Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to make a ceramic pottery "lily pad" bird bath...and a frog to sit on it!

If you're starting to feel a little antsy for spring while a certain Mr. Winter continues to drag his feet (the groundhog saw his shadow...six more week of winter...ugh), why not hurry spring along by making a cute "lily pad" birdbath for the birds...

Learn how to make this cute lily pad birdbath for the birds this spring.
Visions of birds splashing around in a little birdbath you make can help tide you over
until your garden starts waking up and the birds start singing this spring!! 

How to make the bird bath
1. Roll out a slab of clay.
Make the slab at least 1/4" thick. Since this piece will be outside, you want it to be strong.

2. Cut out the shape of the "lily."
The beauty of this project is any shape works. You can make an actual lily shape or just a wavy circle. It doesn't matter!

3. Stuff plastic under the edges and push the center down to form the bowl.
The clay has to harden, and the best way to help it keep its shape is to stuff plastic around the edges. Newspaper doesn't really work, because it absorbs water and loses its shape. The plastic (dry cleaner bags work really well) maintains it shape.

...and that's it! This has to be the easiest ceramic pottery birdbath project ever!

How to make a frog for the lily pad
1. Form a small ball of clay into a wedge shape.
This wedge will be the body of the frog. The pointed end will be its nose.

2. Roll out a clay "noodle," and attach it to the hind end of the body.
This "noodle" will become the frog's leg.

3. Press the noodle to the frog's side. About halfway up, bend the noodle back.
Making a frog's leg is that simple. In the photo below you can see how easy it is to create the look of a frog's leg.

4. Add the webbing on the back feet.
Simply press a few lines into his feet using a wooden carving details are needed!

5. Roll out two smaller noodles for the front legs and attach them.
In the photo below, you can see the front legs are even easier to create. Attach them just in front of the back legs, and curve them in. Add the webbing lines as well.

6. Roll out tiny balls and press them onto the head to form the eyes; then use an Exacto knife to cut a simple mouth. have a frog to laze on your lily pad bird bath!



6. "Score" the clay to attach the frog to the lily pad.
To attach one piece of clay to another, you must "score" the surfaces first, which means you rough up the surfaces a little, dab water onto the score marks, and stick the two pieces together. I usually use a pencil, a clay needle or a craft knife.

7. You're finished with the construction of the birdbath...
...but you have a few more steps to go: let the piece dry (can take up to a week), fire it, glaze it, and fire again. Find a pottery teacher to help you if you don't have your own kiln or access to clay or glazes. There are lots of studios around town.

You can dig out a small depression in the ground to hold the bird bath (as in the example at the beginning of the post), or place it in a stand like in the photo below. Have fun!!!

I usually scoop out a depression in the ground to hold my lily pad bird baths, but they look great in a stand too.
Another option: attach a chain at three equidistant spots and hang it from a branch.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Backyard Bird...female Pileated Woodpecker!

It's rare to get new species in our yard now. We've lived here since 1999, so our backyard bird list is pretty well set. I hope this one becomes a regular. We've seen her several times over the past two weeks...

A female Pileated Woodpecker outside our kitchen window. I was shooting through the glass and the screen (while half in the sink), so these photos are a little fuzzy, but I'll take 'em!

...such a pretty little Pileated Woodpecker...not! She's huge, and it's so exciting to see her right outside the window!

...please come back, please come back, please come back! 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Little Miami Conservancy is turning 50 in 2017!

The Little Miami Conservancy (LMC) is celebrating its 50th year of river conservation, restoration, cleanup and protection of the Little Miami National and State Wild and Scenic River. My friend, Bill Schroeder, created the following video to showcase the beauty of the river and a few of the activities LMC members and volunteers have done this year...


Become a Member
If you would like to become a member of the Little Miami Conservancy and make a donation to help protect our Wild and Scenic River, click here for the website, and click the Donate button.

Contact LMC
To contact the Little Miami Conservancy to learn about volunteer opportunities:

     Little Miami Conservancy
     209 Railroad Avenue
     Loveland, OH 45140

     call: 513-965-9344 (leave a message)
     ...or click here for a little history of the Little Miami Conservancy

Little Miami River posts over the years...
I just looked on the blog and found I have 118 posts on the Little Miami River and 50 from the Little Miami River Bike Trail. You can find so much beauty along its banks, and we owe that to the formation of the Little Miami Conservancy 50 years ago. Without their stewardship this last half century, much of the beauty would have been lost. Their endless efforts to have the river certified in the National and State Wild and Scenic River programs protected it from development and continue to help ensure it will remain pristine and beautiful.

