Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for November, 2010

Woodpeckers, Chickadees and Who is the Rock Stacker?

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Field Notes:
The language of the Forest is beautiful and complex, I feel blessed whenever it shares it’s songs with me.  Learning the language of many species has allowed me to photograph them in the wild as they are mean to be seen.  No cages to trap them, no food to lure them; behaviors that are true not controlled by the devices of man. This morning as I hiked along the Oak Trail I heard a distinctive cry high above me.  Actually it can be best described as the sound of cackling Chickens.  Once you have heard it and spotted it’s source you cannot resist looking up to see this beautiful bird.  Black and white with a sassy red crest the Pileated Woodpecker is ALWAYS a glorious sight. Slightly smaller with reddish brown eyes I know this is a juvenile. Although I can hear two maybe three, this is the only one I can spot among the Short Leaf Pines.  Note for birder/photographers my camera lens is a 70-400mm the Sony Alpha 55 digitally extends the shooting capability to 600mm although very high in the tree the sun was in the perfect position to capture a clear view/shot.

I Love the West Mountain Trail, this is the second time I have caught sight of a flock of tiny Black-Capped Chickadees. They flit in rapid playful movement among the bright colored autumn Leaves.  Their sweet pipping song fills the Forest trail the Trees around me and I have to guess at times where I think they will appear based on their voices. Even when I can hear them, within in the cover of the leaves they are often invisible due to their speed and tiny size.  I Love being surrounded by their joyful song and playful flight.

The Autumn Leaves are vanishing quickly as December approaches Trails once bathed in red green gold and rust are nearly naked.  This reveals Natures strength, Her Rocks  and Trees now stand exposed to the coming winter.  They become Her Winter canvas painted with a colorful pallet of Lichen, Moss and Fungi.  Once hidden by the leaves of Spring, Summer and Autumn I see sculptures, twisted, bent, pitted chipped and broken.  I marvel at Trees that hold one and other in gentle embrace against storms long past.  At Rocks shaped by rain, hail, wind and ice.  Where others see a barren Forest I see Nature’s strength, a beauty beyond the visual.  Pure emotion can be seen in Her Winter Mountains, a world filled with exquisite detail and subtle colors.

I hiked up to the park’s highest point, the Music Mountain towers. The paths to the top are not marked by park signs, I Love that someone created trail head markers by stacking Rocks.  I have seen stacked rock throughout the park and wonder if they are all created by the same person.  If you read my blog THANK YOU for these wonderful markers, they point and flow with Nature’s beauty.

Although I am saddened by the sight of these Mountain top metal structures I am grateful for the park wide cell service.  Cell service that allowed me to share my hikes with my Mother when she was nearing her death, a chance for us to be together with a background chorus of Nature.  The spires of metal have now become perches to the largest of the feather creatures of the park Turkey Vultures, Eagles and Hawks.  I wonder if the presence of these man made structures as encouraged larger populations of these magnificent birds?  For good or bad the towers will remain.  I felt guilty for photographing the Vultures on the towers the other day, it felt as it was cheating viewing them on these man made perches that act as lures.  I wonder if the towers have changed their behavior as ground nesters.

As I am hiking down West Mountain I reach a bend just in time to spot a Slate-Colored Junco, it is a glorious blue black with a pale beak. It suddenly flies away at the sound of a Hawk screeching.  Although near-by I cannot locate it’s Tree top perch, and it is only as it call fades I catch a glimpse of a wing tip flying away.  A few steps further down the mountain and I hear a familiar beeping sound.  I quickly scan every near-by Short leaf Pine until I spot the source.  It is a wonderful tiny Male Downy Woodpecker hopping up, down and around the truck of a distant Tree.

