I’ve been birding Ritchey Woods, in Fishers, Indiana, every Sunday morning for the last few weeks. It’s a mixed bag. The birding is great, but it’s adjacent to a noisy highway and airport and is frequented by trail runners and dog walkers.
(Trail runners and dog walkers are fine people. They just tend to throw birds into hiding and startle people intently staring into the treetops.)
I’ve heard a great deal of chatter about a great horned owl nest in the woods. Having no luck in finding myself I made a des fete inquiry and was rewarded to directions to the nesting tree.
It turns out (of course) that I’ve walked within 20′ of this tree every Sunday morning for weeks. Kudos to owl behavior and camouflage. This morning my wife and I found the tree, but no owls. Another birder informed us that they had left the nest in the last day, or so. One fledgling (I believe that there are two) was found in a nearby tree, where I had seen a large bird drop earlier (presumably a parent).
We had a nice long look. Hopefully they’ll return to this nest next spring and we’ll know just where to look.
Posted in Birds and Their Stories | Tagged Birding, burd, fishers, great, horned, Indiana, owl, ritchey | 1 Comment »
At Union Falls, New York, a large pond (of the same name) spills over a dam and tumbles over the rocks and ledges to make a fast and wild plunge to Lake Champlain. This stretch of river is no match for my skills or for my wood and canvas canoe. It’s here that I elected to strap the wheels to the boat and hunker down for a long portage.
From a small park the road drops down to cross the river adjacent to the ancient dam and powerhouse. The iron bridge, was enveloped in spray from the dam and waterfalls. Turning right onto the Casey Road I found myself plunged into another time and place.
This was the time and place I sought. This was rural Maine — the rural Maine of my childhood.
Here the forest is a mix of beech, maple, birch, pine and spruce. The narrow lane, paved in macadam, was lined in ancient loose stone walls. In the margins of the road–where sunlight filtered through the overhanging trees–wild flowers grew. These were the same windflowers my sister and I would gather on those ancient Maine roads many years ago. I expected to see a familiar fox or pheasant dart across the road ahead if me.
My pleasant walk was interrupted. Not by a fox or a pheasant, but by something completely alien to me.
I was attacked by a deranged two-legged raccoon. That was my first thought as a chattering brown and black striped animal exploded from the underbrush.
Before I had time to gather my thoughts into something rational, the animal slowed and assumed a posture that I had often studied in my field guides. I was under attack by a ruffed grouse.
For the next five minutes the bird moved about me and the boat, posturing and blustering.
I realized his bird was protecting a nest or offspring, so I moved along. When I last saw him, he was sitting on a shoulder high branch sending me along my way.
Posted in Bird References, Birds and Their Stories, Canoe, Field Guides, Field Study, Northern Forest Canoe Trail | Tagged bird, Birding, Canoe, carve, carving, folkart, grouse, NFCT, partridge | Leave a Comment »
The Blackburnian warbler has been suggested as a carving subject many times. A quick glance at any field guide confirms that it is a great candidate. The contrast between the blacks and yellows and oranges makes this bird one of North America’s most beautiful warblers.
The striking paintings in my Sibley and Peterson field guides moved me, but until I have seen or heard or experienced a bird it is out-of-bounds to carve.
That all changed on June 22, 2014. Had just completed a very difficult carry around Raquette Falls in the Adirondacks. I expected to camp at the falls, but drawing from some deep reservoir — that I would get to know better over the next few weeks — I loaded my boat and pushed on to a lean-to near Stony Creek.
Here I collapsed. I unloaded my gear into the lean-to and pulled the boat ashore. I sat amongst the gear and fell into a deep sleep.
I awoke to the sound of a bird sifting through the leaf litter in front of the lean-to. I turned my head to see a Blackburnian Warbler nearby. Without disturbing him I watched for several minutes as he searched for a late afternoon meal.
This bird is carved from white pine, has brass tack eyes and steel wire legs. The base is made from antique wood reclaimed from crates and a white birch twig gathered on my canoe trip. 4 1/2″ l x 3″ w x 5 1/4″ t.
Posted in Bird References, Birds and Their Stories, Canoe, Field Study, Northern Forest Canoe Trail | Tagged adirondacks, bird, blackburnian, carve, carving, decoy, raquette, warbler | Leave a Comment »
We get our share of warblers in Indiana — those tiny, flighty often often hard to see gems of the forest. Most are here for a few weeks in May on their way to the northern forests.
I was excited to see warblers on the Northen Forest Canoe Trail. I’m busy with work and home in the spring and don’t often have a chance to pursue warblers while they pass through here.
