Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for January, 2011

Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 2

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Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 1 Continued: As I traverse the tip of the peninsula the wind pushes my body as I balance on the narrow trail.  At once I am transformed, a mountain goat perched on the side of the cliff one with the Earth, Trees, Wind and the small Birds singing above me.  I look out over the water and want to know what is on the island that is so tantalizingly close.  A tiny dark eyed Junco appears on a branch high above me,  it turns it’s head as a gust of wind ruffles both our feathers.  The narrow trail undulates light a serpent above the water and finishes in a steep rise through a rocky maze.

The winter Sun is lower barely hovering at the tops of the Trees casting long shadows across the land on the north side of the peninsula.   This is a different landscape than what I saw this morning. Dense sleeping Trees populate the slopes, it is not as open and light as the sparse Pine Forest on the south side of the trail.  I can already imagine the green that will explode throughout this wooded area of the park.  This is a mixed Forest that includes Red Bud, Dogwood and Wild Plum Trees.  I will be back for the floral show this coming spring, a Tree Bud on the trial edge indicates it might be an earlier than I thought.

As I wind through the Rocky Forest trail I notice in the distance a wood bridge, it is a wonderful sight.  Although it is on the map its form was unknown until I arrive at this point on the trail.  Stepping on to the boards I pause to enjoy the peace of the moment and look out over the water. Closing my eyes I can hear rippling Lake as it caresses the rocks, I breath to the rhythm of the water.  It is wonderful to walk on a smooth surface suspended above the earth.  Not long after I leave the bridge the trail winds back into the Forest and away from the water.  It is in this dense and darker Forest I believe I am being followed, not by a human.  I am not afraid, it is only a Forest creature that is curious about my movements through their home.  I think it might be Coyote as it sounded low and paw like as if a dog were following me in the distance.  Padding softly across the leaves my ghost follows me until the trail heads back toward the water.

Soon I can see the water and the trail now takes me along a rise above the Lake.  The breaks between the Pine Trees create a flicker show of light and water.  It is peaceful in the sparkling light.  The trail drop down to pass a beach and I leave the path to walk on the Sand spread out before me.  The Rocky Sand glitters in the sunlight and is dotted with an assortment of white shells.  From here I can clearly see the Lake often hidden from view when I was hiking on the trail.  I look around with the hopes I will find a deck chair to sit on at the water edge.  This is a beautiful spot for meditation.

I reluctantly leave the beach and head back up to the trail and enjoy the view as it winds along the beach edge.   Looking down from a rise I see another bridge in the distance, this is wonderful surprise as it is not mentioned on the map I picked up at the tourist center.  This is longer and newer than the previous one I encountered earlier on my hike.  It is another beautiful view location and in spring and autumn will be a favorite photography location.  As I cross this bridge and hear my foot fall and I realize each board resonates a different tone as if I am play a muted Xylophone. It makes me wonder if that is what drew a woodland creature to follow me after I crossed the last bridge.  The sound although not loud would be a signal that something new has entered the Forest.  Each time I cross a wood bridge I will place close attention to the sounds that emanate from the within the Trees along the Trail.

For the next mile and a half the trail winds into and out of the forest crossing 2 dirt/grassy roads.  For half a mile I am in a mixed Forest along a rise above the lake, a light breeze feel divine.  As the trail winds into the forest on its way toward the Campground I spot a flash of white.  Moving as quietly as I can across the crunchy autumn leaves I soon see the source of the white.  Ahead of me are two Whitetail Does one is eating oblivious to my presence the other turns to face me.  She stomps her hooves and turns to flash her white tail at me in protest and to warn the other Doe.  Although I am getting her message the other Doe carries on as if I am not here.  I am so use to the Deer on Hot Springs National Park running away this is an unexpected experience.

As I near the end of the trail I see a bright flash of orange crisscrossing the trail.  For a brief moment it lands, a beautiful Angelwing Butterfly is escorting me to the end of my journey at Lake Ouachita State Park.  Stepping off the trail I look up and see a Turkey Vulture flying over as a farewell.  Although I completed the entire trail you can do it in segments and still enjoy all the beautiful places I have mentioned in this blog.

Thank You for hiking with me… Much Love to ALL,
Lee


Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 1

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Field Notes: Friday, January 28th 2011
I have finally hiked the Caddo Bend Trail at Lake Ouachita State Park, another first for my adventures in Arkansas.  The trail is labeled strenuous, side note: rugged surface is perfect for twisted ankles, tripping over hidden objects and trying to figure out how the trail disappeared.  BE PREPARED for a wonderful adventure, stop at the park visitor center and get a map to help you navigate the trail.  When visiting a park for the first time it is always a good plan to check in before heading out on the trail and always for the longer routes.  Lake Ouachita State Park staff has useful information, including directions for access points to walk out along the road if you or a family member are unable to complete the trail.  It takes only a few minutes and Arkansas State Park employees are ALWAYS helpful!

