Thursday, February 7, 2008

Swans and armadillos, dodging falling icicles and another trip to Petit Jean...

Winter really isn't the time when most people decide to go out into the woods, with it being cold and all. But it does have some benefits. There aren't usually many other people out, there might be some water in the waterfalls, no bugs and no snakes. When the weather was just right - cloudy - it was time to head out into the woods, along with a camera...

One weekend in January I took a trip up to Petit Jean Mountain with Will and Jenny, with the plan of hiking down to Cedar Falls. It had rained not too long before then, and there was a lot of standing water in the fields on the way up there. A good sign since that meant the ground is saturated and that all that rain water should be flowing through Cedar Creek.

On the way to the trailhead to Cedar Falls, we stopped at this one waterfall that is on the dam that makes Lake Bailey. There was a decent amount of water flowing through:
Out on a limb

Lake Bailey falls

Petit Jean Mountain is a great place. It's very scenic and located just about an hour or so from Little Rock. Because of that it's also very popular, I've been there dozens of times and have taken tons of pictures of the waterfalls there. So it's a bit of challenge to find a new way to get a shot that hasn't been done before.
Petit Jean zoomed in

I crawled up on the rocks on the side of the waterfall and found this leaf barely hanging onto the edge of the falls. This was a bit dicey since the rocks were super-slippery (no surprise there, since they're right next to a waterfall). It was an effort to keep from slipping and taking an accidental dive. The leaf would have enjoyed watching that, no doubt.
Hanging On

These falls are right next to a bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. It was recently rennovated (when I came through Petit Jean last year the bridge was closed). But according to the park it is one of only eight masonry arches in the state, and the only one to feature finished rather than rustic stone (whatever that means).
Davies Bridge

This might look somewhat familiar since the state uses a similar picture to promote the state parks. The view of the falls from under the arch is a popular composition for photographers. In the past I've been a bit reluctant to try to get a shot like this, figuring that it had "been done." But I kinda like how it turned out, guess it works to follow in other's footsteps...

We finally went to the trail to Cedar Falls, following the switchbacks downhill. The trail eventually crosses Cedar Creek and the trail runs alongside the creek. I was happy to see that the water was running, it can be sad to hike down there and see that the falls are just a trickle of water running down.
Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek

I'm a bit addicted to taking pictures of waterfalls, so please bear with me. I like Cedar Creek because not only does the water run and dip over rocks, but there are also great collections of moss and lichen growing everywhere.
Cedar Creek

I tried to stop at every neat spot along the creek, probably annoying Will and Jenny along the way.
Cedar Creek

And then we finally made it to Cedar Falls. It wasn't very crowded at the base of the falls, but there was a family set up on some rocks just to the side of this shot. The rocks were really slick here - no surprise, duh, they're next to a creek. So I slipped and scrambled out to get this shot. After waiting for a family to finish taking pictures and get out of the way, I got this view:
Cedar Falls

There is a path that leads up along the side of the bluff, which people use to walk up to the falls. I went up there a bit trying to get a different view of the falls:
Cedar Falls

Cedar Falls

There is one view of the falls that I like to go back to every time I hike the trail. A rock sits out in the creek, which provides a perfect place for someone to set up a tripod to get a shot of the waterfall in the background with a little waterfall in the foreground. The rock even works as a chair, so you can lean back and relax while taking pictures. The rock was wet and kinda yucky that day so it was hard to take that much of a break on it...
Cedar Falls

While I was taking that shot, Jenny moved on down the trail and found a large rock to climb up, which provided an awesome view of the falls. I copied her and made my way up there too, stealing her idea (sorry!).
Cedar Falls

Then we headed back, going on the only bad part of Petit Jean: the return hike from Cedar Falls. The trail heads steeply up the hill, reminding you of just how out of shape you are. On the way back we did stop at the overlook by Petit Jean's grave, where there the sun was breaking through the clouds. It formed some great Jacob's ladders (which I learned last year is what those are called, I just thought it was a movie). The pictures I took of it didn't turn out, but we stuck around there waiting to see if there would be a neat sunset. There wasn't, the sun dipped behind the clouds and it just ended up getting dark so we headed on home...

Then a few weeks ago we headed back out to take more pictures. The destination that Saturday was Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, which is the new home to some trumpeter swans.
Trumpeter Swans

According to the news:
Thirteen more young trumpeter swans were released Thursday at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge along the Arkansas River, a few miles downstream from Dardanelle. The hope is these young swans will return to Holla Bend next winter and, within a few years, bring their families. They were released on an oxbow lake off the river, near the refuge's observation tower.

