Monday, April 26, 2010

Birding at the DeCordova Sculpture Park

On Saturday, April 24th, we led our first (of two) spring bird walks at the DeCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln. If you've never been to this museum, it is a totally wonderful place. Since we met at 7 a.m. the actual museum wasn't open, but the sculpture park is open and that, of course, it where we were leading the trip.As we assembled in the parking lot waiting for everyone to show up we met Karen Moffitt (our museum docent) and talked with her about a new sculpture we hadn't seen before -- Male Baseball#1 by Yoram Wolberger. It was fun to see basically an enlarged top of a Little League trophy in this context. Even the seam that's so annoying on the trophy was replicated here. Karen told us the artist also does those little plastic toy soldiers too.
Waiting for a few missing folks to show up we started to check out the myriad of calls. We heard Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers as we wandered around the edge of the parking lot. Watching birders pass by what could have been Thor's hammer ( it's actually Man by Michael Dennis) was really funny. The piece seemed to be just laying in the parking lot as if some giant dropped it there.
Definitely the most numerous bird of the morning was Chipping Sparrow -- they were calling everywhere.
They were even darting under Nam June Paik's Requiem to the 20th Century. (BTW did you know if was Paik who coined the term "information superhighway"?)
If you read my blog from last October's trip to the DeCordova you'll recognize some of the same pieces of art. I have a tendency to focus on the ones that I really enjoy....and seeing them in the spring with different lighting seemed like looking at new pieces in some instances.

This is Boaz Vaadia's Ammi'el which stands in the courtyard across from a companion piece, Ba'al. I'm totally fascinated by these pieces.
One of the installations which we didn't visit last fall was Bartow + Metzgar's Morphology Field Station for Sensing Place. It's actually a functioning field station that's part of a year-long project and is actually shaped like the sculpture park's 35-acre footprint.
Over the next year the artists will lead trips to collect specimens and visitors will actually be part of the project. You can visit their blog for updates on the project.
One of Mark's favorite pieces is Jim Dine's Two Big Black Hearts. Since the museum does take sculptures down and install new ones, it's always a reassuring sight to find these hearts still in place.
Now last year when we led the trip I never got up close to the piece, so this year I made sure that I did. From farther away it looks like an interestingly-textured sculpture....
but up close, you realize it's really a very carefully constructed piece containing casts of tools from everyday, as well as the artists hand prints and other images pressed into the bronze.
Another installation I failed to see last year was Steven Siegel's Big, with rift, an environmental structure built out of newspapers that will eventually decompose and be consumed by the surrounding vegetation. Two interesting things I realized looking at this piece: the artist was born in White Plains, NY, where I was born and the newspapers are an overrun of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from July 2, 2009.
This edge habitat also provided great views of nearby Eastern Bluebirds who kept flying back and forth over a nearby neighbor's fence.
Wouldn't it be great if the bluebirds took pieces of the newpaper structure to use in their nest box?
Another of my favorite pieces is Joseph Wheelwright's Listening Stone.
As we proceeded out onto the main lawn we could hear Northern Flickers calling. I spotted one sitting on Ilan Averbuch's Skirts and Pants (after Duchamp) but by the time the rest of the class arrived, the bird had flown off.
We did come across the Flicker again feeding on the ground under the same sculpture and everyone got good looks this time around.
It's always fun to watch the wildlife use the artwork for their own purposes. We had a Robin singing persistently from atop a piece call ence pence by Ursula von Rydingsvard. The artist build her structure free form and they tend to evolve as she's building them, After she completed the piece she then hand-rubbed the cedar with graphite to give it the slating gray tones.
I don't think the Robin could have cared less about the artists background....only that it was a good place to perch and the pop down for a nice worm in the lush lawn.
Albert Paley's Apollo looked fantastic as the morning sunlight just poked through the trees. One of the great things about this sculpture park is visiting in the different seasons, since the sculpture truly takes on a different look when it's against bare trees and snow vs. leaves just starting to come out.
Another signature piece of the DeCordova (in my mind) is Douglas Kornfeld's Ozymandias. I don't think the piece has been there for many years, but it's sited so perfectly, it's like it's always been there.
And judging by this chipmunk, it has become a fixture of the park. Just check out the number of chipmunk runs around the base of the sculpture.
So in addition to Chipping Sparrow and Robin as the two most abundant species of the morning, we also had very good numbers of call Pine Warblers. This female was being guarded by a male as she pulled out spiderwebs for the nest. We watched them both disappear back into the white pines once she got enough material.
Now one of the pieces that we learned from the docent that is going to be taken down soon is Kitty Wales' Pine Sharks which was designed for this specific site back in 1997. Kitty is a very interesting artist with a great environmental sensibility (she's a friend of Mark's and he's interviewed her on his radio show several times.) In fact we even have one of her pieces -- a life-sized Lammergier made out of cutlery -- sitting in our living room. You really should visit her website and check out some of her other work.
As we headed up the hill behind the museum we were hoping to find some waterfowl out on Sandy Pond.
But it really wasn't a strong migration day...not for landbirds and certainly not for waterfowl. We had exactly one pair of Canada Geese on the pond, and two Double-crested Cormorant and one Ring-billed Gull as flyovers.
Boston artist, John Wilson, did this head as a study for his Eternal Presence which is a 7-foot high sculpture standing outside the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Boston.
And finally another piece which I found totally fascinating was Richard Rosenblum's Venusvine. I've been to this museum a fair number of times and I think I must have overlooked this piece. I think it's because depending on the angle from which you looked at this sculpture, it disappeared into the background of the surrounding trees.
In the two hours we took to complete a birding circuit of the sculpture park we managed to get 32 species....clearly not a hot migration day, but an enjoyable and two hours nonetheless!
The Chipping Sparrows were totally entertaining....
And the 10 or so people on the trip seemed to enjoy themselves.
We spent the last 15 or so minutes of the trip standing in the parking lot looking for the first hawks to go up. We had 4 Red-tails (probably local breeders), 2 Broadwings and a Sharpie. However, the best bird of the trip was the Pileated Woodpecker that flew over the parking lot just as we were about to end the trip -- a great 11th hour bird!

We're hoping that when we do the birdwalk again (in May) we'll definitely have some better migrants. But if not, it certainly won't be a waste of time, since the DeCordova Sculpture Park is a truly wonderful place to hang out whether you're there to bird or just enjoy the art. And doing it at 7 in the morning, without lots of other people, makes it even better.


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