Libre Released

This week I had the distinct honor to set my American Bald Eagle free to the world. After laboring for seven months cutting shaping, fitting, sanding, finishing, and framing I finally completed an intarsia project that I call Libre. In Spanish that means free. Since the Bald Eagle is the national bird of the United States of America, and freedom is the name of the game I found Libre a fitting title for this piece.

The work is based on a calendar photograph in the Heritage Foundation yearly calendar for 2023. It struck me when I saw it and immediately stopped, and set aside the eagle I was then working on in favor of this one. Libre is more animated than the work I abandoned which was a soaring bird at level flight. Libre is an action bird. One can vision him as in the act of landing, trying to gain altitude, or getting ready to pounce on prey.

As I cut the pieces and began to see the bird come to fruition, I was disappointed by the colors of the wood I selected. I felt they were not as accurate as I would like them to be. It wasn’t until I began to apply the finish that the true colors of the wood and the direction of the wood grains popped into view. Another disappointment came when I lifted the weights off the final feathers that I glued on. One of them was out of place by a millimeter. I lost sleep over that defect while mentally developing fixes to cure the problem. I decided to wait, and to hang the piece “as is” before attempting to disassemble the work to make a correction. Thank God I did that because the defect is barely perceptible from a few feet and only another intarsia artist would find it from up close. Since I’m the only intarsia artist I know I think I am safe to leave Libre alone to remain “free”.

Little Spices of Life

There was a time in my life when I tried to be a serious bird watcher. I say tried to be because serious bird watchers really, really, get into their sport. All I ever did was watch my backyard feeder with a bird book on hand and keep a logbook on the birds I saw in the yard. My early life was spent in nature, but I never really spent much time noticing birds, except for my mother’s chickens and pigeons. Then, all I really did was to collect eggs, and to feed and water them in the coop. Mom raised them for food, and to this day, I really, really love chicken.

Living in a city with homes close together can’t be counted as nature, so I never saw too many birds except for sparrows and cardinals. When I moved to Frankfort where there was space between houses, lots of big trees, and gobs of shrubs I decided to notice birds. My notebook was filled from cover to cover with birds that came to eat at the feeders. After a few years I began a total bird count. Most of the pages listed ten to twenty birds but all the same. Every once in a while I noticed and recorded a new species with excitement. By separating the birds by species I was able to determine which of the lovely creatures were the most abundant in our area, like sparrows, robins, cardinals, and finches, and because we were on the border of a forest we saw bluejays and woodpeckers as well. My all time total bird count was seventy-five different birds visited the yard. If I add two birds which I never saw but positively identified by their calls at night: the Great Horned Owl, and the Screech Owl, the count increases to seventy-seven. It is too bad I didn’t keep logging my birds when I was away from home. On the many trips we spent as a camping family we identified many more birds all over the country. I would guess that my total would easily double if not triple.

This spring the yard has been visited by an unusual number of birds, and this morning as I sat at breakfast a movement along the stream caught my attention. When this happens I have learned to stop and stare at the spot. Sure enough it was a bird scratching though the sedum and tall grass along the edge of the stream. He had a crown much like a cardinal, but his color was more like a brownish tan. After another good look I recognized him as a Cedar Waxwing. Not unusual in our area, but unusual in my yard. Another rare bird that visited this spring is the Baltimore Oriole. What is different is that I have not put out any feed for the past three months, and these guys visit to take a bath in the stream or to drink from the pond. My neighbor to the north has been feeding and I often see a flock of activity on his feeders both bird and squirrel. Thankfully, the squirrels have avoided my yard since the feed is not here to lure them.

All in all, this spring has been good for bird watching. I’ve also spotted the following:

  1. Ruby Throated Hummingbird,
  2. Nuthatch,
  3. Gold Finch,
  4. Rose Breasted Grosbeak,
  5. House Finch,
  6. Red Winged Black Bird,
  7. Boat Tail Grackle,
  8. Cat Bird,
  9. Cow Bird,
  10. House Sparrow,
  11. House Wren,
  12. Nut Hatch,
  13. Chickadee,
  14. Mourning Dove,
  15. Downey Wood Pecker,
  16. Hairy Wood Pecker,
  17. Red Bellied Wood Pecker,
  18. Mallard Duck,
  19. Canada Goose,
  20. and I did spot some Warblers who stopped by while in migration.

Revision 4 Needed

In the battle with the young squirrels attacking the bird feeder I lost several skirmishes. Each time I had to revise the original squirrel guard. Why am I so focused on beating the squirrels? Good question. I feed birds for my amusement. Yes, but I also feel extra sorry for them during the winter months because the food sources are greatly diminished. The squirrels have the same food shortage, but they don’t amuse me as much as the birds. Although they have given me great joy in watching them defeat my mechanisms for keeping them out of the larder.

I spend a good deal of money buying bird seed, in fact I almost swore at the checkout person the last time I paid for twenty pounds, it rang in at $45.95. Then, when I came home and left the bag unopened and unattended in the garage overnight, I found a hole had been chewed through by a resident mouse. I’m being attacked from all fronts.

Feeding a squirrel compared to a bird is like feeding a Saint Bernard compared to a Yorkshire Terrier. They consume a lot of food and eat several times a day. Not to mention that it isn’t one squirrel it can be six or more. They come from every tree in the neighborhood.

Design number one (R1) was a six inch stove pipe suspended from the feeder and surrounding the pole. The theory is that between the diameter and the slippery surface the rodents will avoid climbing the outside. Squirrels are very smart and within nano seconds they determined that the best route was to squeeze through the center of the pipe while climbing the wooden pole. I knew this would fail, but I wanted to see just how effective this deterrent would be. Zero!

