I’ve been posting this super cool link all over on the place on the social medias, but if you aren’t in to that, I want to make sure you see it. Above is a screen grab of this video that shows birds migrating in the eastern US and getting blocked by a storm system. All those blue spheres that appear and disappear? Those are millions of migrating songbirds: warblers, orioles, hummingbirds, vireos, nighthawks, tanagers, grosbeaks, flycatchers, etc., that got up to fly north and then landed. Millions of songbirds pouring in to North American after coming up from Central and South America.
And it kind of shows what is happening with all the robins in the Twin Cities. The snow won’t leave us here in Minnesota, and there’s even worse weather up north. We have robins that spend the entire winter in Minnesota–they can take cold and snow and are resourceful at finding food. Then there are robins who go further south, and they are returning. Most of these birds want to go further north, but can’t because the flight conditions are too dangerous. So, they are biding their time, waiting here; it’s a bird traffic jam. We see bare trees, but robins will find food—berries and seeds that are not their favorite but will sustain them, like sumac and crabapple. It’s like eating ramen noodles during the lean budget times (how many of us subsisted on that in college?).
People will find dead robins; migration is dangerous and birds die for all sorts of reasons—starvation can be one, but they’re in far more danger of guy wires on cell towers, windows of homes, office buildings and cats.
It’s not end times; this is something robins have had to deal with for centuries. The strong will survive, the weak will not. You can try putting out things like water, live mealworms, raisins, apple halves, grapes, and peanut suet doughs, but not all robins recognize bird feeders as food source the way chickadees do.
But don’t worry, most of the robins will be ok. Use this as a reminder of the importance of planting native trees in your yard and consider planting crabapples, serviceberry, winterberry or cranberry. This won’t happen every winter, but when it does, you’ll have a valuable food source to help the birds out in your yard.
I think this photo from the Midwest Peregrine Society’s Facebook page showing the female peregrine falcon at the Colonnade Building in Minneapolis incubating last week about says it all. Birds are resilient. Birds are hardy. Birds do what they have to do to survive. They are built for it, their feathers and metabolism allow them to endure this sort of hardship. Many of us watch birds flying in the wild and envy their freedom and their lifestyle of basic daily survival. We usually do this on a sunny day. Birds don’t deal with taxes, boring meetings or a dunderhead of a boss. But birds do have their own challenges to endure and like the Game of Thrones saying, “You either win or you die.”
That is the price they pay for their unencumbered lifestyle in the wild.
Yesterday went kerflooey. Someone close to me was in the Boston Marathon and I knew she had finished… but didn’t know where she was. Her phone would go directly to voicemail. Was it off? Was it tucked away in a locker? Was she caught in pandemonium? Was she injured or worse? Was she at the scene helping? Watching the news, trying desperately to ID her based on glimpses of people in running clothes. Then finally getting a text that she and her family were safe. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a long time, but the adrenal fatigue that followed put me in a fog the rest of the day. In the midst of this I got a call to do a bird segment on WCCO on how the snow is affecting migratory birds… I love the reporter in that segment (DeRusha is a cool dude, you should follow him on Twitter) and I hope I did my best, but I worried I was not my usual upbeat self.
I think this is a good post for the time. I find comfort in birds and I need that right now (like a lot of us when senseless violence happens). No matter how bad things get for me, I always find comfort in birds. They are one of maybe two things I can do that when I’m in the middle of doing it, I can block out everything else going on. And while I was in South Texas, I had for me what is a perfect birding moment.
We headed to the stretch of beach next to the Convention Center and I was ready to get my digiscoping mojo on. I try to play it cool around birds, I try gradually work towards them and not flush them. The advantage to having a spotting scope is that you can be a good distance away from birds and still get great views. I’ve noticed this with some of my friends who are in to bird photography, I can be twice the distance away that they can be. But as I was keeping my distance, a teenager at the other end started walking towards the birds, she walked through them, most flushed but a few stayed, apparently used to lumbering humans in their midst. She left and all the birds landed. I decided to see how close I could without flushing them.
