Category Archives: New Published Story

Northwestern Crows Published

2015-7-Northwestern-Crow

This was published last month in 48 North magazine for my monthly contribution. We have a pair of these guys nesting in our woods, so it seems appropriate.

Here’s the story: And just why is this guy doing a crow page in a sailing magazine? Because they’re not just crows, a common bird that everyone knows, but a Northwestern crow. Yes, we have our own crow species! Looks exactly the same but smaller, ‘KAWWW’ sounds the same but deeper and hoarser voiced. If you’re on or around salt water in the Salish Sea and north all the way to Alaska, likely the all-black beach bird you’re looking at is a Northwestern crow. Problem is, you can’t be sure because in urban areas they now mingle, mix and interbred – but once you get to the Olympic Peninsula, you can be fairly confident you’re seeing one of these guys.crow-feather

By far, the best trait you can look for are their clamming skills. Browsing the shoreline wrack for anything edible, they’ll often pick up a live cockle or clam, fly straight up to about 30 feet, change course to level off – and drop the shell to the rocks below. Most of the time the shell breaks on the first try and down they go for lunch. Evidently they level off to see where the shell lands so they can grab it before a gull does. Normal American crows don’t seem to do this, just Northwestern crows. On some beaches, I’d have to say that of birds on the beaches, there may be more Northwestern crows than gulls.

Thanks for reading this week.
Larry Eifert

Here’s the blog on the web.  And here’s my Facebook fan page. I post lots of other stuff there.

Click here to go to our main website – with jigsaw puzzles, prints, interpretive portfolios and lots of other stuff.

Nancy’s web portfolio of beautiful photographs

And Click here to go to Virginia Eifert’s website. Her books are now becoming available as Amazon Kindle books.

Anemones – A 48 North published story

2015-2-Fish-Anemones

This was my 48 North magazine story recently. Below is the text that went with this ‘sketchbook’ image. Almost forgot to post it! Too much art coming out of here.

Like a scene straight out of ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ the brilliant red and yellow flower unfolds, over 100 petals waving in the current, a strawberry red delight for a passing perch to nibble on. A young perch moves closer, then closer still, and suddenly receives a stunning jolt that renders it useless. Through the haze, the fish vaguely sees those beautiful petals reach out and pull it towards the flower’s center, where once a flat pad was, now a mouth opens. A delight it’s not, but a splendid sea-predator whose tentacles first sting small fish, shrimp and even crabs, and then entirely consumes them in one slow-motion swallow. Fish go in tail first, and they can turn a crab around so claws are facing away before proceeding.

 

It gets better. The fish-eating anemone can switch between being male and female – and may live to be 100-plus years of age. Sure they look like beautiful flowers, are related to coral and jellyfishes, but at 10 inches across, these hunters are some of the Salish Sea’s largest anemones. But everyone has a softer side, and the fish-eating anemone may also play host to small fish, allowing six-inch painted greenlings a safe harbor. Leaving the protection of the anemone by day, at night the greenling sleeps without harm right over the anemone’s mouth on the central oral disc. The fish are safe here because anemones use their tentacles for defense against predators like sea stars or snails.

 

Thanks for reading this week. Send this to someone who might appreciate what I’m painting and tell them to sign up. I’m trying to expand my list. An email will work.
Larry Eifert

Here’s the blog on the web.And here’s my Facebook fan page. I post lots of other stuff there.

Click here to go to our main website – with jigsaw puzzles, prints, interpretive portfolios and lots of other stuff.

Nancy’s web portfolio of beautiful photographs

And Click here to go to Virginia Eifert’s website. Her books are now becoming available as Amazon Kindle books.

A Nice Published Collaboration with Nancy

2015-1-Lady-Washington

Click on the image – it gets a lot bigger.

I’m now teaming up with Nancy and her photography for a new 48 North magazine story page. This is the Seattle sailing magazine I write for with my own work, but now we’ve turned it into a bit of a game with her fine photography and a second page. She tosses me a photo, I make up the rest – weave a tale about wooden boats,  their history, legacy and how they work. For those who know, I have a very long history of sailing old wooden boats – built one when I was 12, sailed to Alaska and later Mexico, pounded more caulk and spread more varnish than I care to think about.

