Saturday, May 31, 2014

Return to Lino, Video and Field Sketch

Green Heron and Eastern Pondhawk. Linocut Proof by Ken Januski

I've finally returned to lino after a fairly lengthy absence. If I wasn't running short of woodclocks I might have started work on a woodblock rather than a linoleum block. But before I forget about the differences between the two it seemed like a good idea to try linocut once again.

This is about the fourth proof of a 4x6 inch print. Right now it's printed on copier paper. It's also based on a photo I took last year of a Green Heron with an Eastern Pondhawk perched a few feet away. Apparently it was far enough away, or just too small, to catch the heron's interest. If I recall correctly I saw it at the Manayunk Canal.

My original intent here was to cut one block more or less realistically printing primarily black outlines. Underneath that I would print abstract blocks of color, mainly for the heron and dragonfly.  But as I worked on it I was reminded of my old Osprey linocut with watercolor. It was a very simple, very small print where I painted each print in watercolor after I'd printed the black outline. It's something that I might experiment with here.

That print, along with my print of nine robins, is one of my most popular in terms of sales. My more ambitious prints artistically often seem to do little in the ways of sales. It seems people like their nature art simple. Or perhaps not. In any case I'm tempted to stop work on this soon, print it, and then add watercolor.

Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Great Blue Heron, Canada Gosling. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

Yesterday I was also at the Manayunk Canal hoping to see a Spotted Sandpiper. I was shocked to read today that no one knew where Spotted Sandpipers built their nests until the early 1900s when someone hunting eggs for a collector noticed an odd looking bird going high into a robin's nest. Of course it wasn't a robin's nest.

In northwest Philadelphia, not a popular shorebird destination, the shorebirds I see most frequently are Solitary Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers and of course Killdeer. At first, particularly in fall, Jerene and I had a hard time separating out the two tail-bobbing shorebirds, the Spotted and the Solitary. But over time I've realized that the Solitary is far more elegant, and the Spotted, at times looks almost comical.

He does look a bit comical I confess in my field sketch above but that's because I made the head far too large for the body. In real life he seems comical both for his quick movements and for the way he moves his legs. The closest analogy I can think of is Groucho Marx when he crouches down low and takes long strides. Recently I saw such a Spotted Sandpiper combining these two movements - long low strides with very quick movements - along some rocks on a tributary of the Wissahickon at Morris Arboretum. It was almost unbelievable and I wished that I had my camera with me so that I could capture it on video.

Since Spotteds seem to frequent the canal I was hoping to find one yesterday. As I looked at and sketched a Killdeer  I noticed other movement, closer to me. When I put down my binoculars I realized that it was a Spotted Sandpiper. So I've included a short video below. Oddly enough my relatively inexpensive point and shoot camera is good at taking videos, at least in my estimation. When we saw the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Philadelphia last year and I was taking a video another birder with a much more expensive camera said he thought mine was actually easier to use when taking videos. Who knows? In any case I've found it handy on those rare occasions when I wanted to take a video.

I think it's interesting to compare the visual technologies at work in this post. The most primitive of course, is drawing from life. Though the proportions are off in the Spotted Sandiper I love the sense of life in the drawings. I couldn't resist trying to capture the Canada Goose gosling as it tried to walk, all the while of course trying to avoid the accompanying goose poop, a reason that Canada Geese are not all that popular. The linocut, at least in the rough way I do it, is almost equally primitive. And then of course there is the much more modern video. They all have their place. But as you know it's the first two that are my favorites.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Another David and Goliath Story

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Attacking Northern Flicker. Crayon Sketch by Ken Januski.

Though migration is coming to an end there are still plenty of stories to be found with birds and other wildlife. A week or two ago I saw a diminutive Ruby-throated Hummingbird repeatedly attacking the head of a Tufted Titmouse. Today something similar occurred with a bird attacking the head of a Northern Flicker. At first I thought it was another hummingbird but in this case it was a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Over and over he dive-bombed the oblivious flicker.

Oddly enough we're just starting to see gnatcatchers again. They're a very early-arriving migrant that seems to start a nest within days of arrival. Then they disappear. My guess is that this seeming absence is due to their raising a family. And my second guess is that now the young ones have fledged. In fact this rambunctious individual might have been a youngster. On the other hand perhaps there are still youngsters in the nest and the nest is nearby. The one thing that makes me think that is unlikely is that gnatcatchers seem to have mysteriously reappeared the last few days after an absence of 3-4 weeks.

