Sunday, October 31, 2010

Golden-crowned Kinglets along the Little Miami Trail...

"Seeee, see, see, see" was in the air this morning as I walked along the Little Miami Trail, and it stopped me in my tracks. I love watching Golden-crowned Kinglets, and there is no mistaking their sweet, little call. It's high pitched, but it also seems loud emanating from such a teeny, weeny bird. At 4" it's just a little bigger than our Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but it's a whole lot rounder!

A Golden-crowned Kinglet is a fluffy little ball of energy!
The trail was deep in shadow where the kinglets were foraging, and unfortunately I had the ISO too low. The shutter was a bit slow, so blur and fuzz resulted, which was a shame because this little fireball was no sissy. She came within four feet of me as I stood still with my camera aimed at her. Four feet!! Oh well...maybe next time. I ended up just watching her as she moved quickly through the brush by the trail nabbing spiders, constantly on the move. can tell our little Golden-crowned Kinglet is a female because her crown is bright yellow. Males have a bit of orange added in to the topknot.

...look at the size of that spider! With all the nonstop movements this little bird makes, she will burn those calories up in no time at all. "Supersize" works just fine for her. looks like she's spied the spider web and has a plan to pick up another juicy, plump bite to eat.

...this is what most of my shots looked like--"SuperBird," moving faster than the speed of light from twig to twig as she gleans spiders and their eggs hidden from sight.

I don't know how many kinglets were about on the trail, but at one point, I was able to keep track of five while I heard others calling from both up the hill and down the hill. It was such a beautiful sound hearing so many of them moving through the trees, but that wasn't all. While I was photographing them, I could hear the mixed-flock calls of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, the muffled knocking of Downy Woodpeckers, the soft, wintery "yank, yank" of a family of White-breasted Nuthatches, and the lovely sweet sound of a Brown, in the distance, the strident scolding of a Carolina Wren, the harried cry of a Belted Kingfisher, the harsh sound of a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, and the gentle sound of a few goldfinches. You can't ask for a better morning (well, maybe it could have been a little warmer...or maybe I could have worn an extra layer...but other than that, perfect).

A Brown Creeper spiraling up the tree while foraging with a mixed flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, and White-breasted Nuthatches.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Ravens

Painting #52 - Common Raven Flying Over a Pumpkin

I loved painting this painting. Usually I rely on a reference photo, but this one appeared in my head and poured out of my paintbrush. I could hear the whoosh of the wings as he flew past, and saw the shadow pass over the pumpkin. This painting made me fall in love with Common Ravens even more than I already did.

Painting #53 - Night Raven Looking at the Moonbow ref photo. Quite a big thing for me. The Golden slow-drying acrylics I'm using are so freeing. I squeeze out the paint, start playing, and images come to life. I'm really enjoying the 100 Painting Challenge. Being under the pressure to create 100 paintings in a year causes me to paint just for the sake of painting. I used to paint for a purpose (a card, a present--a reason), but with the challenge, there is no reason. You simply create all the time. The challenge continues to help me grow. Because of the challenge, I found out I love painting ravens and all the darkness that surrounds them.

Painting #54 - Nocturnal Raven

Painting #55 - Common Raven in a Patterned World

I painted this painting twice. I didn't like the first take, so I scraped it off....then decided I loved the scape marks and just added the Common Raven in with a few brush strokes.

Painting #56 - Creepy Primitive Halloween Raven

The scrapings in the previous painting inspired this one. Originally it was supposed to have the feel of a wood block carving image, but it soon turned into the feel of a carved pumpkin. I painted the background orange/red/yellow and let it dry over night....then painted over it with black the next morning....grabbed a plastic spoon and started "carving" out the image. I decided to go primitive because it's creepier, and one-shot carving with a spoon doesn't allow detail. After it dried, I painted over the moon with orange again...then went back in and re-carved over the previous carving. That helped brighten up the moon... This was a lot of fun, but very messy!! (I'm happy to report all of these paintings passed Matty's stringent creative requirements. He thought they were cool.) bird in this painting, so it's not part of the challenge. I just wanted to wish you a Happy Halloween filled with lots of treats...and black cats...ravens...and ghosts...witches...and scarecrows...and...candy corn, of course!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

For young Tricolored Herons, it’s all about the spike…

Birding Hilton Head Island, SC and Pinckney Island at the Ibis Pond Rookery
Spiked head feathers were all the rage among the young Tricolored Herons at the Ibis Pond rookery at Pinckney Island!