This is the kind of trail you will be thankful for having solid boots with strong ankle support.  Although they state it is 4 1/2 miles, with side trips down to some of the beaches it was closer to a 5 1/2 mile trek up hill and down dale.   Bring more water/liquid than you think you will need,  even with the cool breeze off the lake I was sweating when I reached the observation deck at the 1.5 mile marker. I was happy to have packed some lighter weight gear to swap out as the temperature was creeping into spring warmth.  Depending on your fitness level plan to be hiking 3-4 hours with minimal stops.  It took me 3 3/4 hours with side trips to the beaches, drink/food breaks, following deer on an overgrown dirt road and scenic photography stops. Sections of this trail have hazards that may not be appropriate for small children, especially the area rounding the tip of the peninsula.

A large colorful sign marks the trail head and there are several parking spaces for vehicles only, no trailers. Please note the markers for this Trail are in bright yellow both painted blocks and metal circles with arrows. Along the trail you will spot signs that mark the way off the trail to the access road and others that mark distance in 1/2 mile increments. Caddo Bend Trail Map

The first part of the trail meanders through the Forest and I am greeted by a flock of Crows that quickly disperse.   I look up as a Turkey Vulture flies over, casting a dark silhouette against a perfect blue sky.   Just past a patch of boulders I catch sight of a lovely male Red-Bellied Woodpecker, flying from Tree to Tree searching for a morning meal.  His markings are different from those I have seen in the past and I wonder if he is a juvenile Bird.  A few yards ahead I spot a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Pine Warbler moving quickly through the Trees.  They are a wonderful welcoming committee.

The trail weaves close and far from the Lake teasing the hiker with gorgeous views between Pine Trees.  From high above the Lake I can see a group of Ringneck Ducks floating on the surface of the gently moving water.  I hope to get a closer look but there is no access to the shale beaches at this point on the Caddo.   As the trail dips inland I spot a pair of Whitetail Deer, lovely Does grazing peacefully above me.  I move slowly trying to get closer to the Deer, I watch them for several minutes gracefully moving between the Trees.  Later as they begin to head further up the hill a lovely surprise is revealed.  Hiding in the Trees but now following the Does is a late born yearling.  It is a sweet sight watching this beautiful family.

Further up the trail I discover several locations where others have created paths to reach the beach.  From these points the beauty and size of the Lake is revealed, I am blessed the sky and water are a rich blue color this morning.   On this mild winter day there are no boats moving within the smooth surface and I feel as if I am completely alone on the Lake.  Every few feet there is another photo opportunity it is hard not to keep stopping. I am suddenly aware how quickly I am burning through batteries when “battery exhausted” appears in my view finder.  Luckily I brought spares and before long a new one is installed. This said I can’t stop myself from taking more photographs.

An hour and forty-five minutes from the trail head I arrive at the observation deck.  This is the perfect place to have some liquid and a protein bar while enjoying the spectacular view.  I would love to know what is on the island ahead of me… renting a boat might be a next option for exploring the vastness of lake beyond the peninsula.  A cabin and a boat for a mini vacation with my husband Rick.

I will continue my adventure on the Caddo Bend Trail in my next blog entry…. Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 2

Love to You ALL,
Lee


Little Birds and the Cat in the Window

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Field Notes: Thursday, January 27 2011
Today I was testing my strength for a new hiking location so I did not take many photographs.  I hiked to the Top of West Mountain then down, around and back to the top.   Are the 50s the new 40s?  The jury is still out on this cultural axiom, but I am happy to be a unofficial test case.

On the Canyon Trail not long after I entered the park I noticed an unmarked trail that has been blocked by two logs.  I stepped up on a big Rock to have a peek, as I balanced for a better look a mixed flock of Warblers and Juncos landed in the Trees around me.  Breakfast was being served, berry clusters were being enjoyed by the small birds.  They bent their bodies and reached for the tasty orbs dangling from the slender branches.  I followed them to the Oak Trail and continued up the Mountain.

Hiking late morning into afternoon, when I ran out of liquid I knew it was time to head home.  It was a successful fitness test.  Two climbs up and around West Mountain made me realize how fortunate I am to live so close to Hot Springs National Park!  It is a the best therapy, gym and church all in one glorious Nature filled package.  I am truly blessed to be living here with my beloved husband Rick.

I must share with you what I saw on my way home through the Hot Springs Historic District.  There is a western theme photography studio and in their window is usually a pile of colorful feather boas.  Today peeking at me from the feathers was gray, white & tiger stripe cat with brilliant yellow eyes.  The contrast of bird feathers and a small cat was too good a photography moment to pass up.

Stay tuned for my next blog… new park, trail and views :o)
with Love,
Lee


New Trail, Ricks Pond, Colorful Fungi and Birds

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Some days are meant to be dark so we can see the beauty
often lost to our sight in the bright sunlight.~ Lee Hiller

Field Notes: January 24 2011
A light mist is falling as I arrive at the Ricks Pond dam in Hot Springs National Park. Before I can even grab my camera a Blue Heron flies up in the air and quickly vanishes on the opposite side of the pond. Note to self have gear ready for action before you arrive at the park, don’t exit the van before you are prepared for the first shot. I had imagined there would be more water spilling over the dam in the winter and that the pond would be higher up the banks. The next time we have heavy rain or snowfall I will return to see if the water level changes.

