Monday, August 15, 2011

HOMAGE TO AN ALL AMERICAN BIRD: The American Oystercatcher

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: ALL AMERICAN BIRD (art by Hallelujah Truth based on photos by Jen Hilburn)

HALLELUJAH to the American OysterCatcher in recognition of its bright, oblong orange bill, circular red-rimmed eyes, striking black and white feathers, and long salmon-colored legs. Citizens of the United States take note of this All-American bird that spends its 30-40 year life-span traversing our eastern coastline from Maine to Florida. This bird may be flying into extinction.

At the end of July 2011, I was lucky enough to see this “patriot” bird in its natural habitat. I left the city streets and congested interstate of the Atlanta Metropolitan area, with my Chiboogamoo to voyage out to St. Catherines, a barrier island along the Georgia coast. While Chiboogamoo was examining gopher tortoise burrows, I was fortunate enough to be taken out on a boat to monitor the local American oystercatchers. 
ST. CATHERINES AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER MONITORING: Jen Hilburn, ornithologist at St. Catherines, waits while Rachel shows me what a "scrape" nest looks like on this "rake," a place where American oystercatchers dig a shallow depression in the oyster shells to lay their eggs. You can see how vulnerable a ground nest would be to tides, wakes from boats, and sea storm surge.
Along with Jen Hilburn, the island ornithologist, and her assistant, Rachel Harris, we visited three locations: Grass Island, Cedar Flat, and Condo Corner. Condo Corner received its funny name from Jen because of the way three pairs of oystercatchers nested in a row this past season. At the time I visited these nesting sights, the breeding pairs had already broken up and were moving about the St. Catherines area. We saw one mom and dad with their fledgling at Condo Corner. When the tide is high and their food sources like oysters, bivalves, lettered olives, and moon snails are submerged, Jen explained to me, they have nothing to do but lounge around.
GRASS ISLAND: Another American oystercatcher nesting site. Vulnerable?
LOUNGING AROUND: An American oystercatcher pair and their fledgling hanging out until the tide goes down and they can forage for food.

You might ask why this magnificent bird is dying out. Well, sadly, its enemies are many. Global warming and its resulting sea level rise is causing shorelines and these small sanctuaries of land to disappear under water. These ground nesters are then left without a place to “scrape” a shallow nest into sand or oyster shells. Predators also take their toll on these easily accessible ground nests. Hungry and plentiful raccoons, minks, feral hogs, ghost crabs and other avians eat both eggs and baby birds.
SEE THE SCRAPE NEST?: Rachel Harris stands next to the scrape nests that are barely visible except to the expert eye.

Added to these alarming consequences of sea level rise and animal predation is human development. People are building homes and hotels in places that used to provide sanctuaries for American oystercatchers to nest. In addition to having fewer places to nest, when these birds do make their ground nests on the remaining undeveloped shorelines, they are inadvertently disrupted. Unwittingly boats and cars disturb these almost invisible nests. If the nests escape human destruction, they may not survive the dogs that accompany the people.

These causes that prevent the American oystercatcher from successfully producing young are persistent. The end result is that the disruptions in their life-cycle is that this stately American bird will cease to exist. Scientists are doing what they can to try to help this bird survive.

For four years now, Jen has monitored the nesting habitats of the American Oystercatcher on St. Catherines and along the intercoastal water way, counting nesting pairs, incubating eggs, and banding fledglings and any adult that is not nesting. The more birds are banded, Jen told me, the more you can learn about the pairs and their breeding habits.  For two of these four years, she has participated in the American Oystercatcher Working Group, a nationwide organization, which is keeping count of all American oystercatchers along the eastern coast and doing what they can to assist their longevity.

But the success at St. Catherines is dismal despite their efforts. Just look at the statistics from the 2011 breeding season. Jen and Rachel observed 22 nesting pairs. They incubated eggs from 50% of these nests because so many eggs left in the nests are predated or washed away by the sea. If I understood them correctly, from their efforts, none succeeded in making it to the stage where it could “fledge” or fly away. Only one pair of American oystercatchers on St. Catherines succeeded in producing one fledging naturally. A species can not continue if it cannot reproduce more abundantly.

How noble it is of these naturalists to perpetuate life, to study life, and to honor life. Hallelujah for avians and the ornithologists who study and assist them. Hallelujah for St. Catherines, an island sanctuary for the American oystercatcher, a beautiful of the United States’ eastern shores!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am so thankful to my Chiboogamoo! His paleontological interests challenge me to grow. It is by accompanying him on his scientific investigations that I broaden my own interests in this bountiful and rich EARTH. Jen Hilburn is an inspiration! How fortunate is St. Catherines to employ this woman who breathes life into every action she takes! She infuses her love into everyone who willingly steps into her intellectual path! No one is left unimpacted by this very force of nature and intelligence. Jen Hilburn wants “buy in” to saving this earth. She is all SCIENTIST in her investigations. She is all ARTIST in embrace of others and extension of knowledge. Halleljuah! Thank you Rachel Harris for being so knowledgeable, patient, and kind when answering my questions.

ABOUT MY PAINTINGS IN THIS BLOG: Many of you might already know that I call myself a visionary painter because I rely on an inner feeling or "eye" to guide me as I do my work. As a SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM, I have been journeying in new directions artistically. Because I adore NATURE and have the good fortune to travel with my brilliant paleontologist husband on his forays to study modern and ancient ichnology (traces), I have welcomed the richness of NATURE  pervading my SPIRIT. I absorb, think, feel, wait, contemplate, and yes--draw without judgment. The drawings you see on this blog resulted as a process of daily meditation. The "new" aspect of this work was for me to use a specific outside stimulus like a photograph to translate inward. If I had a goal or ambition in these works, it was to express my relationship to the American oystercatcher. You see, I BELIEVE that the process of making ART connects us to the world and through that process we begin to "OWN" our role in taking care of MOTHER EARTH. We "buy in" as Jen Hilburn might say. HALLELUJAH FELLOW PILGRIM!

SOUL BLOG with Hallelujah about your response to the all-American bird, the American Oyster Catcher! Take a moment to investigate the SCIENTIST and ARTIST in you. What do you know? What do you love? What action can you take today to sustain this awesome EARTH that we inhabit?

PRAYER FOR THE AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER: Hope springs eternal and it is necessary to keep a positive attitude when scientific facts predict that the American oystercatcher will die out as a species and the ornithologists are measuring how long it will take even though they have made efforts to preserve this beautiful American bird. 


  1. can one purchase any of this art?

  2. Dear Stephanie, thank you so much for your question about purchasing my art! Hallelujah for money and those who support the arts! At this time, I make art but do not sell it. I am attached to my creations because they are manifestations of my inner thoughts and BEINGNESS. Perhaps at some time in the future, I will return to the world of commerce. Once again, thank you so much for your interest in the great exchange of energy!