Friday, April 29, 2016

Where Have All the Birds Gone?

I've been visiting family in the Tri-Cities, and naturally the first thing I did after I got here was to go birding.  My favorite spot here is Bateman Island -- it has always been very productive.  Lots of species, and quite a lot of different ones from what I see in Seattle.  Plus it's a lovely spot:

The first bird I saw was a Mourning Dove:

And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 20th bird I saw was a Mourning Dove.  I walked about a mile to the far end of the island, seeing lots and lots of doves.  Oh, and there were three Song Sparrows, some Bank Swallows, and a robin.

That was it.  Where were all the birds???   Usually the island has Black-headed Grosbeaks and Bullock's Orioles and Catbirds and tons of magpies -- not a one of which I could see anywhere.  After an hour of looking, I sighed and thought, "Well, maybe I should stop looking for birds.  Maybe I'll see something else of interest, like a toad or a skunk."

Thirty seconds later, I saw something moving in the tall grass:

Sometimes if you ask for a skunk, you get a skunk.  Go figure.

I gave up and left.  The next morning I tried a little nature reserve called W.E. Johnson Park, another lovely spot:

Things were a little more promising there.  I spotted an oddly-marked goldfinch, and got excited, and tried to turn it into a Lesser Goldfinch but after consultation with experts, it turned out to be a plain old American Goldfinch going through molt.  Sigh.

Then an American Bittern flew up from a pond right in front of me, and disappeared before I could even get the camera turned on.  Later it flew past again, though, and I managed to snap off a blurry far-away shot:

I also got a far-away shot of a Red-tailed Hawk that soared over the area, scaring all of the songbirds into hiding.  Thank you, hawk.

I saw more Mourning Doves and Song Sparrows.  The prettiest creature I found wasn't a bird at all:

Oh, well.  So it goes.  Maybe I'll give birding a rest for the next few days!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In the Right Place at the Right Time

Yesterday afternoon, having returned home from the long workshop and feeling guilty about Truman, I decided to take him for a walk around Meadowbrook Pond Park.  I almost left the camera at home (and did not bring the binoculars) because that park is not very "birdy" (mostly crows and Mallards) and it was just going to be a quick dog walk.

Luckily, I thought, "bring it anyway -- you never know."   And am I glad I did!

We had strolled around most of the park without seeing anything but crows and ducks when I paused on the pond walkway to admire a Great Blue Heron.  Even though I have a gazillion photos of herons, I still take more, because they are so photogenic.  This one decided to scratch an itch while we were there:

That was pleasing enough, but then the real excitement began.  I heard people shouting behind me -- and when I looked over, two women pointed up and yelled, "Osprey!  It just caught a fish and the crows are chasing it!"

Well, it was impossible with my little souped-up point-and-shoot to get a good shot of the birds in the air as they circled overhead several times -- this was the best I got:

Then the magical moment happened -- the Osprey landed in a tree not ten feet away.  Whoo hoo!!!

There it stayed, trying to eat its fish while fending off the crows who swooped at it repeatedly.  Quite a show.

I wonder if this is one of the Osprey pair that have recently returned to the Montlake Fill -- they were there last summer and tried unsuccessfully to build a nest atop a baseball field light.  A nesting platform was put up for them, but they weren't interested in it.  The pair is now back and bringing sticks to the baseball field light again.  Efforts are underway to try to relocate their nest efforts -- I hope it works out.

Here is a short video I took as well -- enjoy!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Urban Sketching Workshop Report

I am tired!

Since Friday, I've been participating in the Urban Sketchers Line-to-Color Workshop taught by Gail Wong and Frank Ching (both architects).  Tina also took the workshop, which was great, since she was able to handle the driving.

On Friday afternoon we had a tour of the Daniel Smith paint-making facility, and got to hear opening lectures, and then had some time to play around with some of the many fabulous paints they make there.  They fed us a pizza dinner, too!  Any money I may have saved on dinner was long gone and then some after they gave us some time to shop in the store, though.

On Saturday we met at Gas Works Park at 9:00am -- the good news was that it wasn't raining.  The bad news was that it was a chilly 50 degrees.  The group (about 30 students) had been broken into two, one met with Gail at Gas Works to learn more about watercolor while the second met with Frank to do pen drawing.  The next day we switched.   I think there were 14 in our group on Saturday.  Gail did demos and then we practiced -- we did a lot on seeing shapes and values, and did a number of value studies before being turned loose after lunch to paint on our own.  No pencil/pens allowed, only paint -- not my thing, but I did a creditable scene of the skyline view from the park:

The sun did pop out from the clouds now and then to warm us a bit, thank goodness.  We stopped at 4:00pm -- a long day.

Sunday was even longer.  We met up with Frank for pen drawing in Fremont, but as it was raining hard, he opted to carpool over to the UW campus so we could sit beneath the cover of Kane Hall while drawing the Neo-Gothic architecture around Red Square.

Frank gave us plenty of great demonstrations and tips on perspective and architectural drawing, which I did not practice all that well.  It was cold again (colder than Saturday) and I was very uncomfortable.  Luckily Kane Hall was open for an event, so I could pop inside to warm up.

We stayed there for three hours, then broke for lunch and headed back to Fremont for the afternoon session.  The rain tapered off from time to time, long enough to sit outside to sketch without cover, at least for short periods.

Our last sketch stop was by the canal, where we were supposed to practice our new perspective-handling skills on the bridge, but I was tired of buildings.  I found some rocks near the canal edge and drew those instead.  Rain drops added to the texture!

