Saturday, April 30, 2016

Field and Scream

Not far from our house is a large field that was preserved by the same land conservancy group that I mentioned in my last post.  It's a great group and I'm grateful people with vision began it years ago and sustain it today - and I'm proud to have joined their ranks.  

Baloo and I wander through the field at least once daily.  He avidly sniffs for voles, rabbits and ground squirrels - I just enjoy whatever decides to present itself on any given visit.  

The bright epaulets on this red-winged blackbird really stand out as he sings his territorial revile in the morning.  When a sunbeam catches those feathers, they positively glow!

The meadowlarks continue to be wary of our presence, so photographs are difficult with these shy birds.  I love to hear them singing to each other from different parts of the field. Sometimes I just close my eyes and listen to all the different bird songs surrounding me. 

And sometimes my eyes are jerked back open by screams!  The blue jay you can barely see to the right of center and about half way up this picture is squawking at the young bald eagle perching just below him and to the left.  The eagle's tail feathers are just turning white, as is its head.  It looks a little bit mottled now, but will be absolutely magnificient before long. It was already pretty impressive flying past us and onto another (perhaps more peaceful) perch.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Neck Ringing...

There's an absolutely beautiful trail through a wood that's also a wetlands preserve set up by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.   The path winds through a special area boasting over 250 species of plants and a marshy lake enjoyed by many migrating birds (not to mention frogs, turtles, fish, and so on).   

Whenever we walk there, Baloo and I quietly sneak onto the observation platform overlooking the lake to see who might be visiting.  

These ring-necked ducks were a treat to see. 

Baloo just sat down and watched them paddle around.  Happily, they didn't seem to be bothered by his rapt attention - or mine  (although he glanced up at someone in flight just as I snapped this picture)! 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Just Walkin' Down the Street

The simple sights of the neighborhood were amply engaging for the morning meander. Yes, you're right - I'm easily entertained.

The crocus next door are beginning to bloom!

I know it doesn't look much like spring, but this dead pine tree (blown over by a windstorm last summer) was filled with busy chickadees flitting from branch to branch.  Maybe they were looking for good things to eat or perhaps taking needles home for nests.

A life-sized horse and cart stands in a yard not too far up the peninsula from us. The garden bed beneath the horse's feet is beginning to quicken as the days get warmer.  Soon, this trusty cart horse will be up to his shoulders in colorful blooms.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All Gulls, All the Time

Seagulls are pretty common along the bay, so I watch their antics on a regular basis while out walking.  They perform aerial acrobatics, perch on rocks, squabble along the shore - or try to hobnob with the ducks.  

Baloo and I walked up by the lighthouse one misty morning not long ago and nearly every rock that breached the surface of the water, even by a tiny bit, had a seagull (or several) standing atop it. I guess that the foggy, drizzly air was just too thick to make flying attractive. This is just a small sample of the perched population that day - there are lots of rocks off the shore there.

Later on and further down the peninsula, the air had cleared leaving a beautiful, glass calm surface mirroring this basking gull.

I love how the bay changes personality with the atmospheric shifts and winds - every day is a different experience. On this afternoon, the gulls were shooting along the ridges of whitecap waves. They reminded me of surfers - just in the air. They'd alight for a minute on the beach and then follow the waves again.  I expect they were probably hoping for tasty mussels or fish to wash up along the shore, but they looked like dedicated beach bums playing in the surf.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Modified Speedball Cutters

This post is long overdue.  What with moving and all, I sort of forgot about these until someone mentioned that they heard I had them.  So I went hunting, located them and took some pictures... finally!

These are Speedball Cutters that Kirbert has modified the same way that he modified the old Staedtler ones (yes, I have unearthed those, too, and will see if Kirbert still wants to modify them for me).  

This is the #1 miniaturized cutter.  The top of the cutting end has been ground down to allow for a much better view of exactly what (and where) you're cutting and a smaller tip to get into those really hard to reach places.  Do not confuse this with the so-called .5 blades that some people pinch - these have not been squeezed to narrow the valley of the blade, just made a lot more versatile for fine work. 

This is the #1 reversed cutter.  Look at how the top of the V is angled back from the point. This is a fine blade for getting into tight inside corners.  Shallow cuts are a must with this cutter, but it is a real help when carving letters.  I had to get used to this angled blade - it's easy for me to bury in the carving block if I don't keep my cuts shallow enough.  