I used some snoozing American avocets. I would take a few steps closer and if any opened their eyes, I stopped walking. I tried not being threatening in my approach, I didn’t stare directly at any bird while I walked, I tried not to keep my scope aimed at any one bird for too long. I moved slowly and fluidly, not dashing around like a cat stalking prey.
Eventually, I found a perfect spot. My toes in the warm Gulf water, with a mixed flock of terns, gulls and shorebirds in front of me and the heat and light of the sun behind. I was also excited to finally discover a use for the hook in the center on my tripod legs–perfect for keeping sandals out of the water! You can see the flock of avocets from the previous photo off to the right.
As I stayed and had my fun, the birds continued to sleep and go about their own business. Even a few of the avocets began to feed and paid me no mind.
Herons and shorebirds soon started working the shallows behind me. And that is a perfect birding moment! Great looking birds completely surrounding me while I have my toes in the water, friends nearby, a few empty media cards and a full battery in my camera. I got to spend time just watching the birds and digiscoping them. This was what I was hoping for from South Padre Island!
I got to eavesdrop on a royal tern date that I think went incredibly well. He was hanging out and presenting his fish and she approached and took it from him.
“Wait…she took it???”
I was reading up on this on Birds of North America Online. Courtship rituals include: “food item may finally be offered to female, who retracts neck and carpal joints and sleeks plumage (while keeping crest raised), thus assuming more relaxed, submissive posture. If female accepts and swallows food, both then fly off or preen.”
I saw her take the food, but I did not see her swallow, but they both flew off, hopefully to preen or more…
Sandwich terns were posturing like crazy as they established their pair bonds. Some of the photos I have of sandwich terns at South Padre Island are better than the photos I got for my Digiscoping Big Year, but I don’t want to trade those out because I got them at a nude beach.
I almost missed these little guys because I was busy watching the big terns. This is a least tern and they’re about nine inches long. To give you perspective, an American robin is about ten inches long. These are tiny dudes compared to the at least 20 inch royal terns surrounding them.
As much fun as I was having with the terns, my main goal in approaching this flock was getting shots of black skimmers. I love these birds. This bird was roosting flat, which is something you see the young do in the nest (they just quite don’t know what to do with that ginormous beak). Though with this photo, the bird looks like it just woke up from a hard bender and is a little hungover, “Ugh, why did I drink so much? Uh oh, and who is that sleeping next to me??”
Here’s a better shot where you can see that magnificent beak. I love these guys, with their longer lower mandible and striking black and white plumage. They’re another one of those birds that I would see in my Peterson Guide as a kid and imagine what it must be like to see such a weird looking bird in person. If you’ve never had a chance to see a skimmer in action, here’s some BBC footage (and bonus, it’s narrated by the 10th Doctor):
Isn’t that cool?
When I’m digiscoping in one spot, it’s amazing how close some shorebirds will get… sometime even too close to digiscope. Black-necked stilts were zipping back and forth while I focused on terns. You can see a couple above.
Working this group of birds, it’s fascinating to see all the different shapes that bird species take in order to use the Gulf as a food resource. You saw how the skimmers use it above. Terns will crash into the water and black-necked stilts like the above bird have long spindly legs and a beak to match to look for tasty invertebrate morsels. And though all of these birds are elegant patterns of black, white and gray you still get crazy accents of color in the form of bright orange mandibles or bubble gum pink legs.
I could have stayed planted in that spot for hours. The longer I was there, the more I felt tension and stress leave my body. My hope is that my buddy Clay and I might be able to do a digiscoping workshop here in South Padre Island during the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival this fall.
And we can digiscope the crap out of South Padre Island among the sanderlings.
Five days. Five straight days that have included snow in April. I know. I know. I live in Minnesota, I’m used to snow. But dang it, that’s brutal even for our standards. It’s especially hard having just come from the warmth of South Texas.
When I got off the plane in South Texas, I was greeted by long time friend Marci (who runs the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival) and new friend Nydia. Marci and Nydia were nice enough to go birding with me and show me some great spots for species I really wanted to digiscope. Both apologized right away for the weather, “It’s going to be sunny and nice the whole time you are here.”
