Friday, August 14, 2020

Carlos's Dancing Butterfly


Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

          Here is my oil painting of a male American Redstart. My encounters with them are usually serendipitous, as was the case when I came upon this particular redstart in Lake Carlos State Park, Minnesota. If you’re not a birdwatcher, these butterflies of the forest can be in your midst and right above your head without you even knowing it. They’re not particularly shy and will allow you to get good looks at them hopping from branch to branch, almost always with their colorful feathers on display. When searching for food, redstarts seem to canvas an area just a little more thoroughly compared to some other species, but that doesn’t mean they'll sit calmly on a branch. Their behavior is quite the opposite. While shimmying back and forth flashing their bright feathers and tails, unsuspecting insects are startled and then eaten. If their prey is able to fly, redstarts will leap off trees and nab them mid-flight. They are fun to watch, but be prepared to crane your neck since they have little or nothing to do with the ground. This is a species of the trees.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Emperor's Empid

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

          Now here's a good reason to take notes while birding. All the while I was painting this bird, I thought it was a Least Flycatcher. That's because there was a period of about three days in May when I photographed both Least Flycatchers and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers in the same area. I knew both species were hanging around based on their slightly different songs. Later, when categorizing my photographs, this particular bird was in a folder labeled Least Flycatcher. The problem surfaced when, all these months later, I tried to rely on my memory of why I believed this was a Least Flycatcher. Based on photographs alone, this bird could very well have been a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, another empid of similar appearance. Now if I had taken better notes, I should've written down whether or not I'd heard this exact bird's song. I simply didn't record my observations in detail. If I had, this bird's song would've been a defining characteristic. So, it's undetermined whether or not this is a Least Flycatcher. As a matter of fact, based on more detailed photographs taken within the same time period, this is most likely a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Up until now, I've never painted a bird that probably wasn't what I thought it was.
          Not knowing this bird's definitive species left me with an uncanny feeling, but I took comfort knowing that true to its likeness, whether Least or Yellow-bellied, this bird, even as a painting, was still catching 'flies'. Say what? While painting this bird, I faced a head-scratching predicament. Over the course of several unusually hot and humid days in Duluth, springtails (extremely small jumping bugs that love that kind of weather) landed on my painting like never before. And I mean never. About the size of a grain of sand, I researched this pest to figure out what they were because I have never encountered them and as you can imagine, they were driving me crazy. One particular day, they interrupted my work so often, I simply couldn't paint. I found myself spending more time picking them off my painting than painting! Once the heat and humidity subsided, they were gone. Whew. In the future, if I ever paint another flycatcher, would those annoying springtails come back? For now, I don't think I'll push my luck, certainly not if Florida's weather returns to Duluth anytime soon. Being that I'm determined to finish nearly every painting I start, this one challenged me in such a way as to wish for a flycatcher on my shoulder.
          Both Least and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are long-distance migrants. Soon, they'll be headed to Mexico and Central America, having spent their summers breeding in the far reaches of the United States and into Canada.
          Enjoy the fall migration everyone! It has begun.

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Porch Skipper, or Aflutter for Aphids

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

          Here’s a reason to avoid using pesticides. Last October, my porch petunias were covered with tiny white bugs known as aphids. This Nashville Warbler was feasting upon them, probably the very insects helping to aid its journey southward for the winter. I didn’t mind that my petunias looked worn out and sick from the infestation because it was late in the season. The first frost was just around the corner. A dignified gardener, of which I am not, may have been squeamish, but this bird was having a ball. And in case you haven’t figured it out, I like to keep things a little wild around my home. It’s the first time I’d seen such enthusiasm for this pest. Who knew a Nashville Warbler would devour aphids like a Hoover? But it makes total sense because its diet consists almost exclusively of insects.
          This particular warbler seemed playful, even jubilant, for the bug-eating bonanza my flowers provided as it hopped in and out of my planters. It stuck around for a couple of days, a good indicator of just how many aphids were on my petunias. There were so many, I could’ve frosted a cake with them. (ewww…. just a little humor there ;))
          The warmth of the evening’s sun and a backdrop of dark-stained wooden planks brought out the warm yellow and orange tones in this bird’s feathers. Under a gray sky, they would’ve appeared a bit more olive-green.
          Thanks for visiting everyone! I hope you are enjoying the birds in your neck of the woods.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Blackburnian at Bigfork

