‘Nest Stand Off?’

Daisy the Black Pacific Duck

The continuing saga of Daisy the Black Pacific Duck and Dad the White-Bellied Sea Eagle played out over the early morning and afternoon of 12 January. Dad stayed near the nest during the night keeping watch from a branch on the cam tree when he was not snoozing.

WBSE called ‘Dad’ slept on the branch of the cam tree
Dawn is Breaking and Dad is still guarding his nest

At 5:25, Dad was on guard trying to catch the bird that was using his nest. Daisy appears at 5:27. They must have just missed one another! She checks out the nest, does some quacking, and goes up what is known as the parent branch on the WBSE nest. At 5:40:17, Daisy flies from the branch into the forest. At the same moment, Dad returns to the nest. My goodness, this little duck is awfully lucky or she has the best intuition about the forest alerts!

Daisy arrives at the nest to check things out. She might be able to sense the WBSE was there.
Daisy was alerted to the arrival of the WBSE. She is quacking and has climbed to the fork in the branch where she will depart.

According to all the people who have observed this nest over the years, no other bird has ever made a nest within the wide WBSE nest and laid eggs. Plenty of small birds come to visit, including an owl, but none have ever attempted to use it.

Within a blink of Daisy departing, Dad arrives back on the scene!

Today, Dad is hungry and he works harder to grab one of the eggs with his beak and then his talon.

Dad rummages through the nest, tossing the fluffy down. He sets his eye on one of the eggs. Tapping it with his beak, he makes a tiny dent. Working with a talon, Dad is successful in removing the egg from the nest cup. After eating the contents, Dad is very careful to clean up the shells dumping them over the side. Does he not want the owner of the nest alerted to his tampering? Daisy now has 5 eggs left in her clutch.

Dad enjoying a Duck Egg Breakfast at 5:54

Dad departs the nest at 6:08. Meanwhile, Daisy is keeping close watch from the forest. She returns to the rim of the nest when she is absolutely sure that Dad is down at the Parramatta River and might not disturb her for awhile. She watches and listens from the rim of the nest over the forest. She is so alert. She raises her head many times just to check on the sounds. You can hear the Currawong in the background. Often they chase the WBSE. Then there are the Noisy Miners. Lorikeets can be heard in the distance. Daisy is alert to each and every sound! When she feels a little safer, she moves closer to the eggs. But, interestingly, she never goes near the nest. She remains ‘frozen’, not moving or making a sound for more than an hour.

Daisy moves towards the middle of the nest from the rim where she remains frozen, not making a sound.

Daisy is very quiet so as not to draw any attention to her movements. She has waited as long as she can to lay her seventh egg. At 9:07 she sits in the nest. At 9:32:28, Daisy lays her egg.

Daisy laying her egg

During her labour, Daisy rotates in the nest, enlarging it with her paddle feet. At the same time she is breathing a little heavier and her tail is moving up and down slightly as she gently arches her back, at times.

On all other previous days, Daisy had stayed on the nest for about an hour to an hour and a half after laying her egg, leaving to go and forage at the river. Today, Daisy does not leave. It appears that she is in hard incubation.

It is nearing 2:30 in the afternoon Sydney time. Daisy remains on her eggs. Only time will tell what Dad will do if and when he returns. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Daisy has been incubating the eggs for seven hours now. It is 26 degrees C in Sydney and hotter in the sun on the nest. Daisy is panting from the heat. So far, no sign of the WBSEs.

Daisy incubating her eggs, mid Tuesday afternoon, 12 January, Sydney time

At 4:30, Daisy covers the eggs and flies from the nest.

The suspense is killing me! Back tomorrow with the latest.

If you delete a word, what happens?

A friend of mine, a fellow lover of birds, books, and words, suggested a couple of new blogs and a book, The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. The credentials of both are exemplary. Macfarlane is a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He has written other books including The Lost Spells, Underland, Landmarks, The Old Ways, and The Wild Places. Besides being a collector of words, Macfarlane is the father of three young children and is an avid mountain climber. Jackie Morris lives in a cottage near to the woods in Pembrokshire, Wales. She studied at the Hereford College of Arts and at the Bath academy. Morris is the author of more than forty children’s books including some British classics that you might know, The Snow Leopard, The Ice Bear, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Tell Me a Dragon and The Wild Swans. Both have won awards for their writing with Morris receiving honours for both illustration and writing. The illustrations that she has done both for her blog and for The Lost Words makes me wonder why book illustration – analog versus digital – isn’t taught in schools of art?

