Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for December, 2010

Ice, Steam And Sparrows

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Field Notes:
12/27/2010 – It is a bitter cold morning, 18 degrees with a wind chill of 11.  Cold enough for the bubbling Hot Spring Cascade to form ice cycles and the surrounding grassed to be layered in snow like coating,  Jack Frost has also been busy painting organic and inorganic materials.  Midnight blue metal as been transform with white fern patterns that appear to grow right before my eyes.  The Autumn leaves curling on the ground have spiky shards of ice that resemble crystal rock formations.  Old Man Winter decorates the Forest with flair.  At the Hot Spring Cascade the combination of glinting ice cycle teeth and steam reminds me of a dragons mouth.

This is the kind of morning you hike for warmth and stopping to take photographs is a measured event, especially it require glove removal to find the right settings.  Grateful for the harder inclines that increase the circulation to your fingers.  Blessed to have the strength to be able to see the beauty a cold morning. Thankful for the energy in Hot Honey and Lemon with a dash of my cayenne herbal tincture mix.  Just ordered a cayenne cream, a test to see if it will keep my fingers warmer on the sub freezing hikes. Update to follow.

The term “just us chickens” needs an amendment this morning to “just us sparrows”.  Why? Because other than myself they were almost the only creatures I saw moving during my hike.  The sweet White Throated Sparrows looked uncomfortable but,  fluffed up their feathers and greeted the day.  I always seem to see more of these lovely Sparrows during the winter months, I guess no one told them it get cold here too. Previously I used the term almost, a sweet Mockingbird bid me farewell as I left the park and a rustling of leaves in the wind was more than just air gliding over autumn’s last stand.  When I returned home and began editing my photographs I discovered a barely visible Golden-Crowned Kinglet had taken shelter in the autumn leaves high above me.  I love finding an unexpected gift from Nature in my photographs.

There is a contentment in coming home and fixing a hot bowl of soup on a day of ice and steam.  Sipping it slowly while I look out the window at Jack Frost’s art decorating the Forest, remembering the beauty as I edit my photographs.  The steam warming my face, a feeling of gratitude for all that has lead me to this moment.

Much Love Dearest Readers,
Lee

PS Sorry this post come a few days later than usual… it is a change of holidays Christmas to Valentines and I am still in the business of designing and selling “stuff” Books, Home Decor, Gift, Apparel, Shoes, Jewelry etc.  htp://LeeHillerBooks.com and  http://LeeHillerShopping.com (end of commercial).


Hike With Me On West Mountain


Beautiful Birds As The Cold Winds Blow

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Field Notes:
Day after Christmas is always perfect for hiking off the excesses of the holidays.  The cold blowing wind means I have the park trails to myself, which is rare on a Sunday morning.  I am mindful that hiking in the winter months means layer up, hydrate and use sunscreen, the cold can drain your body quickly.  Special thanks to my friends at Ouachita Outfitters in Hot Springs for helping me prepare for winter hiking.  They are locally owned with a large variety of the best brands for all your outdoor needs.  No they did not pay me or give me free gear to say this… great products, advice and service ALWAYS deserves recognition.

Those of you who regularly read my blog know of the ongoing saga of “The Brats” aka the juvenile Blue Jays.  Today one of them was trying to ride out the cold winds in the bramble.  So cold the sweet thing did not fly away or chide me for being on it’s favorite trail.  They were hunkered down against the wind and this was the first time I had seen one of them subdued.  It felt as if I had an unfair advantage in our ongoing dance in the Forest. Please note that the photos on display of this juvenile Blue Jay accurately show the obstacles of branches, vines and bushes I face to take many of my photographs.  There are few areas in the park that the birds Love to hang out that don’t have a weave of growing and changing photographic challenges.

I Love observing the topsy turvy antics of a female Cardinal foraging for breakfast.  Even though she was clearly aware of my presence she continued to feed. Looking at me from her vulnerable upside down feeding position I was careful not to make any movements that might be perceived as threatening.  When I reached the the top of Hot Springs Mountain a Northern Mockingbird followed me across the picnic area.  The wind was fiercely buffeting and ruffling its downy feathers, yet it still could not contain its curiosity.

Today the cold wind was mostly a blessing, it slowed down the movement of the birds… however we all had the that pinched cold expression in our eyes.  I admire the bravery of the birds that stay with us for the winter.  I respect the strength of their ability to survive the harsh winter months.

Love to ALL,

Lee


Happy Holidays from Hot Springs National Park


Blues Singer, Warblers and Wildflowers

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Field Notes:
Lovely Birds of Winter, new favorites are the sweet Yellow Rumped Warbler and the Pine Warbler. Last Spring I caught brief sightings, now my new lens allows me to get higher into the Trees to capture lovely warblers.   The beauty of these strong little birds that spend the Winter in with us in Hot Springs National Park is now revealed to me.  To look in the highest Trees and marvel at the gorgeous winged friends that stay with me through the ice and snow is a welcome treat.  I am blessed to hear their joyous songs and graceful antics.

In a distant high Tree a Juvenile Blue Jay watched me, slowly limb by limb it came a bit closer.  Juvenile Blue Jays often follow me at a safe distance, sometimes in silence and other times loudly giving away my presence to the entire Forest.  Even though I could barely see my blue shadow I snapped off a couple of shots.  Imagine my surprise when I began to edit my photographs and discovered this Forest “Blues Singer” wearing vintage Ray-Ban Wayfarers.  I hike in the hippest Forest in the South :)

A storm is nearly upon Hot Springs National Park so I decide to revisit the Goat Rock Trail to see all the lovely violets before they get hammered by rain, sleet and wind.  These beautiful Springs flowers are a gift I do not want to waste.  Their colors vary in each patch or single flower, even the shapes are different from most I saw last Spring.  As my regular readers know I adore Wildflowers and these, Bird-Foot Violets are my favorites. Global warming or a semi regular occurrence, I do not have the answer.

