Gyotaku in the gazebo draws attention to nesting birds

by Matt Corpening
Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Staff photos by Emmy Errante 

A group of people gathers at Wrightsville Beach Public Access No. 43 on Saturday, Aug. 31 for Gyotaku in the Gazebo, presented by Audubon Art Works. 



The south end of Wrightsville Beach is home to migrating birds that nest there for its geographical proximity to the inlet where food sources, namely pinfish, needlefish, striped killifish, yellow jack and mullet, are readily available. American oystercatchers, willets, black skimmers and least terns are some of the birds that require the south end’s fish supply to feed their chicks.

Audubon N.C. hosted Gyotaku in the Gazebo on Saturday, Aug. 31 at the south end of the beach to draw attention to the nesting colonies in a fun way, combining art and ecology. Kristin Frey, an elementary school art teacher, said that thousands of years ago Japanese fisherman used gyotaku, a printing process that has since evolved into an art form, as a method of keeping record of their catches.

“I met Marlene [Eader] from Audubon N.C. on the beach when I was walking my dog,” Frey said. “I didn’t know why people were stopping and gathering, so I started asking questions about the birds.” 

Eader, volunteer coordinator for Audubon N.C., explained to Frey why the birds choose the south end of Wrightsville Beach to nest. Frey then suggested a creative way to educate beachgoers about the native wildlife species.

“Kristin [Frey] is a nationally board-certified teacher,” Eader said. “Part of her expertise is tying in curriculum to art. She knew what we were trying to share with beachgoers and so she suggested gyotaku.”

“Three of the species flew in from Central America and South America and now they’re leaving because it’s the end of the nesting season,” Eader said. “We had 305 nests of black skimmers and just over 200 nests of least terns.” 

Eader said the birds don’t nest on dredge islands in the Cape Fear River, where pelicans are often found, but prefer beach, especially near an inlet. A least tern, which is, Eader said, about the size of her hand, knows exactly what size fish its baby can digest. The colony itself is sectioned off by rope and decorated with artwork created by Wrightsville Beach School fifth graders.

“I’ve had a group of about 50 volunteers this summer talking to beachgoers about the colony because what we are trying to do is reduce the disturbance,” Eader said. 

Frey guided a group of around 12 people through the process of Japanese fish printing. They used a rolling paint brush and black acrylic printing ink to paint the surfaces of rubber fish. In the authentic Japanese tradition, real fish are measured on rice paper, but Frey said she used the rubber fish because many of her students thought real fish were “icky.” Construction paper was then laid over the fish and each artist used his or her hands to press the paper, starting from the middle of the fish and moving outward to its edges, allowing the intricacies of the fish’s appearance to be transferred to the paper. When the paper was removed, it was revealed to be imprinted with a fish profile, each detail represented, from the eyes to the gills to the individual lines in the fins. 

“I think this is wonderful. We’re all sharing this environment and we need to understand that,” attendee Bonnie Broders said. She learned of the event and decided to attend because she is interested in art, the beach and fish. “It’s intriguing culturally, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I didn’t know it but we’re watching bird and turtle nests out here. It is a circle of life, it isn’t just the humans that make up the circle,” she said.

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