Category Archives: Birds

Raven Study

I’m having quite a lot of fun experimenting in oils, which is a fairly new medium for me.   Oils behave very differently than the acrylics that I’ve used for so many years.   And I really love expressing my passion for the wild world with them.     “Raven Study”  8″ x 10″  SOLD

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Moving In

A pair of Titmice have decided to set up house-keeping in one of our front boxes.  I joined them in my lawn chair and watched them move in.  My presence didn’t bother them at all.  In fact I was waiting for one of them to ask for my help in exchange for pizza!

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This load was too big to fit through the front door.  I’ve tried that before myself and have not had good results.

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The pretty little Titmouse spouse watched and “bossed” from a nearby tree.  You know how it is.  Spouses can’t ever do it the “right” way…

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(below)  ” Wonder what comes out of here…?”

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This moss might work well for new carpet.  Too bad it’s the color that everyone HAD to have in the ’70’s.  These Titmice don’t seem to mind the out of date color at all…

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Suddenly a bluebird arrived.  He had his eye on the same house.  But the Titmice outdid him and got there first.  Maybe they made a better offer to the seller?

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(Below)  This is a once in a lifetime shot.  I was focused on the Titmouse, and only seconds later noticed there was a bluebird in the same shot.  A VERY quick aperture change, and wa-la!

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One of the proud new home-owners…

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Is there ANYTHING on the planet that is cuter than this???

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“Play” time!

After the concentrated effort needed to prepare for an art show, it can feel so good to unwind after the show is over.  I took a short time to “play” with oils, deciding that fun would come in the effort to loosen up mind and body and just wildly swish paint all around!

I did a few studies, and gave myself time limits on each one (of about two hours), to force my brain to edit visual information and paint from the heart.  The pieces are small,  simple and splashy.   The following are the results:

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This next one took a wee bit longer…a little study of my crazy dog Kippy…

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Hot off the Easel

I’ve been painting up a little storm this fall and winter.   Below are some new paintings!

This first painting was inspired by time spent on my beloved kayak this past fall.  Belted Kingfishers are one of my very favorite birds.  They are notoriously difficult to photograph, as they are flilghy and frankly kind of spastic.  They love to tease and taunt photographers.   I’ve been very lucky to get fairly close to some of them in my boat.

The Kingfisher below is a female.  She has just caught a minnow in a cove on a nearby lake.  She will gulp it down VERY quickly so that other Kingfishers in the area won’t have a chance to steal it from her!

“Maid of the Mist”

(Belted Kingfisher)   11″ x 14″ acrylic on masonite.

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“Here Kitty-Kitty”

(Cougar)   11″ x 14″ acrylic on masonite.

This painting was done to pay tribute to one of North America’s great predators.  The epitome of secrecy and stealth, cougars are now being found in areas far east of where they are normally expected.  They can live right under our noses without our notice.

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“Breakfast Berries”

(American Robin)  9″ x 12″ acrylic on masonite.

I often refer to robins as “mind their own business birds”.    They are in just about every backyard east of the rocky mountains.  Although common, I think they are beautiful birds and love their way of staying out of the “drama” often caused between other bird species.  Robins just go about their business and stay out of trouble.

This painting was inspired by watching robins gorging on berries this past fall.  I loved the idea of doing a painting that used largely one side of the color wheel (red, orange and yellow).    This Robin is just about to snatch a berry.  If you blink, you’ll miss it!  :-)

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Tools of the Trade

When the average person runs the idea of a “tool” through their mind, an image of a hammer, screwdriver or table saw might pop up first.  Tools of course differ greatly from one profession to another.  Wildlife artists and photographers have their own set of challenges.  The subjects that they pursue for their life’s work are largely afraid of them.  Animals and birds in the wild can disappear within a millisecond, IF you were lucky enough to see them in the first place.

My recent acquisition of a kayak (an early Christmas gift from my husband) has been a real game changer as far as wildlife reference gathering goes, in particular my experiences with birds.  Animals and birds are not naturally as reactionary to things that they don’t already associate with danger, such as a small craft silently approaching in water.

A recent trip to Truman Dam in Southern Missouri, revealed not only an abundance of stunning views, but also some really special wildlife viewing and photographing opportunities.   From within my trusty kayak, I could watch animals and birds behaving naturally and not just see their hind ends as they make a hasty escape.

The Truman Dam was constructed in the 1970’s.   There are more coves to explore there than one could ever find the time for.  I love it when I run out of time before I run out of territory!

