Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

B95 Inspires U.K. Textile Artist


Red Knot migration, as conceptualized by textile artist Wendy Fleckner / © Wendy Fleckner

Allow me, your WHSRNews editor, to introduce you to Wendy Fleckner, an artist living in Southampton on the southern coast of England with a lifelong interest and talent in stitched textiles. We “met” months ago rather serendipitously, when her website and blog were among the results returned in an online search I’d done regarding Red Knot migration (Calidris canutus). Puzzled but curious, I clicked on the link. There in her blog, Wendy was chronicling her progress on an ambitious work of art depicting the hemispheric migration of Red Knots! As someone who enjoys combining art and science, I reached out to this kindred spirit to find out more about the piece and share with her WHSRN’s hemispheric mission to conserve Red Knots, among many other species.

Through our exchanges, I learned that Wendy was in her final year of a Foundation degree in Stitched Textiles at Eastleigh College. Students there had to create a final piece for their end-of-year degree show on 3-5 July 2014. “I had no idea what to do for this,” Wendy wrote, “and it was through researching [tied] knots in general that I came across the Red Knot bird and was inspired in particular by B95’s story.”

B95, named for the code on his leg band, is the 21-year-old shorebird superstar whose cumulative migration mileage equals the distance from the Earth to the Moon and halfway back. This oldest-known rufa Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) was seen again most recently in May 2014 at the Delaware Bay WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance. He was en route north from wintering grounds in southernmost Argentina to breeding grounds in Arctic Canada.

Wendy contacted me again after the degree show earlier this month to say that her installation stirred a lot of interest among visitors. “I can’t tell you how many times I told the story of the Red Knot migration! Even those who were not bird enthusiasts as such were fascinated. The sheer scale of their migration flight is astounding and, of course, B95 is a star.”

Visitors at Eastleigh College’s student art exhibit were fascinated by the piece “B95 – Moonbird”. / © Wendy Fleckner 

The following is an excerpt from the artist’s statement that accompanied Wendy’s piece entitled “B95 - The Moonbird”.  What it doesn’t mention, however, are some of the incredible details behind its creation: she hand-dyed the yarn; free-machine stitched red thread and fishing line onto water-soluble fabric to create thousands of knots, dissolved it, and cut the threads by hand to separate the knots; and used the same method for the ‘breeding ground’ knots, but tied those to the threads by hand.

Artist’s statement (excerpt): “Over the past three years, Wendy Fleckner has shifted towards a more conceptual approach to her work…. Taking the element of knots from a previous series of work on vintage handkerchiefs, Wendy’s research led her to the Red Knot bird (Calidris canutus) and in particular one labelled B95. She was inspired by the bird’s extraordinary annual migration of more than 17,800 miles from Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle and back. By creating a cloud of over 3,000 stitched red knots, Wendy’s installation suggests the gathering of Red Knots at their breeding ground; the 40 flight-path threads reflect the 20 years of annual migrations undertaken by B95. The threads change colour [from red to white], as do the birds’ plumage, and their stop off feeding points are marked by knots on the thread flight paths. It’s estimated that B95 has covered over 356,000 miles in his lifetime; effectively the distance from the Earth to the Moon and halfway back, hence his nickname ‘The Moonbird’.

By artistically representing the lifelong journey of one Red Knot in “our hemisphere,” Wendy visually told the amazing migration story of all Red Knots, including those in the U.K. (C. c. islandica). I never tire of the power of science to inspire, educate, and connect us, especially through the universal language of art.

For more information, please contact Wendy Fleckner (wfleckner@yahoo.co.uk) or visit her website and blog. Article by Meredith Gutowski Morehouse, WHSRN Conservation Specialist, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.