Saturday, September 19, 2020
Monday, August 31, 2020
|NEW! "Waiting for Raspberry" Original Oil, 4 x 4 inches|
|"Raspberry" Original Oil, 4 x 4 inches|
My newest miniature painting of a female, or juvenile, Purple Finch is shown here, above the colorful male I painted a few years ago. Because juveniles look similar to females, I can't specify with certainty the sex of this bird. One thing is certain however, it is not an adult male. Adult males, like the one depicted above, are colorful. They are the shade of ripe red raspberries, but definitely not purple. I am posting both of these paintings because the following paragraphs refer to the nomenclature of the Purple Finch.
In my attempt to understand why the Purple Finch is called such a name without having a shred of purple in its feathers, initially my research took me back to the beginning of time when purple was first discovered. But for the purpose of my investigation, going back that far wasn’t necessary since I couldn't find any documentation referencing both the origins of the Purple Finch’s namesake and the color purple until the 1700s.
On its own, purple has a long and storied history. Think of the cave drawings of the ancient world. That’s how far back the color purple has been used. Purple textiles were expensive, difficult to obtain, and laborious to produce, which is why they were associated with royalty and worn by the rulers of the world. The greatest Dons of Spain and the noblest of Romans wore purple garments as status symbols to indicate their high rank and leadership positions.
Without needing to dig that deep into purple’s past, my findings regarding why the Purple Finch was called such a name went back around 300 years. Studying the color purple around the time the Purple Finch was recognized in literature seemed to be the key. In other words, detecting early mentions of the Purple Finch in journals or scientific publications and connecting that time in history with the color purple became the focus of my research. My goal was to gain an understanding, and perhaps reach some sort of loose conclusion, as to how the Purple Finch got its name.
For some, it might be ample to dissect the Latin version of Purple Finch, which is Haemorhous purpureus. Haemo means “blood” in Greek, purpureus means “purple, or dark red” in Latin. Piteously teasing a rudimentary outcome, this translation provided little satisfaction and was hardly conclusive as to why this bird got its name. Why wasn’t it called the Dark Red Finch, or crimson, old-rose, scarlet, or raspberry? All of those colors have been used to describe the male’s feathers, one of three finches in North America that are undisputedly reddish. The others being the male House Finch and male Cassin’s Finch.
Although I was unable to positively identify who discovered or named this bird, its namesake is associated with the German malacologist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1789. During Gmelin’s lifetime, the seat of the purple industry where such colorful textiles were produced was Nicoya, Costa Rica; and it was there where a specific color named Tyrian purple was manufactured and used to dye clothing.
So what is Tyrian purple and how is it different than the purple we are accustomed to today? Tyrian purple is actually a crimson color and was derived from certain rock snails, specifically the murexes. Another shellfish from the same family of seashells called dog whelk can be located throughout the rocky shores of Europe and the northwest Atlantic coast of North America. Both shellfish have the ability to render variants of purples and reds from their mucus. Tyrian purple is most closely associated with the murex genus of mollusks.
As mentioned earlier, the color purple, including Tyrian purple, can be traced back to ancient times. Its use has spanned centuries from early cave drawings BCE to the 1800s. One can assume it was discovered by accident, as most things are. Perhaps a person curiously disassembled, or tasted, a few snails on the seashore, inadvertently splashed a bit of snail onto his clothing, and later noticed his clothing was splotched with various hues of red.
Or, perhaps in more recent times, it was rediscovered by a dog.
In a 1636 painting by Peter Paul Rubens titled Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye, the artist depicted Hercules on a beach with a dog. Lying on the shore are various types of shellfish. The dog, standing next to Hercules with its paw resting atop one of the mollusks, is featured with a red substance dripping from its mouth. One can assume the dog made contact with the snail. Had the painting’s title been different or unknown, a viewer might have thought the dog’s mouth was covered in blood; but based on the title of the work, the dog’s mouth is covered in Tyrian purple. Taking a closer look at the painting, the artist’s and/or commissioner’s choice of snail is a bit odd. Instead of painting a spiny murex, the snail associated with Tyrian purple, Rubens portrayed a snail whose shape is more indicative of a nautilus. Nautilus snails do not contain mucus with the ability to dye clothing purple.
