A riot of color

There are many things I admire about my mother, who turned 85 last month. Among them is her insatiable curiosity about the world around her, and her desire to be learning new things on a daily basis. When I stopped by her place the other day, she related how she’d recently gone to a concert that featured a Bach cantata, written in 3/8 time, for solo bass voice.  That had sparked a memory of a particular chapter in a book that she owns written by Franz Welser-Möst, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.  The book, which is in German, was on the kitchen counter, and she’d been in the midst of translating passages that addressed the interpretation and performance of 3/8 time in works by Bach.

Every visit to my mother’s concludes with her passing on to me a handled paper bag brimming with reading material that’s struck her fancy: sections of the Wall Street Journal, issues of various and sundry health and nutrition newsletters, articles from the University of Wisconsin or Brown University alumni magazines, concert programs, etc.  Very often I find the items spangled with fluorescent Post-It Notes exclaiming “Save for Jeanne!”, or filled with marginal scribblings like “Interesting!” or “Thoughts?”

My recent visit was no exception in this regard.  The stash included, among other things, an item she’d clipped out of a recent issue of National Geographic.  It was an ad for two books of photography by Joel Sartore, who has set out to photograph every animal species in captivity, a project he calls the Photo Ark.  As of today, he’s documented 7,885 of an expected final total of around 12,000.  One of the books, published last March, is called The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals; the other, just published, is called Birds of the Photo Ark, and the cover photo immediately seized my attention: “What IS that?”

Birds (2)
A male Himalayan monal pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus).  Photo by Joel Sartore.

It courts hyperbole to say that this is one of the most spectacularly beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen, but there it is. I had to know what kind of bird this was, with its vivid rainbow of colors and shimmering crest that looks like a tuft of vegetation.

Pheasant Heaven
The pheasant is the national bird of Nepal.  Photo by Joel Sartore.

My first stop was Amazon.com, where I consulted its “Look Inside” feature to see if I could find an “About The Cover” blurb in the front matter pages.  No luck.  So I went to the actual Photo Ark website, with its 25,616 images, filtered for ‘bird’ + ‘color’ + ‘closeup’ + ‘black background’ and then patiently made my way through the resulting 46 pages of avian fabulousness.  The fact that the Himalayan monal pheasant didn’t turn up until page 40 or 41 was a good thing, because it afforded me the opportunity to see so many other eye-popping specimens.  Here are two favorites:

A vulnerable Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria) at the Columbus Zoo.
A Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria).  Named for Queen Victoria, its habitat is Northern New Guinea and surrounding islands.  Photo by Joel Sartore.
A superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) at Healesville Sanctuary.
A superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), a songbird native to Australia.  Photo by Joel Sartore.

Sartore was inspired to begin the Photo Ark project after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, an experience that, he said, gave him a new perspective on the fragility of life. “How can I get people to care that we could lose half of all species by the turn of the next century? Perhaps a series of portraits, made as simply and cleanly as possible, would give us all a chance to look animals directly in the eye and see that there’s beauty, grace, and intelligence in the other creatures we share the planet with.”

I’m certainly happy to know about the project, and am grateful to my mother for steering me in its direction.

Trivia tidbit: Among the many fun facts gleaned on this ornithological odyssey is the fact that lyrebirds are insanely capable mimics, not only of other birds, but camera shutters, car alarms and chainsaws.


  • Always enjoy your posts, but this one is truly special. Thanks so much for caring about both the human as well as the aviary conditions!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Seeing the lyrebird, I rushed off to find a clip of its mimicry and discovered… the one you have embedded! If any of your readers haven’t heard this extraordinary talent, I’d highly recommend the Attenborough clip above. Guaranteed to raise a smile.

    As for that pheasant, almost unbelievable. Like an Avatar CGI creation.

    And as for Mutti, just brilliant. Does she rip through the cryptic crossword too?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have you ever bumped into a lyrebird, seeing as you have habitats in common? Their talent really does boggle the mind…as does the coloration of the pheasant. Along the lines of your Avatar CGI comment, I said to a friend that it reminded me of something the animators at Pixar would draw for their next movie! And no, Mom doesn’t do the cryptic crossword, but I do have to share a crossword story. Immediately after publishing this post yesterday afternoon, I sat down to do the crossword in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. The clue for 81 Across was “Instruments played on Mount Olympus” (lyres!) and the answer to 57 Down was “apery”. The clue? “Mimic’s activity”!! Quite something.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Of course, I loved your thoughts,- which reminds me of another NG issue I wanted to share with you. See you tomorrow!

    Liked by 1 person

  • When your mom and I started working together, she would bring me concert programs, and I thought, ah, one professional to another, I should start bringing programs to her. Then I realized, oh, I’ve never been to a concert she wasn’t at!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember you telling me this once, Steve! 🙂 Yes, it’s sometimes hard to keep pace, even though I’m nearly 30 years younger than she…


  • I remember very well how you used to read whatever was at hand, like cereal boxes. You said, “My mother said, “‘Never lose your curiosity!'”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love this! Cereal boxes, jars of mustard. Yup, it was all fair game! Thanks for the memory, Melanie. 🙂


  • Thank you, Jeanne! And, please, pass my thanks to your mother! I have been learning so much from both of you! And thank you for reminding me that there is still so much beauty in the world… Also, please pass to your mother my belated congratulations for her Birthday!!!🍷🎂🎶

    Liked by 1 person

  • That lyrebird at the end- what a wild feather portion he has- nice imitations, too

    Love the nice words of your mom and will show my mom them since I feel the same about my mom – let’s hope you and I are as engaged in life at 85!

    Liked by 1 person

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