Thursday, January 27, 2011

Need a little green?

When it's snowing around here it's fun. White and bright, the dancing, tumbling snowflakes bring excitement and beauty--and energy, but when it stops snowing, a thick grey cloud cover usually moves in and seems to drain the color from everything in its path. Although snow is still on the ground, we haven't seen any sparkly little snowflakes for a few days and the anticipation and energy that comes with a good snow has all but fizzled. One to two inches of snow is on the way tonight (yeah!), but right now, it's cold and colorless, so let's go green until the white arrives!

A young Tricolored Heron waits in his nest for his next meal. I took this photo on June 10, 2010 at the rookery on Pinckney Island in Hilton Head, SC (my favorite place to be in early June). It was so hot and steamy and wonderful that day...the sun was intense, the insects were loud, and the thousands of birds on nests were even louder.

I see you too!
If I lived in Hilton Head or anywhere near Pinckney Island, I would be useless. Day after day I would just prowl around Ibis Pond watching, painting and photographing birds. It's Heaven...

Oh no! Is something stuck in his throat?
Nahh...I just photographed him mid "gular flutter." Since birds don't sweat like we do, they need another way to dissipate the heat building up in their bodies. Most simply pant, but others, such as herons, pelicans, cormorants, nighthawks, owls, and even blue jays have the ability to vibrate the muscles in their upper throats (gular area) to speed evaporation from their respiratory tract through their open mouths. When the temp is pushing 100 degrees, you get to see a lot of gular fluttering at the rookery!!

Ack...I could just kiss that wiry-looking little head!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beauteous Buteo

I walked into the kitchen Saturday to find a new species of hawk sitting in our half-dead weeping willow tree, Buteo jamaicensis--the Red-tailed Hawk! Compared to the Cooper's or even Red-shouldered Hawks that often perch there, this bird was a monster.

The beautiful rusty red tail of the Red-tailed Hawk was visible from the kitchen. He sat about eye level from me on the most "popular" hawk perch in the tree.

This is the view from our kitchen door. When I walked into the kitchen, I gasped and ran for the camera, thinking "Oh my gosh...that hawk is big!" When Rick came in a few minutes later, he found me standing on the back of the living room chair photographing him through the window and shouted, "Holy Cow! There's a dog in the tree!" (I laughed so hard I almost fell off the chair. Rick is always funny...)

The dog in the tree surveys his territory. We're used to Cooper's Hawks perching here and are familiar with their size. I didn't realize how much larger Red-tailed Hawks were.

Mild irritation seems to be showing on our Red-tailed Hawk's face. He's probably thinking "...enough with the photos, Chicky. Move along..."

"I SAID...enough with the photos...move along!"
"Okay, okay! I'm putting the camera down and am stepping away from the window..."

I wouldn't look so tough if I were you, Mr. Starling. Look who's sitting behind you just above your left shoulder...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All of the beauty...none of the flash...

Well...maybe some of the flash! Through the camera lens, female Northern Cardinals are beautiful. Their bright, coral-colored beaks flash vividly against their subdued plumage, and if their counterparts weren't so outrageously red, they might even be considered exotic.

I love the "glare" that came through with this one. She seems to be saying in response to my intro "...and don't you forget it!"

...she's so sweet as she peeks through the branches, warily watching me.

Little Miss Red, you can win anyone's heart with that cute little head tilt!

I agree Little Miss Red...your crest of red feathers is nothing to sneeze at either.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Radioactive Cardinal...

Painting 103, Northern Cardinal at 18 Degrees F
8.5x10 Arches Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

My scanner seems to be running a little hot because this male Northern Cardinal looks like he could light the night. The original painting is vibrant, but not quite as saturated at this scanned image of it! I need a new scanner...any recommendations?

Do you recognize this fiery male? I shot him when I took Matty and Chet snowboarding. I changed the pose up a bit from the head-on photo I posted, but I'm working on a pencil sketch of that photo, and I'm going to turn it into a watercolor soon.

This painting is part of the 100 Painting Challenge. I'm doing it for my second year. If you're an artist and want to join, visit the 100 Paintings Challenge Blog hosted by Laure Ferlita.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Carolina Wren - 1, Starlings - 0

In the winter, our little Carolina Wren loves to eat freeze-dried mealworms. She will pass up everything else just to get to those crunchy little treats. Unfortunately, since the ground is now frozen solid and covered in snow, our massive starling flocks (from the local night-time roost) have started showing up at the feeders. While the ground was soft, they were content to dig grubs and other invertebrates out of the earth and pass our feeders by, but now that the ground is frozen solid, the crunchy, protein-rich dried mealworms must be the next best thing to live grubs. Mealworms are the larval (or grub) stage of a beetle, so it only makes sense. When a daytime flock swoops in, the mealworms can disappear in minutes, and then our sweet little Carolina Wren is not happy...

"I'm not happy. Where are my well-deserved crunchy freeze-dried mealworms?"

