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.       


Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Black-billed Cuckoo (Coulicou à bec noir) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitelle à poitrine rousse) - and GRETA THUNBERG

21 September 2019

     When Kevin and I met dark and early at SpruceHaven on Saturday morning, we were pretty sure that our nets would not produce much, with overnight conditions perfect for passerine migration, and little reason for birds to hunker down overnight. And (remarkably!) we were right. 
     Very noteworthy, however, was a Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), a species seldom observed, and one which we are fortunate to trap in migration in the fall, but in very small numbers, frequently just a single bird. This individual was in an advanced stage of moult.

     The other species of note, a common species mind you, was a Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), the first ever caught in our nets. This is probably a resident bird and we will keep our eyes open for a bird with a band on its leg at the feeders in the winter.

All species banded 21 September: Black-billed Cuckoo (1), Black-capped Chickadee (2), Red-breasted Nuthatch (1), Song Sparrow (5), Common Yellowthroat (1). Total: 10 individuals of 5 species.

     Recently, I came across a quote attributed to the great sculptor, Henry Moore. He said, "The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is - it must be something you cannot possibly do."
     My thoughts immediately turned to that inspirational young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, barely more than a child and not quite a woman, who has inspired the world, with her message of environmentalism, and her challenge to the established order.

     There are those cynics who dismiss her, politicians who display nothing but their short-sighted ignorance, sarcasm and boorishness, those who choose to ignore science and do harm, but the world has embraced, and will continue to embrace, this dynamic, thoughtful, committed, passionate young advocate, who works tirelessly for all of us.
     You were a great sculptor Henry Moore, but in one fundamental way you were wrong. Greta will get it done.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Book Review - British Birds, A Pocket Guide - Princeton University Press

      It seems at times that as new field guides are produced they get larger and heavier - somewhat counter productive for a work that is designed to be carried around in the field. This one bucks the trend. It is indeed a pocket guide and can easily be slipped into a standard jacket pocket, or into a birder's vest or gilet, and it is lightweight too.

    This does not mean, however, that it is not packed with information, and a dazzling array of photographs.  It is designed with the novice birder in mind, introducing him/her to the 246 birds most likely to be encountered in Great Britain and Ireland. Experienced birders will also benefit from this work and it merits serious study by newcomer and veteran alike.
     As everyone who has ever watched birds knows very well, often one is confronted with little more than a silhouette, and familiarity with the gestalt of the bird enables one to at the very least narrow the identification down to the family level, and sometimes even to the species. This is perhaps especially true for birds in flight, as depicted below.

         A good grasp of the overall shape and flight pattern of a bird can materially affect one's ability to identify it. This ability is enhanced when one combines visual clues with a knowledge of the habitat, time of year and likelihood of a species being present.
       Habitat does not receive short shrift and the reader is directed to birds which may be located in a specific environment - coniferous woodland, for example.

     Ducks in flight present particular challenges, especially for a neophyte, and the following array will help a great deal in sorting out the various ducks that might be seen overhead. Of course, not all species will be present at once in the same environment  and time spent becoming familiar with seasonal abundance and migration routes at the appropriate time of year will be well rewarded with increased accuracy of identification.

     Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) is shown in its various plumages, from juvenile to adult,  but as may be clearly noted the outline of the bird in flight is identical regardless of age.

     It is knowledge like this that enables one to feel confident about identifying a species. Of course when this species is encountered it is generally near or at the coast, adding another clue to help to clinch the ID.
     Gulls can be frustratingly difficult to identify, especially in subadult plumage and even experienced gull watchers approach this task with some trepidation. Plates such as the one below help to tease apart the differences, sometimes quite subtle, between different species of large gulls, and show the progression from first year birds through full adults.

        Raptors are covered in great detail; this is another instance where often a flight silhouette is all that one gets.

     All species accounts feature a small map showing the area in which the bird is expected to be found.
    This is a very useful book, dedicated exclusively to field identification, and well worthy of being taken into the field as a vital tool in honing one's avian identification skills.

British Birds: A Pocket Guide
Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop and David Tipling
Paperback - $12.99 - 9780691181677 - 272 pages - 1,600 colour illustrations - 248 maps - 259 silhouettes - 4 1/2" x 7"
Publication date: 20 August 2019

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Annual Visit of Waterloo Region Nature to SpruceHaven

14 September 2019

Leader: David Gascoigne

Club members participating: Miriam Bauman, Shirley Bauman, Betty Brechun, Theo Byrne, Catherine Campbell, Lynn Conway, Daniel Entz, Fraser Gibson, Anne Godlewski, George Greer,  Brad Hale, Cathy Hale, Bill Hall, Victoria Ho, Dale Ingrey, Nina Ingrey, Adriaan Kemp, Barb Kemp, Denise Leschak, Hugh McCaul, Louise McCaul, Alan Morgan, Anne Morgan, Janet Ozaruk, Meg Slater, Frank Steinmoeller, Marj Steinmoeller,  Henriette Thompson,  Selwyn Tomkun, Don Voisin, Mary Voisin, Andrew Wesolowski, Lorraine Wesolowski, Stephen West, Susan Youngson.