The last time I was here it was bright and sunny, I believe the pond looks its best wrapped in gray. Today the reflection in the pond is not obscured by the reflection of the sun.  Winter beauty is reflected in rust, moss and gray. Elegant bare Trees rising high into the sky and dipping deep into the still water. A Rorschach test for the Heart and Soul.

I decide to hike along the Sunset Trail and see where it leads within the old Fordyce Estate. We pause here for a much needed update, I recently learned there are actually seven Mountains that make up Hot Springs National Park; Hot Springs, North, West, Music, Sugarloaf, Indian and Fordyce Mountains. None of the Trail maps mentioned Fordyce Mountain as being the location of the third leg of the Sunset Trail. I am happy to say today I climbed to the top of Fordyce Mountain. The trail is varied smooth, steep, flat, wide, rocky and narrow. The fallen Trees are covered in a glorious variety of colorful Turkey Tail Fungus and False Turkey Tail Fungus; winters wildflowers. Colors range from bright yellow to deep burgundy, these amazing variations are created by genetics of the organism and its environment.

When I reach the bottom of the trail near Ricks Pond I am blessed to see a sweet juvenile Nuthatch peeking and me from the side on a Short Leaf Pine.  On a nearby Tree an adult Red-Breasted Nuthatch is searching for an afternoon meal.  I take a last stroll over the stone bridge and I can hear an elusive water Bird.  No matter how I try the Belted King Fisher will not let me get close enough to take a clear photograph.  We did the same dance as last time, I moved it moved always keeping me just out of clear focusing range.  If anyone has tips from sneaking up on a Belted Kingfisher and or Blue Heron in a very open setting I would love to hear from you.

From My Heart,
Lee


Chickadees, Whitetail Deer, Chipmunks and More

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Field Notes: January 22 2011
It was a “will I” or “won’t I” hike morning, “I will” of course won out.  Nature rewarded my efforts to overcome my indecision with the sighting of many beautiful creatures.  I arrived at the Peak Trail as a mother Blue Jay was installing her Chick in a Tree.  It sat bravely and silently perched in the sunlight pressed closely against a branch.  Interestingly I was not alone watching this event, a Northern Mockingbird was intently surveying the situation.  Never getting too close it hopped up the Tree and walked across a branch to look at the Blue Jay Chick.  Once satisfied with the situation the Mockingbird found it’s own higher perch and sat quietly basking in the morning sun.

I headed up the Peak Trail to the stone wall hoping to see a Chipmunk, sadly there were none in sight. Passed a large Rock and remembered it was the first place I had seen/photographed a Carolina Wren (Moss, Lichen, Fungus and a Carolina Wren).  Lost in the beauty and memories of past trail visits a flash of white brought me back to the present.  Just past the mid way point to the top three Whitetail Deer where staring at me from below the trail edge.  I often spot the three Does between west side of the Hot Springs Mountain Trail over to the Short Cut Trail. This was the first time they had stopped long enough for me to take a photograph.  Normally all I ever see is a trio of white tails bounding into the Forest cover.  I suspect one of these Does is the responsible for bumping my lens hood when we had a near miss during a recent trail crossing (A Mixed Flock Of Little Birds and a Near Miss).

Near the top of the trail a flock of lovely Carolina Chickadees arrived, their happy Bird Song filled the cold crisp winter air.  The tiny winged songsters are in fine form swinging on branches, singing and pipping a beautiful tune.  As I cross the Hot springs Mountain picnic area I can hear more birds singing on the Short Cut Trail.  When I reach the top of the path I can see another favorite songster, the Black-Capped Chickadee.  They too are hanging on the finer branches with acrobatic grace.

It is a beautiful hike along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, the Trees are dark sculptures shaped by storms past.  I travel down the Honeysuckle and Floral Trails as I head down to the Hot Springs Mountain Road.  As I am walking down the road out of the park I hear a commotion to my right.  I cross the road and look over the creek at North Mountain, it is hard not to giggle out loud.

On the south side of North Mountain I can see at least 20 (closer to 25) individual Chipmunks. They are running along downed Trees, diving in Leaves, sitting on Rocks and popping up out of burrow holes.  Considering I had not seen a Chipmunk for several weeks this was a surprise.  I believe the cause of the population explosion is a male Chipmunk guarding several burrow entrances.  There is no polite way to put this, I have never seen a Chipmunk with this large a set of testicles.  Now that he created his new over-sized family he is fighting to hold onto his own burrow.  Prior to this moment I had only seen four Chipmunks on North Mountain, at least this group has room to spread out and multiple.