I'm young, and I'm cool...

...sometimes. Other time I just look like I'm growing grass out of the top of my head.

(His brother seems to agree.)

...spiky head feathers or not, there's no getting past the beautiful structure of their faces and the intense look in their eyes that stirs up thoughts of a walking and squawking prehistoric beast.

I spike, therefore I am.

These two Tricolored Herons stood strong in their nest as they waited for their parents to come and feed them.

I was still sitting up on the hill watching the Snowy Egret feed the babies when these two Tricolored Herons caught my eye. Their nest nest was down by the water in a willow tree--again on our side of the mote. The mama and papa visited them several times while I watched and photographed the Snowy Egrets. I was using my 70-200mm lens with the 2x extender, but considering how far away I was and how many leaves I was shooting through, it looks like I had a more powerful lens. I did use the tripod to help with stabilization, but mostly it was the Nikon and The Force that focused past the leaves and did all the work.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The ghostly, silvery-white moonbow at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky…

Every autumn Rick, Matty and I, and my brother, sister-in-law and niece take a weekend trip together. This year, we decided to visit Cumberland Falls, KY to try to catch a glimpse of the elusive, misty, magical moonbow—and we could not have picked a better time! We arrived at the lodge Friday evening to a packed house. Not a spot remained in the parking lot, and we had to search out a place in the auxiliary parking lot up the hill by the cabins. People were everywhere and a heightened sense of anticipation filled the air. Lunar lovers had come in record numbers to witness Mother Nature’s spectacle because conditions were predicted to be just right for a moonbow (also called a lunar rainbow)…and to add to the nighttime excitement, Halloween was just a week away!

The moonbow at Cumberland Falls, Kentucky!

When you see the moonbow with the naked eye, it appears ghostly, almost like a silvery-white apparition, but when you capture it with the camera, all the colors of the optical spectrum appear rich and deep. To shoot a moonbow, you need to open up the shutter and use a tripod. Rick shot this photograph using an aperture of f/5, a shutter speed of 25 seconds, and an ISO of 800. If you use a flash, nothing appears because the light washes the silvery-white arc away. It was pitch dark when we took this photo at 9:38 p.m., but with the delayed shutter speed, the moonlight is enough to bring everything to life. I love the deep blue of the sky and the tiny stars winking through!

Moonbows are not common and don’t happen every evening or even every month. Things have to be “just right.” The most important requirement is a full moon—or a nearly full moon. Two days before or after work very well, which was good for us because Friday night was the night before the full moon. Next in line is a perfectly clear sky—no clouds, no haze, and even no airplane vapor trails! Complete darkness must follow. City lights kill the ghostly apparition and are the reason the lovely moonbow reported in years past at Niagara Falls was extinguished. Without water, the shy silvery arc can’t be coaxed out to play either, so a slight breeze is needed to stir the mist churned up by the falls and keep it hovering in front of you. With the water vapor suspended before you, the final requirement is that the moon hangs low in the sky behind you. It's a wonder you ever get to see a moonbow at all!

When everything comes together, a full moonbow stretches from the falls to hundreds of feet down the river. The moonbow appeared around 9:00 and was still shining bright around 11:00 when we left. There were at least 300 people there when we arrived, but the crowds thinned out a bit as the evening progressed. To get these photos, we walked down to the lower level, which was an adventure in itself considering it was pitch dark and we didn't have flashlights (the second night we did). It was so fun sliding our hands across the rocks and along the rails to help us get down the huge steps to the lower level. We made a few friends along the way because everyone is so happy and excited. You can't go wrong when you're out dancing in the moonlight!

Just a quick FYI... When they say conditions have to be "just right," they mean it! The next night was the full moon, so it should have been even better, but it wasn't. The moonbow was meager at best...a wispy tiny little arc trying its hardest to flicker into a blaze, but it just couldn't. The problem was a hazy cloud cover, then the clouds went away, but an airplane's vapor trail moved into place...and on top of that, the breeze was still and no mist filled the air in front of us. Friday night it was almost like a constant fine rain, but the air was dry Saturday night. Now and then, the silvery arc would appear in bits near the base of the falls, but it never reached the amazing intensity of the night before. I'm so happy we were there Friday night!! Really, everything does need to be in perfect alignment...
"When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars"
…this is the dawning of the moonbow in the Cumberlands…
sort of ;-)
When we woke Saturday morn the sun was streaming across the sky, and the temps were autumn cool--everything was "just right" for hiking, so we set off for Eagle Falls on Trail 9.

