Tomorrow I leave for my annual trek to a little farm cottage in the wilds of a beautiful, unglaciated region of Wisconsin to kick off the New Year with some close friends and a healthy dose of nature. I can't wait! 2 years ago, I started engaging in the birder's tradition of the first bird spotted on New Year's day, becomes the theme bird for the next year. Last year the first bird I spotted and thus became my theme bird for 2009 was a White-breasted Nuthatch.
This year, the tradition will be the basis for a little painting giveaway:
I will be making an 8 x 10 inch watercolor of the first bird that I spot on New Year's day while in Wisconsin. By submitting your name either by posting to the comments section here (if you don't have a distinct username, please include your first name and initial of last name), or by emailing me directly (see profile for contact info) you can have a chance to win that very painting. I will collect names through January 3rd. The name that I draw from a box later that week, will be the winner and recipient of the 2010 New Year's Bird Watercolor. It's my way of saying thanks for supporting my work for the last year. It doesn't matter if you have just checked in to this blog for the first time last week or 2 years ago, everybody is welcome!
No, it won't be a Palm Cockatoo or a Bird of Paradise, but something common to the winter woods of Wisconsin such as a nuthatch, chickadee or some type of woodpecker. Who knows what I will see; maybe Sasquatch.
Ok good luck and Happy New Year!
*I will not be using the names for anything other than the contest, meaning not adding you to any mailing lists.
December 24, 2009
There is snow on the ground outside, and everything is covered in ice. When I say everything, I mean every tiny little branch and winter berry. As I was finishing wrapping gifts tonight, I could hear it sleeting outside. Despite the less than magical weather conditions, I still think it's beautiful. I can look out the window in to my backyard and see the web work of branches and trees offset by the snow. This is a little painting I made of another type of winter scene for my 100 year old grandmother- in-law. I will be seeing her tomorrow along with other family and friends. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and warm too. Happy Holidays from the Tiny Aviary!
Elephant Bird - Aepyornis maximus
December 22, 2009
One of the reasons I like volunteering at the Field Museum is that I get to see a lot of great behind the scenes objects, like this guy. This a a roughly 2 and a half foot tall, plaster sculpture that I have seen haunting the halls of the bird division for several years now. I love it so much. There is something very Dr. Seuss-like about it. Sometimes I worry out loud that it is lonely, and suggest to one of the ornithologists that it should come home to live with me. I am told no. Hmmm.
My buddy is an Elephant bird. Elephant birds are extinct ratites (ostriches, rheas, emu, kiwis) that were native to Madagascar. There is an extensive fossil record, and they are believed to be the world's largest birds. The known species are currently split in to 2 genuses: Aepyornis and Mullerornis, with each having 4 and 3 species respectively. The exact date of their extinction and the reasons are still being debated. Human impact seems to definitely have played a large role, but perhaps not the only one. Climate change could have been a factor as well. Elephant birds were up to 10 feet tall, with Aepyornis maximus being the largest.
December 21, 2009
Something that I finished up last week, inspired by starlings and victorian imagery. This latest round of watercolors is available at Sebastian Foster.I spent the weekend on a different creative endeavor: holiday cookies! I'm just about ready for Christmas, and that means I have a little time to spare to go in to the Field Museum tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a favorite artist to check out: Heiko Mueller.
Despite the usual holiday business, I fit in a couple of volunteer sessions at the Field Museum recently. Everybody in the bird division there was getting ready for their annual trek up to central Wisconsin for Christmas Bird Counts. For my part, I will be participating in a backyard feeder count on the 26th. Christmas bird counts have played a very important part in civilian science, and are family traditions for some. I am hoping that maybe next year I will have the time to start my own tradition, and participate in my first true Christmas bird count. In the meantime, I am finishing up another batch of paintings for Sebastian Foster. The last of which you see the beginnings of here. It's of a Musk ox, another favorite animal. Thanks to everyone that has been checking in to the blog, and has been ordering work. I'm so grateful, and in the coming days will be posting a little contest to win an original watercolor as my way of saying thanks. Stay tuned!