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

          The word that comes up over and over in bird books that describes the male Blackburnian Warbler’s striking good looks is fiery. It’s an appropriate description. When you spot one, its identification is unmistakable and always fiery, especially against the forest’s greenery.
          My first sighting of a Blackburnian Warbler was in Lion’s Den Gorge in Grafton, WI. It was springtime and the park was teeming with migrants, and it just so happened that I photographed both the male and female Blackburnian Warblers in the trees during a morning hike. At the time, I wasn’t experienced enough to recognize the female, but later a friend’s birding book provided me with its identification. Seeing both the male and female species of one particular warbler on the same outing isn’t all that common for me. I usually see the males, most of which are easier to identify due to a lot of them having bolder colors and singing more frequently than the females.
          This painting depicts my second sighting of a male Blackburnian. Located in Scenic State Park near Bigfork, Minnesota, author Robert B. Janssen describes this park in his book Birds of Minnesota State Parks with the following sentence which summed up my experience as well. “June birding is a real treat at Scenic State Park when these boreal species are at the height of their song period during the breeding season.”
          Upon my arrival, the sheer number of birds that could be heard from the parking lot alone was noticeable and lovely; and after just a few minutes of walking, this Blackburnian flew across the walking path in front of me not far from the main lodge. It stopped to sing about 20 feet up on a branch in the dense canopy of shade. It was the first time I’d heard its song. A gentleman asked me what I was looking at. I replied with little confidence, “I think it’s a Blackburnian Warbler.” Later, after verifying what I thought I knew, I breathed a sigh of relief. A few moments later, a young woman walked towards me with a large dog. She apologized for interrupting whatever I was looking at. Oh, heavens no, I thought. I wasn’t feeling interrupted at all, and made sure I told her so. I never expect anyone to stop what they’re doing on account of me staring at a bird, especially in a state park. Besides, the patience and habits of a birder can sometimes elicit a non-birder’s eye-roll. I’m aware of that and don’t expect much more, so I appreciated this woman’s unexpected kindness.
          As I walked further along the trail, bird activity seemed to decrease. The deeper into the woods I walked, the quieter it got; the Fire Tower Trail was especially quiet. Approaching Pine Lake, sightings were scarce at best, but I was glad to have explored just for the sake of knowledge and experience.
          Blackburnians are a medium to long-distance migrant, traveling from their wintering grounds in South America to the northern reaches of the eastern United States and into the southern provinces of Canada to breed. They are rare in the western half of the United States.
          If you’re looking for a reason to love this bird for more than just its good looks and migratory prowess, consider its role on the coffee bean farms in Central America. In the environmentally friendly, shade-grown farms of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, the Blackburnian Warbler is known as an insect-eating wizard, one of a few birds helping to rid their crops of la broca, a coffee borer beetle. Just by eating insects, a study by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Columbia University found that a single bird can save from 23 to 65 pounds of coffee per hectare on a farm every year. So, if you’re thinking about upgrading your morning joe, consider purchasing coffees that display the Bird Friendly Smithsonian certification mark. These 100% organic coffee beans come from growers that have met strict criteria in regards to shade-grown, plant diversity, and more. 
          For more information on bird-friendly coffee, click here.

Axelson, Gustave. "Coffee Made in the Shade Can Be More Profitable, Thanks to Birds." Living Bird, photographed by Jeffrey Arguedas, vol. 38, Issue 4, Autumn 2019, pp. 20-22.

Janssen, Robert B. Birds of Minnesota State Parks. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2015.

Kaufman, Kenn. Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Blackburnian Warbler. July 2, 2020. Retrieved from

National Geographic Society. (1999) National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. (3rd ed.). Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Gone Too Soon

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Black Lives Matter.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Barred Encounter in the Minnesota Arrowhead

Oil on Panel, 36 x 24 inches

On January 5 of last year, I noticed crows gathering and squawking outside of my kitchen window. I dropped everything and grabbed my winter coat, hat, gloves and camera and headed out the door. The temperature was in the 20s. For Duluth’s standards, that wasn’t too bad. Not far into the woods, I came upon this Barred Owl sitting on a branch about fifteen feet high. Over the next several moments, after the crows left and the Chickadees quieted, it was just me and the owl. The snow depth was around 12-18 inches. Everything about this owl indicated to me that my presence wasn’t bothering it. How was I so sure? I’m never sure when it comes to wild animals, but its posture was relaxed and its demeanor calm. It simply wasn’t paying any attention to me, other than when it first turned its head after I said hello. As close as I was and with its back towards me, I felt it was the polite thing to do. That may sound strange to you, but I purposely and thoughtfully wanted to use my voice as another form of salutation in addition to my approach. I believe birds, as well as other animals, recognize calm, non-threatening human voices from those that are not. 

I spent a long time with the owl in the woods, and soon it was time for me to go. Just when I was ready to head back to the house, the owl’s posture changed. It bobbed its head and stretched its neck. Its eyes were wider than wide. Then, it flew right in front of me and landed in the snow just to my left, around 20 feet away. It was hunting! I was astounded. During the time it took me to get a better view of the owl’s landing site, I wasn’t able to see whether or not it had captured its prey. If it had, it was most likely a vole, a common rodent around my home. After several moments in the snow, the owl flew high up into a spruce tree, tucked itself near the trunk, preened for a couple of minutes, then began to fall asleep. This is the story behind the painting, and I am very fortunate to have had this experience with a friendly Barred Owl.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

One More Before I Go

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

On March 20th of this year, a small flock of three Cedar Waxwings landed on my pin cherry tree and enjoyed a few berries that had remained on the tree all winter. It was sunny, breezy, and around 25 degrees F. The berries were frozen, but that didn’t stop the birds from eating them. Robins were enjoying them, too, more so during recent cold spells or spring snowstorms when the ground wasn't clear to hunt for worms. Cedar Waxwings enjoy all types of fruit which is their main diet source, but they do eat insects, too. If you want to attract Cedar Waxwings to your yard, plant trees or shrubs that produce fruit. The biggest flock of Cedar Waxwings I’ve ever seen was a flock of at least 32 in the Bailey Tract, Florida in 2012. (photo below)

