Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Brazilian Logger Turned Birder Aims to Turn His Community into Bird Sanctuary

December 2, 2013


sustainableTripIn the heart of the Brazilian Amazon is the Rio Negro Sustainable Development Reserve, an area that is rich in biodiversity and home to several small communities that depend on natural resources for a living. Pousada Garrido is the only hotel in the Tumbira region, and it is owned by a former logger and community leader named Roberto Mendonça.

Pousada Garrido has become a source of income for Mendonça as well as several other local families who offer tourism services to visitors. The inn also uses solar energy (as does the entire community), recycles, supports local artisans with reusable materials, and purchases foods from local producers. This year, Pousada Garrido earned Rainforest Alliance verification for sustainable tourism.
Tourists are drawn to Tumbira for the richness and exuberance of its forests, including the many bird species that abound there.

Mendonça partnered with a local tour guide named Cleudilon, whose nickname is Passarinho, or “little bird” in Portuguese, because he can perfectly imitate 32 types of birds! (Scroll down to see an awesome video of Cleudilon calling to birds in the forest.) The two recently undertook a project to make the inn into a perfect site for bird watching. And you can help make it happen! Visit the community’s crowdfunding page, to help them turn Tumbira into a community-based ecotourism center.

Paula Arantes of Garupa, the NGO helping Mendonça and Cleudilon raise money for the project, tells us more about the initiative.

Question: What is the plan for the money you hope to raise?
Paula Arantes: Roberto and Cleudilon want to turn their community into a birding and community tourism center. To get started, they intend to adapt the infrastructure of Pousada Garrido to sustainably accommodate more guests and provide what is needed for birding. They also want to publish a guide to the local birdlife as a reference for tourists and an educational resource for the children of the community.

Q: Why are Tumbira and Pousada Garrido such special places for bird watching?
Arantes: Though you can see birds everywhere in Amazon, Tumbira is special because its pathways make it easy to see many varieties of birds, and the area is easily accessible by land or by boat. Furthermore, Cleudilon’s incredible talent for imitating birds and really enhances the birding experience.

Q: What do you need to carry out the project?
Arantes: Investments need to be made to expand the inn without negatively impacting the environment. More equipment is also needed for bird watching, and Cleudilon needs resources to develop the bird guide. The goal is to raise around US$8,800 (20,000 Brazilian reales) to help cover building materials, labor, the development of the guide, and more.

Q: What progress has been made so far?
Arantes: Thanks to the Rainforest Alliance verification process, we’ve identified the appropriate areas for making investments and improvements in a sustainable way.

Q: How does this project benefit the community?
Arantes: More tourists means more sustainable income for the residents! Supporting community-based tourism is one of the best ways for travelers to ensure that their vacation is sustainable.

Q: How can people help?
Arantes: On the project page on the Garupa website, you can find more details about the initiative and make an online donation to co-finance this effort. Donors receive tokens of appreciation, such as photographs, the bird guide, and even stays at the inn, depending on the amount contributed. Donating any amount, no matter how small, and sharing our project with your friends and family is the best way to make Roberto’s dream a reality!


Bird Photo Booth: Take pics as birds feast on seeds

December 2, 2013



Homeowners love the sound of birds chirping during the day. Some of them attract these winged creatures onto their front yards by putting up bird feeders. As much as you want to observe these birds up close, you know they just fly away if you get too near.

Let Bird Photo Booth solve that problem and even save those moments forever. It is a bird feeder with a slot inside where you put your old iPhone or GoPro camera. The camera is connected to a device inside the house via Bluetooth or WiFi, enabling you to snap photos of feeding birds yourself without disturbing them.

This weather-resistant contraption is made of sustainably harvested white oak hardwood and comes with a macro lens and circular polarizing lens that zooms in the birds automatically while providing finer details. It also has a lens cap protector, stainless steel perch and bowl for the seeds, and foam inserts for both iPhone and GoPro.

The iPhone foam insert also works with 4th and 5th-gen iPod Touch, while the GoPro protective foam insert fits all models, including the new GoPro Hero 3 editions. Android device owners will have to wait a bit, as usual.

The company even suggests you could also communicate with the birds using FaceTime, but that might just scare the birds away. They also recommend to turn off the device’s auto-lock functionality so you won’t miss a moment.

The Bird Photo Booth is available online for $150, plus shipping.


