Sunday, 18 March 2018

Twenty-ninth Annual Canadian National Wildlife Carving Championship

17 March 2018

     This year I had the distinct honour, and great pleasure, in being asked to be a judge at the Canadian National Wildlife Carving Championship, an annual event I always look forward to attending as a lover of this art form (and that is what it is), and as a collector, so to be a judge was a rare and much-appreciated privilege. 
     The Grand Valley Woodcarvers Club is a primary organizer of the event and deserves much credit.
     I owe a great debt of gratitude to Peter McLaren for asking me to take part, to Lyn Burnett for her superb organizational job, but most of all to Jeff Krete, (; a five-time world champion carver, and to Jason Lucio (;, a three-time world champion, with whom I formed one of the judging teams, for their great kindness and willingness to explain the myriad nuances of what makes a good carving, and the techniques, thought processes and design decisions that go into it.  I saw carvings in a way I never saw them before; my astonishment at the creative forces behind a carving grew exponentially. I have little doubt that my meagre contribution in terms of ornithological knowledge was insignificant compared with the expert assessments of these world class artists.
     The show was opened by the Mayor of Waterloo, Dave Jaworsky, with suitable words of encouragement.

      We were judges in various categories and skill levels, beginning with the Master Class.
     One of the pieces in our first group was this male Belted Kingfisher, perched on a branch, draped in an epiphyte looking down on the water, where Yellow Perch were hiding beneath aquatic vegetation and submerged logs.

     In the same grouping was this female Green-winged Teal, carved and painted to perfection. 

     I should mention here that sometimes it was relatively easy to narrow the choices down to three finalists, but then selecting between the final three was much more difficult. I relied heavily on Rick and Jason to guide me through these final steps, knowing that the characters between first and third place were both subjective and subtle. I am sure that in some cases if the winner could be assigned a score of 100, second was 99.9 and third was 99.8. It was sometimes that close.
     African Pygmy Falcon was the subject for one of the Purchase Awards and there were several carvings of this beautiful, diminutive little bird that I have had the pleasure of seeing in both South Africa and Ethiopia.

     This one was in our group, characteristically perched among the sharp thorns of an Acacia, and as you can see we accorded it first place. The red sticker indicates first, blue second, yellow third and green honourable mention. Once the judging has been completed appropriate name tags are added, with the names of the species and the artist.

     Here are some of the other renditions of African Pygmy Falcon.

      We had to judge a group of carvings in which Jeff had an entry so he had to excuse himself from participating.  A substitute judge was added to our crew and I say with pleasure that we unanimously came to the conclusion that Jeff's rendition of a Griffon Vulture high above a carcass on the African savanna was the clear winner.
     Look how Jeff has given the perception of the height of the bird descending from the sky, by minimizing the size of the zebra and presenting it in a muted way so as not to draw attention away from the bird.

     The details in the wing were quite remarkable to me, where moulted feathers are shown, with some positions already showing emergent new plumes. The margins were emarginated in classic vulture fashion; I swear that if that bird had flown off the wire it would not have surprised me!

     The detail on the underside was completed with the same precision and attention to detail as the upper surface.

     Was I biased because I knew it was Jeff's work? I don't think so, and the verdict was unanimous in any event. And Jeff would have only wanted a totally honest approach from all of us.
     Just before lunch we did some judging in the Interpretative Class, where there is a very wide range of styles, and evaluating one piece against another is highly subjective and far from easy.

     A fine lunch of soup and wraps was provided and a lively discussion took place around the table. As an "outsider" it was fascinating to hear the shop talk of carvers and competitors.

     By the time we returned from our lunch break the public was starting to arrive in increasing numbers.

     A female Belted Kingfisher was the subject for another Purchase Award.

     As was a miniature Northern Cardinal.

     Working decoys have a long and storied tradition, and it is probably in these utilitarian objects that decorative carving originated. These modern working decoys must have a keel and be able to float and self-right from any position to qualify for the competition.

     Here is part of one group of Intermediate Class carvings we had to judge.

     And more....

     Looking at these Killdeers, one gets the impression that perhaps these carvers all took the same class!

     I found this portrayal of an Elf Owl especially appealing.

     Don't forget that every element has to be carved; look how well the artist has rendered the effect of insects or caterpillars feeding on the leaves.
      A Northern Saw-whet Owl is guaranteed to earn the approbation of everyone!