Hercules's Dog Discovers Purple Dye by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636
Generally speaking, dyeing textiles Tyrian purple is a thing of the past, although there may be some current production by certain peoples in respect of tradition. For all intents and purposes, the industry has disappeared. In the following paragraphs, I will refer to the purple industry in the past tense.
Several methods were used to obtain the purple-yielding mucus from the snails. The ancient and primitive method was to excessively squeeze each gastropod until fluid emerged from their posterior resulting in the snails’ death. Not only was this highly destructive, the dye wasn’t as pure as later methods would prove. Great heaps of murex shells have been found on the coast of Crete, Greece and in Sidon, Lebanon.
Another method involved boiling large quantities of snails in vats. An undesirable side effect of this process was that it yielded fishy-smelling clothing. As a consequence, Roman emperors used perfumes extravagantly to mask the odors of their noble garments. In time, the industry became unsustainable. When a Roman emperor forgave all taxes to those who labored in collecting murexes, the mollusks were most likely in decline, or near extermination.
The third method was used by the Nicoya Indians in Costa Rica as late as the mid 1700s, the century that intersected with the life of Johann Friedrich Gmelin, the person associated with the Purple Finch’s name. It involved squeezing the gastropods once, occasionally twice, before returning them back to the oceanic rocks from which they came. This more conservative method was likely formed from centuries of experience. Even still, great quantities of shellfish were being used just to dye just a few ounces of thread, one aspect that had never changed.
The final method closely related to, if not interchangeable with the third, was also utilized by the people of Nicoya. Using cotton as their primary textile, they simply ran the thread across the mouths of the shells. With experience came knowledge and those who worked in the industry became experts at their craft, recognizing differences in Tyrian purple hues based upon the hour in which the materials were dyed. In all likelihood, there was an art to obtaining consistent results.
While it’s possible, and dare I say likely, that Johann Friedrich Gmelin was referring to Tyrian Purple when describing the Purple Finch, I am wholly bound by the inconclusiveness of my research. To assume, and in brevity know, what Gmelin was thinking at that time is preposterous. However, given that one of his many titles was that of a malacologist (the study of mollusks), along with the history of Tyrian purple and time frame therein whereby its production in Costa Rica overlapped Gmelin’s lifespan, there is evidence to infer Tyrian purple, also known as crimson, was the reddish color attributed to this bird’s name.
Just in case you’re wondering, purple is created in laboratories and produced synthetically these days.
In other news, as August comes to a close, signs of fall are widely present. The Purple Finches, which numbered around a dozen at my feeders recently, are slowly dwindling in numbers and heading south. Northern Flickers are calling and so are Blue Jays, except while spearing nourishment from apples in trees. Black bears, groundhogs and white-tailed deer are all benefiting from this fruit as well. I have never seen a single apple left on the ground to rot here at my home.
Most birds, including neck-straining warblers and everyone’s favorite, the hummingbirds, are migrating. Sparrows are especially abundant and noticeable. Common nighthawks were numerous over a marshy field close to my home on August 23rd; and just like the barn swallows that I love so dearly, these birds fly similarly by zig-zagging back and forth, nabbing bugs mid-flight. They are mesmerizing to watch. Belted Kingfishers came through on the 11th and 18th, and a pair of house wrens raised their presumed second brood of the season nearby. Fledging occurred on August 15th from a rather unusual home: an industrial black sleeve attached to cable wiring that overhangs the ditch in front of my house.
In the woods, one of my favorite plants, the red baneberry, is holding onto its dark red fruit in shadier locations, but those closer to the forest’s edge reveal berries that have shriveled up like raisins. Asters are blossoming in pretty whites and pale violets. Goldenrod is tall and striking in masses, covered with hundreds of buzzing bees. In particular areas of my yard, there are robust patches of it, strong and tall, proving that my efforts to eradicate common tansy are paying off. Bringing back native ‘weeds,’ as some like to call them, is truly a labor of love unfit for those who prefer, and understandably so, not to have their faces buried in tall grasses, ferns, thorny thistles, asters, and ivies just to accomplish what is surely a daunting task. If my chore coat, boots, gloves, and hat weren’t all doing their jobs, I’d be covered head to toe in pricks, pokes, scratches and rashes, not to mention laden with a sour mood.