"I've looked left...and I've looked right...but nary an amber-colored crunchy is to be seen!"

"...look harder little wren! I hid them to keep them safe for you..."

"...what's in here?"

"Mealworms! Hundreds of them, I tell you!"

"Now that's more like it!"

So far, the starlings have left the wicker birdhouse alone, and only the Carolina Wren has been brave enough to peer in and find what she was looking for. The birdhouse is only about 4 feet from the kitchen door, so that might be discouraging some of the birds. Our Carolina Wren, however, is never afraid! I'll let you know if this system continues to work...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Maniacal Belted Kingfisher

This male Belted Kingfisher lives on the patch of the Little Miami River I walk often. Every time I'm there, he screams his maniacal call up and down the river. After all these years I've only been able to get two decent photos of him, which I used as references for this painting.

Painting 102, Maniacal Belted Kingfisher
Watercolor heightened by pastel
9x12 Arches Cold Pressed 140 lb Watercolor Paper

The colorful pastel painting above started its life as the sedate watercolor painting below. Economy of brushstrokes was the theme of the watercolor because I wanted a change from the detail I had put into the Screech Owl. It was a fine painting, understated and watery, but it seemed too tame for our kingfisher's personality. I wrote about this guy in October of 2009, and from that text, "screams at unknown terrors" as he wings his way down the river, covers him very well, so I crazied the watercolor up a bit. I decided to include the original watercolor in the post because some may prefer it. In our house, Matty LOVES the colorful pastel, but Rick prefers the original watercolor. (I dig the pastel...)

Sedate Belted Kingfisher...
I scanned the watercolor just after I started to jazz it up. You can see the beginnings of the orange pastel. I also had added white acrylic to the sky to give the paper more tooth to hold the pastel.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remember the Breadcrumb Fairy?

...she still seems to be visiting Pine Hill Lakes!

A little Carolina Chickadee alighted in the pine tree that the good-hearted Breadcrumb Fairy always seems to toss buns under. Click here to see what the Breadcrumb Fairy brought last year (I still haven't seen who the fairy is...).

Chiggy is studying the ground beneath the huge pine looking for breadcrumbs.

He looks a little harder..."they have to be down there somewhere, they always are..."

It was late in the day, and the birds must have been busy all day eating what was there because the snow and pine needles had been well "bird-foot-raked," and nothing much was left to be seen--but after a little hopping around and kicking up snow, the birds always came up with something to eat.

Our little tan-striped morph White-throated Sparrow was thorough in his recon...

...looking some more...a snowbird's work is never finished...

It all pays off. He's just about to rake up a bite to eat.

A sweet Song Sparrow gets in on the action and is rewarded for his efforts too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snowboarding and snowbirding...

Late yesterday afternoon I took Matty and his friend, Chet, to Pine Hill Lakes for a little snowboarding. While they snowboarded, I snowbirded...

Nothing beats the stunning red of a Northern Cardinal against the snow.
We were at Pine Hill Lakes the same time last year, and a cardinal stole the show then too.

Muffled shrieks and laughter from kids having fun on the sledding hills drifted down with the snowflakes as I sat in a little snowbank watching this male Northern Cardinal survey the land.

Matty snowboarding past me.

...running up that hill! It's fast down...but slow back up!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Painting an Eastern Screech Owl

What a sweetheart this little Screech Owl is. I'm totally in love!

Painting #101, The Shivering Owl (Eastern Screech Owl)
9x12, Watercolor

I decided to enter Laure Ferlita's 100 Paintings in a Year Challenge again (with an ultimate goal of 500 paintings in five years). I started off the year with a detailed watercolor. I've never worked this detailed before, and it was a grand practice in patience. I'm used to firing off paintings in a single session, so this was new for me. To paint this little Screech Owl, I laid in layer after layer of color, slowly building up the depth over many sessions...and many days! I scanned a lot of the versions, and Rick surprised me with this video showing the progression of the painting. (Thank you, Rick!!! Not only can he bake, he can program too!)

Painting a Screech Owl from Kelly Riccetti on Vimeo.

Beak Bit
Here in Cincinnati, we call this little owl an Eastern Screech Owl, but in the south, I read in Robert Bateman's book, "Birds," the owl is often referred to as a "Shivering" Owl, which makes more sense. "Shivering" Owl sounds so pretty and is much more descriptive than "Screech" Owl. After all, the diminutive predators don't screech. They have a plaintive, wavering...shivering call!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Two Cooper's Hawks square off in our half-dead weeping willow tree...

Tuesday, as I got out of the car with groceries in hand, I heard strange hawk sounds coming from the backyard so I ducked out of the garage to have a look. Two Cooper's Hawks were fighting over the prime viewing branch in our great big beautiful half-dead weeping willow tree. "Oh my gosh...I've got to get this" was going through my mind, so I quickly carefully/gently (sort of) dropped the grocery bags on the driveway and dashed inside to get the camera. I shot through the kitchen window and caught the end of the fight. It's the first time I've ever seen two hawks fighting over the branch, but not the first time I've seen two hawks in the tree at the same time. I've often seen an adult and juvenile Cooper's Hawk perched on different branches, and once a Red-shouldered Hawk joined them without any squabbles. This time the juvenile was challenging the adult for "the branch," but she didn't dislodge the adult...he remained king, showing off a few awesome threat displays and not budging when she directly attacked him.