As I near the end of the Oak Trail I can hear a chorus of birds that include Sparrows, Cardinals and another voice.  They are gathered just off the trail on what once was the old scenic dirt carriage road that circled the park at the base of all six Mountains (Hot Springs, North, West, Music, Sugarloaf and Indian).  It appears Trees were removed to create a fire break between the city below and the Mountain above.  A Female Cardinal leads me down the old dirt road to a flock of Sparrows. The sound of the unidentified bird has grown louder and I look up to see what appears to be a small woodpecker. The spectacular back & wing pattern with a yellow belly and flash of red under the beak let me know I have found a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

I discover a spectacular Yellow wildflower, would love to know what it is! UPDATE: Special thanks to Twitter @USWildflowers http://USWildflowers.com for identifying this yellow beauty as False Foxglove. A wonderful treat to end my hike.

Get out and play a park, a forest, a dessert, a green space or your backyard…  Nature is waiting for you :)
Love to You ALL!


Beautiful Foggy Autumn Morning on West Mountain

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Field Notes:
Another Morning draped in a dense gray fog, It is glorious that I cannot see across the street to Hot Springs Mountain as I look out my window.  This is an incentive to drink my honey lemon combo and gear up for my hike. I am excited to travel on West Mountain, it will be my first trip up there in the fog.  The sidewalks are empty as I head to the access point to enter the Canyon Trail.  I love the dreamlike enchanted feeling of the Forest trails, the stillness is meditative.  Each turn and rise on the trail is a mystery.  The Autumn colors appear more vibrant against the gray, illuminating the edges of the path.   I Love the solitude of the fog, to have each step transport me into a new world of wonder and discovery.  Faint bird song fills the trail and the rapid movement of squirrels appear as shadows.  A flock of White-Throated Sparrows join me as sweet Forest ambassadors leading the way through the fog.  Each moment in the Autumn Forest is a  blessing as I know how quickly it can vanish with a single wind storm.  The Purple Aster sprinkled throughout the park are a striking contrast to the rust red and yellow leaves.

When I reach the top of West Mountain fog is stretching out across the valley below. Lakes and Mountains visible on my last climb to the top are barely visible ghosts or totally obscured by the gray.  I Love watching the energy of Nature’s ever changing dynamics.  Among the Rocks a tender gesture of beauty has blossomed since my last adventure up the mountain.  Two lovely TINY blue wildflowers have blossomed near the trail head at the top of the Mountain, I am still trying to I identify this beauty.

A small bird I cannot identify appeared in a far off Tree, I think it might be a Warbler of some type but would appreciate ID help.

As I head down the mountain the fog is clearing, and I can hear the traffic as I near the bottom of the Canyon Trail.  It has been a lovely hike and I Thank You all for joining me on West Mountain in Hot Springs National Park.

Much Love to ALL!


Hiking Into The Autumn Fog

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Field Notes:
The Fog rolling in across the Mountains in the Park is a wonderful sight.  I hurry to get ready for my hike thing the fog could lift at any time.  Out the door by 8:15 a.m.  the fog still has not lifted as I reach home at 11:45 a.m.  Nature always surprises me!

Visibility is low and I am amazed by the number of birds I am able to see.  On the Tufa Terrace as I enter the park a sweet Black-Capped Chickadee and a Dark-Eyed Junco sing sweet songs to me.  So tiny I feel blessed I was able to see them in the low visibility.  Later on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail I can hear tapping on a near-by Tree.  I try to find the source while changing my now dead camera battery.  High in a Tree to my left I spot a small bird hopping up the side on the Tree, a male Downy Woodpecker is busy searching for a meal.  Later on the Lower Dogwood a favorite cry rings out in the Forest.  I slow down to scan the branches and I am rewarded with a beautiful site.  A Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker is showing off a nut in it’s beak.

Throughout the park beautiful fog is floating along every trail.  It makes the Autumn color stand out again the gray misty background.  It is a magical mystical world as the Forest is transformed.  The fog creates a strange silence along the normally song filled trail.  Lichen, Autumn Leaves and Fungi appear to glow in the dim gray light. It is a peaceful meditative hike as I travel up and across Hot Springs Mountain over to North Mountain, then down the Floral Trail and home.