 

 

This is the first issue for January 2015. And here’s the text:


Lots of boaty stuff was, and still is, not just learned from a book, or Google, or even at school. For centuries, boats were built by guys who knew what worked and passed it down to the next shipwright. It seems a lost art, but it’s not, and this page is an attempt to toss out some wooden boat knowledge about our Northwest sailing heritage. So, here’s a bit of what you might need to know beyond the names of the two dinky sails most of us have. Lady Washington, launched in 1989 and home ported in Aberdeen, Washington, is Washington State’s official tall ship. For most small-boat sailors, her rigging looks like a rat’s nest of tangles, her sails a white laundry line, but nothing is there that is without a purpose – every line, sail and stick evolved because it worked – and made the ship go.

 

Take those six sails in the photo. Most are named for what they’re attached to. From bow to stern, the Fore Topmast Staysail (that little jib in the bow) is named because it’s attached to the forward topmast. Staysails are really jibs and help the ship tack up into the wind. Easy? The foremast also has a Top Gallant Sail flying on top (makes sense) then a Top Sail below that. Not flying in the photo, the bottom sail is the Fore Main (like your boat). All these sails are made small enough to handle individually in a blow, and each can be set to fit current conditions which is why there are so many of them. They’re good sails for downwind sailing, but not for tacking upwind. So let’s try the main mast: oh, same thing, it’s the Main Top Gallant Sail on top, then the Main Top Sail below and Main Sail on the bottom. Finally, she has her Main Sail up on the stern, probably just like your boat, except it has four corners instead of three – which makes it about a third bigger. This helps balance the boat against the downwind tug of that Fore Staysail. That’s it for now, and don’t worry, there won’t be a test!

 


 

 

Photography by Nancy Cherry Eifert – text by Larry Eifert. See more at nancycherryeifert.com

Larry Eifert

Thanks for reading this week. Send this to someone who might appreciate what I’m painting and tell them to sign up. I’m trying to expand my list. An email will work.

Here’s the blog on the web.And here’s my Facebook fan page. I post lots of other stuff there.

Click here to go to our main website – with jigsaw puzzles, prints, interpretive portfolios and lots of other stuff.

Nancy’s web portfolio of beautiful photographs

And Click here to go to Virginia Eifert’s website. Her books are now becoming available as Amazon Kindle books.

Oystercatchers – Published January 2015

2015-1-Oystercatchers

Here is my 48 North story for January, 2015 – saw a pair of these guys along the beach in town, so, art copies life. And here’s the text that went with it. 

With orange eye, darker eye-ring and astonishing red-orange bill, black oystercatchers might be described as a bird in a Halloween outfit. And then there are those fleshy legs and feet. When we recently saw two on beach rocks, we both stopped and said the same thing: whowee! There are around 400 oystercatchers in the Puget Sound area, and they tend to nest on grassy beaches without trees nearby (think predators overhead). Oystercatchers don’t migrate, but in winter might form loose flocks. It’s reported that all the San Juan oystercatchers get together in a sort of winter confab. Listen for their loud, piercing whistle, which to me implies wild rocky coasts like no other sound.

 

If you notice that orange bill, it’s not just long, but strangely-shaped like a sideways chisel. It begins as a triangle at the skull, but immediately slims down to a vertical pry bar all the way out to the blunt tip.  Why? Because these birds make their living prying shells off rocks. With one stab of that bill on a partially-open shell’s adductor muscle, it’s toast, and with the mussel open the oystercatcher can pull out the contents – dinner on the half-shell. This is often accomplished in the wave zone because wet mussels are already open a tad to filter water. I’ve watched oystercatchers working limpet beds with a quick: pry off and stab, pry and stab – gulp, gulp. Pure proficiency.

 

Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.


