Friday, April 29, 2011

The New River Birding and Nature Festival

Last May I attended my first-ever New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, West Virginia. I knew pretty much the instant I arrived that I would be back the next year. Stalking warblers and bobolinks in the company of some truly brilliant birders was at once exhilarating, humbling, and fantastically educational. Plus, I was honored to meet some of my favorite bloggers, such as Julie Zickefoose, Bill Thompson III, and Murr Brewster, as well as a slew of other birding greats (most of whom, at the time, I had no idea how lucky I was to meet!)

And the estimable Chet Baker, of course.

In addition to the breathtaking avifauna (which included a plethora of lifer species!), I got to experience some real West Virginia hospitality when my car broke down and I was stranded there for three days!! (It looked like a pothole but I think it might've actually been a mineshaft.) Geoff Heeter, the magnanimous owner of Opossum Creek Retreat, put me up until my car was fixed, and just about everyone else I met there helped me out in some way as well. I was floored by the kind-heartedness and tried to pay them back in a very small way with this piece. It's a Golden-Winged Warbler with the New River Gorge in the background (and a border of goldenrod, Solidago altissima.)

The birds are to die for, the people are wonderful (and patient with novices!), and the entertainment can't be beat. If you're looking for a great birding festival, this one is it! (Even more so if you stay at Opossum Creek!) Hoping to see more of these guys (people and birds!!) at this year's NRB&NF!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sketches Here and There

A meager offering of doodles from last year's Moleskine sketchbook/journal.

Life sketches of a pair of green herons that began building a nest (but as far as I know, didn't lay any eggs) at the BNC pond last summer.

I watched one of them repeatedly dropping twigs into the water and initially thought s/he was simply a little clumsy, but when I read up on green herons I found that they are one of the only bird species that actually use tools! Apparently they will drop an object (a twig, blade of grass, leaf, etc.) onto the surface of a pond and then pounce on the fish that are attracted to the disturbance! I can't believe I got to observe this tool usage firsthand.

Mouse sketches (deermice mostly):

American kestrels:

The drawing on the left page, top right is from a photo I took at Kiptopeke State Park. The Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory bands both raptors and songbirds there--it's a fantastic opportunity to see some awesome species up cloase and the banders are always happy to answer questions.

Sketches from life at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair:

Life sketches of my sister's boyfriend's mutant chihuahua, Bubbles:

Restaurant doodle (around Halloween):

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice!

Today is very special in that it is both the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year (and the official first day of winter) and the first time that a total lunar eclipse has occurred on the solstice since 1638. Those of you who did not get outside to watch the eclipse will unfortunately have to wait another 84 years for the opportunity.

In honor of the once-in-several-lifetimes event, I thought it would be fitting to share some of John Burroughs' musings on winter. Burroughs did not limit his appreciation of the natural world to special occasions, of course--one winter day was as worthy of attention and exploration (and the accompanying joy) as the next. Still, I think reading his work today is a good way to celebrate (that, and a good long walk in the woods.)

"If the October days were a cordial like the subacids of fruit, these are a tonic like the wine of iron. Drink deep, or be careful how you taste this December vintage. The first sip may chill, but a full draught warms and invigorates. No loitering by the brooks or in the woods now, but spirited, rugged walking along the public highway. The sunbeams are welcome now. They seem like pure electricity--like friendly and recuperating lightning. Are we led to think electricity abounds only in summer when we see in the storm clouds, as it were, the veins and orebeds of it? I imagine it is equally abundant in winter and more equable and better tempered. Who ever breasted a snowstorm without being excited and exhilarated, as if this meteor had come charged with the latent aurorae of the North, as doubtless it has? It is like being pelted with sparks from a battery. Behold the frostwork on the pane--the wild, fantastic limnings and etchings! Can there be any doubt but this subtle agent has been here? Where is it not? It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it. When I come in at night after an all-day tramp I am charged like a Leyden jar; my hair crackles and snaps beneath the comb like a cat's back, and a strange new glow diffuses itself through my system.

"It is a spur that one feels at this season more than at any other. How nimbly you step forth! The woods roar, the waters shine, and the hills look invitingly near. You do not miss the flowers and the songsters or wish the trees or the fields any different or the heavens any nearer. Every object pleases. A rail fence, running athwart the hills, now in sunshine and now in shadow--how the eye lingers upon it! Or the straight, light-gray trunks of trees, where the woods have recently been laid open by a road or clearing--how curious they look, and if surprised in undress! Next year they will begin to shoot out branches and make themselves a screen...

"He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. It is true the pomp and the pageantry are swept away, but the essential elements remain--the day and the night, the mountain and the valley, the elemental play and succession and the perpetual presence of the infinite sky. In winter the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of more exalted simplicity. Summer is more wooing and seductive, more versatile and human, appeals to the affections and the sentiments, and fosters inquiry and the art impulse. Winter is of a more heroic cast and addresses the intellect. The severe studies and disciplines come easier in winter. One imposes larger tasks upon himself, and is less tolerant of his own weaknesses.

"The tendinous part of the mind, so to speak, is more developed in winter; the fleshy, in summer. I should say winter had given the bone and sinew to literature, summer the tissues and blood."

-from John Burroughs' America: Selections from the Writings of the Naturalist (pg. 122-23)

John Burroughs (L) and John Muir, rockin' out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Woody the Woodpecker

My latest project for the Nature Exploration Area at BNC:

This is a pileated woodpecker, painted life-sized (16.5-18", according to various field guides) on a piece of wood salvaged from the tree crew's efforts. You can still see the marks where the chainsaw bit into the soft wood--the surface is therefore much more difficult to paint on than a canvas or panel, but I sand all the pieces first and put on a coat of polycrylic (similar to polyurethane, except water-soluble and non-yellowing), which prevents the paint from being absorbed into the wood so rapidly. I love having the bark as a "frame" of sorts!

Here's a close-up of the face:

I was using a mismatched collection of paints; the red was glossy but all the other colors were matte, which explains why the crest and malar stripe are so shiny--sorry about that!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chicks and Sticks

I did this small watercolor as a gift to one of the naturalists at Brookside Nature Center, who recently left in pursuit of higher goals (such as world travel!) I learned a great deal from her in the year that we worked together, and I'll be forever grateful for her tutelage.

This is a Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) in a Sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum.) The bird is approximately life-sized, around 4" from head to tail, painted in watercolor with gouache highlights on BFK Rives (printmaking paper). I could rhapsodize about the merits of this delicious, cream-colored paper for hours. (It does come in other colors, but this one is the best!) If you ever find yourself in a fine art store, find where they keep it and run your hands over it and you'll see what I mean!