Saturday, October 27, 2018

Bohemian Waxwing

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     On October 15th, a flock of Bohemian Waxwings gorged on berries in a small tree in my front yard. They came through about the same time as migrating American Robins who also fed from the same tree. This time of year, I’m always on high alert to the birds that visit this food source.
     Originally, I assumed the flock was Cedar Waxwings, but my binoculars revealed otherwise. I can’t tell you how many times my binoculars have surprised me, especially this fall. Anyway, this flock was quite tolerant of my presence and allowed me to take some wonderful photos. Bohemian Waxwings are nomadic birds generally found in the northern half of the United States and often descend upon fruit trees en masse, then vanish. Their audible communication is subdued and high pitched, not unpleasant to the human ear. Road noise easily drowns out a flock of waxwings. 
     About a year ago, a flock of around twenty (either Cedar or Bohemian) was eating berries from a small, stout tree in Duluth’s Home Depot parking lot. This tree, which is still there, is close to the front door, but located in the parking lot. Few people, if any, took notice, and walked right by. I found this incredible, mostly because it’s a good example of how trees in parking lots can herd in a flock of hungry birds without anyone noticing. In high traffic areas where concrete abounds in all directions, planting beneficial trees matters. I wish I’d see more of this on properties throughout the city, especially those blanketed with non-porous surfaces or large swaths of nothing-but-grassy lawns.
     In this painting, the bird’s crest is flat, meaning it was on guard a little bit when I took its photo. In bird photography, it is always something I’m aware of. Having had a few birds as pets in my younger years, bird behavior is familiar to me, so I was careful not to disrupt this flock’s feeding by gauging the waxwings’ postures and actions relative to mine. With little indication that my presence would cause the flock to fly, I approached as close as I felt comfortable. This is where humans have a tendency to push the limits. I’ve been guilty of this many times and still continue to learn where my boundaries lie, especially in regards to different species of birds and where I am in relation to them. As with just about anything, practice and experience is helpful.
     In this case, my selected boundary seemed just right. The waxwings took shelter in the very tree I was leaning against, then flew back to the berry tree to eat some more. Back and forth they’d fly, chattering as if planning their next meal and route. In another painting I hope to do one day, the bright yellows and reds of this bird are on full display, along with a gorgeous raised crest. When it comes to birds, and other creatures, observing and respecting their territory allows for a closer relationship with nature. Painting them is pretty special, too.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Here at my home in Duluth, MN, I have observed Tennessee Warblers coming through in the fall on their way to Central America and the Caribbean. They aren't the easiest birds to identify without binoculars. I've seen them up high in birch trees and lower in tall grasses. They spend their summers up north breeding in Canada's boreal forests and spruce bogs, laying between 4-7 eggs.

These birds are not aptly named. The only reason these birds are called Tennessee Warblers is because ornithologist Alexander Wilson discovered this bird in Tennessee. He might as well have named it Jupiter because it doesn't have anything to do with Tennessee, or 99% of North America for that matter. It may breed in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and also the far reaches of northeastern United States. Okay, yes it migrates through Tennessee. Sorry, doesn't count, Mr. Wilson. For shame.

In this painting, the Tennessee Warbler is perched on a goldenrod, exactly where it was when I noticed it on September 5, 2018. Goldenrod is a tall, yellow, native wildflower that blooms in late summer. In several areas where I have eradicated invasive Common Tansy, this beautiful plant has returned with gusto. If you're one of those people who consider goldenrod to be a weed, take note. Bees and butterflies love this plant.

Tennessee Warblers sing their entire song above 4,000 hertz. In layperson's terms, this means it's simply doggone high. The highest octave on a piano is in this range. Humans sometimes have trouble distinguishing differences in pitches at this level, so based on pitch alone, the song of the Tennessee Warbler may be difficult to differentiate from other birds, several of which also sing in this range.