The Lost Words is a large format book, roughly 30 cm wide x 45 cm high. It is also a book about a ‘big’ or important topic. Written in 2017, the book chronicles some of the lost words. You might be sitting there wondering how society could lose a word. You might even be bewildered by the title of the book? I mean, what does it mean? and why should anyone care if a word is lost?

Do you own a dictionary? Maybe you have several in your bookcase. Or maybe you use the dictionary belonging to your word processing programme to vary the language that you use when you are writing. Do you ever wonder how words get into a dictionary? Have you ever heard about the new words for a specific year?

If you were to Google the Oxford English Dictionary’s new words entries (words that appear for the very first time) for January 2020, you would find the following as part of a number of words under the letter ‘A’: assault rifle, assault weapon, awedde, awe-inspiring, awel, awesomesauce, awfulize, and awfy. You might actually wonder why some of those words were not in the dictionary earlier. Well, it depends, apparently, on how many people use the words in print material. That includes books, magazines, music, songs, and DIY manuals. If new words are added because they are used so often in contemporary writing, what happens to words that are not used so often? And what do the added words say about us as a society? And what comment on contemporary society do the deleted words make?

The Lost Words is about words that have vanished from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. In other words, if your child picks up this dictionary from the shelf or accesses it on line, there are specific words that will not be there. You may be wondering why I am working myself up into such a lather. Well, it is because the words that have disappeared are about nature. The authors tell us that “the words disappeared so quietly that no one hardly noticed.” The parallel that I immediately drew in my mind was that not only is the word ‘wren’ disappearing from the language of and for children but the wrens themselves are also becoming endangered, becoming capable of being invisible. With birds dropping dead, falling from the skies all across the parts of the United States in 2020, will real wrens become like the word ‘wren’? Let us hope not. If anything was learned during the SARS-Covid 19 pandemic, it was that we need to protect non-humans and allow nature to recover from all the harm that humans have done.

The book is intended as an antidote, an aid, or as the authors specifically state, “a spell to conjure up” these words again so that children will know what they are. I might add that it is also so adults will know the words and be able to relate their importance to children. The first word is ‘acorn’. If you close your eyes, what do you think about when you hear the word, ‘acorn’? Have you ever seen one? Have you seen a squirrel gather acorns? Even though it has been decades since I was there, I still remember the scent of the oak trees on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in the fall after a rain. Another word was ‘heather’ and I simply blinked fast. Heather? really? are they joking? During my time in England, I spent some time hiking over the moors laden with heather. How could the word disappear? Do children really not go for walks through these beautiful purple headed flowers today? Many words just left me gasping to try and figure out who it was that precisely deleted these words? Did any human actually look at the list? Conkers. My son gathered up an entire pail of conkers. The lads and lasses would drill holds in them in order to play a game thrashing them one at another to see who won. I have in my desk drawer conkers from England and from Denmark. Rub them. They bring you luck and protect you. ‘Fern’ not a woman’s name but a plant sometimes grown inside but when outside often favours cool, moist, dark places. Each and every word from acorn, dandelion, heron, kingfisher, magpie, raven, starling, willow and all the other words in between, are about our relationship with nature. Are humans becoming more separated from nature at a time when both the health of ourselves and our planet need to find a balance in order to survive?

The answer to that question might lie in some of the words that took the place of those lost, from acorn to willow. The new entires were blog, broadband, cute-and-paste, bullet point, and voice-mail. Look closely. Each of those is related to the digital world – to the inside, not the outside. Sadly, they speak to the reality of people who pave their gardens with stone and brick so they do not have to do ‘yard’ work, to the disappearance of family time and outings for everyone sitting at their own digital device be it a phone, a tablet, or a laptop. Remember that the book was written in 2017. It is now the beginning of 2021 after a year that has forced people to work from home, to take their classes on line, the year of the pandemic when we missed the simple act of touching.

Perhaps, like the authors, we can wage a battle to recover the vanquished words. In 2020 more people watched bird cams than at any other time in the history of recording the daily lives of birds raising their young. Many became empathetic with the birds, from the small fruit eaters of Panama to the largest sea birds of Australia, the White Bellied Sea Eagle. People donated to wildlife charities and rehab centres. Maybe by taking children for walks and teaching them to be kind to non-humans, to be respectful, we can begin to heal as a society after such a dire year. And in doing so, perhaps we can also raise the awareness of the editors of The Oxford Junior Dictionary of nature’s importance to our own survival.