This is the #2 miniaturized cutter.   Just like the #1 mini, the top of the V has been ground down to give better control and visibility - just with a slightly larger tip.  

Finally, this is a #4 miniaturized.  Once again, the top has been ground down to give a shallower, squared edge for removing larger areas, while still allowing the visibility needed to control how close you want to get to the image lines.  

I have a limited number of these to begin with, but if they look like they're going to be popular, I'll get another batch sent off to Kirbert for modification.  I sort of wanted to see what people were most interested in before getting too many of any one modification made, so I'll be watching how it goes.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Little Art, a Little Nature, a Smidge of History

Baloo and I took a walk near the botanical park, the community gardens and through what used to be the campus of the state mental hospital.  It is a beautiful area, with historic architecture and lovely natural areas. Deservedly on the National Register of Historic Places, it has now been repurposed from its original use and rescued from decay by transformation into shops, restaurants and deluxe senior housing.  

This deer family by sculptor John Goss stood on the grounds not far from where we started our rambles. 

It was hard to see the fawn in the bigger picture, so I took a close-up of it - spots and all.

Crossing over a wetland area, I was dazzled by the iridescent glow as the sun caught the feathers of this mallard drake.  The feathers are so smooth and the almost metallic effect makes him looks like another statue, but he really was in mid-waddle - and curiously unperturbed by a large, black dog with human in tow.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Snowy Sparrows

Barring even more late snows, these should be the last of the pictures featuring fluffy white stuff you should have to endure from me for a while.  Unless, of course, I take a sudden interest in cotton batting or pillow stuffing...

Sparrows are right up there with the juncos, chickadees and other unassuming feathered critters - I really enjoy watching their earnest, busy antics.  There have been several different varieties migrating through the area. 

This song sparrow took full advantage of sunflower heart handouts.

I am amply rewarded by beautiful music. 

The white-crowned sparrow had me confused for a while, because I wasn't sure it was supposed to be here, but I am assured that they come through with the other sparrows every year.  Sadly, they don't stick around to nest, but that makes their short visits even more special.
I also have a sweet tree sparrow flitting around the yard, but it dives into the middle of a bush every time I reach for the camera.  It's a shy little rascal - I'll have to keep trying. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Second to Last Snow Post - We Hope

Even though it's finally thawing and we're supposed to have weather that's closer to normal tomorrow and through the weekend, I hadn't gotten a chance to post these pictures from the last unseasonable snow yet, so you'll have to endure a little more white stuff, just as these guys are breathing a sigh of relief and looking forward to green branches - and bug hatches!

I really like juncos - they're such busy and unassuming little birds. 

Soon, the wintering flock of these diminuitive charmers will cease flitting around in my bushes and disperse to nest and raise the next generation. 

The finches are migrating in large numbers and really appreciated the handouts during the cold and snowy weather.  The birds around here are managing to completely empty the four sunflower feeders in my yard in a day and a half.  I'm going to need to make another run to the feed store this week!

Goldfinches are looking pretty scruffy these days, but soon their motley molting will be complete and their bright yellow feathers will flash through the underbrush.  The intermediate stage always reminds me of a harlequin.

No snowy bird post would be complete without the brilliant contrast of red against white.

If only this fellow had landed in the spruce instead of the apple tree, I could have had early inspiration for this year's Christmas card carving!  I love the way the camera caught the snowflakes in the foreground.  

Baloo and I are ready for balmy rambles through the woods, although I think he'll miss munching on chunks of ice along the way.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Couple of Couples

Weather permitting, I usually load Baloo into the car with me when I make a trip to town, allowing us to take advantage of different walking routes and scenery between errands.   This trip, we took a walk around the Civic Center loop, where we found this tribute to love, which obviously conquers the chill, since it had melted a bit before we found it. I liked the play of light and shadow. 

As if the suggestion of amour in the air - er... snow... - was an inspiration to them, we discovered these two gray squirrels (one of them in black phase) doing a courtship dance in a stately oak.  

They took a break from their pas de deux as we passed, taking at least as much interest in Baloo as he took in them.  

Arriving at home late in the afternoon, we found this finch couple on an early dinner date.  

They even paused to say, "seed" for the camera.  

