Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Arizona, 12x16"

This is what I have been working on for the last several days. It is a Red-tailed Hawk with a Rock Squirrel in it's talons. The title of the 12x16"painting is, Arizona. The reference photos that I used were photos of an imm. Redtail that I rehabilitated when I still lived in Arizona. The actual painting has much richer colors than can be seen in this photo.
Although I was not a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, the Dept. of Game and Fish would often get overwhelmed by the number of injured and orphaned wildlife that people brought to them. That is when they would call me to help out on an emergency basis.
A trapper shot this bird when it pounced on a Gray Fox that was caught in one of his traps. He could easily have left the hawk to die, but he had enough of a conscience to bring it in for treatment.
This was a large, sub-adult female. She planted her talons deep into my flesh when I tried to get her out of the car when she was brought to me. Those sharp daggers sank into my hands and arms like they were marshmallows. OUCH! I raised rats in my shed, and collected fresh roadkill to feed this bird. The Rock Squirrel is roadkill that I tossed into the back of my pick-up and brought home.
This is her on the first day, all menace and fury. In a very short time she tamed down and actually had a very sweet personality. When she was ready to be released, she did not want to go.
Another sub-adult female that I rehabilitated. This was an American Kestrel. She became so tame that she wanted to perch on my shoulder all day like a parrot. When she was not on my shoulder, she would follow me from room to room.
She hated to go outside, but as she matured she became more independent. In a period of about two weeks, she went from fearing the outdoors to sitting by the window and longing to go outside. When she was released, she took off with great enthusiasm and never looked back.
This adult, male Northern Goshawk never tamed down at all. On the day we released it back into the wild it started screaming in excitment. As soon as it flew, a wild Sharp-shinned Hawk darted out of the forest and chased it.
Not a bird that I rehabilitated. Just a nice view of an imm. Townsend's Solitaire from my AZ. days.
One of the local species of warbler in Northern Arizona, Virginia's Warbler. We also had Red-faced Warblers and Painted Redstarts amoung others. I just did'nt manage to bring photos of those beautiful species to Alaska with me.
Hermit Warblers were not local breeders, they only migrated through the area in the early fall.
The most common hummingbird species around Lakeside was the Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Time For a Reptile Fix

Right now I'm working on a painting set in the desert Southwest. That, and the very warm, sunny weather we are experiencing around here lately has made me nostalgic for my old homestate of Arizona. I have been reviewing old photos from there and remembering that before birds, I was a herper.
The common rattlesnake species around Lakeside where I lived, was the Arizona Black Rattlesnake. It is a sub-species of the highly variable Western Rattlesnake, (a super-species made up of many sub-species).
Of the hundreds of snakes that I have encountered in my travels, two individuals stand out for being the most pugnacious. One was a Siamese Viper that literally chased me off the road in Thailand, and this very excitable Western Diamondback in the above photo.
I found it under an old refridgerator outside the small town of Clifton. In it's fury, it struck at everything and even bit itself several times. There was venom flying all around the place. I was very intimidated and wanted to keep my distance, but I was goaded into capturing it by some friends who were with me.
They twisted my arm into bringing it home so we could show more of our friends and co-workers this exceptionally irascible snake. In a few days it calmed right down and became easily manageable for photos.
Continuing on the venomous snake theme. This is an Arizona Coral Snake. It is possible that I have posted this photo previously. I just dont remember. It is the opposite of the previous snake, the Arizona Coral Snake is known for it's meek disposition. It spends almost it's entire life underground, and feeds almost exclusively on other small snakes.
One small snake that is toxic to the coral snake, Regal Ringneck. They also spend most of their time underground.
A harmless coral snake mimic, Arizona Mountain Kingsnake. Remember the old addage for distinguishing between coral snakes and their mimics," Red touches yellow, I'm so mellow. Red touches black, you're dead jack". Wait a minute. It should be,"Red touches black, friend of Jack. Red touches yellow, kill a fellow". The Arizona snakes are all red, black, and white anyway. The North American coral snakes all have black snouts, but these rules do not necessarily apply south of the border.
Another species of kingsnake, the California Kingsnake also occurs in the deserts of parts of Arizona. Kingsnakes are cannibalistic, and this kingsneke is getting ready to eat a young Arizona Black Rattlesnake.
Let's move on to some lizards. There are many species of North American lizards that belong to the fence lizard clan, sceloporus. One of the largest is the Desert Spiny Lizard. This is a female. The male is more colorful.
A close relative to the Desert Spiny Lizard, this is a Clark's Spiny Lizard that occurs at higher elevation than the former species.
A Lesser Earless Lizard. This is a gravid female. It also lives at higher elevation than it's larger relative, the Greater Earless Lizard.
One of the defensive behaviors of the Mountain Short-horned Lizard is puffing up with air to appear larger. Rarely they will squirt blood out of their tear ducts. They eat mostly just ants.
From anecdotal observation, I believe that Madrean Alligator Lizards are more intelligent than other Southwestern lizards.  When you drop a bunch of lizards into a terrarium, most of them run headlong into the glass, and they wear themselves out trying to climb the smooth glass sides.
Madrean Alligator Lizards dont really do that. They systematically explore the enclosure, looking for an escape opportunity.They are far less likely to bite when being handled than other alligator lizard species.
I'm sure that I've posted this photo at some point. My favorite lizard of the White Mountain region of Arizona where I lived was the Collared Lizard. They are large, belligerent, colorful, and they run on two legs. This is a female. They do tame easily, like most reptiles.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A New Painting and Some Random Photos

