birds

North Carolina

Just back from a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina visiting my son Ben. He lives in a little town outside of Asheville. To my utter delight his apartment overlooks a marsh which is teaming with birds and other life. Behind that is a green strip of woods and an open green meadow where a white horse grazes and behind that, a red barn and behind that, many layers of blue mountains dissolving into a tapestry of billowy clouds and blue sky. I have to describe it here, because I had very little chance to paint, sketch, or journal, though I have been playing a bit of catch up today. 

w/c in 5″ X 7″ mix media spiral sketchbook

Due to travel delays I had a whole day to myself before Ben joined me. He recommended I head over to the U.S. National Whitewater Center not far from the Charlotte airport. So I spent a sunny warm day watching white water rafters, kayakers, rock climbers, zip liners, and other sports I have no name for. . . listening to shrieks of delight. . . chatting with other observers, eating delicious food and occasionally trying to sketch the action. Finally Ben arrived to join me.

Another day we drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, this time with me watching him doing his elegant white water maneuvers, holding my breath at times when he rolled under, before popping back up again. Whew! The water was so cold that my bare feet could handle only half a minute before the chill became an ache.

It takes skill to kayak safely in rivers like these, so I wasn’t about to try it. But watching the zip liners flying across the water, and feeling the spray of the rubber rafts bouncing along the rapids, I thought, another time. . .yes, I’d try that!

w/c and white gouache in beige toned Nova sketchbook

From Ben’s balcony we watched Barn Swallows, brilliant Cardinals, noisy Red winged Blackbirds, melodious Mockingbirds, Yellow Warblers, and one night listened to (what the Merlin app identified as) a Yellow-breasted Chat, that carried on for hours in what must have been courting behavior!

The river otters were another day. Stay tuned for more about the week.

Yellow’s the Color!

watercolor and white gouache on beige toned Nova paper.

Yellow was the color of the lovely little birds I spotted on Monday at McLane Creek Nature Trail, with significant help from the veteran bird watchers in the Gals Go Birding monthly meet up. You can imagine how effectively these tiny birds are camouflaged now in the spring green forests. The Common Yellowthroat is not the least bit common with his black mask and neon yellow breast! And the Wilson’s Warbler has that adorable black toupe setting off the vibrant yellow body. So sketchable. But don’t go imagining I sketched these from life!

There are so many glorious distractions to draw ones attention away from the spring bird spotting – like the wildflowers in the forest floor, and the newts swimming in the shallows of the pond and making their way across the path.. . in search of mates? We walked, and then stopped and listened, when the group heard a familiar birdsong, and stood quietly til we saw movement in the tall trees. (The trees here are very tall!) Then whipped up the binoculars. I’m finally beginning to get the hang of focusing with my binoculars a bit quicker, but am still often the last to see the bird. But can you tell? I enjoy every minute!

Oh, but perhaps the biggest treat was the Mallard mother with her 13 baby ducks parading right by us at the pond. They scrambled to keep up, clumsy in their rush to follow, running across the lilly pond leaves and plunging in and out of the water. Ahhhhh!

Pileated Woodpecker

I do love going out with the bird watching gals, though it remains a humbling experience. The combination of my inexperience and poor eyesight frequently result in my finally getting the binoculars focused on the right spot just as the bird flies away. Last week it happened within five minutes on the trail when everyone got to see the Barred Owl except me! An owl, no less. My favorite.

Not that these wonderful ladies didn’t do everything they could to help me zero in on the right branch. “See that tree to the left of the tallest one? Now count down three branches below where the clump branches off and. . .”

But this time (with substantial help from my new friends) I got a really great view of the pileated woodpecker in the distant treetop and watched him for a while as he worked his way up with an unobstructed view. That’s what I’m talking about!

w/c and white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

Easily satisfied at this point with simply learning to recognize a bird, I am delighted with any more tidbits of behavior and lore to remember. Here’s what i found online: “[Pileated woodpeckers} represent steadiness and loyalty. If you’re feeling like giving up on a difficult task or work assignment, the Pileated woodpecker may present a good symbol for remaining steadfast and continuing until your task is done.” I’ll take that as a personal lesson, at least for this week when I may have once or twice wanted to give up on something difficult. Ahem.

Now I can be found stopping on the walking trail practicing with my Merlin app, identifying the birds I can’t see by their song. I stop every so often to try this, or to identify blooming plants with the Leaf Snap app. Have you tried these? Instant knowledge of the sort that our little phones are so good at, and they’ll even record the results so that you don’t have to tax your memory!

Precarious

Precarious is the word for the season. It’s how we feel about our health with a new variant blasting its way through our illusions of safety. It’s how I feel when I go outside and encounter the slippy-slide-y snow and ice. It’s the extreme-weather-economic-social angst and a million other things in the news every day.

