February 10, 2012

Bird-watching a part of Tri-State's culture

Good Morning

Bird-watching a part of Tri-State’s culture

Do you like watching birds feed? One of my great joys in winter and early spring is watching birds outside my office window. When I started working at home full-time, I took the television out of my office, avoiding one temptation for mindless distraction.

Yet, almost every day, I witness an amazing show at the feeder with more drama, pathos and humor than any television soap opera.

Two pairs of cardinals visit often. The scarlet males first check out the territory, and then the chunky females swoop in while their menfolk stand guard. One of the males often lands on my office window ledge and peers in, as if looking directly at me. (My always-indoor cat really enjoys this part, but while I see beauty, he sees dinner.) Bird-watching is a cherished part of Tri-State culture and history.
In 1810, a businessman named John James Audubon left his Louisville, Ky., mercantile to go west. “West” in those days meant Henderson, Ky., on the banks of a mighty river and close to the confluence of another.

Henderson is where Audubon — one of America’s greatest naturalists and artists — first pursued his hobby full-time.

Did he view with awe the same array of birds in the cypress sloughs near the Ohio River that we do today?

It was in these woods that Audubon first gained the inspiration for his “Birds of America,” a four-volume set of drawings that shows native birds in natural settings. Audubon left Henderson for New Orleans and, ultimately, England. He did not achieve his greatest fame until after his death. One of his folios sold at auction at Sotheby’s in London
in 2010 for $11.5 million.

Both Audubon’s work and his inspiration live on at the John James Audubon Park off U.S. 41 in Henderson, as well as the Audubon Museum. Roads, buildings and infrastructure for the 724acre park were built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, with community support.

Today, you can experience numerous artistic treasures that Audubon painted, because Henderson librarian Susan Towells had the foresight in the early 1900s to put her passion for all things Audubon into action.

In addition to a complete folio of his four-volume “Birds of America,” the museum has many paintings as well as many objects from Audubon’s life. I particularly enjoyed a painting of a barn owl, because it was so familiar to me, having grown up in rural Indiana.
The detail in the paintings is precise and uncanny in its realism; one must see them up close to fully appreciate how amazing they are.

On my visit there, I learned there is an actual bird called a “snipe,” and it is not just the subject of a teenage prank, that popular game known as the “snipe hunt.”

The three galleries of the museum also have several Matthew Brady photographs of the Audubon family.

Of course, the park offers a multitude of other activities perfect for a winter or early spring day.

The trails in the park offer spectacular bird-watching opportunities. Perhaps you’ll see an eagle flying off in the distance or just enjoy the quiet of the trail as Audubon did.

— Amy Abbott

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Copyright © 2012 Evansville Courier & Press 02/10/2012