Blue-winged Warbler - Vermivora pinus


May 29, 2008

For some time now I had been going into the museum on Wednesdays. They are probably the busiest day of the week in the bird prep lab in terms of sheer numbers of volunteers. I went in today instead due to a heavy work load earlier in the week, and quite enjoyed the more tranquil atmosphere. Bob, a usual Wed. volunteer was in too, and he was stationed at the sink cleaning skeletons coming out of the dermestid beetle tanks. He had just returned from a trip to North Carolina, which included some pelagic bird watching. Josh, who spends a good portion of the year in Cape Town, South Africa as a birding tour guide, was in as well, making a study skin of a Scarlet Tanager.

Dr. Willard had taken out 4 different kinds of warblers and one Indigo Bunting for me to make into skins. Everything had been collected last week by one of the local bird collision group monitors that go around to various Loop buildings to gather up migration casualties. One of these was a Blue-winged Warbler. I was confused at first, thinking it a Pine Warbler from just looking at its scientific name, Vermivora pinus, when in fact Pine warbler is Dendroica pinus. Bob wandered over looking at the Blue-winged, saying that it was not very common. It was an adult male, as signified by the bright patch of yellow on the crown, which females lack. For the most part, both male and female are bright yellow underneath, and olive yellow on top, with the wings being a dusty, blue-gray. It is closely related to, but very different in looks from, Vermivora chrysoptera, the Golden-winged Warbler. Hybrids of the two species can be found. Pinus benefitted initially from settlers clearing land for agriculture as it prefers open, brushy habitat, but numbers have been declining in recent years due to urban sprawl and forests reclaiming abandoned farmland. I'm beginning to feel like that could be a mantra for this blog: declining numbers due to sprawl, declining numbers due to loss of habitat, and on, and on.

This painting is for sale in the Etsy shop.

Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea


May 28, 2008

This week's painting commission is a male and female Passerina cyanea.

Red-headed Woodpecker-Melanerpes erythrocephalus


May 23, 2008

This week when I went into the Field Museum, Dave Willard had set aside two woodpeckers to work on; each interesting (and beautiful) in its own right. The first was a Pileated Woodpecker. I had worked on a Pileated before, but this was unique in that it was collected in La Grange, IL. Typically these are denizens of old growth forests, and you would be hard pressed to find them in Cook County. You would be much more likely to spot one in Wisconsin, Minnesota, or down in Southern Illinois near the Cache River, or areas along the Mississippi (Mississippi Palisades). They need old trees, with large circumferences to support their nesting cavities. This specimen was a female (looks like she had died from a head wound, as her skull was cracked) that was found in the Desplaines River corridor. La Grange being an "older" suburb may have some suitable habitat for Pileateds.

The other specimen I prepared was a Red-headed Woodpecker. I just had one pay a visit to my backyard last week for a couple of days. It would forage on the ground. Their large, bold patches of red, black, and white, create a striking appearance. There is no difference in plumage between males and females, and so they are indistinguishable in the field. According to the Birds of North America site, for such a conspicuous bird, surprising little is know about it. Part of the reason for lack of data, is its preference for nesting in precariously located spots in old snags, and dead branches. Recent declines in numbers were initially being linked to nesting competition from starlings, but recent studies have shown that there actually may be no direct link between the two.

This painting is available in the Etsy shop. Have a great holiday weekend!