 

Thanks for reading this week. Send this to someone who might appreciate what I’m painting and tell them to sign up. I’m trying to expand my list. An email will work.
Larry Eifert

Here’s the blog on the web.And here’s my Facebook fan page. I post lots of other stuff there.

Click here to go to our main website – with jigsaw puzzles, prints, interpretive portfolios and lots of other stuff.

Nancy’s web portfolio of beautiful photographs

And Click here to go to Virginia Eifert’s website. Her books are now becoming available as Amazon Kindle books.

My Monthly Story for 48 North Magazine

 

ArtistsViewOct14

Click on the image to enlarge it in your browser. There might be a test later about Murres.

Dang, too much stuff to post. With all these small acrylic paintings flying about, I’ve been forgetting to post my monthly page in 48 North magazine. This one was about Common Murres, and in fall I see these birds often when I’m sailing in Port Townsend Bay, and, as usual, I simply painted and wrote about what’s happening in my life. Bear with me – it may be a couple of months old, but still some fun writing and illustrations. These pages are  pencil and acrylic illustrations – fun and fast for me, and hopefully loose and tight at the same time.

Thanks for reading this week.

Larry Eifert

Here’s the blog on the web.  And here’s my Facebook fan page. I post lots of other stuff there.

Click here to go to our main website – with jigsaw puzzles, prints, interpretive portfolios and lots of other stuff.

Nancy’s web portfolio of beautiful photographs

And Click here to go to Virginia Eifert’s website. Her books are now becoming available as Amazon Kindle books.

Anna’s Hummingbirds and the December Deep Freeze

Eifert_Annas_Hummer

This is an older painting of mine, and the rhododendrons certainly in bloom, but I felt compelled to write about this week’s freeze and the little birds in our meadow.

From coast to coast, I know we’ve all had amazing weather this past week. The southern storms drove a giant blast of Canadian air down and west over the Cascades, and here we’ve had record lows for a week. Temps haven’t gotten out of the twenties, with nights down into the lower teens, weather we just don’t ever get in Puget Sound. None of us have clothes for this stuff. And while we’ve all been suffering, that can’t be anything compared to what our two wintering-over Anna’s hummingbirds must be experiencing. For all my decades around the Northwest, I’ve never seen hummers here in winter, but last year we had one stay all season, and we’ve heard we’re not alone with this. We put out a feeder when we spotted him, but it wasn’t because of the sugar water that he was here, because we put it out AFTER we spotted him. This year we have an adult and a juvie, and we were ready with a feeder (and a 150w flood lamp on it 24 hours a day after the freeze hit). So far it’s working.

I wrote about hummers a few years ago, and learned that they have ways to cope with this cold stuff. They have normal body temps of about 105-108F, with a sitting heart rate of about 250 beats per minute. However, at night they sleep normally, or, they can go into a turbid state where they actually drop their body temp to between 30 and 65 degrees (depending on need), and drop their metabolic rate to one-fifteenth of normal. In this way, they can maybe make it through a very long night of 15 degrees.

Before nightfall, they make one extra smart move. They find and remember where breakfast is going to be. Then, in the morning it takes upwards of an hour to fully wake up before flying. This requires a huge energy drain on this thumb-sized bird, and if that feeder is frozen when it gets to it, the bird is in big trouble (like a car on empty that gets to the gas station and the pumps are locked).

Temperatures are warming up now, but we’ve felt a great privilege to keep tabs on these two intrepid birds this week. Snow and hummingbirds just don’t go together, but if this is a sign of Climate Change, I’m happy with it.

Thanks for reading this week.
Larry Eifert

Click here to go to our main website – packed with jigsaw puzzles, prints and other stuff. We’re still shipping Christmas puzzles.

Click here to check out what Nancy’s currently doing with her photography.

Or, send us an email to opt in or out of our emailings – or just ‘talk’ with us.

Comments are good. Every little bit helps me understand how to be a better painter.

