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Yesterday was a gorgeous day; the temperature here in Murray Valley reached 40F. I spotted a pair of Red headed woodpeckers in the Little Buffalo River bottoms near their forage area. They are nesting high in some dead trees not far from the river. The pair spent the day removing old material, possibly forage, from the hole they selected; maybe making 30 trips around the tree in the hour I watched. They ate lots of wasps also. Guess they are plentiful on these sunny warner days. They are magnificent birds !!!

We are expecting a cool down the first part of this week an then much warmer next week. I now expect the main warbler and vireo migration to begin around April 15th; nesting always begins in late April and early May:

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It is a beautiful day; the rain fizzled out and we are stuck with just 0.25 inch of the 2.0 + forecast. I noticed that a pair of Belted Kingfishers was beginning to nest at the Little Buffalo Crossing down the hill. They make lots of continuous racket and are fun to watch as they rattle around. Photo taken with a 7D and a 300 mm f/2.8 lens. They have chosen a high mud bank about 10′ above the river; hope it’s high enough to protect from spring floods. The bird was in a willow tree next to the river for this photo.

  • Size & Shape

    Belted Kingfishers are stocky, large-headed birds with a shaggy crest on the top and back of the head and a straight, thick, pointed bill. Their legs are short and their tails are medium length and square-tipped.

  • Color Pattern

    These kingfishers are powder blue above with fine, white spotting on the wings and tail. The underparts are white with a broad, blue breast band. Females also have a broad rusty band on their bellies. Juveniles show irregular rusty spotting in the breast band.

  • Behavior

    Belted Kingfishers spend much of their time perched alone along the edges of streams, lakes, and estuaries, searching for small fish. They also fly quickly up and down rivers and shorelines giving loud rattling calls. They hunt either by plunging directly from a perch, or by hovering over the water, bill downward, before diving after a fish they’ve spotted.

  • Habitat

    Kingfishers live near streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and estuaries. They nest in burrows that they dig into soft earthen banks, usually adjacent to or directly over water. Kingfishers spend winters in areas where the water doesn’t freeze so that they have continual access to their aquatic foods.

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This past two weeks has been two of the coldest in NW Arkansas late March history. Today it is sunny and supposed to reach the mid-40’s; possibly the 60s by Friday. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of spring. I lost most of my peaches this past weeka and my green “winter wheat” has gone back to a winter looking color. Here is a photo of a Red Shouldered Hawk down along the Little Buffalo River hiding in the brushy cover in the sun trying to stay warm:

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Three weeks ago, I noticed a well constructed (upstream) facing Beaver dam near the inlet end of the Boxley Mill Pond. They have been working on it at night continuously through January and February and make more progress each day. They have now constructed a “lodge” across the Mill Pond upstream form the dam. I did not notice how large it was last summer. This is one of my favorite spots for Bird photography all year long. The lodge may be approaching five (5) feet in total height, and the dam is perfectly built with an upstream “U” to prevent wash out. The dam now spans the entire mill pond (maybe 100 feet). Beavers do not hibernate, but store sticks and logs in a pile in their ponds, eating the under-bark. Some of the pile is generally above water and accumulates snow in the winter. This insulation of snow often keeps the water from freezing in and around the food pile, providing a location where beavers can breathe when outside their lodge. All the photos below are from the Boxley Mill Pond in January and February 2013. I did not notice that it had reached these proportions prior to this winter.

Dams

Beaver dams are created as a protection against predators, such as coyotes, and bears, and to provide easy access to food during winter. Beavers always work at night and are prolific builders, carrying mud and stones with their fore-paws and timber between their teeth. Because of this, destroying a beaver dam without removing the beavers is difficult, especially if the dam is downstream of an active lodge. Beavers can rebuild such primary dams overnight, though they may not defend secondary dams as vigorously. (Beavers may create a series of dams along a river.)

 

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Lodges

Contrary to popular belief, beavers actually dig out their dens with underwater entrances after they finish building the dams and lodge structures. There are typically two dens within the lodge, one for drying off after exiting the water, and another, drier one where the family actually lives.

Beaver houses are formed of the same materials as the dams, with little order or regularity of structure, and seldom contain more than four adult and six or eight young beavers. Some of the larger houses have one or more partitions, but these are only posts of the main building left by the builders to support the roof, for the apartments usually have no communication with each other except by water.

When the ice breaks up in spring beavers always leave their embankments and rove about until just before fall, when they return to their old habitations and lay in their winter stock of wood. They seldom begin to repair the houses until the frost sets in, and never finish the outer coating until the cold becomes severe. When they erect a new habitation they fell the wood early in summer, but seldom begin building until nearly the end of August.

