Friday, 11 October 2019

Fall Birding

     This post will be a composite of various outings over the past couple of weeks. We do not have a lot of photographs for any single walk so it makes sense to combine them.
    We are at that point in the fall when most of the outbound migrants have left and winter species have not yet moved in. The end of the month should already start to redress that situation.

Hillside Park, Waterloo, ON

     A couple of visits to Hillside Park were pleasant and overall the birding was not bad. Passerines high in treetops, and others in dense bushes and tangles, did not make for great photographic opportunities. It is a great place to visit and very local, however; we can leave the house and be there in ten minutes.
     As you may see, autumn foliage is slowly starting to dominate the greenery of deciduous woodlands.

     The colours are spectacular, no less awe-inspiring with each passing year, and are a familiar and welcome feature of autumn in Ontario. People travel great distances for the splendour of the fall colours; we are lucky to have them  in our own backyard.
     This juvenile Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) was gorging on the prolific crop of berries of European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).

      Fall has been warm this year, unseasonably so, and the skies have been blue; sometimes etched with white, always interesting with shifting shapes and formations.

     An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) was probably paying scant attention to the clouds, focusing all its attention on insects passing by, to be snapped up in a quick sally from its perch.

     Mallards are ubiquitous; known to everyone both by sight and by sound, but they are always delightful. Like old friends we don't always give them their due, but we relish the reassurance of their presence.

Riverside Park, Cambridge, ON

     A few hours at Riverside Park is generally rewarding, and this visit was no exception.

     I also needed to buy bird seed from Wild Birds Unlimited, which is close by, so I took care of that chore too.
     This park is well used by casual walkers, and dogs exercising their humans, and many birds have come to realize that friendly two-legged creatures often have food in their pockets. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is frequently one of the first to explore this possibility.

     It seems to have become a trend recently that people paint rocks and inscribe inspirational messages on them, and leave them in prominent places. 

     From what I understand the finder is expected to be uplifted by the words, and may take the rock home or leave it for others to be similarly inspired. Some items are just decorative and have a reference on the back.

     Quite what this signifies I am not sure. We left them for others to discover!
     White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) was very common and wasted no time in letting us know that if we had seed it was willing to take it.

      Male and female Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were equally bold.

     Not to be outdone, an American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) was preoccupied with the serious business of laying in winter storage.

     Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a migratory species, but every year several individuals elect to remain at Riverside Park, and I am sure that supplemental human feeding has a lot to do with it. They are arrayed in various stages of plumage, all very handsome.

     A Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) appeared content to simply observe from on high, although periodically it did come down to snatch a little seed.

     House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) seem to have declined in numbers in recent years so it was very agreeable to see this pair at Riverside park.

     American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is another species that can now be found in the winter, having demonstrated an ability to exploit micro-climates and find suitable roosting sites. This individual was quite pale.

     As might be expected in October fungi dotted the woodlands, in a myriad of shapes, colours and sizes.

     Like the red squirrels above Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are veritable paragons of industriousness as they prepare for winter, filling their cheek pouches with seeds and berries, and scampering off to add to their larder.

Columbia Lake/Clair Lake Park, Waterloo, ON

     As I arrived at Columbia Lake I saw three Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) fly in to join a couple of others already on the lawn.

     The welcome they received was not entirely friendly.

     But after a couple of minutes of posturing and hissing it looks like they decided to get along.

     Fall colours were in evidence, of little concern to the quarrelsome geese I am sure.

     Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) could be seen around the lake, sometimes in the open, at other times hidden by the reeds.

     In recent weeks I have seen as many as fifteen Great Egrets (Ardea alba) at Columbia Lake, but yesterday only three remained.

     This is an elegant, handsome bird, and it is very agreeable that its presence here has increased exponentially in recent years.
     Mallards have not yet been joined by other species of ducks from the north, but I am sure that will change shortly. In the meantime it feels good to loaf on the rocks.....

     ..... or go off to find a snack.

     Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is another species which has departed over the past few days, as birds head out on migration. I searched in all the likely spots but only a single bird remained.

     The trees at Clair Lake Park were a riot of colour.

     I had a pleasant walk but what birds I saw for the most part were in the darkest recesses of the woodlot, and all resident species one might expect.
     As I departed I spotted an Eastern Phoebe flycatching from the top of a tree. Phoebes are the hardiest of the flycatchers to visit us, always the first to arrive and the last to leave. And a great favourite to all who know them.

     I bade this one farewell in the sincere hope that I may see it again next spring.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Book Review - Birds of Mongolia - Princeton University Press

     This field guide follows in the long tradition of Princeton Field Guides and is classic in its format, design and scope. It will be instantly familiar to any birder and will evoke warm feelings of successful outings past, spent in the company of an old friend.