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With nature, it nearly always pays to get out of bed early.  In mid November, the warm days of autumn were hanging on with the last of their loosening grip.  Cold nights, warm, sunbathed days…it doesn’t get better than that…

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(Below) This is a typical scene on any lake in the country.  This gull was there to greet me as I pushed off in my kayak for the day’s adventure.  The fall color beyond the gray and white bird was amazing…

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Rocky bluffs along the shoreline were covered in autumn color at it’s peak…

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While exploring deep within a cove, I ran into this big fellow.  He was nearly crazy with testosterone, chasing other bucks off the beach.  There must have been an “interesting” doe very close by.  I was able to watch natural whitetail deer behavior, which is always a treat.

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Meanwhile, while I was watching the deer titans battling on the beach, two bald eagles circled overhead.  It was hard to know where to point my camera…!

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Coming out of that same cove I was in for another surprise.  A young buck was making his way across the water.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and he apparently knew all about that.  I could tell that this was not unusual behavior for him.  He seemed quite comfortable in the water.

I was able to paddle my kayak faster than the buck could swim, and it occurred to me that for the first (and likely only) time I had the physical advantage over a whitetail deer.  I didn’t take it, as it would have scared the life out of him.  But it was an interesting thought just the same.

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Opposites are attractive…orange and blue…

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While eating our lunch on the dam, Alan and I met this little fellow.  Stray cats have made the dam their home.  We could tell by how hungry he was that survival is tough for them.  He was too feral to touch or catch, but we did make sure that we shared our chicken lunch with him so that he had a full tummy, as least for awhile.

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This is the face of homelessness.   Please, be sure to spay and neuter your pets!

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Back out on the water, a Great Blue Heron eyes me as I drift by…

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This crow apparently has not read the sign….he is not allowed to “park” here…

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(Below) My new painting entitled “The Nut-Cracker” (Read-headed Woodpecker) was inspired directly from my time in the kayak.

During autumn, these birds split acorns into pieces of fairly uniform size and tuck them away into holes that the birds have created in almost perfectly straight lines in old trees.  This tree was way out in the water, so the nuts will be safe from four-legged thieves…a pretty smart strategy I think!

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(Below) Another painting inspired by my kayak time entitled “Silver Lining”  (Forster’s Tern).

These aerodynamic birds are true athletes, able to hover in one place over the water just before a lightening-fast plunge for fish.  They are wonderfully fun to watch.

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New Opportunities

There is nothing quite like being out on water in a quiet lake cove, with your only company being that of a beloved dog, and the wildlife that calls the lake home.

I recently purchased a kayak.   I am wondering why I didn’t do this years ago.  Not only is a kayak a whole lot of fun, but it also affords a wildlife painter new opportunities for gathering that much needed photographic reference.    Animals and birds naturally gravitate towards water edges.   And most animals and birds are not nearly as afraid of a boat drifting quietly by as they are of a human being tromping through noisy leaf litter in a woods.   Getting close to your subjects is a real advantage of being in a boat driven forward simply by your own desire and a few arm and shoulder muscles.

Both of our dogs like to ride in the kayak.  Below Pawsome shares a wonderful morning with me out on the water.

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In the early mornings the coves are aglow in shafts of sunlight, accentuating the steam that rises when water is warmer than the crisp morning air of autumn.

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There are many rewards for those willing to rise and shine early…

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A muskrat slowly cruises by…

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A Flicker eyes me from above…

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Sunlight makes the autumn woodland glow…

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A Painted Turtle has decided that on this stump, there is only room for one.  The snake just to the right will have to find his own island for sun bathing…

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More paddling reveals more surprises…

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There is nothing like having a camera pointed at you while “doing your business.”   A young Double-crested Cormorant  finds a “rest stop” between fishing expeditions…

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Three heads are always better than one…

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A Zipper Spider perches on her glowing web…

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Mr Heron allows me to get very close when I’m in my kayak…

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Two does came down to the water’s edge for a drink.  I don’t think they knew quite what to make of that floating red-orange thing out on the water…

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That was FUN!  When can we go again???

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Life is a ZOO, especially when your’re IN one!!!

A visit to the world famous San Diego Zoo proved to be more of an “adventure” than I was originally hoping for…

First thing in the morning, fellow wildlife artist Kelly Singleton and I ambitiously set out to find the Harpy Eagle exhibit.  Neither one of us had ever seen one and we both really like raptors.   Ever elusive in the wild, this rare bird turned out to be impossibly elusive to find in the ZOO!

Following the zoo “map”, we ended up in a crazy tangle of dense jungle vegetation, wandering aimlessly around in the gloom under the thick green canopy, completely surrounded by the one and only thing that we DIDN’T really care about seeing in the zoo…monkeys and apes.

