The Tufted Titmouse

The Tufted Titmouse
Bird Group, oil on canvas

If Elvis was a bird would he be a Tufted Titmouse? These funny little guys, the tufted titmice, love to flit around in the trees around my bird feeder haranguing with the chickadees and the cardinals in the winter months. They were frequently up in the trees wearing their cute little blue shoes and serenading the others at the feeder with their sweet song. One thing, I noticed about the titmice was the way they would take their seed up into the tree before they ate it. So many of the other birds would sit at the feeder gobbling up multiple seeds like little gluttons or foraging around the ground underneath picking up what others knocked out. The little titmouse would swoop down to the feeder, grab a seed and flit back up to a high branch to munch down on the newly acquired treat before breaking back into song. I wondered whether he was afraid of someone stealing his treat or was he just in a hurry to get back to his singing?

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Tufted Titmouse in the snow.

The Tufted Titmouse is part of a family of titmice according to All About Birds and are most visible in the Southeastern United States. Birds and Blooms says: “The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a small songbird in the tit and chickadee family (Parade).” That would explain why I always see them hanging around with the chickadees. The reason they grab a seed and fly up to the tree tops is not because they can’t wait to sing. Birds and Blooms also tells us, “they grab one seed, fly to a nearby perch, hold the food with their feet, and then pound it open with their stout, round bills.” Seems like a slow way to eat but then they aren’t particularly fat little birds so maybe that’s why! Maybe I should grab a bite then flit off somewhere to eat it before coming back for the next bite. I might be as little and energetic as a titmouse if I did that. Interesting thought but back to the Titmouse.

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Tufted Titmouse in the Trees

The titmouse gets its funny name from the old Anglo-Saxon names “tit” meaning small and “mouse” referring to any small bird or rodent. I can’t see the mouse reference. They don’t look anything like Mickey to me but what do I know. Can’t quibble with those Anglo-Saxon bird namers. This information came from The Charismatic Planet. Another source, Birdwatching.com says that originally it was Titmase, the word “mase” meaning small bird. Around 500 years or so ago it was changed to mouse because of the widespread understanding of the word mouse. Tufted Titmice are such cute little guys, I hate to have them associated with scary, creepy little rodents. But then the word Titmouse is so much easier to say that titmase. Perhaps that is the real reason the name was changed. How could everybody know so much about mice when Mickey wasn’t even around then? Oh well.

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Titmouse in a tree

At any rate, Tufted Titmice are so cute at the feeder and just hanging around. I love to watch them. Who couldn’t love a little bird with a sweet song wearing blue suede shoes! To invite these little singers to your house, you can find out more about how to attract them to your feeders by following the advice found on the website Kaytee.com. The sweet sound of the music the Titmouse sings is reason enough to want more of them in your neighborhood. Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any concern about them disappearing anytime soon as Thought.com says the IUCN has the tufted titmouse rated at “least concern.” Good news for a change! Maybe thats why they hang with the chickadees. Safety in groups!

Listen to the sweet sound of the tufted titmouse:

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Blue Suede Shoes

Pelicans

White Pelican, oil on canvas

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.

Brown Pelican, Marco Island, FL

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. 

White Pelican, miniature oil on canvas

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.

Juvenile Pelican coming in for a Landing, Alligator Point, FL

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.

Cheers to the wonderful pelican!

Cormorants

Cormorant, oil on canvas

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.

Cormorant in the Wakulla River, FL

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.

Cormorants swimming in the rain

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!

Cormorant Flying over Kentucky Lake

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.

Last year I saw the cormorants at Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee, FL, a beautiful place that is a must-see where the old Tarzan movies were filmed. While there enjoy at stay at the historic Lodge at Wakulla Springs where Johnny Weissmullerpracticed his famous yodel! 

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!

