtime water data for this measurement- link at bottom of blog "USGS MO R @ KC") Hope you get out there while the lilies are still about!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Glades


I visited the hill- wanted to hit the Rocky Point Glades, but you know what kind of distractions are up there... Some cool morning light on the area of the small storage building across from the Lakewood Shelter- made it seem almost surreal. I made a quick jog back from the hogan to try for a photo. The building used to host some of the critters submitted to lakeside nature center for rehabilitaion, but I think that it is only for storage now. I wonder what it was before the NatureCenter got to use it?? many of the ancient stone and wood structures in this section of the park have inspiring stories and have played significant roles in the history of Kansas City. The glades and all are pretty quiet. ( got there, eventually!)
I did manage to locate that patch of oyster mushrooms that I found last spring. They all looked a bit different this time; the mushrooms were all torn and dehydrated like the puff-balls on the same downed tree. Some cool shelf-fungi on this'n too!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

KC Plant Fossils!?

My Super-secret sandstone fossil spot on a BlueSprings hwy! Shared with me years ago by a very generous Jackson County person, and now visited only very rarely. The golden and tan-coloured sandstone hosts a great variety of plant fossils. Most are different sizes and shapes of ferns, but the rocky remains of the leaves of other similar things, including trees and shrubs are to be found here.

My Visit was a bit nippy for any real collecting, but it was cool to dig through the loose stuff while fescue is thin (relatively) and the Sericea is under winter's control. Today I found several exciting stems of ferns some softer stems and larger broad-leaves. Most of the rough plates are void of such impressions, or display only a few with little contrast, but chipping the edge of a rock here will likely reveal something good that would have been missed otherwise. My favorite was a small fern's. It is not as defined as many that I discovered, but has a very pleasant, natural shape/curve. The tip's still partially covered- this makes for a cool effect! The set of leaves is the only one on the large sandstone block, and is ~two inches in length. COOL!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

AlexGeorge Park

The Blue River's own Alex George Pond. I visited the edge of the 8-acre fishing lake in my way down Blue River rd the other day. I spent a lot of time here with friends and family when I was much younger, but haven't stopped at the park in years. Its peaceful this time of year- a thin sheet of ice over the water and an empty bank made for a lucky stroll down the curved edge of the water. The clouds cleared for a nice bit of warming sun, but only for a few minutes. I found a nice hunk of Cypress??? and a handful of shelf-fungi near the parking area.
The pink cypress wood might be of use to any of you artists out there- I'd hate to see it kicked around there by the fence until some mower threw it into the stream! The log is thick and over four feet in length. good luck if you choose to retrieve it! I want pics of the finished product, be it a chain-sawed bench or a careful sculpture!

