November 25, 2007

This is a new ink and watercolor that will be going into the show I am involved in at the Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester, England. I love drawing ravens. Ravens are part of the family corvidae that includes crows and jays. All birds in this group, especially ravens, are very intelligent, social birds. Ravens in particular also figure into the mythology of many different cultures. In some Native American cultures, the ravens are seen as tricksters, and in others they are seen as being responsible for the placement of the sun, moon, and stars. A friend recently gifted a black onyx Zuni fetish of two joined ravens. It sits, along with another Zuni raven figurine overlooking my desk.

Darwin's Finches


November 22, 2007

Years ago, I read "The Beak of the Finch", a Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jonathan Weiner about the research of Peter and Rosemary Grant on the island of Daphne Major in the Galapagos. They have spent over twenty years studying the various species of finches that inhabit the island. Their research of the finches has shown that natural selection is working faster than Darwin ever conceived it could when he developed his theory of evolution, and so fast that it can be witnessed in process. It was my first true introduction to Darwin's theories, and it has led to a real love of biology and respect for the natural world.

The 13 species of finches are all fairly drab in color but their beak size and shape varies from species to species and is directly linked to their food sources. The finches are one of the many things Darwin observed on his voyage to the Galapagos on the HMS Beagle, and would later influence his development of a basic theory of evolution, as he had reasoned that all of the 13 must have descended from a common ancestor. Currently there is a really great exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum on Darwin. It's one of the better exhibits that they have had in awhile. There are plenty of misconceptions about Darwin and his theories, and so it is important that there is an opportunity for people to be introduced to the very human individual behind it all, as well as evolution.

Also check out the blog for The Beagle Project.This is an ongoing project with the ultimate goal of building a replica of the HMS Beagle and sailing the world in 2009 in the tracks of Darwin and Captain Fitzroy's infamous 1831 journey, marking the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday.

This is a watercolor on illustration board that will be going into a show at the Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester, UK next weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Show in Manchester, UK


November 20, 2007

I'm getting ready for an exhibition of my work along with my husband, Jay Ryan, in Manchester. The show is at the Richard Goodall Gallery and opens December 1st. We'll be flying over for it and be in the there for a few days. I hope to be posting again here soon after I have all of the work shipped off. If you're in northern England stop by and check out the show!

Robin Nest


November 14, 2007

I love the aesthetic beauty and ingenuity of nests. Here's a watercolor I did of a robin's nest. I am hoping to do a few more paintings of different types. This painting went up on my etsy.com shop. I won't be going into the museum this week. Dr. Willard is not in, and I'm very busy getting ready for a art exhibit with my husband that will be happening in Manchester the first weekend of December.

Giant Sable Antelope - Hippotragus niger variani


November 11, 2007

After working up in the bird division on a painting of a Nicobar Island Pigeon, I went back downstairs into the collections to do a painting of some sort of ungulate. I chose the Giant Sable Antelope. These are massive forest dwelling antelopes of Angola, and a rare subspecies of the more common Sable Antelope. It was thought that they were extinct, and a casualty of the decades long Angolan civil war, until a herd was discovered in 2002. The Angolan people revere Giant Sables as mystical and powerful creatures, and their image graces Angola's airline, and stamps as a national symbol. I hope to have the time to do a painting of the entire animal. It's too big to fit in my sketchbook.

Nicobar Island Pigeon


I went into the museum last Friday just to draw. I had a little extra time this week to indulge. When I arrived it was swarming with school groups. Initially I had wanted to just spend the day doing quick studies of various ungulates, but it was too crowded and so I headed up to zoology to pull something from the bird collections from which to work. I chose a Nicobar Island Pigeon. I wasn't familiar with them until doing a bit of reading up on Dodos. While they are not flightless like the Dodo, they are supposedly very distantly related to Dodos. They inhabit the Nicorbar Islands and other Indonesian Islands. They're rather large and have beautiful mantles of long, thin, blue-green, and rust colored feathers. As you can see I did not complete the watercolor and hope to do so this week. The specimen I was working from was from the 1960s.

Eastern Phoebe - Sayornis phoebe


November 06, 2007

Eastern phoebes are one of our most common Tyrant flycatchers. While they will still build nests in natural rock cliffs and outcrops, they have adapted to nest near humans by nesting in the eaves of buildings and under bridges. This adaptation has allowed it to deal with changes we have made to the natural landscape and in some cases even expand its range. They are also distinguished by their constant tail wagging. Sayornis will often return to the same nest site up to several years in a row. This behavior was supposedly first documented by Audubon in 1804, and thus they became the first banded bird in North America. He did so by attaching a silver thread to the legs of nestlings and then observing their nesting habits in subsequent years; after which he then promptly ate the them. Just kidding...well sort of. I think the man ate everything he observed.

Golden-winged Warbler - Vermivora chrysoptera


This little bird is stunningly beautiful. I love the sharp contrast between the its dark mask and chin patch, and its white breast. The females are similar in color to the males but have paler masks and throats. They are not very common, and their numbers are declining. Chrysoptera will interbreed with Blue-winged Warblers and this has resulted in hybrids known as "Lawrence's" and "Brewster's" warblers. Along with this, nest parasitism by cowbirds, and loss of suitable habitat has also contributed to the swift decline in numbers. It does not nest in the Chicago area, as it is only a migrant in these parts.

Specimen Preparation


November 05, 2007

I have been volunteering at the Field Museum of Natural History for about a year now. As I have gotten several questions regarding what speciman preparation is, I should clarify that here:

Basically, the work that I am involved in is a simplified version of taxidermy. I don't think there is a whole lot of difference between how I, or other volunteers and scientists, prepare a specimen now, and how someone on Darwin's HMS Beagle would have prepared a finch from the Galapagos in 1831. Everything except the skull, wing and leg bones are removed from the body, a tissue sample is take and bird is stuffed with cotton and sewn back up. The bird skins are then mounted on styrofoam to dry for a couple of weeks, afterwhich they are labeled with all relevant information and put into the collection. The museum is full of flat file drawers that have specimens of every conceivable species. The specimens are used by scientists, researchers, artists, journalists for myriad reasons (i.e. size variation of bills within a specific species, plumage variation, geographic differences, and so on). Above is a photo of what one of these drawers looks like containing the specimens. The photo is by Jason Creps. Check out more of his beautiful photos here.

The birds that I work on have, for the most part, died by colliding with downtown buidlings. These birds are collected everyday by a fine group of volunteers: The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors. They bring what they find into the museum. If they find anything that is stunned or injured, it is brought to an area wildlife rehabilitation center. You have to have a permit to collect a dead migratory species of bird. Oddly, you do not have to have a permit to pick up a stunned or injured bird. I say oddly because if you don't know how to handle a bird properly, or any wild animal for that matter, you can cause a lot of trauma and stress, and even put yourself at risk for injury. I gather there are some strong opinions and debate on the matter as to what the proper thing to do is when one comes across a stunned or injured bird. I don't have a lot of direct experience with this, but I am of the mind that if I see a stunned bird the best thing for me to do is to shuffle it out of harms way and not pick it up. Often times it is just stunned and needs a bit of time to recover in a sheltered spot. If you see a stunned bird sitting in the middle of a sidewalk, find a way to place it out of harms way. Many stunned songbirds can be trampled on by unwitting people, or get nabbed up by greedy seagulls and crows. If there is anyone reading this that has done bird banding or collision work, feel free to comment and add your well informed opinions.

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