Herring Balls

48 N September 09

Cover art and story – 48 North Magazine, September 2009. (48 North is the premier sailing magazine for the Pacific Northwest) This month features my painting of our little sloop, Sea Witch, sailing by downtown Port Townsend. They also featured my short story about herring balls.
Sorry if this is a long entry, but the story’s a good one and I’ve shortened it abit.

Sea-Witch-Herring-Ball
Fish Balls
by Larry Eifert

An amazingly nice afternoon! Get the sail covers off Sea Witch. Back her out. Head down the channel and out into Port Townsend Bay. Then, get the sails up, sheet’r home. And away we went to the north out into Admiralty Inlet, watching the freighters and navy ships tooing and frowing. A warm northwesterly wind was gently spilling out from the hills of Port Townsend and into the bay. It was tee-shit weather.

We hadn’t made it to the Mid Channel Bank when ahead we could see a great mass of moving birds. Actually, there were several masses of birds, all wheeling and spinning, diving and making a ruckus. “Herring balls” we both said at the same time as we nodded in unison. The birds were going crazy. About fifty glaucous-winged gulls were in each group, and more flying in as fast as they could from other areas nearby. Cormorants, rhino auklets, a few pigeon guillemots and even a bunch of mergansers were all bobbing about, diving, grabbing at others nearby and generally making a “happening” as I use to say 40 years ago. The gulls couldn’t dive very deeply, being very buoyant-birds, so they just gave it their best, plunging from about five feet into the water and grabbing at nothing. “Mine, mine, mine, mine!” they all yelled continuously. It was a riot, and as we approached, none of the birds seemed to care we were there. Then a slow, huge and powerful swirl of water nearby showed something else was going on below the surface. Unseen until now, a sea lion was there as well, circling up from below to concentrate the herring ball close to the surface. A 650 lb, 8 foot-long sea lion can make an impression on everyone, including tiny fish. It was intense – and this was just one of about six riots of wildlife within our view.
Pacific-Herring
Well, I knew what was going on, but maybe you don’t, so here’s what these big events were all about.

Pacific herring are little fish, and if you’re a little fish, you can gain odds for prolonging your life if you stick together. A bunch of little fish can become a very big fishy thing if you hang out together – think teenagers hanging out! One teenager – no big deal, but a half a million of them and you get Woodstock. That’s the herring teenager’s idea too, but there are lots of bigger critters out there trying to dine on them. There’s not a moment’s peace. And while sticking together can increase your odds of individual survival, it also announces to everyone where you’re hanging out.

Most Puget Sound herring spawn from late January to early April, depositing transparent sticky eggs on eelgrass and marine algae in shallow water, mostly in quiet bays and estuaries. Each female deposits between 20,000 and 40,000 eggs a year, and it’s these sheer numbers that insure the herring’s survival. These sticky eggs cling to eelgrass stems, and, after about 14 days, hatch into small transparent larvae about a half-inch long. The little critters are at the mercy of currents as they drift about, but the larvae that survive grow until after 3 months when they are about 1½” long, when they metamorphose into adult fish, eventually growing to become six to nine inches long. Think sardines in that square little can, but bigger. Most of us know Pacific herring from bait shop freezers, where we see them lined up in blue Styrofoam trays.

On the second or third year, herring normally return to their original spawning grounds. Unlike salmon, spawners don’t normally die but continue to spawn in successive years, although most don’t make it past five years of age. A few may live to the ripe old age of fifteen. However, it’s been estimated that, for every 10,000 herring eggs, ONE adult will live long enough to return to spawn, such is the level of predation on these little fish. In Puget Sound, we, as the dominate prey species, have decided that spawning herring make up 18 different “management stocks” (because we, as herders of the world’s critters need to count all this stuff so we know how much to “take”). In the past, herring have been caught for food, then caught and ground up for oil and pet food. Some of the eggs are used (in Canada) as high-end gourmet food for Asian markets. The reality of it is that the many seabirds, marine mammals and larger fish species have a greater need and eat these important little fish to help them survive. Fewer orcas these days? Well, it might be that a bunch of us dropped our anchors in those wonderfully quiet back bays where eel grass beds live, our 45lb Danforths tearing up the bay’s bottom and depriving herring of good quality habitat for them to lay their eggs. Or, more likely, shoreline trophy home owners have altered the spawning grounds off their front yards by adding elaborate stone walls and lawns that use chemicals that then run off into the nearby waters – killing the ecosystem they spent zillions of dollars to live next to. Fewer herring means less food for salmon, an important food for orcas. Fewer herring also means less food for orcas, too, which catch them the same way seals do. In Puget Sound, 60-70% of the herring are eaten by larger critters each year, and the numbers of herring is decreasing each year. Get the picture?

