Cardinals are the main bright spot in an otherwise drab and dreary winter landscape, unless you are fortunate enough to have a snowy winter landscape. Cardinals are magical in the quiet beauty of falling snow. When spring arrives, they become just another one of the many bright and colorful little birdies showing off their warm weather feathers. For now, cardinals provide all the color we get until the season changes. They are the stars of the winter landscape.
Red dashes along a brown ground are frequently cardinals foraging around for dropped seeds from shrubs or left behind by other birds. Once the foraged meal is done the sweet sounds of a singing red beauty can be heard from the upper branches of a nearby shrub. When the branches are covered in snow, that bright bit of red fluff singing his heart out is a sight to see. It might even bring on some added cold chills.
Down in the Valley where the Chickadees can be heard with their continual chatter, the Cardinals are a bit peeved. Carson Cardinal was quite annoyed and said to Cameron and Caroline. Will those Chickadees ever stop chattering? It’s so hard to sing above all the chatter. Nothing stops the chatter more effectively than the sight of a glorious red bird preening about in the snow-covered branches of a tulip poplar. When he begins to sing the beautiful melodious tunes as his friends join in harmony, the Chickadees quickly become quite mute. The Chickadees cannot remain chatterless for long, so if you catch sight of a bit of red flitting through the branches, stop and listen. The reward will be worth it.
Egrets, Herons, Cranes and storks are often confused in folklore and real life. These long legged wading birds alternate between elegant graceful shallow water walking to awkward wing flapping squawks. The fascination with them is real. Does it matter which one is which in the world of folklore? Some stories are generalized and some are very specific such as the stories of storks delivering babies even though many times the stork very closely resembles a great white egret.
The Chickadees have once again gathered in the branches of the old pine and are joyfully watching the antics of Emily, the Great White Egret, as she gleefully stirs up the water in the spring fed pool at the base of the Valley. Emily’s sleek white feathers and bright yellow-orange beak contrasts beautifully with the crystal blue water. Emily is having a fine time churning up the water and making the droplets fly all around as she goes about her fishing exhibition.
Up in the old pine tree, the chickadees can be heard chattering away. They are having a fine discussion of which symbol of folklore Emily must be an example. Caroljean Chickadee is leading the chatter as usual but Cindy and Charley are not hesitant to throw in their two cents worth. Celeste Chickadee is pondering whether Emily will make a great model for the Chickadee origami-making group. They are working up to 1000 origami birds and are always looking for inspiration.
Oblivious to the chatter, Emily goes on slowly making her way through the tall grasses on the edge of the Valley pool and trying to decide to stay here or follow the stream from the pool on down through the Valley to the river beyond. In no great hurry to decide, Emily goes on gently splashing the droplets into the air with each dip of her beak as her long legs quietly lift up through the water with each elegant step.
Yellow is yellow. Or so it would seem. Or is it? Yellow has many variations though it doesn’t appear to. When painting a daffodil or a sunflower, are there any yellows that can be used besides Lemon Yellow or Indian Yellow, my favorites? I confess to a dislike of any variations of yellow other than these two. If I need to paint shadows in either Lemon or Indian Yellow, I most often use purple for Lemon Yellow and Prussian Blue for Indian Yellow. But what about painting those little nuances in petals that can quickly go flat with too much of the purple/blue additions? Digging around in my yellow paint drawer, at the very back I come up with Yellow Ochre.
Yellow Ochre comes in just about every packaged starter set of paint, oil, acrylic or watercolor. If you’ve ever bought a set, have a look. In every medium-sized set, yellow ochre is nearly always the second yellow. Sometimes buying a set can be less expensive than a single tube, if there is a sale on. When I get those, it’s usually for the browns. The yellows promptly get thrown to the back of the drawer until spring flowers pop up. Then back in the drawer again until late summer when the sunflowers are in force. That’s when I realize I am dissing a timeless classic.
Winsor Newtontells the story of how Yellow Ochre is an earth-based pigment, a staple of artists until the 19thcentury when synthetic Mars Yellow took over. Pigments through the Ages says that original Yellow Ochre is made from silica, clay and an iron oxide derivative, goethite. Today’s Yellow Ochre is almost entirely made in a lab but don’t let that keep you from choosing this originally earth based paint in the painting of earth subjects.
In painting daffodils and sunflowers, Yellow Ochre is the winner for the subtle variances in petals. Yellow Ochre can also be quite effective in the variations of bird feathers as most birds are colored naturally in earthy hues. While Yellow Ochre comes up as number 6 on my list of essential Yellows, it is never the less essentially, essential. When adding a bit of dirt in your art, don’t forget this important yellow once made from dirt.