With Love,
Lee


Hiking with Violets, a Cat, a Sapsucker and Downy Woodpecker

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A Special THANK YOU to the jogger who saw I was photographing a bird and stopped so I could get the shots. I am extremely grateful for your thoughtful and considerate gesture.

Field Notes January 21 2011:
I open my blog today with a story of an extended paw of friendship.  Many of my regular readers will be aware that  For nearly a year I have been documenting the activities of what appears to be a feral cat in the park. This beautiful cat seems to live on the neighboring hospital grounds and hunts in the park.  This is not a good situation for the cat or the wildlife.  Today something was different, instead of keeping the fence between us it came over to see what I was doing.  After several minutes of exchanging meows and taking photographs this beautiful creature walked along a ledge and placed it’s nose on my camera hood.  Using my lens as a mirror it could be the first time it has seen its reflection.  It lead me part way up the path then passed through a gap in the fence and back to the hospital grounds.  This sweet lonely creature needs a better home.

As I near the top of the Dead Chief Trail I hear a tapping sound in a Tree ahead of me.  I look up and see a beautiful Male Downy Woodpecker hanging on to a  small Branch.  Usually I only see these industrious birds on the side of large Trees, this is a wonderful view.  From this new perspective I can see how they use their feet to grasp and their tail feathers for balance.  I am blessed to have a very patient teacher, Nature.

Along the top Hot Springs Mountain the air has a bite and it stings my face as I hike along the trail.  The cold air seems to magnify the beauty of the Forest and you can hear even the distant Bird songs clearly.  Hiking on the Hot Springs mountain Trail the sound of tapping and pipping is becoming louder. It is as if the source of sound and myself are each moving toward each other.  As I pass the ravine I see a small brown flecked Bird hopping up a Tree and pecking.  As first it’s size and color make me think it is a large Brown Creeper.  As I get closer the truth is revealed, it is a small juvenile male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.  It makes me wonder how I missed seeing all these amazing woodpeckers when I was hiking last year.  I have clearly been changed by this year of hiking in the Mountains of Hot Springs National Park.

I am surprised to see so many dead and dying pines as I hike down the Gulpha Gorge Trail.  It is a field of rust where once green stood, is this the damage from last winter or something new?  On the Goat Rock Trail the spring Bird-Foot Violets are still blooming,  but the last snow and freeze has battered the fragile blooms.  The cold snow and freezing air transformed their once velvet petals to sheer translucent veils. The storms could only change not destroy their fragile beauty.  The upper Goat Rock Trail on North Mountain has become a silvery Forest, and I find myself thinking it is a twin to sunset trail atop West Mountain. As always thank you dear friends for joining me as I travel into the Mountains.

Thank You for all the lovely prayers for my Husband Rick these past several weeks.  His kidney stones are passing and he is on the mend, your lovely messages have kept us strong throughout his medical care and healing.

With Love,
Lee


Rain Drops in the Fog

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Field Notes: January 17th 2011
A lovely layer of fog and mist as fallen over Hot Springs National Park this morning. It is a perfect morning to go hiking in the life giving moisture.  The plants are all coated with exquisite glistening spheres softly glowing in the dim light. It is one those rare occasions when the fog is coming down the Mountain to meet me on the trails.  I have in the past raced up and down three Mountains in a single morning trying to catch a patch of fog.  The bad news, half way up Hot Springs Mountain I realized I had left home without my spare batteries and camera bag.  I thought I was feeling a bit lighter :)

Along the foggy Short Cut Trail beautiful ghost like creatures appear in the leaves and up in Trees. A female Cardinal and a Sparrow are foraging ahead of me while a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker is pecking on a branch in the distance.  When I reach the top of the trail there is a faint rainbow in the mist and fog as I cross the Hot Springs Mountain Road.  I love how the familiar trails take on a mysterious atmosphere of uncertainty.

The rain is increasing and the fog is on the move from the Hot Springs Mountain Trail to the bottom of the Floral Trail. I hike with swift intent as mentioned earlier I don’t have my camera bag to pack my camera away to keep it dry.  When I reach the bottom and begin to head home on Fountain Street the sky darkens and the street lamps begin glowing in the gray ahead of me.  I feel like I am entering the old TV show dark Shadows, all that is missing is a Vampire.  As the old street lamps illuminated the sidewalk I am greeted by… not a Vampire, but a Squirrel enjoying a late breakfast in the fog.

Love Yourself!
Lee


Some Of My Favorite Moments from 2010

Hot Springs Mountain Road - Lost Puppy

Hot Springs Mountain Road – Lost Puppy

January 16 2010Lost shot conceals a hidden treasure

This was the first day I blogged about a hike in Hot Springs National Park. I saw the puppy above on the Hot Springs Mountain Road and after failing to catch it I thought posting a photograph might let the owner know it was still alive. The blog got the attention of my Twitter and facebook friends so I decided to continue posting my adventures. I backed dated and added images and information from my notes to create posts going back to first day I hiked in Hot Springs National Park in November 2009. Over the past year I have posted 8,665 images, made 251 blog entries and begun making videos as well. I am thankful to have been able to upgrade from using a compact camera to a DSLR this past November.

