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.

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