Twenty-three sparrows

The white-throated sparrow, just one of the many sparrow variations in Michigan.

By Jeanne Church

I never knew we had so many different kinds of sparrows!! Before heading down this nature photography road a few years ago, I thought that the term “sparrow” referred to just one kind of bird, in the same way that the term “blue jay” refers to just one kind of bird. Apparently, that’s not the case. So, what exactly is a sparrow?

The term “sparrow” covers a wide range of relatively small, mostly drab brown birds, known collectively to avid bird watchers as “little brown jobs” or “LBJs” because they all seem to look alike and can be notoriously difficult to identify. To qualify as a sparrow, though, these little birds must share certain physical characteristics related to size, plumage, and bill shape.

Most sparrows are relatively small, from 4 to 8 inches in length. By comparison, a female rose-breasted grosbeak, which looks very similar to a house sparrow, is twice as large.

Most sparrows have brown, mottled plumage like the ubiquitous house sparrow, an adaptive little bird that has learned to live among us quite easily and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Unfortunately, house sparrows are not a native species and, once introduced in the mid-1800s, began competing with our native birds for both food and nesting sites. They are considered an invasive species.

The last characteristic shared by nearly all sparrows is their short, thick, conical-shaped bill. It’s perfect for cracking open all the seeds they so voraciously consume.

I was surprised to learn that we have 23 different sparrows here in Michigan!  It wasn’t just the numbers that surprised me, it was that the list included birds like the dark-eyed junco, the eastern towhee, and the snow bunting! Those birds don’t look anything like a typical sparrow to me!

I’ve only found and photographed about half of those 23 sparrows. Of that group, my two favorites are the white-throated sparrows and the fox sparrows. Both have unique and distinctive markings that set them apart from many of their less colorful family members.

The white-throated sparrow is a plump little bird with a long tail and a fairly small bill.  Its most distinguishing characteristic is its white bib. Interestingly enough, the white-throated sparrow comes in two color forms: a white-crowned form and a tan-crowned form. The white-crowned form has black and white stripes on its head, while the tan-crowned form has black and tan stripes. Males of both color types prefer females with the white stripes, but both kinds of females prefer males with tan stripes! Also quite interesting, I thought, is the fact that white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos occasionally mate and produce hybrids! The resulting offspring look like grayish, dully-marked white-throated sparrows but with the white outer tail feathers of a dark-eyed junco.  I would love to find one of them!

My other favorite is the fox sparrow. It isn’t nearly as flashy as the white-throated sparrow, but its rich reddish-brown feathers dappled across a white chest still make for a beautiful bird – and for a beautiful picture against a backdrop of freshly falling snow.  

To learn more about our twenty-three different Michigan sparrows, go to: https://birdwatchinghq.com/sparrows-in-michigan/

The Mill transformation captured by artists

By Kathy DeMott

The Mill: rich in history, memories, and Vicksburg’s economic driver of the past.

Its future: a community thriving with shops, music, breweries, more.

Its present: an active construction site with hard hats, building materials, noises of machines once again.

This transformation is being captured by participants in the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency. Director John Kern explains the resolve to attract high-quality artists where they can have artistic freedom to create. “These artists are capturing what is happening at the Mill currently, during the renovation. This time is equally as important to the Mill’s story.”

Artists receive a comprehensive tour of the 420,000 square feet space that includes a description of history, current construction activities and future plans. It is only when they walk the grounds and buildings that the magnitude of the size and space is realized. It is an industrial space in process, changing daily as work crews work transform it. They too are part of the story. As artists commune with the space, as they explore Vicksburg, their creative processes begin.

Being present. Experiencing. Capturing the culture of the Mill.

For collaborative duo and “media archeologists” Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder, the appeal and uniqueness of the residency is the “opportunity to pursue long term creative projects at the Mill and hopefully contribute to its visionary history in the making.” Their various site-specific interventions at the Mill are conceived as work-in-progress “sketches” for a future exhibition, tentatively titled “Footprints”, featuring filmic and sculptural objects. The installation will consist in sculptural casts made from a group of concrete machine pedestals discovered at the Mill. The original pedestals will eventually be demolished. In the meantime they are “currently on view until their demise,” according to the artists. The pedestals have been painted black in order to call attention to their “involuntary minimalist aesthetic.” A glimpse of this project can be seen in their 16mm film titled “Mill Film” via the Mill’s Youtube channel. Aside from this, Gibson and Recoder made approximately two dozen collages titled “Lee Paper Mill Color Sample Book”, created with paper that was made at the paper mill while it was in operation. These collages are now part of the residency’s permanent art collection. 

