Book Review: Julie Zickefoose’s Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into a Nest

Hi all–It’s not often I am moved to write a book review but I wanted to share a most wonderful book with all of you. The links will take you to Julie Zickefoose’s blog and website where you can order a copy directly from her. If you are a bird lover, you will love this beautiful book by an amazing artist, naturalist and writer.

Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest

By Julie Zickefoose

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Back in 2005 when I started my blog I did a search for others focusing on art and nature in their blogs and that’s when I found the talented and indomitable Julie Zickefoose. Not only was she a naturalist and artist but she was a Leo married to a Pisces, something she noted on her About page. Guess what? So was I. This tickled me as much as her writing and I’ve followed her blog ever since. We both made the jump to Facebook about the same time and I’ve followed her there as well. If you also follow her, you know she always has something interesting to share, show or tell, day in and day out.

Zickefoose is not only a talented artist and blogger but a well-respected author, with several well received books already on national bookshelves. I saw her speak a few years back and she shared that she was working on a unique book that would integrate her drawings and paintings of baby birds with her observations and scientific notes. Many of us began to look forward to this book as she posted little hints and previews along the way over the next few years.

Finally, the book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest was published this spring. I got my copy almost immediately and sat right down to look through it.

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Every morning for about a week I sat with my coffee and read a chapter through. Finally, I just read through the last third of the book without stopping. That’s how good and intriguing Zickefoose’s writing is.

Baby Birds chronicles the first few weeks of life in the nest. Zickefoose is a licensed wildlife rehabber so has permission to handle birds, including baby birds and she makes a point of being painstakingly careful when she does. She also makes a point of only handling and studying baby birds that are hatched in cavity nests, such as bird boxes, that are fully protected from potential predators. She reiterates often that she would not do this with open nesters or tree nesters such as robins and cardinals as it would jeopardize the nests and the baby birds.

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While drawing and painting, Zickefoose also feeds and warms the tiny charges. She writes of how they grow, how they eat and how they are developing in a way that is both accurate and totally charming. As much of a scientist as she is; Zickefoose can’t help but share her love and affection for these vulnerable little birdlets throughout.

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There is plenty of science and factual information to be had between the pages of this wonderful book but it is the magic and the love she sprinkles on every page that drew me in and kept me in. There is no doubt that each of these tiny birds was as precious as could be for her and when the time came to stand back and allow the little birds time and space to fledge, Zickefoose did so gracefully and gratefully. Her stories are totally captivating as are her subjects.

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As for the art? Perfectly lovely and charming as well as painstakingly accurate. You will find yourself looking at the illustrations over and over and over again. There is far too much to take in with just a cursory look. These are drawings and paintings to be enjoyed on many levels and over time. I loved all the drawings and paintings but especially loved the one of Zickefoose’s daughter, Phoebe, pondering a phoebe…

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This is a book to be treasured and looked at again and again. It is a perfect gift for any bird lover but I think this book would have been my absolute favorite when I was a young wannabe artist and ornithologist, so don’t forget the young people you know. It may seem dense with information for a young person but I would have returned to this book until the pages were worn and fuzzy when I was kid. I would have loved everything about it. Oh wait, I love everything about it now, too.

I have heard Zickefoose speak on several occasions and also traveled to South Africa with her and a group of birders last fall so I will admit I was a fan long before I read the book. Still, I wouldn’t say it was great if I really didn’t think so. I would just say nothing at all. As you can see, I had plenty to say 😉

If you wish to purchase the book you can purchase directly from Julie Zickefoose from her website. Yes, it is cheaper on Amazon but if you buy from her, she makes more money and you get to support a real live person, not a business machine.

Cape Cod Roses

Ah, June! Roses are everywhere here on Cape Cod right now but some of our most beloved roses are washashores…img_0290.jpgRosa rugosa, our favorite beach rose is so iconic that it is regularly featured on all sorts of promotional materials for the Cape and Islands. It is not native, however, having been brought over from Asia in the 1800s.

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Then there’s the heavily scented Rosa multiflora, another Asian import, that grows like a weed wherever planted and birds plant them everywhere after eating the hips or fruits. It’s the one with the little white blossoms that is everywhere right now.

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That’s it in the foreground…

img_0546.jpgWe do have a local wild rose though. This sweet pink rose is not as showy or robust as the Rosa rugosa but it is lovely and smells wonderful. Known as the Virginia rose to many it also goes by other common names as well, such as the prairie rose.

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All these roses are in bloom right now in places like Fort Hill in Eastham. We have a fabulous weather forecast for the weekend so get outside and enjoy!

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Help our early pollinators!

As tempting as it may be for some folks to mow down or kill any sign of what we think of as weeds, try and enjoy our earliest spring blooms. They are the first flowers our early bees and butterflies use for nectar. Yes, many of these plants get dismissed as weeds but why not embrace them as food for helpful and necessary insects instead?