The problem that I knew I would face was that these birds would be difficult to see in the north woods–a Forest known for it’s thick canopy of mixed conifers and hardwoods. I could not rely on eyesight alone, so I studied and practiced birding by ear. (With my phone I was able to practice and reference bird calls in the field.)
I’ve not become a master — heck I probably wouldn’t even stand out in a group of practiced birders — but I did learn to find more birds with ear than eye.
I had been paddling a series of two or three lakes in the Adirondacks. Each lake dumped, through a series of waterfalls and whitewater to the next. After portaging one of these stretches I leaned against a rock, pulled my hat over my eyes and took a nap.
Some time later I woke to a bird song that I didn’t know. Northern Parula, I bird I had never seen or heard, popped into my head. I checked with my phone. Sure enough, it was the call of the Northern Parula. Though I had never studied the bird or its call, I had come across it enough times that it had become fixed in my sub-conscience. After that afternoon I heard the call often — but never saw one with my eyes.
This Northern Parula is carved of white pine, has brass tack eyes and steel wire legs. The base is made from wood repurposed from antique crates and a birch twig from New England. He stands 6 1/2″ t x 4 1/2″ l x 3 1/4″ w.
Posted in Bird References, Birds and Their Stories, Canoe, carving, Field Study, Northern Forest Canoe Trail | Tagged adirondacks, bird, Birding, carve, carving, NFCT, warbler | 1 Comment »
Sometime’s there a story. Sometimes there’s just an impression. Common mergansers were evident on the trail. Hens were seen most often–with ducklings trailing behind or riding on their mothers’ backs.
I spent a rainy day in a lean-to below the village of Saranac Lake on the Saranac River. I worked on gear. I planned the next leg of my journey and I worked on a budget. As the river rose I witnessed a parade of wildlife. Belted kingfishers, red winged blackbirds, beaver and muskrat worked their way up and down the river conducting their daily business.
Early in that day a mother merganser led her charges downstream. The current was swift. I had no reason to expect to see them again. That evening they came swimming back upstream. It seemed so easy for them. Over the next few weeks I would be pulling, pushing and carrying a canoe upstream. It was never easy. I thought often of those tiny ducklings swimming with so little effort.
This merganser Drake is carved of white pine with a steel tack eye. It is 10 1/2″ l x 4 1/2″ w x 5 1/2″ t.
Posted in Birds and Their Stories, Field Study, New Work, Northern Forest Canoe Trail | Tagged adirondacks, Canoe, carve, carving, decoy, duck, merganser, saranac | 2 Comments »
I’ve loved wood ducks, arguably the most beautiful of waterfowl, since I discovered them on a childhood adventure. Adjacent to our house was 80 acres of tangled briar and scrub and forest. Apparently it had once been the gardens for a large estate including a pond, a summer cabin and other things that seemed very attractive to a young boy. We had the run of the neighborhood, but were told never to play there. Mrs. Gould, the aging owner, had asked my mother to keep an eye on things.
One snowy Thanksgiving, my grandfather was itching to get out of the house. In silence we walked around the tangles and threaded through the briars and came across the pond. The tall snow dusted white pines were mirrored on its surface.
The following spring, a Kodak 110 in hand, I went back alone to capture the ponds beauty. I pushed through the ring of trees and spotted a half dozen wood ducks floating on its surface. Before then wood ducks were something I’d only seen in my bird books. Seeing these birds was much like seeing a unicorn for this young boy.
I snapped a few photos — long lost, now. The ducks are distant, tiny dots.
Woodies are a common sight now. I see them on the rivers of Indiana and on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The sound of them rising from the water has become familiar. They are a beautiful bird.
This drake is carved from white pine with steel tack eyes. He is mounted on a steel rod. The base is made from wood reclaimed from antique crates and a birch branch brought back from the trail. He is 9 1/2″ l x 4″ w x 9 1/2″
Posted in Bird References, Birds and Their Stories, Field Study, Northern Forest Canoe Trail | 1 Comment »
Last summer I spent six weeks paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. There were many purposes for taking this trip. I wanted to spend time alone. I wanted a grand adventure. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to study the birds.
I returned last August and quickly became busy with life–teaching school and catching up on summer chores missed during my trip.
Though I began two large carvings I never really settled in and got to work. Finally, late last week, I began to pore over my journals and bird lists to draw and plan a series of the birds I experience on the trail. From this work I’ve produced the first six carvings of the series.
- Wood Duck Drake
- Common Merganser (Carving Pictured Above)
- Northern Parula
- Blackburnian Warbler (Study Pictured Above)
- Ruffed Grouse
Photos and descriptions to follow.
Posted in Birds and Their Stories, Canoe, New Work, Northern Forest Canoe Trail | Tagged bird, Canoe, carving, forest, Northern | 1 Comment »