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, it may have experienced its first human sighting, snoozing with its eyes wide open.

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.


References
Common Yellowthroat. n.d. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Yellowthroat/lifehistory

Heiney, A. (2019) Vehicle Assembly Building. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/content/vehicle-assembly-building

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.


References
Kaufman, Kenn. Audubon Guide to North American Birds. Solitary Sandpiper. August 26, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/solitary-sandpiper

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!



References
Alphonsus, Brother. "Nesting Habits of Our Birds." The American Midland Naturalist, vol. 3, no. 3, 1913, pp. 65-68. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2992788.

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, www.jstor.org/stable/4160866.


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

Mirador

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

Starlet

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.


References
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.....


References
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. Well, when it comes to what birds do in the wild, que sera sera, my friends. But 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. 


References
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 nyis.info/invasive_species/european-starling/

Hunt, G. (2013). In Murmurations, Starlings Have a Darwinian Dance Partner. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/in-murmurations-starlings-have-a-darwinian-dance-partner/

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 https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v092n01/p0151-p0159.pdf

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 https://www.wdfw.wa.gov/living/starlings.html

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 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-invasive-species-we-can-blame-on-shakespeare-95506437/



Sunday, February 10, 2019

Charlie's Awards


          Charlie, my small work in oil of a Downy Woodpecker, won two awards this past weekend at Wolf River Art League’s Mid-Winter Art Show in New London, WI. Taking second place and people’s choice awards, this is the first time Charlie has been seen out in public. Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the show at Crystal Falls. Charlie thanks his fans, too.


Friday, February 8, 2019

D.I. Frank

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Great Blue Herons are the tallest birds in the wild that I have stood next to. They are giants and make me feel small. When I visited Dauphin Island, Alabama, I was told by a resident to be on the lookout for a very friendly Great Blue Heron named Frank. Sure enough, Frank paid a visited one day and stood on the breakwall near the shoreline very close to me.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Stringfellow

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Wood Storks are considered colonial-nesting wading birds, which means they gather in large numbers when nesting and get most, if not all, of their food from the water. In the mid 1970s, a study was conducted in the Everglades National Park to determine the exact diet of these birds.
So, how does one go about collecting the contents of a Wood Stork's stomach? In order to obtain food eaten by storks, a team of scientists used two different methods. One was to simply handle nestling storks. I use the word ‘simply’ in sarcasm because I can’t imagine there was anything simple about it. In any event, similar to other wading birds, Wood Storks will regurgitate their food when being handled by humans. How convenient for the handler. For the storks, I’m guessing they would’ve rather kept their meals. Anyway, this method probably wasn’t the most practical or efficient depending on how large the sample size needed to be. Perhaps that is why there was a second method.
Using a helicopter as a giant beast descending from the skies above, the pilot hovered over a colony of storks while they were feeding, got really close (as close as 3-10 meters above the storks), then waited for a flight response. The storks started running, threw up their food, and flew off. Traps collected the samples that fell into the water. I felt a little stunned when I read about this method wondering if there wasn’t a better way.
But what about their diet? Wood Storks mainly consume fish, although the type of fish differs slightly depending on the season and location. They probe and chomp their way through shallow, brackish waters with a wicked bill-snap that's one of the fastest reflex actions among vertebrates. Typically, storks forage with their bills open, and as soon as suitable prey touches the bill, it snaps shut. Gulp. Prey gets swallowed whole. Yet, without even seeing their prey, it turns out storks are picky eaters. 
The Everglades storks’ diet contained a buffet of 27 different species of fish from over 3,000 prey items collected. However, only five prey comprised of 85% of the total number. Flagfish, sailfin mollies, marsh killifish, yellow bullhead, and several species of sunfish all fit the bill. (ha, get it?) Can you imagine how stinky this research had to be? And if that doesn’t get you, how about sifting and counting through platefuls of regurgitated fish? Now that’s work I’m happy to leave to the experts and read about in their research papers.


Reference:
Ogden, John C.; Kushlan, James A.; Tilmant, James T. (1976). "Prey selectivity by the wood stork" The Condor 78(3): 324-330.