     Mongolia is relatively new as a destination for the peripatetic ornithophile and the Preface gives a succinct introduction to the history of ornithology in Mongolia, bringing one up to speed quickly. As it says in the Introduction which follows, "Mongolia has been called the Last Wilderness Nation." 
     Sections follow covering Mongolia and its birdlife, including many glorious photographs of the varied terrain of this vast landlocked country.

     With topography as varied as desert steppe to luxuriant wetland, Mongolia contains habitat for a wide range of different families of birds.
     A section is devoted to bird migration in Mongolia, a topic of high importance for any visitor anxious to see species only present during certain times of the year. An interesting note is made as to "Mongolia as a Centre of Species Origin." No doubt, much of this information can be found elsewhere in the literature, but to have it all condensed and included at the front of a field guide covering a region of the world still shrouded in mystery to many, is particularly useful.
     I found it irresistible while reading these sections to flip ahead to the sections covering species that piqued my interest.

     A substantial section is devoted to Bird Conservation in Mongolia with a comprehensive list of Conservation Organisations and Government Agencies; very helpful information indeed, especially for a first-time visitor to the country.
     Six pages are then allocated to Birdwatching in Mongolia, with practical tips on every aspect of a birding adventure in this vast land.
     Finally the standard "How to use this book" remarks are made, together with a conventional yet always helpful, pictorial illustration of bird topography.
     What follows, of course is the meat of a field guide - the pictures of the birds, a map of their distribution and seasonal status, and keys to identifying the species.

     The pictures are done extremely well, and present the birds in typical posture, colours precisely outlined and faithful in rendition, with accompanying flight profile for many species.

     The description of each species is opposite its position on the plate with a distribution map, colour-coded for seasonal status.
     At the end of the species accounts there is coverage of vagrants and hypothetical records, a useful list of references and an index of common and scientific names.
     In short, this volume has everything you could want in a field guide. As far as I know, this is the first volume dedicated exclusively to Mongolia and it is, as stated on the back cover, "An indispensable guide for birders, adventurers, and all those interested in this central Asian nation."

Birds of Mongolia
Gombobaatar Sundev and Christopher W. Leahy
Paperback - $35.00 - 9780691138824 - 224 pages - 112 colour plates - 5 1/4" x 8 1/2"
Publication date: 8 October 2019

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Jeff Krete - Superstar

     Regular readers of my blog will know of the great pleasure I have had in interviewing champion wood carvers and introducing you to their work.
     My most recent encounter has been with Jeff Krete, an artist of great distinction, a wonderful conversationalist, a fellow with a cerebral quality applied to his creations in ways that confound the imaginative capacity of mere mortals like us.

     Jeff embarked on his career as a carver in 1983, at the tender age of twenty-three. His early influences were Arn Pletzer, already eighty-four years old when Jeff came to know him; a pattern maker and distinguished artist who was affiliated with the Group of Seven. Jeff would carve a piece one week and take it to Arn the next for critique.  Huge inspiration gained from fellow Canadian carvers Paul Burdette and Pat Godin were also developmental factors in Jeff's progression, and with their guidance he raised his skill level appreciably.
     Jeff is quick to acknowledge the contribution of these mentors, and to emphasize the collegial relationship that exists between carvers, who, while fiercely competing against each other, are always willing to offer assistance to an up-and-coming future rival. 
     While completing one of his pieces Jeff needed to improve his welding skills, and contacted Pat Godin for help and received it without hesitation.
     One of Jeff's prized possessions is a carving of an American Woodcock completed by Arn Pletzer and he was happy to show it to me.

     No doubt he is reminded of his early days as a fledgling carver every time he looks at this piece.
     As you will see as we explore Jeff's art throughout this article, it is an eclectic mix of style and subject, but one of the themes that will emerge is the connection between birds and human culture. And it is to this linkage that Jeff applies his most creative processes.
     Let us examine one piece that took my breath away with its complexity, detail, and execution. Fortunately (only for me) this piece has not sold so I was able to see it.
     A few years ago, as no doubt many of you remember, there was great interest in Egyptology, engendered primarily by the touring Tutankhamun exhibit, and this provided the inspiration for Jeff to complete one of his most ambitious pieces.

     Looking at the exquisite rendition above, it is perhaps appropriate to remind everyone that this is carved out of wood and hand painted. Jeff was unhappy with the results to be obtained with gold paint, so he applied actual gold leaf to portray the richness and majesty of the subject.
     The Egyptian god, Horus, was believed by its devotees to be embodied in a falcon.