With the arrival of fall and the changes the season has to offer, I hope you are all doing well. And if you haven’t driven your car in a while (in my case due to the pandemic), this is just a friendly reminder that it’s spider season. You may want to check for webs and dangling spiders inside of your vehicle before heading out, especially near the front window or steering wheel. A yellowish, translucent, hanging arachnid wasn’t a particularly calming sight when I noticed it ten inches from my face, ready to drop from its thread onto my lap while driving to the post office today. Next time, I’ll heed my own advice before potentially causing an accident. One would think I’d be used to close encounters with creepy crawlies given the number of hours I spend in the woods, but I expect to see them in the woods, not hanging from my car’s windshield. For me, today’s brush with this eight-legger reminded me just how permeable our world is to nature; and in these trying times, I found comfort in that despite this spider’s unwelcome appearance.
Byzantium (color). December 27, 2019. Byzantium (color).Wikipedia.
Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye. June 5, 2020. Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercules%27s_Dog_Discovers_Purple_Dye
Johann Friedrich Gmelin. February 20, 2020. Johann Friedrich Gmelin.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Friedrich_Gmelin
Kaufman, Kenn. n.d. Purple Finch.Audubon. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/purple-finch
Mahoney, Kevin D., et al. n.d. Latin definition for: purpureus, purpurea, purpureum.Latdict Group. https://latin-dictionary.net/definition/32351/purpureus-purpurea-purpureum
Meaning of purple in English. n.d. Lexico. https://www.lexico.com/definition/purple
Nicoya. April 18, 2020. Nicoya. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicoya
Nuttall, Zelia. “A Curious Survival in Mexico of the Use of the Purpura Shell-Fish for Dyeing.” Putnam anniversary volume; anthropological essays presented to Frederic Ward Putnam in honor of his seventieth birthday, April 16, 1909, by his friends and associates.G.E. Stechert & Co., NY. 1909. 368-384.
Purple. August 31, 2020. Purple. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple#In_prehistory_and_the_ancient_world:_Tyrian_purple
Purple finch. April 24, 2020. Purple finch.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_finch#:~:text=The%20purple%20finch%20was%20originally,purpureus%20and%20H
Schultz, Colin. (2013, October 10) In Ancient Rome, Purple Dye Was Made from Snails. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/in-ancient-rome-purple-dye-was-made-from-snails-1239931/
Trotter, S. (1912). “The Names “Purple Finch,” “Mavis,” and “Highole.”” The Auk, 29(2), 255-256. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4071400
Tyrian purple. August 2, 2020. Tyrian purple.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purple#Modern_hue_rendering
Waldert, Peter. n.d. Purpureus/purpurea/purpureum, AO.Latin is Simple. https://www.latin-is-simple.com/en/vocabulary/adjective/7222/
Friday, August 14, 2020
Monday, August 3, 2020
Monday, July 20, 2020
Here’s a reason to avoid using pesticides. Last October, my porch petunias were covered with tiny white bugs known as aphids. This Nashville Warbler was feasting upon them, probably the very insects helping to aid its journey southward for the winter. I didn’t mind that my petunias looked worn out and sick from the infestation because it was late in the season. The first frost was just around the corner. A dignified gardener, of which I am not, may have been squeamish, but this bird was having a ball. And in case you haven’t figured it out, I like to keep things a little wild around my home. It’s the first time I’d seen such enthusiasm for this pest. Who knew a Nashville Warbler would devour aphids like a Hoover? But it makes total sense because its diet consists almost exclusively of insects.
This particular warbler seemed playful, even jubilant, for the bug-eating bonanza my flowers provided as it hopped in and out of my planters. It stuck around for a couple of days, a good indicator of just how many aphids were on my petunias. There were so many, I could’ve frosted a cake with them. (ewww…. just a little humor there ;))
The warmth of the evening’s sun and a backdrop of dark-stained wooden planks brought out the warm yellow and orange tones in this bird’s feathers. Under a gray sky, they would’ve appeared a bit more olive-green.