Thank You you for joining me in the beautiful foggy Forest.
Love to You ALL,

PS: Congratulations to all those who ran the half and full marathon along Central Avenue this morning.  It was a wonderful sight seeing you all emerging through the fog as I headed into the park.

Park Kindly Poses While I Test Another Lens And Filter

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Field Notes:
There is something joyous in watching Squirrels implement their industrious activities.  They are creatures of action collecting nuts, flying through the Trees, mating and raising babies.  I have seen them working alone to survive, however I have also witnessed wounded Squirrels working together to gather the next meal. They have thrown nuts at me to get my attention, waved at me after being away to heal from wounds and they have trusted me to photograph their young.  Anyone who knows me understands I strive to always be a person of action not just words.  It is why I Love Squirrels they are creatures of action.

Cardinals are everywhere in the lower areas of Hot Springs Mountain, I am wondering if this is because of the amazing parenting skills of the males. (See A Tribute to Fatherhood: Male Cardinals) Males appear to out number females by about 5 to 1.  It could be their bright red appearance only makes their presence more noticeable.  I will have to investigate further as winter approaches.

It is nearing the end of the Autumn Leaf color display and I am savoring every colorful change.  As the sun gentle falls in the late afternoon it gently illuminates the glorious change to each individual leaf.  It is in the details I see the miracle of this Eden that is my front, back and side yards.

Thank You for the friendship and taking time to share in my adventures.
Love to You ALL,

PS:I am trying to tackle the intricacies of a macro lens.  I have discovered low light is not helpful and although I hate using a flash outdoors I think I will have to occasional necessity.  Another note to self, macro lenses are highly sensitive to motion; learn not to breathe, lower heart rate or always be sure to carry a tripod. Two cameras, 3 lenses, cleaning tools, rain cover, camera bag, tripod and manfroto (tripod back carrier). Oh and a bottle of protein drink.  I am fully rigged to be hands free and even fully packed I can move at a fairly good clip. I just the wildlife is giggling at me.  In an effort to protect my 400mm lens I am using a clear filter, I am still not convinced it does not cause a certain amount of distortion.   This is part where I tell myself photography is an art form not a Xerox machine.  Appreciate any helpful information concerning macro use and lens filters.

Sweet Creatures On A Heavenly Autumn Twilight Hike

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Field Notes:
A male Red-Bellied Woodpecker flew to a large Tree where the Squirrels all store their nuts. He hopped up the side to a knot in the trunk, stuck his beak in, dug and pulled until he had a nut.  The Woodpecker turned it’s head to show off the prize and then flew off with it in it’s beak.

It was a a festival of nut gathering and the park was buzzing with squirrels. They were everywhere digging, pulling, carrying and eating.  There was a wonderful Ninja Squirrel striking a standing squat pose, while another was dropping nut casing on my head from high in a Tree.  There was leaping, running and diving as each worked it’s small territory across the park lawns.  It was a delightful sight.

Autumn is still a mix of green, gold, rust and fiery red leaves all along the promenade.  The lowering sun ignites the color within each Tree.  A flock of racing pigeons are taking their regular night stop on the top of the hospital tower.  As the sun begins to set behind West Mountain a glimpse of Heaven appears in the sky.  A Blue Moon rises to finish the perfect hike with my beloved husband.

Step outside and enjoy Nature’s elegant seasonal transition.
Much Love,

Beautiful Birds of West and Music Mountains

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Field Notes:
Today was joyous for so many reasons, first my right leg has been bothering me for nearly 2 month no matter what I did it would not heal.  This past week it has felt like new or perhaps old LOL all I know is I was out hiking up up up for 4 1/2 hours and no cramping YEAH! Putting off hiking on West Mountain was driving me crazy and I had not even ventured out to the Goat Rock Trail for 8 weeks. I Love feeling strong again.

