Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for February, 2011

Wildflowers and Birds in the Early Spring

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Hot Springs is hosting a week of Basketball tournament and this combined with brilliant Spring weather meant the City has filled with visitors.  I Love seeing players and tourists carrying maps and using the trails.

Beautiful Wildflowers have arrive in great abundance on the lower slops of Hot Springs Mountain.  The green is dotted with blue, fuchsia, purple, yellow and white.  Flowers so tiny their full beauty is not reveal until I see the close up photographs taken in the late morning light.  I am delighted to have this chance to capture the glorious delicate blooms as Monday the park staff usually mow and groom the lower part of the park.

The Robins that blew in with the last winter snow appear to have decided to stay for the Spring.  I am standing on the path as the flock lands and begins feeding on the berries in the Tree ahead of me.  It is an awesome sight watching the agility of the Robins diving in and out of the Tree as they hunt for food.   A female Cardinal sits quietly on a sunlit branch as the chaos rages all around her.  She tips her face upward into the warmth of the morning sun.

When I reach the Honeysuckle Trail I can here a favorite winged friend in the forest.   Half way down the Floral Trail I spot a tiny flash of wings darting across the path.  Moving up and down from Tree to Tree is a lovely Red-Breasted Nuthatch. I have to admit a newly formed affinity for these lively birds.  It is hard to imagine I have only started my second year of being a birding beginner, proof it is never too late to find a new passion.

Get out and play…
Love to You ALL!
Lee

Glad I never parked near that No Parking sign, a large slab of concrete fell on it.


Spring Arrives with Cherry Blossoms and Magnolias

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Spring arrived in Hot Springs yesterday Cherry Blossoms, Saucer Magnolias, Wildflowers etc. exploded along city streets and Hot Springs National Park.  Please enjoy my photographic journey of a lovely day out with my beloved husband Rick.

Sending this photographic bouquet to all my readers.
With Love,
Lee


Sunny Day Before the Storm Brings Out the Birds

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I Love hiking on West Mountain, it has a varied terrain and there is always the music of often invisible small songbirds.  Heading up the Canyon Trail I see an unusual bird nest if you know what bird might have created it I would appreciate a shout out.  I have heard from two sources one saying Oriole and the other Hummingbird…  Further up I hear a familiar song and see sweet Black-Capped Chickadees singing to the morning sun.  They are tiny and so full of energy hopping or flitting from branch to branch.

As I near the Oak Trail there is a light breeze and in the distance I can see a small bird hanging on to a gently waving branch.  When I am closer a lovely flash of yellow in gray feathers is visible, this is a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.  Seeking a breakfast of berries it carefully angles it’s body on the moving branch reaching downward toward the feast.

Along the Oak Trail I am greeted by the wonderful people from the Ouachita Hiking Club.  It is a perfect day for hiking in the winter sun on West Mountain.  I have not seen them since our encounter on North Mountain several months ago.

As I approach the steps leading up to the junction of the West Mountain Trail I see what I think is a leaf waving in the breeze.  Upon closer inspection I see the leaf is actually a camouflaged Angelwing Butterfly.  It is only when it flexes it’s wings that I can see the glorious Orange of the top of it’s wings.  Now I understand why I have not seen many of these Butterflies.

On the top of West Mountain I take the Sunset Trail and receive a fly over by the Turkey Vultures that appear to hang out at the Music Mountain Towers.  When I reach the Towers I can see three Vultures perched on the metal rails.  To my delight I realize one of them is a Black Vulture, the first one I have seen in the park.  In the sky the Black Vultures wings are black except for a patch of lighter feathers near the tip feathers.  Turkey Vulture wings are light in color along the bottom of the wing spread.

On the hike down from the towers along the east side of Music Mountain I discover two patches of Birds Foot Violets.  The trail reminds me of the Goat Rock Trail, rocky and receiving lots of sunlight.   These are the first Violets I have seen on Music Mountain, I will check back often to see if there are more blooms to be found.

As I near the end of the Sunset Trail retuning to West Mountain a jogger (Jamie) recounted some of his wonderful birds sightings.  I hope to see many of the wonderful birds he has mentioned.  Later in the conversation he was able to tell me where I can find a basic trail at the foot of Indian Mountain.  I will be checking this out very soon… special thanks for this wonderful information.

