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Spring Fever. Cute Dog Photos.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's a late spring, but it is a ravishingly beautiful one. Thanks to cold temperatures, the redbud has stayed abloom for what seems like weeks. Forsythia hung around forever, too, but now it's done in southern Ohio. A couple of times my rhubarb froze solid and dark, then thawed out and went on growing as if nothing had ever happened.   

I love it when the redbud hangs around until the dogwood comes out. Doesn't always work that way.

A haiku couplet from April 21:

Can rhubarb freeze dark
The leaves all crispy and still
Give up a nice pie?
The answer lies here
In the blue drooping lilac
The rime in the grass
Riddle of cruel Frost.

And the answer was yes. Though I'm more of a cobbler person. I throw it in with some apples nobody wants to eat, some strawberries, top it all with crumble, and then they fight over the last bit.

So we waited and waited for the hummingbirds, which usually arrive April 17. And when she settled on the front porch, managed to get a portrait of this little female, who looks as happy to see me as I am to see her. She was seven days late by my calendar, right on time by hers. If birds stuck to the calendar, they'd be dead. Better late than dead, right, Hum?

Thank you for the fresh nectar, Big Human. It is a nice substitute for honeysuckle in a pinch.

We have a blue jay thinking about nesting around our yard (psst: try the blue spruce!). He has a low rattling call that sounds like Paul doing the telephone on "Uncle Albert." Bill figured that out. Perfect. Bill caught him at it deep in a thicket and I got him in the telephoto. He makes us laugh. 
Brrrp brrp.  Brrrrp brrrp.

Hunting morels, with no success the first two times and a feast the second time,
 we came up on a pair of ovenbirds at the end of what used to be our orchard. I like the way they skulk softly over the leaves. If you listen closely you can hear their light footfalls. You can find them that way, by listening for their tracks.

While I was shooting this I was quietly asking Chet Baker to stay back so he wouldn't flush the bird. All I have to do is whisper "Stick around." 

So he whiled away the time by browsing. He'd eaten some bones the possums dragged out of the compost pit, and needed to clean out his guts. I've never seen him browse leaves off underbrush before. Like a goat, he was. Later he left the bone fragments, wrapped in leaves, on the forest floor. Dogs know how to fix what ails them. 

It also helps to upchuck on the bedspreads. I do that too.

Yes, you do. Twice, two beds. Way to go.

I like photographing this dog. If you haven't already figured it out, he likes it when I photograph him. 

He is Bulldog. He is Terrier. He is Invincible.

And very, very sweet.

We got spring fever here. Nothing for it but to keep going outside.

Bill and I will be immersed in spring at the New River Birding and Nature Festival this coming week, so if you don't hear from me, it's because I'm goin' all Zick on a bunch of festivalgoers. The Rain Crows will play on Saturday night. And our brand new CD, "Dream of Flying Dream," will be arriving in big boxes in Fayetteville, West Birdginia, and we'll get our first look at it. It's all a bit much, but it's exactly how we like it.

Hunter-Gatherers and Their Dingo in the Spring Woods

Friday, April 26, 2013


We were made to do this, to look for the tiny red dot in the film of green
that resolves to scarlet tanager

to track the twang of a tiny banjo to a fairy high in the bare branches

 fanning his miniature tail, stringing together invectives for us as we stumble below

We were made to give these things names.  Why we settled on "blue-gray gnatcatcher" for this lovely sprite, this elegant pin-bill, only heaven knows.

We were made to hunt Easter eggs, of a blue no tablet dropped into vinegar could approach.

We were meant to be searching for firepink, just for the joy of finally finding it, of soaking in a red so intense it makes us shiver.

Bill finds the first morel.

And I get so excited I put my thumb over the lens.

And Chet Baker wants in the picture so badly he nearly treads upon it.

and gets his feelings hurt when I keep pushing him away.

But you always want me in your pictures. Until now. I know that mushroom is there. I will not step on it. You need to take a picture of me with that mushroom. Me with my white eyebrows and a mushroom. Because that would be a good picture.

