Archive for the ‘Birds and Their Stories’ Category

I’ve had waterfowl on my mind.  I’ve been carving bufflehead, loons, coots, and grebes.  I shared a show with Bruce Neckar yesterday and he had been drawing the same.

This morning I got my first chance, this fall, to really spend some time in the field.  I circle Morse Lake (NW of Noblesville) and really panned the waters wioth scope and binoculars.  The list isn’t long, but many of the birds I was seeking were there.

1.Common Loon (One was calling)

2. Swans (Not identified.  Left my field of view and never were spotted again)

3. American Coots

4. Buffleheads (One of my favorites)

5. Mallards

6. Common Crow

7. Pied -Billed Grebe

8. Horned Grebe

9. Double Crested Cormorant

10. Canada Goose

11. Ring Billed Gull

I had heard reports of mergansers and scaup.  I didn’t see them.  I’ve a break from school this week and will keep looking!  I want to do a little upland searching, too.

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Double Crested Cormorant on Summit Lake

This is my year for migrating waterfowl.  I’ve tried to find rafts of interesting ducks, and kin, over the last several years and have never spotted more than an occasional pair.

I’ve three things going for me this year…

1)  My friend Greg knows waterfowl and has been sending me reports of his sitings.  Over a couple of days we spent a few hours driving over his best and favorite waterfowl haunts.

2)  I’ve a week off of school during Thanksgiving week.  This is prime waterfowl migration time.  In the past I’ve had this break in mid-late October — beautiful time of year — but the migrant songbirds have left and the waterfowl haven’t begun to move.

3)  I’m developing an understanding for why and when waterfowl migrate and how the weather effects this.  I’m watching air temperatures to the north (freezing lakes send birds south) and wind direction (birds flying south hate headwinds.  A strong wind from the south send them to the water.

I found this tidbit this morning on Notes for the Field, a blog written by a like minded birder in southwestern Ohio.

“One of the things I’m forcing myself to do is study weather maps to help me determine when will be the best time of migrants. For the ducks that are migrating South this time of year they would prefer to travel with a tail wind than a head wind. So as the cold front passes, the low pressure area, with it’s counter-clockwise movement, was bringing the wind out of the North. And with it maybe some ducks.”

I’ve also been reading waterfowl hunting magazines.  I enjoy the traditions of great lightweight boats, duck calling, oilcloth field gear and setting decoys.  I do have some difficulties with comments about how delicious a roasted wood duck can be with mashed potatoes and carrots.

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Purse Seining near Boothbay, Maine

I’ve posted twice already today, but I couldn’t pass up this piece when it came across on Twitter.

When I was growing up in coastal Maine fishermen claimed specific coves to fish pogey (menhaden?).  They would come in on a late night high tide and encircle a school in a purse seine.  A drawstring closed the bottom trapping the fish.  Later, often in the daylight, a boat would come alongside the anchored seine remove the fish with smaller nets.

Waterfowl, particularly double crested cormorants (locally known as shags or coots), and seals would visit these nets and eat their fill.  It was not unusual for fishermen to shoot a few birds and leave them floating in the nets to warn away other thieves.  Seals were never shot, in my experience, as the penalties for injuring (or even touching) seals was well known.  I often wondered how they got away with shooting birds.

Twenty-five years later I have a bit of a response.

From 10,000 Birds:

Owning A Fish Farm Does Not Mean You Can Kill Birds

By Corey

This is the lesson that Seaside Aquaculture owner Khan Vu has hopefully learned after being charged, found guilty, and sentenced under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Both Vu and the company were ordered to pay $40,000 to the Texas Park and Wildlife Foundation and a $5,000 fine and put on eighteen months probation after being found guilty in federal court.

Read the rest here.

There’s another, more personal, chapter to my cormorant and the fishermen story.  I’ll share that, some other time.

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I spent a great deal of my younger years on the central coast of Maine.  I grew up loving the bird birds of the region, black ducks, puffins, great blue herons (then unknown in Indiana), terns, gulls and loons.

