Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow at Morris Arboretum. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

One of the most exciting moments of my birding life was during the Philadelphia Mid-winter Bird Census in January of a cold, snowy, windy day about 10 years ago. There in front of me was a sparrow that had an ochrish wash, fine streaking, and other elements of a Lincoln's Sparrow. The only other one I'd ever seen had actually been seen by someone else and pointed out to the birding group we were with as it flew away.

I looked as hard as I could to try to memorize everything that I saw and then scribbled it down in my notebook with hands that were shaking due to the cold. The distinguishing characteristics were so strong that I really didn't have much doubt that this is was a Lincoln's Sparrow, the first I'd seen in Philadelphia.

Since then I guess I've always had a special love for Lincoln's Sparrows. I thought I saw one at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia a few falls ago but just couldn't get a good enough look to be sure. Since then we've mainly seen them in the spring at Magee Marsh in Ohio or Cape May, NJ in the fall. We just don't see them that often.

Last weekend I think it was we spent some time birding at Morris Arboretum, curious as to what might be around. Though others were reporting warblers throughout Philadelphia we knew that we wouldn't find that many there, some but  probably not that many. I suppose it was sparrows and possibly raptors that drew me there.

And we did see sparrows: our first Swamp Sparrow of the year in Philadelphia, a relatively common bird that we'd just missed in the spring; our first White-throated Sparrows of the fall in Philadelphia and a few handsome Savannah Sparrows, also the first of the year in Philadelphia.

And then the bird painted in watercolor above and photographed below that had this striking ochish wash, fine streaking and peaked head among other characteristics. I was pretty sure it was our first Philadelphia Lincoln's Sparrow in a long time but took a number of photos before he disappeared in order to confirm it. They are below.
Lincoln's Sparrow at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski

Lincoln's Sparrow at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski

Lincoln's Sparrow at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski

Lincoln's Sparrow at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski

I chose the last photo as the basis of the 7x10 inch watercolor at top on Arches 140# paper. The photo wasn't ideal as parts of the bird were hidden, as in so many photos. But I thought I knew enough about sparrows and this species in particular to try a watercolor.

I think passerines always present difficulties to painters. So often you see them buried in leaves and twigs. How in the world can you make an interesting composition out of this? The Chipping Sparrows that I showed in last post were the opposite. Being perched upon some sculptural weed stalks the composition was almost created for me. There was very little work left for me to do.

A warren of leaves and twigs is another story. Some artists do if far, far better than I. But I do keep working on it. Last post I mentioned watercolor being a compromise between accuracy and spontaneity. That is still the case here but I found it very difficult to keep any spontaneity, probably because I just couldn't find my way through the warren.

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