Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Grail Bird

In 2004 there was a confirmed sighting of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas. A man named Tim Gallagher from Cornell University, who had been tracking it for decades, read about a strange woodpecker sighting on a canoe club website, followed up on it and sure enough there it was. Previous to this discovery, it had been since 1944 that the bird had been spotted. Tim Gallagher wrote a book "The Grail Bird" about his search for and eventually finding the bird and his hopes for “one final chance to get it right, to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive."

Here on the grounds of MasterWorks Studios we occasionally see a similar bird, the Piliated Woodpecker. John was on his way out to work on a bronze restoration project one January day and was able to snap this picture of the bird feeding on the suet feeder outside his shop window. The Ivory-Billed woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America with a wingspan of 30 to 33 inches. Our Pileated, the second-largest, has a wingspan of 26 to 30 inches. There are other visual differences in the birds’ appearance like the white and black markings on its face and neck.

There are at least two of the Pileated woodpeckers that have flown over and fed on our property since we moved out here over ten years ago. Like the bluebirds, we did NOT see this bird when we lived in the city and it was a treat to see the first time we spotted it! It has a distinct call too, almost seems primitive and a little eerie, but cool and we are so lucky to have it around! We wish some day we could see some babies!

Webster Dictionary defines “grail” as “the object of an extended or difficult quest” so after spending 30 years looking for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker I’d say it was an appropriate word to use in naming his book. It was encouraging news to hear of the validated sighting of the Ivory-Billed bird not only to Tim Gallagher but even to people that were only remotely interested in birds and wildlife! It was a symbol of hope that maybe all the horrible, discouraging news we hear about our environment isn’t the only side of the story. Maybe there is still hope!

As the Ivory-Billed was a welcome site to Tom a few years ago, our Pileated is always a welcome site to us and symbolic of our personal hope and trust in the future. We don’t see it very often but it makes itself known often enough that we know it is there. It reminds me that this time of year, when winter is lingering and days are gray day after day, week after week, we know spring is out there and will return. Flowers will bloom, trees will re-leaf, the ground will dry out, life will go on……

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bird Gifts

From the time of the first cave people, we've been transforming bird images into artwork and putting them on items in our everyday lives. We've drawn them on dirt walls and pottery, weaved them into baskets and fabrics, painted them onto airplanes, billboads, kites and cars, hats and shirts and yes, even matchbooks. I am a lucky person. Not only do I have the awesome outdoor birds here at MasterWorks Studios to observe and entertain me, but I have awesome sweet human friends that give me bird "things" for my indoor collection!

I have birds on my walls, desks, tables and nightstands. It'd be safe to say they are in every room. Images of birds are on my coffee mug in the morning, on my singing bird clock throughout the day and on the walls of my halls.

Why is it we are so fascinated with birds? I believe it is because they are like works of art - beauty for the eye, ear and soul. And they can fly! I'm sure I'm not the only one that has had dreams of flapping my arms until I get them going fast and strong enough to lift me off the ground! Ann Murray sings "and if I could you know that I would fly-ey-ey-ey-ey....away with you!" In the Caribbean song "Yellow Bird" the singer laments "Yellow Bird, You can fly away in the sky away, you're more lucky than me...I wish I was a Yellow Bird, I'd fly away with you!"

Birds are living miracles. How do they live outdoors in below-freezing weather? How do even the tiniest of them fly for thousands of miles every winter and return to the same tree every spring? How does each one have its own beautiful song, totally different from all the others? There is nothing like the song of a bird for hope and insipiration and soothing of the soul. Emily Dickinson states it so eloquently on a bird bookmark I received recently:

Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all.

God, thank You for the beautiful gift of birds. And thank You for the beautiful gift of friends that bring joy to my heart and bird gifts to enjoy inside on this cold cold day.