Friday, May 29, 2009

Cat's Claw?

Let's switch for a minute to the Southwest. My sister sent this organic sculptural ensemble from Arizona. We have always referred to the individual piece as Cat's claw. However, when I googled the plant name today, I couldn't find any images that matched the dried fruit(?). Everything referred to the thorns on the Cat Claw plant, acacia greggii.

That's our Dudley, being his nosey little self.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Sweetbay Celebration

A few Saturday's ago, I wandered down the tree line in back of the house to the multi-trunked Sweetbay, Magnolia virginiana L., in hopes that there were still fresh blooms to paint. I had my watercolor sketchbook, travel set of holbein watercolors and my NIJI waterbrush. No campstool. No pencil. I just wanted to paint! The 'ol girl is getting bolder. I also think the yearning to create an acrylic painting is surfacing, thus the desire to just lay down the paint and not fuss with drawing and wc washes.

The first image is my 30 minute wc sketch. The second image I created from a digital photo displayed on my computer monitor. I started with wc pencils but finished up with Caran D'arch Neocolor II watersoluble wax pastels. I have a small set of ten. Interesting little guys. They have a painterly feel to them. Almost like acrylics in stick form.

The rest of the Sweetbay studies utilize General's sketch and wash pencil. I did them back in 2007 when I first discovered this beauty of a tree.

These trees can reach 60' but, my tree book, Native Trees of the Southeast, says they can also be a large shrub, especially in the northern parts of its range (NC, VA, DE). My little tree (I get quite posesive when I discover a specimen) is interesting in that it has 22 branches/trunks. It either wants to be a shrub or perhaps it used to have a single trunk and was cut down. Often times, if the roots live, many saplings will sprout from the remaining trunk.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day at the Beach

Highlights of the day; a good sized pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin swam by not too far off shore, but what really made my heart soar was watching children collecting Starfish in shallow pools left behind by the receding tide and bringing them down to the ocean to throw them into deep water. I couldn't contain my joy.... I made sure I thanked each child for helping these animals live and for being such a friend to nature.

Nature programs in schools are working!!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mississippi Kite and Fast Sketching Techniques

I saw my first Mississippi Kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, in April of 2008. Of course, I was walking the dogs which made identifying any field marks near to impossible, given the distance between us and the perched bird. Yes, luckily it was perched in a dead tree that was at the edge of a small patch of woods. I would always see it at the beginning of our walks but by the time I made it home for the bins, birdie was long gone. Finally I was able to get a good view of this beautifully colored raptor. The next thrill was watching 2 of them soar and dive.

I enjoyed the kites all summer long. When we returned from our trip to NY in August, I was quite dismayed to see that the kite's favorite dead tree was no longer standing! There is was again..... the big disappointment that comes from not taking time to sketch from nature when I had the chance.

But, joy of joys, the kites returned again this spring and....... I saw them perched in a dead tree that I can see from my back yard!!!! Woo Hoo!

On May 2nd, I went on strike and spent the morning watching 2 kites preen in the tree and then soar joyfully around the wooded and open areas. Such contentment is felt by being bold enough to ignore deadlines and listen to the call of nature. I was a crazy woman, playing catch up, for the next day but I had a smile on my face :)

When I finished my sketches I realized that Mississippi Kites have the perfect plumage coloring a 'fast sketch' palette. David Rankin wrote a book entitled "Fast Sketching Techniques" that is filled with great ideas on how to quickly capture the essence of your subject. On page 25 he illustrates limited sketching values - just like the little square I have at the bottom my sketchbook page. White, light gray, medium gray and black. It's amazing what you can achieve with this palette. Definetely a good read!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bloomin' Wetlands

My favorite boardwalk trail through the wetlands is blooming away. Pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata, is a favorite of mine. Are the flowers blue or purple or both? Something I pondered for quite awhile before doing this painting.

When I first started walking this trail, 3 years ago, Pickerelweed was the dominate plant. It now makes a splash of color here and there. Lizard's tail, Saururus cernuus, has taken over. I'm currently working on a watercolor sketch but, it's making me crazy. There are so many leaves intermingled with the blooms that the design of light's and darks is becoming tedious.

Common cattails, Typha latifolia, will eventually choke this entire area. Here's an image from this winter showing the cattail invasion.

They're now very green and close to 9' in height. Wading birds are finding it tougher
and tougher to find open water for fishing. Every now and then I'll see a Great Egret poking around in small pools. There have been a couple of Green Herons foraging in the last couple of weeks and two Woodducks will sometimes flush from the cattails. The decaying trees are supplying Pileated Woodpeckers with food. It surprises me that the small Downy Woodpecker makes so much more noise than the Pileated when pecking at trees!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kildeer Family Encounter

Over the last month, Rob and I have been noticing a pair of Kildeer hanging out in the same spot close the curb on a road we frequent. Could it be they are nesting? It would be just like Kildeer to nest in this precarious spot - traffic all around. Mind you, the road is in our neighborhood and the speed limit is 25 but still........

