Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Monday, May 31, 2010

Spying on My Nieghbors

Tonight at about 10pm I stepped out onto my balcony to take in the fresh smells after a passing rainstorm. Right away I heard the sound of ripping vegetation. After a few seconds of looking, I spotted the source of the noise. It was a mama moose browsing on the newly emerged leaves in my nieghbor's yard.
She was a little shy but she did'nt run away, and stayed long enough for me to grab my camera.
I soon noticed two small calfs prancing around her legs.
Too bad these photos dont convey how truly massive she was. Easily taller than me at shoulder hieght, far larger than a horse. I hate to brag but Alaska has the world's largest moose.
The calfs are playful and full of energy. I worry about these two because I live within half a block of two busy streets. Hundreds of moose are killed on roads locally every year.
So I was spying on my (furry) nieghbors. I hope they keep coming to visit.

Friday, May 28, 2010

On to Portage and Whittier

Turnagain Arm lies to the south of Anchorage. It was named by Captain Cook who tried to explore it in the 1700's but had to turn around because of shallow waters. The Seward Highway runs parallel to the railroad tracks.

Winter keeps a strong hold on the land around the ex-town of Portage, which lies at the end of Turnagain Arm. The small town was completely destroyed in the 1968 earthquake. This is a view of Portage Lake.
The white place in the middle is the dying Portage Glacier. It protruded out into the lake not long ago, but is about to disappear.
Because of avalanche danger in the steep hills between Portage and Whittier, They put the road through the mountain. The highway shares the same route as the railroad.
This is one of many glacial valleys on the other side of the tunnel.
I liked the sweep of these Alder branches. They form an impenetrable wall when they leaf out in the summer. Alders are one of the first plants to become established in the wake of a receding glacier.
Walt and his dog, Big Boy.
If you look close, you can see the tiny town of Whittier to the right of the driftwood.
Almost the entire town lives in one apartment building built by the military in WWll. This trip was the only time I have come to Whittier that it was'nt raining. The body of water is Prince William Sound. The same area that was devastated by the Exxon Valdez disaster. Now the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a bigger oil spill, and it's still growing.
We ate lunch at a dockside cafe in town. Here a Northwestern Crow holds a beakful of french fries.
This is a small corner of Prince William Sound.
There is a large Black-legged Kittiwake rookery on the cliffs surrounding these waterfalls.
Kittiwakes are a species of gull.

Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh is a wonderful wetland just south of Anchorage. Although it is pretty much a barren snowfield in the winter, during the summer it is teeming with nesting waterfowl.
Amoung the regular, Mallards, Widgeons, Shovelers etc. were also these Ring-necked Ducks. Later on Potter Marsh will host some Trumpeter Swans.
The marsh is popular with wildlife photographers because it is a good place to photograph Arctic Terns.
This time I wanted to try to get decent shots of terns in flight. For me this is very difficult because the terns fly so erratically, and there is about a one second delay between when I press the shutter, and when the digital camera responds. By then, the bird has moved out of the frame, and out of focus.
This is the best photo I was able to get, out of many trys. I hope to get an opportunity to try it again soon.
This tern was screaming at a nearby dog.
Tree Swallow
Another Tree Swallow. After leaving Potter Marsh, we headed south to Portage and Whittier. Those places are known for their breathtaking scenery. I will post photos of those places soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Creatures of the Black Lagoon

Well not exactly The Black Lagoon, that's in the movies, I mean Westchester Lagoon. The day was too nice to stay indoors and work, so I went back to Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage.
There were interesting clouds in the sky, early in the morning, but they soon dissapated.
I only saw drake Shovelers. I assume the hens were sitting on nests.
The lagoon does look kind of black in this photo. This is a drake, Greater Scaup.
There were also no hen Widgeons they must have been incubating eggs as well. This is a drake American Widgeon.
Mallards are common as dirt, but they are elegant.
A bathing Lesser Yellowlegs.
Arctic Terns are usually not easy to photograph at Westchester. They are the definition of grace on the wing.
This tern posed for me so well that I was able to shoot about 50 photos before it disappeared.
A third view of the beautiful bird.
This was the first Belted Kingfisher that I have seen this year.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fighting the Bear

Are'nt you sick of seeing this thing? I decided to tackle it once again, with the hope of getting better control of it.
The first thing I did was cover the background with a light wash. Then I covered the two main trees, the bear, and the ground with a darker glaze. Then the hard work began by making numerous minor adjustments to much of the painting.
I moved the bear's left ear, and I raised the ground level around the bear itself. Then I built up the leaf litter, covered the whole painting with a warm glaze, and punched up the highlights of the birch bark. Does the painting look any better? It's at least as good as the cougar painting, although I still hate it. I'll have to fix the cougar someday as well. I think I'm done with this one called, Goose Creek Bear, 16x20". I already varnished it.
I also got an idea to paint some wolves in the same setting, but with a darker background. That way the birch trees and wolves will show up lighter than the background color. I'm curious to see what that would look like.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cougar Canyon

Years ago I felt that I had fallen into a hopeless rut with my acrylic painting. One day while I was in the public library I noticed an old issue of The Artists magazine. The cover article was titled, Capturing Realism in Oils.
This article basically laid out the technique and formulas that the Renaissance master Titian used. I was so impressed by this that I went home and threw away my acrylics, then bought all the materials that Titian used.
Of course I got in way over my head when I tried to paint but I persisted in trying to learn to paint like the great masters, but wildlife, not people. The quality of my work really suffered at first, but gradually things came together. Years later I came to realize that any effect I could achieve with oils, I could replicate with acrylics, only much faster and without the nasty smells.
Gradually I developed my own mixed up techniques in acrylics, but I still feel like I am in a rut. With this painting I decided to go back to the Renaissance technique of painting first in black and white, and then applying color with thin glazes. I only painted the background rocks like that, but I should have done the cougar in black and white as well.

What I wanted to do is create a mysterious mood of atmosphere with brooding shadows. Here you can see that I overdid it with the glazes. I know what image I have in my head, I just dont quite know how to get it onto the painting.
In order to get a balanced composition, I decided that the painting needed more rocks in front.
I just keep developing the painting, hoping to make it look good.
A close up look at the cougar
At some point I had to decide that the painting is finished. Cougar Canyon, 11x14". Now maybe I'll torture myself with the Black Bear painting again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Day at the Beach

For the last few weeks I have wanted to take a day to go birding along the coastal trail in Anchorage. The weather has been so cold and windy, that I have been postponing it until today. There was partial sunshine, and no wind, so I went for it.
The Anchorage Coastal Trail is a real treasure, at least in the summer months. There is no beach to speak of, just mudflats that are treacherous to walk on. The waves are 6 inches high on a good day. The trail is laid out above the mudflats, and provide a safe overlook. It also connects with some greenbelts, and a lake, Westchester Lagoon.
It was high tide over the mudflats, so I was able to photograph this Bonaparte's Gull from fairly close.
The second bird to pose for a photo was this Surfbird. This is the only Surfbird I have seen along the Coastal Trail.
This is a pair of sleeping Short-billed Dowitchers.
Lesser Yellowlegs
Hudsonian Godwit in prime breeding plummage.
I turned inland at Westchester Lagoon and photographed this friendly, male Gadwall.
2 pairs of Shovelers.
What happened to their mates?
Last of all, a Tree Swallow nesting on the side of a building. I saw many other interesting birds today. Life is good.