Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eastern Towhee in Wet Paint

Eastern Towhee at Houston Meadows. First state of Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

Wet paint of course is redundant. All paint is wet. But it's a tern used by many artists to describe juicy, thick paint. It's the way I painted for years when I was an abstract painter in oil and acrylic. It's the opposite of paint consisting of thin washes and glazes.

All in all I still have a preference for thicker paint, though it's not something I've indulged much in the last 5-10 years. In any case it is the state of this initial version of an Eastern Towhee seen at Houston Meadows this summer.

Towhees are common birds here, though heard far more often than seen. When they do appear though anyone who appreciates color has to be taken by their rich combination of black, white and chestnut. They are very striking birds.

I did a few field sketches of this bird, but also took some photos. But I've never chosen one as the subject for a painting or print. When I looked at the photo today though I couldn't help but think: wet paint! As I think about how I go about starting a painting or print it generally involves looking through my photos and sketches. More time is spent looking than doing anything else.

What is surprising now that I've resumed acrylics is that some subjects that never jumped up and said "Paint me!" now do.

My guess is that this will get toned down a fair amount as I develop it. But only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Garden Royalty and White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow. Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

Above is the finished 6x8 inch acrylic painting of a White-throated Sparrow. It's not as yellow orange as the photo indicates but close. I decided to leave it as is rather than fool around with it on the computer and perhaps make it less close to the actual painting.

In my many years of art I've always swung between what I think are it's two main elements, at least in two-dimensional work, line and mass. They both have tremendous appeal and at times I'll value one over the other. I think in good painting you get both but there are artists who manage to make a great painting out of mass alone. And of course there are great drawings out of line alone.

In any case now that I've taken up acrylic over the last week I realize how much I love being able to move mass around. That's the virtue of painting, especially oil or acrylic where you can keep painting over the first layer of color, unlike in watercolor.

Watercolor, especially in the hands of artists like Homer and Sargent, has a singing light that can't be beat. I much prefer the watercolors of both to their oils. But if you can't get that singing light then at least you have a better chance of getting the sense of mass right in oils and acrylic because you can keep reworking them.  I think that's what I'm enjoying in acrylic right now. But I'll never lose the desire to use watercolor like Homer and Sargent.

Early Wonder Tall Top Beets.

Pictured above are some of the last vegetables from the garden, pulled yesterday: Early Wonder Tall Top Beets, from Seed Savers Exchange. If I can I like to recollect at this time of the year, really the end of the growing season, just what has been particularly successful this year.

This changes, sometimes drastically from year to year, depending upon weather, pests, how much time we have to keep on top of the garden, etc. So here are what I'd called the Kings and Queens of the Garden this year:

1.Early Wonder Tall Top Beets. I've always hated beets. In fact I grew these for the greens at the top, not the beets in the ground. But out of curiosity we tried various methods of using the beets themselves: beet salad in the summer, and  roasted beets with other vegetables in the fall. They were a revelation to me. Now I see why so many people love beets.

2.Tasty Evergreen Tomatoes. These also are from Seed Savers Exchange. We usually grow some green tomatoes. They taste like red tomatoes and are eaten when fully ripe, not as 'green' red tomatoes are in an unripe state. We always try to grow one green tomato but most of the time we grow Green Zebra. We like green tomatoes for their less acidic taste. What was surprising about these was their larger size and their prolificness. I think they were our favorite tomato this year.

3.Hillbilly Potato Leaf and Cherokee Purple Tomatoes. A tie I guess. These are both heirloom tomatoes, as are all of the tomatoes from Seed Savers Exchange. The rainbow colors, and rich taste of Hillbilly Potato Leaf can't be beat. But each time I grow the purplish, almost bruised looking, Cherokee Purple I'm taken with it as well.

4.Clio Dandelion. This is from Johnnys Selected Seeds. We've grown it for a number of years now. In the spring and summer there is nothing better than wilted dandelion greens where you eat them raw with a warm bath of olive oil, vinegar, garlic and shallots. When I first tried dandelion greens I cooked them. Inedible!!! Only later did I realize that they are best raw. Not only do they taste good but they also taste healthy. I really can't describe that except that it strikes us that way each time we have them. This spring and summer their usual accompaniment was grilled chicken - a perfect combination.

5. Bennary's Giant Zinnias, already featured many times in this blog. Their bright appearance, popularity with bees, wasp and butterflies, and beauty even when dead in the late fall garden make them one of the very best plants in the garden.

