Willow Ptarmigan (Draw a Bird Day)
feathers, snowshoe feet, hidden
in thickets, burrows
I first saw a photo of the willow ptarmigan in winter, when it is completely white and fades into the snowy landscape of its subarctic home. Upon further investigation, I was surprised to find that it molts its feathers twice a year, to match the summer browning of its environment. It looks like a completely different bird.
Above is a male in the between-state. The red above the eye becomes prominent on the male during breeding season. Willow ptarmigans are monogamous and pair off while raising their families, but are very social in winter when they form flocks as large as 2000 birds. They are ground dwellers, building their nests in tree thickets and sheltering in snow burrows during the winter months. Their thick plumage and large heavily feathered feet with sharp elongated claws help them navigate and survive the cold, snow, and ice.
Members of the grouse family, willow ptarmigans are native to the subarctic tundra, heather moors, and thicket forests of Canada, the United States, Scandinavia, Mongolia, Russia, Ireland, and the UK. Willows are a favorite component of their diet of bugs, twigs, leaves, seeds, and berries. They are not endangered, but their habitat is threatened by the rising temperatures of the arctic region.
The willow ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska.
Chestnut -Collared Longspur (Draw a Bird Day)
boundless blue, rimmed by
far horizons–an ocean
of windswept grass—wings
rise above the waves,
singing in constellations
of sky-feathered light
My choka envisions the American prairie as it once was–a diverse grassland ecosystem ideally suited to its variable climate, supporting hundreds of species, including migratory ones like monarchs. Less than one percent of the original prairie remains, its deep rooted grasses and wildflowers–as many as 200 different species per acre–replaced by suburban lawns and huge farms that grow only a few different crops, crops that lack the ability to replenish the soil and protect against drought. You only need to read about the Dust Bowl to see the results of destroying the native ecology.
Species that have mostly disappeared from the American prairie include bison, foxes, ferrets, elk, wolves, pumas, grizzly bears, beavers, prairie dogs, numerous insects, and all kinds of birds–prairie birds have suffered greater population losses than any bird group in North America.
The chestnut-collared longspur, like many prairie birds, eats seeds from native plants, and walks or runs along the ground to flush and capture insects to eat as well. It particularly like grasshoppers. Its name comes from the extra-long hind claws which help to navigate the uneven ground. Longspurs spend the summer in the northern prairies of the United States and Canada, and winter in southwest grasslands in the US and Mexico.
March 2023 (Mad as a March Hare)
Time sinks into quicksand,
manipulated and migrated
by determined legislation–
spring ahead—reset your clocks!
Manipulated and migrated,
Sun surveys Earth with amusement
and continues to keep its own hours.
The determined legislation
impels no change to Sun’s path,
the space it occupies, or how it is viewed.
Spring ahead—reset your clocks!
(The birds will not forget to tell you
when it’s time to rise and shine.)
The Wombwell Rainbow has been posting a weekly poetic form challenge which I always mean to do. This week Paul is asking for poetry that uses idioms. Although it’s the autumn time change that really irritates me, as I dislike the day ending at 3pm, I noted on my March calendar that we will lose an hour of sleep when we “spring ahead” this month. I used the trimeric form which was from a challenge weeks ago, but as you know, I like repetitive forms.
I also used words from the Random Word List.
I did do my usual monthly grid, but using one of the Year of the Rabbits seemed more appropriate to both the month and the poem. And somehow a bird always fits.
Lourie/Turaco (Draw a Bird Day)
Fertile branches of fruit, leaves, and flowers attract feathered families craving sweetness—their rampant appetites, bursting with greed, work every angle of every treetop.
If we imprison the tree in a net to protect it, will we make the birds disappear? or entrap them too?
Pests from one point of view look like integral parts of the ecological landscape from another. Can both coexist?
between seed and birth
roots gather inside darkness
holding a new breath
Robbie Cheadle recently wrote a poem talking about her experiences with her local birds. Eleanor, a tame hadeda, had come into her office for a visit. I discovered right away that the hadeda is an ibis, a bird I’ve painted and written about previously. It’s a magical bird, and Eleanor’s behavior reflects that.
The other bird Robbie mentioned was a lourie, one that she freed after it had become entangled in a net on one of her trees, a bird I knew nothing about. Lourie is a local South African name; these birds are known as turacos in other parts of the world. But the behavior Robbie described is typical of the species.
Louries are poor flyers, but are excellent at climbing, due to their mobile toes that can rotate backwards and forwards; they also use their long tails for balance. They spend most of their time in treetops, eating fruit, flowers, leaves, and small insects which is why they are often not welcome guests in human habitats. But they provide an important role in distributing the seeds of trees throughout the landscape.
Louries travel in groups, which can be loud and noisy. They do not migrate but wander around in an irregular pattern, though they often have favorite trees that they return to again and again.
The grey lourie is also known as the Go-Away Bird, dues to its loud “go-away” call.
The brightly colored green and red of some turacos contain the only true red and green pigmentation known in bird feathers. Although other species have feathers that appear red or green, it is due to the reflection of light.
You can read Robbie’s story and poem here, and also see photos of Eleanor.
And I’ve used some of Jane’s Random Words for my haibun.
More Met and Central Park (Thursday Doors)
opening new horizons,
The glass doors-and-windows at the back of the Met showed me something last week that I knew was there but did not expect to see reflected back at me. I turned around and there it was–the Obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle.
