Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Thanksgiving Birding Adventure

Feathers from the scene of the crime:
Probably from a Northern Shoveler 
Thanksgiving morning Jacob and I went out to our favorite birding spot with the dogs, and were treated to a spectacular sighting of several uncommon and fantastic birds.  We usually make a clockwise trip around the ponds as we scan for ducks and  songbirds, but Thursday morning we decided to walk counter-clockwise.  What a lucky choice because about 1/3 the way around the pond, we spotted a Bald Eagle.  I made some silly guesses to its identity because I didn't trust my eyes, but I was soon corrected.  We noted the Eagle's size, and that it was probably 3 or 4 years old because it had a white head, but the tail was still brown.  Juvenile Bald Eagles are blotchy blown and usually get their adult colors by age four.  As we watched the Eagle sitting on a  telephone pole, it swooped down to the pond, snatched a duck, and returned to the perch where it proceeded to pluck the duck's feathers.  We couldn't believe what happened, the strangest thing for me was the quietness and quickness of the attack.  There was no splashing, loud quacking, or other  hysterical sounds; I think the duck was asleep and never saw the Eagle.  Other birds did notice the hunter including an Osprey and a Red-tailed Hawk.  First, the Osprey came by and started dive bombing the Bald Eagle.  Since both birds are usually fish eaters, I guess the Osprey didn't like having an Eagle around.  The size of the two birds was like a hawk (4' wingspan) and a crow (3' wingspan) instead of an eagle (8' wing span) and an osprey (6' wing span)!  When the Eagle moved down a few poles with its meal, a Red-tailed Hawk came to investigate.  It didn't bother the Eagle, but went to the first telephone pole to peck at the duck blood and bits.  Wow! And Ben Franklin wanted to make the Turkey the national bird. 

Doodles of our morning sightings, regrettable we forgot the camera

We were happy with the amazing Bald Eagle show, but there's more!  We also got to see a Common Goldeneye, a duck we see about once per year, two beautiful Northern Pintails, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, my first TX sighting and a bird I missed on two previous birding trips.  I should also mention the normal species that keep us returning: Northern Shovelers (hundreds), Green-wing Teal, Ruddy Ducks, American Coot, Great-blue Herons, Great Egret, Least Sandpipers, Eared Grebes  Ring-necked Duck, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Crested Caracara, Marsh Hawks, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Cardinals, Mockingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and more.  We are so thankful!

Northern Shovelers- March 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sketch book

Ideas for my paintings come from many sources; some paintings come directly from things I see, and others come completely from my imagination.  But, most of my paintings start with a vague idea, theme, or subject, and then I have to develop the composition.  My sketch book is where the composition details are mapped out, where different color schemes are tested, and better ideas emerge.  In my journal, I often draw several quick versions of a painting to try to get the overall balance and flow.  The sketches are a rehearsal for my eyes, brain, and hands, but even with all the planning often the finished painting is different than I anticipate. 

My doodle book is an important tool for me, not only because it is where most of my painting ideas are developed, but because it is a place of freedom.  I can make as many mistakes as I need; it doesn't really matter if an idea is bad or that it didn't work out the way I intended.  My doodles cover just about every subject: cutesy animals doing human activities, abstract circles, anatomical sketches of skeletons and muscles, completely imaginary creatures, and everything in between.  Many of my sketches are very messy and quick, while others are as precise as possible with detailed shading.  My sketches train my hand and eyes, and teach me to interpret what I see.  I believe drawing helps my imagination continue to play and be fresh.  I read that part of being creative is giving yourself time to be creative; a doodle book with no pressure is an outlet for creativity.  A drawing book is made of many pages waiting to be filled with good, bad, pretty, ugly, simple, and complex ideas.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Junior Naturalist Club

Nov 3rd was the second hike of the newly formed Junior Naturalist Club at the Austin Nature and Science Center.  The Junior Naturalist Club is an extension of the Naturalist Workshop and Trade Counter, and is designed to provide a deeper experience for traders who show an above-average interest in nature.  The main activity of our club is a monthly hike during which we learn to use our senses, see what we can find, and share our enthusiasm with like minded people. 

Nov 3rd Track Hike!
Each hike is themed to focus our attention on different aspects of nature; the October hike was on insects.  On Nov 3rd, I led a group of 5 kids and 4 adults on an hour-long hike to learn how to find and recognize tracks.  We walked slowly and carefully in single file with our bodies bent close to the ground to see the faint and sometimes clear paw prints of raccoons.  We followed the raccoon tracks around the pond, and found small trails leading from the woods down to the water.  At the water’s edge, deer tracks told a story of a small herd that drinks from the pond, and a tiny trail leads back to a well-hidden mouse home in thick weeds.  We looked at scratch marks and scat of another raccoon only to discover that the marks belonged to an opossum; the proof was in the set of nearly perfect tracks and tail drag in a clay track trap left in the middle of its trail. We left 6 clay traps out the night before and several raccoons, a mouse, and the opossum left their prints in the soft mud.  The one-hour excursion went by in a flash, but I think the experience will  encourage the kids to wonder what critters visit their own yards at night.    

A bunch of raccoon tracks.  Can you find the tiny mouse track?

Oct 4th Insect Hike!
 A persistent concern I have is that the Trade Counter often loses participants at about 11 years old; kids already have all the polished rocks and sea shells that they want, and they start to feel too old to trade.  Anika is a good example of why I felt the need to provide complementary activities at the Naturalist Workshop.  Anika has been a regular trader for about 5 years, and she has enough points saved up to get almost anything our trade program has to offer including the 3000 point butterfly collections.  She is very knowledgeable about the items that she trades, often writing reports and teaching me.  Anika is in that age range, and I don’t want to lose her or any of the other kids like her who make my job rewarding.  I hope the Junior Naturalist Club can stimulate her interests, and keep her around the nature center until she is old enough to volunteer.

Thank you, Kirsten and Schuyler for being our photographers. 

Opossum tracks and tail drag

Avery with a cool rock

Insects caught by Michael

Deer Track

Rye with a track trap

Looking of tracks

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Halloween Fun

I love making costumes and dressing up for Halloween.  I really don't care about any of the scary stuff of Halloween, but thank goodness for an excuse to look silly and have a little fun.  At the Nature Center, we have an event called Halloween Howl that gives me an opportunity to go costume crazy.  This year I was an Armadillo, and I think it is one of my best costumes.  The past four years I have been an armadillo, a bird, a tree with a nest of cardinals, and a cockroach.  I have to say that the cockroach was pretty fun, too.  I always make my costumes; its the biggest part of the fun.  I made my armadillo hat out of paper mache, and sewed the shell with quilt batting to give it the right shape and then attached the shell to a backpack with safety pins.  A large number of safety pins are usually incorporated into my costumes.  I am going to hang the hat and shell on the wall as a decoration for our apartment.  This time of year with its cooler weather, pumpkins, colored leaves, and costumes is pleasurable.

Too much fun!

Armadillo costume

Paper mache armadillo head 

Me in the Trade Counter Nature Center
Pumpkin impostors!

Big squash! I haven't seen a were-rabbit yet,
but perhaps I should get ready!

Jacob with 3 giant squash!