Monday, August 23, 2010

Artwork--"Let's Play!"

First, an admission--these are pretty bad photos! I shot the piece as it sat on my drawing table and the light is very uneven. Rest assured this piece does not really look this blotchy!

I have been wanting to get a new sandhill crane piece going for quite a long time. Now that I have an exhibition coming up in October with my other Bear Track Studios girls I figured I ought to get going on some new work. This is a big piece, 34" long by 27" ? high. It is based on a few of the photos I shot several weeks ago of the cranes at Appleton Lake who were playing on the shore. Check out the post Crane Play and see if you can figure out which ones I've used.

This is the full image. I know it's a bit hard to see. The basic outline and feathers have been inked in, awaiting color and detail. Remember you can click on the image to see it a bit bigger.

Here's a close up of the wing that's almost done. It's a bit tedious, but it's work that I love, and I am already excited to see this piece finished.

We are heading out of town for a much needed vacation. I hope to have scads of new images when I get back! Until then, peace to you all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From the Backyard

The heat wave has finally passed here in SE Michigan, and I spent the morning a few days back out playing with my new lens. I had found a patch of milkweed the day before with monarch caterpillars busily munching away. I'll be keeping an eye on this bunch!

Note the frass, or caterpillar poop, on the leaf by their heads.

This adult monarch was sunning itself in an autumn olive.

We planted five big bluestem plants last year at the top of a small rise near some black cherry trees as an experiment to see how they'd do. I was thrilled to see them blooming, and plan on clearing some of the ground around these plants in the hopes that they will self-sow. This native grass grows to over seven feet tall--these were around six.

After four years of not mowing every inch of the property as the previous owners had, some native plants are starting to return.

Hairy bush clover,

round-headed bush clover,

and slender bush clover have all cropped up.

Thanks, Julie Zickafoose, for your timely post of a link to a great pdf of Ohio's dragonflies and damselflies! This is a spreadwing damselfly, though not sure whether southern or northern.

This amazing spiderweb glowed in the morning sun.

And the wren rambles on.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Crane Play

Hey, I'm bored--wanna play?

Leave me alone kid, ya bother me.

Oh, come on, look at me play-bow!

Look at me dance!

See, we can play with this feather! I'll grab it...

...and fling it through the air!

Wanna try??

Do ya huh?!?

Play with a feather?! ? Phooey!

I much prefer... play with this stick!

Weee!! Woo hoo! Yipee! Yahoo!! I'm gonna getcha!! Ha ha!!

Oh crap, someone's watching!

Just play it cool, kid, and act like nothing happened.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sandhill Cranes

After over two months I finally got back out on the water to watch my beloved cranes. I needed some subject matter for a new piece so I spent a few hours watching and photographing these wonderful birds. Here's just a sampling.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Spruce Grouse

I will be upfront with you and admit, right off the bat, that when I saw this bird, I had no idea what it was. My bird identification skills are poor to begin with and are limited primarily to song birds. I am a novice birdwatcher. Sure, I know a handful of other birds, but I could not, on sight, tell a Redhead duck from a Canvasback--if I don't have a book, or get a photo to identify the bird by later, I may never know what I saw.

Such was the case with the Spruce grouse.

Karin and I were making our way along the South Old Woman trail, when we came around a bend and heard a flurry of wings. I looked up in time to see a young grouse fly up into a pine near the trail.

The bird fidgeted on the branch while I snapped a few photos. Scurrying somewhere in the underbrush was a second chick, but we couldn't see it.

Then Karin pointed out the hen, just off the trail ahead of us. She quietly ducked behind the shrubbery and was lost from view. We were thrilled to have had a close encounter with something other than a chickadee, but we both thought what we had seen was a Roughed grouse--never mind this bird has no crest, an easy identifier for the Roughed. What did I know about Spruce grouse anyway!

After our rest by the waterfall we looped back to the trail head, only to encounter (I assume) the same grouse family. A flutter of wings alerted us to their presence once again, and here is a chick up in a tree. It was mighty dark under the tree canopy but I took a few pics anyway. As I stood watching this chick I noticed a soft cooing next to me. I slowly turned to my right.... find mom and the second chick perched upon a small hummock under a black birch tree. I couldn't believe my eyes! She was no more than five feet away. I had to resist the urge to reach out and pet her.

As her chick made its way over and down the hill, mom followed, keeping a close eye on us as we stood stock still in the middle of the trail.

One last glance and she was gone into the underbrush.

It was not until I was home and sharing my images with the girls that Lori, after seeing several of the grouse pictures, exclaimed, "That's not a Roughed grouse, it's a Spruce grouse!" While their territories are similar, the roughed is more common in the states, while the spruce is primarily found north of the border. But the real reason this bird stood out in our minds is the recollection of hearing Julie Zickefoose, artist and birder extraordinaire, talk about it at the conference at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in April 2008. It was one of the few birds left in the states she had not seen, and had enlisted the help of a local birder to find one. See her blog here for the results. So I was all the more proud for stumbling upon this bird all on my own, even if I didn't know what the heck it was!

We are headed back, in a few weeks, to this wonderful park in Ontario. If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend it. Lake Superior Provincial Park is flush with wildlife, rivers, lakes and falls, miles of trails, canoe routes and back country camping. Remember though that you now need a passport in order to enter Canada, but its well worth the hassle of getting one to experience this wonderful place.

Good day, eh!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Better to See You With, My Dear!

I know I said the next blog would be about a spruce grouse, but I have to interrupt that blog series (which is nearly done, darn it!) because I got me a new "toy".

I have suffered for years with cheap camera equipment, and let me tell you, you get what you pay for. I did have a nice pro-series 70-200mm for my Canon, but it didn't get me close enough to my subjects (birds) and was too slow of a lens to add an extender to. Too much info, perhaps, but what it means is that I couldn't get decent bird shots unless I was just about on top of them.

Well, after a really good show last week where I sold three original pieces, I decided it was time to invest in a good lens. So I ordered a 300mm f4 with a 1.4x extender, which makes it a 420mm f5.6--lots of jargon for some of you I know, but what it comes down to is the ability to take really good telephoto shots. It was delivered today, and of course my first target was our chickens.

Fancy, our "Easter egger".

I eventually moved out to the balcony and stood in one corner, camera on a monopod, and started shooting birds in the late afternoon sun.

White-breasted nuthatch, looking rather ragged.

Female house finch.

Chipping sparrow.

A downy woodpecker landed on the suet feeder right next to me, and though I wasn't more than five feet away I could still focus on her. This is not cropped. To be able to get images with such clarity is absolutely vital to an artist who does work with such a high level of detail as I do.

One of the things that had frustrated me up to now was my inability to get good hummingbird shots. But with this new lens and a nice sunny day, I had no trouble at all. I stood next to the house, and with the shed doors in the distance providing a perfect backdrop, I stood quietly and shot as these tiny birds came to our feeder.

This is my favorite--it looks like a stand-off between the bird and the ant.

The male hummer, who takes up his post in the crab apple just off the balcony, put on a show too.

What attitude!

Yee haw!

Remember, you can click on any of these images to get a larger version. Enjoy!!