This is a quick ballpoint pen sketch from some photos taken today that has had Caran d'Ache NeoColor II crayons added and then a wash added to that, spreading the water-soluble colors. It is a quick way to work through an idea. It is done in a Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook.

One of the other interesting bird events of today, before the rain came pouring down, was one Louisiana Waterthrush feeding another, as at least one occasionally sang. My guess is that they were a mated pair. I don't believe the fed bird was a youngster. Sadly I just read that at least in Pennsylvania should they nest more than half of the eggs they raise will probably  be those of a Brown-headed Cowbird. Sad but true.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Birds and Butterflies at the Wissahickon

Bald Eagle, Scarlet Tanager and Zabulon Skipper at Wissahickon. Crayon Sketch by Ken Januski

Heat finally arrived in Philadelphia today. I used to love days in the 80s and 90s but now I much prefer, at least for my walks, birding and sketching temperatures in the high 50s or low 60s. To enjoy that cooler weather on a day with a predicted mid-80 high you need to get out fairly early.

So this morning Jerene and I were at the Wissahickon at 7:15 a.m. checking to see what might be around, hopefully some lingering migrant warblers and also some breeding ones, like a Louisiana Waterthrush.

I'm happy to say that we found both, hearing and seeing two Northern Parulas, which most likely will not stay though I wouldn't put money on it, and one Louisiana Waterthrush which is probably breeding.

The high point though was the mature Bald Eagle that sailed toward us from the upper parts of the Wissahickon, right over the Mt. Airy Bridge where we stood, and the further down the course of the Wissahickon. Only big birds like that make you think of the stream in terms of a geological feature, with accompanying twists and turns.

A few days ago we saw our first skipper of the year, probably the same one as the one we saw today: a Zabulon Skipper. True to the guidebooks he was perched high, waiting for approaching females.

At some other point, along with 30+ other species, we spotted a handsome Scarlet Tanager, really more of a crimson in my estimation, buried in the green foliage. It is always shocking to notice how easily they disappear, even with their brilliant red plumage.

I mentioned in my last post that I liked seeing flycatchers so that I could study them, and learn to see and put down on paper the subtle differences between the species. But far more than that type of analytical study I like to use my imagination, especially if it starts out from the real world.

When I was an abstract painter, my art almost never had its source in anything material or real. It was still imaginative but lacked a source grounded in the physical world. One of the things I love about doing art based on birds, butterflies, dragonflies, etc. is that it is based on something I've actually seen.

The works I most love doing start out often like this one, a loosely done sketch, taking great liberties with photographic realism, but still based on an actual experience. To me there is nothing more exciting that making striking art based on a real experience. It's a lofty goal and one that's often hard to reach. But when it is reached the artist and viewer I think have a feeling of great satisfaction.

This is a quick sketch in a Cachet sketchbook, about 14x11 I think. It's done in pencil and then colored with Caran d'Arche Neocolor II waters soluble crayons. I haven't used them in about a year I think. But they work extremely well in getting down areas of color. Once they are down I go over them with a wash, then go back in with crayon, the another wash, etc. They are more like painted sketches than drawn ones but serve the same purpose, an experimental study that may lead to something more developed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Flycatcher Time

Willow Flycatcher in Willow. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski

I'm not sure why but I've been taken with flycatchers for the last five years or more. While most birders are bored to death by the Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees that seem to be ubiquitous at the nearby Wissahickon from mid-May until sometime in August I always try to see them when I hear them.

Because flycatchers, at least the ones that are normal in this part of the country, can be both similar and drab I like to be able to look at them and try to both see and portray their differences. I really can't say if my motivation is primarily artistic or primarily educational, i.e. learning how to easily differentiate them, especially if they're not singing.

A later arrival than the Acadian and the Pewee is the Willow Flycatcher, pictured above. As far as I can tell it is one of the very latest breeding birds to arrive, at least in northwest Philadelphia. Today I happened to get a good look for a couple of minutes in my scope while birding Morris Arboretum. Two field sketches are below. Unfortunately he flew before I could spend any time on the head.

