Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to make a ceramic pottery hummingbird ornament out of clay...

These ceramic hummingbird ornaments are simple and fun to make. You can make them into ornaments to hang on your tree or to hang on a hook in your garden or in a potted plant. You can also tie beautiful ribbons on them to decorate a package, or even put a grouping together to make a wind chime. Anyone can make them…just follow these easy steps and have fun!

Ceramic pottery hummingbird ornaments fresh out of the kiln. It's an easy clay art project. Just follow these steps.
A flock of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fresh from the kiln waiting to have festive ribbons tied on them!

Step 1: Grab the clay!
Start with a lump of clay. High fire or low fire, it doesn't matter. Your teacher can help you pick out the best clay. If you are going to make wind chimes or an outdoor ornament, however, high fire clay is stronger and will tolerate temperature fluctuations better.

Step 2: Roll out the clay!
You can put the clay through an extruder or roll it out with a rolling pin. I use a canvas wrapped board with guides on the edge to guarantee I get an even thickness:

A rolling pin on a canvas wrapped board with guides will help you get an even thickness when you roll out the clay.
...use a rolling pin to roll out the clay (or an extruder if the studio has one).

Step 3: Cut out the hummingbird shapes.
Use the following pattern to get the basic outline, then place the pattern on the clay and cut out the bird shape using an exacto knife, a needle tool, or a pointy clay stylus:

Free hummingbird pattern
Use this hummingbird pattern to cut out the shapes. You can make the pattern as large or as small as you like.

Step 4. Smooth out the cutouts.
Take a wet sponge and smooth out the edges. Cutting with a pointer or Exacto knife can leave a jaggy mess, so go over the clay with a damp sponge to smooth everything out:

Smooth out the rough edges of the clay cut-outs with a sponge.
...smooth out the rough edges of the clay hummingbird cutouts with a damp sponge. 

Step 5: Punch a hole in the top.
You can use a special hole puncher made for clay or just use the needle tool and gradually widen the hole:

Punch a hold in each clay hummingbird shape. You can punch the hole in the top wing, or near the head like I've done here.
...don't forget to punch a hole in each clay cutout!

Step 6. Let it dry...and wait...
One trick when working with flat clay cutouts is to use small boards of drywall. Place the cutouts on a flat piece of drywall board first, then place another board on top of the cutouts to keep them from warping as they dry. It can take up to two weeks for clay cutouts to dry completely, but when they are thin (1/4 to 1/2 inch) they usually dry within a week.

Step 7. Bisque fire the cutouts.
Your teacher or studio owner will bisque fire the cutouts when they are ready. Bisque firing changes the clay into ceramic material. When the cutouts come out of the kiln, they will be hard and white...and ready for glazing!

Step 8: Glaze the hummingbirds.
You can use any style when you glaze the hummingbirds, whether it’s detailed and realistic or modern and sketchy. I wanted these to be fun, colorful and carefree, so I went with a sketchy style that can be painted in a just a few brushstrokes:

The easiest way to glaze the hummingbirds: 1. Glaze the back and wings green.   2. Glaze the belly white.   3. Glaze the chin red.   4. Finally, outline the bird in black.
Use any style to glaze the hummingbirds. I used a sketchy and fun style for this batch. The bright red and green look great on a Christmas tree or as a package ornament.    
     Follow these steps to paint the hummingbirds:
          1. Glaze the back and wings green.
          2. Glaze the belly white.
          3. Glaze the chin red.
          4. Finally, outline the bird in black.

Step 9. Fire it again!
After the second fire, they are good to go. Have fun decorating packages, making ornaments, or making a wind chime.

p.s. You can do this with cookie dough too!  ....or you can use any cookie cutter on clay.
...and I've already had three requests for other patterns: a chickadee, a cardinal, and a bluebird. I'll see if I can create a few more patterns tonight.

How to make three other easy clay bird projects
To make a ceramic pottery bird's nest with removable eggs, click here.
To make a ceramic pottery bird feeder, click here.
To make a ceramic owl or owl ornament, click here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The beautiful common persimmon...tasty and it can predict the weather too!

Common Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are such exotic-looking little fruits. They ripen late in the season, slowly turning a pale orange and then darkening to the burnt orange of harvest...