Musician and filmmaker Asante Amin appreciated the space and immersion in nature. Walking each morning in the forest and listening to the music of the stream set the tone for the day and the kind of music he created. With the withering flowers of autumn, he became focused on the transitions and transformation of plant life. Amin said, “The messages were clear, the essence of life persists but transformation and change is inevitable. This is what inspired the music I created here.”

His short film will include visuals and four songs he completed including, “The Seed”, a piece that chronicles the journey of a seed from its mother branch, to journeying on the wind to find its place in the soil; “Flow’rs Wil Gro” which uses the growth of flowers as a metaphor for the development of black life in the face of oppression and humanity in general in the face of the concrete of depression and social constriction.” Amin was joined by his creative partner, musician Chen Lo on two songs,

“Witherin’ Flowers”, which refers to the inevitable process of decay that comes with life, hope of spring, and the cycle of life;

“Free Ya Mind”, a spiritual and mental medicine, conceived originally as a meditation and affirmation.

Environmental installation artist Jeff Schofield demonstrated casting of abandoned objects in concrete, soil, and resin during an open studio. His piece entitled “Toys and Trinkets” with over 300 sculptures, mainly from discarded or found objects collected during his residency, shows a “nasty, seedy side of over-production.” The colorful, diverse items from household objects, tools, toys are beautiful and thought provoking. His art invokes playfulness, yet creates tension and conviction.

In the prairie behind the Mill, Schofield’s ephemeral artwork titled, “99 Planks”, a ring of wood 30 feet in diameter on the inside and 50 feet in the outside, evokes life cycles of growth, decay, and rebirth. As a sculptor and architect, using site-specific and event-based artworks in nature is a way to create art that invokes an emotional response while it exists. It is designed to be temporal, a unique experience in time.

For duo Gracie and Rachel (Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles), having an unstructured environment was initially a bit uncomfortable, but ultimately pushed the pair artistically. Exploring the Mill and recording the rough, smooth, raw sounds led to visceral musical moments, unexpected audio captures, and a curiosity around what exists sonically in the present moment of the space.

“We wanted the sounds to speak for themselves, the drills, hammers, water dripping. The workers are the true musicians of the Mill, they’re really the ensemble,” said Gracie. “Creativity flourishes when you get to have a conversation with the environment in motion, instead of simply plopping yourself into a space and expecting to have answers.”

From their recordings, the duo created 30 minutes of new music and sonic poems, interwoven with raw sounds from the Mill, and printed a cassette tape of this music that contains 15 minutes on each side. The duo also performed a set of original music downtown on Main Street, bringing together an evening of ethereal sounds, textures and community.

Lastly, they brought sounds to life through a video performance piece of them walking through the Mill, playing violin and singing to the construction site in a large one-shot loop. The piece ends with a loop of The Mill without Gracie and Rachel, simply capturing the live sounds of the space in all its noisy nature, allowing us to hear that the Mill is making music already, each and every day.

We just have to listen for it.

Two members of Home Grange #129 win awards


At the October Michigan State Grange Convention held in Bay City, two members of Home Grange won awards, and Home Grange received a third-place award in the Community Service contest.

Kathryn Hsu-Bishop of Kalamazoo won Best of Show in the photography contest, with her close-up entry of a sunflower. Her photo was chosen from approximately 45 entries. Kathryn has been submitting entries in the Michigan State Grange Photography Contest for more than 35 years.

Eric Bishop, Vicksburg, was awarded the Very Important Patron (VIP) Award. Individual Granges honor a member who has made an outstanding contribution to the Grange. Their nominations are forwarded to the State Community Service Director for judging with other individual Grange nominations. Bishop has been a member of Home Grange for 33 years. Previous to that time, he was a member of Home Junior Grange for about 10 years. He has been a very active member during this entire time, holding an office most of these years. Eric currently serves as president of the Michigan State Grange Foundation, a position he has held since 2018, and has served on the Foundation Board since 2009. He served as Vice President of the Michigan State Grange previously for 10 years, and has held other leadership roles as well. Eric was elected president of Home Grange in 2008, and continues to serve in this office. The major impetus for presenting Eric’s nomination for the Very Important Patron Award this year was his work regarding the sale the Home Grange Hall. He spent many hours from September 2019 through December 2020 in the coordination of business regarding the sale.

The highlight of the Home Grange community service entry was the 4th of July Parade, which included cooperation with Newton Township and the Newton Fire Department Auxiliary. Following the sale of the Grange Hall, many records were taken to Michigan State University Archives allowing the history of the Grange to be researched by others; some records and scrapbooks dated back to the 1940s.

Although Home Grange no longer owns a hall, the organization is still active. Monthly Zoom meetings are held where plans are made for community service projects and collaboration with other local organizations. Home Grange is accepting new members. For membership information, send a message through the Home Grange #129 Facebook page.