I did spend a fair amount of time looking at it but never really studied how it fit the rest of the body. So the sketch on left page below is a bit off when it comes to the head. The small watercolor sketch above tries to combine the field sketches with knowledge gained from my many photos of Willow Flycatchers.

Of course none of them were in that exact position. So I spent quite a bit of time drawing the underlying pencil sketch in the hopes of getting a complete rendering based on the field sketches below.

This is another sketch in a Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook and I've pushed the paper as far as it will go in terms of holding numerous washes. So this is done. Perhaps another time I'll try another more developed watercolor on actual watercolor paper. Or perhaps I'll end up greatly abstracting this in a print. For now it's just one more attempt to put down on paper the subtle differences between our various eastern flycatchers.

One nice thing about sketching birds from life is that even what many would consider boring birds are always interesting, mainly because you realize how very much more there always is to learn. It is and endless, and rewarding, challenge.

Willow Flycatcher, Carolina Chickadee, Tree Swallow Gray Catbird. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Runny Ink, Watercolor, Waterbrush Sketches

Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin at Two Mile Landing. Ballpoint Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Black and White Warbler at Carpenters Woods. Ballpoint Pen and Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

I decided to experiment with the runny ink from a Pilot Precise V5 ballpoint pen, watercolor and a watercolor brush that I used the other day in an American Redstart sketch. I suppose you might call this Fast and Lazy Watercolor.

Due to the fact that I really can't change the ink line once it's down and to the fact that I'm using a waterbrush, whose water load is limited, instead of watercolor with a normal watercolor brush I'm very constrained in what I can do. In some ways it's like a potato bag race - limited but quick. Well maybe not so quick in the potato race. In any case there are severe limitations in terms of artistic handling.

But because of that I can to a lot of sketches. They stay spontaneous and they also let me work through a lot of ideas quickly. In this case I'm a bit more tempted to pursue another more developed work with the shorebirds rather than the warbler.

The Black-bellied Plover and Dunlin were some of the few shorebirds we say at Cape May last November. The Black and White Warbler on the other hand was one of many, many warblers that we saw at Carpenters Woods in Philadelphia earlier in May.

Monday, May 19, 2014

97 Ox-eyes

Least Sandpiper, Wood Thrush, Great Egret et al. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Even the Least Sandpiper met a violent end when the larger species were in short supply, though its minuscule roast would scarcely make a mouthful, bones and all: in one account ninety-seven of these "ox-eyes" were cut down in a single shot.  
Paraphrased from Arthur Cleveland Bent's Life Histories of North American Shorebirds in Peter Matthiessen's The Shorebirds of North America.

I was starting to reread the Matthiessen/Robert Verity Clem book on shorebirds quoted above when I ran across the quote about the Least Sandpiper. Since I've been seeing this bird recently at Morris Arboretum it seemed a pertinent quote. I also noticed that it is only six inches in length, just a half inch longer than many warblers, which always seem so tiny.

It's hard to imagine shooting such birds, as was common at least until the early 20th century. And it's equally hard to differentiate people who did it for food or income versus those who did it for some perverse notion of sport,  a term that also changes drastically by time, location, culture.

In the two pages from my primary field sketch notebook above is a collection of birds seen recently: the Least Sandpiper at bottom right, along with a Great Egret above, both seen at Morris Arboretum. On the left page a Red-eyed Vireo at top, seen from below, a Wood Thrush and just a wisp of a Great Crested Flycatcher.

They're not my best field sketches ever and each were done in less than a few minutes. But I do like the fact that they represent the variety of birds seen over two days. Of course I saw many more but these were the ones I chose to portray for various reasons. Hopefully this also indicates a change of time, culture and location: birds and other wildlife can be enjoyed, even harvested to make the analogy more fitting, as drawn images or I suppose photos, rather than as dead fodder for either food, economy or just egotistic self-aggrandizement.

They are a celebration of all that is around us and all that is constantly under threat by someone, who hasn't the slightest appreciation of them.

American Redstart. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

I've been meaning to do some more developed work with all the warbler photos and sketches I've accumulated over the last few weeks. I also read about someone using ballpoint pens with wash, so that the pen ink ran in various ways. I used to do this with a Pilot Razor pen I think it was. Recently I bought some new Pilot pens, V5 I think these were. In any case this is the first experiment with it using a recent photo of an American Redstart. One danger of running ink is that you can get an insoluble dark where you don't necessarily want it. So when I went to put orange watercolor where that color is on the tail I actually got a black, due to the running ink.

