Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for September, 2010

Field Notes: Ice Ribbons and Frost Flowers

Hot Springs National Park Mountain Trail Ice Ornament

Hot Springs National Park Mountain Trail Ice Flower

Hot Springs National Park Mountain Trail Ice Cocoon

Hot Springs National Park Mountain Trail Ice Cocoon

Dead Chief Trail - Nature's Ice Ribbon Sculptures (Gulpha Gorge)

In January of 2010 I first noticed these ice formations on the trails, I reached down to pick them up thinking they were plastic. My intention had been to clean up the mess left in the Forest.  Once in my hand I realized they were beautiful pieces of ice, I immediately felt guilty for disturbing Nature’s beautiful art.   In Hot Springs National Park I only saw these beautiful creations on the north face of  the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and the South face on the Dead Chief Trail heading to the Gulpha Gorge.  Both of these areas had one trait in common, they always felt colder than other places in the park.  It often felt as if I was stepping into a curtain of cold air when I would reach these specific locations on the Trail. I learned later these are known as microclimates, a microclimate is a localized atmospheric zone where the differs climate conditions differ from the surrounding area. Learn More: Encyclopedia Britannica: Microclimates

My original thought had been that these formed by freezing on vegetation and then sliding perhaps twisting down to the ground.  The truth, they are caused by moisture extruding from cracks in the base of a dead plant stem. The ribbons of ice are pushed out the dead stems and form the beautiful shapes as found in my photographs above.  I hope to capture many more this coming winter. Learn More: Ice Ribbons and Frost Flowers

Nature is the best classroom, I am a very enthusiastic student.
Much Love,
Lee


Autumn Equinox and Predator Redux

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The Predator Redux:
A lovely little gray cat is on the move in the park and it appears not to be feral.  I followed it up the Dead Chief and watched it climb through a fence onto the ramp of the nurses apartments on the adjacent hospital grounds.   I meowed it meowed back and we had a lovely little conversation.  It did not run, it was a happy lovely kitty Cat.  Unfortunately it is both a danger to wildlife and is in danger from some of the wildlife.  If you read this and know whose cat this is please ask them to keep it indoors.

Autumn Equinox:
Please enjoy the lovely changes overtaking the  leaves of the Forest in Hot Springs National Park.  Red, yellow, coral and rust are touching the green foliage along all the trails.  This glorious event heralds the hibernation/dormancy of many Trees in the Forest.  Each season has it’s beauty and this is Nature’s version of fireworks, a brief but spectacular display. Let us celebrate the glorious transition to winter.

Get out and play in the newly fallen leaves it will return youth to your heart!
Much Love,
Lee


Winging My Way Through the Park and Twilight Snakes

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I want to begin by thanking Twitter friends @avocadocreation @melisheath for identifying the Spotted Cucumber Beetle on the pink Peony.  At the Arlington Lawn Peonies are still blossoming as are several bushes.  These bushes are attracting a beautiful array of insects this morning it is lovely moths drinking the nectar of the white bell shaped flowers.

Leaving this late this morning I am quickly aware I have missed the morning breakfast run of my Forest friends.  From the Tufa Terrace up to the top of the mountain via the Peak Trail it is so quiet.  A gorgeous orange Moth is sunning itself on a lichen covered Tree. Further up the trail a beautiful Red Spotted Purple Butterfly sits on a leaf bath in the glow of a ray of sunlight.

Once I reach the top I pass several hiking groups on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, the second wave of tourists mostly retirees.  People and Dogs equals  mammals in hiding along the Trail.  A lovely Tufted Titmouse sings a sweet song to me as I hike toward toward North Mountain. I glance up to see it peeking down from high in the Tree ahead of me.

When I reach the North Mountain I connect with the Upper Dogwood Trail.  It is a meditative hike, a chance to listen to my Soul as I move among the Trees.   When I reach the Upper and Lower Dogwood fork I see a spectacular sight on the last day of summer.  High in the canopy one Tree has changed into it’s Autumn splendor.  It’s a color is only the first of what will soon paint the Forest in Hot Springs National Park.

Down the Floral Trail, off North Mountain to Fountain Street to fill my water bottle with wonderful mineral water. I decide to stop by the Arlington Lawn on my way home to see what is feeding on the nectar of the flowering bushes.  A sweet sparrow looks down at me from a Magnolia Tree as I head across the lawn.  Across the park I can see a family of House Sparrows is enjoying a feast in the grass near a hedge.  It is wonderful to see the young birds taking flight and moving around the park.  A lovely Bumble Bee is feeding on the nectar of a near-by flowering bush pushing the smaller Moths out of its way.  Nature is always busy with life, it never fears change.

