When it comes to carving shooting rigs of duck decoys, Dick Rhode is the best in the world in 2005.
The prestigious Ward Foundation Museum of Wildlife Art in Salisbury, Md., just said so.
Rhode, a 53-year-old competitive carver from Port Clinton, recently entered a three-bird "shootin' rig"- a brace of drake redheads and a hen redhead - in the 35th annual Ward World Championship and bested the field. He even edged out his neighbor and 2003 Ward shootin' rig champion, Rick Johannsen of Port Clinton.
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Rhode is not a newcomer to the game. For example in 2001 he won best-in-species at the Ward championships with a hen pintail, a drake redhead, and a hen green-winged teal.
"I've won best-in-shows before, but the best-in-world category is the best I've ever done," said Rhode. The Ward championships, he added, "are the Super Bowl of carving."
At the recent Ward event, some 2,000 carvings were entered from 11 countries among the various divisions. Fully 30,000 visitors walked by tables of finely finished decoys in three days.
"The year he [Johannsen] won, I came in second," said Rhode of his neck-and-neck shootin' rig contest with his waterfowling buddy in 2003. "Now the year I won, he came in second." Johannsen entered a black duck rig this year.
Last year the men finished second and third in the Ward rig competition, which hints that these Lake Erie marshmen know what they are about. It brings the sort of prestige to this region, Ohio's waterfowl and wetlands heartland, that Mantle and Maris or Ruth and Gehrig did to baseball's Yankees in a different place and time.
"My father, the late Ron Rhode, was a carver and Sandusky Bay hunter back in the late '50s," said Rhode. Which suggests that the ways of waterfowling are in his blood.
He started carving in 1982, but said that his efforts might have not amounted to much had he not answered a phone call in 1983 from Jim Frankowski, a well regarded area outdoorsman, waterfowler, carver, caller, and fishing guide.
Frankowski, who was a member of the local Maumee Bay Carvers club with Rhode, encouraged him to sign on for a 10-week carving course that was being given by the late Bob Franta, the renowned Amherst, Ohio, master carver and member of the Ohio Decoy Collectors and Carvers Association.
"That was very instrumental in my carving career. If I had never gotten that call from Jim Frankowski, neither Rick Johannsen nor I would have had the carving careers we have had." To be sure, the works of both men are in demand.
But back then, Rhode noted, "we were decoy whittlers until we took that course from Bob Franta." The waterfowling buddies realized how much the master had to offer when he pointed out the critical need for thorough knowledge of duck anatomy - for instance, that a drake canvasback has 13 tailfeathers. And each feather better be "right."
Speaking of having it right, the Port Clinton carver notes that shootin' rig entries have to be correct in more than just looks. They are judged on the water in Chesapeake Bay, and they not only have to look right but also they have to ride right. The birds virtually have to act alive on the water.
Rhode uses Tupelo wood - "from the swamps of Louisiana" - to carve his blocks. A marine- products saleman, he works the boating trade three days a week and carves four days a week.
Initial sizing and shaping is done on a band saw. Finer details are the realm of small power tools, knives, and chisels. Last but not least is the painting.
Among those steps are hours of blood, sweat, and tears. But they are hours that in a way don't count, time spent in a different world. It is a world where Dick Rhode wants to work and live as long as his hands are steady and his eyes are sharp.
Rhode can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Details on the Ward Museum and the world competition can be found by visiting www.wardmuseum.org.
You don't have to be fluent in Spanish to use Kenn Kaufman's latest avian field guide. You could purchase it alongside a copy of his popular and newly updated Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America and simply compare notes.
But the author, a world renowned authority on birds, is betting that the 28 million persons in America for whom Spanish is the first language will take to Guia de campo Kaufman a las aves de norteamerica like the proverbial duck takes to water.
Both guides, 392 pages and retailing at $18.95 each, are set to be released on May 27 by Houghton Mifflin, the same publishing house that in 1934 introduced the world to Roger Tory Peterson's landmark Field Guide to the Birds. But Guia is a first.
"I'm a firm believer in the idea that we'll have more support for bird conservation if we have more people interested in nature," says Kaufman, 51, who was scheduled to appear locally yesterday at International Migratory Bird Day events at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area and who is scheduled in Toronto next week.
"The Hispanic population is such a large, growing, and dynamic part of the American citizenry, and we should involve and include this population in nature study and conservation. Though many Hispanics are bilingual it seemed logical to me that we should produce a bird guide in a language this community is most comfortable with - Spanish."
To wit, Kaufman engaged Patricia Manzano Fischer, program director of a conservation group in Toluca, Mexico, to do the translating, and Hector Gomez de Silva, a well-known Mexican ornithologist, to do the tricky interpretations of bird-voice descriptions in Spanish.
The updated English version of the guide, like the new Spanish offering, includes the American Ornithological Union's official name-changes for birds, as well as many updated range maps. When it was introduced five years ago, the Kaufman guide was the first nature guide to use digitally enhanced photographs. The original has sold 200,000 copies.
The digital enhancement helps clarify distinguishing field marks, a boon to beginners that Kaufman targets and aims to help along. In both new guides, similar birds are grouped together with field marks highlighted for easy comparison. Birds that might typically be seen swimming together, for instance, are shown together, even if unrelated.
Common birds are shown in more detail than rarer species, and the most widespread or typically seen species are always illustrated first. All with an eye to the beginner.
Says Kaufman: "There are 60 million Americans who claim an interest in birds, but 59,950,000 of them have been ignored in the planning of some recent 'general' field guides." To which could be added: No more.
One cannot help but think that the late Peterson, of whom Kaufman was a fervent disciple and long-time friend, would approve.
Contact Steve Pollick at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.