After an hour and a half of schlepping up and down the incredibly steep hills of this part of the zoo only to find out we’d been walking in circles, we FINALLY found our way out of the darkness.

(Below) This escalator will take any poor unsuspecting sap up into “Monkey Hell”.  We have nothing against monkeys mind you.  But getting that lost in a zoo while your perfect morning light is fading is NOT so fun!   And don’t count on zoo workers to help you find your way, as they don’t seem to know how to get out of there either!!!

I couldn’t resist creating this parody of our little “adventure”.

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In the end, we did find the Harpy Eagle exhibit and it was not even close to where it was positioned on that crazy zoo “map”.    It was on “Eagle Drive”………Imagine that…

The Harpy Eagle indeed had the last laugh.  He/she was hidden by the vegetation inside the exhibit.  We felt lucky to get a glimpse of some tail feathers.  We worked HARD to see that eagles a…s!

(Below) Kelly cops an attitude towards the beautiful bird species that made our morning so “eventful”    How many birds can you count in this photo?

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OK, on to more serious things…

There are very few people in this country over the age of about 35 who have not at least heard of the plight of the California Condor.  This huge raptor became the “poster child” for our environmental mistakes of the past and is partially responsible for the eventual turn-around of  mindset in modern North America.

Thanks solely to the tireless effort of a small handful of biologists who have devoted their lives to correct these mistakes, the California Condor still exists and is actually growing in numbers…albeit slowly.  Only a couple of short decades ago, there were less than two dozen of these birds left on the planet.    Although often thought of as a corny Eco-phrase….. extinction really is… forever.

Very little was known about this species when humans finally realized that his extinction seemed eminent.   More had to be learned about the habits and breeding of Condors without risking these precious few birds left.  A decision was made to capture every wild California Condor and hold them all for safe keeping at three different zoological facilities,  the San Diego Zoo,  the SD Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.  The population was deliberately split into thirds and kept apart from each other in the event that a disease would accidentally slip in.  This way biologists could be more certain that the entire population was not totally wiped out.

(Below) A California Condor (still  not free from the threat of extinction).   This species now glides free in the skies of California and Arizona as it should be.   Unfortunately these birds are still being shot by short-sighted “Ya-hoos” who think that they are ugly and unnecessary.  I wonder what the Condor thinks of us???

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Enter: The Andean Condor (below), the only other condor species in the world, which thankfully was slightly more abundant and at the time seemed a good candidate for study.  Biologists spent the next number of years working with the Andean Condor (originating from South America) in captive breeding programs.  Much was learned about  successful egg hatching and the rearing of chicks that could one day be released into the wild.  This unlikely hero not only gave insight into it’s own future success, but also was instrumental in the saving of another species.

(Below) An immature Andean Condor takes part in a “Free-flight” show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.   For many people, their heroes reside mostly in the entertainment world, (musicians, athletes and movie “stars”).   For me, when this pretty fellow took the stage with his out-stretched wing span matching the width of a grand piano,  my heart started pounding faster.  It was like Elton John himself had emerged on stage to tickle the ivories through a famous song.    Fellow bird lovers would understand this…

Thanks to the hard work of biologists and the stunning  Andean Condor, the California Condor now has a brighter future.

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There are many other less “famous” residents at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, this one being a male Eurasian Eagle Owl.   This fellow was part of the best “Free-flight” bird show I’ve ever seen.   Owls are defined by their eyes, and this fellow is no exception…

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The symbol of wisdom and darkness as reflected in the soul…

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(Below)  One cannot help but wonder what in the world Mother Nature was thinking when she came up with this character.   This is a Shoebill Stork.   Wild populations now number between 5000 and 8000 individuals and live primarily in Sudan.    This species is considered as “threatened” in the wild.   Ancient Egyptians included these birds in their visual stories.

This chap was incredibly charming.  The more I watched him the more I fell in love.  It’s hard to not get a chuckle out of someone who is this comical looking yet at the same time takes himself so seriously.    He had the trademark quiet, intense, stalking habit so often seen in herons and storks.    But with that big, silly face looking down at them I could almost hear the frogs and fish laughing.

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Of course there are many, many species of mammals in the San Diego Zoo.  But you all already know what lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) look like so I chose to show off some of the more unusual residents.  However… one cannot overlook this silly chap.  He is of course, a meerkat.   Disney made this fellow famous.  There are very few children who don’t know all about him, at least the Disney rendition of him!  :-)

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Bird Nerds

San Diego, California is full of fun surprises.  As an extension to my trip to CA for the SAA art exhibition, friend and fellow SAA member Sandra Blair arranged to have professional photographer and friend Jim Dunn take us out to the local San Diego birding hot spots.  We stayed in southern California for several extra days after the SAA events ended, trekking the fabulous coastline in search of shorebirds.  Thanks to Jim’s  knowledge of the area, the trekking wasn’t very difficult!  He knew the best places to go and we were not disappointed!