A Carolina Chickadee sings a sweet song as I head down West Mountain to return home.  Nature is a glorious gift and we must protect these sacred spaces.

With Love,
Lee


The Great Backyard Bird Count Day Two

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Lesson learn during The Great Backyard Bird Count, it is hard to focus on the photography when you are holding pen and paper staring up at the sky and Trees.  The good news is I saw/counted more birds than I was able to photograph.  Next year I need to clip a small recorder to my shirt so I can do away with the pen and paper.

When I went in search of birds at Hot Springs National Park’s two main water locations I was delighted to see turtles.  Ricks Pond now supports a healthy crop of adult and young Turtle, many of whom were sunny themselves on logs.

My two day Bird count in Hot Springs National Park:
February 19 2011 – Hot Springs Mountain
Red-shouldered Hawk – 1
Blue-headed Vireo – 1
American Crow – 1
Carolina Chickadee – 12
American Robin – 55
Northern Mockingbird – 3
White-throated Sparrow – 10
House Sparrow – 10

February 20 2011 – Ricks Pond
Turkey Vulture – 3
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2
Belted Kingfisher – 2
American Crow – 5

Next Year I hope to count in additional locations within the park. I am new to this with lots to learn and I hope to improve my seeking, viewing and counting skills for next year.

Love,
Lee


The Great Backyard Bird Count Day One

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This weekend is The Great Backyard Bird Count so my hike today was more of a series of stake outs waiting for flocks near Trees with Berries or Seeds.  The bonus was spotting some Bird’s Eye Speedwell Wildflowers and a Squirrel.  I hope you will enjoy my photographs of day one of my bird counting on Hot Springs Mountain.  A new location tomorrow…

With Love,
Lee


A Beautiful Snow Day at Ricks Pond Red Shouldered Hawks

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Snow always vanishes so quickly in Hot Springs National Park, so I decided to head over to the Gulpha Creek and Ricks Pond. This is more of a photo expedition hiking from the base of the Creek and around the Pond to the old Fordyce Estate stone bridge.

The Gulpha Creek is reflecting the snow decorating the bare limbs of winters Trees.  It has a beautiful song as it spills out from below the stone arch foot bridge that leads to the old Fordyce Estate.  Snow blankets the banks of the Creek and I follow it up to the Ricks Pond Dam.  Ice sculptures have form at the bottom of the dam spill.  White decorates the top of the dam and as I climb up the bank I can see a slushy texture coating the surface of the pond.   Light reflection on this new pond surface has a myriad of  subtle color changes.

On the far side of the pond I notice an anomaly in one the Trees, so I take a photograph unsure of what I am seeing.  A sudden movement and one large Bird drops down to the waters edge. Then as quickly flies up to a Tree, I keep shooting not sure if at this distance I will capture any clear images. I try to get closer but there is little or no cover in the winter along the edge of the pond.  As I slowly move forward two bird fly off toward the marshes each landing in separate Trees.

I decide to sit on a rock and soak in the beauty of the water and the surrounding snow covered land.  Perhaps I need to arrive early in the morning and wait quietly for the sun to rise to photograph feeding birds. I have a large learning curve for getting close to large birds in this water based open environment.  As I stand to leave a Turkey Vulture flies gracefully over the pond.

It was a beautiful day at the pond and my mystery birds turned out to be a pair of Red Shouldered Hawks.

Love to you ALL!
Lee


Robins Return to Hot Springs with the Winter Snow

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Last year my constant winter companions had been flocks of Robins residing on the lower levels of Hot Springs Mountain.  Apart for the random single bird I had not seen a flock of Robins since last spring.  Today as I entered the park Nature decided to bring several flocks with the winter snow.  I was surprised to see Sparrows and Cardinals huddled under the gazebo.  It is not until I begin to head up the Tufa Terrace ramp that I understand why, nearly every Tree is occupied by 10 or more Robins.  I imagined this would not be a place anyone who is afraid of birds would want to be standing, they are everywhere and often flying back and forth across the trail.

When I reach the top of the ramp the Promenade is covered in snow and Robins.  They are in all visible Trees and along the snow covered areas leading up the second section of the Tufa Terrace. More birds are flying up from the city below adding  additional wings to the Trees and snow.

