Our Urban Raptor Friends


March 06, 2014

Hello! I recently was asked to illustrate a radio segment that will highlight three most commonly seen species of raptor in urban and suburban areas, and specifically the Chicago area. These are (from left to right) the Sharp-shined Hawk, Cooper's Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk. 

Red-tailed are hard to miss. They are quite large and are so often seen perched next to, or hovering over highways. 

It used to be that Cooper's were quite rare, but in recent years they have gotten quite good at adapting to suburban environments; using bird feeders as their personal snacking buffets. I witnessed this first hand a couple of summers ago when a large (probably adult female) picked off a sparrow from my feeder. Felt bad for the sparrow, but both the hawk and it's surgical sparrow extraction were pretty impressive. 

I am less familiar with Sharp-shined Hawks. They are less common then either of the other two, and in fact, their numbers may be declining; possible they are being displaced by Cooper's. This is speculation, though, as I really have no idea. As you can see "Sharpies" look mighty similar to Cooper's. Aside from a couple of subtle physical differences, they can be difficult to distinguish from each other in the field. Sharp-shined are a little bit smaller, have a rounder head profile, stockier neck, and the the bottom of their tail feathers form a straighter line than that of the Cooper's. The outer tail feathers (rects) on a Cooper's are a bit shorter and more softer edged than the inner rects, giving an overall rounder shape.

Once the radio segment is complete, I will be sure to post a link!

* as of 3/9 the original painting is now available HERE

The Holocene and Monarch Butterflies


February 26, 2014

I have been working on several pieces for an exhibit on extinction. The exhibit is one of many that will be happening throughout this year to mark the 100 year anniversary of the death of the very last Passenger Pigeon. "Martha" died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. It's difficult to imagine that a species that once numbered in the millions was reduced to a single bird over the course of a couple of centuries, and yet, here we are...Some scientists are proposing that we are living in the age of the Sixth Extinction or the Holocene. And unlike previous waves of mass extinctions on earth, this one is driven by humans. Heavy stuff for a Wednesday, I know, or any day for that matter.  

Monarch Butterfly numbers have been plummeting in recent years due to loss of habitat. I have recently become a member over at Monarch Watch and have registered our yard as Monarch Waystation Habitat. We have monarchs come to our yard every year, but yes, last year I noticed the low numbers. So I made the painting above trying to address some of the feelings associated with a biological loss of this sort. If you live in the Midwestern US or Canada, I urge you to plant some native flowers in your backyard. I'm not very optimistic these days about where this is all headed, but still choose to be hopeful that even little actions like this can help and that it is worth it. 

* 4/1/2014 update: This is now available as a print HERE

The Herald Moth: Scoliopteryx libatrix


February 19, 2014

Roughly 4 months ago, when the days were getting shorter and autumn was settling in, I was going through the side entrance on our house. There is a little eave overhanging that door, and in summer, especially late summer, I habitually look up as that eave is often a favorite lair for large, brown, orb weaving garden spiders. I try to peacefully coexist with our arachnid friends, and part of this is taking care not to walk face first in to one of their webs (it's happened).

This evening when I peered up, there was a beautiful, delicate looking moth tucked up in a corner of the eave. It looked dead, and given that the eave was in use as a spiders' bug larder, that was my assumption. I nudged it slightly with my pinky finger, and it tipped in to my hand, motionless. 

Wanting to identify it, I brought it in to the house, took a photo and posted to Instagram. Some smarty pants on IG immediately identified it as Scoliopteryx libatrix, common name The Herald Moth. When I finished staring at my IG feed, I looked back to the piece of paper that I had placed the moth on and...it was gone. I looked around on the floor, my lap, the table, and then looked up and found the little Lazarus fluttering around the ceiling light. I quickly set it free outside.

I learned later that Herald Moths will seek out cool, dark structures (i.e. my side door eave) to hibernate in through the winter, and take wing again in spring. So...I had awoken this one from its peaceful torpor, but it had me duped! I'll know better next time not to disturb, and hope this one found another suitable spot to winter. Ice and snow are finally thawing around here. I'm keeping my eye out for Heralds.

*painting here

Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis


February 10, 2014

Northern Cardinals are a permanent, year round fixture of the bird-scape where I live. So ubiquitous that it is easy to take their striking appearance and song for granted. In winter, and especially this winter, their scarlet red plumage is a welcome shock of color. The bright red of the males is beautiful, of course, but I love the female plumage just as much: brown with the tail, crest, and wing tips dipped in crimson. 