They weren’t being ironic to a Minnesota girl, they were being serious. Part of the fun of coming to the Rio Grande Valley in spring, especially in April is for the migratory fallout that can happen with storm fronts. If you’re not familiar with what a migratory fallout is all about about, check out these photos from a lighthouse in Maine. Exhausted, colorful birds drop from the sky to rest and fuel up before heading further north. It’s more likely to occur in some areas like the Texas coast because the birds are crossing the Gulf of Mexico. I was ok with the beautiful weather…it meant I could go birding in a skirt and opened toed shoes (which was great for my broken pinky toe–these Keens hid the bruising quite well). And at the end of the day, the Rio Grande Valley as some 30 odd endemics–birds that you can only get here. So, even without a fallout, you’re going to get a lot of great birds for buck.
I wanted to head out to South Padre Island because I love beach birding and regardless of migratory fallout, birds are going to be great here. One of the perks is that you pass by Laguna Atascosa on the way. I’ve been there before and anytime you go near there, you have a decent chance of seeing an aplomado falcon. My birding posse for this day included Marci and her husband Terri who both know how to bird the crap out of this area. Sure enough, they found us an aplomado flacon right away on East Ocean Boulevard. They pulled over so I could digiscope it while it was on the wire. See that tiny dot? That’s the falcon.
Here’s a photo I got with my iPhone 4s through the scope. What a cute little falcon! For some listers, this bird presents a quandary. It’s an awesome bird…but according to the American Birding Association guidelines…not countable on the list for Texas. This is part of a reintroduced population to the Rio Grande Valley and until the population is sustainable without humans releasing young birds in the wild, it can’t be considered a truly countable species, surviving on its own. Now, the birds that are released have color bands and this bird does not. Could it be argued that this is a truly wild one from Mexico that flew up into Texas? Maybe. But hard to prove. Either way, I’m counting it for my Digiscoping Big Year. Birds living in the wild are a challenge to photograph and that’s more what this is about. And at the end of the day, you as an individual determine what challenges you want to set for a birding list. The American Birding Association sets the baseline and you can choose to follow it yourself or tailer it from there.
This is the South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (aka Sheepshead) owned by The Valley Land Fund. It’s a pocket of habitat in the neighborhoods that is set with trees and shrubs for food and shelter, water for bathing and people bring in fruit and seed. This can be a great pocket for warblers, tanagers, vireos and hoo boy, lots of blackbirds. Tucked way back in the shadows I even saw a sora checking out the pond–you never know what migrant will find refuge here.
I big treat for me was a male hooded warbler hopping around on the ground. It was tough to digiscope at this spot. It was a cloudy day, but the cover is dense and the birds are hanging out in low light areas. But the iPhone does really well in lowlight conditions so that’s how I was able to digiscope this bird. There was also a yellow-breasted chat, worm-eating warbler and white-eyed vireo at this spot.
This is one of the really cool features on South Padre Island, a very shallow stream just outside the Convention Center. The shallow depth makes it perfect for small birds to bathe in and during migration, this is a good spot to plant yourself and watch what comes in.
Here’s a Tennessee warbler that flew in for a bath.
There’s a gazebo set up nearby so you can sit and watch the birds in the water, though I suspect when migration is hot and heavy, this area will be packed with birders. The surrounding trees offer food for birds like orioles and hummingbirds. There were orchard orioles and buff-bellied hummingbirds working the flowers nearby.
This is my new friend Nydia Tapia-Gonzales who came birding with us. We were on the South Padre Island Convention Center Boardwalk. It gets a little confusing along here because some of the boardwalk connects and some of it does not.
The older boardwalk is free to walk along, but the newer boardwalk is part of the entrance fee with the World Birding Center. Either one you visit, you’re gonna see cool birds, above is a great blue heron lurking. But you’ll hear rails and if you’re patient enough, you’ll see things like soras and clapper rails pop out.
Here’s a smattering of the bird life on the paid end of the boardwalk–redhead ducks, American avocets and a little blue heron! I’ve been here before during the festival and it’s always loaded with fun birds. I’ve even gotten spoonbills here.
This boardwalk is full people walking by, some enjoying the scenery, some looking for wildlife. A father out with his two kids seemed a bit incredulous that I was only watching birds here and not alligators. I tried showing them the avocets and they conceded they looked cool, but I could tell the dad was dubious in my assertion that I found them more exciting than an alligator.