The Story of Cher Ami
December 14, 2009
Ever since I read a book on pigeons last year, I have been fascinated by the use of homing pigeons during the World Wars. One of the most famous of these homing pigeons was Cher Ami. Cher Ami, helped to save the Lost Battalion of the 77th Division. In the battle of the Argonne in October, 1918, 500 U.S soldiers were trapped in a depression behind a hill, and surrounded by German troops. Lacking ammunition and food, they were also suffering friendly fire from allied troops that didn't know their whereabouts. After just 2 days, only 200 of the original 500 remained.
The battalion released homing pigeons with messages asking for help. The first two pigeons were shot down. The last remaining pigeon was Cher Ami. Cher Ami was released with a tiny cannister attached to his leg, containing the message: We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven's sake, stop it! Cher Ami was dispatched and flew through a shower of German bullets. The battalion witnessed him being shot down, and then shortly thereafter rise again. Cher Ami flew 25 miles in 25 minutes, arriving at his loft with a blind eye, severe gunshot wound through the breast, and a leg hanging by a single tendon. Poor Cher Ami! The message cannister was still intact, revealing the battalion's location, and 194 lives were saved. Great effort went in to restoring Cher Ami to health. Even a little wooden leg was carved for him, to replace the one that was destroyed. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster for his heroic service, and died from his battle wounds on June 13, 1919.
This is a watercolor I just completed for our Dear Friend. For a little more pigeon love and lore, check out Andrew Blechman's book "Pigeons:The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird". Here's his New York Time's article.
More Antarctic Love
December 11, 2009
I love how having this blog allows me to share my work and connect with people I otherwise would not have an opportunity to meet. My last Antarctic themed painting "Antarctic Waters" was seen by someone that has spent a lot of time on that continent. He's been very generous in sharing some of his experiences of that place, and this has been providing ample inspiration for more watercolors. One story that came up was of Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary had been one of the first to visit Shackleton's old hut at Cape Royd's . He claimed to have seen Shackleton's ghost. I'm someone that will tell you that I don't believe in ghosts, and then proceed to tell you about the one time I was absolutely positive that I did see one. The story made me think about what else could be haunting the Antarctic skies at night (which sometimes is 24 hours). Both Scott's and Shackleton's huts are now preserved and maintained by the British and New Zealand governments.
Next in my little series about THIS section of abandoned rail line in Skokie, IL is the Savannah Sparrow. Just last month I was seeing several of these darting in and out of the bushes that line the little open patch of scrubby habitat. Passerculus sandwichensis are generally insectivores, but in winter time switch their diets to seed. Although they are widespread throughout North America in open habitats, they are easy to overlook due to their secretive nature. You are probably more likely to hear their melodic, buzzing call, rather than actually see one as they favor hiding out in the brush. It's a modest looking bird, with dark, heavy streaking throughout its plumage, and a little yellow near the base of its upper bill.
Skokie Tracks #3: Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura
December 09, 2009
Next in my little series about THIS section of abandoned rail line in Skokie, IL is the Mourning Dove. When I walk along the short stretch of rail line, I often see a single or pair of Zenaida macroura resting on a telephone wire or on top of a roof. I've always loved Mourning Doves, and their soft call is one of the first bird vocalizations I learned to recognize when I was little. Like the other 2 birds species I have posted about in relation to this patch of Skokie, it is another species that has benefitted from human landscape changes. They are generalists that tend to prefer open habitat over heavily forested. Like other members of the Columbid family, they feed their young with a secretion from their crop referred to as "crop milk". U.S. population estimates have been around 350 million.
2 New Giclee Editions in Etsy Shop
December 04, 2009
Alas no time for any new bird paintings or postings this week, but here's a quick note to let you know that I have 2 new archival inkjet print editions available in my Etsy Shop. They are for "Antarctic Waters" and "Darwin's Rhea", two watercolor images I have posted about previously on here. Also, if you are in Chicago this weekend, come by the fantastic Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Sale. I will have a booth, so stop in and say hi! Have a lovely weekend.
Go to Etsy Shop.