Jim Mullan’s “Vintage Bird Collection”

As I’ve probably mentioned before, too many years of education have left me with much better taste in art than I can ever afford. As a result, I’ve probably spent more money over the years on admission fees than on works of art. Luckily, screen prints and castings have made it possible to afford artwork I would never have been able to afford otherwise.

Occasionally, though, I find an “original piece” of art I want and can afford, like this small bird sculpture, my latest Port Townsend acquisition:

mechanical bird

A few years ago I probably would have waited to buy it, but at my age I don’t feel like I have that many years to make up my mind — and I don’t plan on taking my money with me. So, despite that fact that my savings are now largely invested in my Honda Element, I bought this on the spur of the moment, with hardly a look back.

If I’d had more savings, I would have probably bought a handful of them since I really had a hard time deciding which one I wanted. I could easily identify with the artist’s philosophy:

Sculptures by JIM MULLAN

The vintage bird collection, designed by Jim Mullan, was inspired by his fascination with birds and antique objects. The crows were used as hunting decoys in 30’s and 40’s and the smaller birds were carved in the 1950’s. The original decoys were passed on to Jim in 1991 and just recently he has turned each one into an eclectic, one of a kind, piece of art. You can see Jim’s lively sense of humor in each one of his creations.

Jim begins by hand painting each bird, and then adds a variety of vintage pieces when creating his sculptures. The unusual relics he uses, such as croquet balls, binoculars and old toys give each inspiring bird his own personality. Objects that were cast aside as useless are used in his designs to demonstrate the fragile balance between nature and industry.

The birds give life to to once forgotten pieces of yesterday. We invite the observer to find warmth, history, and humor in each and every bird sculpture.

But much as I agree with what Jim says here, their appeal to me goes much deeper than that. For instance, I know I bought this particular one because I was amused by the irony of the bird landing on the binoculars. The idea that you don’t really need to go birding to go birding has always appealed to me.

On another level, the bird’s mechanical aspects reminded me of Oz, a favorite childhood book and of Grimm’s or Anderson’s Fairy Tales where I first encountered a mechanical bird. Researching, I found “The Nightingale,” where the emperor becomes more intrigued with a mechanical nightingale then the real one.

I don’t think there’s any danger I will become more attracted to my mechanical bird than the ones I photograph, but I’m nearly as fond of this little guy as I am of the robin who shows up in my backyard every day.

A Leap of Faith

No Rapture here, but I have paid tribute to the Old Ones the past week, choosing to listen to the Jack-in-the-Pulpit in my backyard rather than the media carnival.


Much of the week was spent trying to get the sprinkler system working since a hard winter freeze resulted in some burst pipes and new landscaping in the front yard meant an entire area had to be reconfigured. Judging from recent weather, I may not actually need it this year, but I have faith there will be at least one extended period of sunshine while I’m gone on one of my birding trips.

Planting tomatoes and corn here in the Pacific Northwest is a real leap of faith, especially since I only got a few ears of corn last year and ended up eating far more green tomatoes than red ones. Thankfully, for me, the ritual of planting is much more important than the actual harvesting of tomatoes and corn, especially in a world where hydroponic tomatoes and hybrid corn are now available nearly year round for reasonable prices.

Although I’m decidedly a city-boy, there’s been very few years when I haven’t had a garden, and those aren’t the kinds of years I want to relive. Two of the three were spent in the Army and the other year was a transitional year, when we moved here in Fall. The World may not depend on my planting corn and tomatoes every Spring, but I’m not taking that chance.

Common Mergansers

Rut Sullivan, who I often bird with, has a saying that goes “One good bird, that’s all we need” when birding is slow.

I guess I’d paraphrase it “One good shot” since I’m more interested in a good picture than in seeing an unusual bird, though a “good shot” often ends up meaning a picture of a bird I’ve never seen before.

I really didn’t get a picture that really stood out the last time I went out and virtually all of them, with the possible exception of this one,

male and female Common Merganser in breeding colors

will soon be wiped off my hard drive.

It’s not that there’s anything particularly exceptional about this shot, except it clearly shows the radical difference between a male and female Common Merganser in full-breeding colors.

When I first noticed this a coupIe years ago I could hardly believe that these were the same species. By now, it’s lost a little of its miraculousness, and sadly I tend to accept it matter-of-factly — except when I see the first pure black-and-white male of the year.

Take a Deep Breath

When people I meet ask me if I’m a “birder,” I often reply that I consider myself a photographer, not a birder even though I usually walk where I’m most apt to see birds and I’m consciously looking for birds while I’m walking.

I find it a little ironic, then, that sometimes when I’m expecting to see particular birds and I don’t, or, worse yet, there doesn’t’ seem to be any birds at at, I have to stop and take a deep breath. When I do, I invariably remember that the point of walking is simply to be aware of what is there, to see the beauty that is invariably there if you pay attention to it.


These harebells are nearly everywhere this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s easy to take their beauty for granted because they’re small and often obscured by the native grasses.

Still, this turned out to be my favorite shot of the day.