Do you remember the song 'Lovin' You' by Minnie Riperton? When I was a kid, that was a hit on the radio. Minnie sang part of the song in the second highest octave on the piano, an F sharp in the 6th octave. That's crazy high. In fact, it's so crazy, there's a special name for it: the whistle register. It's the highest register of the human voice. As a youngster singing along to music on the radio, I tried to mimic Minnie whenever I heard that song. With little effort, I nailed those high notes. I am totally kidding people!! In another one of her songs, 'You Take My Breath Away', she went even higher and reached the seventh octave, driving home an F7. I can just hear those pop bottles shaking in the garage. Remember, this is the same octave as the Tennessee Warbler. Holy smokes, y'all. Whoa.

I hope you enjoy this painting of a Tennessee Warbler.

Cassidy, James., et. al., editors. Book of North American Birds. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1990.

Connor, Jack. The Complete Birder, A Guide to Better Birding. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.

Minnie Riperton. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 September 2018 04:11 UTC. Web. 11 October 2018 19:09 UTC.

Stokes, Donald and Lillian. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Vanner, Michael. The Encyclopedia of North American Birds.New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Swainson's Hunt

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

A very good number of Olive-backed Swainson’s Thrushes have migrated through in the last two weeks, but now they've mostly moved on, replaced by the larger, more obvious Northern Flickers and Blue Jays pecking at the ground. Each September, when these thrushes come to visit, they hunt insects like crazy. I’ve noticed their behavior is similar to American Robins, another type of thrush, in how they hop through the grass, pause, tilt their heads, then nab their prey. Oftentimes, if a low branch is nearby, they’ll fly up to it for a few moments to get a better view, then fly down to catch what they’ve spied.

Swainson’s Thrushes are much less noticeable than Robins due to their smaller size and lackluster color, but they have the most beautiful songs in the world. Not alone in my opinion, I would describe their calls as being similar to a flutist playing notes inside of a hollow metal tube. I have often wondered how such lovely sounds can come from any living creature. Spring and summer are when their musical magic happens, usually deep in the woods. As much as I love their calls, I have never seen a Swainson’s Thrush sing in person, except in captivity while visiting Green Bay’s Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary a few years ago. If you’re hoping to hear a Swainson’s Thrush, you’ll probably have to wait until next spring if you live in my neck of the woods. Right now, they’re on their way to Central and South America for the winter. Now that’s quite a long migration route, wouldn’t you say?

Friday, September 14, 2018


"How do you know that I don't have a soul
How can you look me in the eye and tell me no
A soul is a soul is a soul is a soul"

-Charlie Parr, From his album 'Dog'

Friday, September 7, 2018

May's Robin

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Dear Robin, Will you please eat all of the black flies that bite me so in the springtime? Maybe they aren't as tasty as worms, but perhaps you could learn to like them even more than worms. After all, worms are slimy and squirm in your stomach. Doesn't that make you feel weird? I don't think biting flies would squirm after stabbing them with your beak. Try following them up with a clover chaser, there's a lot of that in my grass. Herbed Black Fly hors d'oeuvres, now doesn't that sound delicious?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Grackle with Asters

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Common Grackles usually display smooth glossy feathers, and in the right light, they'll appear iridescent. However, this particular Grackle had slightly fluffed out feathers drying from an all-day rainfall on July 1st. There were a lot of active drenched birds that day with unkempt feathers, many feeding their young. Asters and an orange sky added color to this painting, a juxtaposition to what was a dreary day but an interesting one nonetheless as far as bird watching was concerned.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

White-crowned Sparrows are migratory birds that pass through Minnesota on their way to Canada in the springtime, so their biannual visits are noticed and appreciated. Every year, they have been visitors underneath my feeders and sing their somewhat buzzy tunes from the pines. Slowly, their song is seeping into my memory, having learned it just a few years ago.

Last September, this particular bird came through with a juvenile, so I was able to get some good photographs of what was most likely its offspring. Young White-crowned Sparrows are browner overall, and have caramel head stripes versus the adults' bold black stripes. 

Personally, I’ve noticed these birds most often around the second week of May, right around tree planting time.

Monday, July 30, 2018

MacRostie's 26th Annual Juried Exhibition Opens Friday!