(Below) Jim with fellow wildlife artists and SAA members Sandra Blair (middle) and Kelly Singleton on the rugged California coastline.

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If ever there were two bird species that say “ocean”, the brown pelican and the seagull are it!  This species is the “Western Gull” and like all gulls, they were very abundant on the coast of southern California.  I shot this on a foggy morning at the break of dawn…

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Pelicans are very entertaining to watch, as they are such a strange adaptation to life on the sea.  These clownish chaps gather in large groups and lounge around, dozing or preening.  Then all at once when they see that another bird has found food out on the water, they lift off and try to get in on the action.  When it turns out to be a false alarm, they come  back in in small groups and proceed with their napping again.

(Below) This pelican seems to be saying to his sea faring friends “Come forth yee fellow pelicans…come one, come all”.

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In comes this youngster.  This poor chap has somehow gotten his head stuck in a piece of rubber trash.   This bird still has a bit of growing to do and may parish from strangulation due simply to human irresponsibility.   Call me crazy, but I do believe that animals have a right to live in a trash-free world.   When people discard unwanted items in irresponsible ways, it is often animals and birds that pay the ultimate price.  Millions of shore birds and marine animals die each year because of this carelessness.

No one will be there to watch as this bird takes his last desperate breath…so it remains beneath our notice.   That is why I am posting him here.   Please, please be mindful of what you buy and where you ultimately discard it!

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(Below) This silly guy has turned his pouch completely inside out.  When a pelican “yawns” the arch of his neck pushes his pouch up and out.  That “lump in his throat” is actually the front of his neck!  Not just anyone  can do this!  Such a comical creature Mr. Pelican is!

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(Below) A slightly more dignified looking brown pelican…

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(Below) The “Three Amigos”.   Or for folks who have seen us yucking it up a different title might come to mind… “The Three Stooges”!

Wildlife artists have a special kinship that is hard to explain.   We seem to come from a similar place in our lives as far as what we value and prioritize.  I’m never happier than when I’m with a group of talented fellow animal/bird artist friends…

This photograph is compliments of Jim Dunn  (www.avian-images.com)  Thanks Jim!!!  :-)

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Another famous resident of the California coast is of course the Sea Lion.  Below is a nursery.  This adult is solely responsible for a rather large group of youngsters.  Some lounge with their babysitter here on these rocks, while many babies were playing about in the water.   I have no idea how it is decided who stays behind to play lifeguard and watch over the  youngsters.

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This Double-Crested Cormorant seems to be trying to make a deal with his sea lion buddy…”If you scratch my back, I’ll come and scratch yours!.  No WAIT!  Let  ME do that!

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Meanwhile, a bit farther out in the water these two adult sea lions were trying to settle an argument.   The bickering went on for quite some time.  I have no idea what the dispute was over…maybe who had to take the next shift as communal babysitter!  I know that I myself would sure hold my ground on that one!   NOT ME!!!

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During low tide, we visited the “mud flats” of the San Diego River.  As the water recedes a myriad of tiny sea creatures are revealed.   Shorebirds come en mass to feed.   We sat for hours watching and photographing them.

(Below) A snowy egret “reflects” on his day.  Snowys have bright yellow feet and if you look closely, you can see one of those feet through the water.

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Shorebirds are incredibly hard to identify, especially those in the Sandpiper categories.  This (I believe) is a Dowitcher.  Jim would know this bird’s species at a glance.  Having him with us was like adding a natural history lesson to our birding trip.  It doesn’t get better than that!

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Here two Dowitchers reflect twice as much as one!

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This little beauty below is a Willet.  Unlike many of the smaller sandpiper species who feed in small groups, this bird seems to like to hunt for food alone.  Watching shorebirds will bring your blood pressure down like nothing else in the world!

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Baby Faces

It’s baby time.   Our woodland babies are just now old enough to go out exploring with mom.  The world is such a BIG place when you are a little tyke.

This raccoon litter of five will create a LOT of mischief down the road when they grow up a bit.   A friend of mine saw this photo and said “It looks like they are planning a heist.”   Indeed.  I wonder what they will steal first…

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I can just hear them planning…“OK Smarty and Shorty,  you go around to the right and me , Smittles and Bubba will  go around to the left.  Give a signal when you’ve gotten into the kitchen!    Batchy, you stay here and keep watch.   Now GO…and be quick about it!”

