Folks often suggest that I carve specific birds. Usually these birds of some significance to them. These suggestions sometimes influence me a bit, but when it comes down to it my birds are all part of my own story.
Though I’ve spent a good part of my life in New England (What great birds!), went to college (and have done some great birding) in Ohio and did a bit of bird watching in Hawai’i (Wow!) all of my bird carvings are birds, that I’ve encountered in Indiana.
I’ve been bird aware all of my life. My parents and grandparents kept busy bird feeders. In childhood I walked forests and sea sides with binoculars and Peterson. These activities were not contained to Indiana, but have had a life-long effect on my experience with birds.
My choice of bird subjects rises from a strong memory, impression or story of the specific bird. They are all strong to me but I suspect won’t be strong in the re-telling.
A few examples…
The Baltimore Oriole – My earliest memory of this bird was my mother excitedly pointing into the trees in out front yard. I had to be eight or nine years old. I never did see that oriole. I’m sure that I told my mom that I did. The next oriole, this one I did see, was spotted during an elementary school field trip that I led to Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana. It was my first or second year of teaching. My most memorable oriole encounter was during an infamous canoe trip with my friend, Andy Himelick. During the day we sunk a kayak, rode around in an ancient truck with a noisy and failing water pump, a chat with Mrs. Wayne Newton, a canoe rental, a kayak retrieval and a nice afternoon. During that quiet afternoon orioles repeatedly criss-crossed the river ahead of us.
Crows – For some reason crows have always made a strong impression on me. When I was growing up we spent our summers on a Maine Island. On one side of the house was our protected piece of the Atlantic Ocean and on the other the beginnings of dark spruce forests that ended at the Canadian tundra.
I was greeted every morning by a very early sunrise and the call of crows from the edge of that forest.
When I was teaching in Carmel a crow began to spend recess with the children. When we would go outside he would sweep from the fringing trees to walk in the grass along the playground sidewalks. Children took to throwing him bit of foil and other shiny objects. He would collect them in small stashes in the grass. When in the school office I overheard the school secretary making plans to call animal control to have it removed from the school grounds. I asked for a chance at relocating the bird. With little difficulty I ws able to trap the bird in a milk crate and I released it at home. He hung out for a few days. We went on a short vacation. When we returned I never saw him again. Since then I’ve claimed that every crow that I see is “Joe”. I greet him (or her) and tip my hat.
When the girls were very little we visited a cemetery at dusk. A great horned owl swooped from a tree and stood among the stones. Without warning a murder of crows (aptly named) came from nowhere and chased the owl back into the trees. For the next ten-fifteen minutes the crows noisily attacked that poor owl. I’ve learned since that this is common behavior.
My latest encounter was with the crows at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. They get crows. They live in the tall trees around the campus and can be seen all day long walking the lawns and paths. Ransome Hall, a grand old building, is topped with a murder of bronze crows. We once took a campus tour with our daughter, Hannah. I became separated from the group as we walked along the north side of campus. My wife asked the girls where I was. I stranger in the group replied, without the slightest hesitation, “He’s back there talking to the birds.” I was.
Double Crested Cormorant – This is a unique swimming bird is very common to coastal Maine. It has little oil in its feathers so, unlike a duck, it becomes wet when it swims. Because of this it swims very low with much of its body beneath the waves. When it dives it swims long and far. As children we would make a game of timing their dives and predicting where they would surface. It wasn’t easy.
Getting into the air seemed difficult for these birds. When startled they would push out of the water beating the surface with their wingtips. On mirror glass morning they would leave a vee of ringlets on the water. In flocks they flew just a few feet above the water in a V formation. At rest these birds open their wings to the drying rays of the sun.
A year, or so, ago my daughter, Phoebe, and I were canoeing a tiny Cicero Creek west of Noblesville. Imagine my surprise to see this sea-going bird of my childhood surface alongside our canoe. I since learned that though Indiana is not in their regular range, they do fly through in the spring and fall. We’d come across a migrating bird that had stopped for a bite to eat.
Great Blue Heron – Though fairly common now, I remember in Indiana when I was a child. They were common and much loved birds on the Maine coast. We were fascinated with their stealth and patience as they stood statue still waiting for an opportunity to pounce. When I was in high school I was invited by Joe Ricketts to join his wife, daughter and dog on a canoe trip on the Pigeon River in northern Indiana. It was a slow river and it rained all day, but I discovered that Indiana had Great Blue Herons!
As I spent more time canoeing Indiana Rivers I discovered that the Great Blue Heron is common here, too. My classroom, in an Indianapolis school, overlooks the White River and it’s a rare day that I don’t see a heron flying in search of fishing grounds and shelter.