The Aspen Wind

October 28, 2010

You’re walking along on a fine crisp autumn day, underneath a canopy of gold, rust, orange, yellow, and pale green aspen leaves, listening and looking for birds; mainly seeing and hearing only squirrels, when a cloud bank rolls in over the peaks. Suddenly, you understand why you’re not seeing many birds: They sense what is coming: The Aspen Wind.


The Aspen Wind in the southwest United States usually arrives when the Jet Stream meanders down south for its first serious visit of the year, dragging a trough of low pressure with it. The pressure gradient grows and pretty soon the winds are high enough that they would make the national news if they were blowing anywhere else, but the Southwest is that part of the weather map that national broadcasters stand in front of to tell us about the weather everywhere else. They must think we are weatherless out here.

This week the Jet Stream brought us some healthy winds. One community nearby experienced a 91 mph gust of wind and several locations recorded gusts above 70 mph.

That was enough for the aspen leaves.


Now, they are all on the ground blessing it and us with that marvelous, indescribable odor of a forest floor covered in freshly fallen aspen leaves.

And all that is left of their autumnal glory is consigned to blessed memory and some photographs.

Paying for “Birds of America”

February 4, 2010

Our last post was about John James Audubon self-publishing Birds of America. It cost him more than $115,000.00. Today that would be more than two million dollars. Some of you may have wondered where he got the money.  After all, he was a draft-dodging, illegal immigrant from France. Apparently the poet Steven Vincent Benet wondered too, so he wrote this poem:

Some men live for warlike deeds,
Some for women’s words.
John James Audubon
Lived to look at birds.

Pretty birds and funny birds,
All our native fowl
From the little cedar waxwing
To the Great Horned Owl.

Let the wind blow hot or cold,
Let it rain or snow,
Everywhere the birds went
Audubon would go.

Scrambling through a wilderness,
Floating down a stream,
All around America
In a feathered dream.

Thirty years of traveling,
Pockets often bare,
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Patched them up with care).

Followed grebe and meadowlark,
Saw them sing and splash.
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Somehow raised the cash).

Drew them all the way they lived
In their habitats.
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Sometimes wondered “Cats?”)

Colored them and printed them
In a giant book,
“Birds of North America” –
All the world said, “Look!”

Gave him medals and degrees,
Called him noble names,
Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Kissed her queer John James.

Self-Publishing Birders

February 1, 2010

Self-publishing acquired a vague, unpleasant odor somewhere along the way. Like a cowbird, it’s just not entirely respectable. That may be changing with the advent of new technologies that allow books to be published on demand. What’s more, the internet, fascinating blogs like this one, and the increasing difficulty of getting an old-fashioned publishing house to actually publish something you wrote may soon return self-published books to respectability.

Nowadays, it takes months or years just to find an agent whose job it becomes to deposit your manuscript with publishing houses. Gone are the days when new authors just sent off a manuscript to a publisher and waited for a response. Do that today, and your manuscript ends up in a “slush” pile where someone barely out of college and barely above minimum wage reads it before consigning it to history’s rubbish heap.

It’s a small step from the slush pile to the rubbish heap.

This week we acquired a new copy of Audubon’s Birds of America to sell at the store. It is a beautiful book and expensive. $175.00, if you must know, and worth every penny. Fine binding, high quality paper, and exquisite reproductions make it a marvelous book to have around. Ours is the Roger Tory Peterson edition published by Abbeville Press for the Audubon Society and known as a “Baby Elephant Folio” edition.

But the first edition was self-published by Audubon himself. In four volumes. If you could find those on the market today, they would cost a lot more than $175.

Known as the “Double Elephant Folio” and priced at $1000. when it came out, each page was 29 ½ inches by 39 ½ inches and just one of the volumes weighed fifty-six pounds. Printed from exquisitely etched copper plates, the images of the birds were life-size. Especially tall birds, such as the flamingo in the photo below, were painted with their necks bent to the ground so they would fit on the pages. Audubon invested about $115,000.00 of his own money to get Birds of America published.

After Audubon died, his widow sold his original paintings to the New York Historical Society for $4000. For the next 100 years the Society kept them in the basement. Many of the original copper plates from which the first edition was self-published by Audubon himself were damaged in a fire and others were given away. Some were sold to a smelter! Fortunately, the fourteen year old son of the owner must have been a birder because he realized what they were and saved about thirty-six.

About one hundred thirty sets of the complete first edition are still in existence, the others broken up. Twenty-years ago a broken set fetched $4 million at auction.