Ohio's Oldest Frog?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


It is spring. I am so busy I hardly know which end is up. Every time we turn around there is another track meet to attend, to cheer on our little gazelles. But the good news is that I've done everything. I've weeded all dozen flower beds,   pruned the roses, hauling cartload after cartload of weeds and trash from the beds

mowed the lawn, planted the sugar snap peas (twice!), tilled the garden, potted the geraniums in the greenhouse in hanging baskets and planters, started up the Bird Spa, redone the Heirloom garden and mulched it with newspapers and straw, potted the bonsais and put them on their bench.

My oldest Japanese maple, in the red pot. Probably 32 years in culture, started from a seedling as they all were.

 This fine Japanese maple is over 30 years in the pot. It doesn't look very big here, but it's over three feet tall. I have favorites among my collection, and this is one of them. Its trunk is about as big around as my wrist.

The collection isn't growing. I have enough keeping up to do as it is. The elderly Hinoki cypresses are getting nice (far right, top) as their needles thin out. Showing some character. 

One of the last and worst things I did this spring was to clean the pond. I hate that job more with every passing year. It's hard on my bones.  But I was happy to find Raoul still sitting on his humble throne as King of the Water Garden. 

Raoul is the green frog who moved into our pond sixteen years ago, when he was at least two years old. He took over for Fergus, the bullfrog who ate hummingbirds and warblers. 

So, because I would think that not many people have ever seen a green frog whom they know is 18 years old, older than Phoebe (!), here is Raoul as he appears today. That's a six-inch pot. He's big. 

He is a fine frog, as frogs go, calm but not overly friendly; given to a sonorous GLUNK glunk glunk on warm summer nights, and he has even reproduced recently when two slender females moved in a couple of years ago. Most importantly, I have never found evidence that he eats birds. I'm not sure what he eats, but he obviously gets enough if he looks like this just out of hibernation.

Raoul is landlocked up here. The nearest streams are more than a quarter mile away across mown lawn and field and forest. He migrated to our pond in a very rainy June and he's never left. For that, and for so many other gifts the springtime gives, I am thankful.

Back to painting and packing. I squeezed this post out while the maskoid dried on my latest watercolor. Which I must finish before leaving for Virginia Thursday. I'll be speaking and going on field trips at the Virginia Society of Ornithologists' Annual Meeting in Leesburg from Friday to Sunday, April 26-28.

I'll get to see new friends and one very old friend, someone who knew me as a Proto-Zick when we were both 14, someone who knew my mom and dad (those friends are hard to find) and I am very much looking forward to it all.  I am a little tired from all the work around here, and sitting in the car for twelve hours listening to music and thinking my own thoughts will seem like a vacation by contrast. Not to mention birding and botanizing with friends!

Bird Painting 101: Wire-tailed Manakins Part III

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I left you hanging over the weekend. I am sorry. So much weeding to do, so little time. The burning question: what's going on here? Well, let me paint in some tail wires and I'll tell you.

The right male is tickling the face of the left male with his tail wires. He's swishing his tail rapidly back side to side and swatting the other bird in the face. In response, the left bird blinks and shakes his head but doesn't move. This is a pantomime of the courting dance of the wire-tailed manakin, performed between two males, presumably to demonstrate to watching females what they could be enjoying. 

I have yet to key up the darks and lights on these birds, hold on. 

Manakins in this genus (Pipra) do a lot of buttcentric dancing. The moonwalking red-capped manakin shot to viral Internet fame when the dance it has perfected over millenia was videotaped and set to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." I have mixed feelings about this, as you might expect.

This is a nice National Geographic video of dancing red-capped manakins. I'm not sure why there's a singing eastern wood-pewee in the sound track. Maybe pewees sing just before they head north. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt there. And please ignore the inane macho LCD commentary about dating (sigh, grrrr, eyeroll) and just look at those moves. What thighs. 

Manakins are magic; they seem to move without visible means of propulsion, sliding and popping along their perches faster than the eye can follow. They're smooth little characters and can be hilariously funny, too. I tried to capture some of that spirit in these paintings.  For reference, I used videos from You can see how the wires are used in the first video. 

