Monday, March 29, 2010

The Delightful Limpkin

"Wait. What's that bird?" was all I could whisper, as my heart picked up a beat and the car came to a stop.   I suspected the answer before I heard it from Charlie Corbeil, local naturalist and my volunteer guide to the Viera Wetlands, Brevard County, FL.  "That's a Limpkin."

A brand new bird for me, I had seen my first one through binoculars two days earlier from far across the wetland.  Not expecting to get another opportunity, I was thrilled to find this one foraging near the road.

A wetland specialist that feeds almost entirely on Apple Snails and their eggs, Limpkin bills are especially adapted for this type of feeding.  Their beaks are not only long and curved, but they twist at the tip making them especially adept at extracting snails from their shells.  In fact, they are so adept, that they can extract a snail from its shell in less than 20 seconds!

Encasing of a Florida Apple Snail.

Here's how Sibley's Guide to Bird Life and Behavior describes this bill adaptation:  "About half an inch (1 cm) from the tip there is a distinct curve to the right, allowing it to fit into the right-hand curve of the snail's shell; the tip of the lower bill is twisted 90 degrees, with the sharpened edge fitting against the upper bill and used to cut the snail's operculum from its body.  In addition, the long tongue has a stiff, barbed tip that the bird presumably uses to extract the snail."

Limpkins forage both by sight and touch.  This one probed the mud in the shallows and sometimes submerged his/her entire head to reach prey, which may consist of mussels, other aquatic species and small reptiles when snails aren't prevalent.  

Designated as a Species of Special Concern in Florida, largely due to the decline of the Apple Snail, Limpkins were nearly extirpated in Florida in the 1930's due to hunting and the massive draining of wetlands.  Hunting, land development, poor water quality, human management of water levels and invasive species continue to pose threats to the Apple Snail and bird species, such as the Snail Kite and the Limpkin, who depend upon this snail for survival.

More images of this fun-to-know bird coming up and a finished sketchbook page.

Don't you wonder who discovers all these wonderful tidbits about the species we research?  They deserve our thanks and credit!  The author of the Limpkin section of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pp 251-252, is George L. Armistead.  And, by the way, if you don't already have it, I highly recommend this fun and informative reference.

The above images were taken at the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Brevard County, Florida, with guide, photographer and Master Naturalist, Charlie Corbeil. Click the link and visit Charlie's beautiful photography.
Also visit the website of Master Naturalist, and photographer, Vince Lamb. Vince and Charlie were two of my guides while visiting Brevard County's beautiful places and wildlife during my January visit.
Also visit Space Coast Eco for informative descriptions of key natural areas and field trips for your visit to Brevard County. These excellent field trip posts are created by my Brevard County hostess, Marge Bell. You will also want to visit Space Coast Beach Buzz and FloridaBeachBasics for more visitor and wildlife information.
Visit Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival and mark the 2011 dates on your calendar.
And David McCree's festival reports at Blog the Beach will give you interesting information about the 2010 festival activities.
To view all my posts about Brevard County's Space Coast Birds and the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, click here.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #83, at to celebrate the conservation of our world's birds.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Introducing My New Blog--Vickie's Sketchbook

You may wonder why I'm creating a new blog since Vickie Henderson Art is already an art and sketching blog.  My answer, there's more to share.  There's more to tell about the heart of sketching, why I love it, what it teaches me and what makes this intimate interaction with nature so peaceful, satisfying and healing.
All of that seemed enough of a variation on what I present here to launch a new blog.  Here I blog about nature, the discoveries I experience through my camera's lens and how it all comes together to inspire art.
In Vickie's Sketchbook, a companion to this blog, I'll share more about making art from the inside out, that interaction with the heart that eventually allows the artist to pour all that is seen and felt onto paper.  This isn't easy, by the way.  Our heart's are shy.  We often doubt ourselves and think we can't do it.  In fact, I have yet to sit down in a "public" place and sketch nature in my sketchbook.  Horror of horrors that someone might think I'm an artist and look over my shoulder!
Yes, I'm still shy, despite what it may seem. We all have hurdles to cross.  Some cross them younger, some cross them later in life.  But the hurdles are the same.  In the past five years, I've piloted an ultralight (with a reassuring instructor), crawled around in the three-foot confines of a muddy cave, driven alone cross-country to participate in a wilderness writing retreat, all of them new and challenging experiences.  And so you might ask, what's the big deal about sketching out in nature?  I don't know.  I'll let you know when I understand it!
Visit Vickie's Sketchbook from time to time and see what's happening!

