Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome 2010!

The human species is programmed to examine, identify beginnings and endings, take stock of what is behind and to look ahead. It's part of our nature and our desire for meaning, contribution, purpose and participation. And because we are all unique as well, this takes different forms for each individual. I'm sometimes surprised to see how many things I actually accomplish that are on my list of goals for a new year. It's fun to review them and see how I did.Sometimes it means carrying over something that got pushed aside, like my novel query letters. That means a renewed commitment to stick with it and face those rejection letters with persistence. This is part of what commitments do for us. They move us right through the rough spots.

Here are some highlights from 2009:

Partnering with Operation Migration to make the Craniac Kids Whooping Crane Activity Book become a reality. Available to kids everywhere now--FREE!

Joining Operation Migration in Washington D.C. for the presentation of the Partners in Conservation Award.
Participating in bird banding at the Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge in Knoxville, TN

Observing a nesting pair of Red-shouldered Hawks and creating a sketchbook about my experience.

Plenty of painting, sketching and learning about art and how much I love it.

Enjoying a fun canoe drift down the French Broad River with bird-loving friends.
Learning to make a sketchbook loaded with watercolor paper. (More on this later).

And here is a short list of activities and events I'm looking forward to in 2010:

Monitoring Bluebird boxes at SIWR
Writing articles for the TN Conservationist
More bird banding at SIWR
Sketching in nature
The Space Coast Birding Festival, Titusville, FL
Launching another book project
Lots of watercolor and nature journaling!
Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who's Boss?

There's a favorite perch near my front door. It happens to be the stump of an old apple tree, long since down, positioned, very handily, in front of a holly bush. And right in front of the holly stands the bird bath, a favorite place for birds to visit in the winter when they're looking for an unfrozen source of water. Most every bird eyeing the feeders or stopping by for a drink, will at some point take their turn on the old apple stump. Mockingbirds, jays, towhees, sparrows, titmice, chickadees and Downies, and most recently, a male Red-bellied Woodpecker. It's the taking turns part that has caught my attention recently, on more than one occasion.
Watching the birds interact at the feeders can sometimes be surprising. Mostly, they seem to come in waves, each bird, taking their turn, peacefully waiting for whoever is feeding to grab their seed and go. But I see other types of behavior, as well, like two titmice, a goldfinch, and a Downy, all feeding at the same time. Or when the seemingly peaceful White-breasted Nuthatch starts wing-flexing and warning everyone else away. And then there's the Bluejay who sometimes flies in like a thug and dethrones the Mockingbird from the holly perch.

I've seen many birds shy away from the Mockingbird, but this is clearly not always the case. On this occasion, a Red-bellied male landed on the perch. I slowly nudged the door open with my foot, hoping to get an image or two without disturbing him. With my eye to the camera, and my focus on the woodpecker, I heard a commotion but didn't pause to look until I had captured the two images below.

In the first, the woodpecker has flared his wings and tail and faces the intruder, a Mockingbird, with his beak high. If you enlarge the image and check the very top, you'll see a bird foot on the perch.
The Mockingbird tried one more time to claim his spot, but not only did the woodpecker not budge, he moved toward him. The Mockingbird settled for a nearby limb and the Red-belly reigned...this time.
Doesn't he look regal with his sunlit red head and fanned tail?
So regal, that I thought he deserved a place in my sketchbook.

And there was space for the mocker, too.

What can I say? They're all boss!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #70 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Cup, A Bird, A Ritual is Born

I didn't realize until yesterday, I've developed a pattern, a kind of ritual that separates the office work week from the days I pursue art and writing. And birds are an integral part of that ritual. In fact, they created it. (click images to enlarge)
It begins with picking up my favorite coffee-filled mug and setting out the bird feeders--a single plate of suet and sunflower seeds, and two hanging feeders. These are positioned on the edge of the patio just outside my door, easy to see, easy to hear birds approaching, easy to pick up my camera and step out the door...even in the brrrrrr cold we're having now.
Yesterday was one of those days. I got lost in it. One minute I was working on something, writing, sketching, making notes...the next, I hear a sound that pulls me out the door, camera in hand. I didn't come back in until I had lost the feeling in my fingers and toes. All I can say is, “the birds did it.”Their behavior and attitudes, their personalities, totally fascinate me. The bobbing of the wren's movements, the rowdy boldness of the titmouse, the king-presence of the mockingbird, the timid, invisible foraging of the sparrows, all so specific to each bird’s lifestyle and habits. Add to that, the delight of having them come so close to me, and I'm captive.

Yes, I'll be getting a bit anthropomorphic here. But it doesn't matter what we call it, it happens. We feed them, they become familiar with us, they come closer. And when this happens, I feel like I've just stepped into a Walt Disney movie.
Deeply focused on photographing a bird, I seldom move anything but the camera shutter, which is true for most photographers. And maybe that’s the key. Birds fly all around me, so close, I feel the wind of their flight against my cheek. Others hop toward me, when I expect the reverse, like this beautiful Chipping Sparrow who presented me with a breath-stopping moment. I knew I was not looking at a familiar sparrow and here he was, hopping right up to the camera, giving me all those cute inquisitive expressions. Were it not for the rowdy titmice, I think he/she would have hopped right up on the suet plate.
I've long practiced being still, from watching a honey bee crawl on my arm as a child to long hours listening to heart-felt stories in my office. Stillness and observation come naturally for me. And maybe that is all that’s required--enduring, predictable, non-intrusive behavior, coupled with the primary attraction of food and water. Aside from a giggle or two and my compulsion to talk to them occasionally, I'm sure the birds think the clicking of my camera shutter is my native language.
Can you interact so closely with birds and not adore them, want to protect them, feel curious about every aspect of their lives and their survival? I can’t. And for those who don’t have time or the inclination, I am happy to show you what they show me—curious faces, distinct personalities, perfectly adapted beaks and feet, an intricate beauty unsurpassed.
And how does my favorite coffee mug fit into all of this? Special memories are grounded in this mug--bird memories. Of Beeman’s Coffee Bar in Port Aransas, Texas, of beautiful endangered Whooping cranes wintering in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, of a laughing gull that wanted a bite of my cinnamon roll!

