Fledglings Forever

This weekend’s freezing temperatures sent me packing my sketchbook and paints and seeking shelter in the natural history collection at a nearby museum. Amidst a long wall of bird specimens, I found these four fledgling Eastern screech owls. Most collections typically display adult birds, so it was unusual to find an entire set of young siblings. I was grateful for the chance to study these common, yet elusive owls up close. And yet, they haunt me, too. Their life in the wild was so brief, their time behind glass so long. My… Read More

Painting Natural History Collections

I had an opportunity to teach Painting Natural History Collections, a 1.5 hour online workshop during Winslow Art Center’s free Winter Bash last week. To my surprise and delight, more than 200 people from six countries joined in. How inspiring to find so many people interested in this subject! I’ve been poking around old museums specimens for many years and they have provided me hours of fascination, a wealth of painting subjects, and outstanding opportunities to expand my knowledge of natural history. I hope those who attended the session will now enjoy… Read More

Gone. Forever.

Though the news this week that the Ivory-billed woodpecker, Bachman’s warbler and 21 other species were classified as “extinct” may not have come as a surprise, it was nonetheless disheartening. I pulled several old field guides from my shelf and found these prescient passages: “When man appears, the Ivory-bill disappears. This is not alone due to the destruction of the bird’s haunts but the bird’s shy, retiring nature. Its days are numbered even more surely than are those of the forests it inhabits” (What Bird is That? by Frank Chapman, 1941). “Many… Read More

Seals Hauled Out

If seeing harbor seals lazing on seaweed draped rocks isn’t awesome enough, hearing them growling at each other and splashing at rivals in a full-on water fight ranks high on my list of Maine vacation experiences. This group of about 40 seals hauls out to rest on the same rocky ledges at low tide each day. I sketched them on two separate days; first, from a place on shore where I used binoculars to view them, and the second time from a closer rocky outcrop that we reached by canoe. Tucked in… Read More

Enough Already!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the near daily rain we’d been experiencing in Upstate New York, which had been a boon to mushroom growth but not much else. Since then, it’s been more of the same: rain, humidity, and mushrooms. I want to stop sketching them, I really do. But with more colors and varieties sprouting by the day, I just can’t seem to stop. When opportunity arises, I find myself wandering the grove of oaks on our property, looking for the latest species to emerge, and adding them to my… Read More

Feathers

Bird feathers- wow! Form, function, and beauty in one perfect package. And so much variety and complexity of patterns that my head is spinning. I’ve been preparing for my upcoming class on The Art of the Bird by gathering resources and reference material and working out painting exercises. Painting these feathers gave me a whole new appreciation for the simplicity of the form and the challenge of rendering them well. Tips and Techniques– If you’d like to make your head spin with a dizzying array of bird feathers, check out The Feather… Read More

Close Inspection

The first mowing of the season gave me a close look at our lawn, which any agronomer would tell you has issues. Fortunately, we live in the country where no one cares whether you are growing a monoculture of turf or a diverse mixture of grass and weeds. From a distance, it all looks green. The more I mowed the more curious I became. How many different plants could I find? Hence, this Field Guide to Things in the Lawn That Aren’t Grass. Tips and Techniques– Follow your curiosity. You may not… Read More

Small Works of Art

Last week’s post An Extraordinary Collection generated a number of questions about bird eggs. I thought I’d answer them with another egg page and a bit of background. How eggs are made: It all begins with a female reproductive cell called an ovum. As it travels through the bird’s oviduct, layers of albumen (the egg “white”) and shell membranes are added. When the egg reaches the shell gland, more albumen is added, along with a calcium rich shell. The hard outer shell takes about 20 hours to complete and the whole process… Read More

Come Gasp with Me

There are many lovelier species than insects, but none, perhaps, so inexplicably diverse, strange, and – dare I suggest it – marvelous. Our annoyance with “pests,” of which there are many, and our fear of others easily prevent us from taking a closer look at insects. But how can we fail to marvel at these most successful members of the animal kingdom? No doubt, it is easier to wonder at a museum collection under glass, than to appreciate black flies in May. Still, I invite you to come gasp with me*, if… Read More

Good Find

Today started unseasonably warm—an incredible 60-degrees—but slowly fell back into winter by nightfall. While the sun shone this afternoon and the temperature descended through the 50s, I wandered deep into the field. There, amidst matted goldenrod and thorny weeds, I had an unusually good find: several egg cases laid by praying mantises. Each one may contain as many as 400 tiny mantises. Like me, they will wait for a more lasting warmth, relying on spring to bring the field to life once again.