Friday, February 28, 2020

Zenith City Falcon

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

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


References
Barba, L. (2011, Oct. 7). The fastest animal on Earth “The Peregrine Falcon”. Bio-aerial Locomotion 2011. https://blogs.bu.edu/biolocomotion/2011/10/07/the-fastest-animal-on-earth-the-peregrine-falcon

Harpole, T. (2005, March). Falling with the Falcon. Air & Space Magazine. https://www.airspacemag.com/flight-today/falling-with-the-falcon-7491768

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



Thursday, February 20, 2020

Barn Swallow

Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

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



References
Warrick, Douglas R., et al. "Foraging at the Edge of the World: Low-Altitude, High-Speed Manoeuvering in Barn Swallows." Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, vol. 371, no. 1704, 2016, pp. 1-11., www.jstor.org/stable/24769382. Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.



Friday, February 14, 2020

Red-eyed Vireo With Berry

Original, Oil on Panel, 4 x 4 inches

Three birds distinctively remind me of my childhood in Wisconsin: Whip-poor-wills, Red-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Wood-Peewees. I'm glad the vireo is a reliable summertime companion in Minnesota, where I live now. These days, there isn't a single bird I take for granted, so I'm quite happy when I hear it return every year.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Mirador's Award


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