Original Oil on Linen, 20 x 20 inches

MacRostie's 26th Annual Juried Exhibition
MacRostie Art Center
405 NW 1st Ave., Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Exhibition Dates: Aug. 3 - Aug. 31, 2018

Come to the show! Off the easel and out into the world for the first time, my oil painting of a Pine Grosbeak will be showing in MacRostie's 26th Annual Juried Exhibition which opens Friday. The show is free and open to all, and is part of Grand Rapid's First Friday Art Walk from 4 - 7 pm. MacRostie Art Center will have food by Applebees, wine and other refreshments. Thirty-five artists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota were selected to participate in this year's event, which celebrates variety and rewards excellence among this group of regional artists. Thank you for supporting the arts!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Winter's Caper

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

April 15th brought just over a foot of snow to Duluth, and this White-breasted Nuthatch faced the first flakes from the storm as it came rolling in. Just as some people can’t imagine winters without ice skating, skiing, or hockey, I can’t imagine winters without these hardy visitors. Technically, it was spring, but now that I live up here in the northland, I’ve become accustomed to calendars with asterisks.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Flowers for Chester

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

When Chester got back from flight school, he saw the flowers, but he wasn’t in the mood for condolences. And, as it turned out, he wouldn’t sing for months. This was typical of birds that returned from the academy, for it was there where they learned about Fermi's paradox, that it, in itself, wasn’t a myth. Sadly, it was true that two humans, not being able to see themselves as they really were, had a conversation about aliens and why they hadn’t visited Earth yet.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Marello's Willow

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Marello ate a katydid but it wasn’t on the menu, so he choked it up, but not before Charlie came back with a broken sunflower in her claw. It was too late. She saw it. Later that night, the giant willow came crashing down and landed at the base of the apple tree. All of Marello’s stargazes turned into sawdust. A few hours later, after the static let up, Marello begged for forgiveness. As it turns out, that wasn’t on the menu either. At least not yet.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Spring is Alright

Conifer needles quiver when the White-throats sing and carry their tunes like sugar to my tongue. Spring is alright when these birds arrive. And now, on the backside of the solstice as birds fall silent when sleep is near, every now and then a White-throat pierces the air with one last song. Like frogs in the springtime, their tunes I’ll never tire.

Friday, June 15, 2018


Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Repeat, repeat
Going here, or there?
Staying here, staying here

If it bears repeating, it must be important?
True, true
For me, for me
Not you, not you

This spring, I was bamboozled by mistaking the Brown Thrasher’s song with that of a Gray Catbird’s. Worse things have happened. I’ve ridden my bicycle through red lights. Lots of them. What Gray Catbirds have to say once, a Brown Thrasher says twice. And its song is beautiful, but not twice as beautiful as a Catbird’s, nor fifty-percent that of a Mockingbird’s. All on its own, it’s just beautiful.

Por, Por
And favor
Keep singing
Conquer, conquer
Fallen, fallen
Sword, sword
Quiet, quiet
Ter, ter, 
Melting, melting
Jumble, jumbo
Wait, wait
Tumble, tumble
Better, better
Cello, jello
Por, por
Ible, ible
Not here, not here
Handi-, handi-
Coo, coo
Tippy, tippy
Cap, cap
It’s her, it’s

And flew the Thrasher into the shrub.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Rimshottin' Bugs

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Finding bugs under leaves is what this Yellow-rumped Warbler was doing. In an area of my yard that has been left to grow wild, balsam poplar shoots are emerging all over the place, and it doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s where this warbler was feasting. I find nature quite interesting when it comes to yard surprises, and I never used to be like this, you know? I never gave a darn about plants, but they’ve grown on me over the years. Chuckle. Yesterday’s surprise visit from a yard service company gave me a good laugh. My best guess as to why he stopped is because of our unkept ditch where weeds, shrubs and smaller trees have been left to grow. In a few years, I don’t think anyone will look at this area with consternation, or as a place to pitch lawn service.

Fifty five new native shrubs were added to our yard last month: dogwoods, ninebarks, and highbush cranberries. My favorite plant story of the year so far is about a once monster-sized elderberry that re-emerged from the brink of death after a contractor took it out last fall. All spring, I have been looking for signs of life, to no avail, until yesterday. Poking up from the ground are two small sprouts saying hello to air and sunshine. Yay.

