Birds on a Stick


  A creative branch from "Twitching Trees" what I call...

"Birds on a Stick"

A collection of birds photographed on a single stick.
Surely a most unusual form of art, but interesting just the same.


Where the "Twitching Trees" rely on their functional size and shape
(dare I say ascetics) plus the viewers visual & written confirmation.

The "Stick" is dependent on it relationship to food and the observer's photographic record.
The sticks outside my window covered in Waxwings...
At the window I had a pile of books that I was using as tripod for the photo below.

Just amazing...

The origins of "Birds on Stick"
In the end of September 2010 I was hosting a birding tour at our Auld Haa Guesthouse, one of the birdwatchers had a camera with a huge lens (cha ching) and was photographing the Blackcaps and a Garden Warbler eating apples on sticks that I wire together to make a small twitching tree. I love feeding birds and have many bird feeders and this "tree" has some wire to hold an apple in the middle of it, it works great and the birds really seem to like it. That is because Fair Isle has basically no naturally occurring trees and not much fruit!  Problem was when photographing it was hard to get a photo of a bird without a apple or a bit of wire in it?

A migrant Garden Warbler is scared off the apple by a resident Starling.

This small Twitching Tree was the frist I built to feed fruit to the birds in the hedge in my garden. The securely fashion red plastic beads really catch the birds eye. The sturdy horizontal branches wire together and place in front of the hedge makes it easier to identify specific bird species out in the open. This works great for attracting and seeing birds but not so well for getting nice looking nature photos.

Blackcap & Apple

 I had an idea... between lunch and dinner I had about an hour to fiddle around with some sticks (driftwood) I had collect from the seashore. Using all the skills I acquired getting my fine arts masters degree in sculpture an what I now know about the habits of birds, I picked a suitably interesting random bit of wood for perching area " the stick" as it is now known. I wire the bits of wood together in a way that the apple would sit an inch or 2 below the top stick and the other lower stick with the apple on it is at an angle inconvenient for perching and eating.  The support parts and apple are purely functional and will be simply cropped out. I stuck it in the ground among the honeysuckle in my garden for a nice background and when the photographer/birdwatcher came back he nailed some awesome shots before dinner and more during the next few days before leaving Fair Isle.

So I had no guest for a few days an after they left I tried my luck? With my rubbish cameras? no can do! I just can't get close enough. So I move the sticks in front of my window and tried from there. And as luck would have it a Barred Warbler showed up soon after. OMG only 2 foot away! I set my camera on flower mode aka close up and clicked away. Sometimes I even got lucky.

Barred Warbler

Eating and showing it's undertail-coverts
when the bird sits up snap and shoot!
and you can get photos like these.

Barred Warbler
I had 3 different Barred Warblers in the month of Oct. Some visiting birdwatchers even had "Lifers" or life ticks on their bird lists while looking at the Barred Warbler on my stick. It's a bit geekish but I could feel this is becoming a form of a stick list and art project. Here are some of the other bird I have been able to photograph in this way.

Twisted wire sticks up through the apple core with side wires poked though the skin for stability.
I like using green apples as they do not reflect a unnatural red huge on the birds belly.

look closely at the eye... no it's not a pale eye of an American Rusty Blackbird...
 it's the refection of the white exterior of my house and the dark rectangle window.
 You can even see a white dot, the reflected light from the lens of my camera.

Fair Isle Rarity? no just a cool looking Starling.


Added bonus... the birds eat the flies that also are attracted to apples.

 Birds just like to perch and wait for bugs, like this Whinchat.

I'm so much cuter with that apple cut out of frame.
Why don't I get to be on Christmas Cards?

This Brambling doesn't eat apples but rested for a moment on the way to my window box.
I didn't crop this photo... yet 

Twite - ringed

change the apple to a small cup of seeds and you get different species, like this Siskin.
Now I have shown you how to get better photos of some birds in your garden even without a big lens.
I have only been doing this since Oct. 1st and I'm really enjoying the results. 
Here is an important tip put apples in more than one spot and some further away.
Once they start eating... at some point the birds will want more and then they are willing to come closer in.

This is my photographic secret, I hope you try it, have fun and success. Cheers Tommy

Waxwing Invasion on the stick outside my widow (22 sec.)
sometimes it works to good!

