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


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.

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.

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


"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


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

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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Flowers for Chester

Original Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

When Chester got back from flight school, he saw the flowers, but he wasn’t in the mood for condolences. And, as it turned out, he wouldn’t sing for months. This was typical of birds that returned from the academy, for it was there where they learned about Fermi's paradox, that it, in itself, wasn’t a myth. Sadly, it was true that two humans, not being able to see themselves as they really were, had a conversation about aliens and why they hadn’t visited Earth yet.

Thank you for visiting. Posts older than two years are removed.