Saturday, 14 January 2017

Snowy Owls (Harfangs des neiges) and Serviette Rings

13 January 2017

     John and Geraldine's daughter, Leigh, is visiting from Brazil, and wanted nothing so much as to see a Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus. Miriam and I had great success earlier in finding them, and offered to accompany John, Geraldine and Leigh, to areas north and west of Linwood where we expected they would be. 
     At 09:00 we set off, John driving, to see what we could find.
     The vehicle was filled with convivial chatter, not the least of which was the admonition from Geraldine to John, to drive at "birding speed." Given John's training and experience as an aircraft engine designer, one would have thought at times that supersonic was on his mind! We managed to meander gently, however, seeing various species along the route, ever vigilant for our quarry.
     Miriam spotted the first owl, resting in a field of corn stubble. Initially we thought it was a male, but upon close examination we concluded that it was a female, or perhaps a juvenile.

    This sighting signalled the start of what would be a Snowy Owl bonanza. Before we had finished we had tallied no less than five of them, a record for all of us. For Miriam and me, our previous record of four Snowy Owls in one day fell! Perhaps most pleasing of all was the fact that Leigh spotted her own owl, yelling to her father "STOP" and by this time John had become so compliant he was not driving at warp speed and was able to do so! It's a marvel to share in a view of a Snowy Owl, but to locate one yourself is the icing on the cake.

     Not only did Leigh spot owls like an old pro, she had her mom who was seated at the back of the van pass her the camera and she obtained some very creditable shots, braving the cold as she opened her window to get a clear view.
     Bravo, Leigh!
     Our final two birds were quite distant and the following shot is included just to show them so close together. Obviously any semblance of territoriality is suspended as they seek to make a living in their southern winter quarters.

     Upon arrival back at John and Geraldine's house we were invited in for lunch, (it took us at least five seconds to accept) and went into the home. John immediately poured us a glass of wine and we sat, and sipped, and chatted, while Geraldine prepared a delicious turkey soup and a green salad with dried cranberries. There was bread on the table, crackers, three kinds of cheese - a feast! We then had coffee and a wonderful version of the traditional Italian pannetone modified to accommodate Brazilian taste, with the addition of dulce de leche, a sweet treat with which we were familiar from our travels in Central and South America. "Would you have another slice, David?" said Leigh. "Don't mind if I do," said I!

     It was while at the table that we got engaged in a discussion about the incredible serviette rings John makes, of which we are privileged to have been the recipient of six. Here are just a few examples.

     The term "spalted" refers to the presence of a fungal infection in the wood, creating dark lines and striations, giving the wood added character. Spalted wood is highly sought after by woodworkers for the added beauty it conveys to a finished creation.

     It is interesting that one can determine the age of the ring by looking at the inscription. In the early days only the type of wood was recorded, but as the years went by Geraldine added the location and date.
     John starts with a 10 cm diameter limb about 30 cm long. Using a band saw he cuts, at a 45° angle, slices (or pancakes) about 2.5 cm thick from the piece of wood. Next, he used a hole saw 5 cm in diameter, and cuts out a holed cylinder from the pancake. Then he uses a 3 cm diameter hole saw and drills out the centre leaving a doughnut. Usually he does six to ten at a time.
     A spindle sander is then used to sand the inside of the ring, and holding the doughnut at various angles he cuts the rounded inside surfaces. A belt sander rounds the outside surface of the ring. When it is visually acceptable he hand finishes the outside of each ring.

     In the early days John used French polish to finish the rings, sanding with fine sandpaper between each coat. Now he uses Minwax fast-drying polyurethane clear gloss and achieves as high a finish as with French polish in less time. After the second coat and hand-sanding between, Geraldine prints the type of wood, its origin and the year of fabrication. After a day of drying a light swipe is applied over the printing, and the ring is put aside to dry. Then, additional coats are added until the final finish is achieved. It takes about two hours to complete a ring, although a precise time is difficult to judge as there is considerable waiting between each stage.

     In my opinion, the finished product is nothing short of a work of art, with each item different from another, with its own character and individual appeal. How lucky we are that John has given us six of them.
     In the picture above, and in those below, you will see a pot that John also made and gave to Miriam. 

