Happy Spring!

To be fair, we’ve had far worse winters weather wise but this winter has seemed rougher, darker and sadder than most. As a life long environmentalist, artist and educator I can’t help but feel that everything I believe in is being threatened by bullies who worship the dollar far more than the heart, soul and health.

For me, the long winter kept making that more and more apparent. As spring arrives, however, I find myself rolling up my sleeves and getting down to the hard work of really standing up for the things I treasure. I find comfort in the fact that so many women, and men, too, are doing the same. Bulldozers and steam rollers may often get their way but eventually those confrontations with rocks, boulders and waterfalls can wear them down and stop them dead in their tracks. I intend to be one of the latter.

Anyhoo, as my grandmother would say, it is finally spring! As we all know, spring on the Cape is….well, not like spring in other places. We have to take it when we can get it, and where.

First, there’s that wonderful spring light, getting stronger every day. These black locust trees still only the tiniest of buds but the light somehow makes them seem joyous on a bright March afternoon.

Red maple, also called swamp maple, is one of our earliest native bloomers and its buds are already red and ready to go…. Pussy willows can now be found around most our bogs and freshwater wetlands. Willows like soggy ground, one of the reasons you should never plant them near a sewer line or septic tank. Their roots will eagerly seek all water sources and they aren’t picky about what type of water that might be, if you catch my drift. Skunk cabbage is another early wetland plant. I will be writing more about these interesting plants later in the week as they deserve a whole post of their own. These humble looking plants have quite the story and biology! Here’s a little skunk cabbage flower getting ready to bloom…. Hellebores, also called Lenten roses are very early bloomers and can survive snow, ice and other indignities. And of course, everyone’s spring favorites, snow drops and crocus. These are cultivated, not native or wild but they are so cheery I had to include them here.

Ospreys and piping plovers should be arriving within the week so keep your eyes wide open, ears, too!

What are some of your favorite early spring signs?

Science on the Street and Nature’s Ways

Happy weekend! I spent yesterday at the Science on the Street event held by the STEM Network at the Cape Cod Community College. What a fun day! Hundreds of families came through and I have to say it was very satisfying and encouraging to see so many young people, boys and girls alike, really enthused about science.Many organizations were there, each with a project that the kids could really get into physically as well as mentally. At our table for the Cape Cod Maritime Museum we had a buoyancy experiment and then we made our own tiny boats to see if they would float. We added different weights to them and some sank, as might be expected. No fear in these kids, though. They just made a better, stronger boat. My assistant had fun teaching the kids how to make an origami boat, an interesting challenge that involves geometry.

In other news, my Nature’s Ways earned a Top Story spot online on Wicked Local this week. Here’s a link to check it out

http://orleans.wickedlocal.com/entertainmentlife/20170318/natures-ways-resilience

My Weekly Nature Watch column can be accessed here–and there’s a portrait of Arlo as a bonus

http://www.capenews.net/columns/weekly-nature-watch-mother-nature-wild-untamed/article_f549e889-b20c-564d-9fd8-9bc988f585f3.html

This happened to be one of my three column weeks as my Neighborhood Nature column appeared in the Barnstable Patriot. People ask me all the time if I write the same column for all three and the answer is….of course not!

http://www.barnstablepatriot.com/news/20170316/neighborhood-nature-survival-on-wing-in-winter

As I write this the wind is blowing and snow is supposed to stop by for what is hopefully its last visit this season.

Tomorrow? SPRING!!!! Woohooooooo!

 

A Little Australian Springtime on a Snowy Cape Cod Day

The wind is blowing and the snow has just begun here on Cape Cod. We are supposed to get more rain than snow but LOTS of wind and some coastal flooding…

So, I’m warming up with a second cup of coffee and perusing more photos from our trip to Australia from last fall. It was spring there, and beautiful.

One of the most striking things about Australia for me, was the commonality of birds we would never see here. There are cockatoos, lorikeets and parrots everywhere. When I first saw one of the these galahs, also known as pink or rose breasted cockatoos, I nearly swooned. Big, boisterous and beautiful birds, these guys can be seen all over. They feed on seeds and can be found on the ground, in trees, or in one instance, lined up on a fence by the side of a road. They are big and stocky birds, measuring 36 cm or about 14.5 inches.