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Our does are finally allowing their fawns to be seen.  This one is a classic beauty.

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This fawn below belongs to a different doe.  He has white markings on his face and feet and a PINK nose.  I think there is an obvious name for him…”Rudolph”!   (Or Rudy, if it is a girl!)

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“But Mom, nobody will want to play with “a misfit.”

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A soft whisper in the ear comes from mom…“Everyone is different son.  And being different only makes you more special.” (Moms always know what to say at times like this…)

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Meanwhile, while I was photographing Rudolph/Rudy, this pretty hummer boy was showing interest in the hosta blooms right under the window.  What does this flashy fellow have to do with baby animals?   Nothing.   I just felt like sticking him in here!  :-)

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(Below) My painting of a mule deer fawn entitled “Baby Face.”   This piece was inspired by a trip to the wilds of the Yukon last summer.

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Bad Hair Days

In May, a pair of Cardinals built a nest in an evergreen tree only feet away from our front door.   It can be quite interesting and entertaining to watch baby birds grow.  Change happens very quickly.    In nature,  songbird chicks must mature very fast before predators are able to locate their nest.

Photographing songbird nestlings is quite tricky.  A long lens is a must and a photographer must always assess whether or not he/she is influencing any behaviors of the birds themselves, in particular the parents.   Chicks this age need to eat continuously or their growth and development will be impeded.   If the presence of the photographer keeps the parents away even for a short time, this can be detrimental to the growth rate and ultimate success of these chicks.  A ladder and a long lens put me in a position to not bother the birds at all.

(Below) These babies have just hatched.  They have  barely dried off.  There were five eggs,  but only three hatched.  All three chicks look quite healthy.

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Hours old Cardinal chicks.   The fuzz on their tiny heads reminds me of when I am having a bad hair day…!

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(Below) Three days old now and the chicks continue to be all mouth.    They are ravenous eaters and keep both parents very busy.

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(Below) The chicks are five days old.   The feathers that will one day carry them on the wind are developing nicely.

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Seven days old now and they have really changed…    I did not photograph them again until they were leaving the nest.   I wanted to be absolutely certain that my presence did not in any way send them out of the nest too early.

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Here, two of the babies are entering the world outside of their nest for the first time.   As you can see…the bad hair days continue on…!

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A brief flight onto the ground and then staying very still is a good strategy for survival.  This chick later flew up into a little bush for a bit and then was out in the wilds of the woods within that same afternoon.    Of the three little babies that originally hatched, only two fledged.  The third was small and weak and the parents abandoned it that afternoon.   He died very shortly thereafter.  This chick below is robust and healthy.

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Here is their pretty Dad, bringing a tiny insect larvae to one of the chicks.  It is hard to believe that those gangling, brown fuzz-balls will one day be as pretty as he is…

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A Fuzzy Flotilla

Birds are wonderful parents.  During my explorations in the wilds I’ve seen examples of this over and over again.

Recently I have run across two different families of Canadian Geese at a nearby park, both undertaking the arduous task of raising a family.   They have allowed me to share their space to the point of having to zoom all the way out to photograph them as the babies pass sometimes within inches of me.   Mom and Dad just don’t seem to mind at all.

This is a typical procession with a parent on each end of a perfectly straight line.  The adult in front guides the way and the one in the rear makes sure everyone gets there safely.  What a smart strategy.  These chicks are about three days old in this photo.

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A fuzzy feathered flotilla…

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Goose chicks constantly watch their parents to learn from them.  Here a chick from the slightly older brood is learning from an expert how and where to find food.

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Mom pulls seaweed up from the bottom of the lake.   Sure looks tasty!   Some of the chicks are already trying their hands at it as they dunk their heads under, leaving only their fuzzy bottoms above water.  But the fellow in front isn’t ready to work for a meal yet and takes the easy way out.

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Once out of water the chicks wattle all around.  This one is curious about me.  “Commin through!”

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But then he stops and decides to give me a good look-over.

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Once joined by a sibling, he wattles off to go and find mom.   I find it interesting that in many cases when chicks walk around together, they do so in perfect step with one another.  This photo is an example of just that.    I have dozens of photos of chicks together where this is the case.

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Time to gather the kids.  Mom corrals her chicks back into a little group again for another feeding lesson, this time on land.

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See son, we can eat grass too…

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And you don’t want to eat Maple tree seeds…

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A tender moment between parent and baby…

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With a lesson learned, these two are able to feed on their own.

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One last cute pose for good measure…

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It’s Tough Being a Family Man…

Sometimes the simplest thing can start a quarrel…

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And when one party just won’t let it go, the conflict can become more troublesome…

These orioles were having a rough day!

