Two days before Christmas the ground was frozen solid and icicles cascaded from bird feeders. The suet basket outside my studio window was swarmed by a band of tiny birds unlike the Juncos and Chicadees, Finches and Sparrows I’d been seeing. The winter light was low, and they were so fast and their heads so thoroughly embedded in the suet that I couldn’t see their heads or any species identifying details. They had enough shape though to venture a color sketch!
And God Bless my birding mentors, this group of savvy women I occasionally go birding with. On Monday this week I joined the monthly meet up and sure enough, my simple description was enough for them to venture an ID. Bushtits! These tiny birds crowd-cluster a feeder, just like the one above, with tails helter skelter. As we walked along the trail, sure enough the little guys made a frenetic, tittering appearance in a tree.
As a beginner birder I used to think birding was just about seeing and hearing a bird and knowing its name. But the behavior angle is even more interesting, especially with these Pacific Northwest gray skies, when any but the brightest colors against tree branches is hard to discern.
And leaves that remain on trees masquerade as bird shapes! Location and type of movement can be the final identifier.
No, this picture was not taken at 5pm. It was 10am. Could you ID these birds? Too big for Bushtits. Robins probably.
We were at Pioneer Park which is 5 minutes from my house. At first the bird activity was minor, so I paid attention to the vegetation, which is so dramatically different from other seasons. And my mind was brought back to the crinkled masa paper painting I’d just finished. When you wet the paper and crinkle it, you get a complex filagree of spidery texture. And that turns into instant vegetation when paint is added.
It becomes impossible to not see the branches and trunks and brambles and . . .birds! I turned a dark smudge here into the crow I’d imagined and otherwise let the imagination take over.
You can see more examples on my blog here and here I learned the technique from master artist Cheng-Khee Chee a good twenty years ago and have been exploring with it ever since, often in Muse Groups, but also on large abstract canvases. The Masa paper is inexpensive and available online and in large art supply stores if you want to give it a try.