It's a trade off that working like this requires, and one I'm happy to live with. I've also made this bird a bit chunkier than it really is. And that's another trade off in working with ink. Once it's down it's down. There's no way to repair it, another trade off I'm happy to live with.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

More Shorebirds and a Damselfly at Morris Arboretum

Semi-palmated Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

I checked out Morris Arboretum for shorebirds again today and found a new one: Semi-palmated Plover. It is not a rare bird but it is one that I've never seen at Morris before. Hopefully this influx of shorebirds will continue. The Semi-palmated Sandpiper was missing today but Solitary, Spotted and Least Sandpipers remained.

It may be hard to believe that the sketch above, on Stillman and Birn Delta sketchbook paper, is a field sketch like the others I've shown recently. Why does this one seem so more developed? There are a number of reasons. One, I planned it that way, assuming that the shorebirds would cooperate and two, and far more important, I was sitting down supporting my drawing pad on my knees.

Normally, even when I'm using a scope, I draw with my right hand, while standing and holding a small sketchbook in my left hand. This results in a very unstable drawing surface. My hand is not as solid as my knee, firmly planted on the ground.

Today I staked out what looked like a good area for viewing shorebirds, lowered my tripod to about 2 feet tall and put up a small, portable 3-legged stool to sit on. All and all it's a vast improvement over my usual method. But it only works if I'm pretty sure that birds will appear and stay in the location in front of my stool and scope. If we were talking about warblers it would be silly to set up the stool and scope since there's no way in the world that warblers would stay in the same place.

In any case it was a great pleasure to be sitting, drawing against a sturdy surface and having the birds be somewhat cooperative. Everything here is something I saw. I didn't finish off the legs on the Semi-palmated Plover or the flight feathers and scapulars on the Solitary Sandpiper because I never got a chance to focus on them.

Also these birds were never all together like this. I started with the Semi-palmated Plover then added the Solitary Sandpiper when the Plover left. The Least Sandpiper was a last minute addition when one appeared in front of me.

Working like this it's easy to get the birds out of scale in relation to one another since I never saw them all together. But I think the scale is pretty accurate nonetheless, with the possible exception of the Least Sandpiper being just a wee bit big. Many bird artists do developed field sketches like this. For me it's a very rare treat to be able to do so.

Female Eastern Forktail Damselfly. Photo by Ken Januski.

Both I and Jerene were at one point totally flummoxed by shorebirds, especially since we saw so few in Philadelphia where we live. But over time, especially with trips to the Cape May area we've gotten more familiar. But it's back to square one with damselflies and to a lesser extent dragonflies. Today I saw my first damselfly at Morris.

I took the photo above thinking that I'd be able to identify the damselfly. But no such luck on a first perusal of my two guidebooks. So it's time to start studying damselflies again, just as we did with shorebirds, starting 5-10 years ago. Either way it's a great pleasure to be seeing them again.

(A few hours later after a thorough perusal of Dennis Paulson's Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East and I'm pretty certain of the id: a female Eastern Forktail. The violet cast  to the damselfly is due to pruinosity.

We saw our first dragonfly of the year last weekend doing the PA Migratory Count at Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. But we were birding, and talking, and all we noticed was a large, blue/green dragonfly. A wildly speculative guess says Eastern Pondhawk but it was there and gone and we'll never know for sure.

Unknown Shorebirds

Solitary Sandpiper with Wood Duck and Ducklings. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

As we got ready to leave the wetlands of Morris Arboretum yesterday I saw a flurry of activity on the mudflats at the other end of the pond. Had a new flock of peeps arrived? We'd seen three Least and one Semi-palmated Sandpipers earlier but there were far more than four in this group.

They surely were shorebirds as they were hunched over in a typical shorebird feeding position. But when I put the scope on them I found one Solitary Sandpiper, the large bird in lower right in watercolor sketch above, and many small birds. Not sandpipers though, Wood Duck ducklings. Then in the far back I noticed Mama Wood Duck. I've put her a bit closer in the version above.

I love coming across these odd juxtapositions. It is one of the pleasures afforded by birding when your interest is more than just checking birds off a list.