Biologists from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission were on hand when the big birds from Iowa were released. Trumpeters may weigh up to 35 pounds and have 8-foot wingspans.

The process behind the release is called "reverse migration imprinting." The idea is to bring south young birds that never have migrated and let them use their instincts to return to Iowa.

"The DNR has been releasing captive produced young swans on state wetlands since 1995," said Ron Andrews, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR. "The goal of these efforts has been to reestablish a wild, free flying population of trumpeter swans to Iowa. So far, the program has been successful to the point that we were able to inventory 30 successful nesting pairs in Iowa during 2007."

Andrews said that Iowa's trumpeter swan population is nearing a "threshold level" and will soon achieve self-sustaining numbers. In the meantime, biologists continue to bolster the flock with annual releases of more captive produced birds. Scientists have noted, however, that young swans raised by wild, free-flying parents are enjoying a much higher survival than birds released from captivity.

"Trumpeter swans are extremely hardy birds and don't normally head south until really severe weather sets in," said Andrews. "Birds produced in the wild have the benefit of parental supervision. Families stick together through the winter and the adults lead the way south. By contrast, captive-reared youngsters are out there on their own. When wetlands begin to freeze tight, they're forced to sort things out on their own. Without knowing where to go, many of those birds end up in trouble."

"These young-of-the-year birds have been brought south, and we'll see if they can get back," said Karen Rowe, AGFC nongame migratory bird program coordinator. "We are using places that are not hunted, yet waterfowl-friendly."

During the next three years, Andrews said, the Iowa DNR hopes to send more than 100 young swans to Arkansas wetlands. The cygnets are marked with green neck collars with white numbers that will help biologists keep tabs on the swans as they travel the flyways.

There were also swans released at Magness Lake (by Heber Springs) and at Boxley Valley in the Buffalo National River. There are already swans at both of those places, I got this shot of the swans at Boxley last year:
Boxley Valley

The swans at Holla Bend were a bit camera shy. They stayed a bit far out in the water so it was hard to get a really good view of them. But Holla Bend is also home to over 230 other species of birds, many of which spend their winter at the refuge. There are usually even some bald eagles there this time of year. We didn't see any eagles, but did see about 7 or 8 armadillos running around.
Holla Back Girl

I must be a city kid since I thought it was awesome to see one of these guys up close. This was taken looking through the window of my car, so they weren't too concerned with having humans around.

From Holla Bend it seemed like a good idea to try to get to one more place before it got too dark. The Longpool camping area isn't that far away, just a bit of a drive up Hwy. 7. Longpool is a camping area on Big Piney Creek, but it has a short trail that leads to the 45 foot-tall Longpool Falls.

It had been cold the past few days, and there was a layer of ice on Big Piney Creek:
Ice on Big Piney

Big Piney Ice

It was above freezing that day, and sunny, so the ice was melting. There were huge icicles on the hill opposite the shoreline and they were loudly crashing down. But if there were icicles on the hill, it would probably mean that there would be ice around the waterfall as well. Yay!

So we set out on the trail to the waterfall, with me accidentally taking the more "scenic" route which involved a narrow trail that clings onto a hillside, while Big Piney Creek sits below. The main trail is actually not as steep and safer, but hey, the views aren't as nice...

Before you get to the falls there is another small waterfall, which was completely covered in ice.
Icy waterfalls

Along the Longpool trail


The bluff was covered in ice, with huge icicles hanging down...
More ice...


The trail to Longpool Falls just sort of ends around here, the rest of the way is a scramble to the waterfall. It's a bit tricky going through there since there isn't a set path, sending you over rocks that tend to be slick and pointy. The added bonus this day was that most of the rocks were also covered in ice....

Now there might be a perfectly easy way to get there, but I didn't see it. I ended up following the creek and went under these two huge downed trees, then scrambled onwards. I'm extra careful around here because last time I went to Longpool I slipped on some rocks and landed painfully on my back (the camera was ok). I got a nasty cut on my elbow, and still have the scar...
Choose your path...

Finally slid around and made it up to the falls. There was this one tree that got hit by water falling from the bluff, forming these cool icicles (or treecicles):

And finally Longpool Falls:
Longpool Falls

Since the ice was melting, the icicles would break off and crash down with a scary thud. I tried my best to not stand directly under one, just in case. The waterfall wasn't running much, just really a trickle coming down. But the ice was a nice touch anyways.
Longpool Falls

Since it was starting to get late we decided to head on home. On the way back I got this shot of the road through the Longpool campground:
The Long(pool) and Winding Road

That was pretty much it for that trip. Although it would have been great to see more water in the falls, all that ice was great. I ended up going out the weekend after, and found a few more waterfalls and even some snow. More about that later....

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