Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Welcome to 2009!

Every year I create a list of experiences and accomplishments that marked the year's journey. Its my way of expressing gratitude for the year past and loading my mind with ideas and thoughts about what I want to do in the coming year.
One of my favorite motivational quotes comes from Neal Donald Walsh: "Yet here is a secret of all Masters: keep choosing the same thing....over and over until your will is made manifest in your reality." And when the going gets tough, which is sometimes the moment before reaching the finish line, I recite this encouragement in my mind..."just keep chosing the same thing". And whatever project or activity I'm struggling with seems to finish itself!

I also recently came across a fun way to think of these goals. Artist Karen Winters refers to them as "the things I'm looking forward to in 2009"on her blog The Creative Journey. And since I began both my blog and a facebook page in 2008, I will celebrate the launching of these two activities and the coming year by posting a few of the things I'm looking forward to in 2009.

--sending out query letters to find an agent for my novel

--finishing the last few pages of a whooping crane coloring book project and zipping it off to my layout partner in this endeavor

--spending a week of watercolor practice with Ann K. Lindsay and art friends in New York

--visiting Cape May and enjoying nature in a few other new places

--spending more time painting watercolor landscapes and the birds I've photographed

--developing a notecard series (or two) of backyard birds

--spending more time in the outdoors, hiking, sketching, photographing, kayaking

--creating a handmade moleskin sketchbook and filling it with a year's observations, stories and sketches

--creating new ways to display and market my art!Okay, that's enough for now. I noticed there is a lot of playing on my list. Welcome 2009!
Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year with many things to look forward to!

Photo: Greater sandhill cranes flying to roost at the Hiwassee Island, Dayton, TN.
Art: "The Return", original watercolor by Vickie Henderson.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pine Siskin at the Feeder

I welcome comments from folks who know this species to help confirm this ID. This is another new bird for me!I looked at the sharp beak, the heavy streaking and the wing stripes and went through all the finch-like birds in my field guides before landing on pine siskin, a bird that winters in TN, but that is unfamiliar to me.
I would have missed this new visitor altogether, had I not been sitting in the chair that looks out on the feeder while talking with a friend on the phone. When the chickadees and titmice cleared out, this bird sat quietly for a long time, picking up sunflower seeds, dropping them, picking up another. Swallowing a few. Maybe the ones he dropped were empty shells?
When I hung up the phone, I picked up the camera and shot these images through the glass knowing that if I opened the door the opportunity would be lost. As it was, he only lingered a few minutes longer.
I would have never seen the bit of yellow on his wing without the photos, nor had the opportunity to really look at his unique beak which is so sharply pointed.
And even though my Peterson's doesn't show white wing stripes, it was that bit of yellow on his wing that steered me toward the pine siskins. Would love to hear your comments.

I sometimes wonder why its so much fun to see a new bird. But it is! I've just started a new feeder list!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #18 at to support the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Personality Plus--Wren Style

Can you tell who this is?I laughed when I saw this photo. Is this attitude or what? A puff-ball with a scowl! This was one of a pair of Carolina wrens that I spotted hanging out in trees near the feeder at the corner of the house a few days ago.
Cornell says this species mates for life and the pair stays on territory together year around in the southeast. "Loud" was another description offered, which is short but accurate for the "teakettle-teakettle" song the male belts out. And if I were going to add another it would be "persistent". One captive bird was reported to have sung 3000 songs in one day. And did I mention sweet? Isn't the image below one of the sweetest?!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Northern Mockingbird Gratitude

Maybe I'm easy to please, but this Northern mockingbird's visit made my morning.
He/she was the first bird to take a drink from my new bird bath, part of my solstice celebration. On its second morning, the water in the bath was soundly frozen. So I stepped outside early to change it. As I was closing the door after removing ice and adding water, this mockingbird landed and began to drink.
Later in the afternoon, he paid another visit when I happened to have the camera in hand. (imagine that.)
Of course I can’t be sure it’s the same bird, but this is the species that gets the bow!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice Celebration

Well, I call it a celebration. And the party attendees are the birds outside my door who, in only one day, have found my new feeders. It seems it may be perfect timing.
What I've always celebrated on this day is that each day that follows gets longer and brighter. I take note because soon, it won't be dark when I leave the office.
But that's if you live in this hemisphere. If you are following Noah Stryker's blog, "Antartica-- Among the Penquins", it's a different story. There they are experiencing their longest day of the year with the sun at its highest point in the sky, a sun that won't set for another couple of months.
But back to Tennessee. The beach reminiscent weather of a day ago has said 'farewell' and this shortest day of the year has ushered in a blast of frigid air. I know frigid is a relative term but the adjustment can be startling. Throughout the day we've rapidly moved into our winter coats and are destined for the teens tonight.
However, the chickadees and titmice and I are ready. My first visitor was a little yellow-breasted bird that I only glimpsed and then came a parade of chickadees and titmice. This feasting followed a day of rain with no takers. So I was happy. The party has begun.
For those of you who are experienced at bird-feeding, this may seem uneventful. But then, maybe you can still remember the silence before the first birds arrive. They have certainly brought entertainment along with them! I don't know how I'm going to get anything else done. And don't we all need one more distraction this time of year?
This wire feeder is rapidly becoming my favorite. There are so many ways the birds can hang on to it.
Doesn't this tufted titmous get the "what are you looking at" award?!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #17 at to celebrate the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Beach-y Day