6. Oregon Giant Snow Pea, also from Johnny's. Peas are always a bit of a problem for me. Are they worth the time it takes for them to fruit or do they take up too much of our little garden space for much too long? I'd stopped growing them, and garlic which I used to plant in late fall, because they weren't ready until June, often mid-June. But this year we got so many of these delicious peas that it was well worth the wait.

7.Basils. I can't remember all of the types we grew and where the seed was from. But basically they were these types: Genovese, Lettuce Leaf and Thai. We got them in earlier than usual, mainly because I planted seed inside earlier than usual, and we reaped the benefits: basil all summer long and lots of pesto now frozen in the freezer.

8.Beam's Yellow Pear Tomato. We grow this each year, and each year it gets out of hand, growing 10-12 feet high and long, escaping all constraints. But at the end of the year, when all else is dead, there is the Yellow Pear, with a few more tomatoes still there and waiting to be picked. You can't beat that.

And of course there are the annual duds and disappointments. For some reason the Fortex Pole Beans from Johnny's, royalty in other years, were disappointing this year. Perhaps it was just different weather. Dester Tomato, from Seed Savers Exchange, was very bland we thought, even though taste testers at SSE thought it one of the best tasting.

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Acrylic Detour

Dark-eyed Junco in Pine. Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

In going through my expired listings on my Etsy store the other day I noticed this painting of a Dark-eyed Junco in the small Swiss Stone Pine in our backyard. The painting itself is next to the light switch in my studio so I see it every day. But it's always seemed a bit unfinished to me. It may also be the first acrylic I did in 15-20 years. I do know it was one of the first, if not the first.

In any case I finally decided to put down printmaking tools and watercolors and pick up my acrylics. Above is the updated version. Primarily it sharpens the bill and adds some dark to the background.

Killdeer on Rock Bar. Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

Of course once I started on it I looked at another painting in my studio, a Killdeer on a rock bar in the wetlands pond of Morris Arboretum. I struggled and struggled with this painting a year or more ago. I did exhibit it for sale but never actually put it up for sale online because something kept nagging me about it. In any case I also reworked it. Most of the work was spent on making the rock bar lighter in tone.

The Junco is a small 6x8 inch painting. This is a larger 11x14 inch painting.

White-throated Sparrow. Unfinished Acrylic Painting by Ken Januski.

After finishing these two I couldn't resist trying a new 6x8 inch canvas since I had one just sitting there. This is not at all done. But before I worked too much on the background I wanted to concentrate on getting this handsome White-throated Sparrow right. I'm just starting to see them again and they'll be here all winter and much of the spring. Each time I see them I realize how handsome they are. Sparrows have a subtle beauty.

It sometimes is a mistake not to have figured out the background before you actually start the painting. When you don't you cans spend forever, fiddling here and fiddling there trying to make the whole thing work. I have some confidence that won't be the case here. but I could easily be wrong.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big Flycatcher Delays Tiny Shoveler

Northern Shoveler at 'The Meadows' of Cape May. Multiple Block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

Northern Shoveler at 'The Meadows' of Cape May. Multiple Block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

One reason we didn't go out to see the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Bartram's Garden over the weekend, when any sane person would have gone, was that I was involved in this tiny two-block, reduction woodcut.

It is just 5x6 inches including the borders, and 4x2.5 inches for just the woodblock itself. Who would think you could get so involved with such a tiny, little thing? But you can. And I've enjoyed it. I've liked woodcuts and linocuts since I first started them three years ago. But I'm still finding my way with them, looking for a method that both gives me the results I want but also doesn't drive me crazy with all the technical complexity, or endanger my health with unhealthy fumes.

Two of my favorite prints were also the most difficult and the most nerve-wracking, The Blackburnian Warbler and the Green Heron with Twelve-spotted Skimmer.They were total improvisation from start to finish.

Since then I've tried various other methods, always with the original intent of keeping the process simple. It didn't always turn out that way though.

A few months ago I bought a Shina Plywood Grab Bag. It includes numerous very small pieces of Shina Plywood. They seemed perfect for experimenting and so that's how I got started here. At first this was just a one block, one color experiment.

But once I was done with seeing the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and doing a watercolor based on it I wanted to get back to this. To make a long story short I printed two colors on the original woodblock then flipped it over and printed four more. It is finally done.

In many ways I prefer this to the flycatcher watercolor. I think that's because it is a separate, almost abstract painting, while at the same time being fairly accurate in portraying a Northern Shoveler. Prints and particularly woodblock prints seem to lend themselves to this method.

So I'll keep at it and keep experimenting.