     Imagine the work that went into this! These handcrafted products are so much more appealing than factory-made goods, with their mind-numbing similarity. Each product of John's is unique, like no other, even those made from the same section of wood.  Surely the way he is able to capture the grain and flow of the wood in so splendid a fashion speaks volumes to his fine eye for appealing detail.
     Miriam is no less creative with her range of serviettes made from recycled material. Old products find new life and a wonderful burst of creative vision is conferred on a utilitarian product.

     Imagine a summer picnic, al fresco, in a wooded glade, with birds singing, and how it would all be enhanced by these lovely objects.

     All of her recycled line of products can be found here. I take unabashed pride and satisfaction in applauding her creativity and the diversion of material away from the landfill.


  1. Very nice and a great way to reuse material! As for the Snowy Owls, I bet it was something special seeing all those owls. Congrats and glad they had a fun trek out with you. I love those kinds of birding days.

  2. Beautiful snowy owl. Regards

  3. I'm impressed by your companions' ability to spot Snowy Owls in the winter wonderland of Ontario. I have to put up with almost daily sightings of Barn Owls - such is life.

    Good to see your continued enjoyment of the other necessities of life, good food and wine. Enjoy your Sunday David.

    By the way, napkin rings while good to look at and a joy to hold, are not essential to a hearty meal. Just get stuck in.

  4. Hello. The snowy owl is a very beautiful bird. Happy weekend.

  5. Hi Both, what a day you had seeing that many Snowy Owls you lucky people, then to return and get invited to have lunch, seems to me you were totally spoiled. Super Serviette rings and well done Miriam with your recycled products. All the best, Regards John

  6. Stunning Snowy Owl images David,one of my favourite Owls,a big well done to Miriam,your recycled wood,lives on and becomes a Serviette Ring,pure work of Art.

  7. Que suerte poder ver al búho blanco sobre la nieve, como se mimetiza. Buen reportaje David, un fuerte abrazo desde España.

  8. what a glorious post!! I truly enjoyed it all. Those wooden rings are awesome. If only they were large enough to be a bracelet for the wrist. Gorgeous wood!
    And your snowy owl! Wow, I am quite jealous with those images. Beautiful.

    Also, one more thing, thanks so much for enlightening me on Bewick. I find that comment from you VERY interesting. I appreciate the time of your day to come answer.

  9. Snowy owl is the hard sticker in the bird album, you have the wonderful privilege to see it and photograph it

  10. Happy people so nice to see.
    Love those owls.
    The art work, just glorious and so cleverly done.

  11. Hello David, Ah to be able to see a Snowowl that would be fantastic. Sometimes in Winter they are to be seen in the North of the Netherlands. Great you have captured this one. That woodwork made by your friend is wonderful and so nice you received some plates and serviettes rings. The serviettes made by Miriam are so beautyful.

  12. I have also always wanted to see a snowy owl but my chances are vert slim!
    That wood work is amazing and I love the grain. Brilliant bit of art. Diane

  13. Fantastic photos and observations of snowy owls! :)

  14. With such a fabulous day of amazing birds, great company, and fine food, I'm finding myself concerned that your year might have peaked only 13 days in! The day certainly dispelled any Friday 13th superstitions.

    Naturally, I'm overawed by the Snowy Owls, but I'm also inspired by those napkin rings, and find myself contemplating trying this process for myself - as long as John hasn't patented the idea. I've been wondering if I should take up some sort of craft activity for a while.

    Sorry to take so long to visit your blog - I've been a bit pre-occupied with my end-of-year cataloguing of photos. I've still got August to December to go through, but have decided to take a break from it for a day or two!

    Love to you both - - Richard

    1. I will look forward to receiving a consignment of serviette rings sometime soon, Richard!

  15. The snowy owl !!!!
    Magnificent to see them. I see a snowy owl alone in a zoo Boehoe .....

    The napkin rings are made magnificent.
    The jars I find beautiful.
    My compliments to the creator of these beautiful rings and jars.

    Warm regards, Helma