 

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The basic units of beaver social organization are families consisting of an adult male and adult female in a monogamous pair and their kits and yearlings. Beaver families can have as many as ten members in addition to the monogamous pair. Groups this size or close to this size build more lodges to live in while smaller families usually need only one.  However, large families in the northern hemisphere have been recorded living in one lodge. Beaver pairs mate for life; however, if a beaver’s mate dies, it will partner with another one. Extra-pair copulations also occur. In addition to being monogamous, both the male and female take part in raising offspring. They also both mark and defend the territory and build and repair the dam and lodge. When young are born, they spend their first month in the lodge and their mother is the primary caretaker while their father maintains the territory. In the time after they leave the lodge for the first time, yearlings will help their parents build food caches in the fall and repair dams and lodges. Still, adults do the majority of the work and young beavers help their parents for reasons based on natural selection rather than kin selection. They are dependent on them for food and for learning life skills. Young beavers spend most of their time playing but also copy their parents’ behavior. However while copying behavior helps imprint life skills in young beavers it is not necessarily immediately beneficial for parents as the young beaver do not perform the tasks as well as the parents.

Older offspring, which are around two years old, may also live in families and help their parents. In addition to helping build food caches and repairing the dam, two-year olds will also help in feeding, grooming and guarding younger offspring. While these helping two-year olds help increase the chance of survival for younger offspring, they are not essential for the family and two-year olds only stay and help their families if there is a shortage of resources in times of food shortage, high population density, or drought. When beavers leave their natal territories, they usually do not settle far. Beavers can recognize their kin by detecting differences in anal gland secretion composition using their keen sense of smell. Related beavers share more features in their anal gland secretion profile than unrelated beavers. Being able to recognize kin is important for beaver social behavior and it causes more tolerant behavior among neighboring beavers.

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Whether you agree with this “environmentally” or not, this is an unbelievably beautiful overnight facility. Beckham Creek Cave is located a mile down the road from me, on Beckham Creek, a tributary of the Little Buffalo River. The is a world famous cave located in the heart of the Boston Mountains in NW Arkansas.

They’ve  been featured on NBC Nightly News, Home and Garden TV, People Magazine, National Geographic and Four States Living.

Set on a 280 acre estate, the Beckham Creek Cave Lodge was built with the philosophy that the ongoing preservation of natural beauty is paramount. With its perfect blend of magnificent craftsmanship and technology, it took nearly four years to complete. Everywhere one looks, the superior design and attention to detail is obvious.

Putting you directly in touch with nature, the lodge boasts natural living cave walls and ceilings. By maximizing window areas along the wall facing outside, and maintaining large, open living spaces, natural sunlight floods the living area, game room, and kitchen, bringing the outdoors inside the cave.

This is truly a modern accommodation literally fit for royalty. From the moment you walk in the door, the area itself encourages one to shed all of the cares of the daily grind and concentrate on finding true inner peace. The cave’s natural ambiance is complimented by beautiful workmanship, which lends a casual elegance to the interior. There’s no closed-in feeling here, and central heating/air boosts the normal cave temperature to the comfort zone you select. In addition, dehumidifiers remove any suggestion of dampness.

Totally secluded, the cave lodge delivers a comfortable and relaxing vacation. Located in the Buffalo National River country with all the wild beauty of the Ozark countryside. Life here has so much to offer including many activities outside of the cave lodge.

Each room offers its own natural cave walls and all the rooms are beautifully appointed and luxurious considering that you are inside a cave. You will have a tendency to forget that fact during your stay, also available is a Honeymoon Suite which is set apart from the other rooms to allow for slightly more privacy. This amazing bit of architecture is located on 280 acres of land in Buffalo National River country and no matter what you are looking for in a vacation these accommodations have it all and allows you to get back to nature in a most unique way.

The accommodations are quite pricey; so check with them, prior planning a trip.

http://www.beckhamcavelodge.com

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I have been very lucky this week. Today, I saw a beautiful adult Bald Eagle along the Little Buffalo River, between Henderson and Reynolds Mountains. Also, saw Two American Kestrels along Highway 327 this morning while driving to Jasper for supplies. I took this photo with a Canon EF 600mm f/4 L and a Canon 1DS full frame (so it is only a crop out of the photo). I handheld the entire 27 pound package. This was the only photo were I had no movement. It is a beautiful but chilly late February day:

 

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I recently gifted two smallmouth bass to the Ozark Cafe in Jasper, Arkansas for display purposes:

These two fish were caught in the early 1970’s, prior to the belief that “CATCH AND RELEASE” would help with the bass populations in our beautiful rivers. The bass on the left, weighed in at 4-12 and 21″; the bass on the right weighed in a at 4-14 and was 21″ also. Smallmouths this large are approximately 20 years old; maybe older when caught from headwaters streams.

Both were caught on crawdad colored flies of the time, much like a bead headed wooly-bugger.

PLEASE PRACTICE CATCH AND RELEASE.

Ten years after catching these fish, I was embarrassed that I kept them.

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