Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pelicans at Plat I: November 30, 2011

Plat I ( ‘I’ is pronounced “eye”) is a little reservoir about twenty miles from where I live. All summer the reservoir has a nice supply of water. In mid October the Sutherlin ‘water master’ draws the reservoir down exposing a vast expanse of mudflat with a fraction of the water. In winter the reservoir catches heavy rains and keeps large areas of Sutherlin’s valley from flooding. The surplus of water can then be released in an orderly fashion. In the spring the reservoir is allowed to fill and provides water for irrigation. Meanwhile a variety of shorebirds, cranes, herons, waterfowl, and raptors enjoys the habitat.

Several great blue herons have their necks craned skywards when we arrive. A cormorant flies over. That couldn’t have spooked the herons, so I get out of the car and scan the sky – a golden eagle soars above.

Three white pelicans when we arrive. Soon seven more join them. Three years ago three white pelicans surprised us by hanging out and enjoying Plat I’s plentiful fish supply. The next year five pelicans came for a few weeks. This year we have ten!
The pelicans swim along the near edge of Plat I, feeding. They seem to be having good success. Brown pelicans usually plunge for fish from high over the water, but white pelicans fish from the surface. It always surprises me the shape of the two species is so similar, yet their feeding habits are so different. The white pelican is a much larger bird. It weighs about twice as much as a brown pelican and its wingspan is nine feet, one of the largest spans in the bird world. White pelicans normally swim in a group, herding fish, dipping their heads into the pond’s murky water and filling their large gular pouch beneath their lower mandible. The gular pouch is the flexible skin that hugs the pelican’s lower mandible and can expand to hold nearly three gallon of water. The trick is to suck fish in when filling the gular pouch. I watch a pelican as he dips, fills, and then drains the water from his pouch. I know he has caught a fish when he tips his bill upwards and gives a little extra flick as he swallows.

I get out my sketchbook and start out sketching peeps -- least sandpipers. They are bathing near me, little tiny egg beaters whirring away, sending a fine spray of water flying. They remind me of chickadees whirring away in our bird bath.
In the distance a louder sound grabs my attention: Whop! Whop! Flop! Whop! It sounds like Mama Sasquatch learning to swim. But no, it is something considerably smaller. Just a white pelican taking his bath.
After a thorough wetting the pelican swims to shore and starts to preen. After soon suns slips low over the reservoir, highlighting his whiteness.

The group of pelicans fishes their way towards some egrets. They are chasing egrets! One after another a pelican swims up to an egret. I think they were trying to pull tail feathers -- just like ravens sneak up to tweak an eagle’s tail feather! One pelican is enough to push one egret. One by one the egrets leave the area where they had been fishing and fly over to the southern section of Plat I.

Once the egrets have been cleared out peace settles in. Several common mergansers swim together. Cormorants preen along the muddy shoreline. All too soon a great blue heron gets too close to the pelican’s preferred feeding spot, it takes several pelicans flapping and chasing to move one great blue heron. The heron squawks and croaks as he splashes off, giving the pelicans 100 yards of space.

Evening's chill is seeping in. Time for us to head home.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Help from a Professor

One of my loyal readers, and good friend, Dr. Joe Conrad, decided to give me assistance with those mystifying terms I mentioned towards the end of yesterday’s blog post. Joseph, a retired professor of physical chemistry, frequently comes up with helpful tidbits of information. He outdid himself today. When I opened my e-mail this morning the definitions of those baffling words were waiting for me. Here is Joe’s e-mail to me and others:

Good morning all,

I greatly enjoy this blog by one of my finest Yellowstone friends. She and her husband, Dale, live in Oregon. They spend much of their time in outdoor places, observing, photographing, sketching, noting, observing, learning and enjoying.

This morning (among other sights in rainy Oregon) she mentioned lichens.

“I make an effort to look up the lichens I photographed today. Here are descriptive words from just one page; Gametophytically … quadrate above … lanceolate-acuminate … tristichous … crisped leaves … pleurocarpous plants .. rhombic, papillose cells .. paraphyllia. Oh my gosh! I’ve got a long way to go if I’m going to sort out the local lichens.”

Joe adds:

With great license, here are Joe's definitions of the biological descriptors she found....

... Gametophytically --- how your toddler niece becomes when you try to play patty-cake with her

quadrate above -- the appearance of a young man with large "pecs" and shoulders

lanceolate-acuminate -- a knight after a successful bout of gambling

tristichous -- the appearance of a Christmas tree left out on the curb for 6 months

crisped leaves --- like wok fried spinach

pleurocarpous plants -- old weeds griping about respiratory pain

... rhombic -- blowing about rhythmically in the manner of a So. American dance

...papillose cells -- play pens for small orphans

.. paraphyllia -- the opposite of paraphobia, which is the fear of losing single socks at the laundromat.