To see a little more of the Little Miami River's beauty and a few of the birds and plants you'll find along its banks, click here for Red and the Peanut blog posts over the years.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Marsh Wrens at Maumee Bay...

This post picks up right where the previous post left the middle of the huge stand of phragmites along the boardwalk at the Maumee Bay Lodge. At that time Common Yellowthroats were stealing the show with their happy song, but just a few steps away,  a slew of Marsh Wrens were gurgling out their bubbly song luring me over their way. The little dynamos were on both sides of the boardwalk near the observation deck, singing and moving through the reeds. One male would sound off, and another would reply...then another on the other side would sing, until the entire marsh was a mish-mash of wren music, but not one would come out of hiding to say, "Hi!" So I did what any birder would do. I sat down, listened, and waited. The boardwalk was empty, so there were no humans to scare the wrens away, and eventually, this little fellow popped up, giving me a glimpse of his cute self...

A male Marsh Wren peeks through the reeds along the boardwalk at Maumee Bay Lodge.
Why was I lucky enough to see this little fellow? Well...our little Marsh Wren was sharing his territory with a pair of Common Yellowthroats, or perhaps it's more accurate to say the yellowthroats had encroached on our wren's digs. Who knows, but with human eyes and imagination, it appeared the Common Yellowthroat had let out with one too many "witchety-witchety-witchety woos," and Mr. Wren had had enough. "Be gone, ye yellow-throated thing" seemed to be the call at hand, because suddenly, our wren popped up, gave the Common Yellowthroat what looked like the stink eye, sang his bubbly spring song for all he was worth, and dove back down to the depths of the reeds where he bubbled out more notes to prove his point. Of course, this is probably all fantasy, but it worked out well for me because I was finally able to photograph this little cutie.

Marsh Wrens are famous for being heard and not seen. They love to move around near the base of the reeds, singing while they are down there, taunting humans who hover about with binocs and cameras.
Marsh Wrens are adorable. Their tail feathers are often cocked nice and high, and their constant motion turns them into little imps...and who can resist an imp? I sat for a while without moving, just listening and watching the male wrens periodically pop up in the air and then flutter back down to the watery safety of the reeds, singing the whole time. They were keeping an eye on their territories, and also possibly building "dummy nests." In early spring, males build several nests hoping to catch the eye of a ladylove. The nests are round and hang between the reeds. Eventually, the female picks the nest she likes and then lines it with cattail down.

(Male House Wrens build several dummy nests in their territory as well, but they use nest boxes and other types of cavities. The female also picks her favorite location and finishes off the nest. A few summers ago, we were able to witness some of this behavior in our backyard. Click here to watch a video of our backyard House Wrens feeding their nestlings.

Singing in the reeds, just singing in the reeds...

Hey...when you're finished with that nest, can I use it?
Here's something cool I read about a few weeks ago in Birds of Lake, Pond, and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America, by John Eastman. On pages 231-232, Eastman mentions that when Marsh Wrens leave their nests, bumblebees often move in, lining the nests with cattail down to raise their own broods.

_______________________________________ say I've fallen behind is an understatement! These photos go all the way back to May 9, 2016 when I was in Toledo for the Biggest Week in American Birding warblerfest.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Witchety-witchety-witchety woo...

Common Yellowthroats were singing for all they were worth a few weeks ago along the Maumee Bay Lodge boardwalk. I was staying at the lodge for the Biggest Week in American Birding warblerfest, and I walked the boardwalk at the lodge many times. In the huge stands of phragmites on the way to the observation deck, Common Yellowthroats were busy staking out territory and singing nonstop...witchety-witchety-witchety-woo...

Male Common Yellowthroat singing along the boardwalk at Maumee Bay Lodge.

The song of the Common Yellowthroat is easy to recognize. It truly sounds like witchety-witchety-witchety-woo! I always hear the bird's song long before I see it. 

The contrast between the black mask and yellow throat and breast stand out through binoculars and the camera's lens, but when you view this bird from a distance with the naked eye, the disruptive pattern and the olive green color on his back help him blend into his surroundings. Thankfully, his loud song gives him away every time and makes easier to find him.

I see you...yes, I do!

A sapling along the boardwalk near the observation tower provided a convenient perch for this male Common Yellowthroat to sing his song. A slew of Marsh Wrens in the same area were singing as well, but they spent most of their time hunkered down in the phragmites. With the Common Yellowthroats and the Marsh Wrens singing loud and clear, this part of the Maumee Bay boardwalk really had it going on! 