I feel unbelievably lucky to have such material at my fingertips. Sitting here in Whipple, Ohio, painting a bird I've never seen, and able to get it right. That is a miracle. This is the voice of a career illustrator, who started in 1976, having to dig through library stacks hoping there might be a tiny blurry black-and-white photo of the bird somewhere that I could use for reference. The chances of finding photos and video of wire-tailed manakin displays and nests then were zero to none. The digital revolution has changed all that, and I am humbled and thankful. 

Here's that flying male again. On the videos, the birds just appear and disappear, so fast do they fly, so I had to construct this bird from a photo of a hand-held bird with one wing stretched out.

The finished dancing pair.

And the finished plate. Thanks to Brandt and Julia Ryder for their support in commissioning this painting. 

Bird Painting 101: Wire-tailed Manakins, Part II

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I got a wee bit ahead of myself with that flying bird. There is still lots to be done on the plate overall. I draw the female and her nest, using reference photos gleaned online. I'm amazed at the teeny tiny nest, made of leaves seemingly stitched together with cobwebs.

Many Neotropical birds build such tiny nests, barely noticeable among all the hanging doo-dads in a humid forest. They're trying to make the nests look like something other than a nest. This is because there are so many predators waiting to raid them.

Painting a nest is a lot like building a nest. Painstaking. I marvel at the artistry of the bird as I work. It really looks like a bunch of leaves stuck in a spider's web, nothing that might hold a tasty treat.

The other thing about tiny tropical nests is the tiny clutches of eggs laid in them. Many Neotropical birds lay only two or at most three eggs at a time. Once again, predation pressure is to blame for this. But the flip side of that is this: It's so difficult for tropical birds to fledge young in this snaky, rodenty, monkeyey, coatiey environment that many of them have astonishingly long lifespans. They need to, to be able to replace themselves. They try year after year, putting comparatively low investment in each nest. Manakins, for instance, may live into their thirties!

Whoops, forgot her tail wires. Females have them too. 

This gives them plenty of time to mature and work out awesome dance routines to lure that mate into tossing her hat into the ring. More on those later.

Here's a subadult male wire-tailed manakin. As I was painting this, I thought I might call this bird's portrait "Molting Sucks."

He's got a ways to go before he gets his crayon colors. Males start out looking like females, and gradually get nattier.

In watercolor, you paint the lighter, brighter colors first, then add the darks. Even though I'd like to save the reds and yellows for dessert. You can see I've tackled the poor molting male first. Get him out of the way, him and his pinfeathers sticking up like curlers in his hair. Poor kid.

Just starting to lay in the blacks on one male. 

You might fairly wonder what is going on here. 
Two male manakins doing whaaat?
Next time.

Bird Painting 101: Wire-tailed Manakins

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Got myself a commission this past winter to paint wire-tailed manakins for an ornithologist who studies them. I love painting for ornithologists. I love it because it makes me ever so careful to get every particular right, and that appeals to the Science Chimp in me.

He wanted something that would look like a field guide plate, with a couple of behaviors, the varying plumage stages of the  male, the female and nest included. Why, it would be a pleasure! I adore manakins, and have painted a few of them and even gotten to ogle some at length in the wild, in Brasil, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Belize. I was stoked!

First, a draft.

It got reshuffled a bit.

Pencil drawings, in detail, of each bird on the watercolor paper. A map to follow. 

You have to paint the light bright colors first.

Laying in the blacks. I decide to use a true black (Lamp Black) rather than mix one. There is no brown in this bird, no blue...he's unequivocally black, white, yellow and red. Crayon colors. Great fun to paint. 

My reference for this bird is a photo of a bird, hand-held, with its wing stretched. I have to improvise on the far wing and everything else. But I think he looks fairly convincing. Now some darks.

Add his wire tail processes. I'll explain about those in a future post. (What are they for??) And some highlights, with Chinese white. Now he pops and shines, like a real bird. Or a slightly surreal bird. Manakins are nothing if not slightly surreal.

Next: Displaying males, and a female on her nest, all falling under the Zickbrush.