Friday, January 9, 2009

River for Sunset

A quick departure from beneath the town of Parkville and down several miles of the Missouri! Both colour and lively wildlife were plentiful on this unusually warm evening drift- much needed things that seem so rare in the nastiest part of winter!
I couldnt believe the numbers of birds! They showed the second I hit the water- their ridiculous abundance meant they would not go unnoticed- even the sound of 'em was something amazing. Ducks, geese, crows, hawks, eagles and all sorts of excited, colorful songbirds. The geese smothered almost every sandbar and wing-dike; ducks only floated on the calmer surfaces of the river. I saw many that I did not recognise, and nearly all kinds that I would have been able to identify! A pair of common Mergansers were a swift surprise.
There was a species out there that I never got a satisfying look at- a white-breasted something which made a slap on the water with every stroke of it's wings. The result was a sound produced on take-off that was very similar to that of a playing-card stuck in the spokes of a child's rolling bicycle. Dont know why, but that was he first thing I thought of when I heard the ducks skipping off the river. They were shy birds; I was not able to get closer than a river's-width away from any of the small groups I saw.
A curious series of leaf-crunchings sounded the bank's decent by some nearby critter. I stopped paddling and retrieved my camera from my jacket. It was a great surprise to me when I found the first of what would be a large flock of turkeys creeping sideways down the eroded bank of the river. The big guy was so focused on the loose material in his way that he failed to notice my bright-orange craft approaching for some time. I felt terrible when the sight of me- only a few boat-lengths away- startled him and drove him strait up the nasty path which he'd put so much effort into descending. Something in me wanted to get frustrated at the bird for so obviously finding me an enemy, but how could you get angry at a thing with such a gawky silhouette!?
He stood at the top of the bench with his many companions- the sun illuminated only the turkey's brightly-coloured waddle and the tip of his beak- The thin tail and tapered neck of the bird, and it's basketball-body all remained opaque and dark.
The shy things lined up and started a smooth, calm stroll out of my sight. Only their tiny, twitchy heads disrupted the flow of the group.
I became shaded, too- the high wall that protected my new friend from me blocked the direct sunlight before the last of the parade disappeared. Still, I floated. The river propelled me just as quickly or slowly as if there was nothing significant going on. Maybe it knows that every minute out on that water is equal in beauty and value. Such wonderful experiences are to be had on every mile of the river!
I stopped at an unusually bare sandbar and stirred up some invisible geese. The Canada's are al that there are, not that Im complaining!!
They left the edge of the sandbar as I arrived, though not like any ducks would . The geese file off into the air slowly and seemingly organized, not in some rushed explosion expected of their miniatures that burst off of the water upon first becoming aware of me. I think that the geese are wise. They appear more relaxed and more vocal than earlier in the season. The V's fly lower, perhaps adapting to a change in horribly busy hunting seasons- like how a mob of snow geese will vortex vertically to an altitude where they are less likely to be shot before they start a directed flight. Even the slightest collision with a pattern of shot will prove fatal for a goose. Any weakness will make them a fine meal for a deserving predator. I saw only a single injured goose on my float- maybe we are far enough past season that the weakened have already been taken from these flocks.
One section of the river- the mile or so upstream of the 635 bridge- was packed with flying-things! A mess of eagles; I counted 17 in just a few minutes. A massive murder of crows conquered much of the stretch. They were thickest in the tallest trees and seemed to darken the sky above the river here. At times the crows grew so dense that the eagles were forced to vary their flights around the mass as to avoid any unnecessary collisions. They constantly came and left- a stretch of them scattered through the sky from the tree to a northern horizon. Tiny starlings were in no short-supply either!
Several shifting blobs- murmurations I think they're called- transformed the view downstream from the bridge. Cool!
I was excited to slide under the bridge- I dont know why; Something just so thrilling about such a rare perspective.
I am not as familiar with this stretch of the Missouri as I should be. Kaw Point, at the confluence of the Kansas River, was my destination and I suspected two or three bridges and many stream-side buildings along the way. I would surely pass under the cement-giant 635 and by a few private, rusted ports, but mystery and adventure was what was to be encountered on my 10-12 mile float.
Ive passed though this stretch of river three times by paddle and many more while propelled by engine, but none of those trips came to mind this gorgeous sunset. I passed under an unknown pair of steel bridges which were beautiful in the low sun and breathtaking when the clouds moved in. They are the 7th street Trafficway, composed of a larger, northbound bridge called the Platte Purchase bridge and a thinner southbound one, the Fairfax bridge. The NB lanes were built in '57 as a toll bridge next it's older sister, also a toll completed in September 1934.
With the beautiful clouds soon came an intruding swell of grey cover. It started out as a long series of dramatic bands and grew into a boring blanket for sunset (didnt stop the colour!) as I paralleled 169 and ended the strait in wind and cold near the airport. It was hear that I began to wonder where I was. Downtown became lit and the dropping temperatures were beginning to get to me. The Kaw snuck up on me and made for an exciting, challenging rush to catch my exit up the swollen river. The BLACK Missouri was not swollen, but the Kansas definitely seemed high! The river pushed me around at the confluence and had me working up the curved area of slower water downstream of the ramp. Night set in and my 9-footer slipped through the slick mud on the bottom of the ramp.
The mud has always been that perfect consistency here; that leg-eating, boot-stealing, slimy, sticky stuff that will surprise anyone expecting to get back up the ramp in a rear-wheel drive or he who steps off of the cement near the water. It consumed the blade of my paddle when I tried using the thing for support, and I was sure not to make the mistake of sharing my footwear with it.
It was a great sense of relief (and cold!) that met me and my kayak at the top of the ramp. My lost parents were kind enough to pick me up a half-hour later, once they found the place! The wind whipped, and even flurries began to fall, but downtown made for a cool photo here, looking over the confluence. So there you have it! An extraordinary two hours, fifteen minutes of birds, rocks, bridges and a 45-degree drop in temperature! I love it!!!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The glades

The sign post on the first glade is down. Its stood for like 10 years? and numerous fires, though the burns have taken a toll on the 4x4 that displays the three signs. Ive got dibs on the RockyPoint one! -
I remember when the glade area was all wooded and shrubby and sign-free. The woods above them now haven't changed much- its hard to tell when everything is bald. The winter-version of Swope is something that Ive only had the opportunity to discover in recent years. This frozen season is the second that I have been lucky enough to experience. the woods are different this month- A few stiff polypore, some woody shelf-fungi and the very beginnings of many buds are all the signs of living plants or fungi this winter. A few blue birds and a few nuthatches- the lucky hiker may find something more colourful like a cardinal or a creature a bit larger like a deer or turkey. I found few songbirds on my latest visit, but a RED-TAILED and several crows made for a pleasant surprise. It is cool and dry now- all moisture is hidden under the rocks and logs in the ground as ice crystals.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Blue River defrost

