Reports From the Field: A Blog Reader Visits the Bird

Ms. Jeannie was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to hear from blog reader, Victoria who set out to visit the Heath Hen memorial, one of the five sculptures in the Lost Bird Project collection.  The Hen now permanently resides in the Manuel F. Correllus State Park on Martha’s Vineyard, MA, where the last survivor of the breed, known as Booming Ben was spotted in the 1930’s.

Here’s Victoria’s first sighting…

All photos courtesy of Victoria at Vintagiality.
All photos courtesy of Victoria at Vintagiality.

According to her it is a bit tricky to find the sculpture. So if you go and visit yourself, here is her helpful advice…

“It took forever to find him as there are no markings of any kind besides the plaque at the entrance gate to the State forest and it only talks about the heath hen in general.  I searched for directions for a long time and all I found was some local article from years ago that said it was a 5-10 minute walk from either gate 18 or 19 of the forest.”

This is the plaque at the forest entrance that Victoria referred to. In addition to the historical information, it seems people have left behind their own bird relics at the marker, which Ms. Jeannie thinks is sort of fitting.  Since the sculpture acts as not only a piece of art but also a memorial tribute to the extinction of a species, this is not unlike people putting flowers or candles or other such relics on gravesites to commemorate what was lost.

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This is what the plaque says…

HEATH HEN – Tympanuchus Cupido Cupido

The sole remaining heath hen in the world was seen for the last time near this spot on March 11, 1932; this eastern race of the greater prairie chicken was declared extinct in 1933. During the mating season, the males made a loud “booming” sound by inflating the orange air sacs on their necks, a sound that could be heard as far as one mile away. A staple in the early colonists’ diet, the heath hen was more important than the wild turkey to the survival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in the hard winter of 1620-1621. Despite the passage of various protective laws, by 1845 the only birds left were on Martha’s Vineyard, having once been widespread from coastal New England south at least to Maryland.  In 1908, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts set aside 600 acres here as a heath hen reservation. Additional land was added later, until the reservation totaled nearly 5,000 acres, most of which ultimately became the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. The heath hen thrived on the reservation, it’s numbers rising from about 50 in 1908 to about 2,000 in early 1916. But in May 1916, a great fire swept the reservation, destroying many nesting females and their eggs, reducing the population to about 150. Primarily due to inbreeding, disease and predation, despite efforts to protect and propagate the bird, its numbers slowly dwindled to 28 in 1923, about 30 in 1927, and only 3 in 1928. The last bird, known as “Booming Ben” lived alone from 1929 to 1932.

To give you some visual perspective this is what heath hens looked like in the wild…

Photograph of a Heath Hen on Martha's Vineyard taken in 1909.
Photograph of a Heath Hen on Martha’s Vineyard taken in 1909.

This next illustration gives you a sense of their colors. The orange bulb at their breast is the air sac that they inflate during mating season. Pretty flamboyant! No wonder the lady hens liked them:)

Heath Hen. Photo courtesy of nhptv.org
Heath Hen. Photo courtesy of nhptv.org

And here is the Heath Hen memorial on the day Victoria went to visit him…

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Victoria also provided this insight…

“I would love to say that it was an impactful sight but he really looked so small from a distance when I first noticed him. He was smaller than I expected and just sat calmly perched on the side of the path. Many people had never even realized he was there all these years walking by. It was very interesting to find out that the entire State forest was actually originally called the Heath Hen Reserve and only later took the name of its long term superintendent which virtually caused the heath hen to be forgotten.”

If you missed Ms. Jeannie’s previous post about this amazing bird art, the Heath Hen sculpture was created by  artist, Todd McGrain as part of his Lost Bird Project. You can read more about his work here.  In the documentary that was recently released about the project, you can follow along as Todd chooses the exact resting spot for each of his birds. Using both historical information and artistic intuition as placement guides, he took great care in deciding why each sculpture should be placed in the exact spot that it was.

So it doesn’t really come as a surprise to Ms. Jeannie, after hearing from Victoria, that the Heath Hen should be in a location within the state park that lacked any sense of showmanship or fanfare. According to the documentary, Todd wanted each bird to not only be a memorial to what we have lost as a country but also a teaching platform that could draw surprise, sympathy and inspiration to all who viewed it – but in a natural way – a walk in the intimate woods, so to say, that wasn’t preachy or guided.

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Ultimately, the project aims to educate and draw awareness –  to appreciate our natural surroundings, to notice what occurs in our everyday environment and to hopefully take a little bit more care with our natural world so that in 100 years we do not see other animals – ones that are so prevalent today like deer and foxes and geese – on the extinction list in the future.

A great big thank you to Victoria for sharing her road trip with us in both thoughts and pictures. Stop by and visit her Etsy shop here. Learn more about the lost bird project here. 

Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

If you remember from the last post, Hope Is the Thing with Feathers was the book written by Christopher Cokinos  that inspired the artistry of Todd McGrain. Ms. Jeannie just realized that the title came from a poem by this woman…

Do you recognize her?
Do you recognize her?

