This Spring’s Spark Bird

Every year, I become more intrigued with the act of watching birds.  The book, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear put some of that into perspective for me…in fact, when I poured over the pages, it was the first time that I could really connect with why I am so driven to investigate Frank’s Flats; the wildlife, landscape, atmospheric changes and ecosystems.

I think that Maclear proposes that there is a single spark bird that draws the everyday person into the act of bird watching.  However, for me, it seems that every year, in springtime, I am renewed to the experience by a particular bird.

This year, that bird is this one, a Merlin.  And…I could be wrong in my identification and challenge my readers to look at its markings and confirm with me if I am mistaken or correct.  About three years ago, in my neighbourhood park, I noticed a nesting couple and likely heard them first.  They have a very particular high pitched call.

Merlin

Adult male (Prairie)
  • Light blue-gray crown
  • Pale face with no distinct pattern
  • Streaked breast
  • Dark eye with pale eyebrow
  • Prairie subspecies occurs in Great Plains states and southern Canada

This year, I’ve been close enough to the nesting pair to have received a bit of an annoyed reaction.  They are very defensive birds and protective during the nesting period.  As I’ve discovered on line, their talons and beaks provide for some very nasty feeding frenzies on pigeons, sparrows, mice and I’m guessing that they could do a mean attack on young children or dogs if they felt challenged.

So, for now, I’ll watch from a distance.  They are just beautiful!

Usually, one remains in a sparse deciduous tree or atop a power pole some distance from the nest, while the other stays tucked into the evergreen tree, a nest that was stolen from a mating magpie pair three seasons ago.

Recent photographs have helped me to make some distinctions in the small raptor, however, I’m still learning.  I got some good shots of the nesting adult yesterday.  I invite any feedback about these or other raptors as I expand my knowledge.

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Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

I was down at Shelf Life books, listening to a wonderful double book launch by  German Rodrigues and J. Pablo Ortiz.  It was a very unique evening of spanish language literature, celebrating the launch of German Rodriguez’s The Time Between His Eyes (El tiempo entre sus ojos) and J. Pablo Ortiz’s Open Sea (De mar abierto). It was an excellent event and I was happy to reconnect with Pablo and to hang with his partner and my longtime friend, Brian. After the reading, I set about looking for the book, Birds Art Life because I had heard an interview about it and knew that it would affirm my experience of the pond, the discovery of birds and the resulting experience of art-making.

It was a bit of a search, but before I left, a copy of the book fell into my hands.

Very linear in my approach to books, I finished the McCullers title, before snapping up this beautiful object of my obsession.

I rushed through my earlier two reviews, books I’ve read in the past month, so that I could get to this recommendation, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear.  In this book, I found something kindred to everything I have become in retirement and in the past six years of loving a single ecosystem, a pond environment within the boundaries of the City of Calgary.

I kept putting the book down, and lifting off of the sofa or my bed or the bench out in the back yard, in order to pace and whoot and say, out loud, “YES!”  Since reading The Diviners so many years ago, I have not had such physical reactions to what I am reading.

Here is an extract from the book that speaks of my philosophy and experience, very clearly.

I discovered, through the book, that my ‘SPARK’ bird, was a sparrow, more precise, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, some eight years ago.  Hardly romantic or colourful, strange that my true attraction to birds was discovered looking out from my kitchen window, across at the open vent of my neighbour’s kitchen…several nesting seasons…widowing…lost youngsters…and determination through all sorts of weather conditions.  I began to watch. I took out the camera, for the first time, to take photographs of sparrows.

Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 006

From that kitchen place, my exploring began at a pond environment that I call Frank’s Flats, named after a homeless man who most evenings, watched me gather up litter into a bag a day for several years.  He drank six beer in the time it took me to fill a bag with plastics, straws, newspaper flyers and other human garbage.  He chatted with me, thanked me and visited at the end of most evenings, as I put my collection into the bin, near his viewing spot.

I think that the first time I really noticed the birds, I was drawn to the red winged black birds because of their determined mating calls.

