Salvaged birding season

worm-eating warbler from about 2010

For longer than we can remember Marie Pelletier & I have wandered around & around Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts each May hoping to see migrating songbirds. As we were walking there this month, we pointed to a hillside and said “that’s where we saw the worm-eating…” (worm-eating warbler Helmitheros vermivorum) – I looked up this photo I shot and it was 12 years ago! And we still look there for the worm-eating…missed it this year. 

Usually we see lots of the migrating & nesting birds there – this spring was not usual. Cold northeast winds – the exact opposite of what brings the birds up here, blew for 2 straight weeks. Other weather worked against us and just plain dumb luck kicked in as well. It doesn’t really matter, a bad morning birding is still better than [fill in the blank].

Wompatuck is a big patch of woods for heavily-developed southeastern Massachusetts. Over 3,500 acres. For over 20 years it was a Naval Ammunition Depot – was decommissioned in the mid-1960s and has been a state park for many years now. I first went there in the mid-1970s, riding bikes and engaged in other general mayhem. For several years I had a woodworking shop in Hingham that backed up to the park. I used to cut through a hole in the fence and walk there at lunchtime.  (sounds like it’s over 4,000 acres now) 

It’s a great place for thrushes, towhees and ovenbirds. In May you’re guaranteed to hear them everywhere, and often you get to see them. Photographing them is another story – they all like to stay in the shady parts. We snapped some shots of the wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)

wood thrush

 And ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) – one of my favorites.


We have heard hundreds & hundreds of ovenbirds there – and seen quite a few as well. One thing we’ve always wanted to see was one building their nest that lends them their name. Never seen it. Closest we came was this one gathering nest material. 

ovenbird 2019

Today’s birding made up for our previous outings this season. Not in numbers, but in a close-up view of this blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) building a nest.

blue-winged warbler

Blue-wingeds are not as numerous in the park as the ovenbirds, so we were pretty excited to stumble onto 2 of them flitting about. Then we noticed one had bark in its bill. As we zeroed in on it, she dropped down into some grass near the edge of the path & vanished. Popped out a bit later and went back to pulling grapevine bark and other fibers. So that’s how we learned that the blue-winged warbler is a ground-nester like the ovenbird. We stayed for a long time – she didn’t seem to care. At one point she flew between Marie’s legs! So here’s a bunch of shots that made our day – back to woodworking next time.

blue-winged warbler stripping grapevine bark

at one point very suddenly she cocked her tail up in the air – well, that’s a sign if one knows how to read it.

Then we saw the male show up – they’re both very impressive – his tail is fanned, hers is cocked. They flew around like crazy for a little while, then she went back to building the nest. He stuck around a little bit then was gone…

female above male below

here’s a link to Cornell’s site – a great place to learn more about birds

brief overview of a hickory bark seat

hickory bark

A week ago I was still wearing wool sweaters. Yesterday shorts & a t-shirt. Warm weather is perfect for weaving a hickory bark seat. It’s one of my favorite parts of making the Jennie Alexander-style chairs.

Last year I peeled a few hickory trees with Brendan Gaffney. We got a lot of bark in just 2 days of work, but to do so we took it off the tree pretty thick.

peeling hickory

I like to do it that way because I want to then split the bark in half before weaving with it. Thin bark makes a better seat than thicker bark – in my opinion. The photo up top shows two coils – on the right is the bark as we took it off the tree. The one on the left I just split in half lengthwise. Both are between 25′ and 30′ long.

Splitting it is a fine art – but it yields fabulous bark. I weave the seat with the inside half. So the inner bark of the inner bark. I score across it half-way with a knife, then peel the two halves apart. You have to watch carefully – it can run out like splitting wood with a froe. It’s slow-going but worth the time spent. Not all hickory bark will divide this way. If it won’t split, you can shave it down thinner with a spoke shave. That’s slower still…

splitting bark in half

Then weaving it is a walk in the park.

weaving is the easy part

This is yesterday’s seat. Now it needs to dry, at which point the strips shrink in width. Then I pack the strips closer together and add a few filler strips. The thing I like best about hickory bark seats is that they look great the minute you finish them, then they continue to improve as you use them.

nearly done

Last fall I shot a video of how I work a hickory bark seat. It’s long but covers splitting the bark & weaving the seat.

next video posted & a note from Drew

A couple of things. First is the next installment in the Joined Chest series on vimeo on demand is ready. It’s about some scratch-stock molding, then cutting mortise & tenon joints and plowing the panel grooves. Starting to look like chest parts now.

The next part is a note from Drew Langsner –

L-R Drew Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Louise Langsner, PF

back in August 2020 I posted a note about Drew’s medical scene at the time – well the good news is he’s recovered and was catching up on some old internet-reading recently. He didn’t see all the well-wishes that came his way at the time. So here’s what he wrote:

“Hi Peter-

Messing around with iPad I stumbled on your post of appreciation and hopes for recovery. And then came across all of the good wishes from so many friends. I wish I had seen and thanked everybody. Maybe it can still happen…

Thanks for the good thoughts and wishes! I’m doing well enough; and trying to do better. Taking care of our 100 acres is consuming much time and effort, But it’s where we want to be. My art project  has become a series of sculptures — This is Not a Chair. From old chairs that are hand made and the Habitat ReStore. Still shaving kindling  with a drawknife. This time of year -early May – I try for some small boat sailing once a week. With Covid lingering, climate change, and  age, I’m reluctant to get into an aluminum tube so the travel kit is in the attic. It was great working with Lost Art Press on the new Country Woodcraft: Then and Now. Come by for a visit If you’re in western North Carolina.

Here’s a couple of Drew’s sculptures from the “This is Not a Chair” series:

oak, from a post & rung rocker
Elm, cherry, oak from a rustic windsor

More about Drew here –

And the re-done book here

some joinery, some birds

chest parts cut

I’ve been working on the chest-video series lately. I haven’t made a chest in a couple of years so this is a lot of fun to do again. The past few days I’ve been catching up on the joinery – the video footage is shot but I had more joints to cut before I can shoot the next steps.

chopping mortises

I probably spent most of 2 days shooting various angles on mortising so once that was done it seemed easy to just go in and cut mortises. But as soon as I thought how nice it was to work without the camera, I realized I could use some still shots. So back to the tripod and camera angles, etc. But it was still fun and much easier to shoot stills than video. What I blather about doesn’t matter in still photos.

plowing panel grooves

Now I’ve got the whole front frame (and much of the two side frames) cut. Time to finish the videos on the front framing and then I go on to the front panels. Those I’ve never carved on video before. They’re in the book Joiner’s Work but this will give me a chance to delve more deeply into that pattern.

carving the panels

The only other thing is that it’s May. Bird migration has begun for real here in New England. I’ve made a few short trips with our friend Marie to see what’s coming in. Yesterday’s haul included this wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) He was hard enough to find and I couldn’t get him in any good light. His song is one of the wonders of spring in the woods.

wood thrush

And whenever we hear thrushes in the woods, we know we’ll also hear and hopefully see, ovenbirds and towhees. This ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) looked me right in the eye (in the lens, I guess)


The eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) were all throughout the woods, as were the ovenbirds. Each spring lately I get what I call the “one-day towhee” here at the shop.

one day towhee

Our yard is not the right habitat for them, not enough woods. But last week, one came out from under the holly tree, as it does each year, for one day. Back & forth, scratching in the leaves and junk. Gone the next day.

And the Baltimore orioles (Icterus galbula) are everywhere. Including outside my shop window. And that means yet another camera in the shop, so I can be ready. Binoculars too for the far-away birds.

Baltimore oriole