Thursday, April 29, 2021

Barkers' Beauty

 Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

     This isn’t one of Bob Barker’s beauties from the game show The Price is Right, this is a painting of a female American Redstart that I photographed last September from a visit to Barkers Island in Superior, Wisconsin. It was a spur-of-the-moment excursion that turned out to be a fantastic couple of hours of birding, and unexpectedly, too. 
     Barkers Island was recently renovated to reduce storm water runoff and protect Lake Superior’s water quality, so I was curious to see the changes to the shoreline of Superior Bay and maybe photograph a bird or two. Even though September ushers in prime fall migration, my previous visits to this area weren’t productive, so I wasn’t expecting much. On this particular trip, I think I just got lucky. 
     To have gotten great photos of this lovely and lively Redstart sitting still was divine. For me personally, I don’t know of too many birds in my neck of the woods that are harder to photograph besides Redstarts and Kinglets, but practice over the years has paid off. So, when this bird sat on a branch longer than two seconds after following it with my lens for several moments, I held my breath and started shooting. 
     Other migrating birds seen on Barkers Island were a Common Yellowthroat, Tennessee Warbler, Song Sparrow, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, American Goldfinch, Belted Kingfisher, a Least or Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and a snapping turtle (ahem, not a bird). All of these were found in a very small area along the paved walkway near the entrance, except for the snapper which was crossing the road closer to the marina. 
     It’s true what they say about the burgeoning hobby of birding. Birds are everywhere! Sometimes they turn up in unforeseen numbers when you least expect them. And this, my friends, is just one of the many things that makes birding so much fun.


Snapping Turtle, Barkers Island, Superior, WI. Photo 9/11/2020.





Thursday, April 15, 2021

Monarda's Honey

 Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

It's interesting to watch where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seek out nectar besides my feeders. One thing is for certain, they really love Monarda. This particular variety with showy red petals is called Cambridge Scarlet. In August of 2020, as our summer season was nearing its end, the petals took on some fun shapes and added to the beauty of this hummingbird – as if hummingbirds could get any more beautiful. Also called bee balm, this plant has been a reliable source of natural food for hummingbirds in my yard besides honeysuckle vine, jewelweed, and more.


Monday, April 5, 2021

The Secretive Warbler

 

Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

     “The Connecticut Warbler is a strange rare bird ; a walker instead of a hopping bird ; a bird that is hard to find even when it is in the neighborhood ; a bird which comes north by one route and returns by another, and is almost lost to the world in both breeding and winter feeding seasons.”1  


     During the spring migration when I’m at my desk working on a painting, I practice lots of birding by ear. I quite like the challenge because it really tests my memory and separates that sense of hearing from all my other senses. On May 24, 2017, I heard a bird from my window that I’d never heard before, so I ventured outside with my camera into the woods. It didn’t take long for me to find this bird singing on a branch about 12 feet high, and at the time I had no idea I was looking at, and photographing, a Connecticut Warbler. Since then, I’ve learned it’s a bird many serious birders hope to see in their lifetimes. I have not heard the bird come through my neck of the woods since, but of course that doesn’t mean it hasn’t. 
     That particular day turned out to be a spectacular migration day because I got photos of several species of warblers and many other birds. May is my favorite month to go birding in Duluth, especially in my backyard. 
     In the spring, Connecticut Warblers migrate from South America, through the Caribbean, into the northern reaches towards the Great Lakes, specifically northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the fall, these birds shift their migration eastward and travel southbound along the Atlantic coast, then across the ocean to South America. With a warming climate, this bird’s breeding range is expected to shift north, moving them out of the lower 48 states and further into Canada. 
     My painting, a representation of my photograph, depicts a male because of its gray head and the fact that it was singing. Females have brown or brownish-gray heads. These birds like to nest on the ground in woody wetlands and sphagnum moss found in bogs. If you decide to head out to a bog in search of this bird, be prepared to get your feet wet and carry lots of bug spray. Minnesota has more bogs than any other state besides Alaska, so with a little luck and persistence, maybe you’ll be able to spot this bird too, either in its habitat or on its migration route. Either way, it would be a fine sighting and I wish you good luck!



References

 

Information from the All About Birds website, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Connecticut_Warbler/maps-range, © Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved April 5, 2021.


Information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snas/peatlands.html, © 2021 Minnesota DNR. Retrieved April 5, 2021.


Kaufman, Kenn. n.d. Connecticut Warbler. Audubon. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/connecticut-warbler. Retrieved April 5, 2021.


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


1Pearson, T. Gilbert. Birds of America. Garden City Publishing Co. Inc., New York. 1936.





Friday, March 19, 2021

Lazy Afternoon

Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

Two Western Willets and a Laughing Gull on a lazy afternoon in the Gulf.



