Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Birds of Prey and Roosting Corvids

This week a couple of bloggers I follow had interesting posts on birds that I enjoyed. Birdchick documented a merlin taking down a red-bellied woodpecker and The Peace Bee Farmer wrote about the role that birds of prey play in the bee yard. You may have heard that the BC gov. is going to culling Barred owls because they prey on Northers spotted owls, which are endangered. It's a controversial decision, and I think it is shortsighted.

On a completely different note, I was reading about Crow Hour in Burnaby because there will be an homage to crow hour in The Starling Cloud Choir performance. I am curious what time of day Crow Hour is during late January.

ETA: Crow Hour was around the 3:30 pm mark at 23rd and Main today.

Monday, January 28, 2013

An Invitation to Join The Starling Cloud Choir with Lori Weidenhammer

This is a family-friendly workshop and performance where you will use your voice to make sound poetry in a group in a piece inspired by rain and birdsong. We'll be working with bird behavior and the mnemonics and phonetics of local bird song. We'll also be exploring the sound of the rain using our voices and I will ask you to improvise around some of my own poetry. This is your opportunity to be in a performance art choir! Bring your family and friends!

You are invited to attend one or both of two workshops the weekend before the performance: Saturday March 9 and Sunday, March 10 from 2 to 3:30 pm both days. Please dress for comfort and bring your own water bottle. No need to pre-register, just come to the front entrance to sign in for the workshops.

The improvisational performance of the Starling Cloud Choir is on Saturday March 16 at 3 pm. Performers please arrive at 2:30 pm for a warm up and orientation. You will also be invited to explore the art installations by the other Second Site artists. The performance dress code is eccentric! Channel the bird-lover in you and display your best (rainy day) plumage.

Where: The Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall Street

Cost to participate: Free!

For more information follow along the creative process on Lori Weidenhammer's blog: www.beespeakersaijiki.blogspot.com

If you can't join us for the workshops, please come to the opening and check out the art installations by Second Site artist Robin Ripley, Diana Burgoyne and Matt Smith. The choir will be performing at 3 pm and the audience will be invited to participate!

Biography:  Lori Weidenhammer is a Vancouver performance-based interdisciplinary artist originally from Saskatchewan. For the past six years she has been appearing as the persona Madame Beespeaker on a regular basis, i.e. at the Regina Folkfest, Visualeyez performance art festival, VanDusen Botanical Gardens, and UBC Farm. Her collaborative media works with Peter Courtemanche have been shown in Canada and abroad, including Divining for Lost Sound (Bregenz, Austria), Brain Dress (Grunt Gallery, Vancouver) The Haunted Crinoline (The Dunlop Gallery, Regina), and The Laughing Dress (Video Pool, Winnipeg). She is one of the members of the Second Site artist collective. As a food security volunteer and activist Weidenhammer works with students of all ages on identifying native plants, eating locally, gardening for pollinators, and guerrilla gardening. She is passionate about art that that transforms the relationship between the artist and the viewer and creates community bonds.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Starling Cloud Choir: Tea Party Birds

 The structure of the Starling Cloud song cycle will follow the rhythm of the day in the life of a flock of starlings. Just before the crow hour, the birds will have a tea party at the bird feeder. The starlings will mimic the song birds that gather at your backyard bird feeder. There are lots of bird call mnemonics that seem very suited to this subject matter, so I have gathered them up to study for this section of the piece. You can look for them at your own backyard bird feeder. Try birding by ear, or identifying the birds by the sounds they make without any visual cues. Now ask yourself whether you're sure it's that bird and not a starling mimicking the bird. That's when you need to look for the visual cues.

I have written down some birders' menomics for the songs of these birds, but you could try to come up with your own vocabulary.

The Usual Suspects:

Rufous Hummingbird: calls zeeeee-chuppity-chuppity chup (then the wings go zzzzzzz)
bzeet, bzeet bzeet chup chup, bzeet chuppity chuppity chup
zeet zeet chook chook chook, chookity chookity chook

Black-capped Chickadee: call: chik-a-dee-dee-dee
song: feee bee-bee or feee beeyee, come to me
I think it sounds like P. Diddy

Golden-crowned Kinglet: see-see-see- (hp)
I am not a chestnut backed chickadee
I am not a chicka (slow, paced) dee dee dee dee (quick)
["hairdo" reminds me of Elvis]

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
ji-dit; ji-dit; ji-dit (rattly)
tweedleDEE tweedle DEE tweedleDEE
Hedgy hedgy hedgy
[hairdo looks like a red mowhawk]

American Robin: cheerup, cheerily, cheerily
cheer-up; cheer-a-lee; cheer-ee-o
tweedledum tweedledee, tweedledum, tweedle dee dee
cheery cheerio cheerup
allarm call: yeep yeep chuck chuck chuck chuk yeep yeep eep!
whinny: quick-wik wikwikwikwik or hee he he he he (decending)

The Tea-Totalers:

Song Sparrow
Note: song depends on your region and there are many forms and subspecies of song sparrows
Hip; hip; hip hurrah boys; spring is here!
Madge; Madge; Madge pick beetles off; the water's hot
sweet sweet sweet n'zreee sugarrrr it it it
sweet sweet sweet as MEEEEE put some sugar on it

Bewick's Wren
like Song Sparrow; but thinner; more rapid
BEWR often sings "1-2-3 drink your tea-ea-ea" or "jzzzeeet drink your tea-ea-ea".
calls: plink, plink, skerrr

Spotted Towhee: drink your teeee!; wack! wack!