Thanks for visiting everyone! I hope you are enjoying the birds in your neck of the woods.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
The word that comes up over and over in bird books that describes the male Blackburnian Warbler’s striking good looks is fiery. It’s an appropriate description. When you spot one, its identification is unmistakable and always fiery, especially against the forest’s greenery.
My first sighting of a Blackburnian Warbler was in Lion’s Den Gorge in Grafton, WI. It was springtime and the park was teeming with migrants, and it just so happened that I photographed both the male and female Blackburnian Warblers in the trees during a morning hike. At the time, I wasn’t experienced enough to recognize the female, but later a friend’s birding book provided me with its identification. Seeing both the male and female species of one particular warbler on the same outing isn’t all that common for me. I usually see the males, most of which are easier to identify due to a lot of them having bolder colors and singing more frequently than the females.
This painting depicts my second sighting of a male Blackburnian. Located in Scenic State Park near Bigfork, Minnesota, author Robert B. Janssen describes this park in his book Birds of Minnesota State Parks with the following sentence which summed up my experience as well. “June birding is a real treat at Scenic State Park when these boreal species are at the height of their song period during the breeding season.”
Upon my arrival, the sheer number of birds that could be heard from the parking lot alone was noticeable and lovely; and after just a few minutes of walking, this Blackburnian flew across the walking path in front of me not far from the main lodge. It stopped to sing about 20 feet up on a branch in the dense canopy of shade. It was the first time I’d heard its song. A gentleman asked me what I was looking at. I replied with little confidence, “I think it’s a Blackburnian Warbler.” Later, after verifying what I thought I knew, I breathed a sigh of relief. A few moments later, a young woman walked towards me with a large dog. She apologized for interrupting whatever I was looking at. Oh, heavens no, I thought. I wasn’t feeling interrupted at all, and made sure I told her so. I never expect anyone to stop what they’re doing on account of me staring at a bird, especially in a state park. Besides, the patience and habits of a birder can sometimes elicit a non-birder’s eye-roll. I’m aware of that and don’t expect much more, so I appreciated this woman’s unexpected kindness.
As I walked further along the trail, bird activity seemed to decrease. The deeper into the woods I walked, the quieter it got; the Fire Tower Trail was especially quiet. Approaching Pine Lake, sightings were scarce at best, but I was glad to have explored just for the sake of knowledge and experience.
Blackburnians are a medium to long-distance migrant, traveling from their wintering grounds in South America to the northern reaches of the eastern United States and into the southern provinces of Canada to breed. They are rare in the western half of the United States.
If you’re looking for a reason to love this bird for more than just its good looks and migratory prowess, consider its role on the coffee bean farms in Central America. In the environmentally friendly, shade-grown farms of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, the Blackburnian Warbler is known as an insect-eating wizard, one of a few birds helping to rid their crops of la broca, a coffee borer beetle. Just by eating insects, a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Columbia University found that a single bird can save from 23 to 65 pounds of coffee per hectare on a farm every year. So, if you’re thinking about upgrading your morning joe, consider purchasing coffees that display the Bird Friendly Smithsonian certification mark. These 100% organic coffee beans come from growers that have met strict criteria in regards to shade-grown, plant diversity, and more.
For more information on bird-friendly coffee, click here.
Axelson, Gustave. "Coffee Made in the Shade Can Be More Profitable, Thanks to Birds." Living Bird, photographed by Jeffrey Arguedas, vol. 38, Issue 4, Autumn 2019, pp. 20-22.
Janssen, Robert B. Birds of Minnesota State Parks. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2015.
National Geographic Society. (1999) National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. (3rd ed.). Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society.
