I have counted 65 bird species in my backyard, many of them just visitors, I am in the process of collecting photographs of each species. If you build it they will come.
People would say my very small yard is a bit of a jungle, especially my son, but it’s the reason so many birds have found food, shelter and even nesting space in and around my yard.
I have families of wrens, chickadees, cardinals, a pair of downy woodpeckers, a whole large family of very large bluejays that put up with my presence and a family of squirrels.
Besides the birds, there are also more than 35 species of butterflies. I am in a very small way creating an oasis for wildlife which I photograph, paint and write about-it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship.
My goal now is to photograph each species of birds, butterflies and in the near future the plants I grow to attract them. I do not use any pesticide, herbicides or any other sides to keep them safe and allow a safe haven for a small piece of wildlife to thrive….and they are thriving.
Birds are not only a passion of mine they represent nature and often are the most accessible species in the suburban backyard. I remember going to my grandmothers’ in Orange New Jersey-out of the a concrete landscape of the city there were birds, not many but enough to offer some nature amidst concrete.
Over the years of writing and painting, certain birds have become symbolic in my work. The two most prominent are blackbirds and owls but recently the swallow has sparked my interest.
There is a song by Sparklehorse called the pain birds and on the album Good Morning Spider is a swallow. The first in the series is actually called the painbirds and it was during a time of great upheaval in my life.
The painting sat on the wall unfinished for more than a year, just the bridge and the water. I knew it was going to be swallows but I just couldn’t decide how and where the birds would appear. Next came the purple passion vine, a very religiously significant plant that I collect, all of these elements finally gelled and the Painbirds was born.
The second in the series came about with a lot less symbolism. I focused more on the relationship of two birds on a wire and the landscape that expanded behind them. Again, it sat unfinished for a long time as the image came together.
The problem is that the initial idea is filled with excitement and direction but after some time the overall details fade. This is why I can’t paint when I feel like painting, it seems you either see the details and textures and the way they need to be rendered or you don’t.
Birds on a Wire was the second in the series and it was just as large as the first one. Notice the change in colors, the richness and warmth replaces the cools and somewhat melancholy of the pain birds, it was a bit more comfortable time in my life and I believe I was much happier. The sunset does have a bit of symbolism of change and the possibilities of tomorrow and becoming comfortable with things ending.
The last in the series is the Celebration. I watched as the recent drought ended and Lake Ray Hubbard was full again, the swallows swarmed the bridge as if they were celebrating the end of the drought. It is the smallest painting of the three with the most birds.
It also marks a time where I am getting back to water at its simplest aspect. I wanted to get back to the way I used to paint water. I have recently departed from the clarity and depth and explored bright colors and reflections. I am going back to the basics and why I started painting water in the first place.
I have several paintings in the works, one is of grackles, another of egrets, I am getting back to studying nature with more depth and understanding. I am also working on some abstract images that are a bit less about nature and more about the human condition.
Stay tuned and please let me know which of the series you prefer and why.
I finally got a chance to paint. It was a stormy afternoon as you can see from the remnants of a swollen stream in the distance.
I got more information and sketched more on a trip to Hagerman where there are always hawks patrolling each fence row. There are a lot of red tailed hawks and I consider them the watchmen of the meadows and fields.
Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is doing all of these important aspects of wildlife preservation. I visited their first Saturday of the month, it’s the only time they’re open to the public and they show the birds that pass through their center.
They keep the birds as wild as they can be, even the imprinted birds that haven’t learned to live in the wild are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. It is quite an impressive operation and much of what I have learned about the Blackland Prairie is from talking with the naturalists there.
They take the time to show you each bird they have and explain their unique situations. I was impressed with how much the children knew about the birds and the difference between nocturnal and diurnal.
Every time I go to the center I learn something I didn’t know. Here is a list of some more things I’ve learned from my visit today.
1. A flock of Kites is a kettle. The mississippi kite is expanding its range southward. With age comes the more grey plumage and it feeds on mostly insects.
2. I’ve never heard a barn owl hiss up close. They also shriek and it can be quite piercing to the ear.
3. The tuffs of feathers on the head of the owls break up their round shape and make them harder to see in the wild.
4. A barn owls ears are so intense they can hear a heartbeat and they can actually attack a mouse under the snow without even seeing them.
5. Owls have tubular eyes that are more fixed than other animals and therefore they need to swivel their heads to see.
After the bird show we took a hike on the trails and we learned about blue stem grasses, native grass and invasive non-native species. I learned about another place I had never heard of before today and I very much enjoyed my visit, the park is the Parkhill Prairie near Blue Ridge and it was an amazing visit where I saw hawks and vultures flying in their environment.