Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Red-shouldered Hawk Territory

Wow.  My books arrived today!  What a delight to see the finished product.  
My reaction was like a five-year-old's excitement at Christmas, only maybe it even topped that because of all the hard work that went into it.  Not just the many hours of observations and sketching, but the actual making of the printed book.
I'm a person who loves books, the books with a spine and pages you can leaf through, the ones you curl up with in a comfortable chair.  I think they are precious.  And when it comes time to part with them to make room for more, hesitation is large.  I love reading them and writing them.  And, I love sketching and creating them.
The making of a book in print is a complex endeavor, one of determined cooperation and negotiation, as much about patience, communication, and team work, as the artistic vision that conceived the idea and moved the project forward.   And now I've found the right team (see links and resources).  The book is beautiful, so life-like in its replication of the sketchbook itself, that it's hard to tell the difference between the original book and it's mirror in print.    
And that makes me smile.  It is the greatest hurdle you go through in printing art in any form.  And this book is about art and nature, about observing and capturing what you've observed in words and drawings, and about learning what your subject has to teach you, even the parts you are not allowed to know.

It's a tiny book, by book standards, replicating the size of the sketchbook, but enormous in heart and inspiration.  I look back on this endeavor--the observing of hawks, most secretive and illusive of creatures--and wonder at the energy and patience that got me through this season of observation.  But I also remember the incredible excitement and beauty of seeing this pair of hawks during our first encounter.  The combination of their accessibility and the unlikeliness of encountering them in such a casual way produced more intrigue than I could ignore.  That they could be so close, and so ever present sent me into a spin.  That I could sit in the shade of a gazebo, and watch their activity as though I were a plant in the garden, astounded me from the beginning.
The observations you see in the book took dedication, the commitment to sit through non-activity hours, make regular visits a priority, the ability to remain still until my subjects appeared and to use my creative mind and curiosity to withstand lulls in activity.  Waiting for the chance to see a hawk and watch its behavior, now that might be an activity some would call a waste of time.  The thought crossed my mind more than once.  But even the wait can be an act of labor, something that keeps you deeply rooted to the project and makes you as determined as ever to see it through.
Art is not an activity for the faint of heart.  It challenges you inside and out, especially when that art is about something real, and alive and moving, and unpredictable.  You, the artist, are the same, alive, moving,  unpredictable.  But you have trained yourself to be still, knowing what treasures are found while remaining invisible.  And just when you think you might evaporate into nothingness with the waiting, a hawk appears, opens your heart and heightens all your senses.  And a sketch is born, a visual story of all that you've taken in.  Into your heart the hawk flies, and out through your hand and onto the paper.  

This is the essence of Red-shouldered Hawk Territory, A sketchbook journey through nesting season--the story of one season's natural wonder through the heart and hand of an artist.  I hope it inspires you to pick up a sketchbook and let your own story unfold.  

Links and Resources: 

It takes a talented team to create a book and Colin Hoffman, at High Resolutions, was tops to work with.  He also lead the production of my boxed set of note cards, Autumn Birds.  Visit High Resolutions to learn about the many printing services they offer.   

My other partner in this endeavor was Nan Rudd of Rudd Designs, in New Glarus, WI.  Nan was also the layout wizard for my joint venture with Operation Migration in the creation of the Craniac Kid's Whooping Crane Activity Book.  

For more details about Red-shouldered Hawk Territory and to order visit:  Red-shouldered Hawk Territory.  

You will find all my posts on my experiences in Red-shouldered Hawk territory by clicking this link.  The last post will appear first.  Scroll to the bottom and click "older" to move backward to the first post.  

For more information about the species, visit Cornell's site on Red-shouldered Hawks.    

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Eastern Bluebirds--Landlord or Local Diner?

Bluebirds can leave you scratching your head from day to day, wondering what their plans are for that empty nest box.
This morning a pair of Eastern bluebirds landed on the limbs overhead almost instantly when I signaled with a whistle that the mealworm diner was now open for customers.  I had barely closed the feeder top when the pair appeared, singing softly.  I sat on the patio and watched as first the male and then the female visited the dish of mealworms. It was especially gratifying to hear the female's contented chirps as she fed.

The male patiently waited for her to finish, and then, poof, they were gone, the nest box serving as nothing more than a perch in route to the feeder.
After they left, I watched a male tufted titmouse repeatedly visit the feeder and return to a limb to feed his waiting mate.  This was definitely a smile-worthy observation.  I have no idea where they are nesting but it is certainly somewhere nearby.  The male frequently declares his territory with song and raspy scolding notes.  The bluebirds, on the other hand, make me wonder if they are nesting elsewhere and simply stopping by for a snack at the local diner.
As recently as a week ago, the male and female landed on the nest box together and exchanged excited communications, both chattering and wing-waving.  Above, you see the male wing-waving to encourage the female to join him on the next box.  And below, she has landed on the guard, preparing to check out the nest box.  Wing-waving, an alternating series of wing lifts, is expressed by both the male and the female and seems to signal a greeting and encouragement that reinforces the pair bond during the breeding season.
If it were not for last year's records, I would have given up hope that I will have a nesting pair of bluebirds this season.  My notes show that on April 8th of 2011, the pair that raised two broods last season in this nest box had not yet claimed it.  In mid March the wintering flock dispersed as one pair of bluebirds in their midst vigorously chased away flock mates and flock members dispersed in search of breeding territories and mates.  And while some bluebirds may still be searching for nest sites, many pairs in our area have already nested and are incubating eggs.
On the other hand, I have a decisive pair of chickadees in charge of my second nest box.  A Carolina chickadee (above) is building her nest right on schedule with last year's nesting record.  When I last checked the box on March 30th, the female had completed her thick base of moss and was placing a layer of soft grasses, hair, downy feathers, and other soft materials over it to begin forming the nest cup.
Chickadee nests are so soft and neat, astoundingly lovely.

Links and resources:

For stories and images of last season's nesting bluebirds, visit:  Bluebird Family.  And for more on Carolina chickadees visit my chickadee posts.

Also please visit my new book:  Red-shouldered Hawk Territory, A sketchbook journey through nesting season.  The book will be ready for shipping by April 12th and contains my sketches, field notes and the stories and photos that unfolded during four-months of observing a nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks.  You can visit some of those stories and images on this blog by clicking: Red-shouldered hawks. Scroll to the bottom to read earliest posts first.
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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