Here are some laughing gulls, it was fun to see them in breeding plumage, I typically get them here when they have whiter heads in November. As I was taking photos and racking up species for my Digiscoping Big Year, some ladies paused and asked, “Are you from Minnesota?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Are you the lady who tells people to feed sunflower seeds to cardinals and other birds?”
I was touched for several reasons: 1. I didn’t expect to get recognized from my Twin Cities tv appearances in South Padre island. 2. They actually remembered me for what I say! They used actual birding advice to identify me and not just “you’re that ‘bird lady.’ 3. They were friendly enough to say hello.
I asked if they were birding and they said that wasn’t really what they were doing, just spending time on the boardwalk while the men in their party were fishing. So I showed them some of the birds that I enjoyed in this area.
I mean, I couldn’t let them leave Texas without them noticing a black-bellied whistling duck, what kind of bird chick would I be?
We worked our way out towards the open Gulf and that was full of shorebirds and more rails. Here’s a short-billed dowitcher that was working the mud along the boardwalk.
With the open water, we had everything from gulls, terns, skimmers and herons zipping past us. Above you can see a tri-colored heron hunting near the boardwalk. When I looked beyond it, there was a stretch of beach where people were driving on to the sand to go fishing and paragliding. I scanned the sand with my scope:
I could see black skimmers, laughing gulls and oh hey, look at the pink Franklin’s gull mixed in. Fishermen were walking through the roosting birds and they would flush but settle back down. If they were that used to people…how close could I get? I asked my birding posse if we could head over to that stretch of beach so I could digiscope the crap out of those birds. We would have to pay a fee to drive on but it would only be $5. That seemed worth it to me. And so we wrapped up the boardwalk and headed over for more birding enjoyment.
What? A stunt husband? Well, kinda sorta. I spend the week in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, and spent some time with all around cool chick Marci Fuller (who is the head of the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival). We talk some news and some of the cool parts of birding in the Valley.
The lady who narrates and studied the Moonwalking Bird is coming to the fest this year!
Ranger John was graciously giving me a tour of the park via tram and we picked up a few extra birders along the way. We were birding around Alligator Lake which is a known spot for anhingas, green kingfishers, herons and well…
…alligators if you can believe it! How often do see the animal a like is named for? There are a lot of Otter Lakes that have left me woefully short of otter sightings. This alligator was a huge beast–you can even see the teeth. There was a story going around that a group recently witnessed an alligator in this pond take out a nutria. Well…I found the blog entry with the photos (warning, that link is GRAPHIC), If you are like me and like to watch a good train wreck, you’ll want to see those images. The above was a large gator, I wonder if that was the one that took out the nutria? If not…that means there are several huge ones in that lake. Yikes.
I always manage for find people generously willing to carry my scope. Even though my scope is really light and not bad to carry (unless I’m on some insane odyssey up the side of a Guatemalan volcano) folks seem to genuinely want to help me out. Above, Bob (a new birding friend) kindly offered. I’m sure my doctor wouldn’t be thrilled with me carrying things around on my broken pinky toe, so I was relieved to have some help.
There were a few herons around like the above yellow-crowned night-heron and I imagine they all fish the lake with a bit of trepidation, they could easily wind up like the afore mentioned nutria. Other birds zipping around included scissor-tailed flycatchers, green kingfishers, little blue herons and egrets. As we were watching the birds, my coffee had worked its way through my system and I needed a restroom. I asked John if he would mind driving me back and some of the other group thought a drive to the visitor center restrooms was sensible. As we slowly made our way back, I had a text message alert. Some friends have a group messaging system they are testing for rarities. The text read, “Curlean male @ Estero by the start of the Green Jay Trail.”
“Hey, John, I just got an alert about a Cerulean male at the head of the Gree…”
Before I could finish the location, he gunned it and we were on our way! Some poor aramdillo tried to crawl up on the road and as much as I would have loved to stop and get his photo, a Cerulean is a warbler I have not seen in years and waved as went by. John had us there in less than two minutes. We could see the group of birders scanning the trees and made a beeline for them. Someone from our group asked, “Hey, didn’t you need to use the bathroom?”