Friday, March 5, 2021

Learning from Dad

 Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

    Pileated Woodpeckers are common where I live, although for the past few months it seems their presence has dwindled just a bit. I was accustomed to almost daily visits from these birds, but lately my suet feeder has been unusually quiet. Perhaps it was our cold February, or maybe it’s because of recently cleared, large tracts of land nearby: one for a Costco, another for a church. 
    Pileated Woodpeckers need dead or dying trees to survive, and anywhere I have one of those on my property, that tree stays right where it is, as long as it’s not a threat to other humans or property should it fall. Dead trees play important roles in forest ecosystems. 
    In May of 2018, I had a nesting pair of Pileateds in an old poplar in my woods and I’ve included a couple of my photos below. Fresh wood shavings found at the base of the tree invited my eyes to look skyward. Several feet up, I noticed a well-defined hole, and a subsequent knock on the tree produced a female Pileated Woodpecker who poked her head out to see what all the fuss was about. A couple months after she’d nested, a gray squirrel poked its head out of the same hole. 
    The following three paragraphs were taken from an article in Science titled “Defending Deadwood” by Kevin Krajick. 
     “The message is, if you want live things, you need dead trees. Humans, however, are putting the sting back into tree death: By taking too many dead or destined-to-be-dead ones for their own uses, they threaten many ecosystems. 
    The first to feast on sick trees are fungi, the main decomposers, followed by bacteria, yeasts, mites, and nematodes. Then the biotic chain lengthens further. 
    In the Pacific Northwest, it was found that 80-some animals need deadwood, starting with the powerful pileated woodpecker. The holes it drills in ailing but still-standing trees shelter not only the bird itself but also a cycle of ‘secondary cavity nesters,’ which need tree holes but cannot dig themselves. This makes the pileated woodpecker a keystone species, with dependents including nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds, and swifts. As more space opens, mammals come: squirrels, fishers, martens, woodrats, then black bears. A study by Bull in the Winter 2000 issue of Northwestern Naturalist shows that nearly half of black bears have their cubs or rest in rotted-out tree cavities.” 
    I hope for the sake of future generations, the Pileated Woodpecker is adaptable enough for centuries to come, but its future, like so many other creatures, relies on humans paying more attention, stopping habitat loss, and caring about our environment more than the developments that wreck them.



Female Pileated Woodpecker in her nest.
Photo taken May 20, 2018, at my home in Duluth, MN.



A gray squirrel occupying the same nest on July 10, 2018.



Reference

Krajick, Kevin. "Defending Deadwood." Science, vol. 293, no. 5535, 2001, pp. 1579-1581. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3084585. Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Guarding Carlos

 
Oil on Belgian Linen - 20 x 10 inches

     Here I have painted a Clay-colored Sparrow sitting atop an old log at Carlos State Park in western Minnesota. These birds come through my neck of the woods in Duluth also, and I love their buzzy calls. For a bird, their sound is unusual and reminds me of a bird coming down with laryngitis trying its hardest to sing like the rest. It's what makes this bird so adorable in my opinion, because it's just not like the others.

     These birds breed in the upper midwestern states into Canada, migrating from Central America and Texas. While I was observing this bird, I noticed a gopher nearby keeping its eye on things from the security of a wood pile. Below is my photo of that gopher, an animal that is also the University of Minnesota's mascot.


A gopher in a wood pile near the Clay-colored Sparrow




Friday, February 12, 2021

When the Geminids Fall

 