Facebook 40 Male Blackbird

My experience of the pond has, since discovering birds, coyotes and little field mice, become magical.  The lessons I have learned about compassion, care, art and writing, have been many and profound.  I am so grateful for the number of stories and discoveries that come my way because I am always looking for the little miracles.

Kath's Canon, September 22, 2015 early aft Frank's Flats Heron 038

Facebook 7 Black Capped Night Heron

Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 062Kath's Canon August 29, 2015 Osprey, Hawk, Kingfisher 141

If you are looking for a way to deepen your experience of life and living, pick up this book.  It is a treasure and my new favourite!  It contains countless references to other writers, thinkers and artists…book titles…and the author’s connections with her own story.  I hope that my readers will discover urban nature and hold on to the power of that experience.

Today at the pond…

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Larissa Fassler: CIVIC. CENTRE.

One of my favourite places to hang out on wintry days is the Esker Foundation.  It is either bopping with gaggles of work-shoppers, panel discussions, tours or other such events or it is simply peaceful, quiet and bathed it beautiful light.  Yesterday found me relatively ‘on my own’ in the space and I really appreciated the impact of the exhibits.

Most impact-full, for me, was Larissa Fassler’s work.  Given my incessant record-keeping and my daily walking-observation-documentation of my pond study, it makes sense that her work speaks to me.  I’ve almost finished my second coffee and Max needs to be speed- walked before a day of teaching.  So, I’m not going to go into long explanations here, but yesterday I felt that I had collided with a very like-minded artist.  It is wonderful to see concepts mirrored back.  And, completely by surprise.

Directly from the Esker website…this…

Larissa Fassler’s work begs us to slow down, look around, and consider more deeply the spaces and structures that organize our cities, our lives, and our identities. Fassler’s current artistic practice is premised on a prolonged process of observing and recording: she visits her chosen sites at varying times throughout the day over a period of weeks or months and remarks upon the unremarkable. She records countless everyday encounters and charts minute architectural details, creating a meticulous record of highly complex sites, looking ultimately for the ways in which space influences behaviour – and for traces of protest or disruption.

I will, later, post about Cedric and Jim Bomford’s work, The Traveller.  Given my University of Lethbridge residence experience…and gazing out at the High Level Bridge for those four years, I was left breathless once confronted by the powerful construction of space in the ‘guts’ of the gallery.  I have much to say about the traveller and was intrigued by the process of a father and son installing such a beast as this, within the context of the Esker Space.

I was grateful to be greeted by Parisa.  It has been quite a while.  The hospitality shown by the Esker staff is consistent, warm and educational.

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Facebook Profile Updates

Three days now, I’ve been deactivated on the most popular social media website since sliced bread.  I document my father’s music in the hours I might have wasted on early mornings, while drinking my coffee.  I listen to Chris de Burgh music on Youtube as background, while reading Al Purdy poetry.  His words make me weep at times.  I would have posted that on Facebook.

I imagine filling in that small space…I don’t even remember what the prompt was?  Say something about yourself…or what you are doing…what came to be known as a status update.

I would probably post a link to this post.  As a way of weening myself from the process, I thought to update my status here…what would I say?

July 5, 2016  A dark cloud fell upon me when, from no where, a friend invited me to go chase dark clouds.  He parked his car across the street and magically appeared when I needed a friend.

July 6, 2016 My hair was dirty, so I didn’t join my girlfriends for a night of listening to live music.  I didn’t paint at Rumble House, again.  I read Al Purdy poetry and used a sock as a place-saver.

July 7, 2016 I feel sad that I’m seeing the changes in the pond, all on my own, and that no one else sees exactly what I see.  Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow are trying to raise another family in the neighbour’s vent.  I relent and put seed in the feeder that I had pulled out of service because of the growing population of voles.  But, now, with the children’s incessant cry for sustenance, I give in.

July 10, 2016 What does it mean that I have 13 hits on my blog from Macau SAR China, today?  Some times these connections, through writing, just surprise me.