“A cerulean takes precedence,” I said. “Also, I apologize now in case my excitement at seeing this bird gets the better of me and well, I don’t make it to the bathroom. This bird is worth a pee in the pants!”
We started scanning.
There mixed in with a couple of northern parulas was the cerulean warbler male. Not the best photo ever of a cerulean, but a documentable shot and I’m going to count it for my Digiscoping Big Year (the fundraiser for Friends of Sax Zim Bog is the Half Year, but I’m very curious how many species I can get photos of in a year and I’m going to take it to December). But what a treat to get a look at this bird again. I think the last time I saw one of these was before I even started blogging in 2004! I neglected to apply any bug spray before walking in the shade and ended up with some mighty fine insect welts, but it was worth it to get a look at a bird like this!
After finally hitting a restroom, John took me around to grab more bird photos at the ponds. During migration these can be filled with fun birds like black-necked stilts and all sorts of fun shorebirds from snipe, dowitchers, yellowlegs and any number of sandpipers.
Waterfowl migration was starting to shift northwards but I was still able to get some fun target birds like the above fulvus whistling ducks. Fulvus refers to this ducks color. I learned something very interesting from John. You can black-bellied whistling ducks at this part too. The black-bellies will nest in cavities and nest boxes, whereas the fulvus nests on the ground. But this is one of the species you come to valley to see.
Another favorite that I got to see was a cinnamon teal! Love that bird and loved that he was mixed with some shoverelers and green-winged teal.
John eventually had to head back to do a butterfly program and I happily spent time on the shaded deck. If you like digiscopiong or taking photos in general, the deck is best in the afternoon and the sun shifts to being behind you. You can also grab some ice cream from the shop and watch birds to your heart’s content! I had an ice cream and ibises in front of me: heaven.
While I was hanging out on the deck, I ran into a Minnesota birder named Alex. I think because Sun Country flies direct from the Twin Cities, this is a popular and economical destination for Minnesota birders, I run into them every time I’m here. But it was fun to hang out with Alex and watch the birds as well as catch up on each other’s lives. Turns out we were both rooming at the same place for the night.
So, even though I didn’t start my birding in a new place in Texas, no day at Estero Llano Grande is ever wasted. I had only planned visit for half a day, but ended up dedicating a full day there. I could easily spend a weekend in the Rio Grande Valley and just park on that deck…actually, I have done that with a girlfriend and we had an amazing girl’s weekend.
All parks are a must visit in the Valley, but I hope if you ever come here, you’ll have as much fun at this one as I do. It has a little bit of everything. Even Harris’s hawks!
I am both incredibly excited and a little nervous about my current spring travel schedule. It is action and birding packed but wow, it’s a lot.
Last week I was a guest speaker at Quinta Mazatlan but you can’t go to the Rio Grande Valley for just a day. If you’re going to head down, you want to take advantage of the tremendous birding opportunities. However, the day before I left for the valley…I was running around my apartment tying up loose work ends, booking future travel, packing, etc when I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking and slammed my little toe into the corner of one of our many bookshelves. Yes…I know what you’re thinking. Ow. So here’s a text exchange that immediately occured between Non Birding Bill and I (he was out writing at a coffee shop):
I can’t believe NBB wasn’t willing to watch a couple of YouTube videos demonstrating how to realign my toe. Ha. So we went off to a clinic where my doctor said, “It’s not dislocated, it’s either bruised, but most likely broken. Either way, you need to stay off it for the next four days and ice it for 20 minutes every two hours for twenty minutes.”
But…but…but…I have a 5K at the end of the month and I’m going to Texas for a week tomorrow (insert stern doctor look here). So wildlife drives for me it would be. This time my goal was to try and visit places I haven’t visited before in RGV…or at least in a long time. However, I cannot visit this area without at least a day at Estero Llano Grande State Park. Just a stroll down this path to the deck instantly relaxes me–especially as winter holds on long and fast as if it’s been taking advice from Ned Stark. So after months of monochrome cold white and gray, I’ll gladly squee over green and a mere 80 degrees. Estero is arguably one of the best spots to start your south Texas birding adventure the first time you visit. They have a deck with wifi and a great view of water and I thought maybe I could hang out there and digiscope. My toe wasn’t too bad and I could do some walking but I knew that wouldn’t be the best way for it heal.