Back to Elva’s blog:

“Oh my gosh! I’ve got a long way to go if I’m going to sort out the local lichens...
All I learned for sure tonight is that what I thought are British solders, really aren’t. That species grows much farther east and we’ve got something different here.”

Joe's response? i>
( ? Turncoat Redcoats ?

One last comment from me: I want you all to know the pondering frog is a sketch of me thinking about all these heavy duty words, not of Joe working on his definitions. Joe is much thinner than I am.

Thank you, Joe, for a good chuckle!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

RAIN, Rain, rain

North Umpqua River, Jan 21, 2011
After holding back on rain for most of the winter, Mother Nature is playing catch up this past week. Nearby friends have measured 5 inches of recent rain. Winter rains in the valleys and snow in the mountains are critical for our summer water supply; so this abundance is received with some relief. Ski resorts will finally have enough snow and reservoirs are filling. Unfortunately some parts of the state are getting too much rain at once. To the north it is a ‘100 year rain.’ Mud slides and flooding have closed some roads. A few houses are flooded. Oregon’s terrain is steep enough so that we don’t get the vast expanses of flooding that plague the Midwest, but travel can become problematic. Hard to believe that just a few hundred miles to the south of us wildfires are burning near Reno, Nevada.

We’re still way behind as far as the ‘water year.’ The official water year starts in October. By the end of December we had only about 50% of the average snow pack. What is this weather doing? When our son-in-law was in atmospheric studies over twenty years ago, I asked him what he thought about global warming. At that time he wasn’t sure if the earth was getting warmer, but he did think we were in for more extreme weather patterns. He has been so right!
We’re parked where Rock Creek flows into the North Umpqua River. Looking out the car window it is hard to imagine there is any shortage of water. The ground is soggy; every needle has a drip hanging from its end; lichens and mosses are lush. The deciduous tree trunks are wrapped in blankets of green moss and lichens. Even ferns grow out of mossy gardens on the sides of trees.
Rock Creek runs high, but the water is reasonably clean. About a hundred yard from here it flows into the North Umpqua River -- weak coffee colored. It is rare to see the river even this muddy. This part of the river comes from Umpqua National Forest land. As we head towards town the river will get significantly muddier when we reach areas that drain off private land. By the time the North Umpqua River reaches town it will be opaque coffee and cream.
We stop at Susan Creek Picnic Site on our way back downriver. Close by are a variety of lichens, far beyond my expertise. The very light ones remind me of reindeer mosses, but I’m sure they are something different. Other lichens look like leafy romaine lettuce, other are long and stringy.
I made an effort to look up the lichens I photographed today. Here are descriptive words from just one page; Gametophytically … quadrate above … lanceolate-acuminate … tristichous … crisped leaves … pleurocarpous plants .. rhombic, papillose cells .. paraphyllia. Oh my gosh! I’ve got a long way to go if I’m going to sort out the local lichens. All I learned for sure tonight is that what I thought are British soilders, really aren’t. That species grows much farther east and we’ve got something different here.

Maybe some things are just to be savored. I look forward to going back, maybe on a slightly dryer day, but when everything is still moist and full of color.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on Pelikan Fount Ink

Draw on Ampersand’s Clayboard – spendy but awesome to work on.

Every once in a long while I post something about art, rather than ‘field notes.’ This is one of them. I’m a member of “The Sketching Forum” ( )and was preparing a demo for them when I realized it might be of interest to some of my readers here too.

Years ago I happened upon a cheap throw away felt tip pen that both drew a relatively fine line and, when touched with a brush full of water, bled into beautiful greys. I don’t think the manufacturer wanted the pen to ‘bleed’, I think it was just cheap ink. But I loved that pen and felt something had been taken away from me when it ran dry. I couldn’t find another.

So what is wonderful about a pen that bleeds? Light and form are part of what makes art alive. Masters have drawn with charcoal for years because they have a whole range of values at their fingertips. Pencil does it too, but in a quieter fashion. For some reason pencil sketches have never floated by boat … and I make a mess with charcoal.
Head of a female ruddy duck drawn with a ball point pen

Ball point pen is a pretty good second best. I can get light lines and dark lines … and if I take the time I can get a good range of values. Ink is still my first choice.

I must have bought a dozen pens over the year ensuing years, hoping to find a pen that behaved in a similar fashion. Most don’t bleed and those that do tend to have too thick a line for my taste. About two years ago I found my tool …. This time with a fountain pen filled with “Pelikan Fount India – black ink.” It is very important to note that this is not ‘India ink,” the kind of ink one uses for nibs that one dips into ink. Traditional India ink will quickly gum up a fountain pen and may be impossible to clean.