This is an edition of 12 on Rives Lightweight paper and will eventually be for sale on my Etsy store.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

First Attempt at Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Painting

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Bartram's Garden. Watercolor by Ken Januski

I don't normally work this realistically but sometimes when seeing a bird for the first time I tend more in that direction. I guess it's just an attempt to understand the bird.

I spent a lot of time looking at this wayward Scissor-tailed Flycatcher yesterday so have a mental image of it. At the same time I took many photos and this is based on one of them. It's a 9x12 inch watercolor on Arches 140# hot press paper. I used the hot press because it has a smooth surface and allows me to be a bit more finicky in getting a good pencil outline for the bird.

Eventually I'll prefer a rougher cold press paper but I wanted to be able to spend time trying to get the shape right here. Somewhere along the line I think a print will make an appearance.

I do love watercolor but it's still not my strongest suit. Today is the third anniversary of the opening of my Etsy store. Hard to believe. Since I already had another store when I opened it I planned to just use it for prints, which I was trying for the first time in many years. But gradually I closed the other store and moved everything to Etsy.

In searching through the annual statistics for the store I see that all of the top ten or more most viewed items are linocuts or woodcuts. I do think that they have more individuality. Still I know that there are some people who much prefer the watercolors. And occasionally I do as well. So I keep working at them. They are just something quite different than the prints.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Regrets and Feeding Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Prickly Ash at Bartam's Garden.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia.

The last week or so has been full of regrets for me. The largest by far was not applying for the Society of Wildlife Artists Annual Exhibition. Since I was in the previous two years I think I had a good chance of also getting in this year. But the costs were just so high last year, mainly due to needing to hire a courier to deliver them on a certain day and pick them up on a certain day, that I told myself I just couldn't apply this year.

Then I noticed, much too late, that it was the 50th exhibition, surely one to be in! And one of my favorite bird artists, Nick Derry, won a couple of awards. On top of that David Attenborough was there for the opening and gave a Wonderful Talk on Art and Nature. Once I read reviews of the show I knew I'd made a mistake regardless of costs.

The second regret? On Saturday a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was reported at the storied Bartram's Garden. John Bartam was America's first great botanist. Among his visitors the early ornithologist Alexander Wilson. There is far too much history associated with the area for me to go into. Suffice it to say it's an area that is special to us, and many. Unfortunately we haven't been there in years.

Once a photo was posted of the bird it was even harder to avoid driving down to try to see it. And yet we did, finding other things to do on both Saturday and Sunday. I immediately regretted not going in the beautiful weather of yesterday. Then today also turned out nice, in the high 60s in fact. Once I heard that the bird had been seen, and after getting errands done, we headed down.

We rarely hunt rare birds, preferring to just go to a good location and see what's there. But I did expect that we'd have to work to see the bird. That was not the case. Over three hours we saw it at least five times in various locations.

Above are two of the best photos: the first showing him in a Prickly Ash. It's not as good as some other photos but I like the fact that it shows him in the shrub whose berries he was eating. Below that is a better photo but I'm not sure what the tree is. You can see how striking he is.

In addition his axillaries are orange like his lower belly and his tail opens widely when he flies. All in all he's a bird not to be missed, or forgotten.
Field Sketches of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher by Ken Januski.

Above are two field sketches that I tried, the first not as good as the second. I didn't have my scope with me so these were done by staring at the bird through binoculars then trying to get that memory down on paper. There is a thrill to that which cannot be matched by photos. If I'd had the scope I might have done more developed sketches. As it is I'll use my sketches, my memories and my photos to do at least a painting if not a painting and a print.

Finally this short video of him after he did what flycatchers normally do: catch a fly, or in this case something larger, perhaps a dragonfly. You can hear Jerene in the background suggesting that it was big. It's always great to see a new and rare bird, but it's also nice to get a chance to study his behavior, in this sense flycatching and eating the berries of the Prickly Ash.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dancing Crane Flies, High Herons, Giant Zinnias

Dancing Crane Flies over Arbor Vitae.

Dancing Crane Flies over Arbor Vitae.

Each fall and winter, as far as I can tell after the first hard frost, a huge number of insects dance about in the air above a 6' Arbor Vitae that we bought years ago. They've always puzzled us so finally last year I got out my butterfly net and caught some: Crane Flies. What a surprise! Additionally I've found that there are numerous ones in Pennsylvania and obviously even more throughout the US and the world.

