Jane Goodall and David Greybeard


August 30, 2012

I love Jane Goodall. She is my hero, plain and simple. I mean, I know, who doesn't love Jane? Like so many, I grew up watching her in National Geographic specials on tv, and reading about her and her beloved chimpanzees in NG magazine. Few have not seen those now iconic images of a young, blond English woman hiking Gombe, and living what seemed to be an idyllic life amongst the apes. 

When Jane began her research in Africa, she was not a formally trained scientist, and indeed this was one of the reasons Dr. Louis Leakey felt so strongly that she was perfect for studying chimpanzees. Her maverick (can I still use this word post Sarah Palin?) approach to studying these animals, led her to revolutionary discoveries that we now take for granted. The most famous being her witnessing tool use by the Gombe chimps. Dr. Goodall to this day quotes Dr. Leakey as saying "We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human."

In addition to all of Dr. Goodall's achievements, she is, above all an extremely compassionate person. Her undeniable empathy and compassion for chimpanzees and all other life, has influenced me and so many others in terms of how we think about the natural world and how we treat animals. And in her humility, Jane never credits herself for this, but instead credits the chimpanzees, seeing herself merely as interpreter. 

Over many years life has changed a lot  from those early idyllic times for Jane and the Gombe chimps. When she began her research, Dr. Goodall was of the mind that chimpanzees were just like us, but better: more peaceful, and loving. But as the years went on, she was to witness the darker sides of chimpanzee behavior: violence, infanticide and a bloody 'war' between two Gombe chimp groups that lasted 4 years, resulting in the deaths of every single member of one of the groups. In addition to these more troubling discoveries, she and the chimps have witnessed tremendous destruction of the habitat that surrounds the tiny 30 mile sliver that makes up the Gombe Reserve. Chimp numbers have plummeted due to habitat loss and a major spike in bushmeat hunting. It is for these reasons that Dr. Goodall decided to leave her beloved Gombe in the 1980s, to spend what now amounts to 300 days a year tirelessly working as an ambassador for the chimps and environment. 

I could go on, but will try to wrap this up. About my painting: David Greybeard was the first chimp that accepted Jane's presence. It was with him that she first observed tool usage amongst the chimps. She observed David and others using modified twigs to fish out termites from mounds. David Greybeard was a large, gentle male, distinguished by grey hairs on his chin, hence her name for him. Jane often was barefoot, but never without her binoculars and notepad. The bird is a Peter's Twinspot, a species that is found within the reserve. The painting is not for sale, but if there is enough interest I may make a very small (15?) print edition. 

Here's a reading list:

In the Shadow of Man (her early years in Gombe)
Through the Window (documents her later Gombe years)
Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man (good, comprehensive bio)
Me...Jane (wonderful children's book. Warning: it will make you cry, but in a good way)

Roots and Shoots (her great youth program)
Science Friday interview (Warning: it will make you cry, but in a good way)

The Backpack


August 29, 2012

Hello! I have been busy working away on a small series of paintings for Sebastian Foster. I had so much fun with making them. I worked on clayboard panel with gouache. I usually work on watercolor paper, so this was a good learning experience. 

The painting above is the last available. Normally, this time of year I am in Seattle and the San Juan Islands. The Pacific Northwest is one of our favorite places, and so not being able to go the last couple of years is a little achey. The image is kind of an homage to camping in the PNW, and hiking the mountains. I love corvids in general, but I particularly love Steller's Jays, Gray Jays and Ravens. When camping in the PNW, our sites were often visited by these curious, opportunistic birds. This is my idea of what happens if they happen upon a lost or abandoned backpack. 

The current plan is to keep Tiny Aviary going. It will be a bit broader in subject matter than it has been historically, but for the most part, work and posts and work will stick to the topic of nature and natural history, albeit a bit more loosely. I do plan on going back to volunteer at the Field Museum in a month or so, and thus hope that will result in more posts about museum work and collections. In the meantime, if you haven't done so already, for more up to date posting on my work, check out my FB page (link just under blogger header). 

Hope you're having a great week!

*"The Backpack" painting is currently available here.

New Facebook Page


August 16, 2012

Quick update to let you know that I now have a Facebook page for my work! There isn't a whole lot there at the moment, but it'll be a good way to get updates on new work and projects.


Dickcissel : : Spiza americana


August 13, 2012

Here's a little Field Museum work for you. I don't know how many follow my twitter or IG feeds, so if you do, this image might be redundant:

This is a female Dickcissel that I worked on a couple of weeks ago. I was told that they are not common occurrences in the Chicago area. It looks very sparrow-like, doesn't it? I thought for sure that they are related, but Dickcissels are currently placed in the family Cardinalidae which include grosbeaks, tanagers and cardinals.

S. americana is a bird of prairie and savannah habitats. While much of that type of habitat has been greatly altered here in the Midwest, there is evidence that these birds have been able to adapt to agricultural and secondary habitats. And indeed, they certainly have in their wintering habitats.

During the nonbreeding season, they form massive flocks in wintering grounds in parts of South America, specifically the llanos region of Venezuela. There, the flocks have earned them the reputation of a major crop pest. Since most of the Dickcissels' native habitats have been altered to agricultural use, they no longer are able to feed on native grasses, but have switched their diet to rice. The bird is known as the "el pajaro arrocero", or rice bird, in Venezuela.  There sorghum and rice farmers kill the birds in massive numbers, and this is believed to have had unfortunate effects on their overall populations (duh).

Ecological darkness aside, but not entirely, it's amazing to think that so many of the species I see during the spring and summer here, have come from far away and have been living this other, very different part of their life cycle. It's good to be aware that in terms of any type of conservation for a bird species, you can't just conserve one part of its range. It's no good to set aside habitat here in the north, if their wintering habitat is being destroyed down south. In many ways, birds are true global citizens, and remind us that its one planet, people.

On that note, courtesy the wonderful Cornell Lab of Ornithology, here's what a Dickcissel sounds like:

Ghost Bear


August 07, 2012


A bit of radio silence here, but I've been struggling with the fact that for some time now, and for at least several months to come, I am not able to go in the Field Museum of Natural History to volunteer in the bird lab. 

The initial intent of this blog was to document my experience of volunteering in a natural history museum, but as often the way, things change. Since then, my interests have grown along with my work and on top of it all I am now a mother. I'm finding it more difficult to post work on a regular basis that stays within that initial theme, especially when I am not able to go in to the museum on a weekly basis. 

Anyway, I've been considering starting a tumblr that would serve as a broader platform for my work and interests, but whether I do or not, I won't be shutting Tiny Aviary down. Just bear with me and my sluggish posting for the time being!

In the meantime, this is a new 6 color screenprint I made called 'Ghost Bear'. I've been really in to imagery from Hiyao Miyazaki films lately, especially Princess Monoke and Spirited Away. My daughter loves Ponyo and Totoro. Miyazaki's affinity for the natural world, and our impact on it is very much a part of all of the animated movies I just mentioned. 

The print is available here

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