Saturday, 7 July 2012

Oriole Nest in soluble graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is suspend. This is a preliminary sketch of an oriole (specifically, Baltimore Oriole. They had separated out our Northern Orioles as their own variety for a while, but last I heard it was all one big happy Baltimore family again) nest for a project that I may or may not take on at work this summer. I haven't quite decided yet.

For anyone who's never seen an oriole nest, you've missed something incredible. The birds actually weave a fabric pocket. They'll use whatever stringy material they can find: in the country it's horsehair scavenged from barbed wire fences; around here it's yarn, pieces of burlap, or whatever else they can find. And it is, really, a fabric. A strong one, too. The nest is suspended between a couple of branches, and usually hidden so successfully that you don't even notice it until the leaves fall from the trees.

Orioles are very territorial, and as a result are pretty easy to call down. If you hear an oriole whistle (the call is easy enough to find on the internet), whistle back. It doesn't matter if you don't get it right; the mere fact that someone's whistling in his territory will cause a male oriole to come and check it out. And they'll come fairly close if you keep whistling back.

I didn't believe that at first, to be honest. When I started here at the nature centre our resident birder always told me that I should whistle to the orioles, and I never tried. For whatever stupid reason, the first time I finally gave it a go was when I was leading a nature walk (why I wouldn't try it out alone first is beyond me to this day). The class's teacher had asked if she could videotape me (yes, video tape. This was a while ago) because it was an anniversary year in Canada -- doesn't matter which one -- and they'd been paired with a class in Quebec. She thought it'd be nice to send them a video of Alberta nature. Well, I heard an oriole and again, for whatever stupid reason, decided to give the whistling a go right then and there.

Damned if it didn't work.

We got the bird to come right down to us; less than a metre away. The kids were excited, the teacher was saying "This is sooo cool" right on tape, and I? Well, I was repeating to myself don't tell them it's the first time don't tell them it's the first time don't tell them it's the first time...

In the end I did, though.

It was still cool.

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