Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for May, 2011

West Mountain Spring Pink Fire and a Dung Beetle Video

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I am having one of those crazy weeks where I am fighting to catch up with… everything! Aside from normal family activities I have been hiking, designing, blogging, tweeting and editing my photographs. So I am taking a deep breath and admitting to an inability to catch up.  Today my blog will be an exercise in brevity.

Highlights of my hike included colorful Fungi, spectacular Pink Fire Wildflowers, beautiful spring trails and an industrious Dung Beetle. Please enjoy the photographs and video of my hike on West Mountain in Hot Springs National Park!

Love to You ALL!
Lee


Squirrel Portraits and a Mammoth Surprise

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Under partially cloudy skies Rick and I head out for a mid morning hike. On the Arlington Lawn an old friend, a lovely female Squirrel who is missing part of her tail searches for food.  She turns to look at me for a portrait shot then continues foraging for her breakfast.  In the distance a movement catches my eye and I see two birds near the wall.  As I creep closer I see the juvenile Brown Thrasher I spotted a few days prior has been joined by another.  It will be wonderful to hear their duel mimicking of birds, people and electronic devices.

On the stone wall that borders the Fountain Street Lawn Rick spots a beautiful pregnant Squirrel is eating her breakfast.  She is content to let me slowly (very slowly 5 steps and pause) approach her and I am rewarded with several eye contact portrait shots. As two people approach from the opposite direction she moves on to the lawn near a Tree closer to my location. I am thankful she is very hungry devouring many nuts as we look on.   I finally get a shot of a Squirrel peeling the husk from a nut.  When a couple with a dog passes by she quickly climbs the Tree ahead of us.

As we reach the foot of North Mountain a single deep blue Asiatic Dayflower is blooming, only visible as it has struggled out of a tangle of vines.  Nearby a lemon Lime Butterfly is balancing on bright green blades of Grass as the sun glows through parted momentarily parted clouds.   A few steps onto the Floral Trail and a tiny blue gray butterfly lands on a white Rock. We hike up into the gentle green of North Mountain to a serenade of distant birds.  At the trail head of the Lower and Upper Dogwood Trails a wonderful bright yellow Fungi has appeared to decorate the path.

Tan Fungi in a variety of shapes and sizes have popped up along the edges of the Hot Springs Mountain Trail.  This will provide a feast for many of the small mammals and insects within the park. I spot a red Fungi covered in nibble marks, it makes me smile.  As we head down Fountain Street toward our home a Male Sparrow bids us farewell.

We are several paces out of the entrance of Hot Springs National Park when I look back and see an unusual sight.  In the dried leaved on the Arlington Lawn is a large winged creature.  I turn a run to get around the hedge and signal to Rick to look over the side.  As I get closer I can see it is a giant orange and brown Moth struggling to take flight. It  moves in circles disoriented unable to become airborne.  As my longtime readers know I don’t generally interfere with Natures course, but cannot leave it on the lawn to be crushed by foot traffic. I grab a leaf to move it to a peaceful location on the top of a nearby hedge, instead it grabs onto my watch band.  I am unable to express the beauty of the moment as it delicately touches my wrist as I moved toward a safer location.  Many came to take photographs of this beautiful gift from Nature as I gently lowered it onto the top of the hedge.

Move with patience through Nature and she will reveal many gifts and surprises.  It is not the miles or speed with which we travel that makes a wonderful hike.  The perfect journey is often found in the time we stop and appreciate the grace of each living creature.  Nature is no place to hurry :o) I would rather take five hours to hike four miles and see the Universe unfolding before me… rather than hike five miles in 2 hours and see a blur.

Love to ALL!
Lee


Dark Spring Morning Reveals Wildflowers, Wings and Wonderful Sights

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Clouds do not abate as I head out for my hike into a cool spring breeze traveling across the park. In the overcast morning light the beautiful Wildflowers seem to ignite the landscape as I hike up Hot springs Mountain.  The vibrant pink of Wild Roses on the Tufa Terrace lead me to the glorious Blue of Asiatic Dayflowers on the carriage Road.  Like lanterns lighting my way  Woodland Sunflowers glow again the lush green tendrils caressing the edges of the Dead Chief Trail.  As I climb higher soon yellow gives way to the purple of Smooth Petunias and Small Skullcaps.  On the Short Cut Trail Spring has sent out vines to caress the Rock features.  Bushes once covered with red Berries have sprouted delicate tiny white and yellow Flowers.

On the Hot Springs Mountain Trail pale yellow wildflowers dot the rise leading to the Pagoda.  A male and female Cardinal are moving through the Trees and Grass seeking a morning feast.   The trail ahead has a pink glow from the bright blooms of Ouachita Blazing Stars covering both sides of the path.  Further along a sweet Carolina Chickadee sings a beckoning song to the morning light trying to pierce the clouds.  For a brief moment sunlight breaks free to reveal beautiful Carolina Larkspur on slender stems between the trunks of Short Leaf Pine Trees.  As I near the trail head patches of Fungi begin to decorate the path.