This is what happens when we let a place get a little wild. It is quickly populated with plants that flower and provide food for not only beneficial insects like honey bees but seeds for birds as well.

violetsDandelions are some of our first nectar plants and if left alone you will find they are happily visited by bees all day long. I have tons of violets as well and the bees and small butterflies love them as well.

Dandelions and violets You may also find other ground covers such as these. When I photographed these yesterday they were being visited by spring azures, sweet tiny blue butterflies. Well worth waiting to mow in my estimation.early spring bloomsMore ground covers that can be let go and grow right now. Weeds? Maybe. Food for tiny beings? Definitely. Also, in my world, food for the soul and the eyes. I love these small flowers that brave the cold and the crazy spring weather and bloom anyway.img_9061.jpgSomehow having a monochrome green lawn has become desirable in today’s world. This means using chemicals to keep out weeds and bugs. Many people are using Round Up, one of the worst chemicals to be unleashed on the world market since DDT and we all know how that went. Go chemical free. Embrace the weeds. Enjoy the flowers, bees and butterflies you will get as a result. Yards full of these plants will also invite children to play, to look for fairies, toads and beetles.

When we are welcoming to birds and wildlife we are richly rewarded. We don’t need to worry about our children or pets absorbing poisons into their skins or into their water sources. Even walking through treated grass can bring unwanted chemicals into our homes on the soles of our shoes or even our feet.

If I have to choose between poison and dandelions, I pick dandelions every time. And heck, they’re cheerfully yellow. What’s to hate?

Stories trees tell in the Cape Cod woods

Way back in the day before the Europeans came to Cape Cod, the entire peninsula was covered with hard wood forests. Sassafras, hickory, beech, oak, maple and more were everywhere. So were the tall and stately white pines. The dirt was dark and loamy, rich with nutrients.

And then, the wood hungry people chopped down all the trees. All the trees. By the time Thoreau walked our shores in the mid 1800s there wasn’t a tree in the landscape, noted in his book, Cape Cod.

With the trees went the soil, leaving sand and in some areas, clay, behind.

Today our woodlands are full of oak and pitch pine. Pitch pine was planted in the 1800s to try and stop the eroding of the soil. Pitch pine is fast growing and tough.  If you’ve been to Cape Cod you have seen pitch pine. It is now ubiquitous here.


Almost all our woodlands are pretty monotonous. Pitch pine and oak….and in many areas the taller, wilier oak is winning. Pitch pines top out at about 50 feet. Oaks grow much taller. Every year the pines drop cones full of seeds and from those sprout little trees like this one. Some will prosper and grow. Many will not.img_8809.jpg Much of what is now woodland on the Cape was once used as farmland. Many trees were cut again to clear land and it is not unusual to find trees with two trunk in these areas. Both trunks grew from sprouts from the stump, left to rot.img_8819.jpgAmerican holly trees can be found in many of our woodlands. Some areas were actually cultivated for holly and are known as holly reservations, showcasing many varieties, such as Ashumet in Hatchville and Ryder Conservation area in Sandwich. Other woodlands have many accidentals, planted by birds which ate the seeds and then pooped them out.img_8812-1.jpgSome areas, especially in Mashpee, still have some very old, very tall white pines. In recent years I’ve been noticing white pines sneaking back into other areas as well, such as this area in Hyannis around Hathaway’s Pond. White pines grow fast and get very tall, out pacing the pitch pines so it will be interesting to see how this develops, if I live that long.img_8807.jpgI ‘ll be posting more about local trees and flowers as spring unfolds so stay tuned!

Spring light on Cape Cod

What a crazy spring so far! Warm days, cold days, rain, snow, hail, rainbows, sun, clouds….all in the same day some days. It has made for some spectacular views, though.

I have always loved walking around and exploring ponds. It’s one of those things that harks back to childhood for me. I love the ocean and the beach but a pond is a smaller, friendlier body of water. It’s quite accessible to a child and full of wonderful things. Sometimes there are even shadows of tree ghosts on the path.  One of my favorite ponds is Hathaway’s Pond in Hyannis. I grew up going to this pond and I still love to go there. The light through the trees and on the water is beautiful this time of year. I’ll be leading a walk there this Saturday at 8 a.m. It’s free and open to the public so come join me!
  You can see a glaze of snow on these branches. Even with the gray of the day the light is sneaking through….  The Cape is famous for its light and each morning when I walk on the beach down the street the light there nearly takes my breath away every time. I never know what I will find but it is always satisfying.
  On this day a front was coming in. The divide between dark and light on both the water and in the sky was dramatic.  Some mornings the water is all sparkly and on others it is almost luminescent.
  Sun, no sun, clouds, rain….spring has it all. But mostly it has a light that makes me glad to be alive. I want to breathe it in with the air and be filled with it.  Those little halos of light on the horizon and the water’s edge make me swoon a little.
  And then sometimes I look out my window and see the eastern sky on fire with a bit of a rainbow after a windy, rainy day. I could see the sunset out the back door through the trees but the pink on the opposite side was even more spectacular, I think. As for the wires? It’s the world we live in and sometimes I think it gives the whole picture a human scale and that’s okay with me.  What kind of light will I find out there today?

