Friday, September 18, 2009

The Rest of the Rifle River

You may think from my posts that all I'm interested in are loons. Don't get my wrong, they're fascinating birds, but I know there's a lot more out there than stunning, 100 million year old waterfowl. Loons are unique to me is all, and I'm excited to learn about new things.

There was a lot to see in the Rifle River Rec Area. In addition to loons and coyotes and remnant forests there were lots of birds--robins and ducks and kingfishers and warblers and flycatchers. I wasn't able to get good shots of most of them, but here's a female scarlet tanager that I caught flitting about along the shoreline.

I saw tanagers--both a male and female--here at home for the first time this summer and what a thrill that was! I had never seen one before except in a book, so it was wonderful to see one for the first time in my own backyard.

Trying to capture birds in flight has got to be one of the most difficult things for any photographer to accomplish. They are relatively small targets, so focus becomes an issue, and they are usually strongly back lit so exposure is a problem. You have to pan along with them as they fly so the shot's not blurry, and then when you're bobbing up and down in a boat, well, you're happy when then bird is even recognizable!

Above is a shot of a female hooded merganser, recognizable by the white patch on her wing, and by her rusty-colored head (just visible in this photo). Often the only way I can identify a bird is if I get a clear picture of it and look it up later. I am not a proficient birder (though I'm learning!) and I rely heavily on my bird guides. My personal favorite is Sibley's--he has the most accurate illustrations, provides more than one view (shows birds in flight, wings up and down, which is invaluable) and gives you ranges and habitats all on one page. If you're looking for a good guide, that would be my recommendation.

Here is a solitary sandpiper poking around on a floating mat of grass and weeds. (Again, thank you Sibley!)

Mammals are more difficult to find, being much more shy of us (and with good reason!). Usually one is left looking for signs of their presence and only rarely seeing the beasts themselves. Here is an old beaver lodge. You can see the pile of sticks and logs up along the shore, with more branches strewn along the lake bottom all the way to my kayak. This was an impressive lodge, stretching 30 to 40 feet from the shore and maybe 15 to 20 feet wide. It was clear though that it hadn't been used in some time (trapping is allowed in the park).

A walk in the woods on Sunday was a needed break from months of sitting in front of my computer, at my drawing table, in a kayak, at a show.... My hip ached not long into my hike from lack of activity. The morning sun slanted through the trees and until the mists burned off it felt like I was walking through a fairy forest.

For me spring is the prettiest time in the forest, as the trees are just beginning to leaf out and the forest floor is a riot of spring flowers. But there are things blooming in the woods in autumn, and Indian Pipes are one of them. This unique plant does not engage in photosynthesis and therefore lacks chlorophyll. It feeds off a particular fungus that in turn feeds off of tree roots. It is not an easy plant to find as its habitat is quite limited, but there was a stretch of about 150 feet of the trail along which this plant was growing abundantly.

We are hoping to get at least one more trip up north in this fall, perhaps to the Pigeon River area, for a long weekend. But first we have a wedding, then a show, then an open house, then another show.... Can be hard for a nature artist to get out into nature!

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