When I opened the window this morning, while sipping coffee, I had the sensation I was at the beach. Unlike many other parts of the country, our weather in the TN valley has slipped back into moderate temperatures, 60's (F) in the day and 40's at night.
For the past three days we've been deluged with rain, soaking rain. But on this overcast day the wind took center stage, ebbing and flowing, sometimes whispering for an instant, then roaring through the tree limbs like an ocean tide. You can feel the air changing. We have colder temps promised and snow in the forecast, so I went out to get some bird feeding supplies. More on that later.It was also a perfect morning to play with paints. Over the past week, I have sketched the golden-crowned kinglet that I photographed in my yard. The nice thing about drawing is you don't have to have a perfect image, just a good reference for shapes and habitat. And while I sketched, I rediscovered how much I enjoy drawing. I forget sometimes when I'm away from it and then I reconnect with what keeps me coming back to it over and over again.
I used my sketchbook to get an idea of the values and colors I wanted to use, to see where I want to place the darks and lights. I tried different mixes of colors, too, so that when I begin on my watercolor paper, I'm warmed up and have a better idea of where I'm going. This is a second sketch of the kinglet on watercolor paper taped to a backboard and ready to paint.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Six Random Things

Alan at Birds n’ Such has tagged me with the "Six Random Facts" meme.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what a blog meme was until I was tagged with this one. So, I checked it out. And I realized after reading Alan and Kyle’s memes how I appreciated having this brief glimpse into their lives. So here goes with six of my own little-knowns.

1) My most intimate experience in nature happened during a visit to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains several springs ago. Initially, venturing into wild places alone was intimidating for me. But in Cades Cove you are not exactly alone! When I came upon a “bear crowd” I pulled over to discover there was a sow high in the tulip poplar who had stashed three cubs on the hill side behind a log. When she came down, I watched her from a safe distance. And when she laid down to nurse her cubs right in front of me, I could not have been more breathless!

2) I took my first flight in an ultralight aircraft on impulse with a perfect stranger at a festival in 2002, forgetting momentarily that I’m afraid of heights. (Yes, my mind was on the magic of whooping crane migration.) But when the aircraft leveled out and I saw the distance to the ground, about 500 ft, I had my first full blown panic attack. Luckily I managed to conceal it and not terrify the pilot as well, and when we landed safely, I was elated with the whole experience. I went on to take ultralight pilot lessons.
3) I learned to ride horses when I was five and will always love them. During a period of owning my own, I helped my mare give birth to her first foal and later milked her when the foal couldn’t nurse. It was like hand-milking a cow only it was a horse. She was in so much discomfort, she seemed to understand. This saved the valuable colostrum, the “first milk” that protects the foal from disease and infection and provides vital energy. The vet arrived to tube feed the baby the next morning and by the end of the day the foal perked up and life settled into a normal routine.
4) I hate to shop. It doesn’t matter what kind of shopping. Either coffee or toilet paper will eventually get me to the grocery.

5) I love to dance. Jazzercise is my main way of expressing that energy. It keeps me fit, makes me laugh and gives me my dance fix during the week. As an added bonus, it’s another great community! 6) A novel that I began writing ten years ago and finished earlier this year, has changed my life, giving me the courage to try many new things. In fact, it was while researching a novel character that I went out in the field with a wildlife photographer and discovered this intimate way of relating to nature. The work of getting the novel published is my main goal in 2009.

That's me holding a golden eaglet in Wyoming in 2000. What a joy! Photo by Bruce Anderson, TWRA.

Here are the rules to the Six Random Facts Meme:

1) Link to the person who tagged you.

2) Post the rules on your blog.

3) Write six random things about yourself.

4) Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.

5) Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.

6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Here are my six tags: 1. The Northwest Nature Nut, 2. Michele at Creative Freedom Photography, 3. Mick at Sandy Straits and Beyond 4. Toni at A Spattering, 5. Monika at Orca Watcher, 6. Shelly at Birding in Michigan.