As is typical with so many of my watercolor sketches this is done in a Stillman and Birn Gamma sketchbook. It is tough enough to hold a few washes, yet not so expensive or valuable as to make it an inhibiting surface, where you're afraid to put down the first mark for fear of making a mistake and ruining good paper. I've found it perfect for this type of exploratory sketch.

This is based on a couple of photos from yesterday and took about 60 minutes to complete. Any more time or work probably would have ruined the paper and the work.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

From Warblers to Shorebirds

Spotted and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

Least and Solitary Sandpipers. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

It's been years since I've seen a variety of shorebirds at Morris Arboretum in spring. It was almost starting to seem like something I'd dreamed. And yet yesterday an email stated that there was a LOT of mud flats there, and shorebirds.

So we were there for their 10 a.m. opening hoping the shorebirds, and shore, were still around. They were. How exciting it was to be able to see local Least Sandpipers again. I know that they can be found in a few other parts of Philadelphia in spring but Morris is very close by. It's far easier to hop over there. I love being able to see shorebirds there.

Above are some field sketches I did today. I'm rusty as is probably obvious. But I'm happy with them. I also took a number of photos and will most likely use both as the source of new work. In seeing shorebirds for the first time in a long time I tend to try to stay true to them rather than work more abstractly. Eventually I'll take greater liberties. But for now I'm hoping that they'll stick around so that I can concentrate on getting down their form.

Canada Warbler. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Warblers are of course another story. I've never seen as many in Philadelphia as I saw at Carpenters Woods during the first 7-10 days of May. But things have quieted down - so soon!?!- and the foliage has filled in. What warblers remain are hard to see. Still I'm sure that there will be more to be seen, or heard, for another week or so.

In the drawing below I tried to quickly capture a briefly seen Canada Warbler. It's in upper right and quite disappointing. But I have wanted to commemorate some of the warblers seen over the last couple of weeks, first in watercolor and later perhaps in woodcut or linocut prints. Above is a quick watercolor sketch of a Canada Warbler, based on some photos of them from numerous visits to Shenandoah National Park in May.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Buzzing Tufted Titmouse. Field Sketch by Ken Januski.

One of the more interesting experiences I've had while birding recently is in the upper left. Though it may be hard to read because I have the scale wrong it is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird dive bombing a Tufted Titmouse. It did this over and over for 60-90 seconds. At lower right another surprise. I didn't recognize the large bird when if flew over Carpenters Woods last Saturday. I knew it wasn't a heron, egret or cormorant. Then I ran into a local birder who'd just seen two Common Loons fly over. Sure enough  that's what it was. Also pictured  the ubiquitous Black-throated Blue and Common Yellowthroat Warblers.

It's hard to believe that spring migration is almost over. But it has been great. And I hope that I will eventually have a lot of artwork based on it to show and write about.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Continuing the Warbler Travelogue

American Redstart, Ovenbird, Black and White Warblers, et al. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

A number of years ago I showed a group of sketches like these on the Wildlife Art section of Birdforum. One person responded that they were a wonderful travelogue. In a sense that is true. Some people use the term field sketch to refer to a more considered study of one particular species. I don't and call any sketches I do in the field field sketches.

But it is also accurate to call them a travelogue, as they illustrate what I've seen in my travels. Often they do actually involve travel, but these are all based on birds seen over the last few days within five miles of my home in Philadelphia. They are a very local travelogue.

Above are: my first Green Heron of the year in flight, an American Redstart, a Black-throated Blue warbler all on the left side. And on the right: a Hermit Thrush, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat and Black and White Warbler.

Part of my process here is illustrated by the Black and White Warbler. There is something off with it. Often when something is wrong it will involve staring at the bird, trying to then old all the information in my memory and then putting it down. Inevitably I'll forget part of the info, in this case the fact that I could see some of the stripes on the mantle of the warbler. In my drawing I have the coverts going too high up, completely obscuring the mantle. With a complexly feathered bird like a Black and White Warbler it can take awhile to understand how all these markings fit together into a recognizable pattern.

Unlike David Sibley who said he first tried to get shape and pose right in his work and could pick up feather detail from photos I like to have some sense of where the markings are. I'm not at all sure that this is wise on my part. Getting the shape right is probably more important. But I can't see leaving out all pattern and then adding it in later from photos. I'd like to make at least some attempt in the sketch.

