We have always regarded the steeply sloping land fronting our Dyers Bay cottage as a wildflower area primarily given over to the everyday activities of local insects, birds and small animals. We have watched with fascination as the slope’s inhabitants use and reuse every part of this unassuming low lying space nestled between the towering trees of the surrounding forest.
Until this summer, the only human intervention we made in the area was the introduction of six white cedar quadrilateral trellises for climbing plants — wild peas, raspberries and other vines. A couple of years ago we inserted very tall ironwood spars into the structures along with some limestone ballast to give stability. At that point we noticed that many of the birds in the region were using the added height as a perch and in the case of the orioles the spars became diving off points for the acrobatic flying for which they are famous.
Watching the intense activity in the field below we recently decided that it might be time to add a few more options to this bird playground. Using natural materials — cattails, birchbark, last year’s mullein stalks we constructed six new additions to the structures so that the spars became more complex andpotentially interesting to the area’s inhabitants. A plus for us was that the new 15 ft. height of the constructions made their viewing from our front deck easier and more enjoyable. We had in effect created our own tree-like interventions into the existing canopy.
A consideration was whether the new more animated structures would actually scare off the birds rather than attracting them. Would they find the moving parts disturbing, the constructions difficult to negotiate? Happily, they seem to have embraced the changes. There appear to be many more birds using the area this year and a family of orioles has nested close by. We have been treated to the sight ofthe baby birds learning to fly among and between the suspended structures which are being used as lift off and touch down points for test flights or places to rest and watch the proceedings.
The new works are varied in form even though they are constructed using a similar range of materials. 1) We have made a windsock out of birch bark tubing extricated from a rotten tree core that is bound together at odd angles with steel wire. A broad leaved cattail completes the structure acting as a weathervane/directional indicator. 2) By braiding together the leafy portions of narrow-leaved cattail plants and then securing them with hemp rope we have made a large nest-like structure suspended between two poles that may or may not be used for this purpose by birds in the future. 3) Another work is a lighthearted take on the ubiquitous lines of suspended flags designed to draw attention to used car lots and the like. Various pieces of found birchbark alternate with precisely cut triangular birchbark shapes suspended on wire from spar top to the ground to create a flag formation that can be perched upon. 4) Having woven a rectangular placemat out of broad-leaved cattails we integrated the stalks and aerial parts of the plant within the grid and suspended the entire construction on a cantilevered wooden dowel. Two more plants extend diagonally/vertically capping the supporting spar. 5) Nearby, two large mullein plants strung to a wooden cross piece with wire are suspended side by side as balanced elements of an overall weigh scales form. They swing gently in the wind giving a hypnotic feel to the work. 6) Finally, three large pieces of curling birchbark have been suspended from a tall thin spar using wooden dowels creating a modified tree-like form. By adding new branches to the old form we gave the spar a second life. The structure is topped with a triangular birchbark flag reminiscent of those seen on the masts of sailing boats.