On the Gulpha Gorge Trail yellow Lance Leaf Coreopsis lead me to the now blooming storm battered blush color Goat’s Rue.  I glance up to see the now fading Ouachita Blazing Stars have been replaced with the yellow and orange blooms of the Prickly Pear Cactus (Lesson learned doing plant research for this blog… the Prickly Pear Cactus is native to Arkansas!  I had no clue.).  As I turn to leave a Brown Butterfly kisses my cheek and lands in the dried autumn leaves at my feet. I take a moment to pause and say a silent prayer of thanks.

When I reach the Goat Rock Trail I wonder which wildflowers it will reveal to me this morning.   Bright yellow Lance Leaf Coreopsis and St. Johns Wort lead me past Goat Rock heading up the trail. The Clouds are separating in patches exposing the brilliant Hot Springs blue sky.   Looking down to right I see an unusual Wildflower, it is square white with yellow banana like protrusion. My research later reveals its name, Horse Nettle.  In the distance I see what appears to be the glow of torches.  As I draw near I am delighted to see tall radiant orange Butterfly Weed glowing in the light of now brightening skies.

As I round the bend of the final rise along the Goat Rock Trail a lovely hiking partner appears.  On many occasions along this trail I have had the blessing of being lead by many different winged friends, but none as small as the one hopping a few feet a head of me.  My usual hiking companions on the trail have been Robins, Crows or Mourning Doves.  To have a tiny Black and White Warbler leading the way, not flying off at my close foot fall has never happened prior to this moment.  Five minutes along she flies up to the side of a nearby tree and I take a final photograph before she moves back across the trail and deeper into the Forest.

Turning to follow her path I see a wonderful Wildflower climbing up the branches of a small Tree. This unusual vine has lovely bell shaped purple blossoms that appear to bust forth into feathery tendrils.  I am intrigued by the variety of beautiful transitions this Wildflower attains.   Special Thanks to Gerry Williamson @USWildflowers  http://USWildflowers.com for assisting me with the identification of Leather Vasevine – Clematis viorna. Also a thank you to the sweet Black and White Warbler for leading me to its location.

I decide to begin my return home via the North Mountain Loop to see which Wildflowers are blooming on the roadside.  It is a visual feast of Sunflowers, Black-Eye Susans and Daisy Fleabane with the occasional patch of Ouachita Blazing Stars. It is as if Nature threw a hand full seeds at the hillside to created a wonderful tapestry of color.  I spot a lovely patch of Pink Clover Flowers and for a moment I am five years old in the field next to my childhood home in Oregon.   Near the bottom of the loop I spot another patch of Prickly Pear Cactus with large yellow and orange blossoms.  I am still amazed that Cactus could be native to Arkansas.

As I leave the park another wonderful gift from Nature awaits me on the Arlington Lawn.  Pecking in the Grass is a lovely Juvenile Brown Thrasher.  I can’t wait to hear it’s repertoire of the park and city sounds as it matures.  The last one I saw in the park could imitate all the neighboring birds, a GameBoy and several different cell phone ring tones.

When you see the world through Nature’s eyes you will find peace in your heart.

Love to ALL!
Lee


Squirrels Forage and Rain Fills the Creeks in Hot Springs National Park

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My beloved husband Rick and I both awoke early and decide to get in an early morning hike as the sun was finally revealed by receding clouds. A small Male House Sparrow was scanning the Fountain Street lawn for breakfast as we head to the Sleepy Hollow Fountain to fill our water bottles.   Seven minutes out the door and at the foot of North Mountain the skies darkened.

The creek along the Hot Springs Mountain Road is full of life giving water.  Immediately we are aware of the roar of rushing spring storm run-off as it drowns out all other sounds.  We are please to see the bridge across the creek and onto the Floral Trail has been repaired as has much of the surface of the path up the Mountain. Last nights storm has however begun to create erosion patterns further up on the newly restored trail.

As we connect with the Upper Dogwood Trail a light mist begins to fall and the sky is getting darker. We decide due to recent sever Thunder Storms and Tornado warnings a shorter route might be better. A rain battered Lance Leaf Coreopsis is swaying in a gentle breeze joined by delicate Daisy Fleabane.

When we reach the bottom of the Mountain several Squirrels are busy digging up nuts to enjoy for breakfast.  One is a female with two healed but deep wounds, another is a young female and the last is my old friend a female with a bobbed tail.  They are the perfect sight to end our much needed hike.

Much Love to You ALL!
Love,
Lee

PS As I type this a Tornado Watch has appeared on our television and my weather alert is flashing orange…


Spring Wildflowers Butterflies and Birds in Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas

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Below a clear bluish violet morning sky it is 58 degrees with a light breeze as I enter Lake Catherine State Park. The park glows in the early light as I stand on the balcony of the visitors center looking out over the lake.  I pause to watch the glossy black birds flying back and forth across the lake from the nesting boxes atop a high pole.