Oil on Belgian Linen - 22 x 28

    They say it’s easy to be superstitious when the stakes are low. It’s because you have nothing to lose. In this case, I was willing to contemplate a little superstition. I think the Geminids were to blame. Tomorrow I might feel differently, but the Geminid meteor shower was at its peak on December 14, 2019. What else could have caused such an interesting course of events? Fate? Coincidence? Oh, what a bore those can be. The allure of celestial causation was seductive and exciting, free from risk. Why not blame the Geminids? 
    Dec. 14th fell on a Saturday and my sleep had been restless. From 3 am onward, I tossed and turned. At 5 o’clock, I gave up and went downstairs. I didn’t raid the refrigerator, turn on the TV, or grab a book, I just headed straight for the couch. My intentions were simple: get more sleep. For some people, that might not seem strange — the getting out of bed and moving to the couch for more sleep part. But for me, it was highly unusual. In fact, I can’t ever remember doing that unless I was ill. I curled up under my heated throw and got comfortable. It didn’t take long before the heat kicked in. Just give me a few more winks, maybe another hour or two, I thought. I started to doze. By 6:30 am sleep had arrived. I know that because that’s when I awoke to a short succession of tempered thuds on the porch. It sounded like someone had rolled a giant square snowball outside of my window. Thud, thud, thud. Then it stopped. About the same time, there was a squeal, a strange undeniable squeal. 
    Always thinking of birds, I thought of Blue Jays. Well sort of, but not exactly. It’s amazing how fast the mind processes thoughts. Before moving to Duluth, I’d never heard the calls of fishers (the mammals) or vixens before, but I thought of them. Neither matched what I heard. My mind returned to Blue Jays but that just didn’t make sense. Jays that occasionally overwinter in Duluth live just down the hill, closer to Lake Superior. It’s a lake that rarely gets mentioned for being warm, but temperatures are relative. By its shores, it can easily be five or ten degrees warmer than a mile or two away, so Blue Jays can survive winters a little closer to the lake, especially in neighborhoods with feeders. Still, they’re uncommon. 
    My home is just far enough away from the lake where Blue Jays know it’s too cold. If one were in my neighborhood, it surely wouldn’t have been making noises in the dark, in the dead of winter, at 6:30 am, with temperatures in the teens. Not only that, winter had come early. She’d dropped almost 22 inches of snow the last weekend of November, and by December 14th, we’d already gotten over 46 inches of snow. Birds can be unpredictable but I dismissed my Blue Jay theory quickly. I simply played the odds knowing what I know about Blue Jays, winter and my home. 
    Meanwhile, the Geminids kept falling. The celestial season was punctual and far away without the world paying too much attention. Time marched on and I was no more interested or speculative about far off events causing strange noises on my porch any more than the next person. 
    The squealing stopped. It was over just as soon as it started, but if it lasted two seconds it seemed like ten. I sat up from my slumber, pulled the curtain back from the window behind me and peered out. Just enough light reflected off the snow from nearby houselights to reveal shapes and outlines, but nothing seemed amiss. My heart pounded. Something was out there. 
     I sprang up from the couch and took a few steps over to the other porch window on the east side. There, to my utter amazement sitting on the floorboards was the faint outline of an owl. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I froze, stunned. Its wings were spread out, and it was rocking back and forth sideways. Its back was towards me and the only thing separating me from the owl was dim light, five feet and a window. 
    Eventually its rocking subsided, but it still wobbled every now and then. I began to wonder if the owl was okay. Several moments passed and then everything got stranger, not with the owl but with me. I became dizzy. Really dizzy. Soon, the dizziness turned to faintness. I didn’t know what was happening. I’d never felt that way before, at least not to that extent. It was really weird. I pleaded with myself to feel better, but it wasn’t working. Did I get up from the couch too fast? Was I too excited to see an owl? Did I need more sleep? If I didn’t lie down quickly, I was going to pass out. 
    I reverted back to the couch and collapsed. The room spun around and around but at least I remained conscious. In the meantime, what about that owl? 
    Terry was still asleep, and as I lay on my back, a great debate raged in my head. Should I wake him? Would he hear my shouts? If I shouted, would the owl hear me? I didn’t want to disturb it. Maybe I should just wait it out until my head felt better. But what if that took too long? What was wrong with me? Am I okay? For this bird lover, I was in a serious quandary. Maybe if I just laid still for a few moments the dizziness would pass. But that owl! When it comes to wild birds, time is of the essence and my patience was running thin. 
    I shouted softly — twice. The bed squeaked and the floor boards creaked. He heard me, thank heavens. When he came downstairs, I explained to him what was going on. Puzzled, he just stood there looking at me, glancing towards the window. Should he comfort me, or go see the owl? I was slightly amused by his predicament, but my patience had run out. “Go! Go see if the owl’s still there!” I exclaimed. “Is it still there?” Yeah. “What’s it doing?” It’s just sitting there. “Are its wings spread out?” Sort of. A little, I guess? It’s just sitting there. Really still. Wow. 
    Yeah, wow. 
    After about a minute, I tried sitting up. I felt okay. Then I stood up. Still okay. I walked over to the window and we stared at the owl together. We exchanged a lot of thoughts, mostly about its well-being. The wobbling had stopped, and now it wasn’t moving at all. The last few minutes afforded just a hint of more light and I had the suspicion we were looking at a Barred Owl. I couldn’t see the ear tufts of a Great-horned and its size was too small for a Great Gray, but clarity was pitiful at best. It was just too dark. We waited and watched. It felt like an eternity. 
    Then, the owl turned its head. It was momentous because up until then, it had remained as still as a statue. I wanted to grab my camera but I knew the flash would disturb it. In addition, neither of us wanted to make any kind of movement because we might attract the owl’s attention. The last thing we wanted to do was be the reason the owl altered its course of action. We remained motionless and whispered to each other in the predawn darkness. 
    And then, in a split second, the owl shifted. There was movement to its right. “That’s a rabbit!” I exclaimed. “It was sitting on a rabbit!” I recognized the rabbit’s gait and faint silhouette. It was injured. I knew that by how slowly it hopped away from the grips of the owl’s talons. When the owl chased the rabbit towards the front door, we lost sight of them momentarily, but then saw the owl on top of the banister searching for the rabbit. By then, the rabbit had slipped under the porch. It was gone. I took my camera out and shot my first photographs of the owl then. Even though I knew my photos would be terrible, I wanted to document the bird before it flew away. 
    After several moments, the owl flew to the utility wires above the ditch. There it stayed, perched in the wind for around ten minutes. I gathered it had given up on the rabbit because it faced south, away from our house. Dawn had arrived and I confirmed it was indeed a Barred Owl. It spent a long time on that wire before it flew out of sight towards a nearby cedar. 
    An adrenaline-filled morning transitioned into a calm, sunny afternoon. Terry and I chatted non-stop about our experience, and all of the concern we had about the owl rocking back and forth and wobbling was explained. It had been sinking its talons into a soft, squishy, plump rabbit. Surprisingly, we never saw one speck of the rabbit until its dark shadowy figure made its escape. The owl’s feathers covered everything from behind. 
    Early that afternoon while making raspberry truffles in the kitchen, I noticed an unusual blob high up in the trees. My binoculars confirmed it was a Barred Owl. Could it be the same one? I grabbed my camera, winter coat, neck gaitor, headband, gloves and headed outdoors. After an arduous journey about the length of a football field through waist-deep snow — I actually entertained the thought of getting stuck! — I stopped at a clearing and took some photos. Occasionally the owl looked at me with squinty eyes, but mostly looked away with sleepy eyes. I gave it condolences for its loss with a qualifier in case I was speaking to the wrong bird. Later, when examining my photographs, I noticed blood-stained feathers on its chest and pink-colored tail feathers. This was indeed the same owl! I was thrilled to have met it. 
    I never did find the rabbit under our porch but later in the week there was a rabbit hopping around with a severe limp on its right back foot. It’s possible it was the same rabbit, but I’ll never know. 
    In retrospect, nature — or perhaps the Geminids — dealt a cold-hearted blow to both animals. Breakfast, once in the grips of the owl, was gone; the rabbit, having escaped death, was injured. Neither came out victorious, one went hungry and the other suffered. Some people make wishes upon falling stars. Perhaps in this case it would’ve been fitting to have wished specifically upon the Geminids — for the owl never to go hungry and the rabbit never to suffer. When the Geminids fall, there are lots of wishes to be made. Maybe if I’d known the Geminids were falling that day, that would’ve been mine.
  


