My Pretty Oriole

I have lived in northeast Queens for over 20 years, and so I’m familiar with all the creatures and critters in these parts. At the beginning of the summer I spotted a gorgeous colorful bird taking a bath in a puddle at the corner of my street. I stopped to observe this striking beauty but didn’t want to get too close for fear it would fly off. I wondered to myself, is that a Baltimore oriole? So I took this not terribly sharp picture of it on my phone. Lo and behold it was an oriole. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood. Yay! I’m posting it here to commemorate the end of summer. I love the reflection in the water:

I also want to let my readers know that Monday is our annual blog celebration here on Museworthy, so do check out that post and join in the fun 🙂

Until then, have a great weekend, and I’ll see you right back here on September 24th!

I’ll Fly Away

Hello dear friends.  I believe I alluded to some family strife in a previous blog post. I wish I could report that the situation has improved. Sadly, it hasn’t. The last couple of days have been difficult. Of course you all understand that it’s not appropriate for me to go into detail here, as it is family stuff and I don’t want to speak negatively on my blog about people I love and care deeply about, no matter how incredibly frustrated I am. Just pray for us, if you’re so inclined.

For now, I’d like to share a video that I discovered through Fred Hatt’s blog Drawing Life. Fred posted about his photography experiments with the GoPro camera, which captures very cool visual perspectives. Here, a GoPro was strapped to an eagle as it soared through the French Alps. It is absolutely breathtaking; a real “bird’s eye view” that makes we wish I was riding on the eagle’s back, flying away from turmoil, taking in the extraordinary splendor of the earth, without a care in the world. See you all very soon.

Our Birds Besieged

What the hell. Have I left my little blog idle for almost a week? This is outrageous! Bad blogger. Bad bad blogger 😆

Much badder than me is the Port Authority of New York, which has enlisted contractors to gun down over 18 species of migratory birds and waterfowl in the area of JFK Airport. Many of these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But they’re being shot anyway. The rationale behind this program is to prevent bird strikes on planes and nesting activities too close to runways. Didn’t the waterfowl get the memo? They cannot conduct their flying, migrating, mating, and nesting along the Atlantic coast or around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge unless they stay safely away from planes. That’s the rule. Because jet airliners own the skies now. Those foolish ospreys and herons and egrets have to understand that they must accommodate the needs of modern man, and the millions of years of instinctual behavior embedded in their DNA cannot be acted upon, their natural primordial impulses to survive and breed must be squashed. And those snowy owls that were nesting on top of a taxiway sign at JFK? Those dummies should have known better. Now they’re on the kill list too.

Herons, by Christian Rohlfs, 1936:

Rohlfs-Herons

I apologize for the sarcasm, as I don’t mean to minimize the issues with regard to bird strikes and airplane safety. But this wanton killing of our coastal feathered friends upsets me a great deal. Among the birds being targeted are herons, egrets, plovers, ravens, and the gorgeous American kestrel. And redwing blackbirds! They’re shooting redwing blackbirds for heaven’s sake. There must be a better way. Surely we can find a solution more humane than just blasting innocent birds out of the sky?

Winslow Homer, watercolor, Redwing Blackbirds:

Homer-RedwingBlackbirds

It was disturbing enough to learn recently that our magnificent North American eagles – hundreds of thousands per year – are being sliced up in the blades of wind turbines at wind farms throughout the country. Our government has now granted the wind energy companies permission to allow these deaths without fear of penalty, for the next 30 years. Ain’t that grand?

Geese In Flight Before A Full Moon, Ohara Koson:

OharaKoson-geese-in-flight-before-a-full-moon

I love birds so much. I honestly don’t understand how anyone could not love them. They warble and sing outside my bedroom window every morning. They hop across my front lawn. They cheerfully perch in rows across telephone wires. They soar in the skies above my neighborhood. Eradicate all their colors, movements, and sounds from daily life and the absence would be sadly felt. And the observation of bird comings and goings inspires much of my other blog, The Salt Marsh. At this very moment as I’m typing on my laptop, one of those little downy woodpeckers is inching his way up the tree outside my kitchen. What a cutie 🙂

Birdseed, and the Birth of Christ

So I thought I had planned my pre-Christmas 48 hours thoroughly and methodically. The goal was to have ALL shopping and errands done so I wouldn’t have to leave the house today. I wanted to avoid the stores, the streets, the crowds and just stay home so I could wrap presents, prepare food to bring to my Mom’s house tomorrow, call friends, and generally chill out listening to Christmas music on the radio. But like all best laid plans, something unexpected came up.

In mid-afternoon I noticed that my backyard birdfeeder was empty. NOOOOO!!!!! I hate that. My normally crowded, chaotic birdfeeder, frequented by cardinals, blue jays, finches and a host of feathered friends, was now empty and abandoned. And of course, I was all out of birdseed. This was unacceptable. The birds won’t have anything to eat on Christmas morning!! <—– yes, I’m a wacko. So I got in my my car and drove to one of the two garden centers in my neighborhood, hoping that it would still be open at 4:30 on the day before Christmas. When I got there, they started making hand gestures shooing me out the door the minuted I walked in. “We’re closed, ma’am! Sorry.” Yeah I bet you are, you evil bird-hater. So I jumped back in my car and drove like a lunatic to the next garden center. I walked in there and all signs indicated “closing”- gates coming down, lights turning off. But I asked anyway, “Are you officially closed?”. A really cute guy who works there responded, “Why? What do you need?”. So I asked, in my best coquettish flirt-voice, “How about a ten pound bag of birdseed??”. And then, like music to my ears, he smiled and said, “Sure. Ok. Make it quick.” YAAAAYYYY!!!!