Friday, January 18, 2019

Providence

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

This is a Muscovy Duck. If you’re familiar with this species, you’ve probably eaten them, or you know a lot about birds. Otherwise, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of them before. I was in the latter camp until last year when I spotted several in Mobile, Alabama. From what I observed, the group was of the domesticated type, swimming and socializing in a small pond within a park-like setting next to a large office complex surrounded by mature trees. They were so friendly, I was taken aback by their carefree approach as soon as I got out of my car. It reminded me of when I was a young kid, walking about in the woods alone, until I came upon a fence, a pasture, and a whole bunch of cows. The herd of cows noticed me and they all started walking towards me. I had never been confronted by cows before, just like I’d never been confronted by Muscovies. With both, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be killed, but I was uncomfortable, nervous, and anxious. Livin' on the edge, baby.
The feral version of the Muscovy is characterized as having almost all black feathers with a slenderer body. So, technically it's a bird I haven't seen yet. But like the domesticated version, wild ones also have the signature red caruncles on their bills. Both females and males grow caruncles, but the male’s tend to be bigger and more numerous, sometimes covering large areas of the head and neck. Although feral patches of Muscovies can be found in Texas and Florida, wild Muscovies are mostly located throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Muscovies eat a wide variety of plant and small animals, and have a reputation of devouring flies and mosquitos. Yay. They mainly nest in hollow tree cavities, but will also nest in thick vegetation if water is nearby.
This painting is of a female Muscovy. She was the flirtatious star of the flock, watching every move I made. She kept a keen eye on me and raised her crest often. Of course, she was probably hoping for a morsel, but all I had to offer her were kind words and no harm.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology places this bird on their watch list due to habitat loss. This bird is not surveyed anywhere in its range, and little is known about its population.



References
Muscovy Duck. n.d. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ Muscovy_Duck/lifehistory

Muscovy Duck: Eggs, Facts, Care Guide and More… November 20, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/muscovy-duck/

Raising Muscovy Ducks. November 20, 2010. Retrieved from https://hedgecombers.com/muscovy-duck/

Reporting Muscovy Ducks to ebird. n.d. Retrieved from https://help.ebird.org/customer/en/portal/articles/2259953-reporting-muscovy-ducks-to-ebird

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Bonaparte at Rowley's

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches
Bonaparte's Gull

A spring beauty from Door County, Wisconsin.



Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Conifer's Jewel

Original Oil on Panel - 4 x 4 inches

I’ve never birded specifically for warblers, but warbler sighting is rewarding. And when you start hearing yourself saying, “Oh, it’s just a butterbutt” (common Yellow-rumped Warbler), you’re well on your way to recognizing other warblers. My first Black-throated Green Warbler was spotted last June. It was a male high up in a tree, preening and singing loudly. Because I didn’t recognize his song, I dropped everything to sleuth out its identification. Last fall, more of these warblers came through at the end of August, including this female. She was fairly low in a spruce tree with others that were nabbing bugs in the grass before flying back up to the branches.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you are enjoying the birds in your neighborhood.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Bohemian Waxwing