A Red-eyed Vireo and an Eastern Phoebe are singing, blue skies are shining, and a distant wren chatters somewhere further out. I hope you enjoy this new painting.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Red-bellied at the Marsh

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Three things stand out to me regarding Red-bellied Woodpeckers. The first is their call. It’s a familiar sound of my childhood. Now that I live just a bit north of their territory, I don’t see or hear them anymore unless I visit my mother in Wisconsin.

Secondly, even though Red-bellied Woodpeckers have red feathers on their abdomen, they are hardly visible. So, their given name of Red-bellied Woodpecker gives me reason to scoff. Normally, I’m a fan of bird names that aid in identification, but I prefer the bygone nickname of zebra bird.1 However, no one in their right mind would know what bird I’m talking about if I were to use that old-time alias.

Lastly, there was a fascinating study done recently by Eliot Miller, Cornell Lab of Ornithology postdoctoral associate, to see which birds are the most dominating at feeders. In other words, which birds are most likely to cause others to fly away upon their approach? I hesitate to use the word bully, but in a sense, it’s appropriate. The scientific term is called successful displacement. “Oh look dear, the Red-bellied Woodpecker has successfully displaced the Blue Jay.” I’m poking fun, of course.

Anyway, when it comes to the king of feeding stations, according to 7,653 observations by a group of volunteers, the Red-bellied Woodpecker outranks all of North America’s top 13 feeder species. So, which birds does the Red-bellied Woodpecker intimidate? You might be happy to know that two pesky birds, the European Starling and House Sparrow are among those commonly displaced. Others that cry uncle are the Blue Jay, American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, and the White-breasted Nuthatch.2 To see a fun, interactive diagram, click here. Had the Red-headed Woodpecker been in the top mix of feeder species, the Red-bellied Woodpecker would’ve been the one to throw in the towel.3 


1. Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America.Garden City. Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1937, II160.
2. Haigh, Alison. “When 136 Bird Species Show Up At A Feeder, Which One Wins?” The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 1 June 2018 <>.
3. “Who is the toughest bird?” Project FeederWatch. 2017. E. T. Miller, D. N. Bonter, C. Eldermire, B. G. Freeman, E. I. Greig, L. J. Harmon, C. Lisle, W. M. Hochachka. 9 Oct. 2017. Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. 1 June 2018 <>

Friday, May 25, 2018

Winter Redpoll

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

The day before more than a foot of snow fell on April 15th, a flock of Redpolls visited my feeder. These soft, fluffy birds congregate in the dozens and sometimes hundreds, when visiting. Alongside the Common Redpolls was a lovely Hoary Redpoll, perhaps a painting for a later date. Just a week later, 30-50 Dark-eyed Juncos flew in and stayed for a few days. Redpolls, which dip down into the northern United States from Canada in the wintertime, are lovely little birds whose presence I don't take for granted, especially because if I lived in the south, I'd never see them.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

This is the rarest bird I’ve seen, an Ivory Gull. It’s a migratory bird that lives in the Arctic and breeds only in the Arctic Atlantic sector. The American Birding Association (ABA) considers it a Code 3 bird, which means it’s a rare bird in my neck of the woods. Specifically, Code 3 birds occur in very low numbers, but annually, in an area essentially encompassing North America north of Mexico. The ABA’s classification system ranges from Codes 1-6, with the latter indicating birds which cannot be found, are extinct, or are found only in captivity.

The bird paintings I’ve done, except for this one, have been either Code 1 or Code 2 birds, i.e. fairly common. To put Code 3 birds in perspective, birders in the midst of their big year, trying to find the most species of birds in a certain geographical area will, in all likelihood, immediately stop whatever they’re doing, hop on a plane, or drive many hours, to add a Code 3 bird to their year’s list. Extremely passionate birders will do the same, because rare really means rare.

Luck was responsible for my sighting. This bird visited Duluth, MN, early January 2016. News had gotten out of its presence in Canal Park, flying amongst other gulls, along Lake Superior’s shoreline. There were plenty of bird enthusiasts around, making the bird easy to spot simply by watching where the photographers were aiming their lenses. Unfortunately, this bird was found dead days later, and the cause of death remains a mystery.