High on a ridge overlooking the valley, the Guardian is perched in the top of the old oak tree. From his vantage point, he can see the goings on down in the valley while at the same time keeping up with the fishing situation on the backside of the ridge where the river flows into the lake. Eliot Eagle has long assumed the role of Guardian of the valley. From his perch, he is on the look out for predators such as the Hawks who are always disrupting the serenity of the little dwellers of the valley, specifically the Chattering Chickadees, as they insist upon grouping together in the old pine tree. The Chickadees, though they are always on the look out, tend to feel safer when they know Eliot is keeping his eagle eyes out for the little birdies and those who would stir up trouble.
As the subject of many of her stories, Caroljean Chickadee loves to expand on the mystery surrounding Elliot Eagle and the other eagles nesting around the great lake in the winter. According to Chickadee legend, the great bald eagles are direct messengers between God and humans. Of course, Chickadee legend was derived from sources like One Green Planet and American Cowboy Chronicles. Caroljean Chickadee is known for her ability to weave tales around facts she has gleaned from various sources on the internet. One of her tales had Elliott Eagle taking part in an ancient Greek legend. Another had him as the star of a cave painting over 130,000 years ago. Elliott never blinks at these stories. Nor does he refute them. He just remains in the top of the old oak tree watching over the valley.
Next time you are privileged to catch a glimpse of Elliot or one of his majestic cousins, Chickadee legend will have you staring in awe and wondering if the one you are looking at is related to those eagles featured as the star of an ancient cave painting. Or maybe the one you see is descended from the eagle the Aztecs believed fought a panther and won to be the sun god. It’s possible your eagle is related to a past honorary guest at festivities celebrated by any number of cultures from most Native American tribes to Irish folklore. You can count on Caroljean Chickadee to share the latest Eagle story. But don’t ask Elliot. He’ll never tell.
It was a sunny afternoon in the valley when the Chickadees all swooped in to take a break in the old pine tree. They had all had their fill of red berries from a shrub up on the hill. Now it was time for a story. Always one for a good story, Caroljean Chickadee began her latest tale. Catherine, Caroline, Celeste and Charlotte gathered round, perched on the branches in rapt attention. Caroljean’s stories always held the most important info disguised as an incident or some other intrigue. The trick was to figure out the meaning of the story to figure out what was the absolute latest events or happenings going on.
Sometimes Caroljean would tell a story with a moral to it. Other times she might weave a bit of intrigue to point out the need to pay attention. Occasionally, Caroljean’s soliloquy could cause quite a stir among the flocks who hang out in the valley. You never knew what could happen when the Chickadees began to chatter and spread the latest drama from the beak of the most infamous chatterer in all of the chattering of Chickadees.
Word would go out that Caroljean Chickadee was chattering another great chapter from the cantons of chickadee wisdom. The valley would soon be echoing with the sounds of other flocks as they descended into the trees surrounding the old pine. (The old pine was considered to be the undisputed territory of the Chickadees.) Cardinals were usually the first to catch the sound of Chickadee Chatter but you never could tell who might arrive first. The cardinals pecked around on the ground beneath the old pine, where they could eavesdrop in relative obscurity.
Stay tuned to discover what Caroljean Chickadee chattered and who was the first to catch the gist of the chapter as it unfolded. Were the cardinals the first? Maybe it was the herons down at the pond? One thing you can be sure of: the mockingbirds would be mocking within moments of the momentous meanderings. Mr. Hawk will hang horrendously near the happy little group. They better be on the look out!
Driving through the St Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida, my eye was caught by a group of pink birds standing still in the marsh water. I had never seen pink birds before outside of flamingos in the zoo. At first I thought they might be flamingos until I stopped the car and got a good look through the camera lens. A friend had painted a painting of a one with its head turned completely around and resting on its back. That’s where I first heard of Roseate Spoonbills. There were so intriguingly beautiful until you get a good look at the unfortunately ugly spoonbill.
Maybe that ugly snoot is what made this spoonbill bury his head underwater. Can’t blame him. All About Birds says “The flamboyant Roseate Spoonbill looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with its bright pink feathers, red eye staring out from a partly bald head, and giant spoon-shaped bill.” Audubon describes the spoonbill as “Gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close.” Both of these descriptions are very accurate and maybe that explains my immediate fascination with these unusual birds. For a couple of weeks, I drove through St. Marks checking up on the flock of spoonbills. They moved around through out the Refuge for those two weeks. Every time I saw them they were in a new location sometimes with just their flock and sometimes with other wading birds.
