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Thirteen miles off the coast of Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay lies a teardrop-shaped natural wonder: Block Island. In the fall, the island becomes a place of refuge for countless numbers of migrating songbirds and raptors that stop here to rest and refuel before continuing their journeys to distant southern latitudes. 

For one week in October, the island became a creative refuge for those who would give voice to their inspirations...

Science Inspires Art

Science Inspires Art

The Science Inspires the Art; the Artist Gives Voice to the Science

Photographers, artists, and writers gathered on Block Island to bring experience to their art through observations and lessons in raptor, songbird, and wetland ecology. The participants of this creative retreat all understood the idea expressed by Ansel Adams (considered to be the world's first conservation photographer) in his book Letters and Images: “I believe the approach of the artist and the approach of the environmentalist are fairly close in that both are, to a rather impressive degree, concerned with the affirmation of life. Response to natural beauty is one of the foundations of the environmental movement.”

Creative Instructors:

 

Creative Collaborations

Clockwise from top left: Diandra Verbeyst of The Nature Conservancy gives a lesson on saltmarsh ecology; Kim Gaffet (far right), director of the Ocean View Foundation, instructs at the bird banding station; BRI's raptor program director Chris DeSorbo (right) and raptor specialist Rick Gray place a hood on a Peregrine Falcon; Art instructor Adelaide Tyrol gives pointers to retreat participants.
Clockwise from top left: Diandra Verbeyst of The Nature Conservancy gives a lesson on saltmarsh ecology; Kim Gaffet (far right), director of the Ocean View Foundation, instructs at the bird banding station; BRI's raptor program director Chris DeSorbo (right) and raptor specialist Rick Gray place a hood on a Peregrine Falcon; Art instructor Adelaide Tyrol gives pointers to retreat participants.
 

Raptor Research Captivates Retreaters

Retreat participants observe BRI biologists in action as they take a blood sample from a Peregrine Falcon. With help from The Nature Conservancy, BRI established a raptor research station on Block Island starting in 2012. Studies have focused on documenting the migratory pathways of southbound Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and Northern Harriers using tracking technologies and evaluating contaminant exposure in migrating raptors.
Retreat participants observe BRI biologists in action as they take a blood sample from a Peregrine Falcon. With help from The Nature Conservancy, BRI established a raptor research station on Block Island starting in 2012. Studies have focused on documenting the migratory pathways of southbound Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and Northern Harriers using tracking technologies and evaluating contaminant exposure in migrating raptors.
Clockwise from top left: Linda Mirabile about to release a Merlin; Newly banded Peregrine Falcon; Biologist Rick Gray explaining how they determine a Merlin's age; Measuring beak size; A rare capture of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Clockwise from top left: Linda Mirabile about to release a Merlin; Newly banded Peregrine Falcon; Biologist Rick Gray explaining how they determine a Merlin's age; Measuring beak size; A rare capture of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
 

Songbird Inspirations

From left clockwise: A page from Adelaide Tyrol's sketchbook; Photography instructor Kim Manley Ort; Participant Carol Albers releases a bird; Sue Parmenter's sketch of a Catbird; Golden Crowned Kinglet in hand.
From left clockwise: A page from Adelaide Tyrol's sketchbook; Photography instructor Kim Manley Ort; Participant Carol Albers releases a bird; Sue Parmenter's sketch of a Catbird; Golden Crowned Kinglet in hand.
 

Poetic Featherings

Retreaters were asked to pause and absorb the natural environment around them before picking up camera or pen. Susan Parmenter, a New Hampshire artist and environmental activist, shares the results of her assignment.
Retreaters were asked to pause and absorb the natural environment around them before picking up camera or pen. Susan Parmenter, a New Hampshire artist and environmental activist, shares the results of her assignment.
Linking Scientists and Artists

Linking Scientists and Artists

The Scientist
by John O'Hagan (at left), Retreat Participant

I heard a scientist so teach
We crawled from slime onto the beach,
Our home the grey-green sea:
But not content to stay that way,
We let Darwin have his say,
Reborn anew as chimpanzees.

On this the scientist holds fast:
It's back to dust in the great at last;
No trumpet will be heard.
But we look up forever higher
In our absurd ingrained desire
To fly as if a bird.

A Refuge for Birds and Writers

A Refuge for Birds and Writers

Grasping at Block Island
by Sally Lucy Wright

We startle each other. Her cottony tail twitches staccato. She is fat and full of summer and gone in an instant springing on long legs into the bayberry stand. My heart races worrying I don’t have my camera ready but then I settle in to the thrill of “a moment.” Lessons from yesterday wash over me; to learn to see, to observe, and to remember.

Around the bend, the towering clay bluffs I have been in search of finally appear. They are a slice of carrot cake laid bare on the plate, ingredients playing out for me in the early obtuse light. Knubbly walnuts of scree and striations of cinnamon and allspice welcoming the birth of a new day. The cold Atlantic crashes up its creamy froth, allowing me to wash the experience down in a great gulp of gratitude.

Read Sally's full blog here.

 

Block Island Moments

Throughout the week, participants roamed the island and captured moments that touched their creative spirits.
Throughout the week, participants roamed the island and captured moments that touched their creative spirits.
Retreat Partners

Retreat Partners

We would like to thank Scott Comings, Diandra Verbeyst, and Kim Gaffet for their participation in this retreat and to their dedication to conservation efforts on Block Island. We would also like to thank Keith and Kay Lewis, long-time Block Island conservationists and friends of BRI, for sharing their love and knowledge of the island with us.

 

A very special thank you to Chris DeSorbo, Rick Gray, and BRI's entire raptor crew (Chris Persico, Lauren Gilpatrick, Kevin Regan, and Al Hinde). They are the unsung heroes of this project!

To learn more about BRI’s Raptor Research on Block Island, click here.

CREATIVE PRESENTATION

On the final evening of our retreat week, participants presented their creative work. View the video presentation here. 

 

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Photo Credits: Header - Sunrise on Block Island by Ann Davidsen. Flower sketch by Norah Oulahen. Creative Collaborators: Saltmarsh instruction by Ann Davidsen; Songbird instruction by Kim Manley Ort; Art instruction by Deb McKew; Raptor biologists by Ann Davidsen. Raptor Research: Research station by Deb McKew; Linda releasing Merlin by Deb McKew; Peregring Falcon in hand by Carol Albers; Merlin in hand by Susan Parmenter; Measuring beak by Susan Parmenter; Sharp-shinned Hawk in hand by Tony Oppersdorf. Songbird Inspirations: Sketch by Adelaide Tyrol; Kim holding a songbird by Viviana Sapir; Carol releasing a songbird by Kim Manley Ort; Catbird sketch by Susan Parmenter; Golden Crowned Kinglet by Linda Mirabile. John O'Hagan on Block Island by Susan Cember. Rufous-sided Towhee in hand by Susan Parmenter. Block Island Moments clockwise from top left: Stonescape by Viviana Sapir; Reflections by Kate Taylor; Color palette sketch by Norah Oulahen; Bicycles by Molly Taylor; Seaside architecture by John O'Hagan. All rights reserved.
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