Cardinals are the main bright spot in an otherwise drab and dreary winter landscape, unless you are fortunate enough to have a snowy winter landscape. Cardinals are magical in the quiet beauty of falling snow. When spring arrives, they become just another one of the many bright and colorful little birdies showing off their warm weather feathers. For now, cardinals provide all the color we get until the season changes. They are the stars of the winter landscape.
Red dashes along a brown ground are frequently cardinals foraging around for dropped seeds from shrubs or left behind by other birds. Once the foraged meal is done the sweet sounds of a singing red beauty can be heard from the upper branches of a nearby shrub. When the branches are covered in snow, that bright bit of red fluff singing his heart out is a sight to see. It might even bring on some added cold chills.
Down in the Valley where the Chickadees can be heard with their continual chatter, the Cardinals are a bit peeved. Carson Cardinal was quite annoyed and said to Cameron and Caroline. Will those Chickadees ever stop chattering? It’s so hard to sing above all the chatter. Nothing stops the chatter more effectively than the sight of a glorious red bird preening about in the snow-covered branches of a tulip poplar. When he begins to sing the beautiful melodious tunes as his friends join in harmony, the Chickadees quickly become quite mute. The Chickadees cannot remain chatterless for long, so if you catch sight of a bit of red flitting through the branches, stop and listen. The reward will be worth it.
It was a sunny afternoon in the valley when the Chickadees all swooped in to take a break in the old pine tree. They had all had their fill of red berries from a shrub up on the hill. Now it was time for a story. Always one for a good story, Caroljean Chickadee began her latest tale. Catherine, Caroline, Celeste and Charlotte gathered round, perched on the branches in rapt attention. Caroljean’s stories always held the most important info disguised as an incident or some other intrigue. The trick was to figure out the meaning of the story to figure out what was the absolute latest events or happenings going on.
Sometimes Caroljean would tell a story with a moral to it. Other times she might weave a bit of intrigue to point out the need to pay attention. Occasionally, Caroljean’s soliloquy could cause quite a stir among the flocks who hang out in the valley. You never knew what could happen when the Chickadees began to chatter and spread the latest drama from the beak of the most infamous chatterer in all of the chattering of Chickadees.
Word would go out that Caroljean Chickadee was chattering another great chapter from the cantons of chickadee wisdom. The valley would soon be echoing with the sounds of other flocks as they descended into the trees surrounding the old pine. (The old pine was considered to be the undisputed territory of the Chickadees.) Cardinals were usually the first to catch the sound of Chickadee Chatter but you never could tell who might arrive first. The cardinals pecked around on the ground beneath the old pine, where they could eavesdrop in relative obscurity.
Stay tuned to discover what Caroljean Chickadee chattered and who was the first to catch the gist of the chapter as it unfolded. Were the cardinals the first? Maybe it was the herons down at the pond? One thing you can be sure of: the mockingbirds would be mocking within moments of the momentous meanderings. Mr. Hawk will hang horrendously near the happy little group. They better be on the look out!
The white pelicans are arriving in my part of the US on a daily basis. They will hang out here for the winter. Large numbers of them come to Kentucky Lake and Reelfoot Lakeevery year. The numbers of winter arrivals have been increasing in recent years. The white pelicans are mostly people-shy and stay well away from populated areas, hanging out in large flocks. It hasn’t been easy to get decent photos to paint from. It will take a longer lens to catch up to these shy guys. There are comparisons between the white ones arriving for the winter and the brown ones more associated with the Gulf coastal areas. The brown pelicans I have encountered in coastal areas are not nearly as camera and people shy as their white counterparts. Some brown pelicans appear to actually pose for the camera. While the white ones remain on the far side of the lake shore the brown ones will sit around on the docks and and the water’s edge begging for scraps.
Pelicans have always appeared to me to be a bit prehistoric in their look. Turns out they may actually be prehistoric as fossils have turned up that are almost 30 million years old. Of course the ones we are now familiar with have evolved a bit over the last 30 million years but are similar enough to the fossilized version to be easily identified. That’s pretty old! Maybe that is part of the reason that make these birds fascinating survivors. Quite adept at fishing, the brown ones are also good at hanging around the docks when the local fishermen bring in their daily catch patiently waiting for the fish cleaning process to leave bits for them to quickly pick up.
As an ancient bird, pelicans have figured in folklore for many centuries. It was believed that a mother pelican, lacking food for her young would actually pierce her chest with her beak so that the babies could drink her blood. That myth was eventually proven false but remains a legend still. It is believed that the pelican is a symbol for the passion of Jesus as she spills her blood for the survival of her children. Saint Thomas Aquinas even adds the pelican to his hymn, “Humbly We Adore Thee.” Queen Elizabeth I in medieval times is said to have taken on the symbology of the pelican and is seen in one portrait wearing a pelican broach. The pelican is the national bird of Romania and the state bird of Louisiana. Louisiana is known as the Pelican State. Several countries in the Caribbean have also adopted the pelican as their symbol. The pelican is quite revered as a symbol of self sacrifice, in spite of its rather awkward and ancient appearance.
Even with all the noble history and folklore surrounding the pelican, I tend to think of them as more comical. In this photo, a juvenile brown pelican was trying to perfect the art of landing on the water and having a bit of a struggle. He eventually mastered it and made for good entertainment as he repeatedly practiced. It was a great moment when he landed without so much splashing and thrashing. I wanted to cheer him on!