I saw so many beautiful warblers at the Biggest Week (I'll try to get all the photos up in a timely fashion...but knowing me, it may take 6 months!). I also taught two field sketching classes and had a lot of fun helping the students discover their inner artists and learn how to become better observers. Observation is the key to drawing...and drawing is the key to observation. :-)

More to come...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Red-shouldered Hawk in snow...

It was a unpleasant surprise to look out to snow this morning. Our resident Red-shouldered Hawk seems to agree with the assessment...

A beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk sits in a snow-covered tree.
Big Red perches in the snow-covered Mulberry Tree.  A stripe of snow clings to the center of his forehead.
I don't think he's pleased... 
Snow in April 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Shelling at Lake Erie...

I love trips to Lake Erie because birding is always involved, but this time, unexpectedly, a little shelling was thrown in too...

These small, beautiful conically shaped shells are gastropods, or snails. They are probably Pleurocera acuta.
Conical-shaped shells we found on the beach along Lake Erie at Maumee Bay State Park.

Thousands of these spiral-shaped conical shells were clumped along the beach at the water's edge at Maumee Bay State Park (near Toledo, OH). They were all in perfect shape and incredibly beautiful. I know nothing about shells, so I took a handful home to learn about them. After a few Google searches, I found a NOAA site from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), and learned these beautiful little shells had once been homes to aquatic algal grazers in the gastropod family, commonly know as...snails!

Thousands of the shells were clumped together near the water's edge.

From the photos and the descriptions on the GLERL page, I'm guessing these shells are Pleurocera acuta (common name, Sharp Hornsnail). According to the information on the webpage, these snails are native to the Great Lakes and Ohio River. They like to burrow in sand and mud, and they like the slower flowing areas of rivers near the bank. I'm going to start looking for them along the Little Miami River. Since it drains into the Ohio, they might be there too.

This is a photo of several Sharp Hornsnail shells. One is black and white stripes, two are amber, two are maroon and white striped, one is blueish, and another is black and white striped.
The color variations among the Sharp Hornsnail (Pleurocera acuta) shells are beautiful...greens, ambers, blues, browns, pinks, maroons, and whites. It will be interesting to see if the colors fade over time. 

The whorls can be multi-colored like the shell on the left of dark blue, orange, and white, ...or made of similar colors, like the roses and pinks of the shell on the right.
"Whorls" are the rings spiraling the conical shell. Pleurocera acuta can have up to 14 whorls.
After checking the shells I brought home, I found most had between 9 and 11 whorls.

Although they look like black and white stripes, closer inspection shows the dark stripe is really a dark chestnut brown.

Sharp Hornsnail shells from Lake Erie (Pleurocera acuta)

Further reading
If you want to learn a little about snail shell morphology, click here for the paper, "North American Freshwater Snails," by J. B. Burch, and go to page 25 (in Walkerana, 1986, 2(6) on the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (FMCS) website. You can learn about the whorls, aperture, shell size, and shell shapes, e.g., the shape of our little Sharp Hornsnail is "elongate conic." This booklet is packed with a lot of information.

Freshwater Gastropods of North America is a blog with higher-level scientific info. Click here for a link to "Pleurocera acuta is Pleurocera canaliculata," by Dr. Rob Dillon. Just like in birding, it seems the species names of gastropods can change!

Where did the colors come from?
In the comments section, Mary Ann asked if I new why the same mollusk would make shells in various colors. I didn't, so I did a quick check to find out. Click here for a blog post by Richard Goldberg titled, "The Significance of Snail Shell Color and Pattern" (6-19-2009) on the Art and Science of Nature blog. Goldberg explains that these varied colors ("inter-population variability") can be explained through evolutionary science, mentioning "extreme color polymorphism" in a population is good, because "looking different from your neighbor" prevents predators from developing a "search image" for its prey. Read the article for more details.

As for the colors themselves, they are produced in many ways, including pigments the mollusk acquires from what it eats, pigments the mollusk produces to strengthen shells, hereditary colors to offer camouflage, and much more. Click here for an article by Gary Rosenberg titled, "Why do Shells Have Their Colors?" on the Conchologists of America, Inc. website for details.

I emailed Dr. Rob Dillon, a professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Charleston, to make sure I had identified Pleurocera acuta correctly. He replied that I did (yeah!). But there's 2013 Pleurocera acuta received the trinomen "Pleurocera canaliculata acuta" as a subspecies and "junior synonym" of canaliculata. (Pleurocera acuta was first described by Thomas Say in 1821 as canaliculata and the new name reflects that history.) Thanks, Professor Dillon!  See the paragraph above under "Further reading" for a link to Dr. Dillon's blog. Click here if you want to learn what a subspecies is. 

This post is part of our "Big Water" trip to Maumee Bay. Click here for more posts in the series.