Australians use the word gallah–with an extra l–to describe a fool or idiot, often in joking terms. “You silly gallah, they might say, or don’t go acting like a crazy gallah… My first sighting of a crimson rosella took my breath away. I was walking along a grassy trail heading up a hill when this one flew down and landed not far from me. They are quite large, about 36 cm or 14.5 inches, but slimmer and longer looking than the galahs. I was so excited to see one of these that I couldn’t wait to tell my traveling companions…who reported seeing a whole flock. Over the time of our visit I ended up seeing quite a few but never got over thinking they were amazingly gorgeous birds. They look like a huge parakeet, right? The sulphur-crested cockatoo is another common park bird. Noisy and communal they are often found in flocks. This guy is 50 cm or almost 20 inches long, a good sized bird. A female king parrot was found hanging out with other females. I longed to get a peek at the red headed males but alas, never did see one.Rainbow Lorikeets were everywhere and I never tired of seeing them. One of the wonderful things about traveling is being exposed to so many new things, both in nature and in culture. It reminds me that the world is large and I am small. There is always something new to discover, something new to wrap my head around. Living with parrots and cockatoos is so different than living with chickadees and blue jays. But then, the opposite would be true for an Australian I suppose.

The world is a large and fascinating place…I’ve been lucky to see what I’ve seen and to have been where I’ve been. Next stop? Who knows?

Read my Weekly Nature Watch Column Online

Nothing like a little snow to keep us on our toes! That’s not what I wrote about last week, though…find the links to one of my columns below the photo…the other has not been posted online quite yet.

From the Enterprise on the upper Cape, Weekly Nature Watch–you may have to sign in but they don’t bombard you with emails or anything….

http://www.capenews.net/columns/weekly-nature-watch-listening-to-nature-s-wake-up-calls/article_298a63c3-958d-5d89-a95a-be1da7daaea0.html 

I will post Nature’s Ways when it is posted online. In the meantime you may wish to read it in print!

Thanks!

 

 

What’s new

Big news around here! I have accepted a position with the Cape Cod Maritime Museum as the Education Coordinator. I will also be responsible for marketing. The position is part time for now and full of opportunities for creating classes and workshops for the museum, in the schools and in the community. I am very excited about both the place and its programs. And, I can walk to work! If you haven’t been to the museum, check it out after it opens for the season on March 15.

My new position will not keep me from teaching my usual classes. I will, however, be offering a painting class there so keep watch for that announcement. Dates and times have not been set yet.

As many of you know, I teach a lot for many different organizations. I teach both art and nature classes all over the Cape and I especially love it when I can teach classes that have elements of both, such as my outdoor drawing and painting classes. Last year I taught outdoor classes twice a week from April through most of October. We traveled from Falmouth to Provincetown and painted all sorts of different landscapes as well as some of the Cape’s most beautiful gardens.

Here’s one of my students at Beech Forest in Provincetown.

And another with a prime seat at Fort Hill. We had classes painting the sunset as well. This one was at Sandy Neck. Here we were at an incredible garden in Dennis. Another garden, this time in Sandwich and it was full of sunflowers and nasturtiums. This is my get up. An easy to carry stool with a minimum of supplies that fit in a canvas bag. Right now I am teaching at Green Briar Nature Center in East Sandwich. The class is full and we are having a wonderful time. April is right around the corner so keep an eye out for my class announcements on the website, Facebook, etc.

In the summer I will be teaching several family nature journaling classes for Green Briar. These are not up on their website quite yet.

In September I will be teaching a weekend long intensive at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Drawing and Painting Birds.

My Nature Columns for this Week

For those that don’t have regular access to my columns, here are the links to this week’s offerings. You might have to sign in but they won’t harass you.

Here’s my Weekly Nature Watch column from the Falmouth Enterprise. It’s also in the Bourne, Mashpee and Sandwich Enterprise.

http://www.capenews.net/columns/weekly-nature-watch-breakfast-on-the-beach/article_b885633c-2610-5480-99fa-7a1d5ad61c1b.html

From the Cape Codder and The Register here is my Nature’s Ways column

http://brewster.wickedlocal.com/entertainmentlife/20170303/natures-ways-spring-in-my-step

Enjoy!

The Blackbirds are Back!

It’s always one of my favorite and first signs of spring–the return of the blackbirds. I often get common grackles before I get red-winged blackbirds at my own backyard feeders but I know the red-wings are around because I hear them.

Common grackles are big, bold and glossy birds with big yellow eyes. Their fan shaped tails are distinctive as is their raucous behavior. You always know when they are around.

Male grackles are the first to arrive, though it is difficult to tell males and females apart. Their big, solid bills help the crack corn and also eat carrion. They will gobble down seed and suet faster than you can say, hey, leave some for the squirrels and they often bicker while doing so. You have to give them credit in the looks department though. I think they are gorgeous birds, all that color glowing off them as they turn in the light. Their calls are loud and scratchy, often compared to the sound of rusty gate hinges.Red-winged blackbirds arrive in large flocks, often mixed in with grackles. Like grackles, the males arrive first and almost immediately begin to stake out territory.

