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.

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