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A Dove in the Studio

Sunday, June 27, 2010


photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

There are pets, like Chet Baker, and there are wild things, and when you hand-feed a wild thing for weeks and help it learn how to do what it needs to do to survive; when you become its mother, that line blurs. My style of raising birds is labor and time-intensive. It's rooted in my need to know that they're going to be able to make it on their own.

Most people think that when a baby bird "learns to fly," it's ready to be on its own. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The post-fledging period is a critical one. It's when the bird follows its parents around, watching them and learning from them. It's the time when a bird learns what's good to eat and what's inedible. It learns vigilance and wariness and it gets the lay of the land. You make darn sure that bird knows how to pick up all its own food and keep its weight up before you ever let it go. At least I do. I err on the conservative side.

It's hard to impart any of that to a bird when you're a big lumbering grounded human. The first step, for me, is to allow the bird some freedom in the comparatively safe confines of my house. This means you get doo-doo on your laptop now and then. It's all part of the scene.

Hmm. What to blog about?

Blog about meeee. People will like that. I like looking at pictures of me; why wouldn't they?

Like when I met Sara and Kelly. That was awesome. I'm not sure they'd ever held a mourning dove before.

When Phoebe's in the studio, we come up with photo ops together. This was her idea.

It was about at this point that "Olivia" went from "Libby Lou" and straight to "Pweep."

Pweep is what she says when you speak to her. So we figure that's her name. Or maybe it's her word for "people." Or the dove equivalent of "Mama."

Like when she's perched on your 2-terabyte hard drive, which you got so you won't lose all your data when a mourning dove, say, overturns a water jar on your laptop (which she didn't; I'm just giving a what-if)

and you say, "Libby Lou! What are you doing?" and she answers, "Pweep!"

Gotta go! Got dove bidness to attend to.

Ooh, I just love this lil' post, love remembering what it was like having a dove around for a few blessed weeks. Speaking of remembering, my friend Debby Kaspari is moving on with her life. She and Mike may have found a house to buy. They're still dealing with disposing of all the debris from the one the tornado flattened. Because their subdivision was unincorporated, insurance won't cover any of that cost, which could go as high as $20,000. What a drag, to have to pay to haul away the bits of what was once your house.

Dear friend Murr, she of the Baker quilt, who has never met Debby in person, created a T-shirt design so she could help. All proceeds will go to the recovery fund. It's got some nice Murr-created Oklahoma birds on it, and it says "Nest in Peace." There are a million different styles of shirt; scoops and tanks and all kinds of cool ones, so you won't be stuck with a crewneck Fruit o' the Loom. I'm thinkin' nightshirt, myself. You can get yourself a Team Kaspari shirt right here.

Thanks, Murr. You're the bomb.

A Dove Grows Up

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Libby the mourning dove quickly worked her way into our hearts. Doves are gentle, mildly curious, and extremely affectionate birds. Libby wasn't the kind to crash into walls and windows, even after she started flying. She just wanted to be in the same room with whomever was around.She took up residence on my drafting board lamp

but the back of the drawing chair was always her favorite spot.

She is a dove of comfort. In this photo, taken May 22, she's still being hand-fed, so she just sits around and waits for the next syringe full of happiness to come her way. After a bad early start (falling out of her nest into a yardful of cats), life definitely improved for Libby.
She stretches a wing
and preens her ratty tail. Her tail shows evidence of a period of starvation, with fault bars where the feather growth was interrupted, leading to a weak spot on the feather. We'd soon fix that.

She does that head-bob thing doves do, where they shoot their little heads out as if they've just seen something really interesting.

It's really nice having her nearby as I work, because I'm painting mourning doves for the chapter in my book.
Being able to look out the window and see courting doves, draw their poses from life, and then to bury my nose in the warm grainy smell of a hand-raised baby--for a bird artist, it doesn't get better than that.

A little horn-toot here: NPR just released a new compilation CD called Sound Treks: Birds. Three of my pieces and one of Bill's are featured in its 25 fascinating tracks. You can purchase the CD or hear a teaser featuring both Zick and Bill here. I'm mighty pleased that they ended the CD with "Hummingbird Summer."

A Lucky Dove

Sunday, June 20, 2010


April 21, 2010: The phone rings. A man with a rough, gravelly voice tells me he's got a baby mourning dove that fell out of a nest in his yard. Right away he gets points for knowing what it is; 99% of the people who call me have a "baby bird" without a clue what it is. "I think it's a robin. Or a finch." One guy called me and said he had this weird bird that he thought was probably a pheasant. I walked him through a bunch of questions about size, color, and bill shape and deduced that he'd found a car-hit whip-poor-will. And whip-poor-will it was.

