Dark-eyed Junco - Junco hyemalis
April 05, 2009
I recently prepared a specimen of a Dark-eyed junco. I love juncos, or "snowbirds" as they are still commonly known. I had a group of these little guys frequenting my feeder this winter, always gathered at the base of it foraging for the fallen seeds. They have a distinctive slate grey hood, upper body, wings and tail with a bright white chest and outer tail feathers.
Juncos are extremely common birds, with numbers around 630 million, and a range that covers northern Alaska down to northern parts of Mexico. Because of this broad range there is quite a bit of plumage and bill color variation from population to population depending on its geographic location. This has resulted in a somewhat confusing taxonomic history, with the currently named Dark-eyed junco being classified into 5 distinct species up until the 1970s. The current classification lumps the 5 into Junco hyemalis (Dark-eyed) but still acknowledges the 5 subspecies by retaining the scientific and vernacular name each from this older classification. Taxonomy is something I know little about, but am really fascinated by especially now with all the recent developments in genetics. A lot of reclassifying is happening and is going to happen for many species of bird and mammal.
Several years ago Jay gave me a book on different breeds of domestic pigeons. It's full of beautiful color photos of many of the different varieties including: Pouters, Trumpeters, Tumblers, Frillbacks, Jacobins, and Capuchines. Most scientists, including our friend Charles Darwin, have believed that this breed diversity can be traced back to one species, Columba livia. For thousands of years, humans have selectively cross bred, and manipulated certain physical characteristics to yield the range that can be found today; everything from a long necked Maltese pigeon, to the flamboyant feathers of a Fantail or Jacobin. My favorites are the fluffy collared Jacobins and Capuchines. Everytime I see a photo of a Capuchine, I think of a 16th century noblewoman and her elaborate, high collared dress.
Harpy Eagle - Another Rough Study
April 03, 2009
This is another study for the commission I am working on of a Harpy Eagle. The final painting will be around 30 x 40 inches, but this is just an 8 x 10. If you look at my earlier post about this, you'll see that the first two roughs were on a different paper, and lacked some of the detail of this one. The client wanted to add a green wash in the background and the bromeliads. This watercolor is done on the paper that I usually use, which is wonderful Twinrocker handmade. I am not sure yet if I will go with this paper for the final painting, but most likely.
House Finch - Carpodacus mexicanus
April 01, 2009
The last birds that I made study specimens of at the prep lab were two male House finches. Dr. Willard had said that he likes having a broad range of male specimens in the collections to show the variation in plumage color. Since 1940 Carpodacus mexicanus has been rapidly spreading west from a small population that was released on Long Island, New York. They were originally native to just the western states, but they are now one of the most common backyard birds in urban and suburban environments throughout the US. Females are a dullish brown with heavy streaking, and while the males share similar markings on their body and wings, their faces and upper breast look to be stained with pomegranate juice. This stain of color can range from red, to orange, and less commonly (at least around here), yellow. Apparently the population introduced to Hawaii is made up largely of the yellow variety. Males obtain their color from carotenoid pigmentation in the food that they eat. And so, the variation in male coloration is due to variation in dietary access to carotenoid pigments. I always get a few of these at my thistle feeder, and they have very sweet vocalizations.