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.

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