12/14/19  7:08 am, a terrible photo but this is my
first predawn photo of the owl sitting on the banister
after losing the rabbit

12/14/19  7:13 am, owl on utility wires after giving up on finding the rabbit

12/14/19 early afternoon, showing bloody breast feathers

12/14/19 tuft of rabbit fur found near porch

1/8/2020 The suspected 'lucky' rabbit with a limp.
Possible puncture scar on cheek nearer the nose.



Monday, January 25, 2021

When My Baby Comes Home

 

Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

    Love them or loathe them, pigeons have reputations.
    We humans are influenced by our upbringing, societal pressures, and certain events in our lives. Not growing up in a neighborhood where pigeons were present, my first personal association with them was in my early 20s when I was apartment hunting in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. While on a tour, the caretaker, or an associate thereof, showed me an apartment and opened the sliding glass door to the balcony. It wasn’t the neighboring view that I distinctly remember, it was the massive pile of pigeon droppings on the balcony floor. The mound was no smaller than a foot high. Even though I was shocked by the sheer size of the pile, my irritation was towards the tour guide who didn’t bother to clean up the feces prior to my visit. I harbored no negativity towards the pigeon(s) who found this particular spot ideal because that’s what they do. 
    Over a decade later in the mid-2000s, still having little association with pigeons, another memorable encounter with the species surfaced. In a shady blacktopped area on the north side of my Port Washington home next to the garage door, I noticed a pigeon. It was alone, confused, possibly injured, and in need of help. Even though I lived in a city dwelling, it wasn’t an area known to harbor lots of pigeons, so it was a bit odd to find one, much less in a precarious state. I watched it for some time and eventually came to the conclusion that something wasn’t right. After assessing my chances of capturing it, I decided it was worth a shot. I found a suitable blanket, approached the pigeon and flung the blanket over it. Remarkably, it was an easy feat, further solidifying my viewpoint that it needed help.
    Cradling the pigeon, I picked it up and brought it home. Without much of a plan other than to help it, I gave it temporary shelter using my blue, plastic, upside-down laundry basket as its cage, complete with ventilation holes. My two insatiably curious cats watched nearby, but were soon banished from the room. Slowly and gently, I placed some food and water under the basket and to my great relief, the pigeon responded to both.
    Now what? I spent several moments observing the bird, looking for signs of injury, trauma, blood, limping, anything. Visually, I saw nothing, but that didn’t mean the bird was without internal injuries or undetectable ones underneath its feathers; but I was no expert and had no training to make a proper assessment. The one thing I did notice however, was that the bird had a band on its foot. Reading a bird band isn't easy without holding the bird much less a magnifier, but I was eventually able to make out the alphanumeric code. So I wrote it down and wondered if the internet might lead me to the origins or owner of this bird.
    I walked over to my computer – keep in mind this was before the advancement of cell phone technology and WiFi – and I couldn’t believe my luck when the code turned up on a website about homing pigeons. The site listed the code, a name and a phone number. I called the number and left a message. A short time later, a man called back and said he was the owner of the pigeon. He asked me where I lived and if the bird was securely in my possession. He also wanted to know if the pigeon appeared healthy. Did it have broken or messy feathers? Was it skinny? I answered him as best as I could.
    The man didn’t sound overly concerned but said he’d stop by in a few hours to pick it up. He lived about an hour south in Racine, WI. When he arrived, he handled his pigeon like a pro, it was obvious he knew what he was doing. After examining its wing structure and feeling its girth, he told me he thought the bird was fine albeit a little skinny. We talked for a while and he gave me a brief overview of racing homing pigeons, which this bird was. It wasn’t his only pigeon. With a slight hesitation, the man said the pigeon probably would’ve found its way back home, but his confidence seemed shaken. I got the sense the owner knew this exact bird but wasn’t all that surprised it hadn’t returned home.
    So, it turns out I had stumbled upon a domesticated homing pigeon that belonged to a man carrying out the sport of racing pigeons.
    As the man drove away, I hoped the pigeon was in good hands, but I had more questions than answers about the sport of racing pigeons.
    It's not entirely known how Pigeons’ innate homing ability works, but it is excellent. Plenty of stories throughout history can be found pertaining to this exceptional trait. Pigeons have “an intense desire to reunite with their mate, their nest and the familiar comfort and food of their loft.” Their remarkable ability to find their way home has served them well for thousands of years.
    When it comes to the sport of pigeon racing, in order to create a pigeon’s intense desire to get back home, some owners first allow two mated pigeons to build a nest, then will remove the selected racing pigeon soon thereafter, only to drop it off hundreds of miles away to wait for its return. Another method is to introduce a competitor into the bird’s loft just prior to release. Is there any mystery why it would be highly motivated to get back home? As it turns out, both of these methods prove successful in getting pigeons to fly home on the double.
    I struggle to have any appetite to remove a bird from its mate only to see how fast it can return simply for the sport of it, regardless of the reward the owner receives, be it acquired or innate. Whatever self-gratification is obtained through the sport is misguided. To gain knowledge for scientific study and the betterment of the planet is one thing, but to remove a mate from its partner just to see how fast it can race is human selfishness, disrespect, and cruelty, all at the expense of another living creature. Just like cockfighting (illegal in all 50 states) and the waning of greyhound racing (illegal in at least 40 states), pigeon racing should be one of those activities whose days are numbered. Sadly, the activity continues.
    This little oil painting of two, wild, rock pigeons shows them huddled together on a frigid winter’s day in Duluth on January 13, 2018.