"I'm bigger than you, kid. Beat it."

"Reiteration...bigger, badder, meaner, smarter. Beat it!"

"Actually, pops, I'm bigger." Glare.


...another "Art of the Flying Fan Dance" shot (remember the first one?).

"Uh huh...that's what I thought..."

...slyly checking to make sure the interloper was loping away.

King for another day...

Beak Bit
Larry of The Birder's Report let me know he was just reading about Cooper's Hawks and discovered their eye color can be an indicator of their age. Larry wrote, quoting "Birds of North America Online," the eyes are:
"bluish-gray in fledglings, increasingly replaced by yellow in immatures. In brief, yellow or light orange in yearlings, shifting progressively to darker shades of orange and red with age, males averaging darker than females of the same age, and detectable change ceasing at about 5 yr of age."
So our king of the perch may only be a yearling or an older brother of the immature female. Since the younger bird was already larger than the older hawk, I decided she was a female since female hawks are usually larger than the males of the species.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A chance to add Fort Ancient and the Great Serpent Mound (and other Ohio earthworks) to the World Heritage List

If you've read my blog in the past, you know I love hanging out at Fort Ancient, which is just 15 minutes north of my home. I also love Serpent Mound, and Matty and I visited it this summer when we volunteered at Shawnee State Park. Both of these ancient earthworks are on the U.S. Tentative List for the World Heritage List. The Ohio Archaeology Blog is asking for help and would like Ohioans to submit a letter to the National Park Service and send a copy to Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen.-elect Rob Portman, and your congressperson. From the Ohio Archaeology Blog:

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to list these Ohio sites alongside other cultural sites of outstanding universal value, including Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza and Cahokia Mounds. We need you to submit your comments to the National Park Service and copy your letter to Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen.-elect Rob Portman, and your congressperson.

Comments are due by January 12, 2011. Direct your comments to Jonathan Putnam at Office of International Affairs, National Park Service, 1201 Eye Street NW, (0050), Washington, DC 20005, by e-mail to, by phone at 202-354-1809 or by fax to 202-371-1446. Please also send a copy of your comments to George Kane at the Ohio Historical Society at or at 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, OH 43211."
For more information, and for a link to a sample letter and contact information go to the Ohio Archeology Blog. Look at the end of the post for the link.

Great Serpent Mound is an ancient 3-foot high and 1,330 foot (nearly a quarter-mile) long serpent earthwork effigy constructed on a ridgetop overlooking Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio. Here you can see the part of the mound leading to the serpent's head. The grass-covered effigy is 20-25 feet wide.

Even though we visited in July, I've not posted on Serpent Mound because there is so much information and speculation about it, and I never know where to start. I've read three books on it, and continue to read more. Most recently, the mound effigy has been attributed to the Fort Ancient culture, which lived in the area and had a village below the mound from A.D. 1000 to 1550, but Native Americans sometimes reworked older sacred earthworks, so the mound could be older than the current carbon dating of 1070 A.D.

Serpent Mound is built on the edge of a five-mile wide crater caused by a meteorite 200-300 million years ago. The meteorite theory and resulting cryptoexplosion are the most popular explanations and account for the land in the crater being tossed and flipped and turned upside down. The function of Serpent Mound remains a mystery, but just as at Fort Ancient, astronomy plays a huge part in its mystique and the sun's and moon's movements can be scientifically tracked and calculated when measured against the earthwork's structure. The serpent effigy's head is aligned with the summer solstice sunset, and the coils with the winter solstice sunrise.

A memorial plaque with a brief description of the Great Serpent Mound effigy earthwork.

Matty and I were dripping with sweat when this pretty Eastern Bluebird kept a wary eye on us as we walked the trail around the Serpent Mound. I don't know if our imaginations were at work, but we felt a sacredness attached to the land and an unexpected energy. We feel the same thing at Fort Ancient. On our way out, we stopped into the small museum, and a park curator told us some of Serpent Mound's history. He mentioned many believe the mound is a spiritual place and power center, and he's talked to a lot of people who travel to the mound to feel the special energy.

...the reason Mama and Papa Bluebird were so vigilant...babies! We enjoyed watching the parents work hard in their quest to offer the babies an endless supply of juicy and crunchy green things!

A White-breasted Nuthatch also kept us company while we were there. Listening to its gentle call and the dull thud of its bill against the bark as it rooted out insects was soothing.

For a really detailed post about Serpent Mound, see Ohio Archaeology Blog's article, "The Snake's Tale: How Old is Serpent Mound?" They have posted a lot of technical and historical information.