Friday, June 12, 2020
Saturday, May 9, 2020
On January 5 of last year, I noticed crows gathering and squawking outside of my kitchen window. I dropped everything and grabbed my winter coat, hat, gloves and camera and headed out the door. The temperature was in the 20s. For Duluth’s standards, that wasn’t too bad. Not far into the woods, I came upon this Barred Owl sitting on a branch about fifteen feet high. Over the next several moments, after the crows left and the Chickadees quieted, it was just me and the owl. The snow depth was around 12-18 inches. Everything about this owl indicated to me that my presence wasn’t bothering it. How was I so sure? I’m never sure when it comes to wild animals, but its posture was relaxed and its demeanor calm. It simply wasn’t paying any attention to me, other than when it first turned its head after I said hello. As close as I was and with its back towards me, I felt it was the polite thing to do. That may sound strange to you, but I purposely and thoughtfully wanted to use my voice as another form of salutation in addition to my approach. I believe birds, as well as other animals, recognize calm, non-threatening human voices from those that are not.
I spent a long time with the owl in the woods, and soon it was time for me to go. Just when I was ready to head back to the house, the owl’s posture changed. It bobbed its head and stretched its neck. Its eyes were wider than wide. Then, it flew right in front of me and landed in the snow just to my left, around 20 feet away. It was hunting! I was astounded. During the time it took me to get a better view of the owl’s landing site, I wasn’t able to see whether or not it had captured its prey. If it had, it was most likely a vole, a common rodent around my home. After several moments in the snow, the owl flew high up into a spruce tree, tucked itself near the trunk, preened for a couple of minutes, then began to fall asleep. This is the story behind the painting, and I am very fortunate to have had this experience with a friendly Barred Owl.
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
On March 20th of this year, a small flock of three Cedar Waxwings landed on my pin cherry tree and enjoyed a few berries that had remained on the tree all winter. It was sunny, breezy, and around 25 degrees F. The berries were frozen, but that didn’t stop the birds from eating them. Robins were enjoying them, too, more so during recent cold spells or spring snowstorms when the ground wasn't clear to hunt for worms. Cedar Waxwings enjoy all types of fruit which is their main diet source, but they do eat insects, too. If you want to attract Cedar Waxwings to your yard, plant trees or shrubs that produce fruit. The biggest flock of Cedar Waxwings I’ve ever seen was a flock of at least 32 in the Bailey Tract, Florida in 2012. (photo below)
|Cedar Waxwings in the Bailey Tract, Florida, 2012.|
Friday, March 20, 2020
Ring-billed Gulls are one of the most easily identifiable gulls because of the black stripe on their beaks. Personally, my gull identification is not strong, but I keep learning and getting better. I'm sure that if I lived on Lake Superior, which is the closest lake nearest to me, my skills would sharpen in record speed. I never, in a million years, would've thought my warbler identification would be stronger than gulls, but such is the case. Improving upon my knowledge of midwestern gulls is going to be a strong focus going forward this year.
With recent attention on Covid-19, I feel compelled to say that I was so disheartened to hear of a recent movement to turn on Christmas lights as a gesture of people wanting to feel connected during this time of isolation due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Just when I was thinking birds might get a break from artifical lights during migration since so many businesses are shortening their hours, now their journey northward might be even more perilous than ever before. This is the absolute worst time to add more lights to the evening skies, outside of the fall migration. Birds' attraction to artifical lights is called ALAN (artificial lights at night), and I wrote about it in my September 19, 2019 post. Please, humans. We are facing a pandemic. There are other ways to feel connected instead of turning on Christmas lights outdoors. Keep those lights on the shelves and in their boxes until November and December when birds aren't migrating.
Monday, March 16, 2020
On August 9, 2019, I observed this female Black and White Warbler on the trunk of a red pine, just moments after it snapped up a white moth in the grass below. If this were a male, its cheeks would have a black patch, and its chin and throat would be black also. These warblers spend their summers throughout much of eastern North America and into Canada after wintering in Florida, Mexico, and South America. They’re one of the first warblers to arrive in Minnesota, and my first sightings of them have been in mid-May in Duluth. If you’re looking for this bird, keep your eyes peeled to tree trunks. Similar to Brown Creepers, this is where they do a lot of their insect hunting. Below is my photo of this same bird with a moth in its beak.
|Photo of a female Black and White Warbler with moth|
Friday, March 6, 2020
Friday, February 28, 2020
In only eight seconds, a Peregrine Falcon can accelerate from 100 mph to over 200 mph in dive formation when chasing prey. I didn’t see this falcon capture its prey, but I did observe it tearing apart a gull on top of a streetlight on February 1st in Duluth’s harbor. On an adjacent streetlight, another Peregrine Falcon waited, appearing calm, puffed out, and complacent. Nearby, two red-tailed hawks were perched atop of an old steamship getting dismantled for scrap. Around a dozen pigeons were hanging around, too. They took flight when one of the hawks changed its location. Birds of prey were busy in the harbor that day.