They are so busy bouncing up and down, almost like dowitchers of  the air, stitching air rather than mud, that it's almost impossible to see one individual. Today however I decided to spend 15 minutes trying to get decent photos of them. Two of the best are above. I think they give some idea of what it's like to see them in the yard. The oddest thing, still, is why they don't seem to come alive until cold weather. And why do they always choose this arbor vitae, one of the lesser shrubs of our garden, one that we bought when we were raw beginners as gardeners and just never replaced?

In any case it's always a pleasure to see them.
Two Great Blue Herons at Manayunk Canal. Field Sketch by Ken Januski

At this time of year it's always tempting to take a birding walk to see what is still about. There will be a few new arrivals, like mergansers and grebes, but mainly it's a matter of seeing what is still here.

Today found no real surprises at the Manayunk Canal. But I was puzzled about the herons. I'd hoped to see a Green Heron but knew that would be unlikely. But where were the Great Blues? They should surely be there. Has all the development there driven them out?* I fear that it eventually will. It's been two years since I've seen a night heron there. But when I started my return walk I found two, both high in trees. I always forget to look up! I've done a lot of Great Blue Heron sketches so today I concentrated on sketches that placed them in their environment.
Benary's Giant Zinnias after first hard frost.

Benary's Giant Zinnias after first hard frost.

Ever since our first hard frost a few nights ago our Benary's Giant Zinnias have looked the worse for wear. And yet they may still be the most beautiful things in the garden. But anyone who has seen Mondrian's Chrysantemum drawings will know that the structure of this type of flower is in and of itself a thing of beauty, regardless of whether the color is still there or the plant is still alive. Each fall I look at out spent zinnias and think of Mondrian.

I'm not really sure when he did them. I assume before the paintings that he's famous for. If so you can tell just by looking at them that this will be an artist to reckon with. By the way seeds for these wonderful zinnias are currently on sale for half price at Seed Savers Exchange. I'm pretty sure that's where ours are from.

I know this is a bit of a hodgepodge. But I did want to post something about each of these so into the HodgePodge Post they went.

*After I wrote this I realized that I should add that it is not all bad news at the Manayunk Canal, though I think it is far more bad than good. About a month ago Fairmount Park planted 100s of native trees and shrubs along the canal. As I recall there were a few oaks, though not many, birches, magnolias and numerous shrubs. Invasives have been removed to a certain extent to make way for the native plantings.

Eventually that should help the wildlife of the Manayunk Canal. On the downside I also learned that they're planning to dredge the canal to make it passable again, hopefully for nothing larger than a canoe or kayak. I'm sure that will have negative effects on the wildlife that are there. A Spotted Sandpiper hung out in that area this summer and I wouldn't be surprised if it's the hidden deeper area that is going to be dredged that also protects the herons. I fear it will become just another city park.

Some monstrously large, and ugly, buildings have been going up for months on the eastern side of the path. They nearly abut the path and much vegetation has been cut as they've been developed. I can only guess the negative effect of all the people moving into this grouping of monolithic housing will do. But as I said at least there is a small bit of good news in all of the native plantings.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Finished Piping Plover Woodcut

Piping Plover at 'The Meadows' in Cape May, NJ. Multi-block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.
Piping Plover at 'The Meadows' in Cape May, NJ. Multi-block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski

Well I kept it pretty simple. I added a third color on second woodblock which is barely visible, mainly toward the top. On the first woodblock, which was printed last, I printed black, and then just a few areas of orange, mainly in parts of the bill and legs but also scattered throughout the background. The third color on the first block really added almost nothing but I decided to keep small portions of it.

I'm happy with this print. I did what is next to impossible for me: keep it simple, also known as the KISS principle, a concept I first came across in computer programming: Keep it Simple Stupid! It probably applies in art as well. Don't trip over your own complications.

I wish the photos did justice to the print. They make it seem a bit crude I think and the blue/gray works much better than it seems to here. Perhaps I'll try more photos later. I've been surprisingly unhappy with my photos of prints recently but I'm not really sure why that is.

The print is 7x9 inches, with the image itself being 4x6. It is printed with Daniel Smith water soluble relief inks on Rives Lightweight printing paper. It is an edition of 12.

I've written about Piping Plovers numerous times. You can find the various post by using the search box at the bottom of this page. Though estimates vary the most recent data I could find in a quick search showed a total world population of 8000. In the US they seem evenly split between the East Coast and the Midwest.