For the last several years I have been trying to mentally mark the first day in late winter that I hear a cardinal sing their melodic, dipping hymn. Weeks, and months of seeming silence as fall darkens towards winter solstice, and then the days begin their slow creep towards longer hours of light. Supposedly both male and female Northern Cardinals sing all year. Around here, however, in the darkest winter days I never hear their songs; often a sharp string of "chips", but not the swooping melodies of spring and summer.

Today, was the first day of 2014 I heard that song return. I was leaving my local cafe, coffee in hand, rushing across a dingy snowed covered street when I paused to listen. Springtime, in this part of the world at least, is still a ways off, but that cardinal let me know there is hope in the air.

Tree of Life


February 07, 2014

I wasn't able to post this week because of big illustration deadlines. Hopefully next week I can get some time in to paint subject matter that interests me rather than having to meet the weird requests of art editors. 

This is a painting I made back in October. October and autumn feels like it was eons ago. What a winter we are having! I love do love snow and winter, but I am starting to feel that itch for green. I have been fantasizing about my garden a lot and pouring over seed catalogues. 

Anyway "Tree of Life" is available as a print now. Hope you have a lovely weekend and that you are warm and safe, wherever you live. 

Cold People


January 24, 2014

Have I ever mentioned my little obsession with the Arctic regions (YES) and some of the people that live in these stark areas? In particular I have a deep interest in the Sami people. A few months ago I made this painting homage to the Sami:

There are some good documentaries that have come out recently in which I have been able to indulge in my obsession. Happy People by Werner Herzog follows a year in the lives of hunters in the Siberian Taiga. I loved it. Herzog always has an interesting perspective. My only gripe is that for my tastes, it's focus was too narrow. It focused solely on the hunters as they made their preparations for leaving their families for many months to hunt. I also wanted to see what life was like for the families (i.e. women and children) that they had to leave behind. Still...a worthwhile portrait of the people that inhabit this remote area.

And now I will look forward to seeing Aatsinki. It's being released on January 25th. It follows a year in the lives of families of reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland. Looks to be very interesting, with a lot of beautiful, stark landscapes. I am hoping that it will maybe be a more well rounded portrait of the families, even though it is advertised and focusing on 2 "Arctic cowboy" brothers. 

Well, in the Midwest here we're bracing ourselves for some very low temperatures next week. Maybe my obsession with cultures that live in arctic climates, helps me to keep things in perspective here. Have a lovely weekend and stay warm!

The Wonders of Nature


January 22, 2014

Hello, yes, I do still check in here every now and then. If you follow my Instagram feed, and Facebook pages you know that I am busy creating and making, but I miss posting here regularly. My time is divided a bit differently these days. I haven't been in to the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History to volunteer in the bird lab for months, and I tell, you it is breaking my heart. I love that place so much, but I had too many irons in the fire as they say, and well, something had to give for the sake of my sanity. 

For the time being I have found other ways to give my time to in areas that engage my natural history interest. A couple of weeks ago I participated in an English Buckthorn and Japanese Honeysuckle removal workday at our local forest preserve. It was super satisfying to remove those most tenacious and aggressive of invasive species (except kudzu)! A group of about 20 of us trudged through snowy woods and found the plants that had been marked for removal that fall, and then cut, lopped, and in some cases, chainsawed them off. 

If you don't follow me on other social media outlets, I wanted to share the above image with you. I made it for a group gallery show in which the theme was all work inspired by Little Golden Books. I chose "The Wonders of Nature". The original book was illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. As you can imagine, engagement with the natural world is something we try to encourage in our little 3 yr old daughter. Children have an instinctive curiosity about nature that the book captures simply and beautifully. I wanted to create a painting that captured some of that, as well as Wilkin's aesthetic. You can all of the Little Golden Show pieces HERE.

It's been a colder and more snowy winter than in recent years; more like the winters of my childhood. Fighting cabin fever and staying engaged with the natural world can get challenging in late winter when the low temps and every surface being iced over conspires against spending quality time outside. But when nature gives you copious amounts of snow...make snow forts! I have a lot of exciting projects coming up this year and can't wait to share them with you. I'll continue to try to keep this thing going, but remember that you can always see my latest efforts on FB and IG. 

In the meantime, the original "Wonders of Nature" painting is sold, but you can get a print of it here

I hope your 2014 is off to a wonderful start, and stay warm!

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