Minor Park, but only for a short walk. the parking area and trails were unusually busy- lots of joggers. The trail is very rough- horse tracks have turned the mud into a hard, dried trail much rougher than the surrounding terrain. I yanked a rusty square of sheet metal out of a shrub Honeysuckle near the water. The trash is everywhere. There was some lettering on it; a mile-marker or something for the Blue? It was too messed up for a photo: "JACKSON CO., 1-E BLUE RIVER" Any Ideas??
Little ice on the river; it exists only where a branch or rock dips into the water from last night's freeze. Small circles on any twig or vine that is wet- smooth ice-doughnuts with the objects in their centers. Some of the gravel is wet, but today's short bout of sun was enough to thwart the frozen stuff.. it's just water.
The river is lower than I expected it would be- just enough water is running to fill the familiar little channel between the trail a the largest gravel bar. Its got me hopeful now for more sand on the Missouri River!?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Swope Park FOSSILS

What a beautiful day! Even the bugs thought so; this ladybug enjoyed our 50+degrees at the fireman's memorial where I stopped for a bit of fossil hunting. He wasn't slow, either- the little thing sure didn't want to stop for a photo. He'll be something of a bug-cicle by tomorrow!
I started out on the lip of the second terrace, in between the black shale and edge of the rock where the best fossil-bearing limestone is exposed and eroding. Here, I found all sorts of bryozoa and shells. The wind blew my collection-bag over the edge and I jumped down to retrieve it. On the base of the memorial there are few fossils. Some cool iron deposits. I was lucky enough to come upon some odd calcite crystals and a patch of rainbow-coloured pyrite- the crystals of both minerals are small, though.
I returned to the lip of the bench for oodles of coral-like bryozoa skeletons, detailed shells and small crinoid parts. The trunk segments of the crinoids were most common, but I managed to gather some very cool spines and even a few parts of the flower-like head. Some of the shells I found show remarkable detail. Many are broken or fractured and still on the limestone matrix, but there were several today that were completely eroded from anything and still in fine condition- like they'd been taken from some shallow sea and placed on the bluff just for me!

I moved onto the next bench after an hour or so, where there were many handfuls of larger, clean-looking crinoid segments waiting in a thin, wet vein of soft material running at shoulder height. The vein runs the length of the memorial, but the echinoderms are so abundant in only the far 1/3. Here, also, there are few other fossils. the kinds of things that are found only about twenty feet below, on another terrace, are completely absent from this layer. All of those cool shells and coral-things are below. Crinoids are up on the higher level- and larger pieces are not uncommon!
I did manage to spot a very cool scallop-like shell fossil in the dormant vegetation. The coolest part of this matchbox-sized fossil is that is still shows some of the colour and patterns of the shell. I think that it was THE SCORE for the day!ABOVE are more of the common shells from the lower levels of the memorial. This beautiful trio has been only partially weathered from it's matrix- Such fossils are easy to collect here. I think that these are some kind of Meekella; the remains of one of dozens of species of Brachiopods existing in the deposits at the memorial. Found some cool shelf-type fungi on the the way out...

Friday, January 2, 2009

Jsmith park

At least my favorite tree is still there. Its been forever since I walked through the park- enough time for a landscaping company, hired by the city to make the park handicap-accessible, to rip a web of long, wide trails from the ground. The trails are shaped and stripped bare of vegetation- the machinery and gravel are all ready for work above the restoration areas. Even the restoration area, however, is seeing it's share of abuse. A braid of trails edged in plastic orange fence leads through the prairie to the new viewing deck.
Even nature has done it's part! Last week's severe storms have left the grass in huge mats- it all lays on the ground now. Trees have shed many branches and the older, dead ones have fallen.
Even the big metal barn-building at the parking area has been hit!
A strip of sheet-metal from the front door is bent in the trees of the fence-row to the east, one from the back door is peeled half-way down and all of the goodies inside are finally visible!
All sorts of cool old farm equipment- from tractors to pull-behinds and even a decaying saddle.
Nothing real special on my little walk, but Jsmith is always a pleasure.
Blue Sage, Salvia azurea, in seed.