To measure the speed of the Peregrine Falcon, would you conduct a scientific experiment by going skydiving with one? Sounds a little crazy, but that’s exactly what pilot and master falconer Ken Franklin did. In 2005, Ken plunged from a Cessna 172 at 17,000 feet above sea level. With his trained, female, Peregrine Falcon “Frightful” at his side, released just moments earlier and flying alongside the airplane with his dad at the controls, Franklin and his team clocked the falcon’s speed at 242 mph while diving towards a lure dropped to simulate prey.
To be clear, the experiment was much more elaborate than simply skydiving with a falcon. An altimeter/computer was attached to the falcon and measured how fast Frightful descended within a specific timeframe, while other altimeters were used to compare and verify the results.
With speeds over 240 mph, could there possibly be a bird faster than the falcon? Terry Masear, author of Fastest Things on Wings, referenced hummingbirds as the title’s subject. The book, one of my all-time favorites, dives into the flight of these tiny birds, but it is hardly a book about flight alone. It is a love story, an appreciation for these small creatures we all adore. That aside, the author writes, “Although diving peregrine falcons can reach a higher speed in miles per hour, when measured in body lengths per second, hummingbirds travel almost twice as fast, making them the fastest things on wings.”
So, are hummingbirds faster than peregrine falcons? As with so many situations, there are two sides to every coin. It all depends on how you look at it.
Barba, L. (2011, Oct. 7). The fastest animal on Earth “The Peregrine Falcon”. Bio-aerial Locomotion 2011. https://blogs.bu.edu/biolocomotion/2011/10/07/the-fastest-animal-on-earth-the-peregrine-falcon
Harpole, T. (2005, March). Falling with the Falcon. Air & Space Magazine. https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/falling-with-the-falcon-7491768
Masear, T. (2015). Fastest things on wings. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Thursday, February 20, 2020
Swallows are also known to take advantage of the ground effect, a term used to describe reduced drag when flying close to the earth, whether over land or water. When these birds fly low, within one wing-length from the earth, they experience increased air pressure under their wings, making it easier for them to fly. So, the next time you see barn swallows foraging low to the ground, just know they’re reserving a lot of flapping power and saving precious energy for those times they need to fly up, over, and around big obstacles (like me!).
Friday, February 14, 2020
Monday, February 10, 2020
"Mirador," my oil painting of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, took 3rd Place this past weekend at Wolf River Art League's Mid-Winter Art Show in New London, WI. It was nice to see such a good turnout over the weekend, despite Sunday's snowstorm. This hummingbird will be waiting a while to return north. Thank you to everyone who attended and supported WRAL at Crystal Falls.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Light Refreshments and Cash Bar
Free and Open to the Public
Thursday, September 19, 2019
The slightest ripple in the water could've been from many things. Perhaps from a turtle poking its head up. Maybe from a bird flying overhead. You know. Nature called. Or, quite possibly from the sneaky Sora, stalking the banks of the pond, under cover. That was my best guess really, because it wasn’t a muskrat. No. Muskrat ripples are intermittent, and sometimes strong. Heck, muskrats sometimes splash. Not that often, but it happens, usually at the shoreline. None of that was going on, though. Those ripples were constant. I had considered dragonflies, but that didn’t make sense. The ripples were too big. Surely not frogs. There was something in the water, and I just couldn’t figure it out. I kept thinking a Sora.
So I waited.
Eventually, this little diving duck swam out of the reeds on the far side. It probably had taken cover long ago, when it first saw me. Surprisingly, it swam out into the open, sipped water, preened, snoozed and after a while began diving for critters. It caught at least one. There were legs hanging out of its beak. Grasshopper? Nice. At one point, it swam by the monster-sized wasp nest that hangs over the water. Yikes. I wouldn’t have. Didn’t seem to matter though. More than anything, it was keeping an eye on me, sitting in my chair. I know that from looking at all of my photographs. For the merganser, maybe it experienced its first human sighting ever. You never know.