References 

Butcher, Sterry. "The Art of Racing Pigeons." Texas Monthly, January 2020, www.texasmonthly.com/being-texan/texas-homing-pigeons-fly-home/. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.


Capoccia, Stella., Boyle, Callie., and Darnell, Tedd. "Loved or loathed, feral pigeons as subjects in ecological and social research." Journal of Urban Ecology, 2018, 1-6. doi: 10.1093/jue/juy024, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.


"Cockfighting." aspca.org/animal-cruelty/other-animal-issues/cockfighting. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.


"Greyhound Racing FAQ." www.humanesociety.org/resources/greyhound-racing-faq. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.


Griffin, Jonathan. "Cockfighting Laws" Vol. 22, No. 1, January 2014, www.ncsl.org/research/agriculture-and-rural-development/cockfighting-laws.aspx#:~:text=Cockfighting%20is%20illegal%20in%20all,2007%2C%20is%20the%20most%20recent.&text=Although%20all%20states%20ban%20cockfighting,cockfighting%20and%20attending%20cockfighting%20events. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.


Mehlhorn J, Rehkaemper G (2016) "The Influence of Social Parameters on the Homing Behavior of Pigeons." PloS ONE 11(11): e0166572. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166572. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.


Soniak, Matt. Nov. 14, 2016. "The Origins of Our Misguided Hatred for Pigeons." audubon.org/news/the-origins-our-misguided-hatred-pigeons. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.



Friday, January 8, 2021

Arts North International Juried Exhibition

 


Arts North International Juried Exhibition
January 9 - February 13, 2021
Hopkins Center for the Arts
1111 Mainstreet
Hopkins, MN 55343 USA
952-548-6485

Virtual visitation available throughout the show
In-person visitation begins Monday, January 11, 2021
Gallery Hours Mon - Sat, 10 am - 6 pm
Free and open to all

25% capacity limit due to Covid-19 restrictions
Thank you for understanding

Showing "Mirador" and "Barred Encounter in Minnesota's Northland"




Wednesday, November 25, 2020

International Miniature Exhibition

 

November 22, 2020 - January 9, 2021
The Miniature Painters, Sculptors & Gravers
Society of Washington, D.C.
87th Annual International Exhibition of Fine Art in Miniature
The Mansion at Strathmore
North Bethesda, Maryland USA



Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Queenfisher and the Unquiet Willow

 