Obviously they are a cute bird. But when you realize how few of them exist in the entire world you realize that they are far more than just cute. These were seen on the beach portion of 'The Meadows' at Cape May, NJ a few years ago. They are cute but also tough. Let's hope they're tough enough to withstand all of their challenges.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Piping Plover Woodcut Continued

Piping Plover at 'The Meadows'. Multi-block woodcut proof by Ken Januski.

So far so good. I've kept this simple. This is still a proof on copier paper but I have printed the ochre and blue-gray colors on good Rives Lightweight paper as part of an edition. Since the black of the first block will probably be the last block printed I keep testing it on proofs to see what it might look like and give me some idea as to what to do next.

I do still need an orange for bills and legs. Other than that it's really a question of keeping it simple or trying to get subtle with added colors, or even a new block, in the background.

By the way the Japanese method of woodcut, from what I can tell from my uneducated background, is to carve outlines and then print color within that. The Western European way, and the way I first tried, dispenses with outline and just carves and gouges to get the subject down. This is a vast oversimplification from someone who's pretty new to printmaking.

Nonetheless this is probably the most linear work I've done so far in the sense of carving out just the outlines of the subject on a separate block. There is something appealing about that though also the danger of looking too much like a cartoon or stained glass window, at least in my humble and personal opinion.

So it's odd for me to be working this way. But I do like having the solid outlines of the main subject there to anchor and pull together the entire print. Because it's so unusual for me I am tempted to just keep this simple and not start getting too subtle and finicky with the background. I might faint if I ever finish a simple, uncomplicated print. Time will tell..............

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Simple, So Far, Piping Plover Woodcut

Piping Plover at 'The Meadows'. Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

There's something appealing to me about the Shina woodblocks that I bought a few months ago. Perhaps the wood has a gentler surface than linoleum. I'm not sure. I also very much liked the way I was able to combine wood blocks in the Hummingbird Hawk Moth multiple block woodcut of a few months ago.

So with that as inspiration I've started this new multi-block woodcut based on a drawing I did last spring of a couple of Piping Plover seen at the beach of 'The Meadows' in Cape May, NJ.

It's almost impossible for me to keep anything simple. But I'm going to try here. Perhaps a gray of some sort, and then orange touches for bill and feet. It would be nice to do a woodcut/linocut that stayed simple from start to finish.

By the way this is printed with Daniel Smith water-soluble inks. This is the first time I've tried them and so far I'm pleased.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Another Election Day Osprey at Wissahickon

Juvenile Osprey at Wissahickon. Pen and Watercolor sketch by Ken Januski.

It was way back in November, 2004, the day after the presidential election that I saw my first Osprey along the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia. I only noticed him when I heard a splash behind me then saw a huge shadow fly over me. I then saw him head up the creek, fish in talons.

This was a great surprise. First of all it was a surprise to even find one in the Wissahickon. Second of all it was a surprise to find one in November. Since then I've seen them many times in November, often for weeks at a time.

As Jerene and I headed out for a brief walk today there were a few birds we hoped to see, first of fall birds more or less: Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, and Osprey among them. As we neared the end of our walk, with just a scant 18 species I theorized which of those species we might see in the last few hundreds of yards to up our count to 20.

Soon after Jerene stopped and said there was an Osprey across the creek. Sure enough there was a beautiful juvenile male Osprey, crisp white edges to most of his covert feathers. I've tried sketching them before with mixed results in this situation. So this time I decided on a few photos first, then sketches. Sure enough four quick photos and he was gone.

So this is based on one of those photos. It's done with ballpoint pen on a Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook, opened wide to use both pages. I then went over the drawing with just a bit of watercolor. My hope was to capture the striking white, and almost punky head, as well as some of the many light feather edges.

I once told an accomplished local birder that I often see Osprey in the Wissahickon in November. He expressed skepticism. But they are there, sometimes vocal, and sometimes utterly quiet as today. But they're there and well worth looking for.

Their little brethren, the Golden-crowned Kinglet, might have been the most numerous bird of the walk. We also saw a Black Squirrel as we left. Now of course I'm toying with just how to combine the Osprey and Squirrel in a painting or print.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sketching the Natural Wealth of Cape May, Part Three

Tri-colored Heron and Palm Warbler in Goldenrod. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Continuing on an old theme here I'm showing some field sketches from a recent trip to Cape May. Sadly it seems each trip produces fewer field sketches even though my skills are better each time I visit. This time I can blame it partially I think on the colder weather of this time of year, though even then we had some days of weather in the high 60s/low 70s, quite a warm temperature for late October/early November.