I drive over to the trail head and begin my hike on the Horseshoe Mountain Trail.  The first thing I notice is the trail has been cleaned up a bit since my last hike here in January 2011.  Last winter I could barely see the trail as the Autumn leaves were several inches deep from the winter wind.  The beginning of my hike along the Horseshoe Trail is a series of gentle inclines in a Short Leaf pine Forest.  Soon the landscape changes and a large Rock formation appears on my right.  The dirt trail now is a series of well-worn boulders heading higher into the park.  Glorious yellow Lance-Leaf Coreopsis are growing in patches among the Rocks, drops of sunlight in the spring Forest. A Pine Warbler peeks at me from the branch of a Pine Tree while higher up a Male Blue Grosbeak looks out across the park.

The higher I climb Pines begin to give way to a mixed forest and greater numbers of wildflowers.  Twistflowers in pink and magenta cast a lovely pink glow over the top of lovely green undergrowth. Accents of Purple Small Skull Caps and Clasping Venus Looking Glass, Blue Carolina Larkspur plus yellow Lance-Leaf Coreopsis create a colorful feast for the eyes. The tall growth waves gently in the morning breeze and Forest has the appearance of taking rhythmic breaths.   I cannot express the beauty of each step along the trail and can only hope my photographs will be an ample expression.

As I proceed up the second climb on the trail bright pink Ouachita Shooting Stars appear in greater numbers. At the top a lovely garden of Wildflowers is revealed in the rocky loose soil.  Ouachita Blazing Stars,  Clasping Venus Looking Glass and Twistflowers create a glorious Butterfly haven.  Vibrant orange and Large Black Swallowtail Butterflies move from flower to flower surfing on a perfect spring breeze.

Soon the trail is winding down the Mountain and rounding the next bend I have a clear view of the lake below.  On this perfect day I am surprised there are no boats out on the Lake.  Further along the trail more Ouachita Blazing Stars sprinkled across the left side of the trail, on the right lovely blush and yellow Goat’s Rue are just beginning to bloom.  As I hike down the Mountain the mixed Forest gives way to Tall Pines stretching up toward the sky and glimpse of the lake appears between their large trunks.

At the bottom I look across a small cove,  on the opposite shore I spot the silhouettes of two familiar large birds sitting in the shade. Turtles are lined up along partially submerged logs catching the warmth of the spring sun. A beautiful garden of green is growing on log near the shore.  Soon I reach a chain suspension bridge that likely would have water below it when the lake levels are higher.  When I leave the trail to reach the Lake front I can see my to photographic subjects are still resting in the grass.

A pair of Canada Geese and Mallards Ducks are sitting at the edge of the Lake and I approach slowly, 15 minutes later all four get up and swim out into the Lake.  The Mallard pair swim into the cove and tuck their heads under their wings to float and sleep.  The Canada Geese paddle out into Lake and swim cautiously past a Fisherman standing on the bank.

Back on the trail it isn’t long before I spot a Squirrel foraging in the Forest and climbing Trees. It is always a delight watching Squirrel agility, their amazing skill at leaping from Tree to Tree. When I reach the Trail Head I glance once more back into the wonderful Forest where I spent my morning.

Find time to get out and let Nature wrap you in her arms.
Love to ALL!
Lee

PS Special Thanks to K J Garrett for settling the debate of Canada Geese vs Canadian Geese… although the Internet has many articles debating this issue here a Hike Our Planet we tip our hat in deference to KJ.


Wildflowers Everywhere and a Surprise Discovery

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I spent so much time hiking, taking and editing photographs that words will be kept to a minimum.  I must begin by mentioning my delight in seeing Stubby, she is a sweet Squirrel who is missing nearly half of her tail.  It has been many weeks since our last encounter, I was concerned that she might have been killed or injured.

Wildflowers are bursting open across the park with purple, pink and yellow being the predominant colors. I discovered one lonely battered Birds-Foot Violet with a teeny tiny grasshopper sitting on its bottom petal. The new park arrival abundant on both the Gulpha Gorge and Goat Rock Trails is the Pink Ouachita Blazing Star.  Lovely bell shaped pale purple Smooth Petunias are blossoming on nearly every trail in the park.  The spectacular array of Wildflowers are attracting a variety of colorful Butterflies.  There colors rival the flowers on which they are feeding.  A nearly invisible Prairie Lizard is frozen on an old log resting within a field of Pink Wildflowers.

My biggest surprise was discovering a patch of Cactus hidden among the Wildflowers I was photographing.  Yes, Cactus! I had no idea they could grow and survive in this climate.  I must return soon as they will be blooming soon.

My final comment is about the Male Cardinal I photographed today.  This poor fellow is molting in on one spot, his head.  He has a receding hair/feather line and looks as if one of his parents was a vulture.   To learn more about molting please read this great article by The Cornell Lab.  Embarrassed to say I had no idea this was happening to my feathered friends in the park. I Love learning something new everyday, Nature is the best teacher!

Love to ALL!
Lee