That’s why we always back-up our blog posts. You never can tell . . . .


June 1, 2009
Correggio's Zeus with Io

Correggio's Zeus with Io

In Greek mythology, Hera was Zeus’s wife.  In some versions of the myths she was also his older sister, but let that go.  You will remember that Zeus was not exactly faithful to Hera.  In fact, he seduced or raped anyone, mortal or immortal, who caught his eye.

Displeased with his philandering, Hera often caught him at it.  Zeus was always attempting to fool her by turning his paramours into various animals.

So it was with Io.  Just before Hera caught him in the act, he turned himself into a cloud and the beautiful Io into a cow.  Hera was no dummy; she saw through his cloud disguise, suspected the cow was really a beautiful maiden, and demanded that Zeus give her the cow as a present.  With no handy way of refusing, Zeus did so.

Hera promptly turned the cow over to Argus, her trusted watchman, to keep an eye on the heifer.  Argus, depending on which version of the myth you choose, had either four eyes or 100 eyes.  We’re going with the 100-eyed version.  Argus always had several eyes wide awake with which to keep watch.  He rotated which eyes slept.

Zeus wanted Io back; so he sent Hermes, one of his sons, to get her.  Hermes accomplished the task by playing his pipes and telling such boring stories that Argus fell completely asleep, all 100 eyes of him.  Hermes beheaded him and ran off with the cow. Zeus turned the cow back into a beautiful maiden.  Who knows what he did after that, but you can guess.

“What’s all this got to do with birds?” you ask.

When Hera discovered her trusted watchman dead, she took all 100 of his eyes and put them on the tail of a peacock.

Peacocks are, of course, male peafowls.  The national bird of India, they live in semi-arid forests and grasslands, eating seeds, fruits, insects and small animals and reptiles.  The Phoenicians took them on their trading routes which is how they ended up in Egypt and the Middle East.  King Solomon brought them to Jerusalem.  (Kings 10:22, 2 Chron. 9:21)

In Egypt they told a different story about Argus who kidnapped Queen Isis, hid her in his castle, and announced that he was the new king of Egypt.  Osiris, the rightful king and husband of Isis, put a curse on Argus, turning him into a peacock and making all Argus’s spies eyes on Argus’s tail; thereby creating the children’s game, “I spy a . . . .”
In Islam, peacocks were thought to stand guard at the gates of Paradise.  A Kurdish sect believed they were messengers from God.  Ancient Christians thought the bird symbolized the mother church.  St. Augustine conflated peacocks with the mythical phoenix, holding that peacock flesh did not decay and was incorruptible.  It became a symbol of resurrection.  “By the peacock” was an oath of truth-telling for Christians, who often placed the bird in scenes depicting the manger of Jesus’ birth.

In Europe, the peacock’s scream was an evil omen, but Marie Antoinette didn’t care; she wore peacock feathers in her hair.  Until she lost it.



In their native land of India, peacocks played many mythical roles. Indra sits on a peacock throne.  A peacock was the bird of Krishna who wore peacock feathers in his hair.  More successfully than Marie Antoinette.  (Peacocks molt annually so acquiring their feathers is not difficult nor fatal to the bird.) Skanda, the son of Shiva and brother of Ganesha, and his friend the god Murugan  rode peacocks as did Sarasvati, goddess of music, poetry and wisdom. Smoked peacock feathers were used to cure snake bites.  (We don’t recommend that actually. Better to go to the hospital.)

In China, peacocks were fertility symbols and young women could become pregnant by merely looking at one.  Later they — the peacocks — became the symbol of the Ming Dynasty.

pavoAnd we’re still not finished.  If you live in the Southern Hemisphere you can see the constellation Pavo in your night sky.  Pavo means “peacock.”  It is one of the twelve southern constellations named by Dutch navigators in the 16th century.  The brightest star in the constellation is Alpha Pavonis which is another way of saying it is the alpha peacock.  The asterism within the constellation shaped like a saucer will lead you to the south if you can’t find the Southern Cross.  (One of us once went on a “barefoot cruise.”  It was my first time far enough south to see the Southern Cross.  So I asked the captain to point it out.  He did so.  A few minutes later one of the crewmen came up to me and told me the captain had it wrong and pointed to the true Southern Cross.  The crewman was right; the captain wrong. It’s a good thing that captain used GPS navigation, otherwise I might still be wandering around the southern oceans and unable to tell you all about peacock mythology.)