A year later, another Ivory Gull was spotted March 9, 2017, in Flint, MI. It, too, allowed birders a rare opportunity to see it, but also died within days. Unlike Duluth’s Ivory Gull, this one was sufficiently intact for necropsy results to be performed by the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology. “The final diagnoses were: West Nile Virus; Renal Tubular Degeneration; Renal Tubular Mineralization; Pulmonary Congestion, Pulmonary Edema, and Malnutrition (Reported),” (Petoskey Audubon, 2017).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists the Ivory Gull as near threatened. Its current population trend is decreasing with possible reasons being “climate change, pollution, and increasing human intrusion or hunting within breeding areas” (IUCN, 2018).

I may never see another Code 3 bird again. It takes one to be observant in the first place to simply recognize these rare birds within our midst, so I’m grateful to the person who first saw the Ivory Gull in Duluth, and told others, whoever that was. So, keep your eyes and ears open. There may be a Code 3 bird near you. 


American Birding Association. n.d. Checklist Codes. Retrieved from

Petoskey Audubon [Washtenaw Audubon]. (2017, August 29). Update on Ivory Gull. [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-3. Retrieved May 17, 2018 from

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fryderyk II

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

This is the second painting I've done of this bird, a Ruddy Turnstone. The first one was completed in 2013. Both paintings were chosen because I felt this bird had swagger. There are birds that I have marked for paintings that go back years, some of which I will never get to before I die.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Little Big Show Opens Friday!

2018 Little Big Show
MacRostie Art Center
405 NW 1st Ave., Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Opening Reception:
Friday, May 4, 4-7 pm
Exhibition Dates: May 4 - 26, 2018

Come to the show! My painting of a Western Willet will be in MacRostie's 11th Annual Miniatures Exhibition. This is my fourth year exhibiting in the show, and those that are familiar with my work know I love miniatures. I'm grateful for shows like this. All works are under one square foot in size. Don't miss out!

In addition to the Miniature Exhibition, several of my new works will be on display for the first time ever in the general gallery area of MacRostie. So if you browse, you'll see more of my work available throughout spring/summer. Please visit when you get a chance. Your support is welcome.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

This is Marx, a very friendly, albeit injured Snowy Egret from Cocoa Beach, Florida. 122 years ago, this species was almost wiped out because of the millinery feather trade. Hat production in London and New York relied on the slaughter of whole rookeries to collect prized white feathers from herons and egrets. When two socialite cousins from Massachusetts became outraged and began their own campaign to stop the trade, things began to change. Simply by encouraging their friends to stop wearing feathered hats, Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall created a movement strong enough to have lasting value, first with the Lacey Act in 1900 and later, with the more powerful Weeks-McLean Law in 1913. Consequently, the plume trade collapsed when it became illegal to kill migratory birds outside of regulations.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Laughing Gull on Wood Piling

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     This is an oil painting of a breeding, adult Laughing Gull. These birds are found in large groups along shorelines in the United States, mainly along the southern and eastern coasts. Appropriately named, they sound like they’re laughing when they call. Since I don’t live in close proximity to these birds, I never tire of their constant clamor when I’m around them, but I can understand those that might. This particular gull was grouped with dozens of other Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Western Willets, and Royal Terns along a stretch of wood pilings, remnants of a dilapidated dock possibly destroyed by hurricane Nate last October. Taking a break from the flock for a little while, this gull took some time to rest on a piling near me. 
     The plumage on this bird indicates it’s at least three years old, because first and second year Laughing Gulls lack the black head and reddish beak. In fact, all North American gulls take 2-4 years to establish adult plumage. Young Laughing Gulls could easily be characterized as simply gulls without one paying close attention to subtle differences in markings between species. In North America alone, there are around 30 species of gulls, making gull identification challenging, especially before their plumage reaches maturity.

If you've missed some of Becca's older posts, simply subscribe to this blog.
Blog author/artist Becca Mulenburg removes posts
that are older than two years.