“Cooper’s Hawk and Starling”

Posted on Feb, Tue, 2022 in Uncategorized

“Coopers Hawk and Starling”

 

“Live by the Sword …”

Bastardized blithely into proverb (i.e.“Live by the sword, die by the sword”), the Gospel of Matthew speaks with preternatural relevance to starlings, the beautiful scourge of birds highlighted in a recent essay of mine. I confess to anthropomorphizing birds too frequently, imputing human characteristics and making judgements as to their elegance as well as their moral failings. Observed closely, at least in the context of the Western aesthetic, starlings are beautiful creatures, not only for their subtle iridescent hues and physical form, but for their aerobatic formations known as murmurations. They are, however, notoriously predatory, feeding on other bird’s eggs and offspring and displacing resident birds in their domination of available food.

Today I filled our feeder and watched as starlings bullied sparrows and songbirds, consuming the easy seed, scattering only shells and husks for the meek below. Inexplicably, in an instant, all the birds exploded from the ground, the feeder, the surrounding trees and the bushes, but for one preoccupied starling, falling prey in a brief moment, impaled on talons, staring into the murderous maw of a Cooper’s hawk.

This photograph marked not more than three minutes from time of death. In those awful moments, the starling’s breast plucked clean, her body warm and eviscerated, commemorated only by entrails cast upon the snow. The sublime well may lie at the intersection of awe inspiring beauty and nature’s savage terror.
Draw as you will the moral.
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“Starlings on the Run”

Posted on Feb, Tue, 2022 in Black & White, Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Uncategorized

 

“Starlings on the Run”

This image, a companion to my previous post of starlings perched pensively in this weeping birch, illustrates a sense of unity, even in their urgent departure pictured here. Seemingly unperturbed at first by my conspicuous approach and maladroit struggle with camera and tripod in freezing snow, they struck me more as amused than frightened. For a brief moment I had deluded myself into believing I might be a “bird whisperer”; otherwise why had they remained affixed so calmly to the branches? Looking at this second image, however, their alacritous exodus disabused me of any such notion.

That day’s brief encounter and these images have occasioned further reflection on these beautiful yet pernicious birds. Their destruction of property is legendary, replete with stories of farmers losing entire crops in an afternoon as starlings descended in locust-like waves.  Even our own experience in a small suburban setting underscores those stories as we’ve watched small flocks drop into the yard this week, emptying the feeder in less than an hour. Moreover, we’ve seen them in the spring raiding robin’s nests, devouring newly hatched chicks – a practical though disturbing means of ethnic cleansing and sating hunger.

So, while antipathy towards starlings abounds, there is an undeniable, extraordinary beauty to these birds, not only their physical form but in their flight, ascending, swarming, swirling and coalescing into an undulating flow of amorphous murmuration. Perhaps, if there is a message, a moral or an enigma to these recent images, it lies in the dichotomy between beauty and its antithesis, dependent both upon context and the elusive definition of beauty itself. Although philosophers since Plato, and poets and artists through millennia have grappled with defining and expanding the concept of beauty (including its relationship to the arts and its influence on aesthetics), one also might look to the lowly starling when considering the many aspects of beauty; their own physical perfection, their art as observed in the skies, and even their moral turpitude as they coalesce in flight, casting a shadow across creation.
January 23, 2022
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Weeping Birch, Starlings and Afternoon Snow

Posted on Feb, Tue, 2022 in Uncategorized

Weeping Birch, Starlings and Afternoon Snow

The only visitors to Squire Valleevue this afternoon were the starlings. Not enough for a murmuration but sufficient to ornament this weeping birch, draped with latticed leaves and snow, standing alone at the east end of the farm. By late autumn and through the winter months starlings adopt or, given their reputation for belligerence, arrogate this lovely tree for themselves. January, 23, 2022

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Black Willow and Christmas Fog

Posted on Feb, Tue, 2022 in Uncategorized

Black Willow and Christmas Fog

 

Many of you on Cleveland’s east side experienced a heavy fog in lieu of snow this Christmas afternoon. As untimely as it may have been, and though the fog robbed the landscape of color, it also provided a background of beautifully diffused light that placed dark objects in high relief. This debilitated willow branch, escaping the tangle of bittersweet vine and an old crabapple, struck me as an odd but appropriate metaphor for birth and emergence on this particular day.  Christmas Day, 2021

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