     And I thought this approach to presenting an Eastern Screech Owl was bold and creative.

     As you can see we awarded it second place in its category.
     After our judging I walked around and chatted to various friends and acquaintances who had come to the show, and took a few more miscellaneous photographs of carvings that caught my eye.

     From Novice to Master Class, from the most humble beginner to a world class artist, all of these carvers deserve our respect and admiration for their commitment to their craft, and the continuation and enhancement of what is still primarily a North American art form.
     Long may it continue.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Waterloo Region Nature Annual Field Trip to North Shore of Lake Ontario

10 March 2018

An early conservationist's concern perhaps......

The emotions excited in the mind of a naturalist, who has long desired to see the actual thing which he has hitherto known only by description, drawing or badly-preserved external covering - especially when that thing is of surpassing rarity and beauty - require the poetic faculty fully to express them.........It seems sad on one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions......while on the other hand, should civilized man ever reach these distant lands.......we may be sure that he will so disturb the nicely-balanced relations of organic and inorganic nature so as to cause the disappearance, and finally the extinction, of those very beings whose wonderful structure and beauty he alone is fitted to appreciate and enjoy. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man.

Alfred Russel Wallace, mid 19th Century.

Leader: David Gascoigne

Club members: Miriam Bauman, Scott Beemer, James Bowman, Robert Crawford, Denise Leschak, Curtiss MacDonald, Graham Macdonald, Margaret Lewis Macdonald, Greg Michalenko, Janet Ozaruk, Peter Rasberry, Geraldine Sanderson, John Sanderson, Meg Slater, Roger Suffling, Bryan Teat, Charlotte Teat, Doug Woodley.

Guests: Shirley Bauman, Heather Fotherby

     Our first stop was at the DesJardins Canal in Dundas, where I am quite sure that out of twenty visits, perhaps but one would not permit us glorious looks at Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). Today was obviously the twentieth time! Not that we didn't have many eyes to search!

     As always, there were other diversions. For one, Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) were migrating in numbers and on the water a pair of lovely Gadall (Anas strepera) claimed ownership of a stretch of water, sailing by like the avian aristocracy they are. Not for them the gaudy finery of a Wood Duck (Aix sponsa); understated elegance wins the day.

     A lone Double-crested Cormorant  (Phalacrocroax auritus) seemed to have great success fishing in the canal.

     Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) are of course ubiquitous, but I urge everyone to shed their attitude of indifferent dejà vu , and take a close look at this truly handsome bird.

     A single Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) impressed us with its grandeur and it came right up to inspect us.

     This gave me the excuse I needed to launch into an explanation of how the Trumpeter Swan was reintroduced into Ontario after more than a century of extirpation, by my ornithological hero Harry Lumsden. Everyone paid rapt attention, feigned or not, and I was grateful!

      I should mention at this juncture that Miriam had agreed to be the official photographer for the day. It is difficult for me to lead the group, find birds, answer questions AND take photographs. She does a far better job than I anyway.
      Only the second Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) of the season for us put on a fine show  and moved into the open where everyone could see it well.

     Someone remarked that it is a gorgeous little bird, and who could disagree with that assessment?
      It was time to move on to LaSalle Park and Marina, our birding hot spot for the day, and our cavalcade of cars moved off in formation like a wagon train of old.     
     Two of the stalwarts on our trip were John and Geraldine Sanderson. John and Geraldine are now in the sixty-first year of their marriage, and remain as committed and dedicated as they ever were - no, even more so. John is awaiting hip surgery but nothing deters him from a good outing, with Geraldine at his side to provide a little help when needed, and a shoulder to lean on - literally. This is a great shot of the two of them together enjoying a late winter outing as they have done so many times before.

     One of our first sightings was Bufflehead (Bucephela albeola), a species that will soon be moving north to breed, but for the time being remains here to give us pleasure.

     Miriam caught the effect on the water as this male dove and the result is quite magical.

     Many of us use Swarovski binoculars, this resembles Swarovski crystal perhaps.

      Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) are just starting to return to the Great Lakes and this individual is still in transitional plumage.

     The male Wood Duck that has been consorting all winter with a female Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) was still present, guarding the object of his ardour as closely as ever.