I hope there are no repeat tags here. And of course, the meme is completely optional. I tagged some friends whose blogs I particularly enjoy. So pay them a visit when you have a chance. And enjoy the season!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Golden-crowned Kinglet Surprise

I have just been "wowed" again. This is another life bird for me. I don't usually use the 'life' term because I don't really keep a list. I just know what I've seen and what I haven't. And when I don't know what I'm looking at, I haven't.
Just last month I saw my first ruby-crowned kinglet. And this golden-crowned was another big surprise. It happened during one of those times you have a million things to do indoors and despite it all, you have to take a break and get outside. When I do this, I'm never disappointed. And this cutie was on the move! I could hear her "see-see" call but it took some concentrated effort to locate her. Even when I knew where she was, much of the time she was obscured by pine needles.

Her quickness made for many non-descript tail shots as she flipped about and the end result was these unclear images. But they were enough for me to identify a new bird for me. Below, a chance crown shot.
I love that bright yellow crown!

I assume this is a female unless their plumage changes in the winter. Anyone with more knowledge of this species, feel free to chime in.

Backyard fun! Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #16 at to help promote the conservation of our world's birds!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ultralight Migration Moves into Alabama

After spending a week in west Tennessee, the 2008 class of ultralight trained whooping cranes has finally moved into Alabama. With the change in Operation Migration's southerly migration route, this marks their first journey through the state of Alabama which greeted them with fresh snow. Richard van heuvelen describes the reaction of the juvenile cranes in his lead pilot's report. Also visit the photo journal to see some beautiful migration photos and the juveniles standing in the snow.

Painting: "Peaceful Morning", 29" x 21" original watercolor by Vickie Henderson, 2004.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pileated Woodpecker Pays a Visit

I had just loaded my car and was about to depart for my journey to west Tennessee last Friday when I heard the call of a pileated woodpecker. It is certainly not the first time I've heard this call in the yard, but this one seemed close by.
The situation gave me pause. I had a five hour drive ahead of me but could I pass up this opportunity to at least see if I could find him? I put everything on hold, retrieved my camera from the car and began scanning the nearby hardwoods. And my efforts were rewarded.Aided by his calls and movement, I located him on a long horizontal limb, well out of range of my 300 mm lens, but not so far that I can't give you some soft images of this beautiful bird, the largest of our local woodpeckers, measuring 16-19 inches with a wingspan of 26-30 inches. There was enough detail in the images for me to make out the red in his black mustache stripe and you can see his red forehead, both of which distinguish him from the females who have a dark forehead and no red in their mustache.
I could see wood chips flying as I watched through the lens, but this was not so easy to capture. His movements were not the lingering, steady pounding of the sapsucker but rather quick jabs intermixed with scooting, so that my only chance of capturing him were his moments of pause. He moved around the limb with agility and hung beneath it working with the same ease as he hammered it from above. According to Cornell, the pileated woodpecker makes deep rectangular shaped excavations and often pries off slivers of wood to uncover ants.
As I stood photographing him, I heard an exchange of calls and when he took flight, another pileated woodpecker followed him. It was a treat to see his wing span, the white feathers beneath his wings and his long slender neck as he held his head upright in flight.
Whether this was our resident male and his mate, I can only speculate. Pileated woodpeckers maintain a strong pair bond and live on territory in TN year-round. But we also have many visitors that winter over or pass through and residents are said to tolerate the presence of a few visitors in their territory during wintering months.

Whooping Cranes Still in Tennessee

The ultralight migration is still located in west TN as I write this post and was grounded for another day today by too strong winds. In the photo above taken Sunday morning before I departed again for east TN, Richard van heuvelen tests the lower wind levels while the other three trikes, visible to viewers at points in the distance, test the level of wind disturbance at other elevations. It was decidedly a "no-go" as the winds were gusty and too strong, even though they were coming from the right direction.
As Richard flew over the viewers, his trike's passenger pod rocked in the wind beneath the wing which makes for a very rough ride and impossible conditions for flying with birds.
Above you can see the viewing site in Hardin Co. with some of the viewers gathered in Sunday's early morning cold. Below Liz Conde answers questions as we wait for the final decision.
Today's field journal post by Bev Paulin is accompanied by some photos of the birds exercising as the crew is expecting rainy weather in the next few days. During exercise, the juveniles are released in the early morning when the air is more calm and thermals have not yet begun to rise.
Under these conditions, the young birds will not venture far from the security of "parents" represented by the white costumes. The costumed handlers also carry vocalizers that play the contact call, a reassuring whooping crane communication that stimulates the young chick to stay near its costumed parents.
While the crew is waiting for good flying conditions, take the opportunity to visit the Operation Migration mile-maker page and read about how you can support our whooping cranes and the juvenile class of 2008.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #15 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham