Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bernheim Forest

My wife and I had the chance to go to Bernheim Forest this morning. There wasn't much snow accumulation at all, which is what I was hoping to get some pictures of. January is kind of boring to photograph without some white stuff on the ground. Below is a satellite view of Bernheim Forest. If you zoom out you can see just how large the place is, over 12,000 acres of research forest and over 30 miles of trails.

So we made it out there around 11:00 AM and there was something resembling snow falling from the sky. It was heavier than snow, kind of icy, and was just as wet as rain. At any rate, our first stop was to my grandfather's memorial bench between the holly trees and the prairie. I make it a point to stop there every time I visit, it's a great spot to take in the prairie. The plaque on the bench reads, "In memory of Lenton C. Hawkinson...May this be a place of meditation, contemplation, and relaxation." 

Lenton Hawkinson Memorial Bench

Lenton Hawkinson Memorial Bench

Lenton Hawkinson Memorial Bench

The robins were hitting the holly berries big time.  They were the most skittish robins I've ever seen, they flew if I even looked in their direction.  The holly trees didn't have the option of being so flighty.

Holly trees

Holly tree

Holly tree

The natural areas were closed so I checked out some spots on the main loop.  This moss was the only green thing I saw other than the evergreens.  I liked the silos as well, too bad the snow wouldn't show up in the picture.    



Finally, we made one last stop at the Ginko trees.  I read in the latest Forest Echo (Bernheim's quarterly newsletter) that Bernheim will provide a free one year family membership for a set of photographs taken of the same tree from the same location each month over a single calendar year.  I started today with this photograph.  I may have to go back and try again when there is snow.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hayes Kennedy Park and Garvin Brown Preserve

Hayes Kennedy Park is located on Bass Road, off of River Road, and is operated by metro parks.  Directly adjacent to Hayes Kennedy is Garvin Brown Preserve which is operated by the conservation group River Fields.  Check out the map below to see where the parks are in relation to you.

It was another cold and windy day yesterday when we arrived at Hayes Kennedy Park.  Being so close to the river made the wind even stronger.  There is a little pond, more of a wet depression really, that runs from the parking lot to the end of the park.  Usually this little spot is filled with all kinds of ducks but yesterday, in mid January, it was frozen.  On the opposite side of the pond the songs of Eastern Meadowlarks can often be heard, but it was too cold and too early in the year to hear them.  Blue Jays and Carolina Wrens were calling in the background, and several American Robins were picking at worms on the soccer field.  With the pond being frozen and no ducks in sight, we decided to walk the well worn path to Garvin Brown Preserve to see what we could find.


American Robins
American Robins

Garvin Brown is a special kind of place.  It isn't big, only 46 acres, but it has a certain charm.  The preserve consists of several fields which are intersecting by paths that run along the edges and cut through the middle.  It is often very wet and muddy here, but yesterday the ground was frozen and so was the mud.  The preserve is special because it is an oasis of nature along a river crowded by development on both banks.  This was the type of habitat that was here before settlers, when the river would occasionally overrun its banks and create this type of early succession fields composed of weeds and grasses.

Garvin Brown Sign

Mown Path


Today, with the river tightly confined to its banks, mowing is used to keep the fields from growing into forests, and the fields are mowed in a rotational fashion.  Rotational mowing is a tool used by wildlife managers to provide several types of habitat in one place.  One field is mowed at a time while the others are left to grow wild.  Each year a field is left un-mowed the more it changes, new weed and wildflower species grow, and with fields of several different ages a more diverse collection of plants are present.  Wildlife enjoy having diverse habitats in close proximity because it allows them to exploit different resources without having to go very far.  One recently mowed field may have certain grass seeds birds like to eat, while another older field may have plants that provide nesting material.  The goal of rotational mowing is to create as much diversity as possible and to keep the area from becoming a monoculture.  Below are some of the plants we found yesterday growing in different fields.


Milkweed Pod
Milkweed Pod



An old fence marks the boundary of the preserve.  Mega mansions stand on the banks of the Ohio River to the north, but the area directly adjacent to the preserve is an old farm field with a few trees growing tall in the middle of it.