Hummingbird Inspiration

Another week and the hummingbirds are still here swooping in and out of the yard, stopping at the feeders then swooping off again.  There are still at least 6-7 of them between my 5 feeders.  Its hard to get a count because they move so fast.  No reason to know how many other than curiosity.  They move so fast, they are blur of green, especially when the sun catches a spark of reflection on the vivd green of a little back as it swoops through the rays.  Some would insist on getting the exact color and markings correct.  Maybe I should too, but that would defeat my purpose.  My goal is to catch a little of the magic as these mini whirling dervishes zip around my yard from feeder to feeder. Magic is what these little guys are all about.il next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.

Hummingbird with Red Throat, oil on canvas

Magic must be what guides these jewels of the sky to find that one lone feeder for miles around. Once found, they stake it out and mark it as their own.  That must be magic too.  Otherwise more would show up until the feeder is empty more often than it is full. Who has time to constantly make up another batch of nectar and refill.  I do good to get mine refilled once or twice a week.  Right now, its about every other day. If it was like this all year, I’d never make it!  Soon these emerald flashes will be gone and I’ll be lamenting the sadness of the deserted feeders.

Everyone needs a little magic in their lives now and again. Streaking bits of emerald jewels in the sky can provide magic for a little while.  For me, the paintings are my way of capturing a bit of the colorful green flashes of fast moving magic before they gone for this year.  That time is fast approaching. I’m painting as many as possible while I can.  My camera is helping.  Then I’ll bring the feeders in, wash them well and put them back on the shelf in the garage where they will quietly collect dust.  Until next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.

Theft or Flattery???

Goldfinch Miniature 4" x 4"

Goldfinch Miniature
4″ x 4″

“A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa but people still line up to see the original.” Louis Armstrong (from The Painter’s Keys)

Help me out here! When is it okay to appropriate someone else’s work to use for your work? Is it ever okay? Suppose you like to paint in the studio from photographs. Would you consider it acceptable to take someone’s photographs in the public domain for use in your work? Can that be considered acceptable if the original work cannot be identified in your work?

In the studio, I often work from photos. To do that, I take numerous photos. I do not consider myself to be a photographer because I lack the talent and skills of many of the wonderful professional photographers I know or see on this blog forum and others. I am adequate to get what I need for painting. But sometimes I will look online for other photos of the subject I am painting to get another angle or another light exposure. Is this an acceptable practice?

I ask this question because I recently posted a photo on a social media site of a scene from my garden. In the comments, a friend tagged one of his/her friends suggesting this other person should make a painting of my photo. My first thought was, “Did my friend suggest his/her friend should steal my work?” Or should I be flattered? I would love to hear what others out there have to say about this subject.

A popular opinion I have heard repeated is if your work is at least 10% or more different from the original work then it is acceptable. The Arts and Business Council of Nashville sponsors regular workshops on topics of interest to artists in the community. In June, Nashville attorney, Mary Neil Price, discussed this very subject. From what I gathered in her talk, it is never acceptable to appropriate another’s original artwork in yours without permission.

Two blogs I frequently enjoy are Avian101 and Talainsphotographyblog. Both regularly post beautiful bird and nature photography. To me, making a painting of any work from either blog would be stealing, not flattering. What do others think? Does that mean I can’t look at the way these photographers have caught the light on a bird’s head? I would love to know others opinions. Help me out here! Enquiring minds want to know. (Did I just steal that quote???)

Sunday Slideshow-Butterflies in the Garden

Last year I didn’t plant a butterfly garden because I had just moved in to a new home.  This year, thanks to a wonderful friend who gave me the seeds, I did plant one.  The rewards are worth the time and effort.  The realtor who sold me the house gave me a patio swing as welcoming gift.  Now I can sit out in the evenings on the swing and watch the butterfly show.  Hummingbirds and goldfinches are all over too but I’m not quick enough with my camera to catch them yet.  Working on catching them with paintbrush instead.  I hope you will be as refreshed as I have been watching the beautiful butterflies.

Some of the photos in the slideshow are from previous butterfly gardens.  The old are mixed in with the new as seasons come and go.