The latest painting is a 9x12" portrait of some migrating Dunlins called, Rest Stop.
A pesky Red Squirrel in a sprouting Black Cottonwood. We only have three squirrel species around here plus Hoary Marmot. We have Red Squirrels around town, Arctic Ground Squirrels up in the hills, and Northern Flying Squirrels in lowland areas with lots of Spruce Trees. I have never seen the uncommon, and nocturnal flying squirrel.
Common Redpoll.
This Savannah Sparrow prefers to run along the ground than to fly.
A Tree Swallow.
A confiding Steller's Jay.
Gray Jays are far less common around town than Steller's Jays. Magpies greatly outnumber both of them put together.
My friend Dan had this young Black Bear in a Birch Tree in his yard. This is his photo.
The bear was chased up the tree by the neighbor's dog. Eventually it came down and ran away.
Remember this painting from a few days ago?

I played with it some more. The painting looks better although the photo is'nt quite as good. Can you see the differences?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Green Spring Fling

Last evening Anchorage Audubon put on a sumptuous potluck get together at Westchester Lagoon. I used the opportunity to walk the coastal trail once again to see how the season is progressing. Grass is growing again and the trees are leafing out. White-crowned Sparrows are singing all over town, and I started seeing Orange-crowned Warblers along the trail.  The photo above is a fishing boat returning to port with Fire Island and Mt. Susitna, (Sleeping Lady) in the background.
There were four Sandhill cranes out on the mudflats. No doubt the same birds that I have been seeing on nearby Fish Creek. They were quite far away but I liked the soft lighting of the overcast sky.
I like this photo the best.
There were a bunch of widgeons out on the mudflats as well.
A closer photo.
Finally I made it to Westchester Lagoon in time for dinner.
Although it sprinkled on the way to the lake, the sky was brooding but there was no rain during the event.
I liked the moodiness of the mountains and clouds.
A Hudsonian Godwit rests on one of the two small islands in Westchester Lagoon along with some Greater Scaup.
In a small slough connected to the lake I got confused for a while because I heard a shorebird calling loudly. I looked for the bird and saw this Lesser Yellowlegs in prime breeding plummage, but the calls I was hearing sounded nothing like the distinctive call of a yellowlegs. I showed this photo to the president of Anchorage Audubon, Mr. Whitekeys, who concurred that it was a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Then I went back to the little slough. The yellowlegs was gone, and the real caller was out in the open, a Solitary Sandpiper. See the green grass I talked about in the beginning of this post?
Last summer I got my first photos of a Solitary Sandpiper at nearby Spenard Crossing. These photos are much better. I wonder if it could be the same bird?
As I returned home at the end of an enjoyable evening, I saw this moose nearby. Last week I saw the usual nieghborhood moose that I see from time to time. The mother and her yearling male calf.
I wondered when she would drive her calf off and give birth to a new one. Just about 3 days ago the local news reported that a cow moose with two newborn calfs had been shot in a nearby nieghborhood. It had allegedly been threatening children, and I feared it might be my moose.
You can see by the notched left ear that this is the same cow moose that I last photographed at Christmas time. Judging by her scars, she has had a rough winter. The yearling calf was nowhere to be seen. I wonder if she has a newborn calf hiding somewhere nearby?
True to her usual calm temperament, she ignored my presense completely.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