This is an actual Egyptian Obelisk from the Temple of the Sun. It was gifted to the United States by Egypt in commemoration of the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 1800s. Why and how it ended up in Central Park behind the museum requires further investigation. I also need to get closer on another visit for more detailed photos.
The fallen leaves make for beautiful patterns, both in the tree shapes and their reflections.
It was a very foggy day. In the photo below, taken on my way to the Museum, you can’t even see that there are buildings beyond the trees.
On the way back, several hours later, the fog had lifted somewhat–bottoms of buildings were now visible–but I was also surprised to see hundreds of geese spread across the empty ball fields. I saw more tufted titmice too.
I have enough photos from the Met now for quite a few more Thursday Door posts. So they will keep showing up every once in awhile. And yes, I did take a photo of the completely decorated tree.
You can always find more doors here at Thursday Doors, hosted by Dan Antion.
Curlew (Draw a Bird Day)
the small is mirrored
in the large, and what appears,
but filtered by air,
particles of refracted
into fragments, in
to a gridlike layer of
are fooled at first, but
the voice, immediately
permeates, revealing the
inside of the Other Side
I recently finished Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”, a book in which the curlew has a large role. “It’s flesh, everyone knows, is pure and clean because this bird is known to eat nothing but air and is also known to be a bird that comes as a gift from God to befriend the pilgrims and it exists, the story goes, to weld the heaven to the earth.”
“The stories say it is a bird that likes books and even brings them in its beak to saints if the saints have dropped their holy books in water and they need retrieving or if the saints are short of something to say to people then this bird will be the messenger that brings them books full of things God would like them to say.”
The curlew is strongly associated with the Seven Whistlers, birdlike night creatures whose eerie call is said to bring on death and disaster. But it is also seen in a more positive light as an intimate part of its landscape–moors, bogs, and river valleys, the windswept winter coastline.
Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.
Five of the eight species of curlews are endangered, with two–the Eskimo Curlew, and the Slender-Billed Curlew–most likely already extinct. A migratory bird, they are found throughout the world. Their vocalizations are filled with complex harmonics and pitch variations.
Through throats where many rivers meet, the curlews cry,
Under the conceiving moon, on the high chalk hill
Sometimes my research on the bird I choose to draw yields little information, but the curlew is so well-represented in poetry, music, nature writing, and folklore, that I could not begin to touch on even a small piece of it in one post.
If you want to find out more, here are a few good places to start:
Tufted Titmouse (Draw a Bird Day)
not a sparrow, this
small bird—crested forager,
grey dusted with red
When I walk through Central Park I always see lots of sparrows on the ground, along with starlings, pigeons, grackles, robins in spring and summer, and the occasional blue jay, cardinal, or mockingbird. But the small birds always seem to be sparrows. Last week a flash of red caused me to look closer–a tufted titmouse! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one, although I often hear them.
The tufted titmouse, a relative of the chickadee, is a common species in the eastern United States, although their range has been steadily moving northward, due to both rising temperatures and the presence of bird feeders. They do not migrate, so bird feeders have allowed them to live in colder climates. They prefer evergreen-deciduous woodlands with a dense canopy and many tree species.
In the summer they eat insects primarily, adding seeds, nuts, and berries to their winter diet. Holding the seeds with their feet, they open them with their beaks. They often cache food in bark as well.
The tufted titmouse does not excavate their own nesting cavities, looking instead for natural holes, or abandoned nest holes. They will also use nest boxes or pipes. They line their nests with hair, and have been observed plucking hairs from many kinds of living animals, including dogs. That is something I would like to see!
Gilt Edged Tanager (Draw a Bird Day)
I Dream of Brigid
In the beginning I was alone, carefully unwinding the wormlike stem of a large plant. It seemed like a cactus to me at first, but gradually it reshaped itself into a huge iridescent flower. I was surprised to suddenly find that instead of tendrils I was in possession of two glittering aqua and golden wings. They opened my arms like bridges in the street of the sky.
Night walks, scattering poems, uncoiled in a spiraling serpent around me. Feathers became flaming scales became feathers again, mercurial rainbows scattering glowing seeds, crossing and recrossing the portal that explored every direction between the darkness and the light.
My blood began to sing, an echo of bells vibrating, calling my name. All the words I had lost or abandoned returned to me, transformed into candled threads sailing like a sea of flames on a river of stars.
I really did have this dream, at least the first part, which led me to look for a bird that fit those wings. The gilt edged tanager came closest. Native to Brazil, its habitat is fragmented, and though not considered endangered, the population is found primarily in protected reserves of moist lowland subtropical forests.
There are close to 400 species of birds in the tanager family. A few species live in the United States, but most of these colorful birds live in Central and south America.
Tanagers are associated with the goddess Brigid, which seems odd since they are not native to Ireland. But many cultures, including the Japanese, consider them to be messengers from the spirit world. They do look magical.
The story of my dream was written for dVerse prosery, where Linda provided a line from ee cummings, in the street of the sky night walks scattering poems, to be included in what we wrote.
I was not really happy with any of my renderings of this bird when I did them, but they are growing on me. In order: colored pencil, gouache, inkpen with watercolor, neocolor. It’s been a long time since I painted with gouache.