A common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) still clings to a branch. Photo from 10-13-2012 in Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky.
An almost-ripe common persimmon clings to the branch in the cool autumn air... 
...but don't be tempted to pluck one off the tree and just bite into it. Start with just a tiny taste to make sure it's ripe. Unripe persimmons  are horribly astringent and will suck all the moisture out of your mouth. Descriptors such as "furry," "bitter," "horrible," "god-awful," or just plain "puckery" are common. The best description of all, however, goes to Captain John Smith of the Jamestown colony. In 1612 he wrote, "If it be not ripe, it will drawe a man's mouth awrie, with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock." If that isn't enough, also in 1612, William Strachey, who wrote Historie of Travell into Virginia Britania, also talked about the lovely fruit and said, "...when they are not fully ripe, they are harsh and choakie, and furre a man's mouth like allam...." This little fruit definitely makes an impression (source: an in-depth article on the history of the common persimmon in the New World, click here for the .pdf of "The common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L.): The history of an underutilized fruit tree (16th-19th centuries)," by C. H. Briand.)

Common Persimmons among autumn leaves.
...beautiful autumn leaves and apricot-colored persimmons from October 13, 2012 at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky.
Why are persimmons so astringent when unripe?
Persimmons, whether ripe or unripe contain tannins, which are naturally occurring chemicals that "bind and precipitate proteins" (click here for a detailed description of tannins by Cornell University). When persimmons are unripe, the tannins are diffused freely in the fruit, which means they are "unbound" and will react to to the proteins on our tongues and in our saliva by causing the proteins to coagulate (sucking all the moisture out of our mouths and causing the furry feel that accompanies the horrible drying). When the fruit is ripe, however, the tannins are "bound up" and cannot react or coagulate. Unripe bananas also have a lot of tannins, as well as red wine that has not been aged, and nuts too. Now I know why every now and then I get that dry feeling in my mouth after eating a walnut out of the shell.

If you want to teach your kids about astringency in fruits and plants, click here for an experiment that teaches how to "unpucker" the persimmon. This experiment is labeled easy and is good for grades 5th - 8th. Specifically, it teaches kids how tannins can be bound up (or "defanged") using an iron solution. (Holy cow. I did not know any of this, but even worse, it seems any 5th grader off the street does...)

Persimmons grow wild in the eastern and souther parts of the U.S. This persimmon tree was found in eastern Kentucky.
When persimmons are ripe, they are wonderful and sweet, and taste a little like an apricot. Even better, though, they can be made into persimmon bread and other yummy things. 
Persimmons have a four-lobed sepal. If it separates easily from the fruit, the persimmon is probably ripe.
The four-lobed sepal of a fallen fruit is still attached to the tree next to this persimmon. If the fruit separates easily from the sepal, it is probably ripe. 
This persimmon tree was growing in the woods at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky (October 13, 2012). It was close to the lake on the trail near the lodge. What a surprise to see these beautiful apricot-orange fruits as I rounded the bend. I plucked a few off to take back to show the rest of the family, but I knew not to bite into one. Although they were a nice harvesty orange, the fruits were still too firm and not ripe enough to eat.

Persimmons are a favorite food source of raccoons, who seem to be able to find the ripe fruit easily.
...persimmons are a favorite food source of raccoons, who seem to always know when the fruit is ripe. We found lots of raccoon scat piles with numerous persimmon seeds in them on our hikes.

And now for the weather...
Folklore holds that persimmon seeds can predict the weather. Growing up in Cincinnati, we knew nothing about this amazing secret. We don't have a lot of persimmon trees here. Persimmons are mostly a southern and eastern species, and in all of my rambles, I've never come across one, so it's no wonder we were clueless to its power. It took my Aunt Pat and her family moving to Terre Haute, Indiana years ago to learn the folklore and pass it on to us, so I'm writing this post in her honor and memory. Here is the theory: when you slice open a persimmon seed, the embryo will be in the shape of a spoon, fork, or knife. Each has its own meaning:

Spoon - the winter will be rough with lots of snow. You need a spoon to shovel snow!
Fork - the winter will be light. You can't shovel much with a fork after all.
Knife - the winter will be icy, cutting and cold (yikes!). 