Yesterday’s photographs…documentation of train graffiti, imagining that the artist would want to know where his art had traveled.

I like that the red-winged black bird made it into this shot…

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It’s been wonderful to see the great Cormorants coming through.  They are closer to the river…this, a lone female.

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Mama Savannah Sparrow watching out for her young sprout…IMG_9226

Youngster…sitting a short distance from Mom…about half her size.

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My partner in crime.IMG_9208

A herd of 20 geese, four adults and the rest, progeny, slip into the water as Max and I tippy toe through the goose poo.IMG_9204

Killdeer Protective Behaviour

I am so amazed by what I learn on a daily basis because I show up at a single pond every day, no matter the weather.  Today I had opportunity to witness this little beauty being protective of her eggs.  I keep Max on leash on every walk these days because it is a very precarious time for all of the birds in this ecosystem.  Max is very co-operative and sits silently whenever I am observing or snapping photographs.  The only time he becomes super alert is when we are close to coyotes and deer.  His ears point and he stairs in the direction of the smell/movement.

He sat nicely as I watched this happening.  I am so in awe of nature and the strength of tiny creatures in the face of huge predators and insurmountable odds.

I’ll never be in that class of photographers where I am selling my images, but as a matter of respect, if you wish to use them for teaching and explaining, please credit me the documentation.  Thanks.

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Bird Tails From the Hood #3

I didn’t capture any images of the two wee sparrows that feasted well as a result of Mrs. and her dedicated care and concern.  I watched them from the kitchen window, though, and knew that they would fledge soon. Sure enough, just two days ago, in late afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. seemed to be having a huge squabble inside the nest.  Wings were flying everywhere.  When the dust settled, I didn’t hear the little guys at all.  I don’t know if the two youngsters had come to some sad demise (a crow has been hanging about lately) or if they had successfully left the nest.  I prefer to choose the latter.

Instinctively, the very next morning, yesterday morning, Mr. dominated the nest again, calling out repetitively for the next brood to be started.  Sparrows can manage two or three different broods in a summer season.  It was/is apparent that he had no time to be messing about.

Yesterday afternoon I watched him clean out the previous nest or nest lining, one piece of grass at a time…sometimes yanking an entire chunk of nest out and onto the ground.  This was something I had not observed before.

Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 007 Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 006 Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 004Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 005

The Melt

For three days, Calgary has enjoyed beautiful temperatures.  It has been a long winter…lots of snow and bitter cold.  In fact, this has been such a melt that on many intersections throughout the city, the drainage doesn’t seem to be sufficient or blocked, to the detriment to some homes.

Mike Drew of the Calgary Sun captured this image of a residence in Sunnyside.

Photo Credit: Mike Drew, Calgary Sun QMI

Photo Credit: Mike Drew, Calgary Sun QMI

In the morning, Max-walking is dangerous, given that this water freezes up and leaves the sidewalks, virtual skating rinks.

Apart from these symptoms of changing weather, there are some beautiful moments in nature.  We just got home from our daily walk about Frank’s Flats and it is absolutely breath taking.  Lately, I’ve noticed magpies flying with pieces of nesting material dangling haphazardly from their beaks as they instinctively prepare their nests.

I’m a huge fan of Duke Farm’s Live Eagle Cam.  It was an awesome thing, this year, to witness the laying of three eggs.  The notations from the site are as follows and a still photo I just saved a moment ago.  I encourage my birder-readers to follow the progress of this family.  What magic to witness male and female trading off places in the nest and sharing the responsibilities for the eggs.  The history of Duke Farms can be read here.

Eagle March 10 2014And for those who think that watching an eagle on a nest is the same as watching paint dry, be advised that last year, this particular event was caught on live cam…

Update 2/24/2014A 3rd egg was laid on 2/23/2014 in the afternoon.  Thanks you viewers for your valuable observations throughout the nesting season.

Update 2/20/2014
A 2nd egg was laid the afternoon of 2/20/2014.