To those who have read my blog this past year I am grateful for your company as I hike ;) You kind thoughts and comments are a treasure beyond words.

Hot Springs National Park Ice Snow HS Mountain Trail

Hot Springs National Park Ice Snow HS Mountain Trail

February 2010 – The Lovely Creatures of the Forest on the Hot Springs Trails

Hot Springs National Park Pagoda Cedar Waxwing

Hot Springs National Park Pagoda Cedar Waxwing

March 2010 – Peregrine Falcon, Wildflowers, Lovely Birds and Small Mammals

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Birds-Foot Violet and Hornet

April 2010 – Snakes, Lizards and a Turtle Happy Earth Day!

Upper Dogwood Trail Texas Rat Snake

May 2010 – Lovely Dragonflies, Butterflies, Moths, Bumble Bees and Wildflowers

Floral Trail Blue Moth

June 2010 – Bunnies, Baby Birds and a Sweet Chipmunk

Tufa Terrace Chipmunk

July 2010 – Baby Birds on Soul Day

Superior Bathhouse Northern Mockingbird Chick

August 2010 – The Glorious Wings of Summer

Promenade Butterfly Weed Brown Orange Moth

September 2010 – Winging My Way Through the Park and Twilight Snakes

Hot Springs Mountain Road Copperhead

October 2010 – Testing new camera among the Autumn Leaves

Arlington Lawn House Sparrow

November 2010 – Beautiful Birds of West and Music Mountains & Woodpeckers, Chickadees and Who is the Rock Stacker?

West Mountain Oak Trail Autumn

West Mountain Canyon Trail Seed Pod

December 2010 – A Mixed Flock Of Little Birds and a Near Miss

Hot Springs Mountain Top Red Breasted Nuthatch

Field Notes: Turkey Vultures
Field Notes: Wild About Mockingbirds
Field Notes: Ice Ribbons and Frost Flowers
Field Notes: Damselfly Dragonfly its in the Wings and Eyes
Field Notes: Mixed-Species Foraging Flock Robins and Waxwings
Field Notes: Woodpeckers Of Hot Springs National Park

The Best Of: Trails and Paths
The Best Of: Butterflies and Moths
The Best Of: Birds
The Best Of: Squirrels
The Best Of: Chipmunks


Field Notes: Turkey Vultures

Average Adult Weight: 6lbs.
Adult Wingspan: Approx. 6 feet
Scientific Name: Cathartes aura
Eating Habits: Omnivore, will eat both carrion and plants
Nesting: On the Ground (digging an indentation), Caves and or Barnes

I enjoy the unusual beauty of Turkey Vultures!  From the top of their featherless red heads to their strong talon they are a fascinating combination of awkwardness and grace.  Wings spread soaring above the Mountains in Hot Springs National Park alone or in groups they are always a welcome sight.  When I began hiking in Arkansas I would often see them flying high above me as I traveled across Hot Springs Mountain.

Surprisingly my first “close encounter” was within the confines of the Trees along the Hot springs Mountain Trail.  February 25, 2010 New Feathered Friends Turkey Vultures on the Hot Springs Trails “I am starting today’s post not from the beginning as I would do normally. Instead I am Introducing you to two new friends I met while hiking today, a pair of Turkey Vultures. It is the second time I have seen them in the same area perching and on the ground. They nest on the ground and I might have stumbled upon their…”  It was remarkable,  the obstacles they needed to navigate for landing and taking off  seemed too close to allow their wings to fully extend.  It was a rare chance to see a Turkey Vulture pair together within the Trees of Hot Springs Mountain.

My next extended encounter came on November 15, 2010 while I was hiking  the Sunset Trail on Music Mountain. Beautiful Birds of West and Music Mountains “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…” It is a blessing to have my new camera as I am able to capture the details of their feathers and the beauty of flight.

I hope you will enjoy the beauty of these birds.
Much Love,
Lee

Music Mountain sunset Trail Turkey Vulture

Music Mountain sunset Trail Turkey Vulture

Music Mountain sunset Trail Turkey Vultures

Music Mountain sunset Trail Turkey Vulture

Music Mountain sunset Trail Turkey Vultures

Hot Springs National Park, AR Turkey Vulture #1 In Flight

Hot Springs Mountain Trail, AR Turkey Vulture #1 In Flight

Hot Springs National Park, AR Turkey Vulture #2 Perched

Hot Springs National Park, AR Turkey Vulture #2 Perched

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas Turkey Vulture No2

Hot Springs Mountain Trail - Turkey Vulture No2


Hiking with Winter Snow Birds on West Mountain

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Field Notes January 11 2011:
I  enjoy the solitude of hiking alone, it allows me to hear the Forest and Mountains.  The soft whoosh of fall snow, the drip of melting ice cycle, the happy pip of a Chickadee or huff of a Deer annoyed by my presence; this is the song of Nature. When I hike I listen for pecking, chirping, scratching, tossing of leaves and digging.  Each sound reveals a beautiful resident of the parks in which I hike.  For me it is a symphony, a changing song of life that resonates to my Soul and is captured by my lens.