We watched the herring action for awhile longer as we sailed past, then headed over to the next ball of birds and fish. Out of that cloud of wheeling and screaming gulls, a lone rhinoceros auklet flew by at top speed holding a 3” flapping herring in its bill. You could almost imagine the bird’s thoughts of “I got mine, now I’m getting out of this party as fast as my little black wings can carry me.”
Rhino-Auklet
Well, so what? So what’s the big deal with watching a bunch of birds? To me, it’s a matter of the quality of life. Sure it was a pleasant day for a sail. The scenery was beautiful, the company wonderful, the experience memorable – but experiencing the herring balls made it much more. We had watched nature at a very close range, beyond the beach and parking lots, beyond the signs that say: Wildlife Viewing Area. Out here on the waters of Puget Sound, a daysail can turn into a real experience if you just look for it. Many sailors might have just sailed by, maybe only worried their sails might get a dab of bird doo on them. Some wouldn’t have even noticed, for it seems that many of us have diminished attentions these days to the natural world around us. We spend most of our lives chained indoors, watching nature on monitors or TVs, watching movies about penguin marches or watching others do what we once took for granted we’d do ourselves which is to seek outdoor experiences. Well, I’m telling you those experiences are still there, still waiting for us, and still exciting to see when we let them into our lives. I’d like to think that, with a good-old recession now altering our grandiose lifestyles a bit, we may begin to think about returning to the old ways of enjoying ourselves. Get outside, get in a boat, get your eyes open again and see a few things. You might find you like yourself more for these experiences.

If you want more of this stuff, you can click here to go to our index page of more published stories.

Check out 48-North magazine completely online.

Link here to the same story on our website, larryeifert.com.

If you’d like to see why I write about this ol’ boat of ours, here’s more about Sea Witch.

Or, send us an email to opt in or out of our email family – or just ‘talk’ with us.

Kingfishers

This story is in 48-North this month, the best sailing magazine in the Northwest. I thought everyone might enjoy it. I tend to write and illustrate short stories much like my mom did – must be some genetic-thing repeating itself after 50 years. Once you’ve read the story, click the link below to find out a bit more about this interesting woman. (We’re still working on the content,) Virginia’s site.
Catch-of-the-Day
An Ancient and Respected Art
Story and illustrations by Larry Eifert

Varnish Day! Sounds like something important, like Election Day, but that’s just the day I’d picked for an afternoon bout of keepin’ the ol’ boat goin’. Old wooden boats are not unlike a good partner in life; they need attention occasionally. I kept a careful log last year and it worked out that the dreaded m-word (maintenance) was in play about 12% of the total time I spent aboard Sea Witch. Not that I mind it in the least, because it’s always a pure joy to make something of quality shiny again.

So, there I was. The block sander had made its rounds; the vacuum had cleaned up the mess, followed by the tack rag. I was ready to uncork the can of varnish that, since the Bush Years, had become a little tin of liquid gold when overhead I heard that unmistakable chattering sound. “Yack, yack, yack, yack” – my lady-friend the slate-blue kingfisher. This noisy little bird had spent the winter here in the marina, dodging rigging during her flights up and down the fairways, fishing along with those flashy hooded mergansers that also spent time here fishing. I’d grown accustomed to her, a little flash of gray, white and chestnut that often landed on the upper spreaders of Sea Witch to eat her fishy meal. Yah, there was occasionally a bit of a mess on the desk, but to me this bird represented ‘the quality of life” and fish parts were a small penalty. The varnishing could wait a few minutes. Watching a kingfisher at close range was better.