You all think I’m weird, don’t you? Well, maybe I am, but I’m a weirdo who will wake up Christmas morning to the sounds of happy feasting birds chirping outside my bedroom window. It is one of life’s wonderful, simple joys. It comforts me.

Have a warm and blessed Christmas, dear friends. Rejoice in the spirit of the season. Peace unto you and all God’s creatures . . . especially the birds 🙂

From the fresco of Scrovengi Chapel in Padua, this is the nativity scene by Giotto:

Birdwatching

A strutting peacock. A waddling duck. A swooping hawk. Those are some of the “poses” that my model partner Andrea and I tried to create for Wednesday night’s drawing session at Spring Studio. Minerva Durham, art instructor and director of Spring Studio, had the idea to explore bird anatomy, compare and contrast with human anatomy, and encourage the artists in attendance to produce interesting drawings of model-as-bird. Fun theme! When I first walked into Spring and Minerva told me that Andrea and I were to do bird poses, I was enthusiastic but knew it would also be challenging.

When asked to assume roles, artist’s models have to really be creative, as we have no benefit of costumes, props, sound effects, etc. We have, at our disposal, only our nude bodies, our movements and gestures, and our theatrical talents, and can hopefully convey an imaginary creature or action to good effect. I enjoyed it!

During her first lecture of the night, Minerva distributed printouts of a bird skeletal structure and then made her own sketch using charcoal and colored pastels:

Some distinguishing traits of avian anatomy are commonly known, namely the thin, hollow, lightweight bones adpated for flying. (It should be noted that flightless birds, such as penguins and ostriches, have solid bones.) Another distinguishing feature is the bird’s collarbone. Unlike in other vertebrates, it is fused together. The fused collarbone of the bird constitutes what we call the “wishbone”. A bird’s sternum (breastbone) must be solidly constructed to handle the attached muscles and bones of the wings and stressful, repetitive flapping action. In fact, the entire bird skeleton is full of ossified fused bones that are not found in other vertebrates, hence birds have fewer bones overall. If I remember Minerva’s lecture correctly, I think she said that the tibia and tarsal and metatarsal bones in the bird’s three-part leg structure are all fused pieces. Also, in the pelvic girdle region, bird skeletons have even more fused bones, functionally to handle the impact of takeoff and landing. So birds’ bodies are not particularly pliant and flexible. They can’t rotate, twist, and extend the way, say, cats and humans can. The only part of a bird’s anatomy that allows for some flexibility is the neck. Birds have more neck vertebrae than most other animals. Watch a bird move its head around to preen its feathers and notice how it is able to reach some difficult spots with ease.

Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a bird in flight:

So no matter how adept and imaginative an art model may be, anatomy cannot be altered, assumed, or emulated in any realistic way. Not that Minerva or the artists at Spring Studio were expecting “realism” from me and Andrea. In all living creatures, anatomy is fixed, and that anatomy lends itself to unique postures, shapes, and movements, singular to those creatures. Visualize for a moment the amazing variety of shapes, skeletons, and musculature of different beasts: elephant, shark, bear, iguana, falcon. But we humans – whether in drama class, children’s game, or life drawing session – can always pretend. We can impersonate. We can engage in make-believe. And that’s exactly what Andrea and I did Wednesday night.

A gorgeous illustration of Audubon Birds:

As I was doing my duck, my pigeon, my soaring eagle, my balancing-on-one-leg flamingo, I kept wondering if the artists, with only my naked body and gestures to work from, were seeing exactly what I wanted them to see. Part of me wished I could make an announcement before each pose, describing what I was about to do, but that would have ruined all the fun. Then, when I looked at the drawings on breaks it was clear that they did see it. Artists always see it. They always get it. One of them, Liza, even said to me, “I liked your duck!”. That made me so happy. I had used my hand to make tush feathers and shook it around the way ducks do when they come out of the water. I love that Liza totally got it 🙂

When Minerva asked for a ten minute bird pose, I actually stole from her bird sketch, the one I posted above. She had left it right at the base of the modeling platform. So I took a quick glance and copied it as best I could. Now check this out. Here is what comic book artist Carl Sciacchitano  created. I am bird lady. Awesome!

And here is Carl’s bird Andrea:

Many thanks to Carl for letting me post his drawings here. To conclude, I’ll post this John William Waterhouse work from 1891, Ulysses and the Sirens. Now if only Andrea and I could have recreated this! We’d need bird suits, feathers, and harnesses. And a big boat.

Water’s Edge

Some visitors on the north shore of Queens this afternoon. It’s always nice when these swan pairs stop by 🙂

I love the reflections in this one:

My heart goes out to the people of Joplin, Missouri and all the surrounding areas that were ravaged by the tornadoes. I saw the pictures on TV and the devastation is absolutely unreal. Those folks are terribly traumatized and I feel for them. Between the missing loved ones and the loss of homes, property, I hope they find the strength to cope and recover from an ordeal of such magnitude. I had my own experience with a tornado last September, but it hardly compares to what’s happened in the American south and midwest in recent weeks.