Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sketching Gnatcatchers, Warbler Workshops

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Ballpoint Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, American Robin and Wood Thrush. Felt-tip Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.

Unexpected home repair projects have forced me to miss almost a week of migration birding recently. I hate to miss seeing the first birds of the year but the work was also something that needed to be done.

Because I've been so busy with the home repair I still haven't posted the finished woodcut of the Blackpoll Warblers in the Swamp Dogwood. I'll post it at bottom of page.

After I did finish it and before I knew about the need for the home repairs I made a quick foray to the Manayunk Canal. There I saw my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of 2014. I think perhaps only birders can understand how thrilling it is to see the first of a species for the new year. It really is like welcoming long lost friends.

I have a long history of NOT being able to do a good sketch of them. I recall the big eye and long tail and don't manage to see much of anything else or put it down on paper. Immediately above is a large felt-tip pen sketch of birds seen at nearby Carpenter's Woods a few springs ago: an American Robin bathing in a small stream, a Wood Thrush near him and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on a nearby shrub. I like the sketch except that the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is all wrong.

So this year when I saw my first one I decided to try to concentrate on it and sketch it. At top is the result. It's still far from satisfactory. But each year shows improvement. Between it and photos I'm tempted to do some more sketches of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Then I'd really like to revisit the felt-tip pen sketch. Perhaps it can be redone as a woodblock or linoleum block.

While I've been stuck inside I've seen reports of warblers and other birds arriving in Philadelphia  and other parts of PA. I hate missing them but will get the chance soon. One thing I've done in the meantime is to listen to the bird songs and calls of warblers that accompany the newly published The Warbler Guide while looking at the sonograms in the book. Sonograms are a newer method of learning to know the songs, based on a visual picture of the song rather than various mnemonics such as 'Sweet, Sweet, I'm So Sweet' of the Yellow Warbler.

Bird songs can be hard to learn but learning them can be incredibly important and enjoyable. I've written before about the excitement of stepping into the woods and recognizing 5-10 different species as I take my first step based completely on their songs. It really is thrilling.  I first ran across the notion of sonograms, though spelled sonograms, in The Singing Life of Birds by Donald Kroodsma. I never mastered it from that book but it certainly did intrigue me. The new warbler guide and its songs seems to make it much easier.

And speaking of that book The Delaware Valley Ornithological Club has a special warbler workshop featuring the authors this weekend at John Heinz NWR and Belleplain State Forest in New Jersey. I'm not sure if we'll make it there but it should be very exciting for anyone who can.

Finally, before rambling too far afield, I wanted to post the final version of the Blackpolls in Swamp Dogwood print.  It is a very small edition and I have only a couple of prints for sale on Etsy. I did debate adding another yellow color on top but decided that it would make the print even more complex. I'm happy with this just as is. Though it may not look it this is based on an actual experience. I'm quite happy being able to transliterate real experiences into art.

Fall Blackpolls in Swamp Dogwood. Multi-block Woodcut by Ken Januski.

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