Coyote in the Hood- Canis latrans


May 22, 2008

A couple of nights ago Jay and I were returning from a night out with some friends. Jay was still in the garage as I approached our house, and got my keys out to open the side door. Just then I looked up to see a dog run past our front gate. There was something about its manner of walking, its body language, that instantly told me this was not somebody's pet on the loose. I called (read: string of whispered cusses) to Jay and we crouched down in our front yard, and saw it run south down our block. It then turned around and ran past our house again and towards the park along the canal. It was a rather robust looking coyote. I knew that there are coyotes living in suburban areas, but this was a first seeing one on my block! We decided to follow it to what I refer to as "Watership Down" park, due to its high number of bunnies. We arrived at the park, and sure enough, there it was in a clearing presumably looking to make a meal out of the park's main inhabitants. It regarded us cooly for a moment, and decided we were no threat and went about its business. It was quite a site, but I guess with mountain lions making it into Chicago, I shouldn't be so surprised. Coyotes are quickly occupying predator niches once occupied by wolves in areas from which they have long been absent. A friend of ours volunteers at Wolf Park, a canid research facility in rural Indiana. He pointed the following blog out to us. I am in no way advocating coyotes as pets, and nor is this woman, I believe, but there are some great photos and insights regarding the raising a wild animal: Daily Coyote.

Golden Oriole - Oriolus oriolus


May 19, 2008

I've been so immersed in an illustration job, that I haven't even had a moment or two for Tiny Aviary. I have a little more breathing room this week, and so I just finished this commission of a Golden Oriole. Unlike New World orioles, such as the Baltimore Oriole, the Golden Oriole belongs to the family oriolidae, rather than the icterids. Icterids include the New World orioles, grackles, meadowlarks, and blackbirds. Oriolus oriolus is not native to North America, but can be found in parts of Western Asia, and parts of Europe. Last week I had a male and female Baltimore Oriole hanging about our yard. They are similar looking to this species, except the yellow is a deep, bright orange. That's where the similarities end, as icterids and oriolidae are quite unrelated other than in looks. This painting is going to someone that lives in India.

Well, I am hoping I can add a couple more updates this week to Tiny Aviary, but, I probably won't be able to get to it until next week. So have a lovely week!

C.F. Tunnicliffe


May 04, 2008

I couldn't go into the Field Museum last week, and have the sinking feeling I won't be making it in this week. I've a big illustration deadline coming up, and it's going to be a long week. I have plenty to post about, though, from my last volunteer shift of two weeks ago.

Assistant Bird Collections Manager, and master taxidermist, Tom Gnoske, showed up in the late afternoon. After helping me out with a hybrid Northern Flicker I was working on (and will be posting about later) he showed Andria and I a copy of a book by British wildlife artist C.F. Tunnicliffe. I was shamefully ignorant of Tunnicliffe's work. The book he brought in was all watercolor and gouache studies of British birds, and the renderings were masterful and astounding. After doing a little internet research I found the Tunnicliffe Society. Tunnicliffe died in 1979, and in addition to paintings, was also a printmaker; a man after my own heart. His etchings and wood engravings are tremendously skilled. I've posted a wood engraving of a Barn Owl up above. Even his lichens are amazing! Ah, something to strive for.



May 01, 2008

Ever since I saw a photo of a hummingbird's nest, I have been enchanted by the tiny, mysterious beauty of lichen. The nest was covered in at least a couple different species of lichen, the majority of which was a type of shield lichen (see link below). I rode my bike over to my favorite book store,Bookman's Alley, and haunted the natural history section hoping to find a used lichen field guide. No such luck, so I broke down and bought a new copy of "Lichens of the North Woods" by Joe Walewski, and its been difficult to keep my nose out of it. Lichens are actually 2 (sometimes 3) different organisms living cooperatively: algae and/or cyanobacteria, and fungus. While algae can exist on its own, the specific species of fungi that have developed the ability to "lichenize" cannot. It's gets more complex, but that is a very, very basic explanation of a lichen. Lichens can also act as bio-indicators of air quality, as they are collectors of airborne substances. Good air quality may be signified by the lichen diversity in a given area. While walking the dog a couple of days ago, I picked up a small fallen branch and identified Powdery Goldspeck, and Mealy Rosette Lichen (not 100% sure about that). Wee! The painting above is of Cladonia fimbriata or Trumpet Lichen. For more information, and photos of lichen mentioned in this post:

Lichens of North America

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