The Sweetie Pies:

Yellow Warbler:"sweet sweet sweet, I'm so sweet"
Highly variable song. Often three part, "sweet sweet little more sweet" or “sweet sweet I’m so very sweet”
Has an urgent, quick quality. Also, "sweet, sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet!”.

White-Throated Sparrow: "poor Sam Pea'body, Pea'body, Pea'body"
"Pure sweet Canada Canada Canada"
whistle: (slow, sustained)Oh sweet old (triplets) CanaDA CanaDA CanaDA (first two notes are higher)

The Gossips:

European Starling: wolf-whistle (breathy), rattles, whirrs Whistle. Pop. Whirrrr. Zzzt.
kizzik--like a washboard
rack rack rack zeep!
Weee errr (rising, then falling)
they also imitate red-tailed hawks, killdeer, cowbirds, jays, etc.


The Unabashed Guide to Selected Oregon and Washington Bird Songs and Calls
(References to “eastside” and “westside” refer to east and west of the Cascade crest)
Compiled by Kelly A. Bettinger with input from many fellow birders 


Bird Song: identification made easy by Ernie Jardine

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Singing the Rain

This is a fantastic rendition of a song by Toto sung by a Slovenian choir called Perpetuum Jazzile. Watch how the choir makes the sound of a rainstorm. I love how they make the sounds of all the musical instruments using their voices. As I was walking in the rain today, I noticed how many different tunes and rhythms the falling water makes. I sang back to the rain, imitating it with my voice. This is a fun thing you you to do as you go on a walk with your family in the rain.

Have you ever noticed how some birds have very watery sounds? I think that the tonk! call made by ravens sounds a lot like a stone being dropped in water. Ravens have a relatively large bird vocabulary and can be heard a mile away. This past year, we've had a pair nesting up near The Nat Bailey Stadium and you can often hear them at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens. The American Bittern makes a sound like oonk a lunk. I think it sounds like a very big stone being dropped in a lake. Listen here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and see what you think.

Who Cooks for You?

A few years ago I went on a birding walk at UBC Farm with some experienced birders. It was fascinating seeing the forest and the farm through their eyes and ears. I was profoundly struck by how birders use their ears to identify birds and are able to pick them out of  a chorus of birdsong. We were sitting on a picnic bench after our walk, and the leader said he heard a Barred Owl. He told us it sounded like this:  "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" I listened closely and sure enough, I could hear it! Since it was daylight, it never would have occurred to me that we'd hear an owl in the late morning. The phrase "Who cooks for you?" is called a mnemonic device. It helps birders recall the library of bird songs they store in their memory. You might think of a different phrase altogether, or use phonetics like this: "hoo hoo hoo HOOO?" I think  using "Who cooks for you?" is so much more fun.

I've just taken a book with a CD out of the library called The Art of Pishing: how to attract birds by mimicking their calls by Peter Dunne. Yes, there are lots of silly puns to be made from the subject, which is why some birders call it spishing instead. Pishing is using vocal sounds to manipulate the behavior of birds using their distress calls and the calls of their predators. Pishers make bird sounds like "pish pish pish", to get songbirds to come near to assess the danger. Imitating the sound of the Barred owl then makes them come together and chatter, presumably because their is strength in numbers. The CD teaches you some of the sounds that birders use to help them call out songbirds. There is also an etiquette around pishing: 1) if there are other birders around, ask them if they mind if you pish 2) don't pish in the early morning when birds need to fee the most 3) Don't pish if there are a lot of actual predators around the birds because you'll stress them out and confuse them.

The Starling Cloud Choir (see the post above): For our purposes, using the human voice to imitate birdsong is the way we will create little clouds of birdsong in the garden. So take a listen to this Barred Owl song and get practicing!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Birding Basics for Kids

I am excited to announce an upcoming project that I'll be involved in at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. In March, our artist collective Second Site will be creating rain-powered and rain-inspired site-specific art in the garden. For my part, I will be directing a performance art choir that you and your family can join. We'll be improvising a sound piece inspired by rain and phonetic bird calls on Saturday March 16. Stay tuned for more information!

As you follow this blog I will document the process of research and creation for this piece which is called A Cloud of Starlings. One of the resources I'm going to share with you today is a great little podcast from NPR on how to get your kids interested in birding. If your family has already done some bird watching, then this might be too basic for you, but for others, it gives some great ideas to the beginning birder, including keeping a diary of all your sightings. The podcast is called How Birds Can Capture a Kid's Imagination.