Matthew Riccetti, Rick Riccetti, and Kelly Riccetti at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.
...finally a family portrait! I always forget to get in the picture. You can't really tell, but Cumberland Falls (often called "the Niagara of the south") is in the background.

Matthew Riccetti, Rick Riccetti, and Kelly Riccetti at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.
...the Eagle Falls trail is fun and has lots of surprises along the way. Here the group marches on while I lag behind to photograph something -- a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets was foraging in the hemlock trees along the gorge. There were so many of them, and their sweet little voices were singing out all over the forest. On our way back, Rick and I paused to watch and listen, but they never did come within camera range. can never go wrong with sculptural rocks...

Matthew Riccetti and Kelly Riccetti under the small falls at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.

Matty and I behind Eagle Falls. What a blast climbing on all the rocks to get there. Thank goodness I lift weights and do yoga. I don't think I would have been able to get back there if I didn't! Eagle Falls is such a pretty fall, and it seems to appear out of nowhere.

Matthew Riccetti climbing up through small caves at Cumber Falls State Park in Kentucky.
...if there is a hole that can be climbed into, Matty will find it.

...the beautiful Cumberland River from the balcony at the lodge. It was very hard to leave and come home on Sunday. We had such a fab time...I did not want to come home!

p.s. There aren't a lot of waterfalls where you can find a regularly occurring moonbow. Victoria Falls near Zimbabwe is known for its moonbow, and I read during snowmelt, a moonbow can appear at Yosemite Falls every now and then too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Snowy Egret feeding nestlings...

Birding Hilton Head Island, SC and Pinckney Island at the Ibis Pond RookeryEven though I try, I can't begin to describe the energy and wonder of the Ibis Pond rookery at the height of the nesting season. There are so many birds and so much action it's hard to decide where to point the camera. Noise is varied and nonstop, sometimes slipping into a state that can only be described as a cacophony, and when you mix in the pungent aroma of regurgitated fish guts spiking here and there as you walk around the mote...with the never ending beauty and variety of birds at every glance, it can actually start to feel like an assault on the senses (but it's a good assault that keeps you coming back for more)!

As the Tricolored Herons from an earlier post were learning to fly in the trees in front of me, to the left, in the trees growing along the mote (again, on our side!), several parents in a mini colony of Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets were busy feeding their young while others sat patiently on eggs. Here a Snowy Egret tends to nestlings. can see how the baby's gular pouch has expanded to hold the food.

...and I think we have a glimpse of regurgitated fish guts here--sort of greenish grey. Yum. Just what the baby needs to get big and strong!

...the sun did a beautiful job highlighting the baby's gular pouch. Kind of was the first time I had ever seen the sun shine through the tiny pouch.

It looks like baby#2 has given up, but he's just resting. He was fed first!

These photos are from June 7, 2010. The rookery was not as far along as the same week last year, but there seemed to be more herons and egrets. It was strange that they had crossed over the mote and were nesting on our side. Not many people were visiting the rookery while I was there. It was hot...really 100 degrees F hot, so that might have kept people away, but those that did visit were respectful of the nesting birds and kept back. That was good to see. The rookery wasn't quite as pungent or noisy this year either, but I assume a week or so after I left, the noise increased, and as more and more babies hatched out, so too the wonderful smells!

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More bird paintings...this time, impressionistic.

These were fun, and I loved doing them. Working late at night, I painted this series without an under sketch. I let the paintbrush do the work, watching the images appear as the paint went down. I'm a night owl, which is a very bad thing to be when you're a birder (unless you study owls), but it's a very good thing to be when you paint. Once the hand on the clock clicks past midnight, the soothing night spirits take over and help you along. All is quiet, no one is around, gentle night sounds slip through the window, and time slows down.

Painting #48, Goldfinch on Sunflower
Acrylic, 9"x12" acrylic paper

Painting #49, Goldfinch on Sunflower 2
Acrylic, 6"x6" canvas paper

Painting #50, Goldfinch on Sunflower 3
Acrylic, 6"x12" canvas paper

Painting #51, Goldfinch Almost on Sunflower
Acrylic, 6"x6" canvas paper

...chugging along. I'm passed the half-way point.