Check out this guy’s raggedy tail feathers. All migratory birds look a bit haggard when they first arrive. They are often thin, minus a few feathers and in need of a good rest. That doesn’t stop them from declaring their superiority, however. Flocks of blackbirds often quibble in the still bare trees and will sing, if we can call it singing, louder and louder as time goes on and the others don’t move. That’s when you’ll start to see some aggression as one bird will decide to chase the others away. This early in the spring the others often ignore such antics and just move away a foot or so, if that. When they first arrive, the epaulets of the male red-winged blackbirds may appear dingy and lackluster. In a few weeks time the yellow and red will become quite bright, all the better to see and be seen in their world. Those bright red patches can be puffed out to seem much larger than they are. These are used as warning signals while setting up territories and chasing out would be interlopers but are also used to attract mates once the females arrive. Most are familiar with the “conkle-a-REE!” call of the red-winged blackbird. If you haven’t heard it yet, keep listening. By the end of this week they should be singing Cape wide.Have you seen a red-winged blackbird yet? Where?

Visiting Australia

Last November my husband and I were lucky enough to go to New South Wales, Australia to visit his sister, Emily, who lives there. She lives in a small beach town north of Sydney called Woy Woy. There is a large inlet and estuary nearby and we spent a lot of time walking around, looking at birds, flowers and other signs of spring. Yes, that’s right. November is the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere. Sort of a disconnect for people from New England!

After leaving the Sydney Airport we drove for many miles through the lovely jacaranda trees that look like puffy clouds of lavender bliss all through the landscape.

We traveled to the Blue Mountains, visited Sydney itself and many other cool places. It’s much too much to put in one post so I’ll be posting more over the next few weeks. This is a quick overview.

I didn’t expect to see pelicans in Australia but they are there! These are huge pelicans and are called….wait for it…..Australian pelicans. Go figure.
Magpies, called maggies by many Aussies, which is what magpies call Australians, by the way, are everywhere. These smart relatives of crows are noisy, assertive and clever. Many of the ones we saw already had young ones that were chasing their parents for food. One of my target birds for this trip was the kookaburra, the largest kingfisher. These are crow sized birds and have a call that sounds just like a cackling laugh. This one I photographed in my sister in law’s neighbor’s yard. Turns out they come in for bird feeders and are frequent park visitors. We did see and hear them in the woods as well. Lizards were everywhere. We didn’t see any snakes, however, which was just as well since so many of their snakes are poisonous. There may be no bird as ubiquitous in this area of Australia as the lorikeet. There are several different kinds but this one hung out in the bushes by the front porch daily. At night they gather by the thousands to roost in certain trees. The racket they make is unbelievable. Although koala bears can be seen in the wild we did not see any wild ones. This lazy koala was taking a little nap at a reptile park we visited. We did see wallabies and kangaroos in the wild. This guy was grazing in a field that was part of a ranch, hence the fencing, but it was not a pet or livestock. Ranchers and farmers in Australia are not overly fond of these trespassers but it did give us an opportunity to see them. The best time to go looking for them is just past dawn and just before dusk. This was an early morning shot.We came home and it was time for Thanksgiving and then all the holiday madness so I never got around to posting any of my photos, etc. Over the next few weeks I will post more about our trip as well as the drawings I did in my journal while we were there.

I’m Back on the Blog

What can I say? I’ve been off walking beaches, drawing, working on two children’s books, writing essays and poetry, painting, teaching, hanging out with the grandkids and well, not posting here. You can always find me on Instagram or Facebook if you’re looking for me. My goal is to post at least weekly here once again, however, so keep checking in here as well.

Last November John and I were lucky enough to spend 10 days in  New South Wales, Australia, with his sister, Emily. She treated us to all sorts of wonderful day trips and a 4 day trip into the Blue Mountains. A highlight of the trip was seeing and hearing this kookaburra, a member of the kingfisher family that is both quite loud and quite noisy. I will post more about our trip in later posts.

I’ve been doing lots of writing and drawing. Sketching the birds coming to my feeder has kept me busy on snowy days.

There’s been a lot of beach walking at or just after sunrise…

A lot of dog walking…

and watching my youngest grandson play basketball–that’s him throwing the foul shot.

I’ll be starting a new class next week at the Green Briar Nature Center. Hit the link for the pertinent details. You’ll have to scroll down a bit as they didn’t make a direct link.

More soon!

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.