As I hike along the snow covered West Mountain trails I am being followed by a vocal crowd.   A family of Crows are patrolling the the Oak Trail this morning. I enjoy watching their social and family interactions, I have never been sure why people fear Crows.  I have but one complaint as they shadow me, they drown out my ability to hear the smaller birds and creatures.  Fortunately as I near the end of the Oak Trail they decided to fly off toward the south end of Hot Springs Mountain.  I don’t think I have seen Crows head toward North Mountain since the Hawk incident on April 04 2010 when I heard a blood curdling scream and looked up to see…

Although the snow cover on each trail is beautiful, the true joy of today’s hike is the lovely birds that stay in Hot Springs National Park throughout the winter. As I near the junction of the Oak and West Mountain Trails I am able to see Nature’s breakfast buffet.  A flock of Pine Warblers are flipping leaves along the trail in search of Seeds.  Often in pairs males and females work together to forage for the food hidden beneath the now fallen autumn Leaves.  A lovely male Pine Warbler flies onto a branch and preens in the sunlight.  It is as if he has become one with the glow of the golden rays flowing down from above.  On the Rocks ahead of me a curious Warbler hops between the patches of Ice and Snow searching for food.  A familiar happy song draws my gaze upward into the nearly bare Trees.  Above me a Black-Capped Chickadee swings on a spiky Tree Seed in delicate acrobatic contortions.  It is a beautiful aerial ballet.

When I reach the Mountain top the sky is a deep vibrant blue and the now bare Trees are silvery sentinels along the trail.  The stone ruins  of a rest hut sit silently in the changing winter landscape, I wonder how it looked in 1914 when it was originally built.  Far across the valley below snow etches detail into the dark distant features.  This is my first winter hiking on West Mountain and the view from the top is spectacular.

On my journey back down the mountain I encounter the flock of Pine warblers on the West Mountain Trail.  A bold Warbler turns to show me his newly discovered Seed among the leaves on the trail.  The more timid Juncos have joined the Warblers and I can see them peeking at me from within the thick twists of leafless Vines.  Nearing the bottom of the Mountain on the Oak Trail I see a Male Cardinal nestled in Snow covered Leaves.  His soft pips revealed his location in the coniferous Tree. When I reach the Canyon Trail I smile as I see engaging snow capped plants along the edges of the path.

Love to ALL!
Lee

Side note: I have not seen any Robins in the park this winter, last year they were everywhere. I miss them!


Beautiful Birds and a Blanket Of Snow

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Softly falls the snow, it whispers a sweet song as it caresses the earth with its delicate touch. ~ Lee Hiller

Field Notes January 10 2011:
High upon the Mountain was that magic time when the only sound is the occasional whoosh of snow falling from a limb or leaf.  A meditative walk on trails of pristine snow with only the occasional crossing of Deer tracks.  A perfect place of calm where you can hear your own heart beating in the silence.  These are the moments when Nature whispers within the Forest, a message that fills the Soul.  I am a joy filled guest in Nature’s home, blessed to experience glorious moments of beauty.

You will note the many photos I have posted of a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  There are gestures that would be missed if I posted only the obvious images.  If you look closely you will see pecking and picking at the bark, followed by the resting of his head against the Tree to listen for a potential meal.  These are the wonderful behaviors we often miss when food lures are used to produce art quality images.  As much as I enjoy discovering I have taken that near perfect photograph what I truly Love is capturing  Natures creatures busy with their natural behaviors.  There is so much to learn about their incredible lives in the wild.

Today I photographed a lovely new Forest friend, a Hermit Thrush.  Special Thank You to Mark Corder for the identification.  This sweet bird adapts its diet to remain in Arkansas throughout the year, eating insects in spring/summer and berries in autumn/winter.  A small brown bird  that on closer inspection has beautiful subtle markings allowing it to blend into the newly bare branches of winter.  How could I not adore this sweet bird?

I was blessed to see two favorite birds of winter in the park this morning.  The lively little Juncos that I rarely see in the summer and autumn seem to magically appear on every trail when winter arrives.  They always appear to to be highly adept energetic foragers.  How could you have a snow hike without the beauty of colorful Cardinal sitting in contract to the white of newly fallen snow?  They brave the cold and bring colorful beauty to the winter Forest.

Thank You for taking a snow day with me.
Love to ALL!
Lee


Hot Springs National Park First Snow of 2011 pt2

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Field Notes January 09 2011:
One of the great gifts is leaving across the street from a National Park is being able to get in there the minute the snow starts to fall. (see video Hot Springs National Park First Snow of 2011)  I had been prepped and ready to go since 9:00 am LOL  A few flurries as I entered the park quickly became rapid snow fall as I reach the Short Cut Trail.  At the top of Hot Springs Mountain White-Throated Sparrows and Juncos were frantically digging in the snow covered leaves for seeds.   There were several territorial disputes over digs sites that included diving and shoving.  I noticed this behavior last winter between Warblers and Sparrows on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail.