Cedar Waxwings in the Bailey Tract, Florida, 2012.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Island Gull

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     Ring-billed Gulls are one of the most easily identifiable gulls because of the black stripe on their beaks. Personally, my gull identification is not strong, but I keep learning and getting better. I'm sure that if I lived on Lake Superior, which is the closest lake nearest to me, my skills would sharpen in record speed. I never, in a million years, would've thought my warbler identification would be stronger than gulls, but such is the case. Improving upon my knowledge of midwestern gulls is going to be a strong focus going forward this year.
     With recent attention on Covid-19, I feel compelled to say that I was so disheartened to hear of a recent movement to turn on Christmas lights as a gesture of people wanting to feel connected during this time of isolation due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Just when I was thinking birds might get a break from artifical lights during migration since so many businesses are shortening their hours, now their journey northward might be even more perilous than ever before. This is the absolute worst time to add more lights to the evening skies, outside of the fall migration. Birds' attraction to artifical lights is called ALAN (artificial lights at night), and I wrote about it in my September 19, 2019 post. Please, humans. We are facing a pandemic. There are other ways to feel connected instead of turning on Christmas lights outdoors. Keep those lights on the shelves and in their boxes until November and December when birds aren't migrating.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Moth Hunter

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     On August 9, 2019, I observed this female Black and White Warbler on the trunk of a red pine, just moments after it snapped up a white moth in the grass below. If this were a male, its cheeks would have a black patch, and its chin and throat would be black also. These warblers spend their summers throughout much of eastern North America and into Canada after wintering in Florida, Mexico, and South America. They’re one of the first warblers to arrive in Minnesota, and my first sightings of them have been in mid-May in Duluth. If you’re looking for this bird, keep your eyes peeled to tree trunks. Similar to Brown Creepers, this is where they do a lot of their insect hunting. Below is my photo of this same bird with a moth in its beak.

Photo of a female Black and White Warbler with moth

Friday, March 6, 2020

Sweet Magnolia

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     This is a painting of a female Magnolia Warbler. 
     Last night, while watching the news, I noticed a flying insect rise from the lampshade across the room. My immediate thought? It was heading my way to bite me. Deciding against running out of the room screaming after losing sight of its location, my second thought turned to springtime and the thawing out of everything. 
     Living in Duluth, Minnesota, I generally don’t see a single insect for a good five months, minus the occasional spider that crawls out of the woodwork every now and then. For that reason, late fall and winter are my favorite times of the year. And with two feet of snow still on the ground, one would think insects would be hanging on hard to winter. But like it or not, they’re starting to emerge. 
      Last week, the first larder beetle of the year made its appearance in my kitchen. Grrrr, I’m not a fan. Generally, it's the biting kind that I don't care for, but warblers, such as this Magnolia Warbler, primarily feed on insects. They need insects to survive. Sounds simple enough. Okay, sure, I love bugs, just as long as they stay away from me. I envy entomologists. If there ever was a profession that is completely opposite of what I’d ever be, it might be that. With every bug I see from now on this spring, I’m going to say out loud (or maybe to myself if there are other people around), “I love you, little bug.” But if it bites me, just remember. Love is a fickle thing. 
     With spring on the cusp of arrival, three cheers to the warbler migration. They’re coming!! Bottoms up everyone. Let the insect feast begin!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Zenith City Falcon

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     In only eight seconds, a Peregrine Falcon can accelerate from 100 mph to over 200 mph in dive formation when chasing prey. I didn’t see this falcon capture its prey, but I did observe it tearing apart a gull on top of a streetlight on February 1st in Duluth’s harbor. On an adjacent streetlight, another Peregrine Falcon waited, appearing calm, puffed out, and complacent. Nearby, two red-tailed hawks were perched atop of an old steamship getting dismantled for scrap. Around a dozen pigeons were hanging around, too. They took flight when one of the hawks changed its location. Birds of prey were busy in the harbor that day.
     To measure the speed of the Peregrine Falcon, would you conduct a scientific experiment by going skydiving with one? Sounds a little crazy, but that’s exactly what pilot and master falconer Ken Franklin did. In 2005, Ken plunged from a Cessna 172 at 17,000 feet above sea level. With his trained, female, Peregrine Falcon “Frightful” at his side, released just moments earlier and flying alongside the airplane with his dad at the controls, Franklin and his team clocked the falcon’s speed at 242 mph while diving towards a lure dropped to simulate prey.
     To be clear, the experiment was much more elaborate than simply skydiving with a falcon. An altimeter/computer was attached to the falcon and measured how fast Frightful descended within a specific timeframe, while other altimeters were used to compare and verify the results.
     With speeds over 240 mph, could there possibly be a bird faster than the falcon? Terry Masear, author of Fastest Things on Wings, referenced hummingbirds as the title’s subject. The book, one of my all-time favorites, dives into the flight of these tiny birds, but it is hardly a book about flight alone. It is a love story, an appreciation for these small creatures we all adore. That aside, the author writes, “Although diving peregrine falcons can reach a higher speed in miles per hour, when measured in body lengths per second, hummingbirds travel almost twice as fast, making them the fastest things on wings.”
     So, are hummingbirds faster than peregrine falcons? As with so many situations, there are two sides to every coin. It all depends on how you look at it.