The Autumn Leaves were glorious on the Canyon and Oak Trails. Sunlight through the Leaves bathed me in pink, red, gold and orange.  I felt as if hiking was a dance on the glow of warm rays piercing the Forest canopy.  It is as if Leaves are stained glass reflecting the Universes Love.  A sweet squirrel peers at me from a Tree from the Forest.  The creatures on West Mountain are more cautious than their counterparts on Hot Springs and North Mountains.

As small flock of birds appeared on the West Mountain Trail they are tiny and fast so I just concentrate on taking the photos.  It is not until I get home that I see they are Nuthatches, both white and red breasted.  It is the first mixed Nuthatch flock I have seen in the park.

On the Sunset Trail another first, a flock of lovely Eastern Bluebirds.  They are lively and swift moving quickly through the Trees and I feel so blessed to be there at just the right moment. These are the first eastern Bluebirds I have seen and it is a wonderful moment.

Found the ruins of an old rest hut on the Sunset Trail, special thanks to Mark for mentioning it to me.  Having been married in a surviving hut on Hot Springs Mountain’s Honeysuckle Trail seeing this was like visiting the ruins of an ancient civilization.  The summer foliage hid it from my view last time I was on the trail.

I have discovered why the Turkey Vultures frequently soar above West and Music Mountains.  When I first hiked on the Sunset Trail to Music Mountain the foliage was so thick I did not take the upper trail.  Today the the trail was nearly clear and I headed up Music Mountain to the cell towers.  When I looked up I spotted and followed a soaring turkey Vulture across the sky,then saw it land on one of the towers.  The cell towers are the perfect perch for the Turkey Vultures to land and take off when catching the drafts created by the many Mountains in the park. I will have to come back on another day when I have more time to look around and see if I can find their ground nests.

It was a wonderful morning/afternoon in the park, thank you for sharing it with me.
Much Love to You All,

A Colorful Hike in the Autumn Forest

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Whether you are Democrat, Green, Independent, Republican or non affiliated please thank President Obama… why? He increased funding for national parks and forests by 10%!  No matter your political leaning don’t let you government representatives overturn this as they wrestle to control the budget.  It is a VERY VERY VERY SMALL piece of the budget pie, but is so important to preserving our environment.

Field Notes:
I hiked over to the Goat Rock Trail and finally saw a very elusive color changing lizard.  Surprisingly the Northern Green Anole allowed me see it  moved slowly among the leaves.  I was so excited to this little beauty and feel blessed to share these photographs with you. A delicate creature moving with grace.

The Autumn Leaves on the Upper Dogwood were spectacular, color was bursting forth all along the trail.  I felt like I was in the movie “What Dreams May Come” a surreal world of changing color filled with bird song.  I hope in some small way you can feel the beauty of Forest path via my images.

Purple Aster are decorating almost every trail in the Forest. They vary in size and intensity of color throughout the park. These tiny wildflowers are sprouting in single blossoms and in clusters on long stalks.  A beautiful but rare sight are multiple clusters and patches of these purple flowers.  It is amazing how their delicate petals have held up against the rain and blowing winds. The contrast of the purple petals and yellow centers are irresistible.

On the Hot Springs Mountain Trail I was excited to see the return of a favorite winter friend, a female Dark-Eyed Junco. In January to April 2010 they were constant companions during the harshest winter days when I hiked on Hot Springs Mountain.  Mid way down the Gulpha Gorge Trail I saw Male Prairie Lizard sunning it self on the side of the path.  You can see a glimmer of bright blue just below his chin.

At the Hot Spring water cascade I stood on the Tufa Terrace watching a Northern Mockingbird and Male Cardinal.  Both stood in the therapeutic water as if they were visiting a spa and drank the mineral elixir pouring over the tufa rocks to the pool below.  This is a spot I will have to spend more time as the weather cools off as it attracts those that winter in the park.

Thank You for venturing into the Forest with me.
Much Love to ALL



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