My first encounter with a juvenile Hooded Merganser, September 8, 2019.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Sometimes when I read studies of birds, I wonder if there will be any birds left in the next century. It’s difficult not to feel discouraged. Humans can’t get off this planet fast enough, even though some are trying. One way or another, our species will meet its demise here on Earth; but I wonder how much of planet Earth we will have destroyed before the end comes. Did you know homo sapiens means “wise man”? Huh.
Americans in pursuit of leaving Earth built one of the largest buildings on the planet to help get them off the planet, and ironically it’s one of the deadliest for birds. The building, which covers eight acres, is called the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) and it’s located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I have seen this building, and it is massive.
This bird that I have painted, the Common Yellowthroat, had one of the highest, autumn, kill rates at the VAB compared to other birds in a study conducted from 1970-1981. The two most important factors that led to the deaths of all birds at the VAB were bad weather and nocturnal migrant birds attracted to ALAN.
For the study, persons living in the area collected dead birds starting at nightfall and continued collecting them until the early morning. Peak death rates occurred around midnight and large numbers continued to be killed until around 3 am. Try to imagine standing at the base of a large building while birds fall to their deaths all around you. During a quiet night, just the sound alone would be heart-breaking. Could you do it? Night after night? Would you want it to stop?
Overall, spring migration kill rates were far worse than in the fall for all species of birds collected at the VAB. Sadly at the time, the total number of spring kills was among the largest reported in the United States. In total, 5,046 birds comprising of 62 species died after crashing into the VAB during both the spring and fall migrations. For the Common Yellowthroat, this bird suffered the most casualties of all birds counted during the fall migration periods at the VAB.
Keep in mind, the VAB is just one building. All across America, the night sky is becoming brighter each year. The three cities in the United States with the highest amount of artificial light at night are Chicago, Houston, and Dallas. Highlighting these cities helps to determine future conservation plans where birds can be helped the most. Coming to your local forecast in the not too distant future may be requests by meteorologists or local news media to turn off your lights on specific nights, regardless of where you live. At least the potential is there thanks to advances in observational radar technology, accurate weather forecasting, and knowing that half of migrating birds travel in the greatest numbers over a period of around seven peak nights.
On July 21st of this year, I specifically searched for this bird upon hearing it and was able to find it foraging for food in tall grasses and shrubs in a wet area. Its whichity-whichity-whichity call was hard to miss. Now that the fall migration has begun, I hope more people and business owners are taking action to help birds by turning off their lights in the evenings. It matters. Every little bit helps.
Just knowing that one person can potentially reduce bird deaths by turning off their lights at nightfall, especially during migration, gives me some hope for the future.
Good luck, little bird.
Common Yellowthroat. n.d. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Yellowthroat/lifehistory
Heiney, A. (2019) Vehicle Assembly Building. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/content/vehicle-assembly-building
K.G. Horton, C. Nilsson, B. M. Van Coren, F.A. La Sorte, A. M. Dokter, A. Farnsworth. Bright lights in the big cities: migratory birds' exposure to artificial light. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 2019.
Taylor, W., & Mark A. Kershner. (1986). Migrant Birds Killed at the Vehicle Assembly Building (Vab), John F. Kennedy Space Center. Journal of Field Ornithology, 57(2), 142-154.
Monday, August 26, 2019
Monday, July 29, 2019
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Having just returned from a May birding adventure at Lake Carlos State Park in western Minnesota, I noticed three Cape May warblers at my home taking sips from my hummingbird feeders and eating suet. Between May 19-28, I saw two males and one female, all braving Duluth’s snowiest May on record, a grand total of 10.6 inches. May 19th alone brought 2.4 inches of snow to Duluth and it was the latest Duluth has recorded over an inch of snow in the month of May.