Happy Spring?

I’m trying to get back into posting regularly here so thanks for stopping by and reading. This past winter wasn’t so terrible, especially compared to last winter but it did throw us an icy little curve ball this week here on the Cape.

002Yep, it snowed. And hailed. And rained. And snowed some more, leaving a nice, crusty, icy covering on everything. All my poor daffodils suffered, lying their little yellow heads right down on the ground.

017Outside my kitchen window the grackles ruled. At least 50 flew in to take advantage of free seed and what a noisy, bickering bunch they were. Grackles are sort of like that large group of teenagers that rumbles through the neighborhood. They’re rude, they’re loud and yet, they have a certain shine to them that makes me smile in spite of myself.

056 The morning between storms was cold but still. The beach was a hundred shades of gray and the gulls were, too.024

Soon, the wind would pick up and more snow would blow in but in the meantime the mergansers were flirting it up.

038And then, it all melted and the sun returned. I saw my first mayflower in bloom.

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022And like this lady mallard I knew that spring was really there in the wings, just waiting to return to the main stage.

Happy spring, everyone.

A Talk and a Walk

Hi all! And Happy Spring! I know the forecast is calling for some, well, you know….un-springlike stuff, but I’m just going to float right over that for now and enjoy this sunny day.

I’ve been busy teaching a drawing and painting class at Green Briar Nature Center this March and I’ve also been busy creating my new Beach Bunnies on Vacation coloring book. I’m also revising a middle grade novel that I’ll be sending out to agents and publishers soon. It was a productive winter around here.

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This Wednesday I’ll be giving a talk about Creating a Nature Journal at the Dennis Public Library at 4 p.m. It’s free but you have to let them know you’re coming!

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On April 16 I will be leading a walk at the Hathaway’s Pond Conservation Area on the Hyannis/Barnstable Village line at 8 a.m. That is also free.

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For those who would like to do some outdoor drawing and painting I’ll be leading a class once a week that will meet in different locations all over the Cape. I’m working on the schedule now but it will be under the Classes button on the navigation bar very soon.

Come see me and celebrate spring!

My new Beach Bunnies coloring book is here!

I’ve been working on this project for a few years and finally, my little story coloring book is in print. I am making it available to my followers and friends with free shipping for the first few weeks. Soon it will be available in local shops but for now, it is just available online.

001 The book is 8.5″ square, is printed on super nice paper that can stand up to non permanent markers but which is also good for colored pencils or crayons. The backs of the pictures are blank, and you can’t see through to the next page which kids love. The story is short and sweet and the illustrations are fun to color.005 There are 15 pictures to color and they are fun for adults as well as kids.004 This was created by me but also printed locally at Sunderland Printing so if you’re like me and like to support local artists and businesses, this will fill the bill.006Thanks to all who have encouraged me over the years! And if you know a shop that would like to sell this, please let me know! Orders from this weekend will go in the mail on Monday.

You can purchase your copies of Beach Bunnies on Vacation right here.

Beautiful fall on Cape Cod

I know that many of us simply love the fall just about anywhere but fall on Cape Cod is pretty special. We get a late frost which means a lot of late bloomers are still around. The trees are colorful longer into November than many othe places and the marshes are just gorgeous.

We also get some exceptionally high and low tides around the full moon…  Beautiful reflections abound,,,,
  Red maples put on a beautiful show….  Even the swans look majestic in this sort of light….
  Can’t get enough of this lovely shade of red….  or this yellow orange of rosa rugosa leaves in the dunes….
  A few dragonflies are still around….  And scads of mushrooms like these honey mushrooms….
  More color against the autumn sky…  and the golden color of the marshes….
  Some yellows in the woods are always nice….  and at the beach, it’s all about that autumn light!
 I hope you are getting out and enjoying the wonderful weather here this week!

Dreaming of Africa

I’ve been home a week and a half or so and am definitely back to work and back to my normal life. However, I find my mind wandering back to Africa every chance it gets. I think it is fair to say it will take a while for it to all sink in and settle out but in the meantime I thought I’d share some photos to give you a bit of an idea as to what we saw.

One of the first things we saw were these two white rhinos…

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In this reserve, many of the rhinos have had their horns cut off, at least partially, which makes them much less attractive to poachers.

036One of the birds I really wanted to see on this trip was an ostrich. Lucky me, because I saw more than a few!

041We even saw this one on her nest with three babies. The eggs you can see will probably never hatch and have been abandoned. Sometimes more than one female lays eggs in a nest. In this case these eggs may have belonged to another female. As they used to say on Facebook, it’s complicated.

060Not long after, we saw our first meerkat, a mama to be, standing guard, rubbing her belly.

063One of the most beautiful and exciting birds we saw was this African hoopoe. It pretty much posed for us.

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We saw our first giraffe and were wowed by the grace and nobility…

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and then we saw our first elephants!

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This is just a little sampling of how the trip began…I’ll be posting more so check back in when you can.