Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Act Two: Action on a Pond

Nov 9, 2017 ... Oregon

It was supposed to be showery and cloudy today, but at midmorning there was a teaser of sun.  We quickly gather our cameras and my sketchbook and head out to grab a few minutes of sunshine.  Morning is great – thousands of starlings and about 200 crows shift back and forth between a yellowing vineyard and a bucolic pasture. I spend an hour savoring the dampness, the constant chatter of crows, and constant calling from the flocks of starlings as they swoop and swirl back and forth.

Dark, rain-filled clouds sweep in during early afternoon, but the rain is holding off.  We decide to stay out a little longer, to check a little pond that might have some hooded mergansers. 

As we come over the rise and get our first look at the pond I realize we just missed Act One.  The curtain is rising on Act Two.  Blackberry bushes are shaking on the far side of the pond.  Seventeen hooded mergansers have swum over to the commotion.  A great blue heron flies in too, takes a good look, and quickly flies off, squawking as he goes.  The mergansers just don’t know what to make of the spectacle.  All have their crests well fluffed, even the hens.  A few of the drakes even rear up in typical courtship behavior.  They are as excited as we are. 

The bush continues shaking.  Finally we get a clue.  A wing pops out of the green leaves and quickly disappears into the shrubbery again.  A hawk is caught in the blackberries!  Ouch! We finally see him.  He pulls and tugs, one leg stretched out behind. 

He isn’t caught! He has done the catching.  The hawk holds a fairly large prey item, and is now trying to untangle it from the blackberry bush. It is an awkward tussle. 

Success at last.  The hawk breaks free from the blackberries and gathers himself together into a semi dignified pose. He has something clutched in his foot.  For now he just wants to rest on the steep slope. Now that the excitement is over, the mergansers drift off and start fishing for their own dinner.  The males are such ‘Dapper Dans’.  The hens are just as beautiful, but in a quiet way.  Over on the far side of the pond the great blue heron fishes too. 

I’m trying to figure out what kind of hawk and what did he catch.  First impression is that it is an immature red-tailed hawk.  It is just a little far away to tell for sure.  The prey us mostly hidden but has some orangey-yellow and is quite large. 
It’s a huge bullfrog!  It is the grand daddy of all bull frogs.  We’ve seen redtails splash into shallow water before to catch frogs … and salamanders.   No wonder the hawk looks wet.  Is the frog too big to fly with?

Act three

The hawk doesn’t seem in any hurry to go anywhere and we’ve got plenty to watch while we wait.  The merganser swim together, feeding along the far shore line.  They tend to all dive at once, each one rolling into the water with a little splash.  Then, one by one, they pop up like inflated balloons.  Usually at least one is just finishing gulping down something – a minnow? A dragonfly larvae?  I can’t tell.  Meanwhile the heron is getting nearer to us.  He pauses and looks around.  Head high and neck long, he slowly wades. 

Something catches the heron’s attention.  His body eases forward; his neck lowers and settles into an S curve, coiled, ready to stab.  Out darts his neck.  Bam!  Splash!  Into the pond goes his head.  A quick flick and he swallows another little fish. 

After a good half hour the hawk is finally feeding, pulling and tugging on the bullfrog.  It is a slow process.  We stay and watch for another 45 minutes.  It gets dark early at this time of year.  Finally the hawk lifts off and disappears into the nearby Douglas firs.  I can't see if he carried any remains of frog. 

After we got home and could look at our photographs on the computer, Dale realized the hawk is an immature red-shoulder hawk, not at red-tailed hawk.  They are much smaller.  The frog still looks big near the red-shouldered hawk, but perhaps not the grand daddy of all bullfrogs. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Inktober 2017

Most of you will never have heard of #intober.  It’s a simple idea started by Jake Parker, a Utah artist,  nearly ten years ago – a challenge to make an ink drawing every day during the month of October.  Then you are supposed to post it on the internet and label it #inktober and #intober 2017.

Usually inktober is well along before I realize the challenge has started again. This year I happened to notice at the correct time.  I decided to give it a try.  I knew right away I wouldn’t take the time to scan and post all 31 drawings, but I’d at least try to ink a drawing every day. 

Now I’m nearly at the end of the month.  I think I missed two days, but there were other days when I did more than one.  

Trying to keep up with inktober was easy for me, but not totally satisfying.  I hardly did any painting all month because there was always another drawing that needed inking.  It is acceptable to include color with the ink.  I did a couple of those, but mostly I just inked.    

I did make a point of different types of ink drawings … and will give a brief comment about a few of them.  The little deer mouse at the top of the blog was my first sketch.  The day inktober started was an especially busy one for me, but late in the day I flipped open my laptop and drew him. 

Day 2 I had lots of time.  Dale and I parked next to these egrets and cormorants and I had time to sketch all but the last inch of crosshatching right on location.  I quit at that point and finished later because by the time I reached that the end of the sketch I really needed a table to work on. I had been balancing my sketchbook on my lap, scrunched in the front seat of the car.
This is another field sketch, but I did peek at the back of my camera, and I sketched it lightly in pencil before inking.  I wanted it to look spontaneous, but still be fairly well proportioned.    

I photographed this great horned owl peering out from some willow branches early in the month.  This one I tried to draw carefully from the computer after I got home.
 Great  Blue Heron -- another really quick field sketch.  My goal was to emphasize the beautiful light

Washington lily -- drawn from a photo I took several years ago.  I wanted to work with a wide range of values so I used the water soluble ink again. 

Today’s drawing is the pair of double crested cormorants.  Sketched in the field nearly three weeks ago, but today I inked it.  Again I used water soluble ink.  I love how I can wet this ink with a ‘water brush’ – (a plastic brush that holds water in its handle). 

In case you are interested, these are all done with one of my two fountain pens.  One is filled with Platinum Carbon black ink and is permanent.  I can paint right over it without the ink smearing.  In my second pen I keep water soluble ink. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Watching a Great Blue Heron

Field notes from September 9, 2017

I’m sitting on a boulder at the edge of the Umpqua River, sitting quietly watching two lizards.  The day is still a little hot, but shadows grow long.  A great blue heron flies to the rocky shelf that reaches out into the river.  He pants and droops his wings.  It is their typical ‘I’m drying out pose.’

The heron stays put long enough for me to sketch him.  After about fifteen minutes of sunning himself he moves down between boulders.  I can’t see his body, but the angle of his head tell me he is hunting. 

When watching a great blue heron hunting ‘…you might imagine you are watching a statue of this bird.”
                                    John James Audubon

He finally moves to where we can really see him, but not for long.  All too soon he flies. 
The heron flies across the river and up onto an exposed limb on a tall alder.  He carefully limb-walks, getting himself tucked under the canopy of the tree.  The river valley will soon be in total shade.  Dusk is coming.  I suspect the heron is settling in for the night.