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I don’t know what was said, but it didn’t go over well…

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This poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.  Now his mate jumps in and reads him the riot act…

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In the end there was little he could do to smooth things over.

SOUND FAMILIAR GUYS???

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The King’s Dragon

I never know where a painting idea will come from.  Any artist will tell you that they get inspiration from life experiences.  I guess that I’m no exception.   It can take years for an idea to come to fruition as it percolates in the back of my mind.   Then finally, I will decide that the time has come to pull the idea out from my imagination and recreate it with paint.

Several years ago my husband and I were taking a leisurely walk around a small lake in a nearby park.  I’ve always admired an abstract sculpture that sits beside the lake.  The artist crated this sculpture by welding scrap metal pieces together to form a kind of serpent-like creature.  Over the years rust has given the sculpture a wonderful patina.    We strolled past the serpent on that day as we have many times.   Suddenly out of nowhere a Belted Kingfisher flew up and perched right up on the top of the serpent’s head, using it as a vantage point over the water.   I didn’t have my camera with me that day, but that image has stayed etched in my mind ever since.

I decided to redesign the serpent to be as it would if I had sculpted it myself, using the idea of old rusty metal.   I wanted it to be more dragon-like to give traction to my idea.  It was fun to come up with a three dimensional sculpture idea based loosely on one that I had already seen.  The result is my painting “The King’s Dragon”.

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“The King’s Dragon”

Male Belted Kingfisher, (detail)

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FINALLY! A sure sign of spring!

Old Man Winter finally lost his hard fought battle to stay forever, against the soft, warm sunshine of spring.   Everything is just exploding in color.  How I love this time of year.

I decided to take my new little pocket camera out for a stroll today.  I need to learn how to use it.   After over 25 years of wearing a big SLR camera around my neck, I decided that a small purse-size camera could come in handy for more casual shooting situations.  Although I could never abandon my wonderful SLR , this little hummer is just the ticket when I’m not after “professional” results.

This pond below is on my regular walking path that the dogs and I take every day that we can.  The red bud trees are so beautiful in it’s reflection…

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One of the surest signs of spring here is the arrival of cute little Yellow-rumped warblers.  They pass through eastern Kansas on their way to Canada, staying on for a few days to beef  up on tiny insect larvae.  They arrive like clockwork each year in mid April.

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This is Little Mill Creek (below).  We have had a great deal of water this year, between the massive snow melt-off and heavy rains.  I love how the creek looks when sparkling in the warm sunshine.

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I decided to use the macro setting on my little camera to photograph this tiny frog.   Believe it or not,  this fellow is about the size of a DIME!  A natural spring oozes out of the hillside and trickles across our driveway, attracting these tiny frogs.  One must be very careful where they step!

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The view off our bedroom deck…

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Bradford pear trees line the streets of this industrial park.  They all bloom at once, creating a white tunnel down the roadways.

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That Crazy Little Thing Called…SPRING???

Just yesterday I  typed away on a new blog entry (below), crooning about the wonderful joys of early spring.  The warm air filled with the soft smell of frozen earth thawing into mud and the promise of new plant life just starting to appear was downright intoxicating.    I had spent the past two mornings photographing  large nest-building birds, and enjoying the promise that springtime brings.

But nature had other ideas.  When I entered the grocery store yesterday afternoon, the air was almost balmy.  Although the once sunny sky was giving way to thick gray clouds again, it seemed to be of little worry or concern to me.  By the time I was wheeling those groceries to the car only minutes later, the wind was whipping all around and the temperatures had dropped by at least 15 degrees.  By bedtime, rain had become snow, passing through a sleet stage along the way.

One of the things that I most love about the weather, is that it is one thing that man has not yet learned to control.   The truth is, we are simply along for the ride.  So we may just as well enjoy it!  This snow (about 5 inches and still growing) is likely Old Man Winter’s last hurrah for the year.  At least I would like to think so…

Today my husband and I had a leisurely lunch in the hearth room enjoying the pretty white stuff as it found it’s way to the ground.   Spring will be here one day….. really it will

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Two of our does prance around in the snow.  I can’t imagine that they are not even more tired of the cold and wet than we are.

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Here our buck “TK” strides by.  The deer are still in full winter coats, thank goodness!

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Our deck railing makes a good resting place…

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Our front yard looks especially pretty when covered by a blanket of white.

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Early Signs of Spring

Yep indeed, it’s been a hard winter for most of us here in the U.S.  I can’t complain too loudly, as those on the east coast have certainly taken the brunt of Old Man Winter this year.   But we’ve had our share of the white stuff, and the semi-white stuff and the just plain wet stuff.  A sunny day or two mixed in would have been most welcome.  But nope, Old Man Winter had other ideas…(gotta love him!)

