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


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