Nest Cavity

This tree once stood on the shoreline of Hog Island in Maine, with a sweeping view of Muscongus Bay— not a bad place to raise successive generations of young birds. According to the US Forest Service, some 85 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, and swallows, nest in tree cavities. You might catch a glimpse of birds excavating a tree hole, or coming or going from one, but it’s rare, indeed, to see one from the inside. This old woodpecker hole was cut open after the tree fell, revealing the nest cavity inside…. Read More

Cooperative Subjects

If you’ve ever tried sketching birds, you know that they are terrible models. Few will stay put for more than a few seconds. As soon as pencil meets paper they’ve struck a new pose. Except for gulls! Head to the coast – or to many vacant parking lots – and gulls will loudly greet you and serve as cooperative subjects. Among my favorites is the raucous laughing gull with its smooth black head. Next to ordinary herring gulls, laughing gulls seem far more distinguished. But all gulls make good models. Next time… Read More

Starting Over

People often ask me, “What happens if you make a mistake in your journal?” Sometimes I live with it, sometimes I work through it until I can correct it, and sometimes, it’s best to start over. That was the case with this page, which started out as a watercolor sketch of mountain laurel trees in a dappled afternoon woodland. I jumped into it without any drawing and never recovered. So I glued an old dictionary page over the laurel to experiment with painting on book paper– something I’ve long wanted to try. This… Read More

Hog Island Journal

I drew on 15 years of journal entries to make this piece of art for an exhibit marking the 80th anniversary of the Audubon Camp on Hog Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine. I have been exploring the island once a week each summer since 2001, first as a camper, then as program director for Family Camp, and for the past three years as an instructor and program director for a week-long workshop called Arts and Birding. Many of my favorite journal pages capture treasured experiences, memories and discoveries of marine life, birds, spruce forests,… Read More

Hidden in Plain Sight

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to play “hide the thimble” with my sisters and me. A variant of hide and seek, she’d hide a thimble or other small object in plain sight and we’d try to find it. The thrill of discovery fueled many rounds of play, until my grandmother’s hiding places (and likely her patience) were exhausted. Lately, I’m playing a similar game with birds. They hide their nests—often in plain sight— in ways that defy detection. Camouflaged eggs and nests and stealth behavior are critical to their… Read More

Spring Unfurls…Fast

I anticipate spring’s arrival for most of February, March and April, eager for its fresh greens, new life, and abundant sketching opportunities. It arrives slowly at first, with skunk cabbage, red-winged blackbirds, and daffodils. But by mid-May, it takes off like a rocket and I can’t keep up. I’ve been sketching and painting in snatches of time—10 minutes here, half hour there—due to an especially hectic work and family schedule this month. Here are a few of those snatches:

Bluebird Post

It’s no wonder the bluebird is associated with happiness. This lovely thrush is a harbinger of spring, chattering its warbled song as soon as the days start to warm. I have had the good fortune of seeing and hearing bluebirds frequently over the last few weeks. And whenever I do, I can’t help but feel grateful for its brilliant flash of blue and notes of good cheer. Thoreau was right: the bluebird carries the sky on its back—and glimpsing it is one of the simple pleasures of spring. A little more about… Read More

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity knocked this week in the form of a pileated woodpecker that died on the roof outside my office window. Cause unknown. The chance to study and paint it lay before me – literally. How could I pass it up? Would you? There was only one thing to do: climb out the window, retrieve it and get sketching. It’s quite a privilege to hold a bird like this in your hands, and just a bit grim. Keeping it without a permit would be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so I worked… Read More

Old Birds

The lifespan of most small birds is short—just a few years and then they’re gone to predation, disease, or hazards. These birds were given a second life, of sorts, after being “collected” in the 1800s and placed on display at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  During a recent visit I got to see about 500 birds on display—a minute fraction of the 640,000 specimens housed and maintained by the museum, which has the third largest bird collection in the world. How I would love to look… Read More

Beautiful Ending

There is a point when I am midway through a painting that I have to hold my breath and hope I don’t wreck it. That’s especially true when I’ve invested in a careful drawing as a base for the watercolor. So I’m especially pleased to come out the other side of this piece with a beautiful ending. (See last week’s post for the beginning.)