Saturday, May 16, 2009

Birding by Numbers

A few weeks ago I wrote about our 4-5 days at Cape May and the extraordinary variety and number of birds that are there. We saw nearly 100 different birds. For us that is a very high number, especially as we never count birds where we don't get a very clear, definitive view. Recently we also spent about a week in Shenandoah National Park. There we saw a little over 50 different birds.

Which was more enjoyable? There is no doubt that it was the Shenandoah experience. I can't deny the enjoyment I get in seeing new birds and adding to a count, for a day, a year, a vacation, or for the ultimate count, The World Series of Birding, which took place at Cape May last weekend. It's a pleasant combination of sport and nature.

Because we often stay for 5 days or more in Shenandoah, and always in the same place, we get to know the birds. Last year I did a pastel of an Acadian Flycatcher whose photo I took at a certain spot on the South River trail. This spring we saw another Acadian at almost the exact same spot. I find something enjoyable in finding a bird in the same location. Perhaps it's the same bird. Perhaps it's just the perfect habitat for this species. In either case this type of birding is more than just birding. It's also about ecology, about understanding and enjoying a bird in its world. Our time in Shenandoah is always full of experiences like this.

It also includes almost always some very good looks at certain birds. This trip some of the stars were Canada Warblers, one of which is seen in the quick watercolor above. They are a very chatty and fairly personable bird. Sometimes their brilliant yellow and black can be seen clearly in the sunshine. But more often we find them somewhat hidden in foliage, often the omnipresent Witch Hazel of Shenandoah. So often their brilliant colors shine from a rather dark environment. (As a side note the watercolor at top of this blog is based on a photo of a Blackburnian Warbler also in a Witch Hazel at Shenandoah that I took a number of years ago.)

In this watercolor I've made the background darker than it really was. This is called 'artistic improvisation.' If you lose the original brightness just do your best to still get a good paintng. That's what I've done here.

I did intend to do some work from life on this trip. In fact I had some new watercolor brushes and paper sent in a rush shipment so I'd get them in time. Maybe that guaranteed I'd never use them.......:-(. More likely it was just that the birds moved too quickly. So once again I've brought back a large collection of digital photos that will eventually make their way into paintings and drawings. But all the while I knew that I was missing something that only working from life can gain. So I still intend to do more work from life soon.

This trip was a rich one, so I'm sure that both writings and artwork based on it will soon find its way into this blog.


Ellen Snyder said...


You have a wonderful habit of painting all of my favorite birds. The Canada warbler is a gem, the black necklace against the yellow throat exquisite. I usually hear their chip, chupety, ditchety song before I see them. I have not seen one yet this year. Nice to read that you saw some, maybe a bunch. What a treat. Your colorful painting warms us on these cold few days here in NH.


Ken Januski said...

Hi Ellen,

Well I'm happy to oblige(with painting your favorite birds)! That's an interesting rendering of the Canada's song: 'chip, chupety, ditchety', and I think comes close to their pleasant chatter.

We were fortunate to see a good number of them this trip. Two males chasing one another almost ran into us in one location. We also see Hooded Warblers here but it's only after many years experience that I'm learning how reticent the Hoodeds are compared to the Canadas.

I haven't been out birding here in Philadelphia since we got back but hope to soon. I should be seeing some when I do. I'll wish them a quick trip to NH.

Yesterday felt a bit like NH here but I'm told warmer weather is on its way. I hope it makes it up your way soon.