Update 2/18/2014
An egg was laid in the afternoon of 2/17/2014*. Snow in the nest should begin to dissipate as temps rise during the day over the next few days. The cam will remain zoomed close in on the nest bowl to aid in detection of additional eggs.

Update 1/14/2014
Soft grasses are being deposited in the nest bowl to act as cushioning and insulation, these signs are usually a prelude to egg laying behavior.

So, today…teaching grade one…while I was tempted to make art around St. Patrick’s Day, our Lenten Journey, the Stations of the Cross or Penguins!!!  I ended up following my own muse, the nesting birds.  And the children did NOT disappoint.

Where’s our teacher?  Are you our teacher? Yeah! We get to paint!

Off with the coats there, buddies!  On with the shoes!

Who is the engine? Who is the caboose?  The caboose isn’t here!  Oh, no!  Pick a caboose, will you and take this attendance down, please.

Announcements. O’ Canada. Prayer.

I saw a magpie carrying a great big branch while it was flying the other day!

IT WAS BUILDING A NEST!

It’s so warm and the snow is melting.

IT’S GOING TO LAY A EGG!

A nest is like a bowl…do you remember what horizontal means?

WIDE!! (I notice, with this response, that the grade ones have been measuring things…they have a whole new vocabulary!)

Do you remember what vertical means?  You’re right! Up and down!

Today you may choose to build a nest on vertical sky OR horizontal sky…whatever you wish.  Remember that the nest will fall out if there are not enough branches.  I’ll show you a bowl shape in some branches. (I demonstrate a BIG drawing on a vertical piece and then on a horizontal piece of blue construction paper).  Three branches will work…or four…or five.  The nest (to repeat) looks like a bowl.

Grab your chalk…you can do your sketch now.  As I’m stirring up some earth tones of paint at the paint center I ask the children if they remember the THREE steps to painting…

DIP! STROKE!

Oops!  We forgot a step!

WIPE!! 

Yes…please wipe your extra paint off of your brushes.

The students use the paint station with finesse, two hands on buckets…walking…taking turns.  Let’s use the darkest brown for the inside of the nest.  It will show that it is deep and dark…a good place to sleep.  OF COURSE WE CAN PAINT LEAVES!  I quickly mix up five different greens. Trading off begins and the paintings are set aside to dry.

We go to the reading corner to share in the rhyming poem, Five Little Penguins…yes, readers, you’ve got it…same as the Five Little Monkeys!  We talk about visits to the Calgary Zoo.

After recess and recess snacks, we add our nesting materials into the mix…talk about birds collecting strings and grass…and talk about how penguins nest.  We talk about how the Dad sits on the egg while Mama goes to eat fish…and how Mama sits on the egg while Dad goes to eat fish.  We cut and paste and then add in the birds.  BEAUTIFUL!  Let’s set them aside so that the glue can dry.  Hailey says out loud, as she’s placing her nest gently on the corner, “I love mine.”  I think to myself, “This is what’s really important.”

Printing…letter w!  Here we go!

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Winter Provides a Blank Canvas

I was writing about slowing down…observing…wee things.

I posted this photograph.

P1140599Lots has happened since those two mice made tracks in the fresh snow.

A rabbit enters into the picture.

A rabbit enters into the picture.

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Either a crow or a magpie seeks out mouse activity at the location.

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More mice.

I often think about the patterns, light and colour in nature.  No need to go tripping into the mountains to see the remarkable possibilities or to experience the narratives.  They surround us.

Alex Mulvenna gave me, as a gift, Andy Goldsworthy and David Craig’s book, Arch.  The year she left my class, I had been telling the students how much I would dream to own an Andy Goldsworthy coffee table book.  The gift is a treasure to this day.  Alex is now a woman.

Looking back, I remember the poetry assignment that I shared with my students every year in language arts.  Our school edges on a ridge and below, stretches the Bow River and an exquisite valley…Fish Creek Park links with a wildlife corridor that stretches all the way to the mountains.  We are very blessed.