I hike up Hot Springs Mountain on the beautiful snow covered Peak Trail.  It always amazes me how an inch or two of white transforms the Forest making the trails seem new and unexplored.  A breeze carries across the Forest a vale of snowy mist glittering in the rays of the morning sun.  On the top of the Mountain it is glowing from reflections across the pristine snow.  I feel a bit guilty leaving my imprints as I cross the picnic area to reach the Pagoda.

The valley below the Pagoda is sculpted by a still present layer of snow.  It is as if winter has airbrushed the city and reshaped its streets and buildings.  As I hike along the east side of Hot Springs Mountain I am once more  casting the first footsteps into the snow covered trail.  The sun is warming the snow in the Tree tops causing large clusters to fall with a soft whooshing thud. Further up the trail I can hear a familiar bird call echoing through the forest.   In the distance I can see a Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker moving from Tree to Tree.

Hiking on the west side of Hot Springs Mountain and onto North Mountain I hear a commotion in the sky.   I look up there is a large flock of birds passing overhead followed by a second and a third.  As the last birds pass over I realize they have bright orange bellies, these are all American Robins.  When I reach the Arlington Lawn near the entrance to the park I am drawn to a Tree covered in red Berries.  It is a alive with the American Robins flying in flying out, they are ravenous and are eating the ripe Berries.  At one point they are chased away by a single Juvenile Northern Mocking bird.  It takes the flock a few minutes to realize they were run off by a single bird.  When they return the Juvenile Northern Mockingbird vacates at rapid speed.

What a blessing to witness the return of the Robins, maybe spring is closer than we think :)
Much Love,
Lee


Snow Storm in Hot Springs

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January 09 2011:  I will sit out the third snow storm of 2011 and wait to hike again on Thursday, last year I was caught in white out conditions on the back side of Hot Springs Mountain (Sleet, Ice and Snow on the Hot Springs Trails).  They are predicting 6 inches today, that is a lot of southern snow.  He who will not be named indicated I would not need my Oregon winter gear in the south, I donated it to the Salvation Army before I drove across the country.  I have since aided the local Hot Springs, Arkansas economy with winter clothing and boot purchases :)  Thank You locally owned Ouachita Outfitters! <= not a paid advertisement they are simply the best.

A few Photographs of the Historic District, Hot Springs Mountain and the Tower.

Much Love,
Lee


Let the Snow and Ice Fall it’s A Perfect Cardinal Spa Day

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February 04 2011: Something in my Heart always begins dancing when I look out the window and see snow.  Beautiful swirling filling the sky with wintry fairies floating in all directions, Mother Nature’s confetti. An inch and a half of snow is on the ground as I head into the park,  a glorious blanket casting a glow throughout the park.  Half way up the Dead Chief Trail a loud growling meow rings out,  and I scan the area around me for the source.  On the other side of the fence is the feral cat I saw in the park yesterday is now huddled under a bush near one of the older out buildings on the hospital grounds.  I wonder how many cats are living there and is someone is feeding them? They all seem to tentatively seek out human company.  If they were totally feral I don’t imagine they would converse with me and instead would run away.

The snow is steadily increasing as I make my way to the top of Hot springs Mountain.  I have not seen any birds since I began my hike, not the best weather to be flying or foraging. Another half an inch is on the ground as I reach the picnic area on top of Hot Springs Mountain.  Mine are the first foot prints along the trails, I am surprised there are no other hikers enjoying the beauty in the park.  The Pagoda is the perfect spot to clear the snow from my jacket, camera bag and the brim of my hat. Snow fall is increasing and the view of the valley is obscured by the heavy snow fall and darkening sky.

The snow continues falling along the east side of the Hots Springs Mountain Trail and I stop several times to revel in the silence.  As I stand scanning the trail the soft layers of falling snowflakes are changing the texture of the landscape.  Once brown exposed roots of a fallen Tree now looks like a giant hand reaching up through the earth. Nearing the trail head I am thankful to see the rest hut my batteries are running low and this is a perfect place to safely change them out.

Back on the trail I notice the snow is changing to ice pellets so I pick up my hiking pace to get down the mountain.  Not wanting to be caught out in the same frozen mess as last year, I decide to finish my hike on the Hot Springs Mountain Road.  The Road is closed and I am able  to make good time even though the ice pellets are making the snowy surface a bit slick.