Barba, L. (2011, Oct. 7). The fastest animal on Earth “The Peregrine Falcon”. Bio-aerial Locomotion 2011.

Harpole, T. (2005, March). Falling with the Falcon. Air & Space Magazine.

Masear, T. (2015). Fastest things on wings. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Barn Swallow

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     Barn Swallows have extraordinary features that not only make them worthy of a Sunday afternoon thriller if you’re looking for bird watching that ranks amongst the best representation of flying daredevils on the planet, they have pageantry in their blood as well. These birds not only show off their flying ace skills, they exude magnetism simply by sitting on a wire. This latter part I notice a lot because birds are expressive in their presence alone. A bird that sits on a wire gives me time to study and appreciate its personality, and these birds have personalities to boot. 
     Barn Swallows have perhaps the largest wings relative to their body mass amongst all birds and are described as an intrinsically maneuverable species. That means they fly with fixed wings more often than flapping, just like vultures, bald eagles, ospreys, hawks and condors, to name a few. They are known for spending considerable amounts of time gliding through the air versus flapping. Conversely, most small birds flap their wings constantly to stay aloft. These birds are referred to as facultatively maneuverable.
     Swallows are also known to take advantage of the ground effect, a term used to describe reduced drag when flying close to the earth, whether over land or water. When these birds fly low, within one wing-length from the earth, they experience increased air pressure under their wings, making it easier for them to fly. So, the next time you see barn swallows foraging low to the ground, just know they’re reserving a lot of flapping power and saving precious energy for those times they need to fly up, over, and around big obstacles (like me!).

Warrick, Douglas R., et al. "Foraging at the Edge of the World: Low-Altitude, High-Speed Manoeuvering in Barn Swallows." Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, vol. 371, no. 1704, 2016, pp. 1-11., Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Red-eyed Vireo With Berry

Original, Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Three birds distinctively remind me of my childhood in Wisconsin: Whip-poor-wills, Red-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. I'm glad vireos, like this Red-eyed Vireo, are reliable summertime companions in Minnesota, where I live now. These days, there isn't a single bird I take for granted, so I'm quite happy when I hear them return every year.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Mirador's Award

"Mirador," my oil painting of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, took 3rd Place this past weekend at Wolf River Art League's Mid-Winter Art Show in New London, WI. It was nice to see such a good turnout over the weekend, despite Sunday's snowstorm. This hummingbird will be waiting a while to return north. Thank you to everyone who attended and supported WRAL at Crystal Falls.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Accepted into Arts North International

"Blackbird on Washington Island"
Original, Oil on Linen, 24 x 36 inches

25th Arts North International 2020
1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins, MN 55343
Exhibition Dates: Jan. 9 - Feb. 15, 2020
Reception: Saturday, January 11, 2020, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Light Refreshments and Cash Bar
Free and Open to the Public

Come to the show! My oil painting "Blackbird on Washington Island" has been accepted into the 25th Arts North International exhibition in Hopkins, MN. The exhibition received over 900 entries, of which 173 works were chosen by jurors. For those of you that follow my work, this is the same work that was selected into the internationally acclaimed "Birds in Art" exhibition of the Woodson Art Museum. If you weren't able to attend that show, here's another opportunity for you to see this work. Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Little Hoodie

Original Oil on Panel - 2-7/8 x 8 inches

The slightest ripple in the water could've been from many things. Perhaps from a turtle poking its head up. Maybe from a bird flying overhead. You know. Nature called. Or, quite possibly from the sneaky Sora, stalking the banks of the pond, under cover. That was my best guess really, because it wasn’t a muskrat. No. Muskrat ripples are intermittent, and sometimes strong. Heck, muskrats sometimes splash. Not that often, but it happens, usually at the shoreline. None of that was going on, though. Those ripples were constant. I had considered dragonflies, but that didn’t make sense. The ripples were too big. Surely not frogs. There was something in the water, and I just couldn’t figure it out. I kept thinking a Sora.

So I waited.

Eventually, this little diving duck swam out of the reeds on the far side. It probably had taken cover long ago, when it first saw me. Surprisingly, it swam out into the open, sipped water, preened, snoozed and after a while began diving for critters. It caught at least one. There were legs hanging out of its beak. Grasshopper? Nice. At one point, it swam by the monster-sized wasp nest that hangs over the water. Yikes. I wouldn’t have. Didn’t seem to matter though. More than anything, it was keeping an eye on me, sitting in my chair. I know that from looking at all of my photographs. For the merganser, maybe it experienced its first human sighting ever. You never know.

My first encounter with a juvenile Hooded Merganser, September 8, 2019.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

ALAN's Temptation

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

The fall migration has begun, and this male Common Yellowthroat can be found throughout the United States. Right now, they’re on the move to the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It’s a dangerous time for these warblers, and many won’t make it to their wintering grounds. Being nocturnal migrants, they’re traveling under the cover of darkness, a tall task given the amount of artificial light at night (ALAN) that illuminates the United States’ evening sky. Of all the birds in North America, 70% are migratory. More than 8 out of 10 of these migrate at night. This fall, just think of all the newborns making their first migrations ever. Whoa!

