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Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

DSCN0385Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island off the Gulf Coast of Florida is one of the best places to see shy birds up close. This Yellow-Crowned Night Heron was hunting crabs in the tangle of mangrove roots along Wildlife Drive when we visited at low tide.

The Night Herons are more nocturnal than most herons, but won’t pass up a tasty crab even in broad daylight if they are hungry. They roost in small groups in the Refuge. We’ve seen their nests, and the eggs are the most unbelievable sky blue. The baby herons are noisy and rowdy, always begging their hard-working parents for more food.

Black-Crowned Night Herons also live in the Refuge, and I hope to get a good photo of one while we’re down here. I’ll let you know if I do.

Russian Folk Toys

DSCN0378A favorite of children around the world, these Russian toys were first made over 300 years ago in the small village of “Bogorodskoye”. They are still handcarved using traditional tools from Linden wood, also called Basswood. They seem to come to life when you swing them in a circular motion.

I have been collecting them for years, and this one is a gift from a friend. It’s inspired by the Aesop Fable where a fox tricks a crow carrying a piece of cheese. The fox asks to hear the crow’s beautiful voice. When it opens its beak to sing, it drops the cheese and the happy fox trots off; the moral being, “don’t trust flatterers.”

The Woodcocks Have Arrived!

I just saw the first Woodcock of the spring on the path to my woodshed. Also known as “Timber Doodles” they usually come north a little earlier. I think the late spring delayed them a week or two this year. They’ve always been one of my favorite birds, and this photo is one my early bird carvings. Their eyes are positioned high on their head so they can see above the ground cover which makes them look both goofy and serious at the same time. The long beak is used to dig out earthworms, their favorite food.

If you’re lucky, sometimes you can see their spring courtship display. It begins after sunset, when it’s just dark enough to see the first stars. The males come out of the woods into a grassy area and begin making a nasal “beeping” sound at regular intervals. After a few minutes of this they take off in a high spiraling flight. Their wings make a loud twittering sound as they circle in the twilight sky. Then they land with a audible “thud” in the same spot where they started, and begin beeping again.

Meanwhile the female is watching from the grass and hopefully will be enchanted by his display. Apparently it works, once or twice we’ve seen Woodcock chicks in the yard late in the spring. Like the adults they are nearly invisible on the forest floor.

Warbler Migration

Spring really is coming. Despite the six inches of fresh snow this weekend two chipmunks poked their heads out of the ground, and bright yellow Goldfinches were mixing with the Redpolls at the birdfeeder. The Redpolls will be heading North soon, but the Goldfinches will be around all summer.

In a month or so the first warblers, like this little Parula I carved a few years ago, will be migrating through the Adirondacks. It’s one of my favorite times of year. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the middle of a mixed flock it’s like being surrounded by flying Easter eggs. They are so tiny and bright. I always wonder how such delicate creatures can make such long journeys. I worry about the dangers they face, and I’m always delighted to see them arrive safely in their summer home.

Several species nest in my yard including the Myrtle (aka yellow-rumped), Magnolia, Black-throated Green, and Redstart. We see others too, including one of my favorites the Blackburnian. They like to feed high in the spruce tree near my front door. I can’t wait until they’re here again.

Happy April!

DSCN0373Spring is finally here.

Desert Birds

Image4We used to live in Arizona, and a few years ago I did this carving of one of my favorite desert birds, the Roadrunner. These odd but handsome birds are actually ground-dwelling cuckoos. They are amazingly fast runners and used to race our VW van along the side of the road. They eat anything they can catch including poisonous snakes and scorpions. One would come to our door in the evening and tap on the glass until we gave him something to eat. I’m looking forward to a trip to the desert to see them in the wild again.

Redpolls Have Returned!

DSCN0254DSCN0264DSCN0256This week was exciting. Redpolls came to our birdfeeder for the first time in years. Redpolls look like small, pale sparrows except they have an iridescent red patch on their foreheads, and males have an additional red patch on their breasts.

They only migrate during the harshest of winters when they flee south to the Adirondacks from Canada for the milder weather. For these hardy little birds 20 degrees below zero and 12 inches of fresh snow is like a day on the beach.

Worldwide they live in the northernmost forests of Alaska, Scandinavia, and Russia. Bird books describe them as “irregularly common” because you either don’t see any, or 40 of them are trying to crowd into your birdfeeder at once.

Our new cat Cami loves bird watching. We keep her inside for her safety and theirs, but that doesn’t stop her from enjoying the fun.

Happy Holidays!

Just found our tree!
Happy Holidays from Rick and Ellen2014 Christmas Tree

Circus Carvings at Shelburne Museum

Rick and Ellen VT Sept 2014 007

Circus Carvings at Shelburne Museum

Rick and Ellen VT Sept 2014 006Rick and Ellen VT Sept 2014 012

Every now and then you come across an example of woodcarving that is humbling for carvers of any level. Recently I had a chance to see the Circus Carvings at Shelburne Museum in Vermont, the home of some of the best examples of American Folk Carving in the world.

The first set of carvings depicts the Circus Big Top and was carved by Edgar Kirk (1891-1956). He dedicated more than 40 years of his life to recreating the excitement of Barnum and Bailey’s three ring circus. Over 3,500 carvings make up this extraordinary model.

The other work is the Circus Parade carved by Roy Arnold (1892-1976). He recreated the pomp and pageantry of the Barnum and Bailey parade bringing the Circus to town. Created in a one inch to one foot scale, the entire parade consists of thousands of figures. When it was exhibited it filled two sixteen-foot trucks, and took a crew of workers two complete days to set up the 525 foot model.

Both the examples were donated to the Shelburne Museum, and are housed in their own separate building. If you’re ever traveling through Vermont, take some time to check it out. It is truly inspiring.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron


I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this bird walking along the beach on Sanibel Island in the middle of the day. It’s a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a large nocturnal bird found deep in the marshes and mangrove swamps. It reminded me of what one of my favorite outdoor writers and philosophers Ernest Thompson Seton once said, if you sit still long enough something interesting will walk by. How right he was.

Seton was born August 14, 1860, and became an award winning wildlife illustrator and naturalist. In 1907 he made a 2,000 mile canoe trip through Northern Canada making the first accurate maps of this wilderness region.

As Chairman of the founding committee of the Boy Scouts of America, he wrote the first Boy Scout handbook. He promoted nature and the protection of wildlife until his death at the age of 86.