Did you know a persimmon seed can predict the weather? Folklore says they can let us know if it will be a snowy winter.
...a persimmon seed just bursting to let us know what to expect this winter. 
We were hoping for spoons because we love snow, so we were happy to see SPOONS...

The persimmon seed prediction guide: "spoons" predict snow, "forks" say no snow, "knives" indicate ice.
...the persimmon seeds say SNOW! The embryo on the left is definitely a spoon, which means heavy snow, get shoveling; however, the seed on the right looks suspiciously like a spork. Unfortunately, sporks haven't been accounted for in the folklore, so who knows what's up. Perhaps we will have bouts of heavy snow with days of mild weather thrown in between. We'll take that...
Take a look at the bark...
If we're doing a complete post on persimmons, we can't leave out the bark. It's famous for its look of stacked cubes. You can spot a persimmon tree in the winter  just by seeing the crazy bark (on older trees)... 

The bark of the persimmon tree is distinctive and looks like little blocks of wood.
The famous bark of a Persimmon Tree...

Bark of a common persimmon tree
...little blocks of wood stacked up in a pleasing composition. 

The Cincinnati Champion Common Persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) at Camargo Country Club in Indian Hill
The Cincinnati Champion Persimmon Tree at the Camargo Country Club in Indian Hill
My friend, Paul, knew immediately where a champion persimmon tree was in our area. You can see it from the parking lot of the golf course. We walked out on the course to get a closer look. The grounds keeper didn't mind...this tree is famous, huge and old and has lots of visitors...
Two lightning rods run up the Cincinnati champion persimmon tree at Camargo Country Club.
...the wires running up the sides are lighting rods. It's nice to know the grand old persimmon tree is well protected.

...this is has been a long post...but there is just so much to say about the beautiful little persimmon. It's fitting the champion tree in Cincinnati is located on a golf course. The tree is part of the ebony family and its wood is very dense and hard. Its wood was a standard for "woods" golf clubs starting in the 1900s (and you can still have persimmon woods made today, source: click here). 

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Banding Saw Whet Owls at Hueston Woods...wow!

Last Saturday evening I headed over to the Hueston Woods Biological Station with my friends Paul Kruesling and Joe Kappa to watch Northern Saw Whet owls (Aegolius acadicus) being banded by Drs. Jill and Dave Russel with the Avian Research and Education Institute (AREI).  Have you ever seen a Northern Saw Whet owl? Can you say cute...

Northern Saw Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) being banded at the Hueston Woods Biological Station as part of the Avian Research and Education Institute (by Dr. Dave Russel)
Northern Saw Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) 
Cuter than cute can be, but this little night bird is a lethal hunter and can dispatch prey in one swoop and strike. 
Northern Saw Whet Owls are the smallest owls in eastern North America. They are rarely seen because  during the day, they sleep in conifer tangles, and if they are disturbed by a human tramping past, they do not flush. Their defense is to remain motionless, and it works. Northern Saw Whet Owls posses disruptive coloration (a camouflage pattern consisting of contrasting light and dark patches, spots or stripes), and it works best when the animal is still.

Is that bird tame?
Because Saw Whet Owls' primary defense is to remain motionless, they appear to be tame, but don't be fooled. They really are wild birds (just ask a mouse). Their "tameness" however, is legendary, and researchers report of being able to walk right up to one and pick it up off a branch. The diminutive owl is so calm around humans it appears to have no fear and even seems curious about us!

A very polite bird, the Northern Saw Whet Owl almost appears tame as Dr. Dave Russel lifts her up so we can see her.
...those eyes, those fluffy feathers, that tiny little rectangular body....there's no doubt this pint-sized nocturnal hunter graduated from the Institute of Cute, but looks can be deceiving--there's might and fright behind all of that fluff...  
You may wonder how researchers capture these tiny owls. It's pretty cool. They select an area in the woods with dense stands of conifers and set up huge mist nets. The nets are placed near an audio player amplifying the male's territorial song. Every thirty minutes the mist nets are checked to see if an owl has flown into one. If one has, it's gently removed from the net and placed in a soft bag to await banding...

