Saturday, May 15, 2010

Oriole Riot

I'm not a multimedia type of guy. I'm not wired for all eventualities. I don't carry an electronic laboratory with me when I walk out the door.

But if anything could convince me to change my ways it would be the arrival of orioles in spring. The reason for this is that Baltimore Orioles, and to a lesser extent Orchard Orioles, are truly a multimedia experience. You might think that the wood warblers would be. They are a riot of color. But they don't sing. They don't warble. They have high pitched twitters, with some rare full-throated exceptions.

But the Baltimore Oriole does sing, fully and melodically. Their color really can't be beat for bold, warm striking color. The right antidote to winter. But then you hear their song and you think I've just got to capture this. Orioles aren't complete without their song. I remember a few warbler weekends at Pocono Environmental Education Center that coincided with the arrival of multiple Baltimore Orioles. The entire campus was an Oriole orchestra, richly singing in spring.

For all that though I'm not about to become a Multimedia Type of Guy. Like artists of the past all my emotional reactions to orioles are going to have to be wrapped up and expressed in traditional media.

This was made particularly noticeable to me yesterday when I found this gold and black oriole at Morris Arboretum, singing away high in the sycamores. I was thrown both by its beauty and by the difficulty of identification. The song was what I'd always considered that of a Baltimore Oriole. But the bright yellow of the bird was more that of an immature or female Orchard Oriole. I was thrown. If it was an Orchard why was it singing like a Baltimore. I don't see Orchards all that frequently but I recalled that the immature males had black somewhere on their head. We've seen them many times before at Morris in spring. But where was the black on an immature Orchard? On the head? On the throat? I couldn't remember. Because I had my scope I could see such details as yellow under the black at the top of the head. That threw me even more but also struck me as something I had to get down on paper or canvas.

When I finally got home I got out my field guide and decided that this had to be a female Baltimore Oriole. I also looked at some photos I took. In them the color was more yellow-orange as I'd expect in a female Baltimore Oriole and less golden yellow than it had seemed in the scope. Well at least that explained the mystery of the Baltimore Oriole song.

I include above a field sketch of the singing bird as well as a couple of a calling Eastern Kingbird. And a new attempt at capturing the experience of a Baltimore Oriole in spring, full of color and song.

This is a quick sketch with felt-tip pens based on my field sketch and photos. I did it this way because I wanted boldness. Baltimore Orioles are bold! There is a tradition it seems in bird art of doing sedate, quiet views of birds in pastel-like watercolors, with everything toned down into a pleasant harmony. This makes for harmonious paintings. But it doesn't accurately reflect the experience of a Baltimore Oriole. The ability to express an artists reaction to an experience, bird or otherwise, is I think what will always differentiate it from photography. There is so much room to do more than just capture the appearance of the bird. There is so much room to capture the experience of the bird.

I can't say that this fully does that. But I wanted to give it a try. I think it's a step in the right direction. As regular readers know I've been trying to accurately portray Baltimore Orioles for the last 10 days or so. This is one more attempt. I'm sure that there will be more. While I keep working on this goal my advice is: get out and see your own while they're still around.

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