Pelicans were the subject of a witty limerick that has several variations. The original was written by fellow Tennessean, Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910:
A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill will hold more than his belican, He can take in his beak Food enough for a week, But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
These swimmers are so funny with their underwater antics. They love to pop up and get all eyes looking for them in one place while they dive down, disappearing only to pop up again in a completely different place. I think they do it on purpose just to confuse the humans. Unlike some birds, they are not very shy, occasionally swimming right up under the boat. Cormorants love to sit on buoys and other markers out in the middle of the lake where they can watch the boats and barges going by. Maybe they’re keeping tabs on what the humans are up to in case some illegal fishing or something is going on. The cormorants are on top of it. They want us to know they’ve got their eyes on us so we better not step out of line. Then again, they may be wondering why we float around on top of the water while they have so much fun diving down and swimming around. Their blue eyes must help them see in the dark down under the surface. Like the red eyes of night predator birds, the blue eyes work for underwater predator birds. I don’t know that I would call them pretty birds but they do have a look that is a bit on the fascinating side. I want to keep watching them to see what they are up to next.
While ducks and geese seem to glide rather smoothly across the water, cormorants like to splash. Always the attention grabbers making a fuss to get all eyes turned in their direction while they prepare for their next underwater excursion. I wonder how they ever catch a fish with all the commotion they kick up with their big webbed feet. Maybe all the noise sets the fish off guard. After all who could think they are fishing with that rowdy splashing around and churning up the water. One friend commented that they look a bit like the Loch Ness monster swimming around with just their heads above the water unlike the duck and geese relatives.
These guys swimming in the rain do look a bit like the Nessy monster. They are definitely unusual looking. I think they are doing water dancing in time to their own music.
As this cormorant stands on the dock with wings out drying, there are a number of thoughts going through my head about what may be in that bird brain. Is he saying, “Hey lookie, lookie!” or maybe, “Aren’t I gorgeous?” “What beautiful wings I have!” “If you keep taking pictures, I’ll keep my wings out.” Or maybe he’s defiant and saying, “I’m not scared of you. I’ll stand here with my wings out if I want to.” Who knows what he’s saying. The look on that face makes me think something is going on but I don’t speak cormorant so I’ll never know.
Cormorants seem to make a lot of friends and hang in groups. They even hang out with others who don’t fit in with the same style, like turtles. Turtles definitely lack cormorant style. But neither seems to care when they hang out together in the sun.
The cormorants never lack for entertainment. One tree we’d frequently go by in the boat would have a number of cormorants in it. The tree was right at the tip of a little land point that marked the edge of a cove. We started to call it the Cormorant tree. But as summer fades into fall, the tree doesn’t have quite so many birds there now. They must have a warmer place to go and observe from. Their antics in the lake will have to wait until next year. I wonder what kinds of fun they’ll get up too then. I hope they spend the winter thinking up some good stuff!
Until next year, “Safe travels, Mr. Cormorant.” Happy fishing to you and your friends until we see you again next year. Don’t forget where your tree is when you come back. I’ll have the camera ready.
In the summer, you can see them in the Cormorant Tree on Kentucky Lake at the mouth of Jonathan Creek. Bring your boat or rent one at the many places available like Moor’s. While you’re out on Kentucky Lake, you might get lucky and see a bald eagle or two.
At either place, the cormorants are ready to make you smile!
Did Charles Dickens have a deeper meaning in mind when he named his iconic character “Ebenezer” Scrooge? Its a topic that had never occurred to me until I heard the literal translation of the name, Ebenezer, which is “Stone of Help.”
It was the name given to a stone that was erected after a battle to humble and remind the victors that the help they received was supernatural. It was not by their own hand that they were victorious over a particularly brutal enemy who had waged war on them for years. It was by a power much greater than their own that supplied the vital help that resulted in the final victory. This stone, the Ebenezer, will forever be in this spot as a reminder. We all have our battles and we can all have our own Ebenezer stones. This is mine. It is alabaster from a Colorado quarry.
In working this stone, I preferred using hand tools instead of power tools because of the tactile nature of alabaster. Many people make beautiful sculptures of alabaster into a variety of wonderful things. For me, the stone has its own beauty. I use hammer, chisel, rasp and sandpaper so I can see and feel more closely what the stone is becoming. The natural color is obscured until the tools chip away the sharp edges and smooth the roughness. The only power tool was the drill used to make the center hole to show the color goes through the heart of the stone.
As the work on the stone proceeds, so does the battle of the day. After the battle, the beauty underneath is revealed. But it is not my hand that made the beauty. It was there all along. The stone is that reminder. For all battles, there is help. What comes after the battle can be something beautiful.
As the winter moves on it is a wonder to see the bare branches reflecting in the water. Spring will soon be here and these leafless winter trees will be forgotten as fresh new green takes over. But for now they peacefully hang over the water calmly reflecting in the surface and on the ice.
Do we, as artists, reveal to the world what there is around us to be grateful for? We see, hear, and feel the beauty that may be missed by others, especially those caught up in the rat race of the busyness of life. For myself, I forget to approach each canvas as an opportunity to express gratitude for the beauty I see. When searching for inspiration, perhaps the best beginning is to start with an expression of gratitude for the good fortune of artistic creativity.