Finally, the grip of winter loosened just long enough to throw in some spring teasers.   I of course, just can’t stay indoors for these.   So I set out with camera in hand and dogs by my side to see what in the holy heck was going on in the wilds around me.

It didn’t take long to stumble upon my first good find, a Cooper’s Hawk pair starting the early spring nest building process.  Actually, they have made some real progress, as the nest is substantial enough for one of them to actually climb into it.  Both the male and female just posed and posed for me.  I LOVE it when that happens!  I’d swear that some animals actually want to be in paintings…If you pose for me, I’ll photograph you.  If I photograph you and like what I get, I will likely paint you!

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(below) A close up look at that pretty raptor face.  Note the bright blue sky.  We have not seen one of these in awhile.   That alone  was worth the picture!

Cooper’s Hawks are commonly referred to has “Chicken Hawks”.   They are unusually strong for their size and have been known to kill and carry off something as large as a barnyard chicken!  So it goes without saying that most other birds are not happy to see one of these!   This pair was enduring the wild bombardment of Blue Jays when I found them.  Undaunted, the hawks just ignored those pesty jays, almost regarding them as if they were annoying flies that continuously buzz around your picnic lunch sandwich.   “Beat-it, you bratty blues, or I will make lunch out of YOU!”

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My next good find came this morning.     In a giant sycamore tree there are a cluster of between 15 and 20 huge nests that were built by Great Blue Herons last year.  This tree is nearly six stories tall and stands mixed into the woodland right by the river’s edge.  The herons must have been quite satisfied with the location, as this year they have returned and are currently undergoing the process of high-rise remodeling.  The tree is full of these huge birds again, all busy with a decor update.  The birds work as a group and help to build the entire nest community together.  I don’t know how the process of choosing who gets what high rise condo in the end occurs.

(Below) A nest is built one twig at a time…

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Hmmmmm, this nest is looking pretty good, but could use a bit more substance on the back side…

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This heron appears to be taking a break.  In every group there is a slacker…

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Meanwhile, my patient companions waited in the woods as I slid down muddy river banks and moved all around to get a better vantage point of the heron tree.   You are good dogs…  When I’m done taking pictures, we will finish our walk!  … I promise…

And that we did…

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The Hunter and the Hunted…

It is autumn here in the woods.  And a somewhat wintry autumn it has been.  The whitetail bucks are on the move following does.   Rut fights have become serious lately and our big old monster Broad Beams so far, is somehow holding this area once again.   I have no idea how he fights so well, as the competition is fierce around here and he can hardly walk due to a rut injury from two years ago that has festered into a great melon sized appendage on his right rear leg.   His nose leather was torn nearly all the way off a few days ago in a recent battle.   How can anything be worth all of this pain?!!

But the drive to carry on one’s genes is so strong that bucks will endure unimaginable injuries just for the privilege of being the only one who gets to follow those does around.

Yesterday while it drizzled cold rain, I was watching Broad Beams tailing does from  our hearth room windows.   We have seen some very interesting whitetail behavior this year so I’ve been keeping an eye on him.

(Below)  The fresh buck rub evident in this photo (on the extreme right) draws does into the area.  They seem to be very attracted to rubs.  Broad Beams did not make this rub himself but has claimed the area against all other foes non the less.

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Meanwhile… our little song birds have come en mass to the chip feeder.  The cold weather turns up the amplifier on calorie burning for them so they gather in large numbers vying for a precious spot at the feeder.

While I was watching the deer yesterday, songbirds were everywhere.  Mourning doves littered the ground, wattling around looking for food.   Juncos have arrived and were competing for eating spots on the feeder with gold finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, tit mice, and  nuthatches.   It was a quiet, serene scene filled with the calm beauty of nature.  Deer, birds…what more could anyone ask for?

(Below) Two gold finches wait for a spot to open on the feeder.   They are all puffed up to keep warm.

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Suddenly, the serenity was shattered apart like an explosion.   Every tiny songbird lifted off as one.   They left so abruptly that even Broad Beams jumped.   I’ve never seen birds spook quite like that before.   Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye a new visitor.  A Krider’s Red-Tail hawk had just landed and was perched only yards away from the feeder which is only inches from our window.  He was intense in his ghostly white.   He was here for a songbird lunch.    He flew wildly around, perched for a few minutes and then was through the woods after them like a shot.

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A couple of weeks ago a Cooper’s Hawk was swooping down, chasing birds at our feeder.   He was so ambitious that he careened right into the window while in mid grab.   Stunned but alright, he perched for a quick recuperation and then swooped around again for another try.   With the songbirds frantic and then gone, he went off like a missile to go and apprehend them.