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

     On October 15th, a flock of Bohemian Waxwings gorged on berries in a small tree in my front yard. They came through about the same time as migrating American Robins who also fed from the same tree. This time of year, I’m always on high alert to the birds that visit this food source.
     Originally, I assumed the flock was Cedar Waxwings, but my binoculars revealed otherwise. I can’t tell you how many times my binoculars have surprised me, especially this fall. Anyway, this flock was quite tolerant of my presence and allowed me to take some wonderful photos. Bohemian Waxwings are nomadic birds generally found in the northern half of the United States and often descend upon fruit trees en masse, then vanish. Their audible communication is subdued and high pitched, not unpleasant to the human ear. Road noise easily drowns out a flock of waxwings. 
     About a year ago, a flock of around twenty (either Cedar or Bohemian) was eating berries from a small, stout tree in Duluth’s Home Depot parking lot. This tree, which is still there, is close to the front door, but located in the parking lot. Few people, if any, took notice, and walked right by. I found this incredible, mostly because it’s a good example of how trees in parking lots can herd in a flock of hungry birds without anyone noticing. In high traffic areas where concrete abounds in all directions, planting beneficial trees matters. I wish I’d see more of this on properties throughout the city, especially those blanketed with non-porous surfaces or large swaths of nothing-but-grassy lawns.
     In this painting, the bird’s crest is flat, meaning it was on guard a little bit when I took its photo. In bird photography, it is always something I’m aware of. Having had a few birds as pets in my younger years, bird behavior is familiar to me, so I was careful not to disrupt this flock’s feeding by gauging the waxwings’ postures and actions relative to mine. With little indication that my presence would cause the flock to fly, I approached as close as I felt comfortable. This is where humans have a tendency to push the limits. I’ve been guilty of this many times and still continue to learn where my boundaries lie, especially in regards to different species of birds and where I am in relation to them. As with just about anything, practice and experience is helpful.
     In this case, my selected boundary seemed just right. The waxwings took shelter in the very tree I was leaning against, then flew back to the berry tree to eat some more. Back and forth they’d fly, chattering as if planning their next meal and route. In another painting I hope to do one day, the bright yellows and reds of this bird are on full display, along with a gorgeous raised crest. When it comes to birds, and other creatures, observing and respecting their territory allows for a closer relationship with nature. Painting them is pretty special, too.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Peregrina


Here at my home in Duluth, MN, I have observed Tennessee Warblers coming through in the fall on their way to Central America and the Caribbean. They aren't the easiest birds to identify without binoculars. I've seen them up high in birch trees and lower in tall grasses. They spend their summers up north breeding in Canada's boreal forests and spruce bogs, laying between 4-7 eggs.

These birds are not aptly named. The only reason these birds are called Tennessee Warblers is because ornithologist Alexander Wilson discovered this bird in Tennessee. He might as well have named it Jupiter because it doesn't have anything to do with Tennessee, or 99% of North America for that matter. It may breed in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and also the far reaches of northeastern United States. Okay, yes it migrates through Tennessee. Sorry, doesn't count, Mr. Wilson. For shame.

In this painting, the Tennessee Warbler is perched on a goldenrod, exactly where it was when I noticed it on September 5, 2018. Goldenrod is a tall, yellow, native wildflower that blooms in late summer. In several areas where I have eradicated invasive Common Tansy, this beautiful plant has returned with gusto. If you're one of those people who consider goldenrod to be a weed, take note. Bees and butterflies love this plant.

Tennessee Warblers sing their entire song above 4,000 hertz. In layperson's terms, this means it's simply doggone high. The highest octave on a piano is in this range. Humans sometimes have trouble distinguishing differences in pitches at this level, so based on pitch alone, the song of the Tennessee Warbler may be difficult to differentiate from other birds, several of which also sing in this range.

Do you remember the song 'Lovin' You' by Minnie Riperton? When I was a kid, that was a hit on the radio. Minnie sang part of the song in the second highest octave on the piano, an F sharp in the 6th octave. That's crazy high. In fact, it's so crazy, there's a special name for it: the whistle register. It's the highest register of the human voice. As a youngster singing along to music on the radio, I tried to mimic Minnie whenever I heard that song. With little effort, I nailed those high notes. I am totally kidding people!! In another one of her songs, 'You Take My Breath Away', she went even higher and reached the seventh octave, driving home an F7. I can just hear those pop bottles shaking in the garage. Remember, this is the same octave as the Tennessee Warbler. Holy smokes, y'all. Whoa.

I hope you enjoy this painting of a Tennessee Warbler.



References 
Cassidy, James., et. al., editors. Book of North American Birds. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1990.

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

Minnie Riperton. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 September 2018 04:11 UTC. Web. 11 October 2018 19:09 UTC. en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Minnie_Riperton&oldid=861250712

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.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Swainson's Hunt

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

A very good number of Olive-backed Swainson’s Thrushes have migrated through in the last two weeks, but now they've mostly moved on, replaced by the larger, more obvious Northern Flickers and Blue Jays pecking at the ground. Each September, when these thrushes come to visit, they hunt insects like crazy. I’ve noticed their behavior is similar to American Robins, another type of thrush, in how they hop through the grass, pause, tilt their heads, then nab their prey. Oftentimes, if a low branch is nearby, they’ll fly up to it for a few moments to get a better view, then fly down to catch what they’ve spied.