Fence Post

Alone in a Field

Garvin Brown is visited often by birders because it is a great place to find sparrows and warblers.  Yesterday was no exception, though they were camera shy.  We saw several species of birds belonging to the Emberizidae family (the sparrows) including: Song Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, and a Lincoln's Sparrow that responded to my pishing by bursting into song!  It was so clear and beautiful and unexpected.  Call me crazy but I swear I heard the song of a Common Yellowthroat as well.  Wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty, wich-i-ty!  Alas, I never found the bird making the song, and I'm not brave enough to proclaim hearing a Common Yellowthroat in January without at least getting a picture of it!  Below are some of the birds we did see.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee (female)

I will definitely be making a trip back in late March.  That is when Garvin Brown comes alive.  The flowers and trees will be blooming and the birds will be singing.  Red-winged Blackbirds show up in force in March, singing for mates and defending territories, but perhaps the most interesting birds in March are the Tree Swallows.  There are several Tree Swallow boxes at the preserve that provide nesting sites for these birds.  Tree Swallows are very entertaining to watch because of their aerial antics.  They swoop and dive and fight in mid air, all for the chance to court a female and raise a brood of birds in an old wooden box.  Make it a point to come to Garvin Brown in late March, you will not be disappointed.

Tree Swallow House

Garvin Brown is popular with dog walkers and you are sure to make some friends while you are there.

Dog Walkers



Before you leave be sure to check out the stairs that lead down to the banks of the Ohio.  The shoreline was clean and there were shells and driftwood everywhere.  It is a great place to relax and think in solitude, with the sound of the river lapping against the rocks, grass blowing in the breeze, and maybe even a barge or two slowly moving down the river.  It makes you wish more of the shoreline of the Ohio River was dedicated to nature.


Ohio River



On the way out we spotted an oriole nest high in a tree.  Orioles weave cup-like nests on the ends of branches, making it harder for predators to reach.  Just think, only a few more months before the orioles will be back and at it again.  I'm really looking forward to spring.

Oriole Nest

A Post to My World. For other sites go to:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Louisville Naturalist: Volume 1 Issue 1

One of the main purposes of this blog is to teach others about natural history.  That is why I will be putting out a quarterly newsletter highlighting animals, nature, and the environment.  The newsletter is free to download and may be used for any purpose.  The newsletter is focused mainly on school children grades K-8, but I suspect many adults could learn a thing or two as well. 

To download a copy of the Louisville Naturalist Volume 1: Issue 1, click here.  The download can also be found by clicking on the Newsletter link to the right under the My Links section.  All newsletter issues will be stored here for future reference.  I also would be happy to come speak to any group or classroom about the content in the newsletter or any other issue of interest.  Thanks and enjoy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Miles Park and Floyd's Fork

William F. Miles Park is located on Shelbyville Road, across from the Valhalla Golf Club. The park is roughly 130 acres of fields and riparian forest. Most of the park consists of undeveloped fields that were farmland many years ago. The park boasts many fishing ponds and a canoe launch on the scenic Floyd's Fork. Check out the map below to get an idea of where the park is located and how it is laid out.

View Miles Park/Floyd's Fork in a larger map

I decided to visit Miles Park today and make it my first post because it will be the gateway to the Parklands project when it is completed. The Parklands is an expansive parks project that is currently under construction that will run along the Floyd's Fork corridor. The park system will add roughly 4,000 acres of parklands and will begin at Miles Park at Shelbyville Road and continue all the way to Bardstown Road near the Bullit County border. The section that Miles Park will be a part of will be called Beckley Creek Park, the centerpiece of which will be the Egg Lawn, a 23 acre open space just south of I-64. The park will also be a part of the Louisville Loop, a plan to add more than 100 miles of bike and pedestrian paths in the city. The parks will begin opening in sections with Beckley Creek scheduled to be opened first, sometime in 2012, while the other sections are scheduled to open in 2015.
It was a beautiful day to be at Miles Park. My dad and I arrived in the afternoon as the lazy winter sun was winding its way down. The weather was cold but the full sun kept me warm and melted off the winter blues we all get at this time of year. After a December full of overcast and ice, 2011 is off to a great start with warmer weather and plenty of sunshine.