Coming up next on this blog:  the Limpkin I promised weeks ago!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Heartfelt Thank You

A heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you who responded to my "Spring is in the Air" post, both publicly and privately, as well as, to those of you who shared its message with so many others.  And thank you to the House!
When I posted my brother's photo, I could hear his baritone voice saying, "Naw, Vickie, don't put my photo on the internet."  But when I saw the stat figures that told me his story had been viewed by more than 200 blog readers just about the same time that the House was casting its vote on the healthcare bill, in my mind's eye I could see that same grin cross his face and his eyes twinkle.

There are many hurdles yet to cross, but the new healthcare bill offers hope and moves our country forward in the right direction, in a direction toward community and compassion.  It will take everyone's efforts, individuals, and organizations both public and private, to make this change happen.  But it gives my heart an enormous lift to envision this kinder, healthier America in our future.

And as if to give it a nod from nature, a male Eastern Bluebird perched on my bluebird box for a while this afternoon.  (Above image, a bluebird family visiting winter berries in February.)

Related links on healthcare:
For news on the House's historic vote on healthcare, see Politics Daily.
Click here for the White House news on healthcare.
Also visit Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  Her page includes helpful links that will inform you about the progress of healthcare reform.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring is in the Air

...and I'm in the mood for change, uplifting change. I've wanted to change the template of my blog for a while. And so I've made a start. It is a work in progress. You may see changes from time to time, as I settle into what I like, including moving the title around on the banner. I seem to have forgotten how to do that, if I ever knew. Change and learning sometimes progress slowly. But usually there is a point at which it picks up speed. You've got it. You can see the light and everything you need to know finally comes together for the finish.

A tattered Morning Cloak, one of our first butterflies to fly in the spring after they overwinter under loose bark or hidden in crevices.

Yesterday I listened to an Eastern Phoebe sing his heart out, over and over again. I hope that song is about his intentions to nest nearby, maybe on a plank shelf under the deck gazebo. For a few minutes, he landed on one of the support posts and looked at me from a nearly upside-down position singing all the while.
And then there's my bluebird box. The one that's fresh and new with its shiny predator guard beckoning a new family to come check it out and move in. I hold my breath every time I see an Eastern Bluebird in the yard. A male landed near me while I was watching the phoebe.
These are all signs of renewal and hope. But I'm going to mix in another kind of story, a sad story, one that at its heart, touches us all. At the suggestion of a friend, I emailed this story to the White House yesterday and to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Each time I reviewed my letter's message and sent it off, I cried again. I'm starting to cry now. But it will pass. Each tear helps.

Because I devote my blog to my love for art, nature and the creative spirit, most of you don't know I'm a mental health professional or that I've worked in the healthcare industry for thirty-plus years, or that I have been a leader in social work organizations and the editor of a national healthcare newsletter. And so now you have the background for what I am about to say and soon you will know the tragedy that my family has recently faced.

Our national leaders are grappling with the decisions of healthcare reform and I personally don't think it matters how that reform is achieved. It matters that it happens. It matters that the individual is empowered again, empowered to choose affordable healthcare options that will help during unpredictable times.

In December my brother learned that his back pain was actually a failing kidney. By the time my sister and I learned of it, it was late January and his pain had become intolerable. On March 3rd he took his own life. The letter below is my brother's story. I have written it to honor his life and as a plea to our nation's leaders to untie the knots that are blocking our nation's healthcare reform.

After you read it, pass it along to others and, above all, please tell your state's law makers that you're behind healthcare change and eager for it to go forward.

My letter to the White House:

As a Clinical Social Worker in private practice I have watched our nation’s healthcare system disintegrate for the past 30 yrs. Having been the former editor for the Managed Care News, published by the National Federation of Clinical Social Workers, this has not been just a casual or anecdotal observation.