     When Alfred Russell Wallace mentions "a thing of rarity and beauty" in the quote above, this creature would surely qualify.
     A vanguard of Trumpeter Swans appears to have already moved north, but many still remain.

     I wonder how many casual walkers have been turned on to a partnership with nature as a result of repeated exposure to these gorgeous creatures. Ontario's debt to Harry Lumsden will never be entirely repaid.
     For anyone who has never seen a pure American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) LaSalle Park is the place to visit.

     While watching swans and ducks a couple of young Bald Eagles (3rd/4th year?) put on a show for us overhead.

     Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) at LaSalle have long become accustomed to humans bearing food, and in order to share the pleasure, they have no hesitation in landing on an outstretched hand to take a seed or two. If we all live to be a hundred the pleasure of this activity will never be diminished.

     Downy Woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens) will occasionally come to hand, but this individual was a little more wary.

     I always wish that, like Dr. Doolittle, I could speak to the animals and assure these creatures that I wish them no ill will, and only strive to help them, and develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Fat chance huh? Especially when you consider man's brutal relationship with wildlife.
     The principal aim of outings like this one is, as you will understand, to foster a knowledge of birds and their habitats, but a not insignificant aspect is the bringing together of like- minded people to enjoy each other's company and in some cases to get to know each other for the first time.
     I doubt that Curtiss and Janet had met before this field trip, but they seem to have become firm friends.

     Standing waiting for a chickadee will do that for you!
     I wonder what Marg Macdonald and Roger Suffling are looking at?

     Curtiss is anxious to show her a picture or two.

     Looks like Greg Michalenko figured he had earned a break.

     I was waxing enthusiastically earlier about Ring-billed Gulls; if you need an additional incentive to go out and admire these creatures here it is.

     Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator) were infused with hormones and up to five males were pursuing one female; whether she is lucky or unfortunate depends on your point of view I suppose.

     Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), formerly quite rare, is becoming ever more common in southern Ontario, and LaSalle Park is one of the most reliable places to find it.

     It was a pleasant day for the time of year, right around 0°C and we (most of us) ate our lunch outside, sitting on benches, looking at gulls, ducks and swans. How pleasant is that?
     Suitably fortified to tackle the afternoon we reformed our cavalcade and sallied on over to Sioux Lookout Park. We did not stay there long for the rafts of ducks were far, far out; in many case too far to even identify with certainty.
     Paletta Park beckoned, with its warm, clean washrooms, guaranteed to have toilet paper, hot water, soap, paper towels, all valued by everyone on a winter excursion, but especially appreciated by the ladies. A bare derrière in a secluded gully is not something to look forward to  when the icy wind blows across Lake Ontario!
     Paletta was formerly a grand old mansion, now owned by the City of Burlington and used for weddings and all manner of other functions.

     We ambled down to the Lake.

     A walk along the woodland trail revealed a couple of male Downy Woodpeckers jousting over territory perhaps, or maybe just irritated with each other's presence.

      American Robins (Turdus migratorius) were quite common.

     It was the sharp eyes of Janet Ozaruk that spotted this cocoon of the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia). Amazingly this species overwinters here and emerges as a fully formed moth during the first two warm weeks of summer.

    On the way back to the car we saw this female Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) in a creek with a pair of Mallards, an unusual location for the species, and this individual seems to have an extraordinarily long bill. It did not look emaciated so one must assume that it is able to capture fish without impediment.

     Our final stop was at Bronte Harbour in Oakville, where we had our only close encounters with Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis).



     None of us were able to identify this insect, no doubt newly emerged from its winter abode.

     The most remarkable thing at Bronte was the amazing ability of Scott Beemer to spot a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) out on the breakwater. Even when he explained to the rest of us where it was we still had great difficulty picking it out. This picture gives you an idea of the distance perspective as we searched.

    Some of us caught a glimpse of something white, thought it might be a plastic bag, a pile of snow......
     Scott was undeterred. He was convinced that he had a Snowy Owl.

         We went to the car to get a scope.

     And this is what we saw.

     How Scott ever saw that initially is beyond me, but he certainly earned the title "Birder of the Day." Fittingly a Snowy Owl was the last species of the day, exactly the way it had been last year.
     Thanks to everyone for coming on my outing and making it a very enjoyable day. See you all again next year!

All species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, American Black Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Starling, American Robin, House Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal. Total: 45