Sometimes when I read studies of birds, I wonder if there will be any birds left in the next century. It’s difficult not to feel discouraged. Humans can’t get off this planet fast enough, even though some are trying. One way or another, our species will meet its demise here on Earth; but I wonder how much of planet Earth we will have destroyed before the end comes. Did you know homo sapiens means “wise man”? Huh.

Americans in pursuit of leaving Earth built one of the largest buildings on the planet to help get them off the planet, and ironically it’s one of the deadliest for birds. The building, which covers eight acres, is called the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) and it’s located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I have seen this building, and it is massive.

This bird that I have painted, the Common Yellowthroat, had one of the highest, autumn, kill rates at the VAB compared to other birds in a study conducted from 1970-1981. The two most important factors that led to the deaths of all birds at the VAB were bad weather and nocturnal migrant birds attracted to ALAN.

For the study, persons living in the area collected dead birds starting at nightfall and continued collecting them until the early morning. Peak death rates occurred around midnight and large numbers continued to be killed until around 3 am. Try to imagine standing at the base of a large building while birds fall to their deaths all around you. During a quiet night, just the sound alone would be heart-breaking. Could you do it? Night after night? Would you want it to stop? 

Overall, spring migration kill rates were far worse than in the fall for all species of birds collected at the VAB. Sadly at the time, the total number of spring kills was among the largest reported in the United States. In total, 5,046 birds comprising of 62 species died after crashing into the VAB during both the spring and fall migrations. For the Common Yellowthroat, this bird suffered the most casualties of all birds counted during the fall migration periods at the VAB.

Keep in mind, the VAB is just one building. All across America, the night sky is becoming brighter each year. The three cities in the United States with the highest amount of artificial light at night are Chicago, Houston, and Dallas. Highlighting these cities helps to determine future conservation plans where birds can be helped the most. Coming to your local forecast in the not too distant future may be requests by meteorologists or local news media to turn off your lights on specific nights, regardless of where you live. At least the potential is there thanks to advances in observational radar technology, accurate weather forecasting, and knowing that half of migrating birds travel in the greatest numbers over a period of around seven peak nights.

On July 21st of this year, I specifically searched for this bird upon hearing it and was able to find it foraging for food in tall grasses and shrubs in a wet area. Its whichity-whichity-whichity call was hard to miss. Now that the fall migration has begun, I hope more people and business owners are taking action to help birds by turning off their lights in the evenings. It matters. Every little bit helps.

Just knowing that one person can potentially reduce bird deaths by turning off their lights at nightfall, especially during migration, gives me some hope for the future.

Good luck, little bird.

Common Yellowthroat. n.d. Retrieved from

Heiney, A. (2019) Vehicle Assembly Building. Retrieved from

K.G. Horton, C. Nilsson, B. M. Van Coren, F.A. La Sorte, A. M. Dokter, A. Farnsworth. Bright lights in the big cities: migratory birds' exposure to artificial light. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 2019.

Taylor, W., & Mark A. Kershner. (1986). Migrant Birds Killed at the Vehicle Assembly Building (Vab), John F. Kennedy Space Center. Journal of Field Ornithology, 57(2), 142-154.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Resting Sandpiper

Original Oil on Belgian Linen, 14 x 11 inches

Just two of the six years living at my home in Duluth, Minnesota, have I seen Solitary Sandpipers. Both times they arrived in pairs in the month of May. Those were rather lucky sightings because they only stayed for a short time before heading to Canada or the far reaches of northern Minnesota for breeding. A small pond provided stopover habitat, and when I saw them, I was careful not to disturb them for I knew they had traveled a long way.

My observations of the two Solitary Sandpipers that visited in 2018 showed them sleeping with little concern as to my whereabouts; whereas in 2015, they were foraging for food. In both instances, they stayed less than two hours.

Solitary Sandpipers spend their winters in South America, especially around swamps and riverbanks in the Amazon Basin. They typically migrate through the United States, but recent maps now show them wintering in parts of Florida and Texas. With climate change expected to upend nearly every existing bird migration map, their predicted route shows them wintering into the southern reaches of Kansas by the year 2050; summer breeding grounds push them further north into Canada.

Kaufman, Kenn. Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Solitary Sandpiper. August 26, 2019. Retrieved from

Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America. Garden City Publishing Co. Inc., Garden City, New York, 1936.

Stokes, Donald and Lillian. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Vanner, Michael. The Encyclopedia of North American Birds.New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003.

Monday, July 29, 2019

MacRostie's 27th Annual Juried Exhibition Opens Friday!

Original Oil on Canvas, 30 x 15 inches

**Awarded 2nd Place**
MacRostie's 27th Annual Juried Exhibition
405 NW 1st Ave., Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Exhibition Dates: Aug. 2 - Aug. 30, 2019

Opening Friday! Off the easel and out into the world for the first time, my oil painting "Six Days Before the Tempest" will be showing at MacRostie Art Center's 27th Annual Juried Exhibition. Opening festivities are part of Grand Rapid's First Friday Art Walk from 4 - 7 pm. Twenty eight artists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota were selected to participate in this year's event. I hope you can make the show, and thank you for supporting the arts!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Cape Mayday

Original Oil on Belgian Linen, 12 x 12 inches

Having just returned from a May birding adventure at Lake Carlos State Park in western Minnesota, I noticed three Cape May warblers at my home taking sips from my hummingbird feeders and eating suet. Between May 19-28, I saw two males and one female, all braving Duluth’s snowiest May on record, a grand total of 10.6 inches.  May 19th alone brought 2.4 inches of snow to Duluth and it was the latest Duluth has recorded over an inch of snow in the month of May.