 Hawfinch or as I like to call them Auld Haafinch...
Can't get them all, it was even on my stick a few times but I failed to get a photo.

All part of the art, the chance and the dance.
The chance to see the bird.
 The dance... turning on the camera and moving in slow with the camera without scaring the bird away.
All part of the excitement, many birds have eluded me, but I have had some simple stunning results.
Do you know ART when you see it?

Not at first, but somewhere along the way I recognized that I was using the processes of art that come naturally to me. So similar to the environmental sight specific art I had done when I was young and in university, etc. The overall concepts and connections are so much stronger, I'm surprised it took me awhile to really see it. Man's interaction with nature has always been a favorite art subject of mine. As any sculptor will take a raw material and transcend it into a object of beauty, power and worth, I now value the "stick" much more than many paintings I have made, as it is now invested with experiences and documentation while also serving a function. The once insignificant piece of driftwood I now look upon as a icon of surprising possibilities with wildlife. It is the same for the Twitching Trees, artistically, the interaction between nature, the sculpture and the viewer is conceptually so strong with these works. It is natural for an artist interests to become a theme with in the framework of ones art. Disregard one photo of a bird or the stick alone as art. Collectively the framework of the Stick, the documentation in photographs & my experiences with nature have created something I am proud call a work of art.

Brambling - April 22nd 2011
 Redpole in the rain
Redpoll - April 25th 2011

Out side looking in... Redpoll & Twite - April 25th 2011


Siskin - Male - April 15th 2011

Waxwing at night Jan. 15th 2011

Wood Warbler - August 2011
What a thrill it is to see a Wood Warbler using "The Stick" as a vantage point eating flies congregating on my window

 Male House Sparrow - Male - Feb. 2012

House Sparrow - Female - Feb. 2012
The Fair Isle Wren - Britain's rarest ingenious subspecies
Common in my garden but hard to photograph.

I know what you're thinking... is this art?

At times I have believed, "Everything I do is art" and at others "Art doesn't truly exist, it's just a word to jack up the price." you can quote me on both even though they are contradictory it's hard to prove me wrong in either case. Seeing how this art is not for sale... does it really matter? I make it for myself and the birds. I like to share it here with you now. My blog as the gallery. (feel free to browse) But I also know, if "The Stick" was taken off Fair Isle and exhibited in a contemporary art setting with supporting photos and documentation it might be quite an interesting arts event referencing the interaction between man & nature. Plus thinking of the possibilities of adding new potential species & locations to the work excites me.

What about the viewer at said exhibition? Did they have a chance to witness and participate by logging in a wildlife sighting while at the show? What would they take with them upon leaving the exhibit?  Maybe it's just a little conversion over lunch? Maybe it would inspire someone to take a photo or to look, enjoy and feed wildlife? Could it possibly reinforce the awareness of the importance of trees in any environment and the symbiotic relationship they provide? Would one person sarcastically say "I could do that?" then build their own... unconsciously interacting with nature more closely? Maybe someone would never be able to look at a random stick the the same way again? "Everyone interprets art differently, which is ironic because we look to art to see how others view our world."

"What is Art? Art is Intention."

When asked the question, "What is art?" I respond with "Art is intention"  if you intend to make art, it's art... Whether it is good or bad art is a different question and is open to debate.

I'll leave you with one last T.H.Hyndman artist quote:

"Art is about things you can not express with words, but can be talk about all day."

Twite, Brambling & Stick

Finally got that Hawfinch! April 15th, 2012
Rosefinch May 22nd, 2012

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin June 14th, 2012

Great Tit Parus Major Nov. 23rd, 2013

Dunnock Prunella modularis April 13th, 2013

Birds seen on the Stick but still too elusive to photograph...
Eurasian Robin - Willow Warbler - Chiffchaff - Icterine Warbler
 Spotted Flycatcher - Barn Swallow - Wheatear - Kestrel 

Internation Travels of "Bird on a Stick"


  Ruby Throated Humingbird Archilochus  
Minnesota, July 2012

  White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
New York, July 2012

Eastern Chipmunk Tamias striatus 
Newyork, July 2012 

Carolina Wren Thyothorus ludovicianus
New York, July 2012

  Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla
New York, July 2012