Ruth Chambers at the Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff

I am a great admirer of the Willock and Sax Gallery in Banff, Alberta for many reasons, including their consistent support of ceramics.  Each of us knows that exhibitions are planned well in advance but the current April Flower shows seems more than appropriate after the area got hit with snow yesterday.  Each of us needs our mood brightened at the end of April when friends all over the world have been celebrating the arrival of spring for some months now.

One of the ceramic artists whose work is being shown at the Willock and Sax is Ruth Chambers.  Ruth spent a month last year working at the Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark while she was on leave from her position at the University of Regina.  Ruth hand-builds porcelain, often multi-coloured, firing to cone 6.  The gallery’s online catalogue states:

“Ruth Chambers creates bulbs and flowers out of delicately coloured porcelain at various stages of their growth. She carefully considers and skillfully constructs sculptures of extreme detail. Continuing research into the tradition of still life and its requisite considerations of space, form and time permeate her micro-compositions of fragile, improbable porcelain configurations. In this way, the artist addresses ideas of beauty and temporality.” 

I am personally enthralled at the patience, the observation, and dexterity it takes to manipulate a clay that often doesn’t want to be controlled.  There is a softness, a gentleness in the way that Ruth handles the colours but the underlying core has to be related to Vanitas, the transience of life genre of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.  In this way, Ruth pays homage to the women like Rachel Ruysch who popularized that genre in her depiction of grand bouquets full of blooming and dying flowers.

Unlike many ceramic sculptors who have been pushing the size of their objects beyond the colossal, Ruth has kept some of the pieces life size.  One bulb looks like it is just beginning to sprout is 2 x 2 x 1.l75 inches.  Ruth has captured the moments after dormancy when the tunic (skin-like covering that protects the fleshy scales) and the shoots come alive.  The tunic is translucent; you can almost feel it crumble between your fingers if touched.



There are twelve porcelain sculptures in all ranging from single bulbs to fanciful lidded cups with tulip knobs, footed bowls, and an amazing piece titled, Still Life with Snow Peas, Avocado, and Strawberries (feature image of this blog).  

Ruth studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, receiving her MFA from the University of Regina in 1994.  She is currently the Associate Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of Regina.


It is so great to see support for Canadian women working in clay.

Photo credit:  Willock and Sax Gallery


Hospitalfield, Day 9 The Colours in the walls, on the trees, and in our heads

Painters must just go mad once they begin to look at the colour in their kit and then, every time they turn they must see shades in the most unexpected places.  For the past couple of days besides being so influenced by the house and the sea, the natural environment that surrounds this great house is full of incredible surprises.  Like looking at a grey and black wall and suddenly noticing a tiny square of yellow.


Or the moss (or is it lichens?) growing on the cast iron stairs at the back of the building?


Or the range of earth colours in the bricks?  Why am I so surprised by this?  Because in Canada everything is monotone when you look at the bricks from a distance.  Here, it is very much different.  And it makes you stop and notice.


And sometimes the face of a brick just falls off…


And then there are the mushrooms…


All of these have permeated my work, and it has been grand to create layers and layers of slip trying to capture what only Mother Nature does best.


So all of the images above, really have put into motion a real change in my work!  It is like crossing over to a totally new experience.


And speaking about colour, I promised to write to you about the impact of bitumen.  Bitumen is nothing more than asphalt, a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.  Some of us call it tar.  In the 19th century, artists were trying to get the blackest black they could get, so they added bitumen to their paint.  At the time it certainly gave them what they worked so hard to achieve, but today, the bitumen is darkening the pictures to the point that most of the figures have been obliterated.  This can really be seen in the work below by Robert Scott Lauder titled, The Trial of Effie Deans.  Lauder lived from 1803-1869 and was a member of the Scottish Royal Academy.  He was a personal friend of Patrick Allan-Fraser, the owner of this house.  Effie Deans is one of the characters in Walter Scott’s novel, The Heart of Midlothian. There is a story that all historical painters in Scotland took their subjects from Walter Scott’s novels where those in England use Shakespeare.  I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but this house is undoubtedly filled with themes from Scott’s books.  Sometimes the name is Jeanie.  She was the first female protagonist of Scott’s to come from the very lower classes.  The book is set about the Old Tolbooth Prison, and the events of the Porteus Riots form the underlying backdrop.


There are apparently figures that have entirely disappeared from the middle and the far right.

We have the co-curator from the Dundee Art Gallery coming to visit us this evening.  Peter is planning to check out our studios and have a chat.

I want to congratulate Allan Whyte from Glasgow who shares my studio.  Allan just received word that his application for a residency in Berlin was successful.  He will be spending three months in one of the great creative venues, ZK/U.  Everyone is delighted.