And it’s what I feel for the birds in their frenzied visits at our feeders.

One day when the birdseed supply had almost run out, I noticed a particular pattern of bird prints in the snow at the edge of our front door portico. Had they seen me emerge from there, even though it’s not visible from the feeders? I got the message and filled the feeders directly. They didn’t wait for me to depart before they started eating.

15 color medium point Posca Pens

So when I finished trying out all the flavors of Posca paint pens in my gift set, the birds outside my window jumped into the picture along with their tracks!

The problem was the hummingbird feeder, which froze solid so the Annas were out of luck. I should have melted it down each morning, but it was so cold I thought it would just freeze back up.

But then I saw a couple Annas on the feeder and realized I’d better try a little harder. Next morning was sunny and when I put the feeder out again with fresh nectar, I had a couple customers.

Next day though I found a one tiny body in the snow below. The heart gone from its 1263 beats per minute to 0, wings no longer beating 80 times per minute but now motionless.

Precarious. . .the life of such a small creature in the frozen world.

one male Annas hummingbird from three angles

Found you,  my tiny iridescent flasher

Beneath the feeder on a pristine pillow.

Did a snow clump fall and knock you out?

Did the cold stop your heart?

Did you, desperate with hunger, drink too much too fast?

Or did it the nectar come too late, after days of starvation and freezing?

My grieving took the form of an afternoon of study of this miraculous little body with the tiniest iridescent feathers that shone electric when in just the right light, but otherwise had become a dull gray. I hoped with my attention to unlock some secret of bird survival in a kind of artful homage to a valiant life.

Or was it a contemplation of the precariousness of life. 

(imagine)Post Pandemic Revelry

It requires a sturdy imagination to soldier through these days of shelter-in-place, for those of us who have the good fortune to be able to, that is. I started out at my art table, painting water shapes of birds and adding colors to the water as I worked my way around the paper. The source material was an article in National Geographic about “Why Birds Matter” with pictures of some of the most flamboyant birdlife. By the end it seemed they was celebrating something.

fluid acrylics on w/c p

Ah! Imagine . . .

The post pandemic revelry

Of pent up desires 

To shake tail feathers

To sing and dance together

. . .TOGETHER! again!

To share unfiltered air

Kiss the warm cheek

Hug the big belly softness

Drink the unmasked radiance

. . .of a SMILE!

I like to imagine the freedom of being a bird right now, especially when I’m eating my lunch, sitting in their flight path next to the fountain/bird bath. (Of course they have their own avian viruses at times), but I’ll enjoy their unmasked flights, their social songs and raucous bathing.

It helps, until such time as I can hug my human friends again!

Busy Season

Is your garden growing an inch a day now? or at least the weeds? Mine is. And spring projects, long promised are begging for attention. In Muse Group this week we made monoprints with our acrylic paints, using stone paper for a plate. (More about Stone Paper here. )My first “pull” was a vibrant one that turned into a story for this time of year.

dreamingofapples

the earth is busy sprouting

so here I dream of apples

of birds darting and swooping

on spring’s many errands

 

yet still

there are only buds

plumping up to make pink popcorn

and seduce butterflies

The plum tree has bloomed and leafed out. The weeping cherry, beneath which my mother’s ashes lie, has just bloomed. And I wait expectantly for the apple blossoms whose sweet nectar is an invitation to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, that lay their eggs on the vine, so that I may daily visit the hungry munching caterpillars with the orange polka dots. Simple pleasures of spring I must make time for.

Transparent Overlays

I’m still catching up on Muse Group demos from June. I had promised in the last class that we would do image transfers, but realized that it’s better to have another week to work on them, since the technique can sometimes create some false starts. So instead we used transparent overlays.

This is a great technique to use when you’re not comfortable with your drawing skills but want to incorporate a drawn image into your painting surface. Trace the image you want onto a transparent overlay, which could be regular tracing paper, light-weight “rice paper” or Dura-lar (the acetate alternative).  Move it around on the painted surface til you find the sweet spot where the paint shows through to advantage and glue it down with gel medium.

The bird here was my tracing. The paper became transparent when the medium dried so the underpainting shows through.

senorita

acrylic inks, transparent image overlay and other collaged paper on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

This señorita keeps her song going all June long. Dresses herself in colors each day, strutting along the limb, doing the limb-o all warm and fluid like an island girl. She keeps one eye on me and wonders why I wear a long face some days, when there’s always a heady fragrance and new tune to dance to.

Come eat your lunch with me, she says. Pura vida! What could be so bad anyway?

Well, don’t get me started, little bird. Don’t you read the newspapers?!!

Nevertheless, I appreciate her concerns, and so I’ve taken to eating my lunch outside under the flight pattern of birds between the bird feeder and fountain where they bathe. It goes a long way to lifting those cares.