I’ve more recently been seeing this Krider’s hawk performing wild areal acrobatics while trying to capture the same small birds.   Raptors have amazing areal abilities.  And they don’t give up easily.  I can actually hear the small birds  screaming while in frantic flight, desperately trying to get away.   This screaming outside is what alerts me to the action when I’m working in my studio.

It is easy to have an emotional response to this drama.  But perhaps this is not so far removed from what we as a species are ourselves.  As I watch a new mini-series on World War II (on the History Channel) and view the many atrocities of war, I can’t help but ponder the very nature of nature.    How do we fit in to this well organized scheme?   Perhaps we  ourselves are a bit more like this hungry ambitious hawk than we would like to admit?

Fish Tales

Cormorants are marvelous swimmers.   They are also marvelous fishermen.  I had a chance to watch them in action recently on a small lake just outside of Denver.   They disappear under water for several minutes at a time to swim around and gulp down fish, eels and even occasionally water snakes.   You never know when and where they will pop back up into view again.  This makes them a challenge to photograph.

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(Below) The fellow on the left has had a good day of fishing.   He tells his chums about the one that got away while giving a gesture with his wings… “And it was THIS BIG!”

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(Below)  Not to be out-done, the chap on the right chimes in.   “My catch today was even bigger!”

The poor fellow in the middle looks back and forth not knowing who to believe…

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Finally he leaves his two pals to their tall tales and swims off to find his own whopper.  The next story about “the one that got away” will be told by HIM!

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A standoff at the O.K. Corral

House Wrens have occupied the bluebird house that is attached to a post at the edge of the woods in front of our house.   This morning I could tell by the sweet, exuberant chattering coming from inside the house that the babies are very nearly ready to fledge.   The parents have been busy continuously bringing the incredible amounts of food needed for them to grow.  This creates almost constant commotion around the little house.

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This morning I was out with the dogs and heard one of the little wren parents having an absolute FIT.  I looked up to see her on top of the wire raccoon guard just outside the entrance to her nest.  She was jumping back and forth wildly.  Her desperate calls rang out through the woods.

Naturally I had to investigate.  Although I was already pretty close to the birdhouse, I knew that I was not the one upsetting her.  I have been around this house quite a bit, and she has not been overly bothered by me.    I wandered over and looked inside the tiny house entrance.   What I saw when I looked in was NOT what I expected!

Filling the round entrance of the house was what at a glance looked like a dark thick rope that was curled just enough that the round part was sticking out of the hole.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that a snake had somehow made it’s way up the post and into the house.   I could smell an unpleasant odor coming from inside.    Things were not looking good for the wrens.

It is my policy to not interfere with nature.  I like wrens.  I also like snakes.   Everyone out there has a tough living to make.   It is my privilege to watch any scenario as it plays out in nature as an unbiased bystander, even when the end result is a sad one for one of the parties.   But something struck me on this day.  Maybe I was in an unusually sentimental mood, I don’t know.    I decided to remove the front of the house and see what was going on inside.   All this time the little wren continued screaming from nearby tree branches.

(Below) this is the scene that was unveiled when the front of the bird house came off.   There was one dead baby on top of the nest.  The entire contents in the box,  including the snake was motionless.

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After some time passed, I stepped back a bit.  Now exposed, the snake was feeling pressure to better hide himself or leave.   He slipped out through a slit in the back of the house which is likely how he got in there in the first place.  The brave little wren came charging down to deal with the situation herself.  She was amazingly tenacious.   Songbirds are fiercely devoted and protective parents.

(Below) A protective parent and a hungry serpent are in a temporary standoff.   The wren’s wildly focused aggression and the newly exposed nature of the nest eventually discouraged the snake.

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The snake decided to retreat back inside of the house for safety from his aggressive little foe.   He hid behind an old wasp nest.  But this was the wrong move to make.   The wren just turned her volume up a few more notches.   He was close to her babies again and this simply was not acceptable!

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In time the snake finally found himself outmatched and decided to get the heck outta Dodge.   I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures of him on my computer that his eyes were milky.  This means that he has out grown his clothing and is getting ready to shed his skin.

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After the snake left all was quiet.  For a long while I had surmised that the snake had already constricted  all of the babies by the time I got there.  But slight movement way down into the nest revealed that some of the babies were still in there and were alive.  I quickly removed the dead one (and pitched it into the woods to become food for perhaps the same snake?) and promptly placed the front of the house back on.   It will be interesting to see if any baby wrens fledge from this brood after the standoff at the O.K. Corral…