Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Field Sketches

Field sketching

In my last post I talked about starting a nature journal/sketchbook. In the above photo you can see some of the simple tools I use to sketch in the field, in this case a small set of watercolors, a micron pen, and a sketchbook. You don't need a lot of fancy stuff to get started, just enough to record what you see. 

So far my good luck with nests and birds has continued giving me lots of opportunities to give nature sketching a try. On one of my walks recently I startled a spotted sandpiper off it's nest. Sandpipers nest on the ground creating a small depression in the sand lined with some grasses. The eggs are usually colored like the ground and well camouflaged with spots and splotches so I had to step very carefully until I found the nest. Rather than keep the bird from it's eggs I took a photograph, then created this sketch from a safe distance.
Spotted sandpiper nest and eggs

 On another walk I came across a mother Killdeer which is another type of bird that nests on the ground usually in a rocky area. The mother bird will try to lead you away from the nest by crying loudly and flopping around pretending to have a broken wing. Knowing this behavior put me on alert for the nest so I started walking carefully and looking hard for the nest among the rocks. Instead of eggs I saw a small ball of fuzz with very long legs running ahead of me. It was a baby killdeer, cuter than any baby bird I've ever seen! They are fully able to run about and feed themselves shortly after they are born and are marked very similarly to an adult bird and blend into their surroundings quite well. If it hadn't run ahead of me I would have had a hard time seeing it. Because they are ground dwellers until they can fly being well camouflaged is important to hide them from predators.
Here is my sketch of that cute ball of fuzz.
Baby killdeer
As you can see I have been having a lot of fun trying to sketch nature. Unfortunately, nature sometimes can be harsh. Many baby birds don't survive because of predation. Another ground nesting bird I found was a California quail. 
Momma quail on her nest
Shortly after I took this photo of her on her nest with thirteen eggs a neighborhood cat was found in the nest. It had killed the momma quail and destroyed some of the eggs in the struggle. As sad as it was to discover this it gave me an opportunity to sketch one of the unhatched babies and a partial eggshell.
Unhatched baby quail

I thought it was a fitting way to pay tribute to this tiny soul, that even in his death knowledge could be gained and beauty could be seen. I chose to add this tragedy to my sketchbook because it is a part of the cycle of life and the struggle we all face to survive. It helps me to appreciate and be grateful for all of life and to learn to take the good with the bad. I think another fellow sketcher said it best " sketching nature is sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes hard, but always amazing!"

I hope you will take the time to get out in nature, enjoy the good with the bad and be AMAZED!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nature Journaling

Mourning doves building nest
It seems that I have had the great good luck lately to be a witness to one of the great events of summer in the bird world....nesting and raising young. Depending on the bird species, fledgling birds can already be seen foraging with their parents. Robins, starlings and house sparrows are among the earliest nesters. Others, like American goldfinch, are just getting started because they wait until the thistles are in bloom to collect the down for their nests.

This year my Sunburst locust tree has been chosen not once, but twice, to support the nests of a pair of lesser goldfinch and a pair of mourning doves. I discovered the goldfinch nest a few weeks ago when I heard a lot of tiny cheeping going on. It took a while to locate as the birds had pulled some of the leaves around the tiny 3" cup of grasses, moss and plant down and it was well hidden. The cheeping I heard was the female calling to her mate to bring her food.
Female lesser goldfinch on nest

 Lately, the cheeping has become quite loud and insistent as the babies have hatched and boy, are they hungry!

The mourning doves showed up last week and took a lot of time choosing a site to place their very loosely constructed nest of twigs and grasses. It took them three days of looking at the "real estate" and the site they chose is in plain view from my living room. I can have my morning coffee and keep tabs on their progress. 

All the interesting activity has prompted me to start a "nature journal/sketchbook." I had been thinking of starting one for some time as it's a great way to practice drawing, record ideas and document all of nature. It's also a great way to relax because there are no rules on how things need to look so it can be messy or neat, colored or not, include notes or just be a quick drawing. You can be like a kid again with your box of crayons and paper and it was a favorite pastime of mine when I was a child. 
Mourning dove sketches
 As you can see it is a little messy looking, but, hey, I'm enjoying the heck out of doing it! Sketching is often better than taking a photo because it causes you to slow down and really look at something. And a sketch is so much more personal because you can rearrange things to your liking and how you sketch becomes like your signature, as individual as you are. I have shared mine with you, but your nature journal need never be seen by anyone, but you if that's what you'd like. 

So, I would encourage you to give nature journaling or sketching a try. If you enjoy watching and learning about nature it can be a wonderful practice. I will be sharing more of my journal in the coming days and weeks so be sure to check back soon for that and updates on the progress of my feathered friends.