If you've got older kids, say 12 and up, I highly recommend watching The Big Year with Steve Martin and Jack Black. You might want to watch the trailer to see if it's suitable for your family. It's an adventure comedy about three birders who compete to see how many birds they can see and hear in North America in one year. I love the sound track too! The irony is that scenes of the movie were shot in B.C., including the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Classical Garden. Cool!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Snowy Zipper and other VanDusen Delights

A couple of days ago I went for a walk in VanDusen Gardens. There was a light skiff of snow and the garden was bereft of humans.

There were piles of Christmas lights everwhere, waiting to be gathered and stored.

 Here's where the new displays of seasonal plants appear. This is barberry, used in Chinese and Middle Eastern cooking.

The Bloodtwig Dogwood is striking.

This is an early blooming hybrid Mahonia.

 The witch hazel is blooming. Spring is imminent!

I love how the little skiff of snow delineates the structure of plants.

 The footprints of a very large squirrel, je pense.

 The rock where Peter and I had our first picnic.

There were lots of these beautiful variegated thrushes in the trees near the maze.

 There are scads of little wrens skulking about in the low bushes.

I'm surprised the squirrels haven't decimated these kiwi fruits climbing up the side of the restaurant.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Seasonal Sightings

  • Here are some things in Vancouver to look out for at this time of the year, care of the Wild Birds Unlimited web site, but keep a safe distance from those mating beavers!
  • Project FeederWatch continues, www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw
  • Watch for Bald Eagles along the rivers.
  • Beaver mating season.
  • Rather than search for worms in the frozen soil, large winter flocks of robins will visit fruit trees for food.
  • Cedar Waxwings will visit yards in search of fruit, often staying for hours before moving on.
  • Juncos will hunt for fallen seed, often before dawn.
  • The smaller the bird, the earlier it hunts for food in the winter darkness.
  • Listen for Great Horned Owls' "hoot" as they pair up for mating season.
  • Now through late March is a difficult time for birds; providing food and an open source of water is important.
  • Winter is a great time to look for birds' nests. Admire the craftsmanship, but leave the nest in place.
  • Aldo Leopold's (Father of Wildlife Conservation) birthday Jan. 11
  • Quadrantid Meteor Shower early in the month. See up to 60 falling meteors per hour!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Starling Darling

I love this video of a starling named "Pepper" who has been taught to speak by the person who rescued him. Starlings are amazing mimics, and have an incredible ability to learn to mimic sounds in their first six months and some can learn new sounds even later in life. There's another video of the same bird here with even more clarity. I love the way his throat feathers flare out when he speaks, and I'm amazed at his ability to whistle.

The owner says: Here's a sleepy Pepper August 22, 2009 around 11:30 a.m. Before he dozes off, you can hear him say, Hi sweet, hi Pepper, pretty, you look marvelous, you look pretty, baby you're pretty, hi sweetheart, sleepy, sleepy time, baby k?, sleepy time k? hi sweety, pretty boy...

I am doing research on starlings for a performance art community choir I'll be directing this winter. You and your family can participate in my free workshops and take part on the performance. Stay tuned for details.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Regenerating Walk

 When the sun came out this week, I headed to Kitsilano for my favorite meal at Aphrodite's Organic Delights with an energizing glass of home brewed iced tea.

 I walked all the way up the hill to the City Farmer Garden, passing some nascent spring bulbs poking up through the earth.

 I always love seeing the bones of a winter garden, the rocks and hardscaping that keep it all in place and give it a unique shape. I saw a small shadow pass over the side of a house that caught my eye. It was a hummingbird! A good omen for 2013.

 I mourned the loss of this Christmas tree, chucked out to be chipped. It wasn't even dry. I took a couple of clipping home to infuse into some homemade lotion.

 Of course I had to pick up some German chocolate cake to take home from Arbutus Coffee.

 I spotted this awesome insect hotel in a traffic circle.

This roof makes me very happy.

This little guy flies over the garden at City Farmer.

I like the idea of putting these gutter planters on the sides of the greenhouse

All the paths have been well mulched to keep back the weeds, which is also very smart.

The bird life in this garden and the adjacent community gardens is very lively. I sat and observed the starlings, robins, juncos, sparrows, and strawberry finches--another kind of regenerative meditation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


My funny little tradition is to make 100 New Year's Resolutions, but this year, I've done things a bit differently. I have chosen three guiding principals for this year: healthy, thrifty, tidy. These are simple war time, recession-era directives. These are not the grand goals of new age gurus, the ones like World Peace, Transformation, Personal Enlightenment, etc. Nope.  Those folks are always telling is to think larger, that we're hemming ourselves in by thinking too small. We can accomplish Great Things. Yeah well, that's not always true, and besides, all Great Things are accomplished with small steps and simple resolve.

There are also some good words I'm going to keep close to my heart: regeneration, destination, and clarity. My friend gave me a beautiful painting of pomegranates, stating they were the symbol of regeneration. I like the idea of bringing things back to the way they were instead of always seeking novelty, new goals, and great heights. Sometimes sustainability should be an emotional and spiritual goal as well as an ecological one. I am inspired by the postman, the man with a clear goal and a destination. He has clarity and a solid sense of destiny. I am inspired by a person with a map, with gifts to give, and the power of his own legs to do the job. I will meditate upon the postman.

I also declare this the personal year of my inner showgirl. Stay tuned.