That would be a bad thing, wouldn’t it?

Don’t answer that.

The top photo of a peacock was taken by BS Thurner Hof.

People Keeping Parrots

June 24, 2008

The famous African Grey Parrot, Alex, died recently.  His fame resulted from the studies of language and cognition that Dr. Irene Pepperberg did with him.  You can listen to some samples of Alex talking or watch Alex at work.

Our point today though is not to talk about Alex.  Rather, we wanted to post an ambiguous quotation from Mark Twain.  Here it is,

She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot.

Here is a self-portrait by Freda Kahlo, who clearly was the kind of person who kept parrots, what ever that may say about her.


Charley Harper Update

February 3, 2008

We recently devoted a post to the wonderful work of Charley Harper. You can read it — and look at some of the art — here.

This morning the CBS program Sunday Morning did a story about Charley Harper and the fashion designer Todd Oldham. If you missed the story, here is the link to the story on the CBS web site.

And, just to bring a moment of joy to your day, here is one of his cards.


Another blog, The Golden State, writing about the art of punning, borrowed — with permission — our post about Charley Harper. You can read that post here.

Charley Harper

January 6, 2008


You have to love a man who, after creating this crow in a snow field, says of it:

Crows are black birds and blackbirds are also, but a crow in the snow is so much the more so. If you’re pro-crow you proclaim his intellect, his resourcefulness, and the visual poetry of his somber silhouette on the calligraphy of the cornfield. But if it’s your cornfield, you have good caws to compose creative crowfanities when he arrives. Think of it as sharecropping: he gets the grasshoppers, you get the corn, and the few ears missed in the harvest are held in, well–escrow.

We sell his cards in our store and many of them have similar funny, punny descriptions.

Ready to send your Valentine’s Day cards? Here is “Vowlentine.”


Or how about “Herondipity?” On the back of this card we learn that male and female herons are almost identical which means it is easy to be “herroneous” when guessing their gender.


Here is his “Wings of the World.” If you are a birder, see how many you can identify. If you are not a birder, see how many you can count. Birder or not, you can revel in the art.


If you are interested, follow the instructions on this poster, “Visit Our Website.”visit-my-web-site-u.jpg

Mr. Harper was an artist of nature, most often birds. He died last year. Mr. Harper got his full quotient of years on the planet, dying at the age of 84 and leaving behind a large body of joyous, modernistic nature art.

He was John J. Audubon and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, updated. Calling himself a “minimal realist,” he reduced his subjects to the simplest visual terms he could. He said of himself that he counted only wings, not feathers when he drew. According to him, he was a lousy birdwatcher.

I found a bird guide by Don Eckelberry and realized that was all I needed–those birds didn’t move. I’m the world’s worst bird watcher. That’s my dirty little secret. I do all my bird watching in bird guides.

Which is better than shooting them, like Audubon did, you have to admit.

Born on a farm in West Virginia, he spent most of his life in Cincinnati. His publishing career started in the 1950’s when his illustrations appeared in Ford Times. His writing started at that magazine as well when he took over the job of captioning the little magazine from E.B. White.

He put his art in the service of nature. Here is a poster he did for the National Park Service.

Here is “We Think the World of Birds” a work he did for the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.


Of this piece he said,

It occurred to me that I could make the world the shape of an egg, and then make the trees upside-down eggs–a visual pun. After that, there was just the matter of putting in the birds.

According to an interview at the Cornell site, this was one of the works of his life that most pleased him.

You can find examples of his work on our web site, on the web and in Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper, 1994, Flower Valley Press, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

We were blessed to have him. Here is his 1982 serigraph Tern, Stones, and Turnstones
Terns and Turnstones

Here is what he said about it:

If you’re terned off–I mean, “turned” off–by puns, don’t go away. The ol’ punster has terned (make that “turned”) over a new leaf. I promise not to punctuate this paragraph with such punishments as no stone unterned, no U-terns–no more awful puns. Just the facts: a Roseate Tern and some Ruddy Turnstones share a pebbly beach along the ? WAIT! I CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER! Ternabout’s fair play. No terning back now. The ol’ punster has passed the point of no retern.

He has indeed. For the rest of us, his death was a tern for the worse.


Update:  Febuary 3, 2008.  CBS did a story about Charley Harper and Todd Oldham this morning.  We posted the link here.

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