The adorable Cape May warblers were a thrill to watch, but I’m guessing they didn’t like the weather and were hungry. These birds like to eat spruce budworms, but since spring took its time to arrive and snow just kept on falling, they probably had a hard time finding food. So, I kept my suet feeders full and my hummingbird water fresh. It’s the first time I’d seen Cape May warblers anywhere, so I was pretty excited to have them stick around for ten days. With our record May snowfall, do I dare wonder if they’ll ever come back?
Monday, June 17, 2019
This is somewhat of a different painting for me. For over a year, I’ve wanted to do a larger, colorful work, so I put two of my favorite spring things together: tulips and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The tulips were in bloom along the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail in Wisconsin and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet stems from a lovely experience I had in my Minnesota woods on April 24th.
I knew the kinglets had arrived because I could hear their soft pretty calls in the conifers, and the spring migration was in its early stages. For those who love birds, the spring migration is freakin' awesome. For me, it kind of compares to warm chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. Or, I could also say it's a little bit of a mind blowing, more than extraordinary, rather larger than life, hard to comprehend kind of experience that reminds me of hot tamales and firecrackers.
So, of course, I put on my coat and went into the woods to investigate. It wasn't long before I realized I was standing amongst a dozen or so Ruby-crowned Kinglets, all flitting about. I had never seen so many. The longer I stood, the closer they flew. Two separate times, I thought a kinglet was going to land on me. Yeah, I realize this is geek-dom at its finest, but for me it was pretty cool. I stayed there for a long time.
I also know each year is a little bit different when it comes to which birds I might see. So my dreamy, Ruby-crowned Kinglet experience, coupled with one and a half weeks of Cape May warblers eating from my feeders in May made up for not seeing or hearing a single Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, or Baltimore Oriole this spring at my home. Sort of. I mean, I really missed those birds a lot.
Below are some coarse photos I took of the painting's progress (not for color accuracy, mind you). I hope you are enjoying some of the last days of spring and the birds that came with it in your neck of the woods.
Friday, May 10, 2019
Harris's Sparrows only pass through Duluth in the spring and fall. Their summers are spent in far northern Canada in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, thereabouts. In the winter, they fly south, generally to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.
It is always thrilling to see migrants, especially this one, one of my favorite sparrows. I have not seen them yet this spring, but they are due here anytime now. It's possible Wednesday's record snowfall set them back a couple of days. This particular bird was seen exactly one year ago to the date.
I hope you can get out and spot some migrants this spring.
Friday, May 3, 2019
This is a painting of a Baltimore Oriole resting on my spruce tree on a cold May evening. I've observed these colorful birds migrating through in the spring, investigating my feeders. For me, it takes a watchful eye to spy them every year, for their presence is limited to less than a handful of days.
Four things about this bird stand out: their rich song, which becomes easily identifiable with just a little practice; their bright orange and black plumage which has been compared to a heaven-bound, orange tulip returning to earth as a bird in a poem by Edgar Fawcett; their teardrop shaped nests arguably described as "the most ingeniously constructed of all our birds' nests"; and the females' unwavering success to reject all parasitic cowbird eggs, most of which are dropped several meters below their nests. So tonight, if you're celebrating anything in any fashion, make a toast to the female Baltimore Orioles' survival, for these ladies will not tolerate incubating another bird's eggs. Keep your hats on. Bombs away!
Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America. Garden City Publishing Co. Inc., Garden City, New York, 1936.
Rothstein, Stephen I. "Cowbird Parasitism and Egg Recognition of the Northern Oriole." The Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 89, no. 1, 1977, pp. 21-32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4160866.
Friday, April 26, 2019
|Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly.|
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)
|Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) butterfly.|
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)
|Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a sure sign of spring in Duluth.|
(Photo taken April 25, 2019)
|Yellow-rumped Warbler |
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)
(Photo taken April 25, 2019)
|Ruby-crowned Kinglet with bug|
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)
|Elderberry buds, one of the first plants to bud in spring.|
(Photo taken Arbor Day, April 26th, 2019)
|These small, caged, jack pine trees were planted in 2015. |
This photo was taken in May, 2017.
Compare with the photo below.
|Planted in 2015, many are now over 7 feet tall.|
(Photo taken Arbor Day, April 26, 2019.)