Thursday, December 30, 2010


Hey, look at me go, two posts in one day!

Just so ya'll don't think that I've done nothing but play video games and eat for the past week, here is my latest piece, an 8x10 female Northern cardinal. This one is called "Mama", the male, who is soon to follow, will be "Papa". I don't know when I began calling the cardinals Mama and Papa but I've been doing so for a while so it just seemed like logical titles.

I've been having a great deal of fun with these feathers, giving the birds some depth and playing a bit with style. My pieces aren't meant to be photo-realistic, although honestly I don't know what that means. I guess it depends on the photo! From a distance birds look all sleek and smooth, but get up close and there's a lot going on. I guess my goal is to show what's going on but at the same time make it look like a piece of art. Make sense? I hope so, cuz I'm not always sure what I'm saying! Makes writing an artist statement a real challenge.

A Return to the Florida Posts

Following a brief and not so guilt-filled hiatus I am back in the saddle. A week of cookies, chocolate and video games has left me raring to get back to blogging. Problem is, it's pretty quiet around here right now. After a cold December, where we had 25 of 28 days below freezing (and below normal) we are having a bit of a heat wave, and it is actually raining right now.

So I have had to go back to last February to find something to write about. To get you all up to speed, I made two trips to Florida to visit my Grandma Andree last winter. My February trip was more for me, a get-away if you will, and I spent a lot of time out exploring and hiking. My second trip was for her, to help her clean her house and remove some extraneous stuff she no longer needed.

On that first trip, I spent my first day in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a 20 mile stretch of shoreline that runs from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach along A1A. While it is interspersed with private land it is as wild a beach as I have ever seen in Florida. The refuge was established in 1991 to preserve sea turtle nesting grounds, and there are hiking opportunities along the Intracoastal Waterway, which is a lagoon that lies between the barrier island that makes up Florida's mid-Atlantic beach and the mainland. Maritime Hammock, which I wrote about last winter, is part of the refuge, as is the Barrier Island Center, a spiffy new visitor/nature center that is right on the beach.

After my hike in the Maritime Hammock I went back to the beach to sit and enjoy the sunshine. It was a cold day for Florida, with highs in the 50's, but I did not care--sun was all I wanted. But the cool temps kept people off what is already a pretty quiet beach--there was literally no one anywhere, up or down the beach.

While I sat I noticed the birds that were gliding up and down the shore. It was not a bird I was familiar with. I did have Sibley's with me, though, and managed to ID the bird when I enlarged the image on my camera. How excited I was to find out that what I'd been watching was a Northern gannet! This is an adult bird,

and this is an immature gannet. Note the darker plumage under its wings.

Admittedly, my images are not that great. I was still using a 200mm zoom lens, which was inadequate for shooting at this distance, so the images are cropped, which further degrades them. Below is an image I lifted off the web, taken by Anne-Marie Bokslag, so you can get a better idea of what they look like. Striking birds with that yellow head and blue bill! You can clearly see their relation to the boobies, those famous inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands. These birds breed in the north Atlantic but winter as far south as Nicaragua and east into the Mediterranean.

I was quite captivated by these birds, so imagine my excitement when I saw this immature gannet going into a dive!

I cannot wait to get back down to Florida to hit the beach with better equipment and hopefully come home with some better images.

Next: more beach bums--I mean birds!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Too Much!

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas. We have been busy with holiday company and I just haven't been able to get to the blog, and that's not going to change until next week. So, I am going to stop stressing about it and plan to get a new post up after Christmas.

So take care, ya'll, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Trial and Error

Birds never sit still.

While that is truly the case, I must say that this last blog series of birds outside my studio has had some nice shots. I am happy with my new 300mm lens, and have broken down and begun using a tripod, which makes all the difference. However, there are still more misses than hits, especially when shooting on a dark winter day. So before you all give me too much credit for my photographic prowess, I thought I'd post some of the more interesting missed shots.

Head-bangin' blue jay.

Red-bellied woodpecker on the move.

I think this is also a red-bellied.

This Downy woodpecker was too quick for me.

Sometimes all you get are the toes.

I actually really like this cardinal shot, wish I had gotten the whole bird. Talk about abstract art!

So what's coming next? I will probably go back and pick up my Florida posts from last spring. Nice weather at home coupled with the start of my art show season really put the kibosh on that series. Now as winter has a firm grip on much of the eastern half of the country, I figured we may all like to see some palm trees and green grass. I know I would!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Surprise Visitor

The Red-bellied woodpecker is a common visitor to our feeders. We seem to see them more in winter than in summer. Perhaps there are not enough nesting places on or near our property to keep them around as much in the summer. Whatever the case, I love these birds with their bold patterning and raucous calls.

Males and females look much alike, except that the female's red head stripe doesn't make it all the way around to her bill.

With beaks made for hammering wood the red-bellied lacks the strength in its jaws to crack open seeds like a cardinal. With feet set back on its body and toes designed for climbing rather than perching and grasping, it cannot hold the seed between its feet like the titmouse and hammer it open. So the red-bellied flies off with its prize to a nearby tree and finds a crook or small hole, crams the seed into it and then blasts it apart with its beak.

This shot is a bit fuzzy but I love the pattern of the tail. As with most woodpeckers the tail of the red-bellied is used to help hold the bird against whatever object it is clinging to, a counter-balance for its upper body.

As the light began to dim the male finally made an appearance, climbing up this black cherry. A male cardinal is on the tray feeder in the front left.

