Monday, January 31, 2011

Artwork--"Aces and Eights"

With a show at an expo called "Outdoorrama" coming up at the end of the month, I decided I should have at least one game animal. This show covers everything from guided hunting trips, outdoor gear, fishing and hunting supplies etc, to boats and things for your cottage. I've done the show the past couple of years and I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I have a buck.

Well, folks, here ya go:

I usually try to come up with some clever name for my pieces, although I don't always succeed. This one I was struggling with. I wanted something to do with eight, since he's an eight point buck. We tossed some ideas around, then I mentioned one that had come to mind a few days ago--"aces and eights". Lori liked it right away, and while I knew it had to do with poker I didn't know why I was familiar with it, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Turns out it is the "dead man's hand", the cards Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot by Jack McCall in Deadwood. I was delighted! What better title for an eight-point buck, who carries his dead man's hand on his head in the form of those gorgeous antlers.

I haven't done a mammal in quite a while so this was a lot of fun. The main pose came--ironically--from a taxidermy at a nature center, but most of the detail is from some photos of a doe I took several years ago at another nature center. She, I am happy to say, was alive and well.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Carolina (Wren) on my Mind

A few days ago I was trying to catch up on my blog reading, and saw that Kelly at Red and the Peanut had gotten some fabulous shots of a Carolina wren. I was bitterly jealous. I love these little birds, squat and perky fluff balls. Lori calls them "chubby chubkins".

We had put out a suet cake in a cage, nailed to the balcony, to try and encourage the bluebirds to come. While we haven't been able to coax the bluebirds out of the crab apple, we did get a pair of wrens, much to my delight!

The pair went to work on the suet, doing a little synchronized dance.

Oh, I just want to pinch their little cheeks!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Big Lake's Fury

A few weekends ago we took an overnight trip out to Lake Michigan. I had never seen the big lake in the winter so was eager to get to the beach.

We stayed in a cute little log cabin motel a few miles outside of the Saugatuck/Douglas area. After breakfast at the Kalico Kitchen we drove down to Oval Beach. It was a windy day, sustained in the 20's with gusts near 30. Snow flurries driven on the wind bit into my skin as I walked to the top of the dunes.

Within minutes my fingers were numb, but I hardly noticed when faced with the raging waters of Lake Michigan. I have never seen breakers this high on the big lake--my guess is the crests were 8 to 10 feet or more. The roar of the surf drowned out all other sounds.

Once down on the beach I could barely see the lake itself for the giant piles of ice, some of which were well over my head. Only the biggest waves were clearly visible.

The huge waves slammed into the frozen wall of ice at the shore, sending water, sand and blocks of ice high into the air.

The sound made me think of a semi full of stemware slamming into a bridge abutment over and over again.

Here's a three frame sequence:

We weren't the only crazy ones out in this weather. Small flocks of Goldeneye flew up and down the shore. We even saw a few land in the towering waves.

We stayed at the beach for 45 minutes or so, then drove up to Saugatuck. A charming town even in winter, we did a little shopping and had a wonderful lunch at the Pumpernickle Cafe, where I had one of the best chicken quesadilla's I've ever had, made with a tomato/basil tortilla. Yum!

If you are ever in this part of Michigan I highly recommend a visit to Saugatuck/Douglas. Lots of art, great food, and a state park just north of town with wonderful hiking trails through the coastal dunes of Lake Michigan.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Nurturing a Sense of Place: The Stewardship Network Conference, 2011

I mentioned on Facebook last week that we were preparing for the 2011 Stewardship Network Conference. We had been asked to do a poster presentation, and were more than happy to oblige, but it took me about a day and half to put it together and get it printed. That coupled with the conference itself left no time for blogging!

The Stewardship Network is an organization that brings other ecologically-minded organizations, businesses and individuals together to help us all better manage our lands. Concerned primarily with restoration of damaged habitats, the Network serves as a central place for those doing the dirty work to connect for the greater good. The Network is comprised of eight clusters in Southern Michigan, and each cluster holds its own events throughout the year as well as participating in the Garlic Mustard Challenge, where one cluster tries to pull more of the nasty invasive species than their neighbors.

Now in its (I believe) fourth year, the conference has grown each year and now takes up a big chunk of the Kellogg Center on the MSU campus. The two-day conference starts with several speakers, then we break up into groups for some smaller, more specific concurrent workshops. The speakers this year were quite diverse and represented a break from the normally somewhat dry "scientific" presentations loaded with statistics and study results.