Anyway, we went through the drill of establishing whether we had a prayer of returning it to its nest. Modos build crappy little twig platforms that probably shouldn't be called nests. They're more like launching pads for premature babies. No, the nest was 16' up in a white pine at the end of a branch. And he had 7 barn cats hunting his yard. :-/ We talked about that. Getting a little lecture is part of the price of taking a baby bird off someone's hands. "Barn cat" is the catch-all phrase people use for free-roaming cats. It subtly sanctions the situation; it implies that the cats have a job, keeping a barn free of rodents. But they also breed like locusts, pass along disease, keep the surrounding area free of fledgling birds, and create many more problems than they address. If you could just train a cat to kill only house mice, instead of every native wildlife species it can grab...sigh. In researching rabies for the Zickbat posts, I learned that feral cats are a rapidly growing reservoir for this deadly virus, which casts those often government-subsidized feral cat colonies in an interesting light, doesn't it? Uh oh. Here I go on feral cats again., unhhh.....

So I looked at my calendar and decided I had a month and a half to give to a baby dove and drove into town to pick it up. I took a syringe of parrot baby formula with me and fed it right there on Don's knee as he sat at his desk behind the cafeteria at our community college. The dove looked pleasantly surprised to have its empty crop suddenly filled with warm formula, and Don was enormously pleased to have this little bird finally full of food and in expert hands. I was happy to have met Don--he is well-versed in wild things, a farm boy like my dad was.

The dove, which looked to be about 13 days old and about a week from being able to leave the nest, looked little and lost in the covered tank that would be her interim home, so I made her (we couldn't tell its sex, so randomly assigned one) a nest of grasses and put a chipmunk in for warmth and snuggling.

Awww. Doves are very tactile creatures and appreciate being sat upon.

It wasn't long before Olivia (as Phoebe named her) was sitting upon the chipmunk, and crapping on him, too.

It also wasn't long before Liam and Phoebe fell in love with Libby Lou. (Olivia seemed a little formal for such a nuzzly little thing.)

By April 25, Libby was starting to show interest in small peckable things.

She picked up seeds, which we kept strewn everywhere she was, tested them with her bill, and then flung them. I didn't see her actually eat one until April 28, and captured the moment with my camera. Having syringe fed her every two hours, dawn to dusk, for a week, I was very happy to see something else go down that gullet. In this photo, she's about 20 days old. As soon as I saw her swallow a seed, I started drawing back on feedings, but she would be dependent on the syringe for quite awhile longer--until May 10, in fact, when she turned 32 days old.

There was the problem of what to do with her when we all took off for the New River Birding and Nature Festival the next day: April 29. That's the thing about raising birds. You can't exactly leave a note for the neighbor telling her how to syringe-feed your baby dove every two hours. You can't pay somebody enough to do that. So Libby Lou attended her first birding festival.

I never could have taken Libby on without my crack bird-raising assistant, Phoebe. She had been learning how to syringe-feed Libby and was getting really good at it; in fact she even got Libby to gape for her, which makes feeding much easier. So Phoebe took Libby along with her wherever she went while I was occupied all day leading field trips.

It was a little inconvenient, but Phoebe never complained. She loves Libby Lou. So did Little Orange Guy and Little Orange Librarian.

Meeting Sara and Kelly was the bomb. We got along like a fisherman's shanty afire. We got along like cod tongues and potatoes, like strong tea and Carnation evaporated milk.** Like partridgeberry squares and...oh well, you know what I mean. Just met 'em, already miss 'em.

Libby quickly transformed from a bit of an ugly doveling

to a four-ounce beauty. She still had a ways to go, but she was surely one lucky dove.

**obscure Newfoundland references for LOG and Kelly

A Whipple Spring

Thursday, June 17, 2010


This has been an amazing spring, a spring when I have been brought face to face with people I'd only admired from afar. When I've realized that the Internet connection that started our friendship is a powerful thing and capable of much good. That the feeling you get when you chat with someone via email can be as real as it is good. That came home to me when Murr Brewster traveled all the way from Oregon to stay a few days at Indigo Hill. I knew I'd love Murr and sure enough we were like sisters (without the baggage) from the moment we met. I felt I'd known her forever.

Chet Baker loved Murr, too.
He smiled all the time around her.

and sometimes we all laughed ourselves silly.

