It’s Spring and I’m walking the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park looking for birds. I have done this religiously for years and have seen most of the species that have been recorded in this park. I love birds because they are such beautiful expressions of life. I envy their extreme mobility with so many species able to call greater parts of the globe home than I will ever experience. This is the time of year when many different types of birds that have been wintering in South and Central America undergo remarkable journeys. Some will pass through this area on their way to locations as far north as the Arctic Circle. This is my chance to see them… if I’m lucky. The Falls of the Ohio also has another significant bird connection through the life and work of John James Audubon. He essentially started his life’s work that would eventually become The Birds of America, one of the great achievements in publishing and the most expensive book in the world, by first drawing many of the birds he encountered at the Falls of the Ohio. Audubon’s example and his journal descriptions of the world he inhabited are frequent touchstones for me and this project. Two hundred years later…very little remains of the original landscape he was familiar with. That process and transformation of the landscape is continuing and unfortunately not always in a positive direction. Birds are such great indicators of the quality of the environment because they are sensitive to changes…the canary in the coal mine was a real thing. To enjoy birds and birding is an activity that takes you out of yourself for a little while and causes you to engage life on its own terms. On this day (which also happened to be April Fool’s Day) I did experience many of the usual year round resident bird species, but did not see any of the neotropical migrants that make the Spring migration so special. So, when this happens, I’m not above creating my own bird species. This post is devoted to a new bird I discovered out here and I’ve named it the Variegated Oriole.
The Variegated Oriole receives its name for being multicolored. I first encountered this bird as various bits of detritus that I came across walking the shoreline of the Ohio River. For the head, I used a small piece of river-polished Styrofoam. Its brightly colored beak is part of a plastic and polystyrene fishing float that I cut with my pocket knife. The eyes are small bits of coal. I used a green foam gasket or washer to act as a transitional element between the head and the body. It’s a trademark of mine that I seem to do with almost every piece I make out here. For the body, I found a blue piece of river-polished high density foam? that I cut a few slits into the sides to hold the wings which are made from pine bark. I took one piece of bark that the river peeled off of a tree and I split that in half to form matching wings. The tail is a piece of yellow plastic I found that reminded me of a bird tail! I cut another groove into the blue body to insert and hold the tail in place. The feet, are just rootlets that I sharpened and pegged into the body. That’s it in terms of materials which I tried to alter as little as possible as not to trump what nature and the river had already shaped. It’s important to me that this be a true collaboration. If “we” are successful, then something of the spirit of a bird will take hold and inhabit this small sculpture.
After finishing the bird…I seek out environments that will help put this avian creation into some kind of context. Everything matters and I hope my pictures convey something of the time of day, the season, the quality of light, the condition of the environment, etc…all those elements help create a sense of place. I move through the willow trees posing the bird on various stumps and branches. I usually take a lot of pictures.
Sometimes, I will imagine what kind of habits my new birds might possess. In the case of the Variegated Oriole…it is not too different from the Northern or Baltimore Orioles that live and nest in the park. They are among the migrants I look for. I heard one the other day calling, but didn’t see it. The real orioles that live here are adapting to local conditions by using artificial materials (fishing line and barge cable fibers) in the construction of their hanging basket nests. I’ve posted on this before in this blog a few years a go. I think Audubon would have been interested in this. Anyway, I left my bird sitting on a branch for anyone to discover. It might still be there and I will find out today when I once again venture out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park. Perhaps new birds will present themselves to me? I will let you know what I find…next time.
One week later…I returned to the spot where I left my faux-feathered friend and he was no longer perched upon the branch where I left him. I was able to locate most of him scattered on the sand except for one wing. My guess was that he was felled by a well-aimed and thrown rock. The head was shattered and will need to be replaced provided I recyle these pieces back into a bird again.