The first day I saw the spoonbills, they were standing very quietly in the late afternoon. Not moving, just standing. In a post on her blog, Audrey Oxenhorn describes the spoonbill as a reminder of the “importance of being weary.” In this photo, the spoonbills certainly looked weary as they stood unmoving in the still water. Another blog, Auntyflo, says that spoonbills like silence and they are a reminder of how silence can be the best form of communication. These birds certainly looked like they were enjoying silence but how do you really know? Do Spoonbills talk? They were standing in a marsh with no wind or waves, no trees or grass. not interacting with each other. Some were grooming themselves otherwise they were unmoving. Maybe they do like silence.
Whether Roseate Spoonbills like silence maybe a little hard to prove but they definitely have a Dr. Suess like bizarre look. The spoonbill’s beautiful pink color keeps them fascinating despite the strange bald head and long spoon shaped bill. I looked for them every day for about two weeks. They never failed to fascinate. One day I watched one walking through the waterway swinging the that bill back and forth through the water very methodically. I couldn’t tell what if anything her was catching but it must have been something. He looked quite content as he moved on down through the water.
One day I went looking for the spoonbills and couldn’t find them. They were gone. Moved on to someplace more quiet apparently. I was sad at the loss of my game of spotting the flash of pink lurking in the marsh or behind the tall grass. I wasn’t happy with the first painting, so maybe its time for another go at a spoonbill painting. I’ll try the silence thing while painting to “communicate” with them. That could help the painting process. Worth a try!
If Elvis was a bird would he be a Tufted Titmouse? These funny little guys, the tufted titmice, love to flit around in the trees around my bird feeder haranguing with the chickadees and the cardinals in the winter months. They were frequently up in the trees wearing their cute little blue shoes and serenading the others at the feeder with their sweet song. One thing, I noticed about the titmice was the way they would take their seed up into the tree before they ate it. So many of the other birds would sit at the feeder gobbling up multiple seeds like little gluttons or foraging around the ground underneath picking up what others knocked out. The little titmouse would swoop down to the feeder, grab a seed and flit back up to a high branch to munch down on the newly acquired treat before breaking back into song. I wondered whether he was afraid of someone stealing his treat or was he just in a hurry to get back to his singing?
The Tufted Titmouse is part of a family of titmice according to All About Birds and are most visible in the Southeastern United States. Birds and Blooms says: “The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a small songbird in the tit and chickadee family (Parade).” That would explain why I always see them hanging around with the chickadees. The reason they grab a seed and fly up to the tree tops is not because they can’t wait to sing. Birds and Blooms also tells us, “they grab one seed, fly to a nearby perch, hold the food with their feet, and then pound it open with their stout, round bills.” Seems like a slow way to eat but then they aren’t particularly fat little birds so maybe that’s why! Maybe I should grab a bite then flit off somewhere to eat it before coming back for the next bite. I might be as little and energetic as a titmouse if I did that. Interesting thought but back to the Titmouse.
The titmouse gets its funny name from the old Anglo-Saxon names “tit” meaning small and “mouse” referring to any small bird or rodent. I can’t see the mouse reference. They don’t look anything like Mickey to me but what do I know. Can’t quibble with those Anglo-Saxon bird namers. This information came from The Charismatic Planet. Another source, Birdwatching.com says that originally it was Titmase, the word “mase” meaning small bird. Around 500 years or so ago it was changed to mouse because of the widespread understanding of the word mouse. Tufted Titmice are such cute little guys, I hate to have them associated with scary, creepy little rodents. But then the word Titmouse is so much easier to say that titmase. Perhaps that is the real reason the name was changed. How could everybody know so much about mice when Mickey wasn’t even around then? Oh well.
At any rate, Tufted Titmice are so cute at the feeder and just hanging around. I love to watch them. Who couldn’t love a little bird with a sweet song wearing blue suede shoes! To invite these little singers to your house, you can find out more about how to attract them to your feeders by following the advice found on the website Kaytee.com. The sweet sound of the music the Titmouse sings is reason enough to want more of them in your neighborhood. Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any concern about them disappearing anytime soon as Thought.com says the IUCN has the tufted titmouse rated at “least concern.” Good news for a change! Maybe thats why they hang with the chickadees. Safety in groups!
The white pelicans are arriving in my part of the US on a daily basis. They will hang out here for the winter. Large numbers of them come to Kentucky Lake and Reelfoot Lakeevery year. The numbers of winter arrivals have been increasing in recent years. The white pelicans are mostly people-shy and stay well away from populated areas, hanging out in large flocks. It hasn’t been easy to get decent photos to paint from. It will take a longer lens to catch up to these shy guys. There are comparisons between the white ones arriving for the winter and the brown ones more associated with the Gulf coastal areas. The brown pelicans I have encountered in coastal areas are not nearly as camera and people shy as their white counterparts. Some brown pelicans appear to actually pose for the camera. While the white ones remain on the far side of the lake shore the brown ones will sit around on the docks and and the water’s edge begging for scraps.
