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Category Archives: birds


This helps me remember that winter will change into spring, summer, fall. That life is a recurring but ever changing tableau.

light play on the cupboard door

light play on the cupboard door

October 20th, 2012.

I have been trying for the last two years to learn how to capture things in motion. Simple things that have always fascinated me, a cloud of insects spiraling into an articulate ever-changing drawing turned golden or white or grey depending on light levels, the moving shadow dance of light through trees. My attempts have all been very unsuccessful I am sorry to say.

I would never consider even trying to capture tonight’s evening show. Four hummingbirds back lite by the sun, their wings making multiple halos of light as they chase each other in a ballet, the musical arrangement the scrbeeking of insects with a drone in an overtone  that might be the grasshoppers communing, a steady beat against the squeaks and hum of those darting, dancing birds. They spiral up, give chase, tails a splayed fan of white edged in darkness, then they re-configure to peacefully dart in unison to the sugar-water  feeder, reminding me of synchronized swimmers. I spent my youth at the local pool and went to all the swim matches having friends and family as participants. The only thing as good as that was watching the participants competing in the Butterfly. That was always such an excitingly beautiful race.

But so far my film making efforts have ended in failure.

As I write there are now six hummers racing each other between the feeder and the trumpet vine, all with burnished wings amidst a haze of illuminated clouds of insects doing a spiral dance that is both poetry and music.

In another two minutes this vision will fade with the sun. Well, I timed it at a minute, these things; blink and you miss it. Oh, the dance is still on, but the wings are no longer halos of light but the insect dance is golden and rising on the warm air currents.

The sun is now gone, the hummers are as well, the insects back to being insects no longer the illuminated spiraling form of dancing magic. How I wish I had the skill to capture this.

Seagulls and Ariel Ballet

mixed media on paper

Tundra Swans

I’ve always envied birds their ability to fly. Defying gravity is something achieved only in a dream state or in the liquid world of water.

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach at thirteen, the year it was published. As books go it was a big influence. And I loved it. I reread it recently, the intervening years haven’t changed my opinion or lessened my appreciation.  It remains a window into another way to experience the world. One full of light and joy.

To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived…

The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once occurs across space and time…

Forget about faith! You don’t need faith to fly, you needed to understand flying this is just the same. Now try again…

Page eighty Jonathan Livingston Seagull author Richard Bach


…overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.

Page eighty seven

So another diversion. The book that made me see the world differently was The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan. It was the first and only time I read a history that tried to solve the problem of women and children in the landscape of our evolution. It was a thrilling moment to see the world view rocked in this way in this particular manner. As thrilling as my then new understanding of a proton. That it is both a particle and a wave, an object and pure energy both depending on the window you looked out of.

So Elaine Morgan gave me a new way to see the world, through my eyes and not the eyes of history. It is all in the details figuring out how life works, goes on, is lived, the details.

Do you take sugar in your tea, or do you drink coffee. Do you put on your socks first or last? Eat oranges or prefer apples.

Clocks measure time to create history.

Our hearts keep time with infinity.

Spring Birds

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We put oranges out for the orioles here. In the past is seemed to help them then locate the feeder. Now they sit on the branch in early spring and appear to scold me for tardiness in getting that sugar-water thing up and running.

The past few years the house finches have been eating them, and this year something new, both robins and catbirds have decided they like oranges too!  As I update, the butterflies have added themselves to the mix and chipmunks.

Chester, our no longer dog always made noises of wanting a bit of orange, well last year I actually gave him a piece, but he promptly spit it out. I cannot remember any other food stuff he has actually rejected. I watched him crack a peach pit to eat the meat inside, this after it had overwintered in leaf litter. He would also dig up the Queen’s Anne Lace to eat the root;  it is part of the carrot family (but a bitter part). Was it the texture of the orange he rejected?

