Brown Creeper - Certhia americana
November 30, 2008
Brown creepers are one of my very favorite birds. I was so delighted when I started being able to spot them, even in this urban habitat. You would think that with its cryptic plumage, and tiny size, they would be more difficult to spot. Maybe it is just that I know to look for them now, and where, but I see them all of the time. I have a couple that have been frequenting my yard. I love this description I found on Birds of North America Online quoting W.M. Tyler from 1948:
“The brown creeper, as he hitches along the bole of a tree, looks like a fragment of detached bark that is defying the law of gravitation by moving upward over the trunk, and as he flies off to another tree he resembles a little dry leaf blown about by the wind."
Creepers do exactly as their name would suggest, and they love the vertical life. They flit up to the base of a tree trunk , and as soon as they alight, they hop up the bark (or yes, creep), sometimes as though the tree were a set of spiral stairs. All along the way, they glean tiny invertebrates with their delicately curved bills. Once reaching a sufficient altitude, they fly off to another tree trunk to repeat the process again. They tend to make their nests behind loosened flaps of bark on dead or dying trees. Their range reaches from Alaska, central Canada, all across the United States and as far south as Nicaragua. The Chicago area lies within their winter range, and so it is no surprise that I have had a couple show up in late fall. I expect, just as last year, they will be sticking around to tough it out like the rest of us.
*Original watercolor available in Etsy Shop
Thick-billed Parrot - Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha
November 25, 2008
I have a bit of an obsession with parrots that have adapted to temperate habitats. For example, I am fascinated by New Zealand's flightless, nocturnal parrot, the Kakapo; an extremely rare, large, stocky, green Psittaciforme that waddles through the moss covered undergrowth of New Zealand's forests. Thick-billed parrots aren't quite that unconventional when it comes to parrot behavior. They fly and are very social, gathering in large flocks. Their habitat preferences are the old growth conifer forests of northern Mexico, as their diet consists mainly of pine nuts. Thick-billed, along with the extinct Carolina Parakeet, are the only species of parrot whose natural distributions once included parts of the continental United States. Their numbers have always been strongest in the the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, but until the mid-twentieth century the species still occurred in the mountains of southwest New Mexico and Arizona. Most likely these northern populations were extirpated due to heavy hunting. More recently their numbers in Mexico have been dropping dramatically due to massive logging in the Sierre Madre Occidental.
American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla
November 24, 2008
Last week at the museum, I worked on creating 5 study skins. Much of what Dr. Willard had taken out of the freezer that day were American Redstarts. Redstarts are small, highly active, acrobatic warblers. Males are striking for their bright orange patches against black on their tail feathers and wings. Females tend to be a greenish grey with yellow patches on tails and wings. Redstarts will often flash these bold color patches by fanning their tails and dropping their wings. This behavior aids in flushing out insect prey. Male redstarts resemble females in plumage until their second fall when they begin to acquire the distinctive orange and black feathers. Setophaga favors second growth deciduous forests, with lots of brush. I actually saw my first Redstart in the field on a Lake Michigan beach in a rough patch of bramble a ways back from the water's edge. It was a male hopping rapidly from branch to branch, flicking and flashing his tail and wings.
* this painting along with a few others are available in the Etsy Shop.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes
November 21, 2008
There is a small, but extraordinary exhibit currently up at the Field Museum. I have already visited the little gallery that contains it three times, and plan to go more. Fuertes was one of the greatest natural history illustrators of the twentieth century. Although he painted mammals as well as birds, this exhibit focuses on a batch of bird watercolors he produced for a 1927 research trip to Abyssinia. Not only are they remarkable for the fact that many were produced in the field without the convenience and comfort of today's technology, but they are also remarkable for the way Fuertes seemed to be able to capture the soul and fierce spirit of his subject matter. His brushstrokes, especially when rendering feathers, are precise without being sterile and overdone. Capturing the gestures and postures specific to each species was the result of his careful observations, and a near photographic memory. I prefer these field paintings to his more finished pieces for their directness and spontaneity. Shortly after returning from Ethiopia, Fuertes was tragically killed by his car being hit by a train. His wife survived, and in addition, all of the Abyssinian paintings were miraculously thrown clear of the wreck. They were later donated to the Field Museum, and are a beautiful tribute to African wildlife and one of our most gifted wildlife artists.
The Painted Bird: Louis Agassiz Fuertes
September 12, 2008—January 4, 2009
A big thanks to everybody that came to the Exquisite City opening! It was a fun night, and it was great to see such a big turn out. I think the diorama aspect to a lot of the work brought me back to being a kid running around the Museum of Science and Industry. Many people brought their children to the opening, and it was fun to see them scamper about with wide eyed looks of wonder.
Do excuse my blogger slackerness, as I haven't had the time to post much lately even though I have a lot to post about. I just finished a big illustration job for an album that is being released at the beginning of 2009 by an extremely talented Chicago musician. I don't know that I can mention specifics just yet, but I will say that I'm a big fan, and am genuinely excited about the music, and the work that I created for the cover art. There is sort of a natural history theme threaded throughout the album, and so of course I was very enthusiastic about collaborating. This is one of the pieces that I created for it. It's a male Greater Bird of Paradise in all of his flailing, flamboyant splendor to send you happily off on to your weekend.
New Paintings for Exquisite City Exhibit: Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift
November 05, 2008
Well, I'm still reeling a bit from the emotional rally I attended last night in Chicago for Obama, but here are two more paintings that will be included in the Exquisite City exhibit at the Viaduct theatre.