Oil on Belgian Linen, 18 x 48 inches

    Each year, Belted Kingfishers come through my neck of the woods and announce their arrivals with ratchety calls. I love their visits for many reasons, but mostly because they'll find food so their hunting will be rewarded. These birds like to perch on nearby willows, and I chose to depict that familiar view in this painting. Many of my observations of kingfishers are directly related to willow trees, so painting this female kingfisher without a willow under its feet would've diluted the marrow of my portrayal.
    Owing to the rust-colored feathers on this bird's belly, this is a female. They are the more colorful sex. Males, void of this extra band around their stomachs, are simply blue-ish and white. Kingfishers are shy birds who usually don't allow for close views before taking flight. I've observed this behavior no matter where I've seen them, whether at state parks, along the shores of Superior Bay, or in my backyard. But if I'm patient enough and persistent with my efforts not to disturb their fishing, they've allowed me great opportunities to watch them hunt. It takes practice to view wary species up close, but my efforts usually pay off. Sitting for long periods of time without moving a muscle, all the while enduring gnats, black flies and mosquitoes, are often punishing requirements.
    As mentioned, this kingfisher is perched on a willow, and if trees had doors, a willow's doors would always be open. They're invitational and frequently pull me in for closer looks. For this tree lover, they're one of the most boisterous trees of all. Big, loud, disorderly, and unrestrained, all characteristics of willows, I've never seen one that has offered quietness, not even the dead ones. If you're familiar with willows, you know what I'm going to write next. Are they ever really dead? Take storms, for instance. An ominous tempest can trample through a forest like a big bully, but when it comes to willows, its victory is fleeting. The ability to sprout new growth after seemingly life-ending events such as windstorms makes willows great.
    This painting not only depicts a female kingfisher spying her prey below, but it's also an ode to a specific willow that succumbed to a wind storm in 2018. That tree, which comprised of two massive trunks, was moody, dominating, and stately. One trunk remained upright, the other fell politely, avoiding a good number of trees on its way to the ground. It was as if it knew exactly where to fall. Oh, such a gentle giant, that willow.
    Since then, the tree has started to grow back just like willows do. Three more trees, all red oaks, were planted nearby to fill in areas left behind. With a little luck, the willow will find its way skyward; and when it does, a gazillion birds, kingfishers and more, will grace its branches once again, just like they did so many years before.
    I hope you're enjoying the trees and forests in your area and all of the wildlife they support.



    Plant trees, preserve forests.



Saturday, September 19, 2020

Guiding Petals

 

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Word from the bird: 

    It's wicked starting my life this way. Mom says we'll be in the bayou soon. There's one, hold on. Darn, missed it. Those flies are really fast today, maybe I'll try for spiders. Sometimes the shade is better. She says try to stay quiet, but I'm as sneaky as I can get. Heck, I can barely hear myself skulking through the grass, you know? Maybe I'll catch a train, like my cousin Trel. If Trel made it, maybe I can, too. But my grandpa says Trel got lucky. I don't know what lucky means but my mom said it's like a bug that gets away. Well, if that's what lucky means, I don't want any part of it, because I like bugs that don't have lucky.
    Wish I knew what happened. Maybe it was one of those noisy things. Mom warned me about those, she said be careful when they get loud because that means they're really close and I won't be able to hear her. I'd be on my own. Hide, she'd say. Even sticks and stones come alive and fly like darts in a hurricane. She said it's like helter skelter, and if I wasn't careful I could end up like Barde. She got hit by a cinquefoil stem, messed up her leg pretty bad. Still rather be like Barde, though.
    Maybe it was Kinks, thinks he owns the place. That slimy beast sure likes scaring ducks, I'm always on alert when he's out. I'm not scared of him though, but if he hadn't startled me that one time, I would've caught that strider. I just know it. I was so close, I could almost taste it. Had I known how to speak rodent at the time, I would've told him off. Just like that time he was harassing those ducks — I'd never seen ducks fly that fast before in my life! Before I knew it, they'd almost landed right on top of me. I remember being in the grass and hopping away at the last second only to find myself in the swordy stalks. Mom calls 'em some th word I can never remember. Maybe that's when it happened, but then again, I was already having problems. Mom said I'd be hungry a lot, and I was really hungry that day, so it must've already happened. The thing is, I was so young, I can't say for sure.
    Then, there's that time I was scolded because I was out wandering around. Yeah, my mom didn't like that very much but I didn't tell her all of the places I'd gone because who knows what she would've done. Heck, if she'd found out I was in the garden where the pokey chicken wire is, I never would've heard the end of it. She's always trying to protect me from losing my other eye, but now we're heading south, and she's telling me to stay on her left. She gave me an extra long peck this morning, said it's going to be a hard journey and there's lots of trouble, but I think to myself, there's lots of trouble here! How bad can it be? She said a new word today right after she gave me that peck, sounded something like goodbye. What does that mean? I'm trying to keep up. Mom, wait! Mom? Mom!!!!!

Ode to a juvenile, male Common Yellowthroat with an injured, or missing, left eye. August 14, 2020






Monday, August 31, 2020

Waiting for Raspberry

NEW! "Waiting for Raspberry" Original Oil, 4 x 4 inches



"Raspberry" Original Oil, 4 x 4 inches

My newest miniature painting of a female, or juvenile, Purple Finch is shown here, above the colorful male I painted a few years ago. Because juveniles look similar to females, I can't specify with certainty the sex of this bird. One thing is certain however, it is not an adult male. Adult males, like the one depicted above, are colorful. They are the shade of ripe red raspberries, but definitely not purple. I am posting both of these paintings because the following paragraphs refer to the nomenclature of the Purple Finch.

In my attempt to understand why the Purple Finch is called such a name without having a shred of purple in its feathers, initially my research took me back to the beginning of time when purple was first discovered. But for the purpose of my investigation, going back that far wasn’t necessary since I couldn't find any documentation referencing both the origins of the Purple Finch’s namesake and the color purple until the 1700s. 

On its own, purple has a long and storied history. Think of the cave drawings of the ancient world. That’s how far back the color purple has been used. Purple textiles were expensive, difficult to obtain, and laborious to produce, which is why they were associated with royalty and worn by the rulers of the world. The greatest Dons of Spain and the noblest of Romans wore purple garments as status symbols to indicate their high rank and leadership positions. 