The adorable Cape May warblers were a thrill to watch, but I’m guessing they didn’t like the weather and were hungry. These birds like to eat spruce budworms, but since spring took its time to arrive and snow just kept on falling, they probably had a hard time finding food. So, I kept my suet feeders full and my hummingbird water fresh. It’s the first time I’d seen Cape May warblers anywhere, so I was pretty excited to have them stick around for ten days. With our record May snowfall, do I dare wonder if they’ll ever come back?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Of Tulips and Kinglets

Original Oil on Belgian Linen - 12 x 24 inches

This is somewhat of a different painting for me. For over a year, I’ve wanted to do a larger, colorful work, so I put two of my favorite spring things together: tulips and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The tulips were in bloom along the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail in Wisconsin and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet stems from a lovely experience I had in my Minnesota woods on April 24th.

I knew the kinglets had arrived because I could hear their soft pretty calls in the conifers, and the spring migration was in its early stages. For those who love birds, the spring migration is freakin' awesome. For me, it kind of compares to warm chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. Or, I could also say it's a little bit of a mind blowing, more than extraordinary, rather larger than life, hard to comprehend kind of experience that reminds me of hot tamales and firecrackers.

So, of course, I put on my coat and went into the woods to investigate. It wasn't long before I realized I was standing amongst a dozen or so Ruby-crowned Kinglets, all flitting about. I had never seen so many. The longer I stood, the closer they flew. Two separate times, I thought a kinglet was going to land on me. Yeah, I realize this is geek-dom at its finest, but for me it was pretty cool. I stayed there for a long time.

I also know each year is a little bit different when it comes to which birds I might see. So my dreamy, Ruby-crowned Kinglet experience, coupled with one and a half weeks of Cape May warblers eating from my feeders in May made up for not seeing or hearing a single Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, or Baltimore Oriole this spring at my home. Sort of. I mean, I really missed those birds a lot.

Below are some coarse photos I took of the painting's progress (not for color accuracy, mind you). I hope you are enjoying some of the last days of spring and the birds that came with it in your neck of the woods.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Harris's Sparrow

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Harris's Sparrows only pass through Duluth in the spring and fall. Their summers are spent in far northern Canada in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, thereabouts. In the winter, they fly south, generally to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.

It is always thrilling to see migrants, especially this one, one of my favorite sparrows. I have not seen them yet this spring, but they are due here anytime now. It's possible Wednesday's record snowfall set them back a couple of days. This particular bird was seen exactly one year ago to the date.

I hope you can get out and spot some migrants this spring.

Friday, May 3, 2019

C. Pilot Orange

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

This is a painting of a Baltimore Oriole resting on my spruce tree on a cold May evening. I've observed these colorful birds migrating through in the spring, investigating my feeders. For me, it takes a watchful eye to spy them every year, for their presence is limited to less than a handful of days.

Four things about this bird stand out: their rich song, which becomes easily identifiable with just a little practice; their bright orange and black plumage which has been compared to a heaven-bound, orange tulip returning to earth as a bird in a poem by Edgar Fawcett; their teardrop shaped nests arguably described as "the most ingeniously constructed of all our birds' nests"; and the females' unwavering success to reject all parasitic cowbird eggs, most of which are dropped several meters below their nests. So tonight, if you're celebrating anything in any fashion, make a toast to the female Baltimore Orioles' survival, for these ladies will not tolerate incubating another bird's eggs. Keep your hats on. Bombs away!

Alphonsus, Brother. "Nesting Habits of Our Birds." The American Midland Naturalist, vol. 3, no. 3, 1913, pp. 65-68. JSTOR,

Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America. Garden City Publishing Co. Inc., Garden City, New York, 1936.

Rothstein, Stephen I. "Cowbird Parasitism and Egg Recognition of the Northern Oriole." The Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 89, no. 1, 1977, pp. 21-32. JSTOR,

Friday, April 26, 2019

Happy Arbor Day!

Happy Arbor Day, Minnesota! Actually, many states are celebrating Arbor Day today, so a happy day to you, too! Below are some photos I took from around my yard this week, proof that the new season is here and planting season is on its way. Are you ready to plant?

This year's tree plantings will focus on Northern Red Oak. Ten of these trees will be scattered throughout our property next month. Other scheduled plantings include many coneflowers (perennials), and colorful varieties of annuals that are beneficial to insects, birds, and other wildlife. To date, 176 native trees and approximately 232 native shrubs have been planted here at my home since 2015. Mowed grassy areas decline every year, and efforts will continue in the years ahead provided good health.

I anticipate my next post will be a painting, so stay tuned. Don't forget to take in an art show or two this summer on your travels, wherever you are. Thank you for visiting my blog. Happy planting!

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterfly.
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) butterfly.
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a sure sign of spring in Duluth.
(Photo taken April 25, 2019)

Yellow-rumped Warbler
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)

Belted Kingfisher
(Photo taken April 25, 2019)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet with bug
(Photo taken April 24, 2019)

Elderberry buds, one of the first plants to bud in spring.
(Photo taken Arbor Day, April 26th, 2019)

These small, caged, jack pine trees were planted in 2015.
This photo was taken in May, 2017.
Compare with the photo below.

