Friday, July 19, 2013

A Narrative of Disappearing Magic

Semi-palmated Plover. Conte Sketch by  Ken Januski.

Through stories such as these, the decline of migratory birds becomes personal to us: the first time we saw a new species, the last time we saw a rare species, the best warbler day. We accumulate these stories over a lifetime. It is a narrative of disappearing magic, fantastic memories now denied our children. Worse, for following generations, is the fact that you cannot really miss what you never knew.
George H. Fenwick, in the Summer 2013 issue of Bird Conservancy, the publication of The American Bird Conservancy,

I was struck by the above essay in my newest issue from American Bird Conservancy, an organization we joined more than 10 years ago I think when the lecturer at a Warbler Weekend at Pocono Center for Environmental Education said it was the best thing we could do to help protect wablers and other migrants.

Though it might sound as though it's a lament for lost birds, which it is, it's also something more hopeful,  as the essays full title, "Reverse Magic" for Migratory Birds indicates. The entire issue is dedicated to migratory bird decline in the U.S., what has been learned, and more importantly what might be done to help prevent it. I'd encourage everyone to read it and also to join ABC.

But what really struck me about the essay was the notion of moments and memories denied others because the birds have disappeared or are disappearing. I think it is the great pleasure of such moments and memories in my life that are a large motivation in both birds as subject matter for my art and in personal  support for conservation, particularly bird conservation. It is only those who truly appreciate what is here, birds or otherwise,  who can do something to try to share it with others, both because we think that they might also enjoy it if given the chance, and because they might also realize that it is something worth preserving. In an age where job creation is used as an excuse for anything it seems necessary to stand up for those things that can so easily be cast aside and thoughtlessly destroyed in the interest of jobs( I put the word in qoutes because it's doubtful just how many lasting jobs are really created).

I don't want to go on about jobs. It is always a very hard choice and I'm never in favor of anyone losing their jobs. It is a traumatic experience. But throughout history those who want to exploit nature have always used it or some other populist notion, for which they really couldn't care less, as an excuse for pillaging resources.
Short-billed Dowitcher. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

I really am only writing this post because of the essay quoted above and how it reminded me of why birding is such a powerful part of my life and that of my wife. Moments and memories explains it well. They are quite different from individual to individual I think but for those who spend their time in and with nature I think they are truly powerful experiences and ones that most people are willing to fight for it necessary.

With those thoughts in mind I thought it worthwhile to show some recent studies. At top is a Conte drawing of a Semi-palmated Plover seen at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ a few years ago. Immediately above is a watercolor sketch of a Short-billed Dowitcher seen at Nummy Island, just down the road from the Wetlands Institute.
Rusty Blackirds And Cardinal. Conte Sketch by Ken Januski.

Above are a number of Conte sketches of Rusty Blackbirds along with one Northern Cardinal for scale. We rarely see Rusty Blackbirds, a species that I believe is in decline, and so I wanted to do some sketches of it. When we first saw them in early 2012 I did a quick watercolor sketch of one along with a nearby Carolina Wren. It didn't really work out but it's still rolling around in my head as the possible subject for a color linocut.

All in all I've loved seeing all these species and the fact that I can remember where I saw each one(based on the photos I took) I think attests to that. The sights you see while birding, or any other nature oriented activity, can be both powerful and lasting.

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