Emily Dickinson. She wrote the poem in 1861 at the age of 31.

Here it is in full:

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune–without the words, 
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

 – Emily Dickinson

It was written during the time in her life where Emily was just beginning to withdraw from public life. She spent her days at home, her birthplace,  the Homestead house in Amherst, MA surrounded by family and a few close friends.

Emily Dickinson's Homestead in Amhearst, MA
Emily Dickinson’s Homestead in Amhearst, MA

The house sat on 14 acres and was surrounded by trees and gardens where Emily drew inspiration for her poetry and writings.  There were plentiful garden beds where she would watch the birds dive and dart – the notions and assimilations fluttering about her mind.

It’s wonderful to think that Emily’s writing is still cause for inspiration over 150 years later and for such a noble book and equally noble art project as commemorating the lost birds of America.  Here she was, a reclusive soul,  interpreting the world how she saw it by putting thoughts to paper in Victorian era America, and now, free like all birds are, her words have taken flight to protect the very subjects she so admired. Ms. Jeannie just loves this. How one bit of creativity can spark another. You just never know how your words can affect others – so pick good ones, dear readers – they might just bloom into something extraordinary when you are least expecting it:)

Emily Dickinson, the wise. Photo via pinterest.
Emily Dickinson, the wise. Photo via pinterest.

 

 

 

 

The Lost Bird Project

The other night, Ms. Jeannie watched a documentary and fell in love with big birds. Five in particular. This is one of them…

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The documentary was called The Lost Bird Project and was about an artist who set out to memorialize five birds that are now extinct from our environment.

Inspired, after reading the book, Hope Is The Thing With Feathers (great title!) by Christopher Cokinos, sculptor Todd McGrain built man-size sculptures of five particular birds  that are no longer living in the natural world.  He wanted the birds to be not only memorials for something now lost, but also educational pieces that would make people pause and reflect about their own individual roles in the hands of nature.

The five birds he chose were:

The Carolina Parakeet. Extinct since 1918, was highly sought after by the millinery industry for the bright feathers. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Carolina Parakeet, extinct since 1918, was highly sought after by the millinery industry for their  bright feathers.  This statue was placed at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee, FL. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
Carolina Parakeet. Photo courtesy of extinct-website.com.
Carolina Parakeet. Photo courtesy of extinct-website.com.
The passenger pigeon, extinct by 1914, saw its main decline due to hunting. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The passenger pigeon, extinct by 1914, saw its main decline due to hunting. This statue was placed at Grange Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
Passenger Pigeons. Photo courtesy of rareprintsgallery.com
Passenger Pigeons. Photo courtesy of rareprintsgallery.com
The Heath Hen, extinct since 1932 due to hunting, predators and development was last seen in the wild on Martha's Vineyard. The last one living by himself on the vineyard for few years - calling for mates with no replies. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Heath Hen, extinct since 1932 due to hunting, predators and development was last seen in the wild on Martha’s Vineyard. The last one living by himself on the Vineyard for years, constantly called for mates with no replies. This statue was placed in Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
Heath Hen. Photo courtesy of nhptv.org
Heath Hen. Photo courtesy of nhptv.org
The Labrador Duck, extinct since 1878, was most likely demolished by coastal industry. the labrador duck was north america's version of the tuxedo penguin in all of it's black and white glory.
The Labrador Duck, extinct since 1878, was most likely demolished by a lack of food supply due to coastal industry expansion.  This statue was placed at Brand Park in Elmira, New York. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org.
Labrador Ducks. Photo courtesy of mcq.org
Labrador Ducks. Photo courtesy of mcq.org
The Great Auk has been extinct 1844. Ever present seabirds, they mated for life and found refuge in rocky terrains off coastal waterways. Their greatest predator was man who would use them for food source, oil and feathers. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Great Auk has been extinct since 1844. Ever present seabirds, they mated for life and found refuge in rocky terrains off coastal waterways. Their greatest predator was man who would use them for food source, oil and feathers. This statue was placed at Joe Batt’s Point at Fogo Island in Newfoundland. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Great Auk. Photo courtesy of itsnature.org
The Great Auk. Photo courtesy of itsnature.org

The documentary presents a wonderful arc of a story from creation of the sculptures through dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of state “gifting”  to seeing the sculptures placed in the areas intended by the artist (where the real birds were actually last seen).

Compelling, doesn’t begin to describe the subject matter and at  the heart of the story is one man’s quest for genuine expression.  It is humble. It is grand. It is remarkable.  And it makes you think about nature around us… the common sights and sounds we live with everyday… and all that we might just be taking for granted.

Here’s a trailer for the documentary…

If you’d like to find out more about the project and the artist , visit the film website here. If you happen to live near or have been to see any of the bird statues, please comment below with your thoughts – Ms. Jeannie would love to hear.

****** UPDATE – MAY 8, 2017 ****

The Passenger Pigeon – a Lost Bird Project sculpture was spotted in the gardens of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.!