A Saw Whet Owl captured just minutes before awaits banding. The soft bags keep owls safe and relaxed. They do not bother the Saw Whets at all.
A Northern Saw Whet Owl rests in a soft bag waiting to be banded. We were able to watch Dave band three Saw Whet Owls and one Eastern Screech Owl.
A Saw Whet Owl is about to have a band placed on its leg...
...getting ready to place the band on the owl's leg. 
In addition to banding, researchers gather other data, such as the bird's weight, wing length, tail length, whether it's male or female, its age, and amount of fat deposits. It doesn't take very long to gather all this data and the little owl just watches and studies...

The tiny bands that are fastened to the owls' legs...and the calipers used to take small measurements.
...the tiny bands that will be fastened around the owl's leg were strung like beads on a fine thread. They are very light and the bird doesn't even notice when one is attached. In the background, you can see the black calipers used to take small measurements. I didn't take notes that evening, so I don't remember everything that was measured. I was too busy marveling at the patient little owl. 

Closeup of a Northern Saw Whet Owl's facial disk.
A closeup of a Northern Saw Whet Owl's facial disk shows the feathers of the facial disk are different from the feathers elsewhere on its body. Many look soft and fluffy, but others appear barbed or even skeletal. The feathers in the concave disk help direct sound to the ear openings.
As I mentioned earlier, these cute little brown and white owls with gorgeous yellow eyes are ferocious hunters and can kill their prey, often a deer mouse or a white-footed mouse, quickly and easily with their talons after a strike. Since the owls are small they usually only eat half of a mouse, storing the rest until the next meal. Also, if prey is abundant in winter, Saw Whet owls will stock up by stashing uneaten carcasses in tree holes where they remain frozen for future meals. When the owl is ready to eat from the frozen cache, it thaws out the meat by "incubating" it like an egg (source: Penn State, The Virtual Nature Trail, click here).

...the eyes of a Northern Saw Whet Owl look on patiently.

If you look closely, you can see the frayed edges of the owl's wing feathers. This unique adaptation is what gives them their silent flight. The trailing feathers are fringed and tattered and break up the sound waves generated as air flows over the top of the wings and forms downstream wakes (click here for an earlier post about Barn Owls that talks about this adaptation).

It was cold that night, but my giant snow parka kept me warm. The little owl felt like a ball of warm fluff in my hands. She was so gentle and never took her eyes off me. I can't describe how amazing it felt to hold this little wild creature. 

...being a night owl, I really appreciated getting out to see these owls, which are only passing through our area. Every fall, Saw Whets leave the northern forests where they nested and migrate south to their wintering grounds. Most have past through by the beginning of December. 
If you want to learn more about the work being done by the Avian Research and Education Institute, click here. From their website: "AREI is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the preservation of avian populations. Our mission is to protect and conserve avian populations through research, education and advocacy. To this end, AREI is committed to establishing biological stations that will provide bird banding and environmental education to the public."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Black and White Warbler at Magee Marsh...photos, sketch, and a painting

A female Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) was very thorough in her inspection of this weathered and half-dead tree. She systematically nabbed insects right and left from the nooks, crannies, and crevices of the bark (and I don't think she left any bits of the lichen unturned either :-)...

A female Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) gleans insects at Magee Marsh.
This beautiful female Black and White warbler foraged for several minutes right in front of me,
letting me marvel at her beauty and industriousness. (These photos go all the way back to May of this year when I was at the Biggest Week in American Birding.)
This post is for my parents, Joni and Jer, my cousin, Curg, and my Aunt Diane. They all traveled up to Maumee Bay State Park this weekend to look for ducks up on Lake Erie. Everyone was in need of Big Water, and Lake Erie, which is only 4 hours away, was the cure. I was supposed to go with them, but work got in the way. Magee Marsh is only 20 minutes from Maumee, so I told them to be sure to stop by the boardwalk. They did...on Nov 5, but it was closed for duck hunting (Nov 5 - Dec 1). So they didn't get to see the beauty of the boardwalk, but I'm going to lure them back up this May when all the warblers are there. That's the best time to go anyway, so I thought I'd post a small taste of what's to come this spring for them! I saw this Black and White Warbler on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh on May 5, 2012. She was just one of hundreds of warblers flitting through the trees that morning...

...a female Black and White warbler forages for insects. She creeps along branches and the trunk like a nuthatch!
It was slightly overcast that morning, but the gray light only helped emphasize her beauty!

Black and White Warbler searches in crevices and under bright green lichens looking for insects, spiders, and eggs.
The wet bark on the trees and the overcast skies above showcased the bright green of the lichens.