When Murr arrived she started futzing around in a huge duffel bag, saying, "I brung you something." My curiosity was piqued. "Oh yeah? Well, just bringing yourself from Oregon is plenty, sweetie."

"It's a whole salmon. Caught it this morning."

And I thought to myself, Oh God what am I going to do with a whole fresh salmon when we're leaving for a festival. With friends like these, who needs enemies? "Smoked?" I squeaked hopefully.

And Murr turned around and handed me a rolled up hank of fabric and I thought, Oh, thank God, it's just a piece of salmon.

And I unrolled it

and tears squirted horizontally out of my eyes

because something like that has to be made with great love
pieced together out of hundreds of tiny bits of fabric and quilted for hours and hours
and capturing the soul of The Bacon so precisely and adorably

and after all we'd never met, but Murr just knew what to do. And it still makes me weep.

Murr's made a number of these quilts, all for friends, mostly of their beloved doggehs, present and past.

Thank you just doesn't begin to do it. I have the quilt hanging in my kitchen where it's the first thing you see when you walk in the door--you can't escape it-- and everybody who walks in goes straight to it with their mouths hanging open and they all kind of sputter for awhile before they're ready to get the story of The Woman Who Can Do Anything She Turns Her Mind To.

So that was a hostess gift with the mostess, and I am still agog. I resolved to try to be as good a hostess as Murr was a guest so I tied my apron on and fed her up good. No salmon, though.

The place was showing rawther well, with trees dressed in filmy greens and blossomy blouses of white. View from towertop.

Liam was exploring the physics of cardboard ramps and flying Matchbox cars.

The meadow was alive with field sparrow song.

Chet Baker was cold, as usual, so we fixed him up in an ET wrap.

Murr got a taste of GardenPod Xanadu. All that's since been emptied out and put into planters and baskets, and it's simply ridiculous how beautiful it all is.

Murr's a gardener of the first rank, so we moved slowly about the yard and greenhouse, exclaiming about this or that little thing we've grown or tried to grow. I found myself wishing I could send her back on the plane with pots full of starts from my garden. Flight attendants frown on such things.

When Nina (of Nature Remains) arrived, we played with a baby mourning dove for awhile
and then I tried to think of the most whiz-bang thing I could do to show these naturalists a good time. The answer was pretty obvious: Newell's Run in late April. Yep, that's it. That's the road that gave me permission to fall in love with southeast Ohio; that's the road with the mostest.

The Bacon, awash in blue-eyed Mary (Collinsonia verticillata)
Blue-eyed Mary is my favorite spring ephemeral wildflower, and Newell's Run is drowning in it. It washes down the hillsides like blue mist. I am sure that my affinity for bicolored blue and white lobelias has everything to do with blue-eyed Mary, trying to recreate that look in my hanging baskets.

It's being dreadfully threatened by nasty garlic mustard. I cussed and pulled, cussed and pulled.
The garlic mustard is the big white stuff towering over little Mary.

Nina shoots Chet wading in blue flowers
He was thinking about squirrelts and chiptymunks.
We were having the most quiet kind of fun, the doodly oh look at this! kind of fun.

Murr looks for salamanders everywhere. She likes salamanders best of all. And she found two: a dusky salamander Desmognathus fuscus

and a northern two-lined salamander Eurycea bislineata.

Woo hoo!

We found the deliciously named cream violet, which pairs nicely with blue-eyed Mary,

Jacob's ladder

and dwarf larkspur. The larkspur had spread and was coming up yards and yards away from the original tiny patch I'd known about for years

Elves in hats.

We found tiny gold-butted beetles partying on a splash of bird doo, which is something I'd have liked even without Murr there

and when we were finally done at Newell's Run we meandered up home to meet Buck the Bull
who was occupied assessing the readiness of Tina for another go.

But he shambled up to the fence to say hello, for he is nothing if not a companionable bull.

Tina, who looks more like a hippo with her frostbitten ears than a cow, said hi too.

When who should arrive but Jeff Warren, Buck and Tina's owner. I was delighted to introduce him to Murr and Nina.

He told us that Buck is now 13. I love Jeff for keeping Buck around. I know he eats a lot of hay, but he's still doing his job, as evidenced by Photo One.

We ended a perfect excursion with a look at seven perfect Carolina chickadee eggs in a box in my driveway. As I speak six of those seven eggs are feathered out and yelling for their afternoon repast.

Spring in Whipple.
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