When I reached the Pagoda the snowfall was increasing to near white out levels so I put chains on my boots and checked my camera covers.  While I was making a video of the snow and lack of view I noticed the Park Police kept driving past on the mountain road.  After several passes I realized they were in the process of closing the road.  That was my cue to head back down the Mountain and of of the park.  The hike was visually impaired by the increasing snow fall and I only paused to take the occasional photograph including my Wedding Chapel on the Honeysuckle Trail.

By the time I reached the bottom of the Floral Trail the Park gates were closed and locked.  The snow was falling so hard 3:30 pm looked like 6:00 pm as I neared home and the only other people out were teens in the park having a snowball fight.

Love To You ALL!
Lee

PS Prepping now for today’s snow outing!


Hot Springs National Park First Snow of 2011 pt1

As per my previous post Spring Weather Before The First Snow… Special thanks to the Universe for listening! Although I will complete a blog entry tomorrow about my hike this video is for those who were not able to get into the park before the road was closed.  When I reached the top of Hot Springs Mountain at 2:30 pm today the park police began the processes of closing the road.  At 3:25 pm when I reached the bottom of the Floral Trail to leave the park the Hot Springs Mountain Road gates had been locked.


Spring Weather Before The First Snow

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I titled my blog with an air of hope that the weather forecasters are correct (listening to Valley Winter Song on my head phones while I type).  I believe saying/typing can make it real, I am sending a not so subtle message to the Universe for snow!

Field Notes January 08 2011:
It is amazing to stare up into a perfect blue sky and realize tomorrow or the next day at this same location I might be hiking through a cloud of white :) Heading into the park I hear an interesting bird conversation.  I follow the sound and discover a sparrow conversing with a Male Cardinal.  The Male cardinal is throwing leaves about looking for seeds as the Sparrow looks on providing intermittent commentary.

As I move up into the park on what appears to be a perfect spring day in winter the park is surprisingly quiet.  Those creatures visible however are very busy and likely preparing for the incoming storm.  Along the upper part of the Tufa Terrace a sweet honeysuckle fragrance leads me to a bush covered in cream flowers.  Honey Bees are flying from flower to flower gathering the pollen from within the elongate bells.  The floral perfume is intoxicating and as I close my eyes feeling the sun caress my face it is hard to believe it is winter.

On the Short Cut Trail a grasshopper is climbing up a branch, the low winter sun causing it to glow.  It is beautiful as it moves gracefully hand over hand higher into the Tree.  Further along I hear tapping and lively pipping sounds.  A male Downy Woodpecker is moving from Tree to Tree looking for it’s morning feast.  I admire the industrious spirit of these tiny birds and feel blessed to see them when I am hiking.

When I reach the Hot Springs Mountain Trail the Trees in the picnic area are silent.  I scan the tops and trunks but there is no movement.  Reaching the half way point on the east side of the Mountain I arrived in time to see a mixed flock of small birds flying rapidly through the Trees.  They are so fast I can only spot a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Nuthatch.  A few minutes later pecking and a cackling bird call lead my eye to a far off Tree.  In a large V of pale branches a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker it seeking nourishment.

Heading home I spot a pretty American Finch flying from limb to limb in a Short Leaf Pine.  Its delicate maneuvers fills my heart with a joy that carries me through the forest to the bottom of the Floral Trail.  Communing with Nature is a privilege I never take for granted, a blessing not as easily available to many who read my blog entries.  Thank you for traveling with me on the trails of the Mountains and Forests in Arkansas.  I appreciate your blog comments, even if we don’t always agree.  Special thanks to those who kindly assist me in identifying the many birds and wildflowers, your help is a kindness beyond mere words.

Much Love,
Lee

PS: To those who contacted me with concerns that I had not posted lately… My beloved husband Rick has been in the hospital off and on the past week for a now discovered large kidney stone that halted his left kidney function.  He currently has a kidney stent and will have lithroscopy to break up the stone this week.

PPS: Update: It is snowing!


OH DEER! Horseshoe Mountain in Lake Catherine State Park

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Field Notes:
New Year new hiking location, welcome to Lake Catherine State Park in Arkansas!  Turns out it was only 30 minutes away and it has amazing hiking trails.  When I arrived in the park I pulled into the visitors center to let them know I am in the park taking photographs, shout out and thanks for the excellent maps, directions and advice from park staff.  A little jealous that some employees get to live in the park, what a wonderful job. If you plan to visit the park check out their website, there is camping, lodging and trail map information. Lake Catherine State Park you can also follow Arkansas State Parks on Twitter @ARStateParkand facebook The State Parks of Arkansas entry to this park is FREE.