Inevitably something will be wrong. But it's only in getting it wrong that I'm likely to remember this and get it right the next time.

Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Kingbird, et al. Field Sketches by Ken Januski.

A common piece of advice for field sketches is to avoid putting in what you haven't seen or remembered. Again this is very hard to do. In the sketches above I tried to remember where the legs were on the Veery in the upper left. As you can see I struggled and struggled. So it makes the drawing looks clumsy and wrong. But it will remind me to pay more attention next time I see a Veery, thrush or in fact any bird. Below is a Baltimore Oriole, with an Eastern Kingbird and Common Yellowthroat on the right side.

As I drew the kingbird I had the feeling that the tail extended just a short distance beyond the undertail coverts. But I knew that they have long tails so I made it long. I also happened to take some photos. They prove that I should have trusted my visual memory: the tail is actually very short due to the length of the undertail coverts. I tried to fix this by adding some white chalk to shorten the tail.

Black-throated Green Warbler. Photo by Ken Januski.

I didn't plan on taking any photos today and wanted to force myself to sketch. I largely followed that plan until I saw a Wood Thrush in a standing position. I got out the camera so that I could compare him standing to his two relatives the Hermit Thrush and the Veery. And of course he flew before I could take a photo.

But the camera was out as I continued to bird and to sketch. When a Black-throated Green Warbler landed just a few feet away I got this photo. It is nice to see all the detail. But it also reminds me of the danger of photos. If this were at a larger scale you'd be better able to see all the subtlety of the markings. That's the problem.

I think it's actually a problem of knowledge and the limiting effect of knowledge. Once you see all those details it's hard to ignore them if you're an artist. The end result I think is a type of hyper-realistic bird art that has become fixated, willfully or not, on photographic detail and loses all sense of the other aspects of the bird, including the ones that make it seem most alive.

I've written about this before so I won't repeat myself. But I thought the juxtaposition of detailed photo and field sketches that are full of mistakes was a strong one. And you well know I'd guess which I prefer.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sketching Warblers is Better Than .........

Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green Warblers and Great-crested Flycatcher. Field sketches by Ken Januski.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Field sketches by Ken Januski.

Photographing them. There's no doubt about it. It is tremendously more exciting and rewarding to sketch warblers or any birds than to photograph them. And yet who would believe such a statement? Well at least some bird artists do. But you can bet that if I show the sketches above from last week or so of birds seen live to someone I meet while out birding and then show them the photograph below of a Worm-eating Warbler, first seen yesterday but not successfully photographed until today that they'll go for the photograph, almost as though pulled by some giant magnet. It's as though it isn't even a real choice. Like asking someone if they'd prefer a one dollar bill to a one hundred dollar bill.

Worm-eating Warbler at Carpenters Woods. Photo by Ken Januski.

I've never successfully photographed a Worm-eating Warbler and have had a hard enough time even finding them and seeing them. So it's a real accomplishment for me to finally get a recognizable photo. And at some point it will prove useful.

But when I look at the three photos above only two strike me as exciting, the sketches. Part of this is that they represent a great deal of risk-taking, something that unfortunately is often missing in bird art. But it is truly risky to try to get down on paper birds as you see them. Few people are successful at this. But half the thrill is in the very attempt. It seems hopeless to even try and yet once you have something down you've started on the path to learning more and getting better.

My warbler field sketches still have many of the same problems that they had 3-4 years ago. But they're also improving. And I know what I need to do to make them better, for instance pay more attention to the stance and distribution of weight as I look at them so that I can get that sense of life in my sketches. Field sketching is a never ending challenge. And that is why it is so thoroughly more enjoyable than photography.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Few More Warblers And Such

Hooded Warbler at Carpenters Woods. Photo by Ken Januski.

I had really planned on not taking any more warbler photos. But when we found a cooperative Hooded Warbler at Carpenters Woods in Philadelphia yesterday I had to try to get some photos, mainly just to document that we'd really seen him. They do breed throughout the rest of Pennsylvania but I believe that this is the first we have seen in the state.

Actually we saw it in three different locations at Carpenters Woods so it's possible that there was more than one. Today we saw what was undoubtedly a different one since it was about 5 miles away at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Oddly enough it was in the open with a Veery, Eastern Bluebird and Ovenbird, a very nice collection of very visible birds.

