Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Arrival of a Colorful Warbler

'Black' Squirrel, Palm Warbler and Mourning Cloak. Pencil, Wash and Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Crayon Sketch by Ken Januski.

I have to say that I think one warbler exemplifies the arrival of neo-tropical migrants more than any other: that is the Palm Warbler, especially the Eastern race which we tend to get here. The golden yellow, with warm Sienna cap and markings, is  indicative of spring and warm weather. Other warblers are generally first. We may see a Pine Warbler or two, maybe a Louisiana Waterthrush and at least this year Yellow-rumped Warblers, which when they aren't sky high in the trees are actually pretty colorful themselves. Still it is the Palm that signals winter turning to spring and eventually summer.

Yesterday I saw my first Palms of the year, the first sky high where the Yellow-rumpeds should be, but still obvious from their constantly bobbing tail. The next one I saw was down closer to the ground but still not below eye level as they so often are. When that's the case you can't miss their golden yellow coloring.

Yesterday also brought out the second Mourning Cloak of 2015, the first one having been seen the day before, as well as a 'Black' Squirrel. Black Squirrels are really Gray Squirrels but with a darker color. But they seem exotic. And if you're an artist you can't help but be struck by their rich black coloring. When I got home yesterday I tried a quick ballpoint pen and watercolor sketch of the Mourning Cloak and Palm Warbler. But it just didn't work out.

This morning I tried again, this time determined to make the Black Squirrel play a larger part. This is on a page from a Stillman and Birn Zeta sketchbook. It is an extra heavy paper and one that I've used before with Caran d'Ache Neocolor II water soluble crayons. I don't use these crayons often but I do find that they are good when I want a particularly vibrant color. And that's just what I wanted for the Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler Amidst Bloodroot. Linocut by Ken Januski.

Because Palms are such early arrivals they are often in the woodland ephemerals that are here for such a short time in spring. I particularly see them in Mayapples but I have also seen them in the far more striking Bloodroot. The linocut above, from a number of years ago, places them amidst bloodroot, something that I'd just seen at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

My recollection is that I've seen Mourning Cloaks much earlier in the year on occasion. This year we saw our first on April 6th. That seemed late. But when I checked one of my guidebooks where I often note the first sighting for a particular year I found that April 6th is normal, if not a day or two early. The same thing goes with Palm Warblers. Though we have seen them occasionally in March last year we saw them just one day earlier than this year. So even though this has seemed like a cold and long one, and though it seems everything is late it turns out not to be quite as late as I'd thought.

Someone remarked on my Facebook page that the Mourning Cloak is one of their favorite butterfies. It's easy to see why. It also signals the arrival of spring, though the lazy way that it drifts through space makes it seem altogether languid as though it should really appear in the hazy, lazy days of summer.

As I look at the pencil and crayon sketch at top, especially compared to the Mergansers and Grebes woodcut that I'm currently using as a header on this blog I realize that there is quite a difference in composition. The woodcut is much more solid in composition, as though more thought went into it. It did. But it also seems a bit rigid. That is fine if that's what you want to express. I have nothing against rigidity. But I don't want it to be my default style, especially when working abstractly where it tends to come quite easily to me. So as disorganized and floppy as drawings like the crayon one of squirrel, butterfly and Palm Warbler might be I do continue with them. My hope is that they will lead to something as organized as the Mergansers and Grebes but with the rigidity well hidden. I think I've been most successful in that goal in the watercolor below of a few years ago.

Saddlebags, Savannah Sparrow and Pumpkin at Rea Farm. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

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