Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Morning: Red-winged Blackbirds

March 2015:  Chevy Pond, Douglas County

Don’t bother looking for ‘Chevy Pond’ on any map.  Chevy Pond is the name assigned to this dab of marsh by a local birder.  It lies across the road from a large, old log pond, Ford’s Pond.  

I start out chilled – car windows down.  Our car is parked at an uncomfortable slope on the edge of Chevy Pond.  Breakfast crumbs in my lap.  At least I have hot coffee in my mug.

 O.K.  Now for the magical part.  Sitting here is well worth a crooked back.  It is early morning.  This low marshy spot is a fog pocket.  Mist rises off dark water and swirls between last years tall cattail fronds and joins the fog hanging low over this valley.  The fog sucks the color from the cattails, the water, the green aquatic vegetation –everything.  Everything except the flashy red and yellow of a male red-winged blackbird’s epaulets. 

Dale and I have come five times in the past couple of weeks.  At first most of the males were still in flocks and those that sang out from the cattails had a simple song, “Danka Schoen.”  We haven’t heard that song today, only the more traditional, “Kleeeeee.” 

A guttural “Quoink” comes from within the cattails.  Ah ha!  Virginia rails are here too, but I doubt we’ll see one.  Out in the dab of open water I see four coot, a pair of mallards, and a pair of secretive pied-billed grebes slip from one sheltered spot to another. 

Magic time is when the sun rises high enough to rise above the pond’s far embankment and starts to burn off the morning fog.  Above me the fog thins and blue sky struggles to take over.  Color comes back to the ponds.  Cattails have a golden glow in the early light, spots of green show spring is coming, and the redwings become even blacker. 
“Kal leeee.”  A string of white breath floats out in the morning fog.  Black sporty male redwings sing out from cattails near and far.  Half a dozen are marking out their territories.  I don’t think many of the females have arrived, although one does fly in with a mouthful of soggy grasses.  She looks like a dark, overgrown sparrow, all streaky and brown.  She drops down into a tangle of cattails and soon I see one frond after another vibrating.  I wish I could actually see her as she pulls and tucks and weaves, making her nest.

A raven swoops in, probably hoping to rob a nest, but it is too early in the spring from him to find anything.  He is escorted out of the area by an irate redwing. 

I love sitting here for an hour or two, during the prime time of the morning.  Dale photographs and I sketch.  Eventually the sun wins.  Fog dissipates.  The redwing’s ardor dies down and food becomes their main interest.  Time for us to move on.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Walnut Ink

Double-crested Cormorant
I haven’t written a blog about art for a long time.  It is about time since I know several of my readers are artists. 

Earlier this past winter I was at our local duck pond when I found myself talking to a stranger and soon realized we were both artists.  Joan does a lot of her work with walnut ink.  She gave me a notecard painted with walnut ink and I knew immediately I wanted to try some.  The sweet lady immediately gave me a little container. 

I’ve tried several shades of brown ink in the past and none quite hit the mark.  Some were too red, too cool, too ……,.  I love the color of walnut ink.  It has a lovely rich brown.  It reminds me of antique drawings.  Upon reading about walnut I find many of the old drawings were originally drawn with a black ink and have now faded to the lovely dark brown I so admire. 
This ink is different from any ink I’ve tried.  It bleeds beautifully and also lifts more easily than any color I can remember trying.  By ‘lifting’ I mean you wet a little area and then blot, thus lifting some of the color off.  The three crossed hatched lines in the dark area of the sample were lifted off. 
In fact it lifts almost too easily.  The sea lions were one of my first experiments.  I used a pen first and then mostly smeared the ink with a wet brush.  I almost lost my lines! 
By the time I painted the fox I knew I wanted the detail, but I didn’t want to lose my lines, so I inked just a few lines, added washes with a brush and then went back and added more a pen.   

The ink is available from and from  Just search for ‘Walnut Ink.’  It says it is intended for pen (dip pen) or brush, but doesn’t say anything about using it in a fountain pen, so I haven’t dared to fill my fountain pen with walnut ink. It is a ‘pigmented ink’ and so probably doesn’t flow well in the fine mechanism of a fountain pen.  If anyone knows the answer to this I would be interested.
Hydriomena Moth
One last comment on the ink.  I always wonder how an ink or pigment will handle prolonged exposure to light.  Many of the cheap ball point pens and jell pens we buy fade terribly.  The bottle assures me it does not fade and my own light test did well too.  About three months ago I put a sample on my south facing windowsill and covered up half the sample.  I can’t say there has been a lot of sunshine during the past three months, but I see no sign of fading.