Friday, June 8, 2012

Vesper Sparrows singing in the morning...

Vesper Sparrows are sweet birds. They are often described as plain, which I guess they are when you first look at the gray-brown feathers that help them disappear into the scrubby fields they like to haunt, but when they fly from perch to perch in the grass, a flash of white on the outer edges of their tail feathers is bright, and suddenly they are not plain at all. I love these little junco-like birds and enjoy watching them as they flit through the grasses, staying low and out of camera range usually. When I saw this male at Armleder Park, he was singing from one of the higher perches in the field, but he still was able to avoid the camera lens by perching behind grasses and sticks, so instead of photographing him, I did a few field sketches, concentrating on gesture rather than feather detail, etc...

Painting 224. Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) in the Morning...
(This painting started as a pencil sketch. I added watercolor and a touch of colored pencil later.)
Vesper Sparrows love to take dust baths. I've read many accounts of that and was hoping to see one or two fluffing up in the dust and flapping around, but no luck. They are so well adapted to dry dusty fields that they don't use water for bathing or drinking! It's thought they get all the water they need from insects and seeds and possibly also morning dew on the grass.

Painting 225. Vesper Sparrow at Armleder Park
(This painting started as a pencil sketch. I added watercolor and a touch of colored pencil later.)
In bird literature, I've read over and over that Vesper Sparrows were named from the romantic view of naturalist John Burroughs that the bird sang more sweetly at sunset or dusk, which is the time for evening prayers or vespers, but I had never directly read anything about him naming the bird, so I wanted to check it out. I love naturalist writings from the 1800s and early 1900s that have romantic tendencies, so I was glad when I stumbled across the John Burroughs website and a page called "The Naming of the Vesper" (click here for the link). A list of references shows the transition of the bird's original name of "grass finch" or "bay-winged bunting" to the name "vesper sparrow," and although John Burroughs promoted the name, he did not coin it. In Burroughs' 1871 book "Wake-Robin," Burroughs gives credit to Wilson Flagg...
"They sing much after sundown, hence the aptness of the name vesper sparrow, which a recent writer, Wilson Flagg, has bestowed upon them." (Source: "Wake-Robin," by John Burroughs, page 212.  Click here for the free online ebook version of the book.)
...after reading what was on page 212, I started skipping through the book to read more, and I loved his colorful descriptions. Now I want to get a hard copy of "Wake-Robin" and a few of his other books. Here is a glimpse of Burroughs' introduction...
"Do such books as mine give a wrong impression of Nature, and lead readers to expect more from a walk or a camp in the woods than they usually get? I have a few times had occasion to think so. I am not always aware myself how much pleasure I have had in a walk till I try to share it with my reader. The heat of composition brings out the color and the flavor. We must not forget the illusions of all art. If my reader thinks he does not get from Nature what I get from her, let me remind him that he can hardly know what he has got till he defines it to himself as I do, and throws about it the witchery of words. Literature does not grow wild in the woods. Every artist does something more than copy Nature; more comes out in his account than goes into the original experience." (Source: "Wake-Robin," by John Burroughs, page xii.  Click here for the free online ebook version of the book.)

Painting 226. Vesper Sparrow Singing in the Morning
(...another painting started as a pencil sketch. I added watercolor and then gouache later.)

18 comments:

Bob Bushell said...

They are stupendous work of art.

Roy said...

These are fabulous Kelly. They are original in style and remind me of the kind of paintings you would find in an older bird book. One of those original works that always have great images with a lot more useful info than you get in the modern ones. Just brilliant. Thanks.

Jerry said...

Your superb paintings really bring these little chaps to life. I often think how interesting it is that so many of the seemingly plainer birds look surprisingly pretty on closer inspection.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

These are wonderful paintings. We have Vesper Sparrows in the fence row where we turn on the the lane to go to our cabin and I have been hoping to photograph them this summer. Now I will think of your post while I stalk them. the quotes from John Burroughs are great I have been meaning to read him and I will certainly have to now.

Thanks
Guy

TexWisGirl said...

your paintings are as beautiful as ever. but no water, ever?! ugh!

Ally said...

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Montanagirl said...

Superb renditions of the Vesper! Your paintings never cease to amaze me.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Interesting information and wonderful paintings. I have to admit I'm kind of partial to sparrows of all kinds. They definitely have their charms!

Banjo52 said...

Your sketches are great, as usual. I'll keep an eye and ear out for this guy. Do you remember this was the sparrow Deborah Digges was writing about?

Burroughs: "I am not always aware myself how much pleasure I have had in a walk till I try to share it with my reader. The heat of composition brings out the color and the flavor." This is terrific for me because that's what happens when I read poems in order to blog about them. Once I begin to put things into words, I begin to see how much I had not seen or thought enough about. Now that I'm pretty much finished with academic, forced writing, I see what poets mean when they talk and talk and talk about writing as discovery--including Robert Frost's great old line: "no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." And of course, we want to be surprised.

Janice K said...

That was so interesting....and the watercolors were lovely.

Carol Mattingly said...

Last last one is my favorite Kelly. I really like that one a lot. But they are all beautiful. I can't draw a thing. I'm sticking to photos. Carol

ShySongbird said...

What beautiful paintings Kelly! I do wish I had your gift.

Tammie Lee said...

these are quite lovely Kelly. I enjoyed all the details and the way you work with paint. Such a sweet bird, i enjoyed learning more about it and how it was named.

Elaine said...

Love your sweet little vesper sparrows!

Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

Wonderful post Kelly! Really enjoyed learning about the origin of the Vesper Sparrow's name. Your paintings of this sweet sparrow are lovely!

Kerri said...

FANTASTIC!

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone for the kind words. This bird was so sweet to watch. There were actually four birds flying around in the huge field, but I concentrated on this male. He would come up a bit from the ground to sing on the highest part of the low perches. I loved seeing his tail feathers flash white as he would fly here and there... It was fun to sketch him!

Angela said...

These bird paintings are so soft so interesting so beautiful. I enjoyed my visit here today.