All summer long I worked to reverse the night-owl thing, and I succeeded for a while, but I've slipped back to my old ways. I've been a night owl my entire life. I remember when I was in the first grade my mom had to pull me out of bed, sit me at the kitchen table and give me a cup of java to help me move. (I also remember her advising me I might not want to mention the coffee bit to my teachers. Back then kids didn't drink coffee. I don't know if they do now because Matty's an early bird.) No one in my family is a night owl...they are all early birds. Where on earth did this come from? Now, because of Meniere's Disease (an inner ear disorder), I can't drink coffee. I've been caffeine free for about 6 years, so I don't have that aid to make getting up easier. 6:15 comes very early, and I'm not keen on it, but I get up anyway. (I am tired of living on 4 hours of sleep, though...and I'm going to bed early tonight!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stylized Bird Paintings...for the challenge

Painting stylized birds was something new for me. My brother, Bill, and my son, Matty, are both cartoonists, and they can create the coolest iconic images, Rick can too, but realism always seems to flow out of my paintbrush and capturing a stylized image is hard for me, but this time, I tried to boil things down to symbols and let loose. It was fun!

Painting #42, Green Air Currents, Energy or Love Flowing Around Little Red Bird
Acrylic on Canvas Paper, 6"x12"

I love this painting. It makes me feel good when I look at it. I can feel all the swirls of energy and love. I'd be happy wearing this little guy on a t-shirt!

Painting #43, Red Air Currents, Energy, or Love Flowing Around Little Green Bird
Acrylic on Canvas Paper, 6"x12" this one too. Little Green Bird has a lot of love around him. I'd be happy with this image on a t-shirt also...

Painting #44, A Cliché Stylized Bird in Flight...BUT it’s in the moonlight, and it’s migrating, so it’s okay.
(or...Bird Lit By the Light of the Silvery Moon in October)
Acrylic on Acrylic Paper, 9"x12"

Matty called me on this one. He said, "Mom, that bird in flight has been done so much. It's overused."
"I know..." I told him, "but....that's the point, the name of the piece is 'A Cliché Stylized Bird in Flight...BUT it's in the Moonlight, and it's Migrating, so it's Okay. (or...Bird Lit By the Light of the Silvery Moon in October).' "
"That's a long title," he said, "but I like it."
"Good...I just made it up."

Painting #45, The Berries are Right Behind You, Little Bird!
Acrylic on Acrylic Paper, 9"x12"

...totally symbolic. The berries represent creativity, and I'm the bird. I feel like creativity is lurking just behind me. I have to reach back there and grab the berries...I just can't see them yet. This painting took so may the end, I painted over it in a disgusting blue-green color that almost made me hurl, but quickly I grabbed the palate knife and scraped off the nastiness. This cool Little Red Bird popped out as I scraped away...along with the bright greens and yellows.

Painting #46, Stylized LBJ (but I think it's a Savannah Sparrow) in a Blaze of Autumn Color
Acrylic on Canvas Paper, 6"x12"

Do you see that Little Brown Jobbie in the middle of the field? I'm sure it's a a shadow.

Painting # 47, Für Sarah und Alyssa
Three Halloween Pumpkins and Three Little Black Birds in Pointy Witch Hats
Acrylic on Canvas Paper, 6"x12"

This painting is for my nieces in Germany, Sarah and Alyssa. They like to make their own decorations to decorate their house for Halloween. This painting is an idea for them. I can tell the stylized part was fading doesn't work, but the girls will like it. Hi Sarah and Alyssa!!

The 100 Bird Paintings in a Year challenge continues. I've painted a lot over the past two weeks. If I can keep it up, I'll hit 100 paintings by December 31.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Juvenile Tricolored Heron takes a walk!

Birding Hilton Head Island, SC and Pinckney Island at the Ibis Pond Rookery
As I sat in the grass on the top of the hill and watched the juveniles playing and flying from tree to tree, the mama flew down and landed in the grass about 20 feet from me. The grass was tall and screened her, but I was still amazed she came so close. I had been sitting there watching them for over an hour, so I guess she decided I was no threat. As I was watching her through the camera lens, she became excited and I wondered what was up when suddenly the spiky-headed juvenile from the first post flew into view. Double-luck! She immediately fed him.

Mama Tricolored Heron patiently waits in the grass for her young to join her.

The first (and only) juvenile to fly down to the ground that day was our spiky-headed baby!

...this was the juvenile's first time to fly out of the tree and onto the grass! Very exciting...

The mama walked around the grassy slope a bit with the juvenile following.

...he wasn't too happy and seemed to be only interested in eating!

...but she continued to walk him around. Eventually, she stopped to feed him again, and then she flew away. The juvenile stayed in the grass by himself for a moment or two, but quickly flew back to the tree his sibling was in.

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