Cedar Waxwing - Bombycilla cedrorum


December 28, 2007

Cedar Waxwings belong to the family Bombyicillidae, of which there are only three different species. Waxwings have secondary flight-feathers that are tipped in a red waxy substance. For the most part they eat small fruit, and occasionally supplement their diet with insects. I saw some this summer moving along a row of fruiting trees in the arboretum that lines the North Shore Channel in Evanston, IL. I think the one that I prepared as a study skin had been at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Anytime I see a photo of a waxwing, I marvel at the almost airbrushed quality of the subtle color transitions within their plumage. It was good to be able to see that up close. I just finished this painting today, and hope that within the next week or so I may be able to offer it as limited edition print in my Etsy shop.


Nicobar Island Pigeon Study


December 21, 2007

I can't believe that 2007 is almost over, and I can't believe it has taken me this long to finish this study painting. Several weeks ago I went in to the Field and pulled a Nicobar Island Pigeon, from the collections. I went back in today to finish it. The specimen that I used was from 1966 and was labeled being obtained from Busch Gardens. Whoever prepared it as a study skin back in '66 did a very nice job, as it was in excellent shape.

The family of Columbidae (pigeons, doves) consist of many different species spread throughout the world. When you say pigeon to most people, they will immediately conjure up the image of mobs of our feral, feathered friends in urban areas, otherwise known as rock doves. In reality, Columbids are some of the most colorful, beautiful birds in the world, and many are endangered. This organization, Columbidae Conservation, was recently brought to my attention.

Ovenbird-Seiurus auracapilla


This large warbler's common name is derived from its habit of building a domed, oven-like nest of leaves and grass on the ground. It's a drab olive with some dark streaking, especially along the crown. Although it is not always easily visible, it has an orange/gold wisp of feathers lining its head. I think part of its scientific name "auracapilla" points to this characteristic. In addition to nesting on the ground it is also primarily a ground feeder. Its numbers are in decline, most likely due to the continuing fragmentation of North American forests. As with so many other species of birds, it requires large tracts of forest for successful breeding.

Pine Warbler - Dendroica pinus


December 20, 2007

This Wednesday, after being in the prep lab for about five minutes, tiny hell broke loose because of a surprise visit by some mite researchers. They were coming in to the museum to try and extract a type of nasal mite that is found in the nasal passages of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. The mite is a possible relative of the common dust mite. In any regard, Dr. Willard was having to drag out many frozen sapsuckers in preparation for their research, as it seemed only one in five of the birds actually had the mite.

I've been working on so many warblers with "Dendroica" as part of their scientific name, I've begun to think it'd be a good name for a first born. The Pine Warbler is a denizen of the pine forests of the eastern US, with higher population densities in the southeastern portions. It is one of the few wood warblers (family: Parulidae) that regularly consumes seeds. Despite it being somewhat widespread, there is little information regarding its breeding and nesting habits. This may be due to it nesting in high pine trees, making it difficult for observation.

Last night I was stressed out and so popped in an episode of David Attenborough's "Life of Birds". Nothing like a clipped English accent of a great, curious mind, to put one at ease. I respect what Attenborough has done to bring the wonders of the natural world to so many. I love his dignified, congenial manner, even when standing smack in the middle of huge colony of sooty terns. One of my favorite scenes is of him in his khakis and windbreaker jacket crouched over on a dark, wet New Zealand beach speaking in excited, hushed tones about the amazing thing we are about to witness. Slowly from the brush emerges a fat, little Kiwi clucking along and digging here and there with the tip of its bill into the sand. It never once takes notice of the naturalist crawling around along side it. The kiwi's alien like looks, and focused digging, up against Attenborough's schoolboy awe is priceless.

Eastern Towhee - Piplio erythrophthalmus


Whew! The Chicago winter has indeed arrived. We put in a wood burning stove last year, and between having that going and multiple pots of jasmine tea, I'm surviving quite well. My husband, Jay, got me a new thistle feeder, so we put that up along with a suet cake and another feeder a couple of days ago. The birds have found it all and the yard seems alive again.

Well the holiday season, and several illustration jobs make for a busy time of year, but I have a few things for the Aviary that I'll be posting this week and next. I went into the museum yesterday. Several birds had been set aside for me to make into study skins, and this was one of them. Piplio erythrophthalmus is a mouthful of latin, and in looking at the female I was handed I initially thought it was a female junco on steroids. Towhees are part of the family Emberizidae. In North America, this family mainly consists of birds known as sparrows and juncos (so maybe I wasn't soooo far off with my junco on steroids hypothesis!). Their thick bills are perfectly adapted to seed eating. Like many birds in this family, Towhees spend a good deal of time on the ground scratching up their food. They'll kick up leaf litter to dislodge tiny arthropods. The male Eastern Towhee is a very striking bird with its dark upper plumage and splashes of burnt sienna on the sides. The females have similar patterning with the exception of being more of an umber brown on top. There was an interesting fact on the Birds of North America site, stating that the first time this species of towhee was recorded by a European was by John White on a visit to the aborted settlement on Roanoke Island in 1585.

Back from the U.K. and Birds of Peru


December 05, 2007

I just returned home yesterday afternoon after spending 5 days in Manchester for an art show that I have at the The Richard Goodall Gallery. with my fellow artist and husband, Jay Ryan. The bulk of the work was Jay's as this is his third show there, and most of what was being shown is rock poster art. It was really good to see all of my poster work framed proper and all up on a nice clean wall. All in all it was a great weekend. The show was well received and we had a good turnout of supporters. Thanks to the Goodall family and everyone that made it out to the opening! No thank you to dark, rain pissing Manchester weather!

Tonight, if I don't succumb to jet lag, I will be attending an event for the publication for a new guide on the birds of Peru at the Field Museum. I plan on shuffling off later this morning for my normal volunteer shift of specimen prep., but we'll see how awake I am at 3PM today. I don't think even a double espresso can help me. Besides, I do have a lot of illustration work to catch up on. The book is authored by Tom Schulenberg and John O'Neill, and is supposedly extraordinarily beautiful. I will try to provide more specifics on it later.

A quick note: I was recently made aware of this excellent explanation of the process of one way that a bird makes it into a collection such as the one at the Field Museum. Check it out here. Thank you fiske!

I'll be back with more paintings soon.

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