Gals Go Birding

Birds of the month, etc.

watercolor and white gel pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

As I was finishing my sketch of Mr. Black Headed Grosbeak, I caught myself thinking like a bird (?) “Oh you are a handsome fellow!” Something debonair in the way you. . .oh really!

These two were my picks of the month from our monthly Gals Go Birding audubon group of sage women bird watchers at Millersylvania Park in Olympia. I tag along with them each month for the thrill of it, since I would see not a fraction of these birds along with trail without their skills and generosity.

Honestly I am happy as a clam just to explore a different PNW park each time, always with water and sky and . . .

the dense forest carpeted with wildflowers and ferns, under the towering sentinel trees. Birding gives an excuse to walk slowly, stop a lot, attuning all the senses to nature’s cues and clues.

red black ink, dip pen, watercolor, white gel pen

Meanwhile back home the pink peonies out front had started their metamorphosis, losing petals and gaining a new kind of pod-beauty resembling a jester’s floppy hat, which I almost prefer to the flower!

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!

Salmon, Squirrel, Bird

I bring all my visitors to Tumwater Falls for its Wow factor. Last week when Laura and Liane were here we really lucked out. One of the more anticipated events was going on – the salmon run! The fish swim from the salt water of the Puget Sound up the rivers, navigating turbulent waters and fish ladders to spawn and lay their eggs in the same rivers where they were “born”. 

Chinook and I

Here I am greedily snapping pictures as the salmon swim by in the tanks on their way up the fish ladder and through the viewing portal.

while below in the Deschutes River the hundreds line up for their turn

And down below the falls here the Chinook Salmon are waiting their turn, either to try to leap the falls (which many did!) or make their way up the “ladder” maze. The mind boggling part is that they find their way from the ocean back to their natal river and there they spawn and end their lives. An epic drama.

Another day I headed out to Woodard Bay with Gals Go Birding, a very friendly group of “bird nerds” (my son Andrew’s words, not mine. He’s actually impressed.) If you’ve been following here, you’ll remember that Woodard Bay is where we got our kayak stuck in the muck after seeing the Cormorant rookery. 

There was a light drizzle going on as we headed out to the viewing spots. Since I’m a neophyte wannabe bird watcher whose only gear is tiny binoculars that I bought for my boys when they were little, ahem, I relied heavily on the company of these veteran bird watchers. They would stop and go silent, scanning the trees and ground cover, listening intently, while their world filled up with birds and their stories, and mine waited to see and hear what I was missing.

The Douglas squirrel was pointed out to me – an adorable cousin to the gray squirrel with whom I’m better acquainted. Later I added him to my sketchbook.

I don’t remember what they spotted here. In the background you see the bare trees where the Cormorant rookery has denuded the trees in the past years. Bald eagles are sort of ho hum here where they are so plentiful, but oh, seen through a powerful scope they are breathtaking.

I’m not sure how I’m going to add a sketch kit to my gear, which must already grow to include rain gear and better binoculars! but I’ve been going back to the lessons of John Muir Laws and his nature journaling school. In his book on drawing birds he describes how to sit so you hold steady your binoculars with your non-dominant hand/elbow by bracing it on your bent leg, while drawing/painting with your dominant hand on the sketchbook on your lap, keeping your eye steady on the bird that’s moving and. . .haha! The fun of it is in trying. And this is nothing compared to my friend Chris Carter who has tried sketching while hang gliding and even while under water!