As soon as we arrived we spotted a small bird in a tree out in the middle of the field. I got my binoculars out and identified an American Kestrel sitting pretty in a Sycamore tree. A very good find for an area surrounded by development. The habitat is open with plenty of tall trees to perch in and hunt for rodents, so perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised to find this guy here.

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

While I was taking pictures of the kestrel we noticed another raptor silhouette in a tree. We approached carefully and I was able to get my camera on an immature Red-shouldered Hawk. He didn't get to stay around long because he was being incessantly harassed by the kestrel we saw down the road. The kestrel was dive bombing the Red-shouldered Hawk repeatedly and the hawk flew from tree to tree but he couldn't seem to get the kestrel to leave him be. The Red-shouldered Hawk didn't appear to have any prey for the kestrel to steal, so I assume the kestrel was just trying to send the hawk a message that this was his hunting territory and that he wasn't going to let just any hawk intrude and take what is rightly his.

Cooper's Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk

We continued to the canoe launch to check out Floyd's Fork. The water was up pretty high from recent rains and snow melt. The scene was beautiful, with tall Sycamores and Box Elders hugging the bank, some leaning so far as to seem to be contemplating taking a dip. I suspect they will wait until spring (or the next wind storm) when the water is warmer to take the plunge.

Floyd's Fork

The large stately Sycamore is a beautiful tree in winter, with white peeling bark and dangling fruit overhead; it is in winter when it truly shines, alerting to the world the presence of water and wet soils, creeks and streams. In summer they carry large broad leaves that resemble maple leaves. In fall they turn orange, red, and yellow, a russet splash of color that is reflected in the water below.

Sycamore HDR


Sycamore and Sky

Sycamore Bark

Being a bit of a bird nerd, I couldn't help but notice hearing the sounds of the woods in the winter, a Red-bellied Woodpecker drumming and chatting to himself, Carolina Chickadees flitting from branch to branch looking for food, and a Belted Kingfisher coursing over the water making its clattering call. Miles Park has some great intermediate type habitats with young trees and shrubs, just the type of habitat birds love. This place would be great for bird watching and I plan on coming back in the spring to hear the Yellow-throated Warblers I just know will be in the Sycamores singing.


If you go to Miles Park you may see several wood boxes hanging around. What you are seeing are not bird boxes but instead bat boxes, and they are everywhere. Inside the box are several planks that allow just enough space for bats to squeeze in to and roost. They are meant to mimic the space between a tree trunk and the bark where bats naturally roost at night in the summer. Their most common inhabitants are Little and Big Brown Bats but the federally endangered Indiana Bat is known to use them as well.

Bat Box

Along the road to the canoe launch is a nice field where Eastern Red Cedars are growing. Mixed in among the cedars are experimental chestnut trees. The trees are planted and surrounded by wire to exclude deer. What makes them experimental is the fact that these trees are hybrids. At the turn of the 20th century, chestnut blight was introduced to the Unites States through contaminated lumber imported from Asia. It didn't take long before almost every American Chestnut tree in the U.S. was wiped out. Some trees still send off shoots and just a few are lucky enough to produce a few seeds before the blight kills them back. The seeds that are produced allow scientists to hybridize them with Chinese Chestnut seeds which are resistant to the blight. The goal is to produce a tree that is genetically similar to the American Chestnut but has the blight resistance of its Chinese counterpart. Hopefully soon this American hardwood will return to its former prominence in our forests.

Eastern Red Cedar Seedling
Eastern Red Cedar

Chestnut Seedlings
Hybrid Chestnut Plots

Earlier I mentioned that the park was once old farmland, and there are structures that are still standing that remind us of this history. I took this picture of the silos on the way out as the sun was fading over the treetops. The silos bathed in the golden light, but it wasn't long before the trees and hills cast long shadows across the fields, a reminder that winter days don't last long. With the last light we headed home, leaving behind the trickling of the Fork, the sounds of the birds, and the rustling of the wind in the Sycamores.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Walgreens Printable Coupons