Planted in 2015, many are now over 7 feet tall.
(Photo taken Arbor Day, April 26, 2019.)

Friday, April 19, 2019


Original Oil on Panel, 16 x 16 inches

Last summer, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird spent several minutes going back and forth between preening and eating nectar from my zinnias and coneflowers. The garden fence was his overlook and resting spot. I positioned myself behind a mass of squash and basil leaves to obtain photographs, although I was hardly hidden. He knew I was there, no doubt. For reference, below I’ve included a photograph that shows the red feather on his chin, appropriately indicating a male hummingbird not quite in full, ruby-throated plumage. Prior to examining my photos, I thought I was in the company of a female hummingbird.
For this painting, I chose the focus to be on the hummingbird, nothing else. So, the background is simple, with a little light coming from the upper right corner. The feathers close to his body (the undertails) were in the shadows and revealed little detail. As an artist, decisions needed to be made, and they weren’t easy. How would I handle painting these feathers? How much detail would they get? And how would I paint an area that from my reference photograph looked, well, just black? Ahhhhh….. black is never just black, my friends, unless you’re in Mammoth Cave when the ranger switches off the lights. Now, that’s black. Space is pretty black, too. So, okay, perhaps there are some exceptions.
Anyway, a lot of effort was put into getting these feathers just right. And if you’re a beginner painter having difficulty painting with black, my best advice is to add another color, any color, to the black to get a different shade of black on your canvas. What your eye doesn’t see in wet paint will see after it starts to dry. For example, if you add a touch of blue, brown, or red, to black paint, it might still look black. However, once dry, there will be a difference between black and your mixed black. And sometimes the colors are so similar when applied to your canvas, you'll just have to trust your paint on this and know there will be a difference.

Spring is finally here. Today, the Fox Sparrows arrived and are singing their lovely songs. One or two White-throated Sparrows have called, but are not in abundance yet. Many other birds are singing, too, such as Purple Finches, American Robins, American Goldfinches and Dark-eyed Juncos. I have survived another winter in Duluth.

My photograph showing the ruby throat feather.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

This Black-capped Chickadee was drying out in the late-afternoon sun after a long day of rain.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

White-crowned Sparrow in Windswept Repose

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

During the fall migration of 2006, 15 adults and 15 juvenile White-crowned Sparrows were captured and transported from Washington to New Jersey, a 2,300 mile journey eastward across the continental United States. Then, they were released. Researchers wanted to know what the birds would do. Would they fly back to Washington? Would they fly southwest towards their wintering grounds of California and Mexico? Would they stay in The Garden State and make the best of it? The study revealed two outcomes, and it didn’t take long for the birds to make their move.
The sparrows were released on three different days from three different locations. Each day consisted of individually releasing five adults and five juveniles. With the aid of radio transmitters, their movements were tracked both on the ground and using Cessna airplanes (models 152 or 170 for those aircraft geeks out there). On average, the birds took less than three days to navigate more than 3 miles away from where they were released, and mostly travelled at night. So, which way did they go?
It turns out the adults and juveniles did not fly in the same direction. Wait, what? The adults headed back in the direction of California and Mexico, perhaps following what many migratory species are known to do: return to exactly the same nesting or wintering site year after year. The young squirts, however, flew in a different direction and headed south, the direction of migration. Was this because no adults had taught them the way? Maybe, but at least these little ones flew south to avoid a Jersey winter. That's gotta count for something, right? It's also good to know that New Jersey is within this sparrow's full range, so it's not like they were dropped off at the North Pole. These sparrows were already in their habitat, albeit unfamiliar. In case you're wondering where the birds ended up, none of the birds was tracked longer than eleven days. Huh. Maybe the researchers ran out of money ;)
The word instinct was thrown around a lot when I was a kid, but as acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman writes in The Genius of Birds, “Now we know that bird navigation involves sensing, learning, and, above all, a remarkable ability to build a map in the mind, one far bigger than we ever imagined and made of strange and still mysterious cartography.” Now that's extraordinary, and a far cry from this gal who easily gets lost in parking lots.

Ackerman, Jennifer. The Genius of Birds. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2016.

Thorup K., Bisson I. A., Bowlin M. S., Holland R. A., Wingfield J. C., Ramenofsky M., Wikelski M.  (2007, November 13). Evidence for a navigational map stretching across the continental U.S. in a migratory songbird. PNAS, 104(46), 18115-18119.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Love Song Over Cemetery Point

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

I have not had the pleasure of hearing a Northern Mockingbird sing all night long, but they are not in my territory. However, their range has been creeping northward, with climate change being the most likely culprit. If they do arrive in Duluth in my lifetime, my best chance of hearing their 24-hour bird song would be in May, June, or July.
For me, the two birds I've heard sing late into the evening or early in the morning are the Eastern Whip-poor-will, who sang on hot summer nights until around 9-10 pm when I was a child; and the American Robin, who often started singing as early as 2-3 am when I lived in Port Washington, WI.
Mockingbirds have excellent mimicry, and are perhaps the most well-known birds for this incredible feat. Like European Starlings, mockingbirds have what’s called a syrinx in their chest composed of two membranes, each having the ability to vibrate independently. This enables the bird to make both low and high frequency sounds at the same time, allowing for complex notes with wide variations. As for the song of the Mockingbird, the male is trying to attract the ladies with his chirps, tweets, zips, coos, and anything else he can come up with to woo a female in his direction. Over and over and over and over and.....