Guests: Nicholas Bauer, Sarah Colter

     Judging by the impressive attendance for this annual outing I can say with confidence that this is the most anticipated event on the Club's schedule. There was a nucleus of regulars supplemented by many members visiting for the first time, and a couple of guests.

      Everyone is not in the picture above, but it gives you an idea of the level of participation.
     We always begin our day's activities in the barn which houses our Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) colony, which is where it really all started.

     This majestic old structure is looking quite grand this year having received  a fresh coat of paint and repairs where necessary.
     It is a great pleasure for me to have so many people interested in what we do and to explain the full scope of our monitoring and research activity.

        Newcomers are filled with knowledge before they leave and veterans of this event are always happy to learn of improvements in tracking devices, and to hear of discoveries we have made during the season. There is no doubt that these birds still hold many secrets we have yet to discover.
     The swallows have all departed for South America, but the nest below reminds us that they called SpruceHaven home for another breeding season. Given the conflagration in the Amazon, and the uncertainty of the conditions awaiting these migrants, it is unclear how many will survive to return next spring. It is with no small measure of sadness that we contemplate the  future of Barn Swallows and other aerial insectivores, when it seems that anthropogenic interference and continued habitat degradation and elimination, renders their existence ever more precarious -  to say nothing of the poor choices we continue to make in electing our political "leaders."

       We moved outside to continue with our walk and it seems that Selwyn Tomkun was anxious to point out something to me.

     We have installed numerous boxes for Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) and have had a reasonable level of success in attracting these charming little owls to use the boxes as winter roosts, but so far none have bred in them.

     We continued with our walk.

     And there was more to do in terms of explaining the various programmes we have underway at SpruceHaven and the success of our nest boxes.

     This past season Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) fledged record numbers of young and we also had great success with Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). We continue to be motivated to help cavity-nesting species who find fewer and fewer natural nest sites and we have plans to erect more nest boxes this fall in readiness for next year's breeding season.
     We were lucky to have Fraser Gibson on hand to explain the features of the latest advances in beehives.

     The "jewel in the crown" this year is the conversion of approximately forty acres of farmland to native grassland. Soil samples were taken and the land seeded with the mix of plants that would have been characteristic of a tall grass prairie at the time of European settlement of our area.

     It looks a little weedy right now, but as the new growth establishes its dominance this will start to change. We have a reasonable expectation that by next year we will attract Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), followed by other grassland species in succeeding years. It is a very exciting prospect.
     Already I have noticed an increase in Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), and Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows were seen hawking insects over the field , and Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) were feeding on the ground in large flocks . When Kevin and I were banding last weekend Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) flew overhead.

     There was more to explain!

       Everywhere is awash with Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at this time of the year, and it is both beautiful to see and provides rich foraging for butterflies and other pollinators.

     A Wooly Bear Caterpillar was seeking a place to hibernate for the winter; it will pupate in the spring to emerge as an Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).

     These fungi on a tree were very interesting, but I am afraid that I am unable to identify them.

     We went into the woodlot to introduce everyone to our salamander monitoring project.

      I was lucky that under only the second board I turned over there was a cooperative Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) for all to see.

          It is a measure of the deep interest that our group has in the natural world, that very few participants had dropped out along the way, and those that faltered did so only due to mobility issues and not from any lack of interest.

     It was time to head to the house for coffee and refreshments and we wended our way across the future grassland, slowly I might add, as everyone stopped to check out every treasure that revealed itself.

      I am sure I am not the only one who cast a glance across this rolling terrain with visions of a tall grass prairie blowing in the wind a few years hence.
      Everyone enjoyed warm Westfall/Hill hospitality and relived the events of the day and marvelled at just what SpruceHaven has come to mean to us all.

     Dave, Sandy and Jamie have proven themselves to be true visionaries and custodians of nature. Their commitment to habitat restoration and the preservation of the natural world extends far beyond what one might reasonably expect from even the most dedicated conservationist. As one who gets to deal with them every day I am constantly reminded of their largesse, the magnanimity of their philosophy and their fundamental decency.
     I know that you will all join me in saluting these champions. It is a privilege to have them in our lives.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.