Peg Kohring, a biologist with The Conservation Fund, talked about economics and biodiversity, and how it is vital to show the economic value nature holds--for instance, the 47 million birdwatchers in this country spent $32 billion on their hobby. And for the urban planner, statistics like this: that a five percent increase in the number of trees in a region reduces storm runoff by two percent.

After Peg came Guy Williams of G.O. Williams and Associates, a sustainable community consulting business who has also worked for The National Wildlife Federation. He talked about stewardship and how it can benefit the common good. His talk was much more personal and much less scientific than past speaker's. He stressed the need for us to have a personal mission statement that can help guide us in our life and work, and urged us all to look for those things we agree on and then begin our dialog from there. He also joked about being one of the only persons of color in the room, which I personally think has less to do with culture and more to do with economics and opportunity, but that is for another discussion.

Professor Emeritus Jim Crowfoot, who teaches at the University of Michigan, continued the more personal theme of the conference and gave a talk about deepening our sense of stewardship by reconnecting emotionally and spiritually with local nature. He gave one of the Saturday workshops where people actually broke down and cried when talking about those places that are dear to them. He stated that we are facing the crisis of all crises where all planetary systems are affected, and asserted that while science is essential to solving these issues, it is not in itself sufficient. As Baba Dioum stated, "We will conserve only what we love." Conservation is as much about emotion as it is about need.

Frank Ettawageshik, a traditional Odawa storyteller and potter, spoke on climate change and our sense of place. He stressed that we need to remember that our environment is constantly changing, and that we need to know our place within the context of time. Conservation, he said, is really about preserving ourselves and our place on Earth, and as we restore the Earth we are restoring ourselves.

After a wonderful lunch keynote speaker Henry Lickers took the stage. Henry, of the Seneca Nation, currently works for the Department of the Environment for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne in Ontario, Canada. He spoke about stewardship and sense of place (see a theme here?). He talked about the value of local knowledge when it comes to place and how critical that knowledge is when it comes to restoration. He spoke of a "naturalized knowledge system" that begins with accepting Earth as Mother and ends with the idea that the spiritual world is not "out there" but here, close to earth. Everything is connected, something Native peoples have known for countless generations but that Western culture is only just now beginning to realize and accept.

That evening the poster presentation area was opened and lots of yummy snacks were laid out (they do feed us well there!). Most of the presentations were very scientifical, loaded with info about this study or that research.

I must say we really stood out with our artwork! The poster next to us, as an example, is about biofuels and restoration. I did write a piece about art in the conservation movement to try to make us look a little more legit!

Lori stands dutifully by to answer questions. (And yes, for those of you paying attention, we did move our presentation to another panel.)

That evening there was a "fireside chat" with conference elders. The term elder simply means one with great knowledge, and can be a person of any age. It was a very informal gathering where the group chatted and talked about their hopes and fears for the future, and I think pretty much everyone left that night feeling all warm and fuzzy, and hopeful.

The conference wrapped up Saturday with more workshops. Again, there were plenty of opportunities to talk about Nature and our connection to the land, and the importance of that spiritual connection to place in the conservation movement. I know I for one got a lot more out of this conference than in years past. I hope that next year, along with presentations of studies of the restoration of oak savannas in Iowa that we also continue to study our own emotional connection to place, to the Earth, and to all who walk upon it with us.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Tern for the Better

2010 Florida posts con't....

As I have mentioned, I know nothing about waterfowl, a rather ironic state since I grew up on a lake. So a bit of advice--if you want to immerse yourself in them, go to Florida in mid-winter. Holy Cow! I was taking pictures of birds I couldn't identify, until I got home and put them on the computer. Below is my first American wigeon, with a Northern pintail behind.

I will refrain from posting any more ducks for the time being as I have better shots coming later on. Let me just say that I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of them.

To see the most stuff along the Black Point Wildlife Drive, or any other wildlife excursion, it is best to get out as early as possible, and drive very slow, and stop often to just sit and watch. This Killdeer was hardly a speck moving along the mudflat in the morning sun. Go too fast and this bird gets missed.

Here a Snowy egret shows off its ridiculous yellow feet. Makes me think of the University of Oregon's player's shoes they wore in the BCS Championship game last week.

As I paused on the side of the road I noticed an occasional splash in the water along the drive. I thought at first it was a fish jumping, but as I moved farther down the road I realized I was wrong.

It was this fellow, a Forsters tern, fishing the canal along the road.

I had a blast, standing next to the car, trying to get shots of him as he zipped by.

Back and forth he went, and without warning he would suddenly plunge into the water, so quickly that I was not able to get a shot of it. I never did see him come up with a fish.