I’ve wanted to carve loons and it’s been suggested many time.  I’ve not because I’ve felt strongly, for various — and probably trivial reasons, that I needed to focus on Indiana birds.  I knew that loons were common migrants through our area, but I had never seen them.

On my two trips to Troy, Ohio this weekend Greg Adams showed me some hot birding spots in Henry County.  Around Summit Lake we saw red tailed hawks, a bald eagle, coots, pie-billed grebes, double crested cormorants and a trio of loons in winter plumage,

This week I’ll be pulling my loon drawings and get to work making chips and sawdust.

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I collect stories and experiences about birds.  I carve these stories.  Thanks to a recent Writer’s Workshop I’ve begun to write these stories, too.  These are little more than drafts.  As always I invite feedback and comment. gbd

A Creeper in Studio
I love everything about autumn.  I love the cool dry air.  I love the damp and earthy smells of the forest and the dry leafy smells of leaves on the sidewalk.  I love the changing greens to reds and oranges and golds.  Most of all I love the change in the very light — the beautiful golden dappled light of a long autumn afternoon.
On one of these magnificent days I was working with Kelley, an Indianapolis photographer, to shoot my bird carvings for online promotions and art show juries.
Kelley is a master at capturing the beauty and power of objects made by hand.  She portrays these objects in beautiful and sometime unexpected contexts.  One this fall day she was taking my work, in twos and threes, to shoot against the backdrop of the neighborhood — ancient brick,  peeling clapboard and moss covered stone.
As she worked inside and out the door was propped open.  While she worked I carved and painted and lost myself at my bench.
“There’s a bird in here,” she announced coming in through the door.

Click photograph for more information about this piece.

The room is filled with birds — materials for reference and inspirations.  A full sized Canada goose decoy and carved American eagle, complete with carved flag and shield, grace the fireplace.  A two foot long cut-out Baltimore oriole hangs on the wall between two windows and over a bench sander.  Here and there, tucked behind woodwork and taped and pinned on the walls are dozens of bird photographs and drawings.  On my benches and on the shelved perch a dozen, or more, of my carvings in various stages of completion.
There was little doubt that she would find a bird in my studio.  I gave an amused nod and went back to my work.
Kelley persisted, “No, there’s a bird in here.”
I nodded, not looking up.
Her voice took on an edge, “No there’s a REAL bird in here!”

Now she had my attention.

I looked up and found here standing on the other end of the room looking at something high on the wall.

I crossed the room quickly , turned and looked up following her gaze.

Clinging to the doorway moulding was a tiny brown speckled bird with a long curved beak and a splendid splayed tail.  It was the (seldom seen) brown creeper.

The creeper started at the commotion below, dropped from its perch and began to fly in erratic circles around the room.  It came to a rest clinging to the rough ceiling not far from where it started.

It soon dropped again and continued to make wild circles.  As within seconds it was again perched over the doorway.

It’s been my experience with birds trapped inside that they attempt to find their freedom — flying in circles and beating themselves senseless on the window glass.  Once exhausted they submit and it’s usually a simple matter to pick them up and take them outside.

We didn’t want to see this fragile little bird crashing into windows.  I grabbed a nearby chair, climbed up and reached for the creeper.  I expected the crazed flights around the room to resume, but it had had enough.  I gentle grasped it in my hand, climbed down and walked out the open door.  Kelley followed close behind with a camera in her hand.

“Fly away, “ I said, opening my hand.

Amazingly it didn’t.  I opened my hand, palm side up, and the delicate little bird climbed onto my finger, threw back its head and began to sing!

Geoff and CreeperI stroked its tail feathers and lingered a bit before walking to the wooded grove behind the studio.  There I gently placed the creeper on a branch.  Only then did it fly deeper into the brush.  Our moment — the entire ordeal had lasted less than two or three minutes — was over.

Oh — and Kelley got the picture!

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Click photo for more information about this piece.