Get out and play!
Much Love,
Lee

PS on my Twilight hike with my beloved Husband Rick we saw sweet Ring-Neck Snake and this amazing Copperhead Snake…


Field Notes: Damselfly Dragonfly its in the Wings and Eyes

In May I posted a photo on Twitter I figured it was just another Dragonfly, fortunately for me Nature photographer Kerri Far (@KerriFar) let me know it was it fact a Damselfly.  Thus began my fact finding journey into determining the difference between the two.

A quick glance at my photographs and it is the wings.  The Damselfly wings lay parallel their body when at rest, Dragonfly wings stay out stretched.  On closer inspections the hindwing of the Dragonfly broadens at the base and is stubbier, while the hindwing of the Damselfly is similar to the forewing.  It is however when you look into their eyes you see the Dragonfly eyes a set together, but the Dameselfly eyes are set apart.

Insect Group Odonata
The group is divided into two distinct sub-orders, Zygoptera/Damselflies and Anisoptera/Dragonflies.

Zygoptera/Damselflies – Means paired-wings’ i.e. All four wings are for the most part equal in size and shape. Damselflies are small, delicate flying insects that usually stay near to the water.
Anisoptera/Dragonflies – means ‘unequal-winged’i.e  Rear or hind wings are generally shorter and broader than forewings. Dragonflies are much larger than the damsels and can often be found flying far from water.

I Love learning new things, Nature has so much to teach us all.
Much Love,
Lee

Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis), male Dragonfly

HSNP Ricks Pond Blue Dragonfly

Tufa Terrace Rose Hips Blue Dragonfly

HSNP Ricks Pond Green Dragonfly

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Dragonfly

Dead Chief Trail Dragonfly

Floral Trail Common Blue Damselfly

Floral Trail ebony jewelwing damselfly

Gulpha Creek Black Winged Damselfly


Field Notes: Mixed-Species Foraging Flock Robins and Waxwings

I need to start by making it clear that I am not a scientist nor do I have a degree in any field of wildlife study.  What I am is an observer detailing what I see when I am hiking.  It is a blessing to have the Internet as a resource so I might learn more about Nature.

I have been reading about mixed-species foraging flocks, it appears they generally join together when one flock joins another at a feeding location.  However in this case the Robins and Cesar Waxwing have been flock together for at least eleven days possibly longer.  The Robins were only the dominant flock on the Tufa Terrace  January 22 2010 when they flew in and began frantically feeding on berries.  In fact the Cedar Waxwings pushed the Robins out of the Tree when their flock arrived.  Later on February 07 2010 I saw Robins and Cedar Waxwings on the Honeysuckle Trail.  I noted at the time it was the first time I had seen Robins on that trail.  Move ahead to February 18 2010 I note in my blog that I am surprised to see a flock of Robins up at the Hot Springs Mountain Pagoda.  Not long after I note a large group of Cedar Waxwings appear. The Waxwings are smaller in size  but appear to be the dominant group in this mixed flock.

Below are my field notes, photos from Winter 2010 regarding my sightings of American Robins (Thrush) and Cedar Waxwings (Flycatcher) flocking together.

January 22 2010: “The decision to hike back to the top and go down the Peak trail proved fortuitous.  As I walked the last few feet of the Peak trail a large flock of birds landed in a nearby Juniper tree and began feasting on the berries.  The frenzy was an amazing site and I later discovered they were Cedar Waxwings. A Robin moved to a higher tree  to watch the the show unfold below.

Hot Springs National Park Tufa Terrace Cedar Waxwing Flock

Hot Springs National Park Tufa Terrace Cedar Waxwing Flock

February 07 2010: “The biggest surprise was to be revealed to me on one of my favorite trails.  As I crested the first incline of the Honeysuckle Trail I was greeted by a flock of Robins, it was the first time I had seen them on this part of the trail.  The bigger surprise was their traveling companion, a large Cedar Waxwing.  I kept thinking when I got home my photos would really show it was only a pale Robin,  a fine feathered illusion.”

Hot Springs National Park Honeysuckle Trail Cedar Waxwing

Hot Springs National Park Honeysuckle Trail Cedar Waxwing

February 18 2010: “When I reached the top the picnic area was silent and there appeared to be very view birds.  However, as I moved toward the Pagoda I saw a large flock of Robins, they ignored me as I walk through them to the steps.

I had finished my view shot and from the corner of my eye saw a bright fluttering in the large tree next to me.  I could see these were not Robins and when I put my camera up the zoom revealed a flock of Cedar Waxwings.  Looking below I could see the two flocks were mixed together.  This was the second time I had witnessed Robins and Cedar Waxwings flocking together.  It was a spectacle of acrobatics and feeding, I hardly knew where to look next. I photographed a rare Cedar Waxwing that had Red tail tips instead of yellow.”