To date the list of native birds that have nested  here:

  • Catbirds
  • Cowbirds
  • Kingbirds
  • Meadow Larks
  • Red Wing Black Bird
  • Bobolink
  • Chipping Sparrows
  • Robins
  • Grackles
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Orchard Orioles
  • Mourning Doves
  • Tree Swallows
  • Barn Swallows
  • Cliff Swallows (new last year)
  • Purple Martins
  • Cedar Wax Wings
  • Flickers
  • Crows
  • Vireo
  • Wild Turkey
  • Turkey Vultures
  • House Finch
  • Gold Finch
  • House Wren
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
  • Black Billed Cuckoo
  • Cardinal
  • Kestrel
  • Killdeer
  • Yellow Crowned Kinglet
  • Wood Thrush
  • Ruby Throated Hummingbird
  • Redstarts (new last year)
  • Chickadees
  • Upland Plovers one special year, but never seen again.

Don’t you just love lists? They seem to make the world navigable, but not true of course. Aren’t appearances deceptive?

But perception is just one part of art making, there is also intent, content and context.

There are no answers here only questions. But, isn’t that the most important bit – enquiry, curiosity, experiment?

Do we know what we want until we have ruled out all that we don’t?

The Hard (P)Art of Naming

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I’ve mentioned before that I choose books by their titles. So isn’t it ironic that I have no desire (because I lack the ability, after all who wants to pursue what they find onerous?) to name or title my art work.

The whole exercise has become impossible.

Every year I try to re-experience the tundra swan migration at the local conservation area. I throw a lawn chair into the back of the truck and pack binoculars, thermos of coffee, a sandwich and sketch book and pencils into a big plastic tote bag.

It is an interesting exercise to sit with the binoculars in one hand (elbow on the arm rest to steady it) sketch book open and pencil in the other hand. Yes basically drawing blind as it were.

The reason is my interest in the dynamics of interaction in the posturing of the swans as a group. Our native tundra swans are modern dancers; by contrast the non-native European imported mute swans perform ballet.

I have never been successful in capturing what appears to be group dialogue, but I continue to try.

I exhibited one painting I was not displeased with and of course the work needs a title. So with parts curiosity and desperation I resolved to go through the ‘S’ in the dictionary to find something appropriate.  Just for fun, here is the short list

  • A skein of swans
  • A symphony of swans
  • A say of swans
  • A scintillation of swans
  • A sea of swans
  • A serenity of swans
  • A shimmer of swans
  • A stay of swans
  • A stupendous of swans
  • A surmise of swans
  • A swell of swans
  • A surround of swans

A Serenity of Swans mixed media on paper 28x42 inches

As you can see the exercise wasn’t particularly successful. Traditionally a grouping of swans is called a herd which just isn’t a poetic enough expression for such an incredibly beautiful experience. Unlike say a Murder of crows or a Bevy of quail.

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. Why?

I have never really understood that quote of Gertrude Steins.

I saw a new bird today on my beach walk. My first response was to get out the bird book to identify it. That astonished me.

As I stilled my mind’s excitement, I saw two birds then three then five. They weren’t camouflaged to look like either sand or driftwood yet I almost missed seeing them. Why?

How much of the world do we not see, missing the whole experience because our minds are too busy to process the information that is right before our eyes?

Is the naming of a thing replacing the understanding of the thing?How can a rose be only a rose? They differ from one another in so many ways. The biggest for me is smell. They all have their own individual scent.The wild rose here, which is a huge bush with clusters of tiny white flowers has a scent that is the essence of the hand lotion my mother used when I was a child. So by association it smells like hand lotion not like a rose.I have a iris variety, left-overs from the church bazaar a few years ago which smells like grape Kool-Aid, not like iris, except to an older generation who didn’t grow up with grape Kool-Aid, to them is smells of Iris.“Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words”

Carl Jung

From the book On Silence by Joseph Dispenza

If we were as sensitive to the visual world would that too overwhelm us and force us back to darkness?

One of my most enjoyable summers was spent sitting under a moveable umbrella following the light around the garden to paint these small (8 x 12 inch) watercolours.


metal sculpture

This is a recent installation of my work – three crows laser cut from sheet metal. I wonder if 7 of them would be a better number?

How many crows are need to be categorized as a murder of crows?


“For their size,

Crows are among the BRAINIEST organisms on Earth,

outclassing not only other Birds (with the possible exception of parrots)

but also most MAMMALS.”

From the book Crows

Encounters with the Wise Guys

Author Candace Savage

What a wonderful book, beautiful illustrations, always appreciated by us visual artists!  This book is  full of antidotes of myth, science, history.