Put all together, this makes for a compelling ritual that I am likely to keep. Any favorite birding rituals in your life?
Bird images, top to bottom: 1) Carolina wren, 2) Blue Jay (enlarge image and check out the tuft of feathers covering his/her nare), 3) Tufted Titmouse, 4) Carolina wren, 5 & 6) Chipping Sparrow (new sparrow and yard bird for me), 7 & 8) Northern Mockingbird, 9) White-breasted Nuthatch.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #68 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Enjoying the Unexpected

Snow, the first week of December...I haven't seen this in a while.
Arriving Saturday morning (Dec 5th), it stayed for the day, glistening and twinkling by afternoon as it dripped in the airy light. There is something comforting and satisfying about feeding birds when the weather is so cold and uninviting. All of us (me included) fluff up to stay warm. And that includes this sweet wintering White-throated Sparrow captured in the dim overcast light.
His November arrival always makes me smile. And this is the first time I've seen him on the "holly perch", the dead apple tree stump in front of the holly. A favorite perch for birds approaching the feeders, and for those dropping by for a berry snack, he typically prefers hanging out underneath the shrub. But in the midst of all this snow, he seemed to think the perch was a grand idea.
And squirrels. There are many! We seem to have a large batch of late juveniles with irresistable faces and naive curiosity. This one ventured within six feet of me. (Click the image and check out that baby fur!)

Sweet and trouble in one bundle,
their thick winter coats were striking against the snowy blends of gray and white. Add a colorful leaf or two, and we have nature's magic!
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #67 at, to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Beauty of November's Berries

Covered with berries and leaves earlier in the month, the Dogwoods in my yard are now bare of both. (Click images to enlarge.)All that remains are their upreaching limbs and tiny white buds, reminders of the crowd of birds, especially the robins, that covered their branches one morning and boldly announced their arrival.

But there are plenty of other berries still around, among them this native American Beautyberry (below) that I found at Ijams Nature Park. Expecting to find very little in the way of color when I stopped by, it took me by surprise. I even double checked to make sure the brilliant orange leaves were attached to the same limbs as the berries!

Who but Nature would pair these luscious colors together in such a grand display?!

October is most definitely a glorious month for leaves. But as November begins to fade, I think it steals the show, hands down, for its bountiful display of berries. Just ask the birds and squirrels who are busy harvesting them!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tufted Titmouse--Singing in the Rain

If someone were to ask me, why do you love birds so much? I might have to answer, have you ever met a Tufted Titmouse?

Today is a cold, rainy November day, the kind of day we expect to have this time of year in east Tennessee. But after yesterday's brilliant sunshine, who can complain. And this one was brightened for me by the colorful Tufted Titmouse family, one of whom landed on the empty feeding table outside my door and scolded loudly. (click on images to enlarge)

After I put the suet out, I noticed him happily singing on the holly. I stepped out with my camera hoping he would continue and let me get a few images. As you can see, he didn't seem to mind. Even when a couple of chickadees flew in, attempting to dethrone him, he just turned and sang some more.
A colorful part of every season, these little birds are so much fun to have around. If you haven't met one, introduce yourself!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #65 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Impressed with a Red-bellied Woodpecker's Tongue!

On the day that the crowd of robins visited, a parade of other birds joined them in the dogwood tree. Among them, this Red-bellied Woodpecker male. (Click images to enlarge.)

It's always a treat when he visits the dogwood tree, and this time was no exception. He flew into the dogwood limbs, hung upside down to pluck a berry, then flew to a nearby trunk to reposition it before swallowing.

It was this that surprised me. He used the trunk's surface to reposition the berry, so that he then held it at the tip of his bill.

With his long tongue extended, he used it in a lever-like fashion to move the berry into swallowing position.

Once the berry was gone, he scooted around the tree to forage some more. But then, paused, looked back at another dogwood berry, hung upside down and stretched his tongue out to pick up something from its surface.

A fun and intimate encounter. I hated to see him fly away. The good news--he's my neighbor!
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #63 at, to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Whooping Crane Activity Book--A Fun Peek Inside!

While the ultralight-led Whooping Crane Class of 2009 is making its way south, children can read all about how imagination and innovation have helped us help our endangered Whooping cranes.As the author and illustrator, the complimentary distribution of this book gives me great satisfaction. After introducing children to our magnificent Whooping Crane and the reasons for its population decline, the book takes them through the magical story of how a young chick learns to follow costumed handlers and ultralight aircraft 'parents' in preparation for its first migration journey south. (Click on the page images to see enlarged views.)
The 32-page book is packed with fun facts, illustrations to color and activities designed to stimulate young imaginations of all ages and get readers excited about taking care of our Whooping cranes and their habitat.
Teachers may click here to fill out a complimentary order for their students ($10.00 shipping). Individuals interested in buying copies for the children in their family may purchase them for $3.00 plus shipping on Operation Migration's Merchandise Page or by calling 1-800-675-2618.
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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