Some time around May, every year, I assigned the students haiku poetry, but the hitch was to base their poetry on natural sculpture that they had constructed in the river valley.  I spoke to them about the sculpture’s fragility and that it must incorporate the potential for falling victim to the wind, rain, collapse…that purely natural elements to the location needed to be employed.  The project, designed to overlap Easter vacations, seemed, from my end at least, to be consistently successful.  I also asked that the students archive their project.

I continue to have two of these projects out in my studio.  I cherish them.  I cherished all of them.

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Taking Notice

So, I had left the Jarvis Hall Fine Art Gallery and was walking back to my van parked some distance away.  The walk took me along some side streets.  That’s when I landed myself into the middle of one of those amazing moments…the kind when you say to yourself…”Wow…am I ever blessed!”  Autumn leaves were crunching under my feet.  Arms of giant trees reached up to a blue sky.  The air was filled up with the season.  I paused and took this picture.

P1130870I hope that when I look at this photograph, I will remember the magic of that moment of realization.

This morning, still dressed in my flannel nightgown, I looked out the windows and had the same experience, but over entirely different weather and situation.  I had slept in.  My head was filled with thoughts of what I ‘should’ be doing. Everything seemed to have been transformed over night.

I was profoundly touched, remembering the hours of pleasure I’ve enjoyed, watching the birds filling up ravenously at the feeder these past weeks.  Now, to see my little friends out in the snow, I wondered just how they manage to get through the winters.  I saw their beauty, as though for the first time.

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Some time later, Max and I headed out into the weather.  Remembering that I am living with a herding dog, I got him over to the pond for a good bit of exercise.  We were all alone. Everything was beautiful.  The ducks, dark boats on dark water…the sky white…the vegetation white…the wind, biting…the only sound, crunch of my feet on the stones and snow.  Max ran hard, playing and eating snow as we went.  I caught myself laughing out loud.

After circling the pond and heading back, I gave one big throw of his Frisbee and watched as the wind carried the thing up high, down past the tall ant hills and into the cat tails by the pond’s edge.  “Max!  Max!  No, boy…LEAVE IT!”  I saw the bull rushes moving and knew that my determined pooch was going to go into the pond, come hell or high water!  Sure enough, a very wet border collie came bounding toward me, proud as punch that he had retrieved the old and mucky toy.

We headed back to the van at lightening speed, Max carrying the muddied toy; both were icicles upon our arrival to the parking lot.  Into the kennel he flew, whining and whimpering.  I thought to myself…these are the daily occurrences that my readers rarely encounter on my blog…

I take pause and make note of that particular moment of realization.  Recently, what I’ve discovered, more than anything, is the blessing in the ordinary experiences of my days.  I am a blessed lady.

Beef Barley Soup...Always good for a wintry day.

Beef Barley Soup…Always good for a wintry day.

Where were you, M. G. Bruce Robertson?

 

Bruce Robertson is presently exhibiting his recent art at the Gorilla House.

Photo Credit: Rich Theroux

Photo Credit: Rich Theroux

Am an artist at heart, utilizing knowledge of drawing and painting acquired from childhood to present. “Think as a child whilst making art.” — Bruce Robertson, 2010

Bruce didn’t attend the opening.  Art openings are to be reckoned with…they are a big deal for artists and I’m not certain that every artist deals with openings in the same way.  Regardless, people were amazed by the exhibit of works that Bruce produced. Something  magical about an exhibit is the fact that a body of work speaks, one piece informing another.

I don’t want to suppose that I can write about Bruce’s work, but I can say that I admire the commitment he has shown in fashioning the work. The few photographs that I’ve posted here do not capture the rich and varied surfaces achieved through multiple processes.  The art is playful and yet very complex as well.  This looks to have been a very intense period of creativity for Bruce.  The art speaks of humour, pain, design and connection.  If my readers have opportunity, I hope you can visit Gorilla House in the coming weeks. P1130247 P1130248 P1130249 P1130250 P1130251 P1130252http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI