Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sketching skeletons and skins...

Matty and I spent a couple of hours Friday afternoon sketching bird skeletons, skins, and mounted specimens at the Geier Collections and Research Center in downtown Cincinnati. The Geier Center is the research arm of the Cincinnati Natural History Museum. It's a state-of-the-art facility that houses all of the collections not on display at the Museum Center. It also includes laboratories for the paleontology, archaeology and zoology collections. I contacted Dr. Herman Mays, the curator of zoology, to see if Matty and I could sketch a few of the specimens in the collection, and he said yes! Dr. Mays was wonderfully accommodating and incredibly nice. He set us up in the room holding the massive zoology collection and let us know we could sketch and photograph anything we wanted to. My head is still spinning from everything we saw. I got to work right away and sketched non-stop. Matty studied a lot of the collection and sketched a few birds with me as well. It will take several posts to cover our adventure...

Sketch of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) skull from the Geier Collections 
and Research Center (the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History)
I'm writing a book for the field sketching class I'm teaching at the Biggest Week in American Birding warbler festival and wanted to see and sketch close-up views of bills, wings, and skeletons for a few of the illustrations. Everything I needed was at the Geier Center. I'm so glad Dr Mays let us visit the center!

...the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) skull I sketched. 
I loved seeing all the bird skeletons, bones, and skulls. 
An American Coot (Fulica americana) skull from the Geier Collections and Research Center
I chose this mounted Pipit as my first bird to sketch...and what a sweetie! I drew him quickly, pretending I was sketching the bird in the wild (a very cooperative bird who sat very close...).

Matty sketched a Baltimore Oriole. He took his time and did a great job! 
(He's an artist, he just doesn't know it yet!)

...this American Pipit mounted bird looks real. You wouldn't be able to tell it's a taxidermied bird if you didn't know!
Cute little Pipit!
Sketching mounted birds is a great way to practice drawing birds from "life." Translating a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional image on paper takes a little practice.

Lots of racks of mounted specimens...

...lots of drawers of bird skins. The collection is amazing with between 20-30,000 bird specimens.

The ornithology collection has new and old specimens dating back to the mid 1880s.

A Wooly Mammoth family grazes in the front lawn of the Geier Collections and Research Center. I remember these gargantuan bonded bronze sculptures when they stood in front of the Eden Park/Mt. Adam's location of the Natural History Museum. As a kid I loved seeing them because they set the stage for what was to come! I was glad to see them again.
(The artist who created these beautiful sculptures is Norman Neal Deaton, click here for info on him.)

Sketching in the field...museum!
If you love to paint and draw birds, head to your local natural history museum and take advantage of the wonderful collections available to you. Being able to hold these specimens and view them up close gives you a greater understanding of a bird's structure. You can count the primaries and secondaries on the wing...see the underwing coverts...see all the bones and joints in the toes...study the unique S curve in a bird's neck or the bone structure in the wing and legs, or anything else you can think of. The knowledge you take home will help you draw birds better, and your appreciation of their amazing adaptations and abilities will grow.

If you're in Cincinnati, the Geier Collections and Research Center is located at 760 West Fifth Street. 
Click here to read more about it. 

Sketching on the boardwalk!
Another way to get up close with an extraordinary variety and number of birds is to visit the boardwalk at Magee Marsh (near Toledo, OH) in May where you can witness the amazing phenomena of spring migration. The trees along the boardwalk literally drip with neotropical migrants as they rest and fuel up for the last leg of their journey across Lake Erie to their nesting grounds up north. Head up to the Biggest Week in American Birding, May 6 - 15 where you can walk the boardwalk and meet lots of other birders too.


Click here for the Biggest Week in American Birding workshop information. 
Click here for festival registration information. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cooper's Hawk along the Little Miami...and the value of a field journal...

I often see Cooper's Hawks in my backyard, but I saw this fellow along the Little Miami River. I see him regularly in the same spot in a tree about 20 feet off the bike trail. The first time I saw him there was October 9, 2007 (since I've seen a Cooper's Hawk in the exact spot many times since then, I like to think it's the same bird, but who knows, maybe it's just a popular branch!). From my field journal:
Thursday, October 9, 2007 (1:30 p.m., 85 degrees)   A breeze sweeping through the over-dry trees—leaves falling in such fast succession it sounds like rain (not beautiful, colored leaves, but brown, crispy leaves, victims of the drought). The trees are still green—odd to see and hear falling leaves. Wow! Three or four steps further I am eye level with a Cooper's Hawk. His back is to me—blue-gray feathers, three black bars on his tail. When he turns his head, I see a fierce red/amber eye. He knows I'm there. He flies away.

A beautiful Cooper's Hawk with vibrant red eyes surveys his territory.
Cooper's Hawk along the Little Miami River and bike trail.
I'm so glad I've kept a field journal over the years. I've learned a lot from observations, and I like being able to go back and check on dates. When I saw this fellow a few days ago, I wondered how many years it had been since I first saw him claiming that branch. I was thinking three or four years...turns out it's been almost seven years! Cooper's Hawks live an average of 12 years in the wild, but according to Cornell, the oldest known Cooper's Hawk was 20.4 years, which means this could very well be the same bird, and I might see him on that exact branch for many years to come!

A beautiful Cooper's Hawk surveys his territory in the woods along the little Miami River. 

I'm going to be volunteering at the Biggest Week in American Birding warbler festival (on Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio) this May. On May 12 and may 15, I'll be teaching a class for beginners on basic field sketching and nature journaling techniques. If you're there and want to learn how to start sketching in the field and the importance of keeping a field or nature journal, sign up for the class. I'd love to see you there!

(...on the other days I'll be roaming the Magee Marsh boardwalk watching the amazing phenomena of spring migration along Lake Erie. If you want to see warblers and other neotropical migrants, come to Magee Marsh in May. The trees along the boardwalk literally drip with birds as they rest and fuel up for the last leg of their journey across Lake Erie to their nesting grounds up north). Click here for registration information.


...and in other birding news...
Little Miami, Inc. has a new name! They are now the Little Miami Conservancy, which is much more fitting since they have been involved with river conservation since 1967!


Click here to learn more about the Little Miami Conservancy.
Click here for a pdf explaining their mission and history.
Click here for their Facebook page.

I'm going to have another post soon about everything they do. If you're looking for a way to volunteer and help protect the Little Miami River and its riparian corridor, check them out!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A purple so vivid...

Our little clump of purple burst open this week. Much anticipated, it grows at the bottom of the driveway near the street. Its vibrant color is so cheerful and happy, a color I had forgotten existed....

Crocuses bloom in the front yard. Goodbye Winter!



Long live the beautiful bright vivid reviving happy 
purply purple crocuses of spring! 

(Goodbye, winter!)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler in the rain...

I photographed this Yellow-rumped Warbler in May of 2012 at Magee Marsh during the Biggest Week in American Birding. It was spitting rain that day, but the overcast skies and raindrops made the woods look greener and more lush, and the diffused light cast a beautiful softness over the marsh I'm glad I didn't miss. This little Yellow-rumped Warbler was not close, but he was busy and fun to watch as he looked for insects among the raindrops. He wasn't attracting much attention from admirers along the boardwalk. In the birding world, he's not one of the "heavy hitters," but I liked him just fine. His colors were gorgeous in the soft light, and his song was cheerful. I watched him as he worked his way methodically through a tree looking for food and brightening my day.  (I can't wait to head up to Magee this year for a whole week of warblers!!)

Yellow-rumped Warbler along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh.


See you at the Biggest Week!

The Biggest Week in American Birding warbler festival is May 6 - 15. 
Click here for information and registration.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Magnolia Warblers at Magee...

This evening I was working at my desk when Rick came in and said we might have snow on Tuesday. Really? More snow? After a sigh, my mind decided to ignore the snow announcement and went instead to Magee Marsh in May. It will be green there, and sunny, and small twittering birds will fly from tree to tree before landing right in front of me while I walk the boardwalk. ...yes, yes, Magee in March...that's good! Much better than snow now...

A brightly colored Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) sang in the tree above me. I was walking the boardwalk at Magee Marsh during the Biggest Week in American Birding 2012 warbler festival when I saw him. So beautiful...and close! 

