This 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.
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.
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.
We heard Tundra Swans had been sighted at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge near Syracuse, NY. I’d always wanted to see them. So, on the weekend Ellen and I drove over.
On Saturday we saw hundreds of migrating ducks including two of my favorites, the Hooded Merganser and the Buffle-head. We even had to stop the car while Great Blue Herons crossed in front of us, but no swans.
That night we stayed in Seneca Falls, the town that Jimmy Stewart’s movie, It’s a Wonderful Life was based on.
The next day we tried again, but still couldn’t fine Tundra Swans. We saw Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead, while Northern Shovellers and American Widgeons dabbled in the marsh.
We talked with some people who had heard reports of Tundra Swans not far away. We drove around the countryside on the back roads searching for the elusive birds. Just as we were about to head back home we came around a bend in the road and there they were! Hundreds of Tundra Swans swimming and feeding in a flooded field.
In two days we also saw Double-crested Cormorant, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, Blue-winged Teals, Nesting Ospreys, Green-winged Teals, Pied-billed Grebes, Ravens, Ruddy Ducks, Tree Swallows, Song Sparrows, Turkey Vultures, Pileated Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, and Northern Pintails. Plenty of material for more carvings. To plan a visit go to: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/montezuma/
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake. It’s a full-sized carousel with twenty-four hand-carved animals to ride on. These were created by different woodcarvers and each one is a unique work of art. There is an Eagle, Loon, Otter, Bear, Trout, Snowshoe Hare and many others; all beautifully carved and painted in the finest carousel tradition. If you get a chance visit the Carousel. They are open year-round, but check the website for hours and directions: www.adirondackcarousel.org
Jim Sprankle began carving in 1968, and is considered one of the finest wildlife woodcarvers in the world. His work appears in private collections and museums in Europe, Japan, and North America. He is the author of several books, and has been featured in dozens of magazine articles.
A native of LaFayette Indiana, Jim was a professional baseball player, pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds, before starting his carving career. Two years ago Jim donated his collection of 43 hand-carved decoys to the J.N. “Ding” Darling Education Center on Sanibel Island, Florida.
It’s always a pleasure talking with Jim. He’s a true gentleman and an artist; always willing to share his knowledge with others.
Learn more about Jim on his website: www.sprankle.com
I recently had the good fortune to visit the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Florida. It’s a 5,200 acre wilderness refuge famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations, and encloses the largest surviving mangrove ecosystem in the country. It is named after J. Norwood “Ding” Darling a political cartoonist who spearheaded conservation efforts in America in the early 20th Century.
Here are a few of the birds I saw on our visit. The Visitors’ Center houses an amazing collection of wildlife woodcarvings by the legendary Jim Sprankle like this life-size Anhinga. I had the pleasure of talking with Jim, and will tell you more about his carvings next time.