Black-and-White Birds

The combination of the colors black and white is considered elegant and classy, not only with regard to fashion, but also when it comes to feather arrangements, as many posts by fellow bird-loving bloggers attest. When I assembled my avian portraits a few months back, my only intention was to share a selection of Colorado’s bicolored resident and migratory birds. I hope you will enjoy their beauty with me. But when I finally scheduled this post a few weeks ago and realized how close to an eagerly awaited yet at the same time anxiously dreaded event it would be published, my mind took me into directions altogether different, and it is also my hope that you will allow me to digress.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

The bird in the topmost photo is a Black-throated Gray Warbler (Trauerwaldsänger).

I stay away from politics as much as possible because most of the time nothing good comes from discussing it. Only with some trepidation did I allow my pen and keyboard to follow my mind in this instance. All of us have strong convictions and are reluctant to have them questioned. Polarization and radicalization have increased not only in this country, but across the globe, whereas nuanced discussion and civil discourse have gone the opposite way. What does it say about our societies that people are not only ostracized, but are sent hate mail, death threats—or even poison—merely for expressing their opinions, or for stating scientifically accepted facts? It’s so bewildering it beggars belief.

I know one thing. While black-and-white fashion or plumage might be beautiful, black-and-white thinking is not. Polarizing is not. Claiming that white is better, smarter, or more superior than black is not. Asserting that every human being has the same potential and that people who don’t succeed didn’t try hard enough is ignorant at best, cruel at worst. To declare that systemic racism doesn’t exist is to wear blinders, is to deny that many humans don’t grow up on a level playing field or with the same privileges.

Indigenous lives matter. Black lives matter. White lives matter. It should go without saying that ALL lives matter, but this self-evident statement has been misappropriated and distorted in the most insidious way. A clarification: While feathers may be black or white, human skin is not. It might be pink or brown or countless other shades. But because we have reduced the world to black and white, I am manacled by reductive language.

Each day we see where prejudice and polarization have brought us—to a dead end. It will take all of us to correct centuries-old and deep-seated misconceptions and biases. To return to the birds which started this train of thought, we need to acknowledge and affirm that, while black and white might stand alone, they complement one another and become more beautiful when they exist side by side.

A selection of signs I have recently come across in people’s yards.

Humpty-Dumpty

If you were raised in an Anglophone country and are of a certain age, chances are you became familiar with the Humpty-Dumpty nursery rhyme while growing up. As I grew up in Germany for the first two decades of my life I didn’t. When and where I first heard the poem I don’t recall, and I knew very little about it until I did a little reading in preparation for this post.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

According to several online sources, the quatrain started out as a riddle, to which the answer might or might not have been egg. It was only after Lewis Carroll’s 1871 Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) that Humpty Dumpty became associated with an anthropomorphic egg. The nursery rhyme’s long and illustrious career includes being set to music, and countless online versions of the song exist, available to you at your leisure.

Colorado Springs’ civic, cultural, and economic interests are the concern of the Downtown Partnership. Its charitable nonprofit arm, Downtown Ventures, has been behind the popular annual Art on the Streets project which “celebrates the power of art in public places.” Each year since 1998, it has selected submissions from artists and displayed them downtown for 12 months.

A number of the exhibits have become permanent installations after the course of the year when purchased by an individual or organization. Such was the case with the 2003 submission, Hump D, fashioned by Minneapolis artist Kimber Fiebiger. Seated on a low wall adjacent to the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, the bronze was so popular that local businesses have since commissioned similar designs and placed them in various locations throughout the core of our city. It was only this summer that I happened across a few of them, and I can relate why new ones keep appearing in different places. One never tires of looking at these jovial, happy creations without feeling jovial and happy oneself.

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PS: Some, but not all of the titles I found on the artist’s webpage. Incidentally, I also stumbled across a creation entitled “Trumpty-Dumpty.” While it represents the exact opposite of happy and jovial, it is very timely.

Animal Encounters

Meetings with animals wild and tame make me happy.  And while birds touch my soul most profoundly, I’m always grateful for opportunities to observe and photograph other creatures. All of the following pictures were taken this summer, except for the last one. I had to chuckle when I came across these slightly uncommon pets: not one, but two pigs in someone’s front yard. As is obvious from this picture, they were as curious about me as I was about them.

Western Tiger Swallowtails are among our most notable butterflies. Their wingspan of 3 to 4 inches, conspicuous color, undulating flight, and graceful alighting on bright blossoms will irresistibly capture one’s attention and gaze, and hold them captive as these exquisite flyers propel themselves from one nectar source to the next.

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My ears are always switched on during my excursions and when a friend and I went birding one late August morning and tried to figure out from what avian a certain sound emanated, a glance at the ground a few feet ahead of us reminded us to heed my husband’s perpetual advice of “watch your step.” A not-so-little serpent lay coiled in the cool, wet grass and let us know about its presence. Needless to say, our repertoire of unusual bird sounds grew to include reptilian rattling! Out by myself only a few days later, I nearly jumped in the air when I heard similar rattling from right next to my foot. Fortunately, this one came from a cicada which didn’t mind being picked up and inspected.

During my first and sadly only camping trip this summer at one of my favorite destinations, Manitou Lake in neighboring Teller County, I was thrilled to capture a gorgeous American Mink with my camera early in the morning, when I approached stealthily and had the sun in my back, making me blend into my surroundings. These ferocious, carnivorous, semi-aquatic mammals are related to weasels and otters and, on account of their lustrous coats, have been bred in controversial fur farms. Luckily, this one lived in freedom.