Ackerman, Jennifer. The Genius of Birds. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2016.

Connor, Jack. The Complete Birder, A Guide to Better Birding. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.

Stokes, Donald and Lillian. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Fry Roller

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

I wish I could write that this is a painting of a European Starling in Europe, but it is not. European Starlings are everywhere in the United States. They are considered an invasive species, and show no signs of slowing down. In 1890, Eugene Schieffelin purposefully introduced this species into New York’s Central Park because he had a fascination with Shakespeare. A pharmaceutical manufacturer, Schieffelin wanted every bird mentioned by Shakespeare, in this case Henry IV, to be present in the United States. So, on March 6, 1890, he released 60 European Starlings. One year later, he released 40 more. Not knowing just how devastating this decision would be, it is estimated there are more than 200 million of these birds today. They are found in every state, have spilled over into Canada, and southward into Mexico.
It’s not always the case where a species is introduced outside of its original territory and survives. In most cases, the opposite is true. But every now and then, one gets through and wreaks havoc on native species. Off the top of my head, I can name several species that remind me of the European Starling: house sparrows, lionfish, wild hogs, Burmese pythons, common tansy, garlic mustard, common buckthorn, emerald ash borers, zebra mussels, quagga mussels, and Asian carp. 
Problems associated with European Starlings are their prolific breeding, their ability to nest almost anywhere, and their pugnacious nature to overtake other cavity-nesting birds, i.e. bluebirds, purple martins, wrens, flickers and other woodpeckers, all the while finding plenty of food to eat, whether insects or crops. A number of control methods have been used over the years such as pyrotechnics, hawk kites, ultrasonic sounds, owl calls, toxic chemicals, trapping, shooting, electrification, and more. No effective method to control or eradicate this species has been found. In fact, so many studies have been done on this bird, the research available was daunting, to say the least.
It seems this bird is here to stay for quite some time. So, there’s the old saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” After all, humans are still here, so in effect, has this bird not joined us, albeit faultlessly? Even so, it's a quarrelling proposition. To know the Starling is to consider how many other birds it has affected. For example, while building its nest, the Northern Flicker is hard at work while the Starling patiently watches and waits. As soon as the Flicker turns its back, the Starling moves in. The Flicker tries again elsewhere, and the cycle repeats. This happens over and over with other cavity-nesting birds as well.
To appreciate this bird without considering its negative impacts on native species, one might consider its colorful iridescent feathers, its mastery of mimicry, its ability to collectively sky dance (murmuration), and its tenacity for survival. Its bill has been described as “nearly as keen as a meat ax,” superior to that of a crow’s, and is used for probing beetles and earthworms in the ground. Of course, if other food is readily available, why bother digging? I’ve seen a flock of these birds dumpster-diving for Wendy’s French fries in the middle of an April snowstorm, wagging fries in their beaks like Churchill wagged Cubanos. I’ve watched a murmuration in Door County, WI; seen thousands gather on top of road signs at the I35/53 interchange in Duluth, MN; and I once ventured down a residential street to discover what bird was making cheery chirps and tweets in a tree. Yep, a Starling.
I was able to find an ounce of hope for our native species, besides the fact that the Peregrine Falcon is a fierce predator. In 2011, a study was published regarding the design of an artificial nest not preferred by European Starlings. As it turns out, depth matters. I’m talking vertical depth here. When choosing nesting sites, Starlings prefer a certain vertical cavity depth. Humans have discovered that by building artificial nests made out of PVC tubing (27.5 cm length x 9.5 cm inside diameter), Eastern Bluebirds, House Wrens, and Tree Swallows all took to nesting in these homes whereas European Starlings and European House Sparrows, another invader, rarely took occupation, if at all. This smaller design with restricted vertical height could offer more opportunities for native cavity dwellers, leaving their European Starling competitors in the stardust. It’s a small, small victory in an ever-changing world.
This bird is doing what it does best as a species. It's being a bird. The fact that it is here in the United States, out of its normal range, isn't its fault. 

Connor, Jack. The Complete Birder, A Guide to Better Birding. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.

European Starling. n.d. New York Invasive Species Information. February 16, 2019. Retrieved from

Hunt, G. (2013). In Murmurations, Starlings Have a Darwinian Dance Partner. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved from

Keys, Gregory C. & Dugatkin, Lee A. (1990). Flock size and position effects on vigilance, aggression, and prey capture in the European starling. The Condor, 92:151-159. Retrieved from

National Geographic Society. (1999) National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. (3rd ed.). Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America. Garden City Publishing Co. Inc., Garden City, New York, 1936.

Starlings. n.d. Living with Wildlife. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. February 16, 2019. Retrieved from

Tyson, L.A., Blackwell, B.F., & Seamans, T.W. (2011). Artificial nest cavity used successfully by native species and avoided by European starlings. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 123(4), 827-830.

Zielinski, S. (2011). The Invasive Species We Can Blame On Shakespeare. Retrieved from