November’s Nest

I spy the nest in a thicket at the edge of the field. There’s no way to reach it but to wade in. I follow an old deer trail that takes me part way, and then battle brambles, thorns, and waist-high goldenrod stems to reach the prize. Unlike many nests at this time of year, this one is still quite intact. Whoever wove it did a beautiful job. Tips and Techniques– I always do some research about my subjects, especially nests. Like identifying birds, identifying nests requires a process of elimination. At… Read More

The Promise of Summer

With the solstice officially marking summer this week, the season of plenty is here to celebrate. Many birds have already fledged one brood and are now sitting on a second clutch. Depending on where you live, songbirds may even have a chance to raise three broods. I say, thank goodness for second chances. Let the wrens try again after their first nest was disturbed by a bear. Let the robins lay perfect blue eggs and hope the jays leave them alone. Let all this new life surround and fill us during the… Read More

Artistry of the Blackbird

Red-winged blackbirds hide their nests of woven sedges, grasses, and cattails deep in marshes, wet meadows, and swamps. Females weave the structure low to the ground, finding perfect hiding places to lay their eggs and raise young. Sometimes several females will nest in close proximity and even share the same mate. Because of their wet locations and perfect camouflage, I have never found a blackbird nest in the field. The ones I’ve seen and painted are from natural history museums and nature centers. Sometimes they are recently collected and sometimes, as with… Read More

A Magnificent Structure

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure, that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility.” Albert Einstein Tips and Techniques— I sketched and painted this nest and quote as a demonstration for an online class that explores ways to capture the essence of a subject. While I find research and scientific information invaluable for field sketching, I also appreciate how a few spare lines of poetry or a quote can cut to the chase, helping to express what drew… Read More

New Life for an Old Post

An old and increasingly rotted split-rail fence lines the side of our driveway and, as long as you don’t look closely or lean on it, it adds character. Replacing the whole thing is “a project” which, as any homeowner can appreciate, means money, time, and labor. Alas, it’s staying put for now. This week I was delighted to spy a pair of chickadees excavating a nest cavity in one of the posts that no longer has a rail. They’d slip inside, hammer away at the soft interior, and come out with beak-fulls… Read More

Nest Gallery

A tangle in the brush. Strips of woven grape vine and grass. A downy mass of cattails bound with sedges and reeds. No matter where I find them or what they’re made of, I simply find bird nests irresistible. I have been drawing and painting bird nests weekly since November, in part because I’ve been teaching a class on The Art of the Bird, but also because I love the challenge and the beauty of painting nests. So, today, you get a gallery of nests…enjoy! (Click any image to view larger.) 1…. Read More

Hide and Seek

In springtime, birds tuck their nests into dense foliage and tangled vines. In fall, I try to find as many nests as I can. It is a game of hide and seek in which the birds always win. Still, I walk in woods and fields and along the roadside, taking new paths, looking from new angles, scanning the trees. I count every nest as a victory; a way to understand the place where I live and the creatures that inhabit it. Alas, it is no easy task. Though I think I am… Read More

The Catbird Seat

I set out to trim the lilac, so tall and thick that its few blossoms are unreachable. But tucked deep in the greenery I found a catbird quietly perched in its bulky nest. I was not sorry to trade loppers and pruning shears for pen and paint. Tips and Techniques– It’s much easier to sketch nests after birds have finished using them. But it’s exciting to find them in season and capture a glimpse of nesting activity. The key is not to disturb the birds or call attention to the nest. I… Read More

Bringing Hummingbirds to Life

Several days ago, I got an unusual text-message from my son, asking how he might help a stunned Anna’s hummingbird that had struck his dorm window. Based on his description and a photo, it didn’t look good. The tiny jewel likely hit the glass at 30 miles per hour. Indeed, despite his best efforts, the bird died several hours later. Yesterday, I visited the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, NY, and decided to spend time among the hummingbirds in the collection. They, too, were quite dead…and nearly 150 years old…. Read More

Good Find 2

Surrounded by greenery even in January, what a treat to find this nest, perfectly sheltered in the crotch of a young white pine. A small grove of new trees has grown up in the unkempt neighboring field—a good find for birds looking for hidden places to raise their young. I like to think of new life hatching last summer when the field was golden and the sun was warmer than it is today. Tips and Techniques– Try sketching while standing up. I drew this nest in pen while standing in the field… Read More