Sunday, January 24, 2016

Owls and More at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

A young great horned owl just can't believe what he sees -- me!  This owlet is still fuzzy, but old enough to fly.  The owl's territory was in a willow patch just north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Time to get warm and fuzzy with some owls.  Dale has just finished putting together a program for our local Audubon program. "Mess'n with Predatory Birds.'.  Whenever he puts a program together I'm reminded of the wonderful places we go and the things we see.  

He has several great horned owls in the program.  Suddenly I realized three of them come from near or on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge-- that's the same refuge I hope you are hearing about in the news.  For those of you that aren't reading this in the United States I'll just quickly mention the refuge is one of our special places to spend time.  We stay for a few days in nearby Burns, Oregon and spend several days enjoying the wildlife in the Malheur Basin.  Part of our time is spent on the refuge and part nearby.  The vast valley is a mix of sagebrush, wetlands, and water.  Thousands of birds rest there during migration and many nest there.  

Unfortunately some militant ranchers took over the refuge headquarters early this month and have been occupying it ever since.  They hope to force the government to give the National Wildlife Refuge lands, Bureau of Land Management Lands and National Forest lands to ranchers.  Most people are baffled by their outrageous actions and waiting for this siege to end, hopefully without gunfire and without ruining the beautiful old buildings at the headquarters and without any more damage to the refuge than what they have already done.
Trio of great horned owl owlets that were growing up in the cottonwoods that shelter refuge headquarters.

If you are interested in getting a feel for what the Malheur Basin is like, here are four of my posts written about the basin:  All were posted in 2013, some in June and some in July.

From my "Malheur Basin" blog:  A willet pesrches on a fense post -- one of the many birds who nest on the refuge.

This photo is from 'Dinner with Owls' which took place at Page Springs Campground, part of the Bureau of Land Management property.

A white pelican -- part of my "Watching White Pelicans" Blog -- I can see their nesting colony off in the distance, I believe on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Property

A Malheur Basin cattle drive, from my blog, " Move Along."  Ranchers and refuge have been sharing the valley for years.

Friday, January 15, 2016

New Year's Resolution

Some years I make a resolution or two, some years I don't.  As time goes by I'm less inclined to make definite resolutions, but rather challenge myself to do better without a specific end goal.  It's such a let down to not read those 20 books, loose those 30 pounds, or walk 400 miles.  This year I didn't have any resolutions in mind on the first, but then an idea hit on Jan 2.
The day had dawned sunny, but chilly.  Sun has been rare since the rains finally came.   Dale and I headed out with cameras and my sketchbook.  First stop was our local duck pond.  Normally I'd grab my camera and hop out of the car ... but it was chilly.  Instead I drew a great blue heron hunkered on a tiny island just a few feet off shore.  He seemed to be all pulled together avoiding the cold, just waiting for a little of that sunshine to sink in.  Another parking spot yielded a quick sketch of an egret hunting the pond edge, and then a double-crested cormorant drying off. 

Soon we were on to another park.  Varied thrushes were busy stalking worms and two sapsuckers were flying from one tree to another.  Into my sketchbook went one of each -- I'd drawn five species before noon!

Suddenly I got the bright idea to draw 100 species in 2016.  Five field drawings of different species in one morning was unusual, but perhaps 100 over the year was realistic.  As I mulled the idea over I got to wondering just how many species, separate species,  (field sketches, finished drawings, paintings) did I do in 2015.  I knew it had been a good year. 

That evening I checked my computer, my insect project, my journal, and a couple of sketchbooks.  The list kept growing.  Over 200 pieces of art yielded 109 species.  Wow!  That included 68 birds, 21 mammals, 18 insects and 2 amphibians.  -- Guess I don't need to challenge myself to draw 100.  But of course the idea kept niggling at me.  Maybe I should up the ante -- 150? 

About then a dash of common sense seeped in.  Drawing species just to see how many I can draw in one year just might not be all that productive.  I'm sure I could do 150, but I'd either be popping open my laptop or sketching far off critters just for the sake of adding to the list, not because I could really see them.  Better to just keep on drawing/painting as much as possible. 
Last week I knew I'd made the right decision.  We were at the coast.  At our first stop I knew Dale wouldn't stay long, so I started quick sketching -- an oystercatcher, a California sea lion and an elephant seal.  Then on to the next stop.  Some crows talking up a storm in the tippy top of a Sitka spruce caught my attention.  The air was damp, almost foggy, but I wanted to see what I could do with paint in spite of the dampness -- make it work for me rather than fighting it. 

Since it was so damp my initial paint took forever to dry; but I had two sketchbooks in the car so I started on another, this time of just one crow.

For once the air was still; it was just warm enough to paint without gloves on; I was surrounded by the sounds of one wave after another rolling in from the far reaches of the Pacific; occassionally a flock of oystercatchers below me gave out their tell-tale call; and nearby, the wonderful yammering of the crows.  Dale still hadn't come back so I even got a third sketch done -- more crows.  I love it when a subject stays in the area long enough and close enough for me to feel we've spent some some real time together.  

And sometime that afternoon I remembered the challenge I almost made.  I could have concentrated on a variety of species.  I could have added white-crowned sparrows, far off gulls, and a tiny pelagic cormorant; instead I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in crow shenanigans. 
.... and my last sketch didn't even have any critters in it.