Like so many others, artist Jessica Maffia took refuge in nature in the earliest days of the pandemic. “I’d been thinking about our local nature for some years, but during quarantine, that’s all I wanted to do,” she says. “I wasn’t making art for a long time—I was just coming and getting to know who the more-than-human neighbors are.”
Although she took part in her first guided bird walk in 2016, it was only in the spring of 2020 that she began birding more seriously, taking classes on birdsong—Maffia can now identify more than two dozen birds by ear—and patch birding, revisiting the same place and learning its avian residents and visitors. Since then, Maffia has embraced Inwood Hill Park in uptown Manhattan as her patch. That’s where I reached her by video call in May, her face framed by trees, the birdsong in the background as clear as her voice. “I’m finding that my nature enthusiasm and art practice are very much merging,” Maffia says.
“I don’t want to show a bird flying,” says photographer Xavi Bou. “I want to show a flight.”
Although Bou has dedicated years of his life to photographing birds, someone encountering his work for the first time could be excused for having no idea what his subject is. In a project called Ornithographies, he creates mesmerizing images by taking many photographs per second and stitching up to 3,500 or more of them together. The results are beautifully abstract, capturing the energy of flight, whether in the chaotic squiggles that result when Alpine Swifts dive and swoop for insects, or the smooth, even undulations of a gull flying over the water. They may not be moving pictures—although Bou uses a cinema camera that takes 60 frames a second—but they have movement.
Lesser celandine, with its a small, pale yellow blossoms, looks like an innocuous plant. But the sprawling weed crowds out native species when it blooms in spring and then goes dormant, leaving ground brown and bare through summer and fall. Normally at this time of year, volunteers with the New York New Jersey Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force would be pulling up the species and other invasive plants during weekend meet-ups. This year, however, is anything but normal—the group suspended work on March 23.
Across the country this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold, conservation organizations and government agencies have postponed or canceled projects that require groups to meet and work together. Although public health is everyone’s firm priority, gaps in invasive species removal, controlled burns, and habitat restoration can create short- and long-term setbacks to time-sensitive projects