Clearly, April snows can't keep the warmth of love at bay!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Weather Retort

The weather report doesn't often make me laugh, but this morning was pretty humorous.  I listen to the news on the radio while going through the ritual of preparing to feed and walk Baloo. Today, the poor fellow announcing the weather and local news between segments of national programming was trying desperately to come up with different ways to say it was going to snow.  Light snow today, chance of snow tomorrow, snow likely on Saturday, snow predicted for Sunday, and so on....  What can I say?  It made me chuckle, but I had to give him extra credit for creativity.  

The robins seem thoroughly disgusted with the turn of events, although they were still singing "cheerio" when I took Baloo for his sunset walk last night.  I chopped up some apple for the ones trying to find morsels to eat in my yard.  I hope it improves their outlook.

The birds are eating me out of house and home - or at least out of sunflower hearts and peanut butter! The finch contingent would do pretty well at sharing...

...until feathers got ruffled and squabbles ensued. 

Even the downy woodpecker took to defensive posturing to keep others away from the little seed dish - which has been even more popular than the larger feeders, surprisingly.  

Baloo had this to say about snow continuing well into April.  He still wants to go on his walks, but he really appreciates a good rub with a towel when we return from our rambles.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spoiler Alert - April Stampeaz Invoice Image

I posted the Stampeaz invoice image for March on the blog last month and the response was very positive.  By way of warning, I am going to palaver on for a bit so that you can think again about whether or not you want to see the image or be surprised, just in case you place an order in April.  

This month's invoice image will once again be printed on an enclosed piece of card stock for a couple of reasons.  First, regular computer paper is porous enough that it's hard to get a good print of this particular carving with it, so I opted for a nice, smooth cover stock and Versafine Onyx Black ink for good coverage and the way it works with fine detail. Second, the carving is large enough that it won't easily fit on the page with orders that have a longer list of little items like carving nibs, inkers, small pads and such.  

As for the carving's subject, there's a wonderful landmark out at the end of the peninsula where I live. It's a lighthouse that functioned for over 70 years and is now a piece of history offering visitors a small glimpse of what life might have been like for a lighthouse keeper. People can even apply to be a temporary keeper of the lighthouse and Baloo and I have met folks out on the walking trails who plan family vacations around keeper duties every year.

A lot of effort has gone into maintaining and restoring the building, with the help of a strong community of supporters who work hard to preserve the history and landmarks in the area. There are a number of other significant and interesting projects quite close by.  

In addition, the lighthouse sits at the 45th parallel, complete with a marker to celebrate the fact. On a more somber note, there is also a war memorial honoring those who gave their lives in service. I am always humbled as I read their names and remember their sacrifice. Baloo and I always stop for a few moments whenever we go that way.  

It's a place well worth visiting and if you do, perhaps you'll meet Baloo and me as we walk through the woods or along the beach.  Keep your eyes open for a big, black dog with golden eyes.  :)

Okay, I think I have gone on long enough to give you a chance to retreat (or take a nap). Here's what you'll find in your package, if you place an order in April.  

Oh!  I know someone will ask - this was carved on Stampeaz OZ Kut primarily using a #1 and #2 gouge, with occasional Testor's knife cuts, particularly around the light, itself.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Snow Fun - Mother Nature's April Fool Joke

We had been having some really nice, sunny days in March, but the weather seems to be playing a prolonged April Fool's prank on us.  It feels a lot more like the bleak mid-winter, with frosty winds making moan outside than the mischief of the Merry Little Breezes (extra credit if you get the two oblique references there - especially the second one!).  

Since it is acting wintry, I thought it might be fun to share a couple photos from back in January that I never managed to get posted.   

My brother-in-law took this picture with his cell phone through the back window when he and my sister came up to visit one day.  My porch furniture looked like it was covered with marshmallow creme topping.  I particularly like the play of light and shadow and the way the little drift of snow is curling off the arm of the chair to the left of the table.  

During a short melt, Baloo and I walked through the park and saw these curls of snow slipping off the slide.  It's nice to know that they were enjoying the playground equipment.  

And finally, though I posted this picture of Baloo posing with a buddy at the park on the Stampeaz Facebook page, not everybody that checks in here uses social media sites, so I thought it would round out the snow fun!  

Oh!  I almost forgot!  By way of warning, tomorrow I will be posting a spoiler for the April invoice image, so if you want your order to have a surprise inside, don't peek!