Swainson’s Thrushes are much less noticeable than Robins due to their smaller size and lackluster color, but they have the most beautiful songs in the world. Not alone in my opinion, I would describe their calls as being similar to a flutist playing notes inside of a hollow metal tube. I have often wondered how such lovely sounds can come from any living creature. Spring and summer are when their musical magic happens, usually deep in the woods. As much as I love their calls, I have never seen a Swainson’s Thrush sing in person, except in captivity while visiting Green Bay’s Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary a few years ago. If you’re hoping to hear a Swainson’s Thrush, you’ll probably have to wait until next spring if you live in my neck of the woods. Right now, they’re on their way to Central and South America for the winter. Now that’s quite a long migration route, wouldn’t you say?


Friday, September 14, 2018

Piccolo


"How do you know that I don't have a soul
How can you look me in the eye and tell me no
A soul is a soul is a soul is a soul"

-Charlie Parr, From his album 'Dog'



Friday, September 7, 2018

May's Robin

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Dear Robin, Will you please eat all of the black flies that bite me so in the springtime? Maybe they aren't as tasty as worms, but perhaps you could learn to like them even more than worms. After all, worms are slimy and squirm in your stomach. Doesn't that make you feel weird? I don't think biting flies would squirm after stabbing them with your beak. Try following them up with a clover chaser, there's a lot of that in my grass. Herbed Black Fly hors d'oeuvres, now doesn't that sound delicious?



Monday, August 20, 2018

Grackle with Asters

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Common Grackles usually display smooth glossy feathers, and in the right light, they'll appear iridescent. However, this particular Grackle had slightly fluffed out feathers drying from an all-day rainfall on July 1st. There were a lot of active drenched birds that day with unkempt feathers, many feeding their young. Asters and an orange sky added color to this painting, a juxtaposition to what was a dreary day but an interesting one nonetheless as far as bird watching was concerned.



Thursday, August 2, 2018

Zona

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

White-crowned Sparrows are migratory birds that pass through Minnesota on their way to Canada in the springtime, so their biannual visits are noticed and appreciated. Every year, they have been visitors underneath my feeders and sing their somewhat buzzy tunes from the pines. Slowly, their song is seeping into my memory, having learned it just a few years ago.

Last September, this particular bird came through with a juvenile, so I was able to get some good photographs of what was most likely its offspring. Young White-crowned Sparrows are browner overall, and have caramel head stripes versus the adults' bold black stripes. 

Personally, I’ve noticed these birds most often around the second week of May, right around tree planting time.


Monday, July 30, 2018

MacRostie's 26th Annual Juried Exhibition Opens Friday!

Original Oil on Linen, 20 x 20 inches

MacRostie's 26th Annual Juried Exhibition
MacRostie Art Center
405 NW 1st Ave., Grand Rapids, MN 55744
Exhibition Dates: Aug. 3 - Aug. 31, 2018
218-326-2697
FREE AND OPEN TO ALL

Come to the show! Off the easel and out into the world for the first time, my oil painting of a Pine Grosbeak will be showing in MacRostie's 26th Annual Juried Exhibition which opens Friday. The show is free and open to all, and is part of Grand Rapid's First Friday Art Walk from 4 - 7 pm. MacRostie Art Center will have food by Applebees, wine and other refreshments. Thirty-five artists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota were selected to participate in this year's event, which celebrates variety and rewards excellence among this group of regional artists. Thank you for supporting the arts!


Friday, July 27, 2018

Winter's Caper

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

April 15th brought just over a foot of snow to Duluth, and this White-breasted Nuthatch faced the first flakes from the storm as it came rolling in. Just as some people can’t imagine winters without ice skating, skiing, or hockey, I can’t imagine winters without these hardy visitors. Technically, it was spring, but now that I live up here in the northland, I’ve become accustomed to calendars with asterisks.