Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Northern Spotted Owls

I attended Dave Quady's Audubon Owl ID field trip this past weekend and observed a pair of Northern Spotted Owls! As the sun set, we studied a male and a female owl at close range through scopes and binoculars for nearly an hour. I sat down on the trail and made these small paintings, which I overworked later at home. 

Perched on a bare redwood branch nearly at eye level, the male Spotted Owl slowly swiveled his head, watching us as we observed him. A pattern of concentric dark and white feathers gave his dark eyes a deep-set appearance.  He settled on his perch, fluffed up his feathers and urped up a bolus that dropped to the forest floor.

The male Spotted made a few calls, described by Dave as "a rising series of barks followed by one or two 'whoo' notes," and began vocalizing more regularly at sunset. In response, the female Owl uttered a "single rising whistle plus short, quieter whistles." The male flew to the female and they mated (if you blinked, you missed it). The male then flew silently away and out of sight, and I fought the urge to stand and applaud.

Unfortunately, a few shutter-snapping marauders have done some pretty unethical things in the pursuit of a good Spotted Owl photograph. Because of these knuckleheads, we're sworn to secrecy about the location of this rare sighting.

Finally, here's a Spotted Owl that I painted last year in the studio.  Much more exciting to paint from live birds on location (and more challenging)!

Monday, February 2, 2015

California Raptor Class field trip

Learning a lot and having a blast hanging out with other raptor enthusiasts in the Audubon Society's California Raptors Class led by Eddie Bartley of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory.

On Sunday's field trip to Rush Ranch and Jepson Prairie near Rio Vista, spotting scopes on tripods gave me a great opportunity to sketch from live birds. The most exciting moment was discovering a Great-horned Owl snoozing (with one eye open) above our picnic table lunch at Rush Ranch. He sat there for hours.

Later in the day I saw my first Ferruginous Hawk sitting on the ground in the sunshine and two Burrowing Owls hanging out near, and in, their ground burrow. I sketched in waterproof ink onsite and added watercolor later at home at the kitchen table.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Raptorama at Coastside Land Trust, Half Moon Bay

Coastside Land Trust's annual Raptorama is coming up, the weekend of November 7 through 9. Raptor enthusiasts, experts and local organizations will be leading walks, workshops and talks.
This coincides with the California Raptor Show at the Coastside Land Trust gallery from November 7 through February 13. My American Kestrel and Elf Owl paintings will be in the show. The artists' reception is on Friday, November 7th from 5-8:00 p.m.

What a great weekend to migrate to Half Moon Bay!

America's littlest Falcon

The American Kestrel uses strong winds and updrafts at Sibley Volcanic Preserve to his advantage, hovering above an open field on rapidly beating wings. When prey -- a lizard, rodent or small bird -- is spotted, the Kestrel rapidly tucks wings and streaks downward, head first. Most prey are caught on the ground, although insects and birds are sometimes taken in flight.

Last Friday, Karen and I made our first sighting of Sibley's resident Golden Eagle, hovering in the wind in the Kestrel's airspace. Courageous Kestrel, much smaller than the Eagle, flew repeated sorties from above, forcing the Eagle to hunt elsewhere.

The contenders:
American Kestrel: 8 - 12" body length
20 - 24 inch wingspan
3 - 6 ounces in weight

Golden Eagle: 27 - 33" body length
5 to 7 foot wingspan
6 to 13.5 pounds in weight

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A visit to Cal State East Bay's taxidermy collection

Aware of my obsession with all things avian, a good friend allowed me access to Cal State East Bay's taxidermy collection. Many of their songbird specimens are ravaged by time and infestation, but there are a few intact, sketchable specimens like this seagull, in an especially life-like posture.

Then there's the Common Raven, never more, in a much less animated pose.  

David Sedaris, humorist, author and frequent contributor to PRI's This American Life and The New Yorker magazine relates his experience buying a Valentine's Day gift at a London taxidermy shop -- my kinda guy. (see link below)


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ravenous 4

Ravens belong to the Corvid family, which also includes crows, jays and magpies. Corvids have high cognitive ability, and both Crows and Ravens can be taught to talk and can even recognize faces.

Ravens are acrobatic fliers, rolling and somersaulting in aerial stunts like birds of prey. Young birds play games with sticks, repeatedly dropping, and then diving and retrieving them in mid-air. One bird was seen flying upside down for a half-mile.

Inquisitiveness and intelligence earn Ravens a prankster reputation. They've been known to create power outages on power lines, foul satellite dishes, peel radar-absorbant material from a California Weapons Center, peck holes in airplane wings, invade camp tents and steal golf balls.

Ravens appear in the mythology of ancient and indigenous peoples and cultures throughout the world. The oldest known Common Raven lived 17 years.

Thanks to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Cool Facts.

Monday, May 19, 2014


There's renewed interest in my ravens, so I've begun a series of four. Here's the first two. Sometimes I think I'm losing it -- I see the reflection of my own face in the top raven's eye.