Recently this broken system has tragically touched my life. On March 3rd, my brother shot and killed himself. He was 57.

He had been laid-off and was facing the end of his unemployment benefit at the same time he was dealing with severe pain and weakness due to a failing kidney. He did not agree to hospitalization for obvious reasons.

He had no insurance and was using a credit card to pay for medical care with the minimum monthly payment rapidly approaching an amount he couldn’t pay. He applied for a line of credit on the equity in his house but was denied due to unemployment.

My sister helped him with online aide applications the Saturday before he died. We know that he received two calls regarding disability and medical aide on the following Monday, the content of which is unknown to us. His unaware neighbor witnessed his one-page will on that same Monday. He shot himself on Wednesday morning in his front yard, with his driver's license and a note to police in his pocket, telling them who to contact, how to get into his house if needed, and asking them to please be kind to his dogs, that they were gentle. In a note to family he explained that he could no longer stand the pain.

His death was not impulsive or driven by delusions. It was well thought-out and considerate to those he loved, as considerate as such a circumstance can be. When I can think beyond my own grief, I know that he would have suffered even more had his life continued.

I am still sorting out his death in my mind and wondering why our country can't do something intelligent with healthcare. By the time my brother realized how ill he was, he was trapped with nowhere to turn and no time. Not even the house that he worked hard to free of debt could assist him in his time of need.

There will always be suffering, pain, death. We cannot prevent that. But surely we have the intelligence and resources in this country to create a compassionate healthcare system, one that can link people to private and public resources in a timely manner, one that can help them live their final hours in dignity and hope.

Vickie Henderson, LCSW
Knoxville, Tennessee

John B. Henderson, III

Related Links on Healthcare:
For news on the House's historic vote on the healthcare bill see Politics Daily
Click here for the White House's news on Healthcare; and here to email the Whitehouse on Healthcare.
Also visit Speaker of the House,
Nancy Pelosi. Her page includes many helpful links that will inform you about the progress of healthcare reform. To contact the Speaker, click 'contact us' on the top tool bar.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wild Turkeys--A Happy Ending

When I meet a new bird, I find everything about it curious. I don't mean that I've never seen a Wild Turkey before this. But I hadn't seen one face to face, nor had the luxury of watching them forage at close range, or seen how deliberately they move, raising their heads periodically to scan their environment. (Click images to enlarge.)

The turkey you see above was following-the-leader in a caravan of fourteen. While I was photographing the trailing birds, the leaders had decided to come up the bank right beside me. It was not until I heard the rustling in the leaves, that I realized they were so close, within five feet. I suspect my expression may have matched hers initially...until I giggled and slowly turned the camera in her direction.
There was a time when it was rare to see a Wild Turkey, let alone see a group pass through your yard. Native only to North America, the Wild Turkey was heavily hunted in the 1800's along with Passenger Pigeons and Bob White Quail. The last documented wild Passenger Pigeon was shot on March 12, 1900 (Christopher Cokinos, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, 228). And by the early 20th century, our nation began to realize that heavily hunted species were not rebounding, among them, the Wild Turkey.
(The left side of the sketchbook spread is tan--it's not your eyes!)

Estimated to number ten million in the 1600's, Wild Turkeys numbered only 30,000 by the 1930's. Concern over their decline became instrumental in establishing agencies responsible for hunting regulations (Doug Markham, Boxes Rockets and Pens, A History of Wildlife Recovery in Tennessee, 45).
As a result of more than four decades of restoration efforts, I now have these intriguing new visitors frequenting my yard. And here's a fun tidbit about their feathers, found in Sibley's Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, a book that's rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Turkeys don't grow down feathers. Instead, they have what is termed an after-shaft feather, that is, an extra feather that grows on the same shaft but is smaller. This after-shaft is believed to provide the extra warmth they need for colder weather.
I wonder if it also helps explain how they can puff themselves up so big when disturbed or excited.And if the sound of a barking dog or the slamming of a door doesn't startle them into flight, their departure takes place as silently as their arrival, their tall shapes fading slowly into the woods like shadows.
Next post: Back to the warmer climate of Brevard County, FL, and a fun look at a Limpkin!

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #79, at, to promote the conservation of our world's birds.
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Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
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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