Without needing to dig that deep into purple’s past, my findings regarding why the Purple Finch was called such a name went back around 300 years. Studying the color purple around the time the Purple Finch was recognized in literature seemed to be the key. In other words, detecting early mentions of the Purple Finch in journals or scientific publications and connecting that time in history with the color purple became the focus of my research. My goal was to gain an understanding, and perhaps reach some sort of loose conclusion, as to how the Purple Finch got its name. 

For some, it might be ample to dissect the Latin version of Purple Finch, which is Haemorhous purpureus. Haemo means “blood” in Greek, purpureus means “purple, or dark red” in Latin. Piteously teasing a rudimentary outcome, this translation provided little satisfaction and was hardly conclusive as to why this bird got its name. Why wasn’t it called the Dark Red Finch, or crimson, old-rose, scarlet, or raspberry? All of those colors have been used to describe the male’s feathers, one of three finches in North America that are undisputedly reddish. The others being the male House Finch and male Cassin’s Finch.

Although I was unable to positively identify who discovered or named this bird, its namesake is associated with the German malacologist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1789. During Gmelin’s lifetime, the seat of the purple industry where such colorful textiles were produced was Nicoya, Costa Rica; and it was there where a specific color named Tyrian purple was manufactured and used to dye clothing. 

So what is Tyrian purple and how is it different than the purple we are accustomed to today? Tyrian purple is actually a crimson color and was derived from certain rock snails, specifically the murexes. Another shellfish from the same family of seashells called dog whelk can be located throughout the rocky shores of Europe and the northwest Atlantic coast of North America. Both shellfish have the ability to render variants of purples and reds from their mucus. Tyrian purple is most closely associated with the murex genus of mollusks. 

As mentioned earlier, the color purple, including Tyrian purple, can be traced back to ancient times. Its use has spanned centuries from early cave drawings BCE to the 1800s. One can assume it was discovered by accident, as most things are. Perhaps a person curiously disassembled, or tasted, a few snails on the seashore, inadvertently splashed a bit of snail onto his clothing, and later noticed his clothing was splotched with various hues of red.

Or, perhaps in more recent times, it was rediscovered by a dog.

In a 1636 painting by Peter Paul Rubens titled Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye, the artist depicts Hercules on a beach with a dog. Lying on the shore are various types of shellfish. The dog, standing next to Hercules with its paw resting atop one of the mollusks, is featured with a red substance dripping from its mouth. One can assume the dog made contact with the snail. Had the painting’s title been different or unknown, a viewer might have thought the dog’s mouth was covered in blood; but based on the title of the work, the dog’s mouth is covered in Tyrian purple. Taking a closer look at the painting, the artist’s and/or commissioner’s choice of snail is a bit odd. Instead of painting a spiny murex, the snail associated with Tyrian purple, Rubens portrayed a snail whose shape is more indicative of a nautilus. Nautilus snails do not contain mucus with the ability to dye clothing purple.


Hercules's Dog Discovers Purple Dye by Peter Paul Rubens, 1636


Generally speaking, dyeing textiles Tyrian purple is a thing of the past, although there may be some current production by certain peoples in respect of tradition. For all intents and purposes, the industry has disappeared. In the following paragraphs, I will refer to the purple industry in the past tense.

Several methods were used to obtain the purple-yielding mucus from the snails. The ancient and primitive method was to excessively squeeze each gastropod until fluid emerged from their posterior resulting in the snails’ death. Not only was this highly destructive, the dye wasn’t as pure as later methods would prove. Great heaps of murex shells have been found on the coast of Crete, Greece and in Sidon, Lebanon. 

Another method involved boiling large quantities of snails in vats. An undesirable side effect of this process was that it yielded fishy-smelling clothing. As a consequence, Roman emperors used perfumes extravagantly to mask the odors of their noble garments. In time, the industry became unsustainable. When a Roman emperor forgave all taxes to those who labored in collecting murexes, the mollusks were most likely in decline, or near extermination.

The third method was used by the Nicoya Indians in Costa Rica as late as the mid 1700s, the century that intersected with the life of Johann Friedrich Gmelin, the person associated with the Purple Finch’s name. It involved squeezing the gastropods once, occasionally twice, before returning them back to the oceanic rocks from which they came. This more conservative method was likely formed from centuries of experience. Even still, great quantities of shellfish were being used just to dye a few ounces of thread, one aspect that had never changed.

The final method closely related to, if not interchangeable with the third, was also utilized by the people of Nicoya. Using cotton as their primary textile, they simply ran the thread across the mouths of the shells. With experience came knowledge and those who worked in the industry became experts at their craft, recognizing differences in Tyrian purple hues based upon the hour in which the materials were dyed. In all likelihood, there was an art to obtaining consistent results. 

While it’s possible, and dare I say likely, that Johann Friedrich Gmelin was referring to Tyrian Purple when describing the Purple Finch, I am wholly bound by the inconclusiveness of my research. To assume, and in brevity know, what Gmelin was thinking at that time is preposterous. However, given that one of his many titles was that of a malacologist (the study of mollusks), along with the history of Tyrian purple and time frame therein whereby its production in Costa Rica overlapped Gmelin’s lifespan, there is evidence to infer Tyrian purple, also known as crimson, was the reddish color attributed to this bird’s name.