Above is a Tri-colored Heron, fishing at Fish Dock Road I believe it's called though I normally just call it Two Mile Landing for the restaurant at its end. We don't see Tri-colored Herons that often so they are always a treat. This pose was particularly striking for the way the heron was stretched out just about to pounce.

We of course see many Palm Warblers, though more in spring than fall. And we're fortunate to get the golden yellow ones rather than the blah brown/gray ones of the Midwest. But I like this one perched and feeding in the goldenrod along the beach at Cape May Point State Park. Unfortunately I only had time to get his head before he moved.
Black Skimmer, Gadwall, Tri-colored Heron. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

We were fortunate to have a motel room facing the ocean and at very reasonable prices due to the time of year. From there I could set up my scope and scan before breakfast. One morning I saw over 30 Black Skimmers, though at a distance. Scoter were also visible in the distance. Then one morning as I scanned the gulls on the beach I found something different, a handsome Black Skimmer. That is him at top, just before he flew. He's the first of Birds with Too Big Bills in this post. Not shown here, sadly is one of the many Northern Gannet that appeared the morning that we left. I had no time to try to capture at least one of them on paper.

Ducks were everywhere and I wish I'd sketched more of them. Above is jut one attempt at a Gadwall in the pond at 'The Meadows.' Beneath him another sketch of a Tri-colored Heron at Fish Dock Road. As I sketched him a long-billed bird swam in front of him. I couldn't place him then realized it was a Clapper Rail as it climbed up on shore. I called over Jerene to see one of her favorite birds. As she looked in the scope another rail appeared and the two squabbled among themselves before disappearing. So sadly I lost the chance to sketch them.
Brown Thrasher, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Harrier. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

One morning at Higbee Beach we were treated to numerous Brown Thrashers, many of them at the beginning of the trail. I was thrilled to be able to see them so long and do a good field sketch, until I looked at what I'd done that is. How had I managed to make such an elegant bird look so dumpy? One thing was that he seemed to have almost a hunched back and I tried to capture that. But overall his elegance is completely lost. Perhaps I'll regain it in a print or painting. Later in the day we saw our first Ring-necked Duck of the year. I haven't checked but I think this sketch probably looks almost identical to the one I did a few years ago a the same place, the pond in front of the hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park. Again I have to ask how the bird ended up so dumpy!? Still they, and all the birds we saw, were thrilling to see.

There had been a somewhat rare Swainsons Hawk seen at Cape May a day or two before we arrived. I wasn't really thinking of it as the lanky bird at bottom of page moved slowly toward us. At first I thought it was an osprey, though I thought most had already left. As he got closer I saw the colors were wrong. Then I noticed the white/light breast and very dark head and throat. That combined with lanky wings, and a bit of wishful thinking, convinced me that the Swainsons Hawk had returned. But I was still a bit cautious. When I got home and looked at our guides I realized too many things just didn't add up. Finally as I looked at Richard Crossley's recent Raptor ID Guide I saw a picture that pretty much matched what we'd seen and I'd sketched: a Northern Harrier seen directly from below, and much higher than normal. That explained why the throat was dark and not light as it should have been.

While we were out we ran into all sorts of birders who would call up an app on their phones to check the ID of a bird. It was alarming. These apps have  so little information, at least from what I can see as they show them to me. I wonder how many birders would have used them to turn our Northern Harrier into a Swainsons. One thing I find so fulfilling, and Jerene does as well, is really looking at birds and figuring out what they really are, not what we want them to be. For that sketching is invaluable.

Many birding books suggest never looking at a guide after seeing a bird. First really look at it and take notes so you can trust what you have seen. Then look at a guide to help determine the ID. Phone apps seem even worse for tricking people into the wrong ID. They get just a hint of something and then go find something vaguely similar and label the bird. I really don't see the point of these apps but then I don't really see the point of cell phones period so I suppose it's no surprise. Even with my bias against them though its hard for me not to think that they do more harm than good. Perhaps some day someone will convince me otherwise. In any case the instance of the Swainson's Hawk turned Northern Harrier seems to me a good example of why you should first observe and then take notes before you begin to pin a label on a bird.
Northern Shoveler. Photo by Ken Januski.

Last year I did a small watercolor based on three Northern Shovelers that we'd seen at Brigantine/Forsythe NWR. I only had a few photos and even fewer field sketches to go on. And the bills just seemed abnormally large in the finished painting. This time we got to see quite a few Shovelers. It was a great surprise to see how small a duck they really are. This surprised us day after day. There larger appearance I think is really caused by their bill, one that I think the photo above shows at its true size, one even larger than in my watercolor!