Though warblers have been visible in extraordinary numbers at Carpenters Woods this week we skipped it to bird SCEE. The main reason for this, outside of avoiding weekend crowds, is that we are covering SCEE next weekend for the Pennsylvania Migratory Bird Count. So we wanted to do some scouting of the area today. We did! 6.5 hours and we still missed much of it.

Blue-winged Warbler at Schuylkill Center. Photo by Ken Januski.

One of the best warblers we did see, outside of the second Hooded Warbler, was the Blue-winged Warbler pictured above. We re getting used to seeing them hidden in the blooms of Crabapple trees. That is the tree pictured above, though most of the blossoms have been cropped out. It is quite a scene though, the bright yellow of the warbler against the brilliant white of the crabapple blossoms.

Ovenbird at Carpenters Woods. Photo by Ken Januski.

One of the most visible warblers of the last few days has been the Ovenbird, an often maddeningly secretive species, though it is also an extremely loud species. I have many Ovenbird photos. But when they stroll so close to you, seemingly oblivious, it is hard to resist one more photo. I normally wouldn't show it but I needed something new to add to the two warbler photos above. And most of the other photos I've taken over last few days have been of warblers portrayed in the last post.

Scarlet Tanager at Schuylkill Center. Photo by Ken Januski.

Finally a non-warbler species: the Scarlet Tanager. How is it possible to miss this brilliant bird, especially given its loud distinctive call? Yet it is in fact a bird that's hard to find. The bird pictured above is the first we've seen this year.

We also saw our first of year Baltimore and Orchard Orioles today at SCEE but I've taken too many Baltimore Oriole photos to be lured into taking any more.

Outside of taking photos for documentation purposes I'll spend the rest of the migration of 2014 doing sketches rather than taking photos. I promise!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Welcome Warblers - 2014

Black-throated Green Warbler at Carpenters Woods. Photo by Ken Januski.

I almost feel like I'm on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh in Ohio in May. So many warblers all over the place that only an iron will can get me to sketch birds and not try to photograph them. The birds were not nearly that numerous nor that close today but they were low and many of them were new.

My iron will went out the window and I ended up taking photos rather than sketching. I need to get back into practice with sketching them. The photo above seemed an appropriate one for anybody who's been waiting to see warblers. The pose has a sense of exuberance similar I think to that of birders when they first see warblers in spring.

All but the final Pine Warbler were birds I saw today. After a day and night of rain warmer temperatures moved in and seemed to bring these warblers, along with thrushes and other migrants. The rain kept the insects low I think and that kept the birds low Most were at eye level.

American Redstart at Kitchens Lane Bridge. Photo by Ken Jauski.


For all the American Redstarts I've seen over the years I rarely get a decent photo. This is one of the better ones.

Black and White Warbler along Wissahickon. Photo by Ken Januski.

Outside of Yellow-rumps by far the most common bird today was the Black and White Warbler. I'm sure I saw at least 20. This is one in a somewhat unusual pose.

Black-throated Blue Warbler at Carpenters Woods. Photo by Ken Januski.

We see the Black-throated Blue far more often in fall than spring here so it was nice to get such a good look at two beautiful males today, singing as well, just like the Black-throated Green.

Northern Parula at Carpenters Woods. Photos by Ken Januski.

One of the most beautiful warblers is the Northern Parula. But it also is a bird I rarely get good photos of. Today two of them cooperated by staying nice and low, rarely above eye level.

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Carpenters Woods. Photo by Ken Januski.

The Yellow-rump of course is the warbler that can't get any respect, only because it is so common. But if you can forget about that it is one of the most beautiful warblers, especially in spring.

Pine Warbler at Wissahickon. Photo by Ken Januski.

The Pine Warbler is another one that I rarely get good photos of. This one is from a week ago. But it is such a striking bird that I decided to include it with all of the beautiful warblers from today.

One other warbler that I saw today and heard at least three times was an Ovenbird. I also saw one the other day. But when I bird I'm not fixated on photography. So by the time I thought about taking a photo of him he had strolled away, as they do. That's okay. Next time I'll focus on what he looks like and get back to sketching these very welcome birds.

Other first of year birds today were Veeries and one Wood Thrush. As always its also great to welcome them back.