The second design (R2) had me drill a series of holes around the perimeter of the pipe and to fill them with long screws. The idea was to make the squirrel hit the screw and to back down. This system lasted about fifteen seconds. They just wiggled past the screws and up the pole.

Revision 3 (R3) I added a series of wooden blocks to fill the voids between the pipe and the post. Again, it took about forty-five seconds to find a spot through which the animal could wiggle his way past. Less slender squirrels just chewed on the wood and made an opening that allowed a new highway to open.

Now for the latest version, I removed the pipe and took it to my operating room, the “Shop.” I traced the diameter of the pipe on a piece of scrap pine and cut it out on the band saw. Next, I did the same for the post. Then I screwed the filler piece to the inside bottom of the pipe. After reinstalling the pipe on the post I filled whatever little space there remained between the post and pipe with wood blocks. The results are in the video below.

See the Squirrel chewing away at wood fillers trying to find space enough to squeeze through to the pole.
Notice the pile of wood chips laying around the base of the pole.

I think this revision completes the job, but I fear he may chew through the post like a beaver and I’ll find my feeder crashed to the ground

Christmas Shopping Post Covid

Lovely and I went shopping today, and were surprised with the traffic. Most of it was in the shopping center parking lot. She was returning a blouse to Ross and I was looking for brass tubing for a project. I thought Michael’s would have it. After grabbing a couple of bottles of paint in colors I don’t have I roamed the aisles of the story searching for brass tubing. Lovely found some really cool accent pieces to help brighten our home for the holidays. I finally broke with the man-thing tradition of not asking for directions and asked. The answer didn’t surprise me, “they don’t carry it.”

I darted for the check out only to be stopped by a line about fifty yards long, and not socially distanced. We crept along as five checkout people worked their asses off to move us along. The fifteen minute wait felt like eternity, but we finally made it out. Along the way we were entertained by a cute little three year old who was helping mommy shop. Ahead of the twin pigtailed blondie was a dark haired five year old boy who was helping his grammy shop. Both kids were exceptionally well behaved and socially engaging. Thank God for them helping us pass the time of day to get through this line.

On the way home I wound up lecturing Lovely about the sanity of shopping on a weekend when all the workers of the world are home. Old people like us should shop on week day mornings or early afternoons. She didn’t argue with me only nodded her head positively, and listened dutifully.

At home, I wound up spending another hour on the computer shopping Amazon for the needed tubing. It took long because of two things: 1. too may choices, and 2. everything is made in metric. I spent quite a bit of my time converting mm into inches so I could understand what to buy. I thought I was pretty good at the inch to mm conversions, but my knowledge has been on the shelf for thirty years. The cob webs got in the way of my mental conversions. I finally made a crib sheet which was a table of mm vs inches. The tubing is now on it’s way, and I will be able to finalize my wing flapping bird with metal bushings and axles. In the meantime watch my prototype bird flap below.


The Squirrel Guard Needs a Revision

Let the battle begin!

Two years ago, I tore down a bird feeder which had provided endless entertainment for me and the family. I was preparing to put the house up for sale, and the ratty looking weather beaten platform feeder leaned five degrees northward. I didn’t think prospective buyers would be impressed. Since then I have changed course and am not selling the house or moving anytime soon.

I have breakfast every morning at the window watching the yard, and I realized that I miss seeing the birds. In fact, the yard was conspicuously quiet of birds and squirrels. It was time to build a new feeder. What a great way to break in my newly remodeled workshop with a simple wood working project. I didn’t have a plan, but I did have a pile of grey scrap wood that was in my way, so the feeder began to take shape.

The last feeder was never painted, I rationalized that birds would be deterred from newly painted wood and left it au-naturale. This time, I had some left over paint and decided to give the bird cafeteria a fresh new look. In a few days I had completed the job, but no longer had a post to support it. It too, had been scrapped. Again, I scrounged the wood pile next to the house to find something. At first I thought a piece of PVC pipe could do the trick, but decided it was too flexible to support the heavy cafe. Aha! I spotted a twisted two by eight about seven feet long. It had such a severe twist in it that I never used it for any other job. I pulled it out and set up on the patio to rip it right down the middle to make two pieces of equal cross section. I glued and screwed them together to make a 4 x4 post. A birdie in my brain told me that burying a wooden post into dirt causes the wood to rot, and the post will go the way of many fence posts. More scrounging uncovered a sheet of aluminum. It became a simple matter to clad the end of the post with aluminum to slow decay. Finally, I painted the post and moved on to the final step.

Time was running out, and if I delayed digging a hole for the post any longer the ground would freeze and the feeder wouldn’t open for business until late spring. Two days later I finally found my post hole digger and began digging. The first twelve inches through top soil went quickly, the next ten inches was through clay and took thirty minutes of digging to accomplish, but the post went in, and I was worn out and happy. Cafe de Bird was ready. I poured a cup of bird seed onto the floor and made a bet with my wife that it would take twenty-four hours for the birds to find it. Naturally, I lost, they were pecking at seed within two hours of opening. Side by side with the birds was a young squirrel. I delayed adding a squirrel guard until I saw a need for one. Well, the need happened almost immediately.

More scrounging through my various piles of junk around the house uncovered a section of sheet metal used to form a stove pipe. It became a simple matter to cut it down to size and install it around the post. The theory of the pipe is that the diameter is too large and slippery for a squirrel to grasp and they slide off. It works. I used one on the previous feeder. I made a bet with myself that it would be a few days before a squirrel would beat this guard. I lost again. It took ten minutes for the little rodents to run up the post under the sheet metal tube. At least I made him squirm a little while he made it through. The next step is to add another deterrent inside the pipe. Would you like to bet with me about how long it will be before the creatures learn they can make a super-squirrel leap up to the cafe?