Friday, January 9, 2009

Scribbling Like Mad, Birding Like Mad

I'm sorry to say that no artwork accompanies this post, not unless our recent visitor the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet makes another visit and I can make a quick sketch. So this is more or less a place-holder post. I won't go so far as to say it's 'filler.'

I've done little artwork recently partially due to the holiday season but also due to the number of bird counts that I take part in during January. Last week was the Christmas Bird Count at the Schuylkill Center For Environmental Education in Philadelphia, PA. Tomorrow is the Philadelphia Mid-Winter Bird Census organized by Keith Russell. Both take up a good portion of the day, especially the Mid-winter census.

I take part in them both because I like to bird but also because it's fascinating finding out what birds live in an area in the winter. Almost all of the migrants are gone and just the hardy winter residents remain. Most people would be shocked to see how many different species of birds remain around in the winter time. Keith's reports on Philadelphia show that 92 species were seen last year. The results can be seen in this PDF. While many people are shocked to see even Robins in winter in the northern U.S., especially in the cities, the Mid-Winter Bird Census found almost 100 last year in a large northern city! That continues to amaze me.

So I've been busy and will be busy birding, perhaps not madly, but certainly a lot.

I've also been working my way through the Winslow Homer book that I mentioned in another post as well as John Busby's older book on the English artist, 'The Living Birds of Eric Ennion.' It's been a pleasure to read and view. The last section is on sketching birds. It talks about both the need to constantly be drawing from life, AND the necessity of editing and interpreting. As John Busby says: 'Interpretation requires knowledge of essentials, and the process of distillation is the refining of everything to an overriding pictorial sense of rightness. Without these qualities I doubt whether any picture can be called a work of art.'

This emphasizes what I've said in recent posts: the need to really know birds by drawing them from life. The very last page says this: 'Puffins drawn at sea--by no means easy if you stop to think first! I have vivid memories of tours of the Farnes, with Eric drawing like mad while everyone else struggled with cameras. I wonder who saw the most?'

So you need to 'draw like mad' probably without thinking in order to come to a type of knowledge that understands the essentials of a bird. It is a weird combination of thoughtlessness and the very deepest consciousness. That coupled with an 'overriding sense of pictorial rightness' leads to great bird art.


MadSilence said...

I've signed up at eBird:
to record my backyard count. It's quite interesting: you can see who's reporting in your immediate area.

Weather turned cold so I made sure to fill up with sunflower seeds & suet. Common winter visitors: snow bird (junco), cardinal, sparrows, mourning dove, woodpeckers (downy & flicker), etc.

Ken Januski said...

Hi MadSilence,

I've been using ebird for a number of years now. It just keeps getting better year after year.

Before work this morning I saw a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, which has been here for last 2 weeks now, going from feeder to feeder looking for food. But I think that the peanuts in our feeder are too big for his small bill to get out. Like you I knew very cold weather was on its way so I filled up a little open platform feeder with safflower seeds and peanuts. I worry that he might have a hard time finding food in the days ahead. Hopefully this will help.

I envy you the Flicker at your feeders. We have most of the other birds you mention but a Flicker would be a really nice surprise. I was doing a bird census last weekend and a Red-bellied woodpecker appeared at a feeder at a blind. We see them frequently in the woods but never up close like that. I know that they often go to feeders but I think that because we're in the middle of the city we're less likely to get them at our feeders. But hope springs eternal!