Mixed Species Foraging Flock Robins Cedar Waxwings

Mixed Species Foraging Flock Robins Cedar Waxwings


It’s deja vue in the Park

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A humid haze is hanging in the air and I always feel like I need to clean eyes for a clearer view. I am still adjusting to how southern humidity makes photographs appear to have been shot in a fog.   As I enter the park at the Arlington Lawn the moths are back at the flowering bushes early this morning.  Today there is a greater variety  diving into the Flower bells.  I have not witnessed this activity later in the morning they only appear to come to feed just after sunrise.

As I head up the Tufa Terrace a lovely female Cardinal is peeking at me from the leaves of a Tree.  As she takes off her rapid acceleration leaves me with an unusual photo.  Her body is nearly invisible with only her feet showing on the Tree, I giggle when I see it on my LCD screen. Be sure to click on it in the image set below, it will make you laugh.

In March 25th of 2010 I took a picture of a Feral Kitten I spotted on the Short Cut Trail.  As I reach the Short Cut Trail head I realize I am now stalking the same Kitten that has grown to a Cat.  I am surprised it does not detect my presences and I am able to take several photographs before it spots me and runs off into the Forest.  I am hoping I can get a Cat rescue group to come collect it as it is an unnatural predator that is likely killing the smaller park residence.

When I am hiking along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail I run into an old friend near the rest hut.  We first met at Goat Rock after an Ice/Snow Storm on January 20 2010.  Baxter the Beagle was out with his friend Annie, today Baxter is on the Trail with Annie’s Mom.

I connect with the Honeysuckle Trail then head down the Floral Trail to leave Hot Springs Mountain.  At the bottom of the trail I spot a glorious blue cream and orange Moth in the grass.  It is so tiny I almost miss it’s beauty.  I head home on Fountain Street along the edge of the park, a sweet Squirrel peeks at me from a tree in the park.   It is a wonderful sight and the perfect end to my morning hike.  I miss the Squirrels!

Play outdoors and become a child again.
Much Love,
Lee


Brewing Summer Storm Wings and Embraces

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A storm is brewing within the park as I head out to hike this morning.  A flowering Bush on the Arlington Lawn is the focus of a swarm of Moths seeking an early breakfast and they move rapidly from blossom to blossom in a delicate dance.  It is not long before they fly off to find more sweet nectar elsewhere. The sky begins to change rapidly from dark to light and wildlife is for the most part vanishes.  Who can blame them with rumblings of Thunder far off on distant ridge tops.   As I hike up Hot Springs Mountain only a Male Cardinal pops it’s beak out for a quick song before flying deep into the Forest.  He is a spectacular sight, he rich red against the lush green is always a beautiful sight.

When I reach the top the skies are darkening so I head straight to the Pagoda to seek a bit of shelter.   A sweet Black-Capped Chickadee is pipping loudly in a Tree nearby.  As I look over the valley I can see the edge of the Zig Zag Range in the Ouachita Mountains bathed in a light mist.  I am not sure why I look up, but I am so happy that I do.  Above me is a lovely pair of Walking Sticks embracing in a mating ritual. Gracefully they entwine in Nature’s divine dance, in a perfectly chosen place sheltered from the incoming storm.

Dark skies but no rain I decide I should continue my journey through the Forest.  My hike along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail is peaceful and humorous.  I watch as two squirrels scare each other sending one running frantically down the trail at lightning speed. When they both shot around the same Tree I though I heard them scream out in surprise. Moths seem to be out in force today and a lovely brown one is flitting across the grass and clover.  Further ahead tiny little white flowers have burst open in clusters decorating the trail edges.

When I reach the Upper and Lower Dogwood Trail fork I can see beautiful Callicarpa bushes decorated with lovely purple berries.  They are prolific popping up from under logs and within the cracks of large Rock formations.   Along the Lower Dogwood Trail I am escorted by a Robin who is keeping a watchful eye on me. I must look suspicious earing my wide brim hat.  On the final bend of the Floral Trail a rapidly moving baby snake (black) winds it’s way through the dry leaves on the edge of the trail.  These baby snakes are everywhere and so fast.

As I head home I stop at the Hot Springs National Park Fountain and the area is an insect paradise.  A wonderful Walking Stick is  perched on the side of a garbage receptacle basking in the sun.  Brown moths are resting on my hair, arms and shoulders as I try to photograph one on the retaining wall.  Soon we are joined by beautiful Red Spotted Purple Butterflies, it appears everyone stops here for the mineral water.

Make friends with Nature :o)
Much Love,
Lee


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