Pelikan Fount India is wonderful stuff. When I want I can just make a pen and ink drawing. In short order the ink is dry and if I’ve penciled first, I can erase the pencil lines.
If I want grey values I just come back in with water. Whether I’m at home or in the field I usually use a Niji waterbrush when I add the water . A waterbrush is a synthetic brush with a hollow plastic handle that can be filled with water. When I got to the big city and spotted one a couple of years ago I thought to myself, “What on earth is this?” But once in awhile I buy an experiment. Michelangelo would have loved one of these!
I can even paint with the waterbrush, but I usually get out a jar of water and real brushes if I’m going to add color. Often I like adding color over the the Pelikan Fount India ink even though the ink smears a little. Here are factors that affect the quality of the bleed.
1. The paper
2. The amount of ink I lay down
3. How wet I get the ink when I smear it
4. Most important: how quickly I add the color. Don’t give the ink a chance to soften up
The paper I use is an important factor when using the Pelikan Fount ink. Some paper is much more absorbent that other paper. When the ink soaks into the paper, there isn’t as much riding on the surface of the paper waiting to be carried to new places with the water. If the paper is really slick, the ink may form a hard line when it redries (Example #3 and 4). If the paper is too absorbent, it may hold on to the ink and limit my ability to get dark grays (example 5). Not surprisingly a good watercolor behaves the best (#1 and 2)
I posted these chickarees on my last blog post. Here is more of the page they came from. I was working on fairly porous paper and wasn’t getting as dark a bleed as I wanted, so I just scribbled off to the side and dipped my waterbrush into the scribble to bring more grey over to the squirrels --- rather messy in my journal, but I don’t try to keep a tidy journal. Getting the art the way I want it is more important.

For those of you who look at a lot of my sketches, remember they aren’t all done with Pelikan Fount India. When I want waterproof ink I use Platinum Carbon. I also use Pigma Micron pens (waterproof) and sometimes a Uniball Vision. My long history of very careful work was mostly done with a dip nib and India ink.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Oregon Coast, USA: December 22, 2011

I had good intensions of getting this posted a week ago, but I had trouble finding time to finish the drawings.
Lovely still day. Sunny for awhile, but clouds are coming in and it is getting dark all too soon.

I can’t eat lunch in peace! We picked up shrimp cocktails at Chuck’s and a cup of hot chowder at Port of Call; then parked where we could see a grand expanse of Pacific Ocean. In a moment two whale spouts poof out of the grey water. It is migration time. Female grey whales are heading south to their calving grounds off the Mexican coast. I juggle binoculars, chowder and shrimp cocktail until I’m about four bites from done. A more immediate interruption pops up. Little birds are flitting across the opening in front of me. Is it a flock of bush tits? No. The first one I identify is a chestnut-backed chickadee. Hmmm. I’ve never seen so many together. This must be a winter flock of mixed birds.

I gulp down the last of my shrimp, an indecent way to treat a good seafood lunch, grab my camera and hop out of the car. When I catch up with the birds I verify there are at least three species: chestnut-backed chickadees, Townsend’s warblers and golden-crowned kinglets. I see a flash of color on two kinglets who almost bump into each other. Wow! My photos are fuzzy, but they catch the yellow and red on his crown. Part of the joy of being an artist is trying to capture moments of my life that I want to save. My fuzzy photos are enough to verify the intense color on his little head. I’ll paint him at home.

I try to keep up with the flock, but the little birds move all too quickly as they check out one food source after another. I have to be satisfied with having gotten close for a few minutes.

We’ve moved on and are now parked next to a clump of dogwood. At least I think it is a dogwood. The bush is laden with bright red berries. Off in the distance I hear the barking of California sea lions and occasionally the deep rumble of a Steller’s sea lion. Nearby a robin calls out.

The robin and a hermit thrush feed on the dogwood berries. The robin tends to just land on a branch, lean over and pluck one berry after another. After he eats a few, off he flies, only to come back a couple of minutes later.

The hermit thrush is shyer than the robin, less apt to be out in the open. He flies out of the thick undergrowth and plucks a berry while on the wing. Then back into a sheltered spot.
We’ve got a chickaree here too. He sits high on a shorepine limb and munches on a big mushroom. I think it is the darkest chickaree I’ve ever seen. His coat is brownish black and his belly burnt orange. Usually chickarees are a warm brown with a creamy belly. Cottontail rabbits are dark in this area too.

I love it when the photography is on Dale’s side of the car and I can concentrate on drawing and writing. Of course I do get interrupted to make squeaky noises, pass equipment, pour tea, turn the motor off when he moves the car just a little, etc.

The chickaree finishes his big mushroom and comes back with a small truffle. Maybe someday I’ll finally get to taste a truffle.
Once done eating a good grooming is in order. He carefully works through the fur on every part of his body.
Keeping his fur in good order is especially important during this damp, cool season. His coat has a lovely soft sheen.
* * * * *
One of my loyal readers asked to see a photo of the chickaree ... so here is one from the same day. Some of you will look at it and say, "But that is a red squirrel!" They are very similiar, but chickarees are found along the West Coast. Their belly is cream or orangish instead of white. They are also called Douglas squirrels Tamiasciurs douglasi. ... so, Shris, you've almost surely have seen a chickaree and didn't even know it!