On the deck I ran into Ranger John Yochum who I have met before on my Texas travels. He said his school group had cancelled and if I wanted, he’d give me a personal tour. I mentioned my toe and to my surprise, he insisted on giving me a tram tour! I was Miss Daisy to his Polk and he saved my toe from a lot of hurting. Thanks to him I got to do a butt load of digiscoping, which was great for my Digiscoping Big Half Year Challenge for Sax Zim Bog.
Like I said, this is a great spot to get a lot of common valley species off your list. Many of these birds will be at several parks like the above female golden-fronted woodpeckers but Estero has wetlands too.
John took me to one of the newer feeding stations. Some of the parks are figuring out that people are coming here for photos and though I don’t mind taking a photo of a bird at an obvious feeder, most photographers do not, so they set up natural perches were seed, suet and fruit can be tucked away and you can get some natural looking shots.
Here’s a shot of a white-tipped dove, a specialty bird in the area. I’m sure the sun is just hitting the pupil just right, but the dove kinda looks a little methed out to me.
The great kiskadee is a specialy bird here and these sassy birds will fly in for peanut butter. I had to be fast to get photos, it was migration and following the northbound songbirds were lots of accipiters and they periodically bombed through the feeding station. But if you waited a few minutes, the birds would return.
The above Inca doves. There were some common ground doves but I alas didn’t get a photo.
Here’s a white-winged dove (yep, like the Heart song…oops I meant Stevie Nicks, cause Amy just lovingly yelled at me in the comments. Love that woman).
As John was toting me around, we saw a trio of birders that I recognized as staying at the same bed and breakfast I was lodging in. We pulled over to say hi and I asked if they had seen a pauraque yet. They hadn’t. They were very casual birders and I was worried they may miss it so I asked John if they could join us in the tram and continue on with us towards more pauraques. Everybody seemed game so the tram filled up and we headed towards Alligator Lake, the known spot for pauraques.
OK in this photo, I can totally make out one of the pauraques. It’s on the ground, towards the top of the photo, in the center. It’s amazing how quickly someone who already knows where to find the birds like these can become a de facto guide for other birds. But I really do get a kick out of taking people to see their first pauraque and waiting for them to discern its shape on the ground. It’s like one of those magic eye posters!
It took some fancy angling of the scope, but I was able to get it in.
Look at that giant beautiful frown eye! I always assumed these birds were like nighthawks, flying around high in the sky at night after aerial insects, but learned I was quite wrong. Reading up on them at Birds of North America Online, I learned that they are considered a ”terrestrial feeder” and flies very little during foraging. “Appears in many locations to take most of its food by ‘jumping and flopping’ or rarely running on the ground….When foraging on the wing, generally makes low, short, circling sallies to the air from ground or favorite low perch on rock, stump, branch, or fence post for flying insects.”
Gets its food by jumping and flopping, eh? Sounds like Thanksgiving at my family’s house–HEY-O! Angela, Mom, Terri, if you actually read this, I kid, I kid.
I’m going to try and divide up some of my Estero adventures in more posts. I have too many photos for one post at this spot and I have to get dressed and go work at the park service.
I can’t believe I forgot to include this in the last post! While running down 5th Avenue, I saw this:
I paused. A man in a blue shirt, with a beard looking up at a butterfly…hey wait a minute is that Kenn Kaufman? The man does like to sport a beard and blue shirts. He wrote a butterfly guide. I of course had to tag him in that photo on Facebook to see if he had a modeling gig on the side.
Turns out that is not Kenn Kaufman. Thanks to crowd sourcing information that is Rainer Andreesen in the ad. Rainer is also partners with Victor Garber. Scroll down on that previous look, Rainer is very handsome, well done, Victor. Here’s a side by side comparison of the two:
Well, perhaps we have a candidate should there ever be a Kaufman biopic and they need a lead? Also, here’s Rainer without a beard...is that what Kaufman looks like without one?
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.