What a beautiful, graceful bird.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Merritt Island NWR

2010 Florida posts con't....

On the third day of my trip I made my way north to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Since my grandma lives on the island I have been there many times. However, I have never seen the sheer number of birds there as I did last February. I had always been disappointed in this refuge, and longed for a return visit to Ding Darling, on the Gulf side, where I had gone back in '96. There just never seemed to be much going on at Merritt Island.

Boy, was I about to be surprised! But first, a quick overview of the park, straight from their website:

"Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals."

It really is a wonderful place, with hiking opportunities and the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven mile one way loop that winds through the salt marshes. While the birds are pretty used to cars passing nearby, most are very leery of people on foot, so you end up doing a lot of shooting out of open windows.

One of the first things I saw was a pair of (I think--this image is pretty poor) Mottled ducks. All I knew as I was trying to shoot them through the passenger side window is I'd never seen them before. Another first!

Around a bend I came across two male Blue-winged teals. Now, I have been to Florida more times than I can count, and I don't remember ever seeing these before. I have to imagine that I have, but never paid them any attention. As I said a while back, I thought all ducks were mallards--shame on me!

They led me to a small group resting on the shore.

When I visited the refuge in 2009 it was very dry. I don't know if there was a drought, or if it had been drained (the ecology of this whole area is controlled by man, and the water levels are lowered in the spring and summer to facilitate vegetation growth, then flooded fall and winter). Whatever the case, in 2010 there was water water everywhere, and with the water came the birds.

Flocks of White and Glossy ibis filled the sky.

Farther away from the road I could see flocks of White pelicans, Spoonbills, ibis and egrets. Unfortunately I still had only a 200mm lens.

Coming around a bend there was a lone tree on the left side of the drive. It was full of Wood storks, an endangered bird here in the states. I had never seen one in the wild before.

Fish eaters, they like to hang out in marsh and swamp lands.

Here they are, hanging out.

Yes indeed, a face only a mother could love.

Next: more from the wildlife drive

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pelican Island NWR

Florida 2010 posts continued....

When I had been researching Florida's middle east coast for hiking opportunities I came across Pelican Island, near the little town of Sebastian. I learned that this national wildlife refuge was the first ever created, when in 1903 Teddy Roosevelt set aside 5.5 acres to protect the Brown pelican. Since then the refuge has grown to over 5,000 acres, and is home to more than 100 bird species. The refuge is part of the same Indian River Lagoon/barrier island system that Archie Carr NWR encompasses.

After my hike at the Barrier Island Center I drove farther down the coast to Pelican Island. It felt good to be out exploring! I must confess however that I was a bit disappointed, at least initially, with Pelican Island, not because it wasn't a cool place but because it was so quiet.

It's a very nice park with an easy walkway and boardwalk that leads out over the flats. The boardwalk is neat, displaying the names of all the national wildlife refuges in order of their inception.

But other than the pretty view from the observation deck, there was not much to see--no birds, certainly no pelicans. Bummer.

So I walked back to the parking lot, thinking about heading back up to my grandma's, when I heard the call of a bird I did not recognize. I am no expert when it comes to bird calls--I know very few, in fact. But this was distinctly different that anything I'd heard before. I stopped in my tracks and scanned the trees. Finally, I spotted the source, near the top of a small snag.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. For whatever reason, before I left home, I told the girls I wanted to see a Loggerhead shrike. I had never seen a shrike, and I thought they were striking birds. Well, here it was, in a dead tree at the edge of the parking lot, a couple hundred feet from my car.

I snapped away, taking a picture every time the bird twitched. I was nearly giddy with excitement! (These images are of course cropped.)

I do think this is a gorgeous bird, with its bold markings. Very dapper.

The shrike finally flew away, and I walked along the edge of the lot, where I heard more soft twitterings in the shrubbery. I spotted this Yellow-rumped warbler. I had seen a male once back in Michigan, but this was my first female.

As I looked more closely I realized that there was another warbler here too, one I had not seen before. I checked my book and identified a palm warbler. Yeehaw, two new birds in one day!!

So what started as a bit of a disappointment ended with a small bonanza of new birds. It was a good lesson, to never give up, and always pay attention, because otherwise you may miss what is right in front of you.

On another note: I was awakened last night to the calls of coyotes behind the house. I got up and opened a window, and was met with the chorus of two or three 'yotes not more than 100 feet from the house. They stopped their singing soon after, but I could hear them walking around, crunching in the snow. It could be courtship, or perhaps they caught a rabbit or feral cat. I had a hard time going back to sleep....

Next: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.