Important information from visitors center… two of the three main trail are open Horseshoe Mountain and the Falls Branch Trail.  The Dam Mountain Trail is closed because someone leased out the land adjacent to the state park trail for deer hunting.  The park officials are worried someone could get shot by stray bullets/arrow. It should reopen sometime in February after Deer hunting season ends.  Important information is one reason I like to check in on a first visit to hike in a park.

The trail head is located just past the campgrounds, parking is available and FREE.  I photographed a tiny bird I am unable to identify a few feet onto the trail and would appreciate any help with a name. Update: Special Thanks to @blobbybirdman of Twitter for ID, it is an American Goldfinch.  Approximately 50 yards past the trail head I reached the point where I need make a trail choice, I pick the one labeled as rugged.  The Horseshoe Mountain Trail it turns out is minimally groomed which is perfect for seeking out wildlife to photograph.  It is likely it does not see as much activity as the Falls Branch Trail.  I am grateful to be wearing a good pair of hiking boots as much of the 12-14 inch wide trail is rocky or covered in debris hiding protruding roots and there are several fallen Trees to climb over.  Be prepared to be unsure of where the trail is located and keep an eye out for park trail markers.  As a first time visitor it is of great help to see park trails are all marked with spray painted color blocks on random trees, they are bright yellow (Horseshoe Mountain), red (Falls Branch) or white (Dam Mountain).

If state park officials read this please note many hikers love trails that are not overly groomed, the scenery is better and the wildlife is left with a better environment. It was wonderful to have a choice of trail type in Lake Catherine State Park.  My description of the Horseshoe Mountain Trail is a compliment!

The first part of the Horseshoe Mountain Trail gently winds upward through trees that have left their leaves as a rust carpet upon the Forest floor.  Climbing higher I notice more rocks begin to appear and dominate a changing landscape. As I move move past a rock wall to my right a Golden-Crown Kinglet pushes off from a branch to take flight above me.  I Love these tiny Warblers! Passing a large protruding rock pointing skyward the trail surface abruptly changes  to 75% rocks sticking up from the soil. I work my way up what I believe is the logical route for a trail.  Several minutes after reaching the top I spot a yellow marker and it is clear my trail instincts were correct.

When you reach the Mountain top it is a utopia of small birds in an enchanting winter Forest high above Lake Catherine. The trail along the ridge is a filled with bird song, a duet Yellow-Rumped Warbler and Tufted Titmouse rings out in the cool morning air.  Although I hear Chickadee pips further up the trail, they move so quickly I am unable to get a clear sighting. The coloring of the Yellow-Rumped Warblers is a bit different than those I have photographed for earlier blog entries.

Further up the trail and along the ridge the sun is low casting a golden blue light over the trail.  I find myself on the wrong side of the sunlight when a flock of birds begins to land in the trees ahead of me.  Shooting into the sun and unsure of the type of bird I hope for the best.  It is not until a second wave flies past that I see they are a flock of juvenile and adult Cedar Waxwings.  I always forget how tiny they are, their dramatic markings make them appear larger in my photographs.

As I follow the ridge top trail I notice deer tracks in the areas where the soil is soft.  The trail is scenery is rocky dotted with junipers and pines, I hope to spot a deer in the open spaces before it see me.  The tracks continue until I reach a leaf covered descent not unlike the trail leading up the Mountain.  I am a bit disappointed to have lost sight of the Deer tracks.   When I reach the bottom I am faced with 3 choices; visit the water fall, finish my hike on the Branch Falls Trail or continue on the Horseshoe Mountain Trail.  I don’t like to leave anything unfinished so it is onward along the Horseshoe Mountain Trail.

This decision afforded me an opportunity I have been waiting to experience for many months.   As I crest a rise on the trail I find myself in an area where the trail is fully exposed with a sparse amount of trees 25 feet to my left.  A few steps into the open and I see three white tails hoping away.  I freeze hoping they might not run to far away, as I slowly raise my camera I see the worse possible thing in my viewfinder.  “Battery Exhausted” appears before my eye.  Trying to change my battery without moving in a threatening way and keeping one eye on the three Deer ahead of me a lesson in patience.

Battery changed I slowly lift my camera and begin taking photographs as the Deer move between the Trees.  Deeming me nonthreatening the largest Deer, a Doe steps out of the Trees and allows me to take her portrait before heading back into the Tree line. Several minutes after she disappears the other two slowly begin to move past me.  Not knowing a lot about Deer my best guess was a mother and her young.  The two that hung back were smaller, although one was a bit bigger than the other and they seemed to be used to staying together often touching noses. This moment was beautiful new year gift from Nature.

At the bottom of the trail I step off and walk along the lake shore.  Large Crows are flying back and forth from a large Tree to stumps now exposed from the low water levels.  This beautiful flock of six seems to have staked out the shoreline for the winter. Their gleaming black feathers are a beautiful contrast to the blue water.

I catch up to the trail cutting through the campground and before long I am back at the trail head again.  Special thanks to the staff of Lake Catherine State Park!

Much Love to ALL!
Lee