I find that sharing writing takes a level of presumption that I lack.  I will stand in front of you and presume you want to hear me play ukulele or see my art.  I lack this confidence in writing.  I’m working at that.

My stories are offered her with no claims of greatness.  They are works in progress and will be revisited and re-written.  If they’re never shared they’re never read — so I share them here.

Please respond.  Feedback is desired in all of my work.  gbd

A Murder in the Cemetery

I sat down to write a story about a great horned owl, but it quickly became clear that this story is really about the crows.

Much of my time is spent talking with folks about birds.  When I talk to these people I want to know what their bird is and the stories that go with it.  Everyone has a bird and everyone has their stories.  I carve my stories.

My bird is the common crow.  My encounters with crows are numerous and meaningful.  It’s been my bird as long as I remember.

My childhood summers were spent in coastal Maine.  These were magic summers.  These were summers without end.  These were summers spent with fog and pine forests and rocky beaches and family.  These are the summers that still anchor my life.

Upon awakening each morning there are two sounds that reached my ears — aside from the people-made sounds of my mother and grandmother in the kitchen or the fishing boats headed out across the mirrored bay.  These first two sounds of morning were herring gulls fighting over breakfast on the mudflats and the crows calling to one another in the fog misted spruce and pine forest that wrapped around our cove.

I suppose that if herring gulls had been part of my Indiana life they might have been my bird.  But they weren’t.  The crows were.

To this day, and I haven’t spent a summer in Maine in twenty-five years, the sound of crows calling one another takes me back to a magical time when I lay in bed and planned a day of boats and forests and islands and rocks and the sea.

Click photo for more information about this piece.

When my girls were little my wife and I worked opposite shifts.  Julie spent days with the girls and I spent the afternoons and evenings.  This was another magical time in my life.

The girls and I had great adventures, sang songs, raised chickens and simply enjoyed spending time together.

One evening we drove passed the cemetery and decided to drive through and explore.  This particular cemetery was a regular stop on our adventures.  The park-like surroundings were a beautiful setting to explore history and run and play and walk and talk.

It was twilight.  The late-day light, the tall dark trees and moss covered stones provided a setting that bordered on surreal.

This is crow heaven.  Tall trees and open grass makes a Joe a happy crow.

I parked my truck.  We had the windows rolled down.

A crow called from a distant treetop.  I turned to search out its call when it swooped, still calling, into the trees above us.  Another crow called and followed. And another.  Within minutes the tree above us was filled with calling crows.  As each bird joined the murder (A flock of crows is called a murder.) their voices became louder and angrier.

          As the raucous calls continued their crescendo a great horned owl punched out of the treetop canopy — a dozen or more antagonizing crows close behind.

The owl flew across a patch of open sky and perched on a large branch.  The crows followed, flinging themselves at the owl.  It remained motionless.  The noisy barrage continue.

The owl silently dropped from its perch and unexpectedly landed on the ground alongside my truck.  We’d never been this close to an owl in the wild.  It seemed to be six feet tall.  It was an awesome sight.

We only had a moment before the great owl sprung back into the air.  The angry mob of crows continued the bullying pursuit.  The owl flew into the open air over the cemetery and towards the adjacent middle school and it became apparent that the crows had achieved their objective.  The crows dropped away in twos and threes until the great horned owl was a lone dot in the sky.

    The crows spread out among the treetops and headstones. The cemetery once more embraced its solemn silence.  The evening dark descended.  I started the truck and headed for home to put the girls to bed.

The Great Horned Owl is avalaible here.

Just another Murder (of Crows) is available here.

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I knew that my time spent in studio today was important. I was to complete my 200th bird carving. Considering that the series was supposed to run for 50 birds, I’m pretty pleased. 200 pieces is not a major body of work, but it is significant.