You can just see a tinge of red on its belly, at the very bottom right corner.

There were other visitors to the feeders that day, including this frustrated red squirrel, who was unable to get at the squirrel feeder as it was already occupied. He busied himself by cleaning his thick winter coat. Notice the snowflake on his shoulder.

Lisa came out to the studio as the light grew dimmer still. I turned the camera off and set it aside, figuring I was done for the day. We talked for a bit, and as we did I happened to look out the window to the right of the feeders just in time to see this beauty fly up and land in the red pine next to the studio.

Scrambling for my camera I was able to get a few shots of this gorgeous Cooper's Hawk as it checked out the feeders. I waited for the jays to start screaming but he must have snuck in under the alarm system. The other birds saw him, though, and vanished.

This one is cropped-in close up. Like I said it was getting dim, and I was shooting at 800 ISO so it's a bit grainy, but I can't resist. The intensity of his gaze is captivating.

After less than a minute he flew off towards the chicken coop where we lost sight of him. The other birds never did return, and soon it was too dark to see much. But what a treat to have this predator make an appearance.

I saw a Cooper's hawk, perhaps the same one, yesterday afternoon. I was on the phone and looking out an upstairs window when I noticed a titmouse and White-breasted nuthatch in the cherry tree below me. Something about the nuthatch's posture caught my attention. A few moments later he swung around so he was hanging upside down off the branch. What the...oh! there must be a hawk! I pressed up against the window and looked up but didn't see anything in the sky, then looked over toward the mulberry tree. There, perched near the top, was the hawk, bright in the afternoon sun. I didn't have my camera so I watched until he flew off towards the pines. It was several minute before the nuthatch moved again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oh, the First Snowfall of the Winter....

Ah, snow. I know, I know, many of you think I'm nuts, but I just love the snow. Images of snow-covered cowboys on their horses with mountains looming in the background make me giddy. Pines drooping with wet snow, snow-lined rivers, snow falling on cedars.... You get the idea.

I dragged out an old umbrella, my old camera and hung a small camera bag around my neck and ventured out into our first significant snow of the season. It was coming down hard, and the only way to keep the camera dry was to use an umbrella.

When it began to snow early this morning it was still slightly above freezing, and there was not a breath of wind, so the snow had piled high on every stable surface.

The thick snow obscured the horizon.

Jackson, our 10 year old Sheppard mix, kept me company. A loyal and obedient companion, he loves the snow as much as I do.

We ventured up the hill and into the pines that had so far kept the snow at bay. Jackson studied the woodpile, sniffing and listening intently to some small creature moving around underneath.

The space under this big white pine always feels safe and warm.

The wind is picking up now, knocking the snow off the trees. Glad I went out earlier to enjoy it, as the winds will continue to pick up, 30 mph or more, and by tomorrow we'll have highs in the mid-teens. I love winter, but I do have my limits!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Peanut Gallery

Many of the visitors to our feeders love peanuts. The nuthatch, Red-bellied woodpecker, chickadee and cardinals all seem to enjoy the treat, that is when they can snatch one away from the Blue jays. But they do manage to sneak in, and this little Tufted titmouse was gracious enough to eat his right there on the feeder so I could see him better.

Having a beak better suited to prying than cracking, he holds the nut with his toes, breaking it apart with quick jabs,

then cleans up the pieces.

Yum--may I have another?!?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Blue Jay Way

The Blue jay is a much maligned bird. Considered villains to many birders for their occasional habit of eating the eggs and nestlings of other birds and for sometimes being the bullies of the bird feeders, I find the blue jay to be a handsome and intelligent bird.

The jays around our house like to store food, and often come and scoop up seed after nut after seed, storing them in their throat, then fly off to cough them up in a hole in some nearby tree. I don't mind, though, as these caches are often raided by other birds and squirrels, so it's not like the jays are hoarding all the food.

Blue jays can be very territorial. I once had a female, defending her nest when I approached too close, dive bomb me until I move away. I could feel the wind from her wings in my hair as she shot past overhead.

If you're in the woods and you hear a chorus of screaming jays, pay attention--jays are the alarm system of the forest, and will screech like a siren when an intruder is present. Deer, fox, human, none are safe from the Blue jay's wails. They will also mob hawks and owls, and their cries alert other birds to danger.

I will let Wikipedia explain their coloring: "As with other blue-hued birds, the Blue Jay's coloration is not derived from pigments but is the result of light interference due to the internal structure of the feathers; if a blue feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed. This is referred to as structural coloration."

I couldn't resist this shot of a fuzzy jay butt.

And finally, a little abstract art, Blue Jay with Snowflake.

Monday, December 6, 2010


In my humble opinion, there is no greater sight on a cold, blustery winter day than that of the male Northern cardinal.

Bright and showy, he lights up the dull afternoons like a beacon in a storm.

Not an easy subject to draw, he too, like his female companion, has his subtleties, and is not solid red like so many artists like to depict him. His bright red feathers are tipped with a purplish-gray, more or less pronounced depending on how the light strikes him.

I wonder what they are thinking, as they raise and lower their crests.

This fellow was having a bad hair day. When I first saw him I assumed the feather was attached but bent. Not until I saw the images did I realize that this feather is not attached at the shaft, but stuck to his head in some other manner. Notice the gray at the base of the feather.

Such beautiful boys, they bring joy to chill winter days.