Black and White Warblers can frequently be seen walking down the trunk like a nuthatch.
...no crevice, hole or crack escapes this little female's attention! 

...a Black and White warbler examining the decaying remains of a branch in the trunk.
Always nuthatch-like in their movements, Black and White Warblers can crawl up and down and around on a tree...

...sitting pretty! You can tell this is a female Black and White Warbler because her cheek is gray in stead of black.
You can tell this is a female because she has a gray cheek. Males have black cheeks.

Pencil sketches of a Black and White Warbler by Kelly Riccetti
...sketches of the Black and White warbler I photographed that day. 
I drew this page in my sketchbook that evening from photos I took that day.

Original watercolor painting of a Black and White Warbler by Kelly Riccetti
...a quick watercolor sketch of the female Black and White Warbler 
(painted from one of the sketchbook drawings).


Monday, November 5, 2012

A flowering dogwood tree in autumn...

The bright red berries of a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) tree bring a rush of everything autumn into my heart when I see them. When I was young, dogwood trees could be found everywhere. For me, their airy branches and delicate spring blossoms were the most beautiful of all the flowering trees, and when the hot summer days were swept away by cool and crisp breezes, and red and orange leaves danced in the forest, I couldn't wait for the burst of cheery red berries that would soon follow...

The bright red berries of a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) are beautiful and totally capture autumn. These are from a large tree at Greenbo Lake in Kentucky.
...bright red berries of a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) define fall.
These berries are all from a dogwood tree I found while hiking around the lake at Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky during our annual fall trip. The tree was big, and I was excited when I turned the bend and found it. Around here, dogwood trees have succumbed to Dogwood Anthracnose, a fungal disease that stunts and often kills the tree. I remember back in the 80s when reports predicted dogwood trees might all be wiped out by the turn of the century, and it was all but hopeless. Luckily, some of the trees are surviving. A few seem to have a natural resistance to the fungus, while others seem to have survived because they are growing in a perfect locationsun, good air circulation, good drainage, yet sufficient water are all important. Since this tree was  so big, there's no doubt location, location, location was in play because it didn't seem to have been affected by the fungus and its fruit production was substantial...

This beautiful and large flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is located in Greenbo Lake State Park in KY.
...autumn leaves and red berries of the flowering dogwood add a splash of color to the fall woods.
The anthracnose fungus likes cool and moist conditions, and trees deep in shade are often more susceptible to infection. This tree was hugging the lake, but it was on a small promontory with nice sun exposure and plenty of air circulation. Because it's an understory tree, it was in partial shade, but the front faced the lake, which gave it access to extra sunlight. (Click here for a page on wet weather leaf diseases from the ODNR, which includes information on Dogwood Anthracnose.)

Knowing the beautiful berries of a dogwood tree will be around for a while for our enjoyment and to help feed the birds makes me happy!
...red berries of Cornus florida on a healthy tree in Greenbo Lake State Park in Kentucky.
Dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva) affects flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) in the east, south, and parts of the midwest...and Pacific dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) in the Pacific northwest. Click here for information on how to identify and control Dogwood Anthracnose. The most common symptom of infection is "spotting and blighting of the foliage," which shows as a tan spot on the leaf ringed in purple (click here for Cornell University's explanation).

Dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva) affects flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) and Pacific dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii).
In the 80s we were warned flowering dogwoods could someday disappear from our forests, so it's always wonderful to stumble across a large, healthy fruiting tree in the woods!

The disease was first identified in 1978 and through the 80s its spread was swift and thorough through the east, south and parts of the midwest, as well as parts of the Pacific northwest, but some trees exhibited a natural resistance to the fungus. In 1991 79% of the flowering dogwood trees in Catoctin Mountain park in Maryland were dead from the fungus, but a few escaped infection and were found to be resistant to the disease. Those trees became part of a study by the University of Tennessee Dogwood Research Team. The research team was able to produce an anthracnose-resistant tree called "Appalachian Spring" from clones of the Catoctin trees. In 2001 they planted many of the disease-resistant clones in the forest to help replace those lost to the disease (for more on this story, click here and here). The University of Tennessee Dogwood Research Team, chaired by Dr. Mark Windham, a professor at the University of Tennessee, is still working to improve and protect dogwoods from all diseases (click here for a recent article on what they are doing now).