The piece I chose to carve for the number 200 spot was a pileated woodpecker. These massive (16+ inches tall) woodpeckers fly through the thick canopy of the forest. Their even larger shadows follow throw the cover. They have a cry that can be compared to a sterotypical monkey’s call. It’s loud and can be heard over great distances. They are very similar (by not as big) as the ivory billed woodpecker. Their association with this (maybe) extinct and legendary bird makes it so much more impressive.

When time allows (ie. when school is not in session and I’m not teaching) I bird daily. It’s an important — essential — part of developing my carvings. On Friday (The day I began to carve this bird) paleated woodpeckers played a major part of my bird walk through the Blatchley Nature Study Club here in Noblesville. During the entire walk their presence was known. I saw a large male working around the top of a massive tree. Their calls were heard during the entire walk. Their giant shadows blotted out the light as they screamed thought the treetops.

It was clear that this was the bird to carve.

I finished today and was more pleased than usual. I’m making a big push to keep my Etsy site fresh so when I finished it this afternoon I photographed it and posted it right away.

I took a quick trip to my nature club (There are such things) and upon return found it sold — in under one hour. It was purchased by one of my favorite patrons. This gentleman (He really is.) is a VP for a major clothing label and is putting together a great folk art collection. I am blessed that he loves my work.

I am thrilled to have sold this piece to someone for whom I have so much respect, but I was going to try to get some mileage out of carving No. 200. Perhaps No. 201 will have the same impact.

This week? Maybe another pileated woodpecker.

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I spent an hour, or two, this morning chasing birds throughout the neighborhood.  I spent most of the time in a small marsh behind a line of big box stores.  Thousands of shoppers pass within a few yards of this great little hotspot daily without knowing (or caring).

I’ve read that a good pair of boots is more important than long expensive lenses.   Focus on getting close and developing stealth will make one a better photographer and naturalist than lots of expensive glass.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Bloomington friend (and folkschool student) wanted to be able to view these shots outside the slideshow viewer.  I’ve posted thumbnails below.  Click on them to see the photo.  Click on the opened photo to see the image at full size.

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My Favorite Phoebe Spotting Location - A Bridge West of 256th St. and Gwinn Rd.

Obviously I enjoy birds.  I like to watch them, listen and be with them.  I like to observe behaviors and learn.  I like to gather stories and experiences.  I like the peace and quiet that they bring to me.

I’ve always been this way.  I remember running around and exploring the creek behind our house when I was growing up.  With my friends I built dams and tested boats.  We caught every critter that hopped crawled or swam.  We fought battles and searched for treasure.  Once we even brought home a case of beer some teenagers had left to cool!  Dad was happy that evening.

When my friends went home I sat and watched.  I laid on trees bent over the creek.  I watched fish.  I learned their names, what they ate and which ate first.  I laid on my back or knelt in tall grass watching birds, snakes, turtle and muskrat.  I learned to see and to hear what others couldn’t. One memorable day I hiked through the thick woods adjacent to our house and sought out a small woodland pond rumored to be there.  I approached the pond through a stand of white pines to find half a dozen wood ducks, oblivious to me, enjoying an early spring afternoon.

We spent our summers on an island in Maine.  There I spent hours peering into tidal pools, my face inches from the

A Pemaquid Tidal Pool that I've Explored Often

water.  I remember spending afternoons, in an old rowboat, leaning over the side watching the show of crabs, unidentifiable crustaceans and small fish on the muddy bottom of our cove.  It was on one of those trips that I came across my first black capped night heron.  He froze and we had a good long look at each other.

I still long for these treasured moments with nature and seek them out, but’s hard as a grown-up.

I’ve got things to take care of and places to be.  Men, nearly fifty years old, following a creek through a dozen adjacent backyards are treated with suspicion.  Folks are sure that we’re after their children or casing their houses.  Heck, I wouldn’t want someone like me walking through my back yard.  Sure I can visit parks (and I do) but folks need their secret places.

Yesterday I found a secret place.

Stealth hiking and trespassing are not a good idea. I’m not recommending it.

I walked, for about a mile and a half, to find a rumored woodland pond.  Google maps helped.  I wasn’t hiking without direction.  I walked straight to it.

