Charley Harper


June 12, 2007

No... these aren't mine; I wish. I just got the sad news that one of my favorite illustrators, Charley Harper, passed away today at age 84. Harper's subjects were always from nature. Not only was he a great artist, but he seemed to have a clear, straightforward appreciation and understanding of the natural world. If Aldo Leopold would have been a visual artist, I think Harper could have come close to that incarnation. His work is full of clever visual puns that play upon whatever specific subject he was depicting. Aesthetically, his images were very modern. He created by using clean lines, and simple, flat shapes of color. His work was by no means flat or sterile, but full of life, movement, and wit. Towards the end of his life, he seemed to be enjoying a renaissance in design world stardom. I *discovered* him by stumbling upon a series of skateboard decks he designed a couple of years ago. How cool is that: designing decks in your 80s? Anyway, do yourself a favor and seek out his work. There is one book that is currently available "Beguiled by the Wild", and another "Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life" that will be available within the coming year. RIP Charley.

Magnolia Warbler


June 08, 2007

One of our most common warblers in the Northeast, lovely Dendroica magnolia was named by ornithologist Alexander Wilson after collecting a speicmen out of a magnolia tree along the Mississippi in 1810. He initially used "Magnolia" for the latin name, and "Black and Yellow" warbler for the English, so obviously this got changed at some point. They are fairly conspicuous as they forage near the ground. Males have black and yellow patterning on the face, whereas the females lack some of that bold patterning. Unfortunately, it seems as though I have seen many come through the lab at the museum. I have seen Dr. Willard preparing them, and even someone of his experience still seems stunned by their beauty everytime.

Nashville Warbler


June 06, 2007

Okay, sorry for the kitsch, but I couldn't resist. And did this blog really need another painting of a bird on/in a tree? Don't answer that. So yes, here it is, the next warbler in my long march of warblers: the Nashville warbler. You may think that with a name like that it's song has a nice little twang, and it nests in the Grand Ol'Opry; not quite. In 1811, ornithologist Alexander Wilson spotted it in the vicinity of Nashville, hence the name, but it does not regularly breed in that area. There are two distinctive breeding populations: one that mainly inhabits an eastern North American range, and the other a western range. For many years due to slight variation in plummage, it was thought that the western range was inhabited by a seperate species named Calaveras Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler


June 05, 2007

Dr. Willard leaves for a field expedition to Malawi this week, so it looks as though I'm on my own for a couple of months. I don't know what will be set aside for me to work on in his absence, but I have a feeling that it will be more smaller species. The largest bird I've prepared in the past couple of months was a Belted kingfisher, but aside from that it's mostly been warblers. Working on preparing a smaller skin is, for the most part, a smaller time investment than working on something like a hawk or Great-horned Owl, but there is less forgivness in terms of covering your tracks if you make a mistake. The Blackburnian was one of the more striking warblers I prepared recently. The males have bright orange throats in contrast to the black streaking in their plumage. Dendroica fusca is most at home in northeastern coniferous forests. A loner bird when nesting and in winter, it will join foraging flocks of other small birds such as nuthatches, kinglets, and chickadees after their young have fledged.

Common Yellowthroat


June 04, 2007

Well helllooooo fellow bird nirds! It's a been a while since I've posted. My *day job* illustration work has been keeping me at bay, but I'm back and still up to my neck in warblers. Are Common Yellowthroats really that common? Does having a name with "common" in it render you immune from extinction? Perhaps if New Zealand's Moa had been named the Common Moa, they'd still be lumbering the forests of that part of the world. Why "common" ? If I were a yellowthroat I'd be a little dismayed by that title. They're quite striking little birds, especially the males with their black bandito masks. I saw my first yellowthroat flitting about in a leatherleaf bog in the wilds of northern Illinois. I saw my second in my backyard this year. Happiness.

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