     You will note the iconography of this side of the falcon, rich in shimmering gold. On the reverse side, however, are the true colours of a Peregrine Falcon, representing the fusion between the natural world and the realm of deities and spirits.

     The sarcophagus is carved from a single piece of tupelo. I can tell you from having seen this piece, the precision is nothing short of exquisite and it is accurate down to the smallest detail.
     Here is Jeff hard at work on it.

     Who can begin to imagine the amount of time spent on this work? How many frustrations, how many technical details to be worked out, how many obstacles to overcome? In fact who can conceive of the creative force to come up with the theme in the first place?
     It is a tour de force by any standards; a masterpiece both in conception and realization.
     The Ward World Championship, having its origins as a forum for decoy makers to display their oeuvre, will be fifty years old in 2020. Jeff has won first in the world five times, achieving that honour for the first time in 2006, in the floating pairs category, with a pair of Barrow's Goldeneye.

 This was followed a year years later with a win in the  decorative miniature category, with three Northern Pintails in flight. 

     Jeff felt that the second championship meant that the "pressure was off." He knew that he was not a one-off wonder!
     A pilot himself, Jeff has a love affair with flight, and many of his works, such as the one above, reflect this passion.
     In 2007 Jeff was again a world champion, once more in the decorative miniature category, this time with an Argus Pheasant.

     The pinnacle of Jeff's creative output resulted in a world championship and a People's Choice Award in 2014. Jeff considers this his finest piece to date - only to be surpassed in the future, mind you!
     It represents the inter-relatedness between the flight of birds and the flight of aeroplanes, and is aptly called "The Anatomy of Flight." How magnificently this is displayed, you may readily see below.

     The bird is rendered life size and every aspect of the bird and the machine is rendered accurately, with attention to even the most minor detail. The fusion of bird and aeroplane are exquisitely presented. Every flowing line is pleasing to the eye and leads one to soar toward the clouds.
     It is hardly surprising that Jeff looks extremely happy standing by his work, having already learned that he has been declared world champion.

    Jeff's most recent award-winning piece (2016) is entitled Bering North Sea Ducks, featuring Long-tailed Ducks and a King Eider.

     Oh that it were to grace my shelves!
    Jeff has now been a world champion in three of the five categories at the Ward World Championships. The two that remain to be conquered are World Decorative Life Size and Three Bird Shooting Rig. Jeff does not hesitate to to declare that he intends to be the first win in all five categories.
     A piece that I find incredibly beautiful and interesting, and one of Jeff's favourite three pieces that he has ever completed, is of a Cape Buffalo with a Cattle Egret on its head, reminding me of scenes that I have seen in South Africa. Jeff entered this work in the World Miniatures category in 2002, and it won nothing! It seems hard to believe, but of course I did not see the winning sculptures. I can only say that they must have been quite phenomenal!

       In addition to his success at the world championships Jeff has also won the Canadian National Championship six times and has numerous second and third place honours in a range of competitions.
     From a commercial standpoint Jeff creates decoy masters for Avery Greenhead Gear, a decoy company in the United States, a time-consuming and demanding occupation.

     There are so many more beautiful pieces created by Jeff, and so many more stories to tell, but I will feature just a few below, and you will judge for yourself the wealth of talent of this truly remarkable artist.

     Like all champions, Jeff has a championship ring. It now has five stones, four diamonds and a ruby for the win on the 40th anniversary. I expect that Jeff will soon have rings for more than one finger!

     Jeff is in demand as a teacher and takes a week each year to conduct classes for aspiring new carvers. He has travelled to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia to impart his knowledge and skills to others. Lucky the students to have been tutored by a master!
     Who can even imagine what is next for this amazing artist? Who knows what ideas are percolating in his head? I will be anxious to run into him at the next show to see the latest output from his creative mind and skillful hands. I can guarantee you it will be unique and both challenging and pleasing to all who see it.
     The purpose of these features on carvers is not to compare one with the other, nor to rank or rate them, but to expose you to the incredible work that they produce. I must say, however, that I derived an enormous degree of satisfaction from my interview with Jeff. He gave me insights into the process in ways I had not previously considered and removed a couple of layers from my blinders and opened up new vistas and perspectives. He added a whole new intellectual component to the work he shares with his fellow artists, man and woman, young and old. He is modest to a fault, a true champion in every way.
     I urge you to follow Jeff on Facebook by searching for Jeff Krete or Jeff Krete Wildlife Art; you may personal message him there.