These beautiful red berries stand out like fruit flags against the leaves. Birds are sure to see them and stop by for a taste!
These bright red berries stand out like fruit flags to migrating birds. The berries are nutritious and full of fat and can help fuel their long flights south.
Nutritional quality among berries differs. Dogwood berries are high in fat and calories. They ripen in late summer and early fall and are a favorite among migrating birds such as thrushes and catbirds, according to Geoffrey A. Hammerson in "Connecticut Wildlife: Biodiversity, Natural History, and Conservation" (page 366). Hammerson also mentions not all birds can handle high-fat diets; e.g., American Robins absorb digested fats poorly, so the bright red dogwood berries are probably not their first choice in berries, which is good because it leaves more of the berries for the migratory species traveling long distances that need them. If Dogwood trees and their berries disappear from the forests, they will leave a hole in many migrating birds' diets.

I hope the flowering and Pacific dogwoods continue to grow and reproduce and become stronger in the future. Our birds need their valuable berries...and we enjoy seeing their beautiful blossoms and berries.
It sounds like these beautiful trees now have a fighting chance. Let's hope they survive, not only so we can continue to enjoy their beautiful spring blossoms and brightly colored autumn berries, but more importantly, so migrating birds have a ready source of high-fat fruit to fuel their journey south in the fall.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Painting and drawing Savannah Sparrows...and our first Dark-eyed Junco of winter!

I painted these Savannah Sparrows last week for a guest post I did on the Birding is Fun blog. As a reference, I used sketches of the bird I drew from an outing in early spring. Since our summer sparrows are leaving us for their winter grounds, I thought it a great way to say good bye to them. Sparrows are always fun to watch. They are sweet, and their subtle shades of browns, grays, and caramels are restful to the eye and make them interesting to paint...

A Savannah Sparrow in a spring meadow at Armleder Park in Hamilton County Ohio (original watercolor by Kelly Riccetti)
...a sweet Savannah Sparrow in an early spring meadow (watercolor).

Sparrows go about their business without flash. They flit through the grasses and make us work to see and identify them. This little Savannah Sparrow, however, was making it easy. He was singing heartily, perched on a tall and dried-out reedy stem of grass left over from winter. I saw this bird on March 24, 2012 at Armleder Park in Cincinnati, OH. The bird was one of a pair that took turns diving down to the ground, then fluttering back up to a perch. In the same field, two Vesper Sparrows were doing the same thing, although they were much more secretive and tended to stay a little lower in the weeds (click here for that post). Both species were returning migrants, and it was wonderful to welcome them back for the season...

The same Savannah Sparrow in the meadow at Armleder Park in Hamilton county, Ohio (original watercolor by Kelly Riccetti)
...same Savannah Sparrow trying his best to fade away in a field of dead stalks and grasses (watercolor).

A Savannah Sparrow in a spring meadow at Armleder Park in Hamilton County Ohio (original pencil sketch by Kelly Riccetti)
Pencil sketch of the Savannah Sparrow at Armleder Park (March 24, 2012)

A Savannah Sparrow in a spring meadow at Armleder Park in Hamilton County Ohio (pencil sketch by Kelly Riccetti)
Pencil sketch of the same Savannah Sparrow at Armleder. 

...and already it's time to say goodbye to these sweet summer sparrows, as winter sparrows have already arrived in Cincinnati. I've read reports of White-crowned Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows, but so far, none have shown up in our yard. It seems Pine Siskins are making appearances in Cincy too! I hope a few drop by our feeders. We do have a new visitor, howeverour first Dark-eyed Junco of winter flashed his white tail feathers this past Saturday on October 27, 2012. Last year our first junco blew in on November 8, 2012 (click here for that post and watercolors of the junco), so we're ahead of the game!

Journal entry and pencil sketch of the first Dark-eyed Junco of the winter season (by Kelly Riccetti)
Sketchbook entry of our first Dark-eyed Junco of the season (10-27-2012)

Armleder Park is on the east side of Cincinnati in Hamilton County and is a great place to bird. It's about 30 minutes from my house, so I don't get there as often as I'd like. A small paved trail loops through a weedy meadow, and you have canoe access to the Little Miami River as well (305 acres).