There I discovered a patch of leaf filled crystal clear water about the size of my little yard.  It was surrounded by mature hardwoods.  The water level was high and several of these trees were in the water.  Sunlight dappled through the bare treelimbs to the far edge of the pond where two dozen turtles basked in its warmth.  A squirrel was working his way through the undergrowth.

In the treetops the wind screamed at 40 mph (according to the National Weather Service) but by the pond all was still and quiet.

I’d come to see ducks.  to reproduce that childhood discovery of wood ducks — to find more of the buffleheads and redheads I have just discovered migrating through.  I scanned the pond and there were no ducks visible.

I listened for birds.  The only call I heard was a cardinal.  I’m sure that my arrival had not gone without notice  so I sat and waited.  I sat on a tree over the water for twenty minutes or so.  The silence and peace grew.  I began to circumnavigate the pond and I began to see and hear what I had come for.

A pair of bluebirds flew from the far side of the pond and lit in a tree nearby.  I had a good long look at both as the made short flights, from tree to tree, to get a better look at me.  A tufted titmouse (a common feeder bird that I’ve never paid much attention to in the field.  It’s breeding colors are amazing!) buzzed (yes, buzzed) at me from directly above.  He was quite agitated and wanted me to move on.  I was beginning to hear the ghostly monkey calls of the pileated woodpecker.  I could see huge flashes of white, black and red far into the woods.  I began to walk in their direction and a pair of ducks flew overhead.  They weren’t mallards.  They weren’t quacking.  I didn’t get a good look.

As I moved forward into the marsh below the pond I came across two white tailed deer does that were munching on the new grass.  The walked quickly away from me, but never broke into a crashing run.  I watched them later as they crossed an adjacent field.  Another pair of ducks with an unusual call were startled right under my nose.

I turned around to walk back out the way I had come and a pair of pileated woodpeckers came from behind me and landed high in a giant tree across the pond.  They were in clear view for as long as I cared to watch.  Over my shoulder I spotted a lone female downy woodpecker.  I had a couple of good looks before I hiked out.  I checked the time.  I had spent over two hours around that pond.

I saw no life birds.  I saw nothing rare, but the experience was rare.  For more than two hours I had been at utter peace with the world.

I am so blessed that I can seek out these experiences, put them into words or carve them into wood and call it work.

(I took no photos of my secret place [It's secret].  Most photos are from other explorations on the same day.  I didn’t fit in a quick trip to Maine.)

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As you probably already know I am in the last stages of preparing for the Indiana Artisan Marketplace.  From my perspective this is a high stakes show.  Until now, I’ve set up an elaborate table and been good to go.  This time I built a one hundred square foot gallery space with lights, carpet and fixtures.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sales.  Slick icky things like “opening”, “landing” and “closing”.  My work starts at about $100 and doesn’t sell itself in an environment where folks can buy original stuff for under $10.  My wife, Julie, sells me and my work well.  I don’t sell me well.  I find it hard to initiate a conversation about my attention to detail, my research and my use of found materials.  Once the door is open I can talk for hours about what the patron wants to learn. (I am always an educator first.)

Last weekend in Bloomington, I listened carefully to the coversations that Julie was having with the patrons.  I listened to their questions and their misconceptions. (Many folks have problems believing that the work is original and one-of-a-kind.  Many folks think the birds are plaster, paper-mache or RESIN. I actually like the first two.)

I have space to hang four informative signs in my new gallery booth.  Yesterday I attempted to boil down all of these conversations into four simple signs.  I wanted them to sound like things I would say.  In fact, one is pulled straight from a recent radio interview.  I tried to put a bit of humor into one of them.

I’m a letterpress printer.  I don’t have the time to set these and print them.  Instead I set them on the HP Inkjet using my favorite typeface (NOT A FONT), Cochin, in a very traditional manner.

These are in the rough.  I am open to re-wording, additions and changes.  I want your ideas (always).

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