At 5:00pm we stopped, and then went to dinner together at a burger-sandwich place.  Got home at 7:30pm.  You may be wondering, "What about poor Truman -- you were gone all day both Saturday and Sunday!"   Do not fear -- little Tru had early afternoon visits both days from his former pet sitter Shelley and her little chihuahua Princie.  He was quite happy to see them again.

Finally, today was the last day of the workshop, a half-day at Seattle Center where the two instructors and groups got back together to practice both pen and color together, to share their work, and to pick up a few more tips.

The sun was shining, and most people went out to draw the big buildings and structures, while I had my eye on the quirky little sculptures that decorate the Children's Theater.   I've been wanting to draw them for years, and was very happy to have the time to do so.

We re-grouped inside the Armory (the old Center House), shared our work, and said our goodbyes.  Truman was ecstatic when I got home at 1:00pm -- I don't think he's going to let me out of his sight again for a while.

It was a good workshop, with great locations, though the weather could have been a tad more cooperative.  I mean, on Sunday I was wearing my jeans with waterproof pants over them, a long-sleeved t-shirt with a sweatshirt over it and a waterproof jacket, and my winter hat with ear muffs and I was still too cold!    Thank goodness it warmed up some in the afternoon or I would never gotten through it.  Now I need a nap...or two...or three!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Unexpected Appearance of a Bird Guide Author

The field guide that I see most birders using is written and illustrated by David Sibley, a fine fellow indeed.  I got to attend a reading by him in 2010, when I got my field guide signed.  Then about two years ago, I had the further treat of being co-leader of an exclusive field trip around the Montlake Fill in which he was the guest of honor.  I got to speak longer with him one-on-one, and it was a lovely experience.

A new, second edition of his famous field guide has just been released, and he's doing a book tour.  He was here in Seattle yesterday, and decided to pop in to the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop for an unscheduled book signing (his scheduled one was downtown, where I had no plans to go).  The surprise stop was announced only a few hours in advance so only those lucky folks who saw it in time and had a weekday afternoon off work (or were retired!) could go.  I was one of them!

Waiting in line...

Getting closer...


He is very consistent -- on left is the guide he signed in 2010 with new one on the right.

And this is why I needed the new version -- the old one is a bit worn out.

I wonder how long it will take for the nice new shiny guide to wind up looking like the old one?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Two sketches and a lot of Truman

Not a lot to report today -- it's been hot here and when it gets above 80 I tend to lie low.  But back on Sunday, Tina and went to Bothell Country Village to do a little sketching -- this is a collection of old buildings turned into shops, with a pond, stream, and interesting sculptures, and a lot of ducks and chickens running around.  We weren't there very long -- I had time for two drawings, one of the back side of a few buildings which I did in ink:

The second drawing I did in pencil -- I rarely use pencil, preferring to draw directly with ink -- but pencil works well for subjects that need to be accurate:

As I said, it's been above 80 (88 on Monday!), so Truman and I have been mostly at home of late, gardening and walking in the morning while it's not too hot, and then just hanging out.  He does love his yard!

Stay cool!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cooperative Birds

I haven't had much luck getting photos of birds at the Fill lately.  The winter birds that sit out on the lake are almost all gone, and the songbirds are safely camouflaged in the Spring foliage.  I can still hear them, though, which can be ever so frustrating.

This past Sunday, however, I had excellent views of the birds.  A Black-capped Chickadee was at the pine snag, excavating a nest hole.

As I continued along the loop trail, I heard the distinctive call of a California Quail.  They're not very common in this area, though they do turn up from time to time.  It was somewhere by the main pond, which naturally is surrounded by trees and shrubs with dense leaves.  And quail typically prefer to hunker down on the ground, so I didn't think I had a chance of seeing it -- but after half an hour or so of searching, I spotted a quail-shaped shadow up on a tree branch.  Success!

Then there are the Common Yellowthroats -- a warbler that turns up here in the Spring and often sticks around all summer to breed.  For the past two weeks during my Fill visits, I'd been hearing their song, and failing to see a single one.  After my good luck with the chickadee and the quail, I thought, Maybe this is the day!

And sure enough, on our way past the southwest pond, a beautiful male popped up to sing away on his territory.  At first he played a little peek-a-boo, but eventually I got some fabulous shots.

Hurrah!  The birding magic was working that day for sure,

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sketch Location Criteria

I like to sketch in places which have the following attributes:

  • a lack of crowds
  • easy parking
  • both landscape and building views
  • dog friendly
  • accessibility (for Truman's stroller)
  • both sun and shade
  • easy access to a restroom
This is why I seem to wind up drawing at cemeteries -- they meet all the requirements, and they sure are quiet!

There's one about a mile up the road from my house which I had not investigated because from the street it looked very dull, but I decided to take Truman for a long walk (well, stroll-and-walk) and we wound up there, and it turned out to be quite sketchable, with a boulder-strewn garden with ponds and wooden bridges.

First I went to the office to find out where Mr. T.'s grave site was -- he's the fellow that I visited with my dogs at the retirement home for many years.  We found the site easily and Truman said hello:

Then we strolled over to the memorial garden, where I did a sketch.

I told Tina about it, and she joined me on a second outing for more sketching in the garden.

This is one the very few statues in the whole place.

A very pleasant place, all in all.

Below are two photos from a week or more ago which I haven't found anywhere to put in the other posts, so I'm just going to pop them in here -- we were at the perennial garden at the Montlake Fill, and Truman was bored, as usual.  He gave me his "When are we going home?" expression -- which might be the only expression he knows!