New York Birds and Art

I meet people all the time and some you can tell right away are going to be companions who are either fun to work with or good for a visit. Frequently, people will say, “Oh, I have a place in this city or country, you should visit me.” proposition statue

I’m the sort of person who takes you up on that…careful what you invite me to. Chances are very good that I’ll show up. Especially if you live in New York City--I love visiting New York! Even the statues proposition you! That thing totally looks like he's saying, "Heeeey, sexy laaaady, you wanna party?"

My friend Kimberly Butler is a professional photographer, she’s been inducted into the Smithsonian and even worked for People Magazine for years—back before it was mostly a tabloid. I knew she had a studio apartment in Manhattan…what didn’t realize she meant is she has a beautiful apartment that also includes her photography studio. I was so grateful to stay with her because no matter what topic you bring up—she has a story of some crazy adventure she went on and she’s in walking distance of three of my favorite things in New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and the Museum of Modern Art.

mid photobomb

After going to Los Angeles, I flew to Connecticut to speak then headed up into New York City. My original plan was to film a video, but one of the people essential to the video ended up being out of town and I chose instead to use it as opportunity to visit Kim, go see the Edvard Munch exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and go do some photobombing around 30 Rock (that’s what I’m doing in the above photo).

the scream

I’m a fan of art (that I can understand) and being a teenager, I was especially fond of Munch when I discovered his work. Google some of his stuff, you can see why a teenager might fall in love with it.  MOMA had an actual The Scream, Munch most favorite work on display.  They actually had versions of the scream. I had the woodcut version as a shirt with the caption “President Quayle” written underneath it. But as iconic as the scream is, I was more excited to have a chance to see some of his other works like the Madonna and the Storm.

the embrace

This is one of my all time favorites. It’s been mistranslated to be titled The Vampire, but it was originally titled The Embrace (because what else would a redhead be doing to a guy buy biting his neck and sucking his blood). But it’s one that has always, always appealed, rivaled in my love only by Munch’s The Kiss.

starry night

But part of the fun of visiting these museums is not only having a chance to see a special exhibit, but running into celebrity art like the above Starry Night.  I’d completely forgot that Van Gogh’s Starry Night was there and what a bonus to run into it…and a welcome respite after Munch’s darkness. There’s no way I can visually and emotionally comprehend all the artwork in a large museum. I try to go in with a goal for a specific artist and then discover what I can on the way out. On my down the stairs, there was a special exhibit where a current artist got to curate an exhibit. I was surprised to see some familiar photographs.

wood thrush

Trisha Donnelly chose to include a room full of Eliot Porter bird photographs as part of installation.  These are incredible if you consider Porter was using photography equipment from the 1940 – 1970s to get bird shots. Some you may even recognize from older bird books. She chose to include his works because, “though Porter’s abundant body of work has often been relegated to the genre of nature photography, his reflects a deep interest in the underlying structures of the universe. He uses the act of close looking associated with the medium of photography to create studies in chaos.”

alder flycatcher

Are you kidding me? I came all the way to New York City to enjoy some modern art and I run into to freaking alder flycatcher?  Empidonax flycatchers—my nemesis, trying to identify an alder flycatcher from a willow flycatcher certainly is a study in chaos!


I was trying to see what Donnelly saw in the work. I can appreciate what Porter had to do in order to get these shots and I thought of the equipment today and some of the really beautiful and in many cases artistic shots people can get of birds now. They would outshine the works of Porter easily. Perhaps this is a nod to the popularity of photo apps that distort the natural beauty of nature that modern nature photographers work to achieve. To not only get a crisp and true color image of a bird, but to capture that bird in a particularly iconic moment. Surely Porters work would pale in comparison to some of the other photos out there?

barn swallow

But you couldn’t deny that in some, there was chaotic beauty, like the above barn swallow. It was fascinating and I was glad I ran into it.

redtail with pigeon

I did see some actual birds while in New York.  I got the obligatory look at a red-tailed hawk with a pigeon near the nest of Pale Male. I don't think it was the actual Pale Male.  When it landed it didn't look pale. Perhaps it was his mate for this year, Octavia?

cardinal paparazzi

Every time a cardinal popped up, several people would stop to get a photo.  I saw this happen at least three times. And like any street performer with a great act, the male cardinals would readily pose.


I got to catch some early migrants like the above white—throated sparrow eating dog poop.  Yep, that’s what I typed, that bird was eating dog poop.

white-throated sparrow

Here’s a better photo of it. I’m now at 85 species for my Digiscoping Big Half Year!  All hell is about to break loose on that.  I’m actually typing this blog entry while on a flight down to McAllen, Texas to be a speaker at Quinta Mazatlan on Thursday night. I’m willing to bet that I’ll easily add 25 species while there, if not more.

Gertrude Stein

And I finish with this photo.  This little Gertrude Stein statue was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I visited last year. She was part of an exhibit that showed chunks that Stein and her brother had owned: it was crazy to be in rooms chock full of so much Matisse and Picasso. She was a frequent subject for many of her artist friends and I thought this statue of her as a sort of Buddha was adorable. She’s now residing in Bryant Park (along with a few woodcocks).

I've  had at least 2 people ask who is on the end of the extendable leash in my hands...


Marley, one of Kim's two dogs.  He and I got along very well. Her dogs are hilarious.  One morning I standing in the kitchen and her dog Max (not pictured started barking) and then Marley joined in and began spinning wildly.  The looked at me expectantly.  Kim came in and said, "Oh, it's time for treats!"

Which turned out to be their vitamins.  I've never seen dogs beg for vitamins before.  She later showed me how they love to eat bananas, to the point she peeled one, held it to the dogs and they ate it like an every day thing. I have to get her to YouTube that.