eBIRD and the Life List

Way back in 1977, I was serving as a missionary in a hellhole in the jungles of Nayarit, Mexico called Santiago Ixcuintla. I hated the town, but loved the jungle. There were many wild parrots and flashy birds like Magpie Jays and Kiskadees. I was very curious to know the names of these birds .
A few months later I was in Guadalajara where I found the above book in a bookstore. This is now one of my prized possessions. As you can see it has seen some use over the years.
At first I was overwhelmed by the myriad of similar-looking birds that were depicted in the book. I only paid attention to the most colorful, or distinctive birds in the book.
The idea of going out birdwatching was preposterous to me. I did'nt even own a pair of binoculars. I did start becoming familiar with the birds that I saw often like Groove-billed Anis and Great-tailed Grackles.
When my mission was over and I moved to Lakeside, Arizona I stumbled into another bookstore and purchased the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America. I borrowed my father's binoculars and went down to the local lake to sort out the various species of ducks.
After I figured them out I moved on to other bird families like woodpeckers and raptors. One day it occured to me to try and figure out all of the bird species that I was seeing. I bought a pair of binoculars of my own and although I did'nt even know it at the time, I was now a birder.
That old field guide fell apart many years ago. Now I have a newer version, autographed by Roger Tory himself.
I was a serious birder for seven or eight years before I crossed paths with another birder. That came about when a friend of mine showed me an article about an upcoming Audubon Christmas Bird Count she had found in the newspaper. I contacted them and joined in the bird count. What a surprize it was to me to find other birders living in the area.
My father often talked about the novel he was going to write when he retired. Upon his retirement, my sister bought him a journal to write in. When my father died I came across this journal amoung his belongings. He had not written one word.

The Audubon society stressed the importance of keeping records of bird sightings. I decided that using my father's old journal would be a good way to keep track of what I was seeing. December 1987 was when I participated in my first Christmas Bird Count, the Timber Mesa Circle. I was assigned to a team consisting of myself, and Bob and Lorreta Pena. We were told to cover the area all around the nearby town of Show Low, where my brother still lives.
You can see the list of what we saw above. We counted individuals of each species as well. In 2004 I went back and tried to flesh out some of the details.
Back in those days I was very active and enthusiastic about listing what birds I was seeing. Unfortunately I did'nt bother making other pertinent notes like behavior, habitat, weather conditions, sexes, age etc.
Eventually I learned that many birders kept a tally of all the birds they had seen called a life list. I started mine in January of 1991. The birds marked in yellow are the birds I saw in the United States.
By the time I went to South Africa last year, my life list filled up the journal even onto the back cover. I've run out of room to add more birds. What a tradgedy it would be if something were to happen to this book.
Along comes eBIRD to the rescue. A week ago I attended the Matsu Bird Club's monthly meeting where eBIRD was the topic of the main program. I thought it was going to be a very dull topic but was in for a big surprize.
eBIRD, http://www.ebird.org/, is basically a warehousing of all bird knowledge. They gather results from CBC's, Breeding Bird Surveys, Government and University research etc. One of the most important aspects of it is the contribution of amatuer birders.
They want all of your, and my records. Everything we got. They use this information to look at bird populations from every possible perspective. For example they can look at a particular species like Ovenbird, and create a moving range map that follows their annual movements in great detail. They can pinpoint exactly what habitat the birds utilize, and follow population trends over time. This is one scenario of many that eBIRD looks at.
eBIRD has good information about the eastern United States, but need more information about the rest of the world.
What they do for birders like me is organize our individual lists and let us view our own records from numerous statistical models.
If I lose my book, it will live on in perpetuity. I get to compare my records with what others are seeing in the same areas etc.
The problem for me is that I have so many old bird lists that it will take many months of tedious work to transfer them to eBIRD. This all may be boring but it represents a great leap of scientific progress. Check it out for yourself.