Well, last night we hit pay dirt and almost hatchlings! Two little ones were in the street!!!!! Mom and Dad were on the grass calling to their babies. Luckily we were poking along in the golf cart. I asked Rob to turn the cart around and go back and we're glad we did as we were able to urge the little ones out of the street just before a car came along.
We saw them again tonight, sorry for the blurry picture - I had dogs on my lap. There was one adult and one hatchling next to the road. We heard the other adult but couldn't see it.

Back in June of 2005, we had another close encounter with a Kildeer family. We were living in a small neighborhood on the shores of a lake in western NY. One afternoon, while walking the dogs, I was startled to see a Kildeer laying in the gravel driveway of my neighbors boat garage. Most of our neighbors were summer residents. This neighbor fell into that category and were due to arrive mid-June. The inactivity on their property must have been inviting to the Kildeer.
The nest was about 15 feet in front of the garage and if you looked at it head on, it was positioned between the garage doors.

My nature journal notes were made on June 17th. I had estimated chicks to hatch in 1 1/2 to 2 weeks but was concerned that the nest may be abandoned as our neighbors were there to take the boat out of the garage. I was able to warn them about the nest. The kildeer couple let Charlie know who owned the driveway. One bird tried to lead him away from the nest with the broken wing ploy but, when Charlie kept on toward the garage door, the nesting bird went after him. Somehow they all must have made peace as the next day the boat came out and when I went to check on the nest, a kildeer was roosting.

Not many days after that chaos we had torrential rains. The nesting vigil kept up. These were strong hearted birds! It's a good thing as Kildeer populations have shown significant decline linked to agricultural and other land use changes. I was hoping I could see the little ones when they hatched. Kildeer hatchlings are precocial - which means they have heavy down and are soon mobile, often requiring little direct parental care. I so wanted to observe and sketch the little ones.

The first hatchling arrived on July 4th and I saw the second on the 5th. On the 6th I saw a total of 4 puff balls with legs almost as long as the adults. Tooooo cute! What a wonder nature is. The kildeer family moved on quickly. Summer 'lakers' were there in force.

I thanked Mother Nature for healthy babies and great timing as the following weekend the gravel driveway was to be used by caterers for the neighbors lawn party.

I'm still looking for a good home for this little 6" x 6" watercolor on clayboard. I can't believe no one's grabbed it up yet. But, I will surely miss it when it does sell. I've told the above story to many a soul who's walked into my show booth :)

I have recently found this photo journal entitled To Raise a Kildeer. It's worth a look!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beard-tongue or ?

For the last couple of weeks this wonderful plant has been blooming along our roadsides. Always in large groups, it's such a pretty blur of lavender blue to see when driving. The problem is stopping to pick a sample as there are four lanes of 50 - 60 mph traffic! Finally, I discovered some on a quite side road and stopped to pick a sample.

I brought it home, put it in water and went to my wildflower books. It has a square stem. The flower arrangement is more similar to the Beard-tongue, Penstemon australis Small but, there is no mention of a square stem. The Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana has similar flowers, but the arrangement is all wrong. However, the Obedient Plant does have a square stem.

One of these days the answer will present itself. That's another bit of fun I have with journaling.

Other wildflower notes:
The Crimson Clover, Trifolium incarnatum, made quite a show this spring. The medians on Rt. 170 and Rt. 278 were breath taking. Large swaths of Common Toadflax, Nuttallanthus canadensis, created a beautiful light wash of lavender. A single plant is almost unnoticeable as the flowers are so delicate. I've photos of both the clover and toadflax to enter into my journal. Just waiting for the time.....

Japanese Honeysuckle is blooming as is Coral (wooodbine), Lonicera sempervirens. I've a sample in the refrigerator waiting for me to complete the journal page I started. Also on that page will be clipping from the flowering Sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum. I found both when walking on a trail along side the Okatie River. The leaf, just before the Coral Honeysuckle's flowers, is amazing. How does nature come up with these designs?

The last two weeks I've enjoyed breezes filled with the scent of Tulip Tree flowers, Liriodendon tulipifera. And, yesterday I noticed the Sweet Bay, Magnolia virginica, is starting to bloom.

So, basically, I need to clone myself, as working for a living is really putting a dent in my journaling time :) Oh, did I mention the field of Sourgrass (wild sorrel), Rumex hastatulus with the back drop of flowering dogwoods? That photograph may have to be used to create a painting.