Magnolia Warblers are just passing through Ohio when we see them in the spring. They are headed much farther north to their nesting grounds in Canada. A few might nest in the hemlock gorges in eastern Ohio, though, because the microclimates in the deep ravines mimic the cooler climates of the north, but most are headed north and rest up along the boardwalk at Magee before they make the big trip over Lake Erie.

Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio.
With a beautiful black necklace and striking black stripes on a yellow chest and belly, this neotropical migrant is a standout. I see Magnolia Warblers along the Little Miami River during spring migration as well, but they usually don't come as close as they do along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh! 

Yes, my little colorful friend, you are much better than snow.

...the flurry and hurry of spring migration. I like this photo because it captures that constant movement and excitement of the season. Birding at the Biggest Week is always an adventure. You never know what kind of neotropical migrant will show up. The birds are exhausted from the first leg of their trip, so they stop off along Lake Erie and Magee Marsh to fuel up and rest a bit before they depart for the last leg of their journey north.

If you'd like to see a video of a Magnolia Warbler singing, click here for a video on YouTube.

I can't wait for the Biggest Week in American Birding. This year it runs from May 6-15. I'll be there birding and blogging, and I'm going to teach a class on field sketching for beginners on May 12 and May 15. If you want to learn how to sketch in the field and create a nature journal, click here for info on the class--you do not have to be an artist to learn to create field sketches!



Hope to see you at 
The Biggest Week!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bladdernut trees along the Little Miami River...

Just steps off the Little Miami bike trail near the Peter's Cartridge Factory, a small colony of Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) trees grows along the river on the north-facing slope. In winter when walking along the trail, you might mistake the fruit that still clings to the trees as dried leaves, but on closer inspection, you'll find not leaves but unique three-lobbed bladder-like pods! In the spring, festive bell-shaped blossoms droop in large panicles from the branches, but in winter, the dry and brittle pods look more like faded and brown Japanese lanterns from a long-forgotten party...

Bladdernut pods are brown and brittle in winter, but they still hang on to the trees.
Brittle and papery bladdernut pods still cling to the tree in the dead of winter. 
...aglow in the late afternoon sun, this bladdernut pod stands out in the winter landscape.
Bladdernut pods are interesting. They are not truly pods; instead, they are air-filled seed cases or capsules that float! Since Bladdernut shrubs grow along rivers, being able to float seems like a logical means of dispersal. In late spring, bladdernut capsules start to form after the blossoms have been pollinated. At first the capsules are green and the seeds are attached to an inner lining. As summer progresses, the pods start to turn brown, and by autumn the seeds have broken away from the lining and rattle when you (or the wind) shake the pods. The rattle sound is very pretty, so be sure to pick one up and give it a shake!

Bladdernut pods rattled in the winter wind as I walked past them on the trail. The small seeds inside the papery pods create the pretty rattle sound when the pods are shaken.
In "Ethnobotany of the Meskwaki Indians," by H. H. Smith (published 1928), Smith writes that the Meskwaki tribe used bladdernut seeds in their rattles. Bladdernut seeds were sacred to them, so they were put in gourd rattles used for dream and medicine dances. the Meskwaki also used the twigs from this tree to make pipe stems. (Click here (p 248) and here (p 274) for online links to the bulletin.)

A fallen bladdernut pod in fresh snow.

Growing along the Little Miami River, Bladdernut pods are easy to spot in winter when the trees are bare.
Bladdernut trees are actually large shrubs. They rarely get more than 15-20 feet high. Here you see one of the "trees" in the colony. The rest are further down the slope, closer to the river.

...if the pod falls off into the water, it will float away for a new destination.
Bladdernut seed cases in winter.

Small holes form in the bottom of the bladdernut pods where the seeds fall through.
As winter moves into spring, the brown papery cases start to break down, and eventually, the seeds fall out and onto the ground.  

Warmer temperatures are right around the corner, so I'll keep watch on the bladdernut trees and get photos of the flowers this spring and the light green seed cases this summer. Hummingbirds are attracted to the flower, and maybe I'll get lucky this spring...I'd love to watch a hummingbird sipping nectar from the tiny bells!