I sat back and studied her. I knew this one was a female. In most bird species, the male is the most colorful – fitting clothes for the obviously less intelligent of the genders, but kingfishers are reversed. Both have complex grayish-blue and white patterns, but the female has a reddish-chestnut band across the stomach.
Bad-hair-day
Belted Kingfishers are around the waters of western Washington and coastal B.C. year-round. During breeding season in spring they can get very vocal and spend their time defending local fishing territories against others of their kind. About a foot long, they have evolved a very specialized set of tools suited for their lifestyle. Their method of making a living is simple. They sit on a perch overhanging water, like a tree branch, piling or boat rigging, and when their fantastic eyesight spots a tiny three-inch fish below the water’s surface – they go for it like a rocket. A terrific plunge at lightning speed either spears the quarry or the bird manages to grab the fish in its bill. Another variation is to stop in passing flight, hover for a moment and then take the high dive. Once the fish is captured, the fisher-king finds a perch where it beats the heck out of the fish until it’s subdued, followed by rearranging it so it can be swallowed whole – gills, scales and fins pointing aft. When fish aren’t available, frogs and aquatic insects are second choice on the menu, but it’s the fish that give this skillful bird its name (afterall, they’re not the frogfisher or insectfisher).
Kingfisher-diving-off-sprea
In the 1936 book, Birds of America, George Gladden wrote: “This is one of the pronounced and picturesque personalities of the feathered world – a handsome, sturdy and self-reliant bird who makes his living by the persistent, skillful and largely harmless practice of an ancient and respected art. [Fishing!] What wonderful eyesight he must have. From a fluttering halt in his flight ten or fifteen feet above the surface of the water he makes his plunge, like a blue meteor, or not infrequently from a perch fifty feet or more from the water, striking it with an impact that, one would think, would completely knock the wind out of him. It is as graceful and daring a ‘high dive’ as is to be seen anywhere”.

The bill: an amazingly long and oversized appendage with a slight crook in the upper mandible, evolved so added pressure can be applied like a meat sheers or pliers. The overly-large head (like a doll) fits the bill but seemingly not the rest of the body. Feet: so small they look ludicrous. Evidently kingfishers can barely walk – but then they don’t really need to. Perching is what they’re all about, so they only need feet to grab the branch. After fifty years of watching kingfishers, I don’t ever remember seeing one walk, but they do walk. Kingfishers nest in holes in waterside banks, like so many eroded shoreline cliffs we have around the Northwest. They dig an upwards sloping tunnel sometimes eight feet deep into these sandy banks and then widen the far end for the nesting chamber. You can tell kingfisher nest holes by the “W” shaped entry. As they land, both feet scrape a slight trench on the bottom of the landing strip, and then they walk up the tunnel in total darkness to the nest. Inside, five to seven nestlings wait expectantly for their parent’s return – and a regurgitated meal. After three weeks, the fledglings work their way to the tunnel entrance and their first flight – sometimes from a hole 30 feet up on a cliff. Remember, in the confining tunnel there’s no fluttering around learning to fly for a kingfisher, and also remember, they’ve been in that black hole for weeks and not watching their parents avian skills. They simply jump and hopefully ancient instincts help them get it right during the first second.
Caught-a-fish-and-taking-of
How beloved are these birds? Well, Canada has paper money with former Prime Ministers, the Queen, and – a five dollar bill with a kingfisher. It’s even kingfisher-blue. And the varnishing? It appeared the day was over!

You can go to our index page of more published stories.

Link here to the same story on our website, larryeifert.com.

If you’d like to see why I write about our ol’ boat, here’s more about Sea Witch.

Or, send us an email to opt in or out of our email family – or just ‘talk’ with us.
Thanks for reading. Our mailing list is increasing, so if you know of anyone else who might like this, send us their address.
Larry

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