Ryan the Bat, Eating

Sunday, April 14, 2013

There's some kind of golden rule on videos. You keep them under three minutes. You honor the increasingly brief attention span of the average reader. Well. I'm ignoring that today. Animal rehabilitation takes patience and time, and immersing oneself in a bat's world is worth it. So I present a seven minute video (Ack! Seven minutes??) of Ryan the Bat, eating. I like it because you get to see how he moves and how a bat acts when it's relaxed and unconfined. Ryan doesn't mind nestling in my hand, but he also likes perching on the back of my glove. He's got a cool tentlike posture in this video, which is typical of him.

I figure that anyone who takes the time to read my blog in a herky-jerky Facebook world is going to dig watching Ryan as much as I do. So there, Golden Rule of Internet Videos. Whatever.

I'm very thankful that of the two bats I'm caring for, nasty little Drusilla is the one who self-feeds from a bowl. All I have to do for her is drop five mealworms in her bowl and minutes later, day or night, she crawls down and wolfs them down, drinks from her water dish, and goes back up into her towels to sleep away the early spring. The only time I handle her is when I mistake her for Ryan. She lets me know right away I've got the wrong bat. She chomps my glove and vents an ultrasonic string of oaths. That's my girl!

This is Drusilla, showing the wing-spreading defensive behavior of a torpid bat. They'll flip over on their backs and spread their wings while making an eerie, otherworldly squeal. Naturally, I asked Phoebe to take some shots of her spread wings and tail membranes, because they are so beautiful. No, I'm not torturing her. She's just being Dru.

 Ryan has never gotten the hang of self-feeding. Perhaps if he were kept singly he eventually would. Keeping him with Dru, though, virtually eliminates any chance that he'd get to the worms first.
But I like keeping them together, because they cuddle, and bats should be with bats. I don't mind feeding Ryan. I feed the bats only on nights above 50 degrees. As spring comes on, there are more and more of those. Hooray. Let's hear it for warm nights and heady days. They've been a long time coming.

It's tempting to think about releasing them in the current warm spell. And then I look at the ten-day forecast and see a couple of nights dipping back into the 30's, and I'm glad I resist the temptation. Soon I'll set up the flight tent and see how my little darlings do, get them conditioned for release. It's a happy thing to contemplate. Ryan's still holding at 15 gm., and Dru has gained two grams, up to 19. Which, if you'll remember, is the flying weight down to which I finally worked Stella and Mirabel, my overweight little Battista Sisters of 2012. Sofa pillows! I look at pictures of them before their diet regimen and laugh out loud. I'm limiting these bats' intake to five worms each, nightly, and soon they'll get a chance to exercise in the flight tent.

So here's Ryan, eating. Enjoy it!

Chet Baker Gets a Present!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chet Baker is a lucky dog. He has lots of people who love him and some of them send him presents. One of them is Miss Dee, who made a special doggie sleeping bag for The Bacon. I knew it was coming; she had told me.

A package arrived at about 2 pm, and Chet's eyes twinkled when he saw me carrying it. His ears perked up and he began to dance. He figures anything that comes in the mail is for him. Wonder why?

No, no, Chet Baker. You may not open this. You have to wait until everyone's home, and I will make a video of you opening it. So you wait.

And I put it on the kitchen table. Aww, Mether. Why?

Because. You wait. Don't you open that package.

After he'd gotten it.  It's a puppy pouch. He's not using it correctly here, because he's supposed to be inside it, but boy does he LOVE it. I bundle him up in it and that's the last I hear from him until morning.

Just before dinner, I came into the kitchen carrying my little Canon G-12. Without my saying a word, Chet put two and two together. She has the camera. Ergo, I now get to open that mystery package. I'm tellin' ya. By the time a smart dog is eight years old, he's got your number. He knows everything about you, and forget hiding anything from him. You're like an old married couple.

Before I could even turn the camera on, he had leapt up onto one of the kitchen chairs, seized the package, and trotted into the living room to ravage it. Which sent me into gales of laughter, just knowing that he knew what I was going to do. It reminds me of a time when he was just a few months old.  He was sleeping in the living room and heard me turn on my little Olympus point-and-shoot  (it made a zooming sound when activated). He leapt up out of his bed and trotted into the kitchen and plumped himself down in front of me, ears up. You wanted to take pictures of me? Well, here I am!

