Where Have All the Dead Birds Gone?

The other day we decided to beat the winter blahs by taking a “staycation” at the Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake. An afternoon by the pool followed by an evening of dining and cocktails seemed like a good little pick-me-up at this point in the winter.

As we were lounging by the pool I couldn’t help but notice that one of the images decorating the area was a reproduction of Edwin Landseer’s famous image of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Windsor Castle in Modern Times (1840-43). I’m a big fan of Landseer’s work, so strolled over to take a closer look as I made my way from the salt water pool to the hot tub.

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Sir Edwin Landseer, Windsor Castle in Modern Times; Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Victoria, Princess Royal, 1840-43, oil on canvas.

“Have a closer look,” a woman in the pool called out to me. “What do you think the little child has in her hands?” I knew without looking that young Victoria (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s oldest child) was holding a dead bird in her hands, but I didn’t want to seem like that kind of art historian. To be polite I walked closer to look at that section of the painting and that is when I was startled to discover a rather glaring omission from this reproduction.

In Landseer’s original painting there is a row of dead game birds laid out next to young Victoria and a few more on the floor in front of Prince Albert’s feet. Prince Albert’s clothing (including those oh-so-tight trousers showing off every detail of his kneecap!) tells us that he has just returned from hunting, so the inclusion of this detail makes sense. Further, the juxtaposition of the very dead birds with the animated and life-like dogs is just the kind of thing that Landseer, one of the most celebrated animal painters in the history of art, is known for.

At the Prince of Wales hotel, however, all of the dead birds except for the one that young Victoria holds are missing. I can only assume that this was done to make this modern day replica somehow more palatable to hotel patrons. I’ve looked up other replicas of this Landseer painting available for sale, and in all the ones I can find the dead birds remain part of the composition as the artist intended.

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Detail of the replica of Landseer’s painting at the Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Photo taken February 2019.

I’m still mulling over why this would be done. This is not an establishment nor a town that is known to be particularly sensitive towards animal issues. Indeed, the use of carriage horses as part of the tourism industry in this town often draws protests from local activists. Further, I would say that Niagara-on-the-Lake ranks pretty low in terms of vegan-friendly dining in the region — indeed, a glance at the menu of the Prince of Wales hotel, the very building where this altered replica of this image hangs, indicates an establishment that prides itself on the various high-end meat dishes it serves (including, rather ironically, a smoked duck breast dish).

I wish I knew more about the decisions that led to this edited version of Landseer’s image hanging in this hotel. It is a fascinating example of visual culture in that it seems to point to present-day anxieties around the representation of animals. As I frequently say to my students, “what is absent from an image is sometimes as significant as what has been included.”

On Birding

I have always considered myself to be a fan of birds. I keep a bird feeder and a bird bath in my yard, I am delighted if I happen to see a nest when I’m out for a walk, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never grumbled about the sounds of chirping birds waking me up in the morning. However, I have never really done any “birding” until very recently. I’m still very much a novice birder with so much to learn, but I can already see the appeal.

I have learned that early morning is a good time to go birding and since I’m a bit of an early riser anyhow, it hasn’t been too difficult to head out for a birding walk before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. There is something really peaceful about going for a walk at that time of day, and the possibility of spotting bird activity is an added bonus.

Paying attention to the birds has taught me to slow down and to see things in a different way. Before I used to walk for walking’s sake, for exercise. When we head out on a birding walk, we go a lot slower. Sometimes it takes hours to cover a path that we’d normally cover in 30 minutes. I’m not normally a patient person (once during a yoga class I actually thought “we could speed things up if we didn’t hold these poses for so damn long.” Clearly I have a lot to learn about yoga too.), but the slow pace we’ve adopted on birding walks has a wonderfully soothing quality to it.

I’m on Vancouver Island this week, taking part in the ASLE conference (affectionately known as the “Friendly Greens” by some of my blogging friends). Before the conference began we spent some time outside of Victoria. Our adventures have included some birding, and it has been so much fun! At Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo we saw several American Wood Ducks, a few Spotted Towhees and an Osprey. We saw a Kingfisher on Gabriola Island, many Stellar’s Jays during our jaunt to the Pacific Rim National Park and some California Quails just outside of Nanaimo. While I was sunbathing on the beach on Newcastle Island, Laurie went for a walk and saw a Black Oystercatcher. I’m sorry I missed that one, although I did enjoy my snooze in the sun.

I’ve also discovered that birds generally don’t hold still and pose for pictures and, since I’m still figuring out all the bells and whistles on my new camera, I’m not the quickest photographer in the world. Still, I did manage to get a few shots of some of the birds we’ve encountered on this trip.

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UPDATED: I finally did see a Black Oystercatcher! Yeah!

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Groove Found

I’m sitting at my kitchen table with piles of paper spread all around me. I’ve spent the past couple of days really digging into the edits on my manuscript (affectionately referred to as “the project that must not be named”). I got off to a slow start on this project this month, but the good news is that I’ve found my groove now and am actually enjoying it. The feedback I got from the reviewers was positive and encouraging and full of excellent suggestions — just what I needed to kick-start my energy and enthusiasm for this project again.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that I didn’t get off to the flying start I’d hoped earlier in May. As I’ve previously posted, May is a tough month — geez, it is almost a year to the day since I found my groove last year. Maybe next year I should just book holidays for the first few weeks in May and be done with it. I could go somewhere where the pollen counts are lower and skip the allergies too. But I’d miss all the early season gardening. Such a dilemma!

I think I’ll try to keep going with these edits tonight. I am, however, taking little breaks to watch the cast of characters assembling for the evening in my backyard: a young-looking skunk, a birdseed-loving rabbit, a pair of Baltimore Orioles and a delightful assortment of other birds, including a little baby sparrow who is doing that funny dance they do when they want to be fed.

St. Patrick’s Day Hiking

It was absolutely gorgeous in Niagara yesterday — the sun was shining and it was about 13 degrees (Celsius). We took advantage of the wonderful weather and went to Niagara Falls for a hike. We did a walk I’ve wanted to do since I moved here — along the Niagara Whirlpool. It was amazing!! One of the most exciting parts of the afternoon was spotting some Long-tailed ducks, who appeared to be enjoying the circular current of the water in the whirlpool.

I didn’t get any pictures of the ducks (I must buy a digital SLR with a telephoto lens soon — especially if we keep going on birding adventures), but here are some pictures from the hike. I was especially fascinated by the giant mounds of snow (melting very quickly in the warm sun!) and the icy blue colour of the water. I also loved the green sap oozing out of the wooden stairs down to the whirlpool. I know it is likely a side effect of the treated wood, but since it was St. Patrick’s day I imagined it was the work of an impish leprechaun.

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On a related note, I was absolutely horrified to hear that there was another person attacked on a local hiking trail. This is terribly upsetting!!