Vicksburg District Library schedule, activities

Some of the prizes available at the Vicksburg District Library.

By Eric Hansen

Many events and programs are happening at the library. More information is available on the library’s website: vicksburgdistrictlibrary.org

Tuesday evenings from 7-8 p.m., tai chi practice for adults and seniors.

Thursday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., tai chi practice.

The local Bridge Club meets from 9:30 to noon on each Thursday.

On January 26th, the Writers Roundtable creative writing group will meet at 1 p.m. The library will provide coffee and tea.

An Adult Winter Reading program which began December 21 runs through March 20. The theme is “Winter Wonder,” and patrons can earn prizes like water bottles and coffee mugs. But the best part is earning entries for a drawing for Amazon gift cards ($75, $50, and $25).

Stephanie Willoughby, the Youth Services Librarian, will host a virtual story time every Monday. Patrons can check the library’s calendar for details – this should be posted soon.

Stephanie Willoughby is launching “Books Before,” detailed below.

Books Before Programs: How it works

1,000 Books Before Kindergarten

For children ages 0-preschool.

Sign up online by filling out the Google registration form.

Pick up a sheet to fill out at the library or download one from our website.

Every time you read it counts as a book. If it’s bedtime and they ask for Goodnight Moon three times; that is three books. If they ask for Goodnight Moon the next day to be read twice, that is two books. 

New book and sticker for every 100 read

Upon completion, the child will receive a bag filled with books and literacy prizes. If the caregiver or parent approves, we will post on our social media their picture and accomplishments.

100 Books Before High School

For students in grades 4-8. 

Sign up online by filling out the Google registration form.

Pick up a sheet to fill out at the library or download one from our website.

For every 25 books you read you will earn a new book.

The student must read books they have not read before to count towards the 100. 

If they re-read a book that they read BEFORE they signed up for the program it can count towards their 100.

Upon completion the student will receive a bag filled with books and literacy prizes. If the caregiver or parent approves, we will post on our social media their picture and accomplishments.

100 Books Before Graduation

For students in grades 9-12. 

Sign up online filing out the Google registration form.

Pick up a sheet to fill out at the library or download one from our website.

For every 25 books you read you will earn a new book.

The student must read books they have not read before to count towards the 100. 

If they re-read a book that they read BEFORE this signed up for the program that can count towards their 100.

Upon completion the student will receive a bag filled with books and literacy prizes. If the caregiver or parent approves, we will post on our social media their picture and accomplishments.

Monthly raffle drawings for all participants. Win extra prizes.

Once we can safely meet there will be special book talk events for the high school and graduation programs.

Staff hope to visit the schools to promote the program.

Things ‘not so typical’ with this Vicksburg business


By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

The lights shine from the storefront at 105 South Main Street in Vicksburg on many Tuesday evenings for “Not Your Typical Tuesday” events. Workshop attendees learn a new skill, ask questions, and enjoy conversation. The experiences have been well-received. The response has been so positive some participants sign up for every gathering.

When Kim Critz, owner of Wrapped in Gratitude, and Tory Hollister, owner of Oopsy Daisy, decided to combine their businesses into one shared space, they decided promoting self-care and caring for others was a top priority. Workshops and bringing people together to connect with one another was one of the ways they wanted to use their retail space.

Critz and Hollister are trained artists. Hollister is a glass blower, floral designer, and skilled gardener. Critz is a watercolor and acrylic painter and a mixed media artist. Both women have found a sense of peace through creating and sharing their knowledge and unique skills with others.

No art experience is necessary to attend the “Not Your Typical Tuesday” workshops. All materials are included with the class fee and easy steps are planned to guide students through the event. Most workshops are one to two hours long.

These weekly events began in the fall. The topics have been varied and have included activities like glass ornament painting, hoop wreath making, mixed media journaling, and even instruction in food fermentation.

Critz and Hollister say they are planning events which will continue through the winter. They are developing several virtual events and even inviting some guest instructors.

“Not Your Typical Tuesday” workshops run in different ways, depending on the project. Some events are open 3-7 p.m. on Tuesdays, and people can stop in any time to create with no preregistration necessary. For other events where materials are limited, Critz and Hollister request people register ahead of time to guarantee enough materials for all. The type of workshop will be indicated within the event information. All are welcome, but most workshops are recommended for ages 13 and up.

More information can be found on Facebook and Instagram @Wrapped in Gratitude and @Oopsy Daisy Floral including links to register. Following these pages will help connect to the events.

Another option for information is at wrappedingratitude.com where interested people can enter an email address to receive upcoming events and sign-up links.

Critz and Hollister also schedule private or group events. Questions? Critz can be reached through email at hello@WrappedinGratitude.com and Hollister at flowers@OopsyDaisyFloral.com.