When I reach the entrance I can see Cardinals taking advantage of the warmth of the hot water cascade.  Amidst the snow and ice a flow of steam rises creating an outdoor spa for the birds and small mammals in the park.  Today beautiful Cardinals are utilizing the mineral water of Hot Springs National Park.  It looks wonderful and I am tempted to jump in the hot pools at the base of the cascade.  Alas I head home to a warm cup of tea instead.

Love You ALL,

Lee


Ice, Steam, Juncos, Finches, Wrens and Sparrows

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Today my hike begins in front of the “mouth of the dragon”.  It is actually an outcrop where the hot water cascade flows, large ice cycles form and with the steam reminds me of a dragon smiling.  It is very cold and I am thankful for the Cayenne Heat Ointment I put on my hands and feet.  As I head up the Peak Trail I spot another feral cat, the third I have seen and photographed in my year plus of hiking in Hot Springs National Park.  I am surprised to see it, as it is the only moving creature other than my self in the lower part of the park.  We both appear surprised by the sight of one and other.

I forgot what 8 degrees in the lungs feels like, it the perfect cure for any cold or flu :). By the time I reach the top of Hot Springs Mountain I am aware there are no other hikers, four legged mammals or birds sharing the trails with me. Ice is forming on my jacket sleeve where it brushes my mouth when I am taking photographs.  The Forest groans and creaks with each gust of wind that travels along the trail.  I find strange comfort in the thought that the Trees are voicing their displeasure with the biting cold.

When I reach the Honeysuckle Trail the surface seems to be changing and each step produces a light crunch noise.  On the Floral Trail the crunching becomes louder and it feels like I am hiking on cornflakes.  At the first bend all is revealed, I have been hiking on rock and pine needles over a thin surface of ice. The rain from several days ago settled just below the main trail surface, froze forming standing ice crystals and creating exposed ice flows over the larger rocks.  It is unnerving to step down on what appears to be a solid earth surface and have it give way without warning.  The sensation is like stepping on the edges of a fragile frozen pond.  Now a cloud of icy mist is forming and my camera lenses and glasses keeping foggy over.

At the bottom of the trail I notice there is a small stream of water running through a rock culvert along Hot Springs Mountain Road.  In the distance I can see small birds landing and drinking from water just before it dips under the road.  I move slowly so as not to scare them away from their current location.  Every breath I take fogs over my eye piece and I often shoot without being sure what birds are being captured.  To be honest it was not until I arrived home I discover what birds were at the water flow.  The group includes two Raspberry Finches, a White-Throated Sparrow and numerous male and female Juncos. This only the second time I have captured a raspberry finch in the park.

On my journey home one last surprise appears along the waist height stone wall that borders the park.  Under the lip of the top stone slabs a lovely Carolina Wren is peeking out at me.  I am amazed at how it can hang off the side of the stones, it is a wonderful place to get out of the freezing mist.

Thank you all for keeping me company on this very cold hike in Hot Springs National Park.

With Love,

Lee


A Foggy Morning in the Sacred Spaces of the Mountain

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This morning I stand before the Mountain in awe of the fog wrapping gracefully over the looming form rising above me.  The last of autumns colors pierce the gray in the valley of the vapors where once the springs were open and running free.  On foggy days I try to imagine how the land looked prior to the capping and controlling of the springs.  It was a valley filled with the continuous beauty of rainbows, now the rainbows are underground in the form of colorful crystals.

A constant mist combined with the fog places a light sheen of moisture upon my skin as I begin my hike.  There are tiny droplet on all the plants, it sounds like muffled rain showers as leaves give way to the weight of the accumulating liquid.  Hiking in the fog all sounds seem muted as if the Forest is whispering to me, it is a seductive song.

When I reach the top of Hot Springs Mountain on the Peak Trail a breeze rustles the last of the autumn leaves yet to fall.  A sweet Black Capped Chickadee is singing softly and I see it’s distinctive form in the Tree next to me. A female Cardinal is nestled down on a branch to my right and a White-Throated Sparrow is searching in the rocks for seeds.

My hike around the Mountain on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail is magical.  A trail I know well seems transformed in the fog and mist, each bend and turn vanishing in the distance.  Every step takes me forward into a world when Buffalo and Elk still roamed through the park within the mist of open hot springs.  The peaceful moment reminds me to stop and place my hand on a Tree and give thanks to the for Forest taking care of me and sharing its sacred space.

Much Love to You All!
Lee


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