One early summer morning, I arrived at my destination before sunrise. Next to a pond I found several crayfish crawling on a path lit by streetlamps. They are by no means rare, but I see them rarely enough that I took note–and a few snapshots.

The following portraits are of animals I have seen and shared before, but I encounter them seldom enough that each occasion represents a reason to celebrate: a very mellow bobcat which accepted my presence with nonchalance, a cute-from-a-distance porcupine whose arboreal slumber I briefly interrupted, and a thick-headed Bighorn Sheep, also best enjoyed from a distance.

Western Painted Turtles can often be seen sunning themselves on exposed rocks in the middle of ponds and lakes, and this group struck my fancy because each individual seemed to have a preference for the same sun-warmed prominence. They are popular as pets, until they are not, and are often abandoned by their owners at bodies of water to fend for themselves, which they seem to be able to do.

Last but not least I would like to introduce two fellows I met a few years back. They graciously interrupted their grazing to greet me at their fence. Long-eared and soft-nosed, one was particularly endearing. When one of my e-mail correspondents asked me for a photo of myself shortly thereafter, this is the one I sent him. I aspire to its characteristics: curious, clever, and charming. 😊

Moon of the Yellowing Leaves

Some days assume an ethereal quality during the living, and October 1 was just such a day. In search of fall colors, my husband and I traveled to Mueller State Park in neighboring Teller County, about 30 miles (48 Km) west of Colorado Springs. 9 o’clock in the morning found the thermometer flirting with a refreshing 39 degrees F (4 degrees C), inducing us to don an extra layer. At nearly 9,000 feet (2.700 meters), our favorite aspen trees were busy with their annual endeavor of turning into gold.

This year’s haphazard weather, characterized by searing heat and parching drought, made it difficult for experts to forecast the pinnacle of this avidly anticipated autumn spectacle. And while a fraction of the trees was still green and another had already shed its leaves, plenty of aspens were in the midst of their miraculous transformation, delighting us not only with cheering sunshine hues, but also with a euphonious symphony of rustling foliage, in addition to a pleasing choreography of pirouetting leaves on their way to converting into a crunchy, crispy carpet. The sky, after being obscured by haze from wildfires repeatedly in the preceding months, was nearly as blue as is its wont, and the sun raised the temperature to a very-comfortable-at-this-altitude 60 degrees (15 C) .

Enchanted with what we found, we scrapped our plans to return to Colorado Springs via a loop road, which, on account of being gravel, would have taken us many hours to drive. Instead, we hiked a nearly 7-mile loop that undulated through expansive meadows, scattered strands of trees, and dense forests. We took our time enjoying the vistas and the balminess of the sun’s rays, but also the intermittent breezes hinting at harsher times to come. Next to a verdant pond in an otherwise desiccated meadow we sat cross-legged and savored our lunch, with squirrels chattering and birds calling.

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Ending the afternoon at a picnic table with coffee and pumpkin muffins, we were accosted by the curious, always-hungry, and at-times-brazen avians aptly known as camp robbers—the irresistible Canada Jays. When the crumbs that drop from visitors’ picnics aren’t sufficiently sating, they will help themselves to whatever edibles aren’t nailed down.

As the westering sun dappled the light, warmed our aging bones, and made us appreciate the simple pleasures of the moment, from high in the sky came a vociferous reminder of the passing of the seasons. Craning our necks, we espied a flock of migrating Sandhill Cranes on their way south. In tandem with our earlier experiences, they uplifted our souls with another token of nature’s comforting, recurring cycles in otherwise disturbing, unsettled times.

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PS: Thanks to my husband for coming up with this post’s title. It was inspired by author Mari Sandoz, whose books include descriptive names for the different months used by the American Indian tribes she wrote about. I have introduced her in a previous post.

PPS: Mueller State Park was also the topic of another previous post.

Flight 2020

Butterflies fly. As does time. Of these truths I was reminded when I realized that three years have lapsed since I first experienced a winged local late summer tradition. Contrary to countless canceled conventions worldwide, the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs’ annual gathering of famous lepidoptera was able to take place in 2020.

Some of you might remember my 2017 post Butterfly Fever, which celebrated the “Flight” event’s 10th anniversary. After having missed it in the intervening two years, earlier in September, on the lawn of Alamo Square Park which surrounds my favorite museum I recently introduced to you, I once again happily witnessed the delightful landing of 26 butterflies as well as dragonflies, which have also been part of the display since 2018.

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The artists selected by jury receive as their canvases empty metal insect shapes which they transform according to their fancy into creatures ranging from the slightly odd to the sublime. After being on display for nearly one month, they are sold in an art auction, whose proceeds “ensure children receive essential arts and science programs and also for community service projects throughout our city.”

Time and the fanciful insects have, indeed, flown, as this year’s virtual auction was held on September 26. The revenue will support worthy causes, and the generous patrons will be blessed with whimsical wings in their homes or gardens.

PS: The featured photo at the very top is “Flight of the Gods” by Diane Feller.

PPS: Dimensions of the artwork

Petite butterflies (not part of the al fresco exhibit) 7 x 9 inches

Medium butterflies 34 x 45 inches

Large butterflies 45 x 62 inches

Dragonflies 35 x 40 inches