 So I apologize, because this video is irreparably marred by the sound of my cackling from start to finish. Because I think everything Chet Baker does, with the exception of his noisome emanations, is funny. Obviously. So turn your speakers DOWN and enjoy the endless and unedited raw footage of Chet Baker being Chet Baker.


Thank you, Dee, for this wonderful hand-made gift. You hit the mark!

Color for Winter-weary Eyes

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


New recruits in the lettuce army. You can almost see these Japanese Buttercrunch and blood lettuce plants growing hour by hour. I'll put some out in the garden when the weather finally warms, leaving maybe six plants per planter. And I'll keep the planters by the front door where I can always pop out and get myself a salad or a leaf or two for a sandwich. I call them my sandwich gardens. They come in real handy in BLT season. 

Not sure what I'm going to do this BLT season. Traditionally it's when I fall off my no-bread wagon. But I've come too far to screw up again, having quit carbs in August '12 and dropped 20 pounds. The same 20, I'd add, that I dropped in 2000, doing the same thing. Let's just say that late-summer BLT's were part of the problem.  Because a homegrown BLT on Tuscan multigrain toast is pretty much my favorite thing in the world. Can you put a BLT on RyVita? Wrap mayo and bacon and tomato in lettuce leaves? From whence comes the satisfying crunch? Ahh, I miss crunch. Toast, food of the gods.

 Please advise, fellow low-carb sufferers. I must have my BLT. Somehow.

Who needs LT? Just give me bacon, Mether.

Occold Embers. It'll get big chestnut butterflies on its leaves in full sun, and the leaves will turn from green to bright chartreuse. Yum! It makes a statement in a planter.

Rosina Reid. A nice, compact dwarf geranium. Never drops a petal, either. The flowers just dry on the plant. Nice feature, one you come to appreciate when you have geraniums that shatter easily, dropping petals everywhere.

Grooming is so much a part of gardening. Part of the difference between a good nursery and one that doesn't care is that nobody deadheads in the latter kind. Every time I go to the greenhouse I deadhead, take off burned or yellowed leaves, just clean the plants up. The trash can is just as pretty as the flowers sometimes.

Rosemary LOVES the new greenhouse. She gets a lot more light and better air circulation than in the semi-opaque double thermopane of the Pod. Not a hint of mildew. I'm so glad I didn't throw her out come frost. 

An enigma to me is the geranium called Vancouver Centennial. These plants have gone years for me without blooming. And then bang. One will bloom. Worth waiting for, it's such a delicious light scarlet. 

But the other 99% of the year, this is what you get. Which is fine! I love this plant. It hangs onto its leaves and almost never drops one. Makes a fabulous textured mound in a big planter, a perfect foil for other free-blooming gerania. It's always part of my Hot Pot, which is a hot-colored gang planting of geraniums that I keep near the bird bath.

The one that's blooming now is a cutting of the plant above. Go figure why only the cutting bloomed. You'd think that, come time to flower, they both would. But not a sign of buds on the big plant. Does it need to have its roots crowded to bloom? I don't know. 

When it gets sunny, I open the louvered window vents. So far they work well to regulate temperatures, and only one titmouse has come in and thrown himself on the flexible plastic deli-tray walls--BONG! BONG! BONG! so far.

Vesuvius, with his bronzy chestnut leaves, and Happy Thought Pink.

Another plant I love, a geranium called Contrast. With Chet Baker for scale.

Hard to believe this plant was just inch-high stubs in November. About to bloom too, as if the leaves weren't lovely enough. Another scarlet flower coming! It's falling all over itself and needs a bigger pot so it won't tip over when it dries out.

My happy corner.

 My old Mammillaria cactus, possibly Mammillaria geminispina, blooming away. Love those rings of magenta flowers. It went about 18 years as a single column, then suddenly sent out side arms, which bloom too. You just never know what a plant's going to do. This cactus has never quailed at anything I've done. It just smiles and blooms all winter long. I move it outside in summer and let it take the rain, and water it sparingly in winter until it buds up. Then I pick up the watering a bit. Nice plants. You can forget to water them for a month and they never bat an eye. And that fuchsia pink--well, it's good for the winter-weary eye.

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