Sunday, December 27, 2015

Highlights of the Natural Year - 2015, Part 1

Ebony Jewelwing. Photo by Ken Januski.

Over the last couple of years I've ended the year on this blog with a post about my best reading of each year. Delacroix's Journal was near the top both years as I recall. Though I'm tempted to do the same year I'm instead going to show some of the highlights of the natural year, experiences in nature that were most memorable.

For whatever reason one of the most striking was a huge hatch of Ebony Jewelwings seen at Morris Arboretum. In one corner of the Arboretum, between the Wissahickon and Paper Mill Run, a tributary of the Wissahickon, every step I took brought up 3-5 new damselflies. They've always been one of my favorites but I generally see just one or two at a time. In this case there were easily 100. The only somewhat comparable experience was a wealth of Autumn Meadowhawks at John Heinz NWR it the fall. But this isn't the first time we've seen many of them in the fall, most notably at Magee Marsh near Toledo, OH, so they weren't quite as striking. Still they do illustrate one of the many wonders of nature: not rarity but almost the opposite, fecundity.

With that introduction to this post made I'll now move on to a more chronological list.

Hundreds of Snow Geese Flying over Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski.

I didn't really intend to continue the fecundity theme but it turns out that one of the earliest natural highlights was the momentary appearance of hundreds of Snow Geese over Morris Arboretum on January 25, 2015. I chose this photo not because it looks like much but because it does give an idea of the numbers. I believe that I counted a total of 225.

Peregrine on Church Steeple. Watercolor by Ken Januski.

As I've written before we don't see many Peregrine Falcons. The most memorable have been at Cape May, NJ and at Forsythe NWR also I NJ. Then we heard that they nested very close to where we live, less than a mile away actually. Since then we've seen them more and more frequently, especially when they are actively feeding the young and when the young are just starting to fly. It is always a great thrill to see and hear the young ones briefly fly high above our backyard. But I was particularly surprised to find this one, perched on the same church steeple where they nest, on the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count, on February 13, 2015. This is a small watercolor I did of it.

Red-breasted and Common Merganser with Bufflehead. Woodcut by Ken Januski

Red-breasted and Common Merganser with Bufflehead. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

Soon after seeing the Peregrine I saw my first ever Red-breasted Merganser at Flat Rock Dam in the nearby Schuylkill River, along with two Common Merganser and two Bufflehead. I did the watercolor sketch soon afterwards and then eventually used it as the basis for the woodcut. Despite my best intentions the woodcut did not turn out as well as I had hoped. But my prints often involve experimenting with something new, moving on rather than consolidating knowledge and skill. So perhaps I bit off more than I should have.

Long-eared Owl. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.
Though we've birded quite a bit over the last 20 years we haven't seen that many owls. So when Long-eared Owls were reported at John Heinz NWR in SW Philadelphia and they seemed to stay there for a few days we just had to take a chance and head down to look for them. Though there was only one left and it was buried in a tangle and thus hard to see or photograph I did manage to make this quick watercolor sketch based on some of the photos. As birders often don't seem to recognize the need not to intrude on unusual birds, especially owls, we didn't stick around as long as we might have with some other birds. Still it was a great thrill to see the bird. Recently I received Scott Weidensaul's new book on owls and the photos remind me of the orange face which we only briefly saw. How nice it would have been to be able to see and capture that in paint. Perhaps next time.

We have been fortunate enough to see and hear Great Horned Owls numerous times this year in Philadelphia so our luck with owls seems to be getting better. Though we rarely saw them we used to go to sleep to Barred Owls calling when we regularly vacationed at Lewis Mountain Campgrounds at Shenandoah National Park 10 years or so ago.

Canvasback and Hooded Merganser. Charcoal Drawing by Ken Januski.

Canvasback and Hooded Merganser. Ball Point Pen Field Sketch by Ken Januski.
One of the ducks I've always wanted to see but haven't is the Canvasback. I'm sure I read somewhere of it being called the Aristocrat of Ducks. It's easy to see why with that seemingly noble forehead and beak, not to mention the striking colors, especially in the drake. We saw our first ever at the Manayunk Canal in early spring then saw the drake above at Morris Arboretum where it stuck around for at least two weeks as I recall. And with him were numerous Hooded Mergansers, perhaps the Crown Princes and Princesses of Ducks. When I saw the two drakes together I couldn't resist a large charcoal drawing, shown above as well as a woodcut. The also offered one of the first chances, along with the Long-eared Owl, for field sketches in 2015.

Next it will be time for the first warbler of 2015. That means spring and probably the time for a separate installment of this post.

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