I hope to learn more about what has caused Spring to arrive early in the park.  I spotted Spring Violets on the Dead Chief Trail  on December 11th this year.  Two lone blossoms pushing up through the autumn leaves.  I went back the next day to see if I had miss others along the trail.  On December 22nd I hiked over to the Goat Rock Trail and discover 11 different patches of Bird-Foot Violets.  There was snow on Hot Springs Mountain Christmas last year, I do not believe this will occur in 2010. The intense Summer heat that usually arrives in late July or August began early in June this year and did not let up until mid September.  Now it appears the park is attempting to skip from Autumn into Spring.

Have a Lovely Holiday Weekend! Merry Christmas :)
Much Love,
Lee

PS School holidays means trail runners, I wish they would run the park road instead.  Runners leave a wake of smashed Insects, trampled Wildflowers, frightened Wildlife and I hate being pushed off the trail.  Runner you have miles of road within the park please consider some of seek peace within the Forest, stopping and listening to witness nature’s mircles.


Birds-Foot Violets Blossoming On Winters First Day

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Field Notes:
“The flowers that bloom in the Spring tra la”  When I was a child working in the garden with my Dad he would always sing this song on the first day of Spring.  A celebration to welcome the new flowering planets pushing up through the soil.  I never expected this to be the song in my head as hiked on the first day of winter (yesterday).  Our first day of winter in Hot Springs National Park was overcast, HOT (70) and HUMID by mid morning.  All along the trail delicate patches of green have begun to appear, nestle in the rust of the falling leaves it would be easy to miss their awakening.

When I reach the Goat Rock Trail the new green is more apparent as the Trees along this Trail are mainly Pines.  The Minimal leaf cover and warmer micro-climate are a perfect nursery for early arrivals.  Very early, by about three months!  Lovely Bird-foot Violets are beginning to unfurl in colors and shapes I did not see last Spring.  Waxy white with a hint of violet on the edges, violet with narrow petals, bluish violet and purple.  Mixed in with the beautiful violets are tiny white False Garlic wildflowers (Special Thanks to @USWildflowers  http://uswildflowers.com/).  They open as in a beautiful star lily shape and are sprouting in small delicate clusters all along the trail.

Please enjoy this wonderful first day of Winter Spring bouquet.  Wildflowers are the delicate gems in the Forest and it is always a joy to see them.

Play today in the Forests and Fields and you will feel refreshed, Nature is a wonderful healing force.
Much Love,
Lee


Belted Kingfisher, Mountain Birds and Old Ruins

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Field Notes:
I have completed 1 year without a vehicle, it was NOT easy and at times down right frustrating.  However, I did prove it could be done and that perhaps I did not need to drive as much as I had in previous years.  I walked to the post office, bank, local stores etc. all of my own choosing.  Great for the planet and great for my health, a win win.  This said I will enjoy being able to drive to and hike in some of the many nearby state parks in Arkansas that were further afield than walking would allow. This was a personal journey of learning about my carbon footprint.  My Husband Rick was always available to give me a ride to the grocery store for our larger shopping expeditions and trips that we took further afield in the city.  This was a personal challenge for me, especially since I Love to drive.  My lesson is to be more thoughtful about how much and where I drive.

Morning began with a lovely hike up and back down West Mountain via the Oak Trail.   My first treat was watching a sweet sparrow as it flitted up and down a weave of vines and leaves.  It was singing a sweet song as it peeked out from leaves casting a shy glance.  It was the perfect start to peaceful hike. Up the top of West Mountain always reminds me of the Goat Rock Trail on North Mountain or vice versa.  The bare Trees and rocks cast a silver light along the Sunset Trail.  I stop to sit in the ruins where once stood a rest hut that at one time was not unlike the one I was married in on Hot Springs Mountain.  The sky is a perfect Hot Spring blue and the sun warms my face as I tip back a protein drink.

As I head back down the Mountain I hear a familiar winged sound as a flash of beige lands on a branch near the bottom of the West Mountain Trail.  A juvenile Mourning Dove sits staring at me from its perch.  Even as I inch closer it does not move but instead it puffs up its chest.  In the winter light the lovely Mourning Dove and Forest are bathed in golden glow.  It’s sweet demeanor is a blessed sight.  As I near the middle of the Oak Trail I can hear a sweet song so I scan the Trees to my right.  A flash of green leads me to a tiny Orange Crowned Warbler.  Last winter they were always just out of range but now they appear to be along every trail.  I am thankful for my new camera and lens, it has allowed me to see so many beautiful creatures.

I decided to visit Ricks Pond which is on the old Fordyce Estate located within Hot Springs National Park.  The last time I had been here was summer, the greenery was lush and the pond was teaming with life.  Now the Trees are bare and there is a silvery glow around the edges of the water. This time it appeared I was alone as I stepped upon the stone bridge.   A loud rattling call rang out across the march and off in the distance I saw a large blue-gray and white bird fly up into a Tree.  At first I thought the colors indicated a Blue Jay, but the marking and body shape seemed different.  Even though it was well out of range for a clear shot with my 400mm lens I shot several photographs.  As I tried to creep closer it would fly just a bit further away, not completely out of sight but to far for me to identify.  To my delight when I returned home I was able to see my welcoming committee had been a young male Belted Kingfisher.  I Love making new friends in the park.

The water reveals it own beauty, once green aquatic plants have turned gold with a vibrant red center.  Autumns leaves float just below the surface of the pond in dreamlike imagery.  The last of the rust leaves dangle and reflect just above the murky edges of now filled with the autumn debris.

Much Love,
Lee


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