Pelicans have always appeared to me to be a bit prehistoric in their look. Turns out they may actually be prehistoric as fossils have turned up that are almost 30 million years old. Of course the ones we are now familiar with have evolved a bit over the last 30 million years but are similar enough to the fossilized version to be easily identified. That’s pretty old! Maybe that is part of the reason that make these birds fascinating survivors. Quite adept at fishing, the brown ones are also good at hanging around the docks when the local fishermen bring in their daily catch patiently waiting for the fish cleaning process to leave bits for them to quickly pick up.
As an ancient bird, pelicans have figured in folklore for many centuries. It was believed that a mother pelican, lacking food for her young would actually pierce her chest with her beak so that the babies could drink her blood. That myth was eventually proven false but remains a legend still. It is believed that the pelican is a symbol for the passion of Jesus as she spills her blood for the survival of her children. Saint Thomas Aquinas even adds the pelican to his hymn, “Humbly We Adore Thee.” Queen Elizabeth I in medieval times is said to have taken on the symbology of the pelican and is seen in one portrait wearing a pelican broach. The pelican is the national bird of Romania and the state bird of Louisiana. Louisiana is known as the Pelican State. Several countries in the Caribbean have also adopted the pelican as their symbol. The pelican is quite revered as a symbol of self sacrifice, in spite of its rather awkward and ancient appearance.
Even with all the noble history and folklore surrounding the pelican, I tend to think of them as more comical. In this photo, a juvenile brown pelican was trying to perfect the art of landing on the water and having a bit of a struggle. He eventually mastered it and made for good entertainment as he repeatedly practiced. It was a great moment when he landed without so much splashing and thrashing. I wanted to cheer him on!
Pelicans were the subject of a witty limerick that has several variations. The original was written by fellow Tennessean, Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910:
A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill will hold more than his belican, He can take in his beak Food enough for a week, But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
Registration is open for the first Two series of 3-Step Botanical Watercolor workshops that will be held in 2 hour increments over 3 weeks. The First part will cover the preliminary drawing and how to transfer the drawing to watercolor paper via tracing paper. Part 2 will focus on detailed under-drawing as the key to depth, shadow and texture. Part 3 is the finished painting in watercolor using layering or glazing techniques to achieve rich color and velvety smoothness in petals and leaves. The first series will feature sunflowers and the second will be on Pansies. Sunflowers will take place on Tuesdays and Pansies on Mondays. Two times will be available for both series. Click on the Workshop button in the side bar or go to the Workshop page. Class size will be limited to provide personal attention. I look forward to meeting new faces and seeing the art work of lots of artists out there. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.
Once registered class materials will be made available for download in PDF form.
Coming up soon will be a Student Gallery of work created in the workshops! Help me make a place to showcase what artists are doing in Botanical Painting
Another week and the hummingbirds are still here swooping in and out of the yard, stopping at the feeders then swooping off again. There are still at least 6-7 of them between my 5 feeders. Its hard to get a count because they move so fast. No reason to know how many other than curiosity. They move so fast, they are blur of green, especially when the sun catches a spark of reflection on the vivd green of a little back as it swoops through the rays. Some would insist on getting the exact color and markings correct. Maybe I should too, but that would defeat my purpose. My goal is to catch a little of the magic as these mini whirling dervishes zip around my yard from feeder to feeder. Magic is what these little guys are all about.il next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.
Magic must be what guides these jewels of the sky to find that one lone feeder for miles around. Once found, they stake it out and mark it as their own. That must be magic too. Otherwise more would show up until the feeder is empty more often than it is full. Who has time to constantly make up another batch of nectar and refill. I do good to get mine refilled once or twice a week. Right now, its about every other day. If it was like this all year, I’d never make it! Soon these emerald flashes will be gone and I’ll be lamenting the sadness of the deserted feeders.
Everyone needs a little magic in their lives now and again. Streaking bits of emerald jewels in the sky can provide magic for a little while. For me, the paintings are my way of capturing a bit of the colorful green flashes of fast moving magic before they gone for this year. That time is fast approaching. I’m painting as many as possible while I can. My camera is helping. Then I’ll bring the feeders in, wash them well and put them back on the shelf in the garage where they will quietly collect dust. Until next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.