Just in case you’re wondering, purple is created in laboratories and produced synthetically these days.

In other news, as August comes to a close, signs of fall are widely present. The Purple Finches, which numbered around a dozen at my feeders recently, are slowly dwindling in numbers and heading south. Northern Flickers are calling and so are Blue Jays, except while spearing nourishment from apples in trees. Black bears, groundhogs and white-tailed deer are all benefiting from this fruit as well. I have never seen a single apple left on the ground to rot here at my home. 

Most birds, including neck-straining warblers and everyone’s favorite, the hummingbirds, are migrating. Sparrows are especially abundant and noticeable. Common nighthawks were numerous over a marshy field close to my home on August 23rd; and just like the barn swallows that I love so dearly, these birds fly similarly by zig-zagging back and forth, nabbing bugs mid-flight. They are mesmerizing to watch. Belted Kingfishers came through on the 11th and 18th, and a pair of house wrens raised their presumed second brood of the season nearby. Fledging occurred on August 15th from a rather unusual home: an industrial black sleeve attached to cable wiring that overhangs the ditch in front of my house.

In the woods, one of my favorite plants, the red baneberry, is holding onto its dark red fruit in shadier locations, but those closer to the forest’s edge reveal berries that have shriveled up like raisins. Asters are blossoming in pretty whites and pale violets. Goldenrod is tall and striking in masses, covered with hundreds of buzzing bees. In particular areas of my yard, there are robust patches of it, strong and tall, proving that my efforts to eradicate common tansy are paying off. Bringing back native ‘weeds,’ as some like to call them, is truly a labor of love unfit for those who prefer, and understandably so, not to have their faces buried in tall grasses, ferns, thorny thistles, asters, and ivies just to accomplish what is surely a daunting task. If my chore coat, boots, gloves, and hat weren’t all doing their jobs, I’d be covered head to toe in pricks, pokes, scratches and rashes, not to mention laden with a sour mood.

With the arrival of fall and the changes the season has to offer, I hope you are all doing well. And if you haven’t driven your car in a while (in my case due to the pandemic), this is just a friendly reminder that it’s spider season. You may want to check for webs and dangling spiders inside of your vehicle before heading out, especially near the front window or steering wheel. A yellowish, translucent, hanging arachnid wasn’t a particularly calming sight when I noticed it ten inches from my face, ready to drop from its thread onto my lap while driving to the post office today. Next time, I’ll heed my own advice before potentially causing an accident. One would think I’d be used to close encounters with creepy crawlies given the number of hours I spend in the woods, but I expect to see them in the woods, not hanging from my car’s windshield. For me, today’s brush with this eight-legger reminded me just how permeable our world is to nature; and in these trying times, I found comfort in that despite this spider’s unwelcome appearance.



References 

Byzantium (color). December 27, 2019. Byzantium (color).Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantium_(color)

 

Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye. June 5, 2020. Hercules’s Dog Discovers Purple Dye.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercules%27s_Dog_Discovers_Purple_Dye

 

Johann Friedrich Gmelin. February 20, 2020. Johann Friedrich Gmelin.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Friedrich_Gmelin


Kaufman, Kenn. n.d. Purple Finch.Audubon. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/purple-finch

 

Mahoney, Kevin D., et al. n.d. Latin definition for: purpureus, purpurea, purpureum.Latdict Group. https://latin-dictionary.net/definition/32351/purpureus-purpurea-purpureum

 

Meaning of purple in English. n.d. Lexico. https://www.lexico.com/definition/purple

 

Nicoya. April 18, 2020. Nicoya. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicoya

 

Nuttall, Zelia. “A Curious Survival in Mexico of the Use of the Purpura Shell-Fish for Dyeing.” Putnam anniversary volume; anthropological essays presented to Frederic Ward Putnam in honor of his seventieth birthday, April 16, 1909, by his friends and associates.G.E. Stechert & Co., NY. 1909. 368-384.

 

Purple. August 31, 2020. Purple. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple#In_prehistory_and_the_ancient_world:_Tyrian_purple

 

Purple finch. April 24, 2020. Purple finch.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_finch#:~:text=The%20purple%20finch%20was%20originally,purpureus%20and%20H

 

Schultz, Colin. (2013, October 10) In Ancient Rome, Purple Dye Was Made from Snails. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/in-ancient-rome-purple-dye-was-made-from-snails-1239931/

 

Trotter, S. (1912). “The Names “Purple Finch,” “Mavis,” and “Highole.”” The Auk, 29(2), 255-256. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4071400

 

Tyrian purple. August 2, 2020. Tyrian purple.Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purple#Modern_hue_rendering

 

Waldert, Peter. n.d. Purpureus/purpurea/purpureum, AO.Latin is Simple. https://www.latin-is-simple.com/en/vocabulary/adjective/7222/




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. 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.


References
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 https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/blackburnian-warbler

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 Minnesota's Northland

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.