Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Revisiting the Nasca Lines

It's cold here nowadays. When it gets cold, my mind immediately turns toward warmer climes. About three years ago, I went to Peru to escape the relentless cold. I know that I did a previous blog post about the mysterious, pre-colombian lines in southern Peru. It is an interesting enough subject, that it deserves a second look.
In the photo above, I shot this self portrait as a group of tourists and myself boarded a Cessna at the small airport near the town of Nasca. The guy next to me was a police officer from Wales. It was his first trip in a small plane.
The instant that any tourist enters the town of Nasca, they are approached by a tout offering tickets to fly over the Nasca Lines. The price seems to be set. I paid about $70.oo US.
The plane rose steeply out of the green, Nasca Valley. The desert is watered by runoff from rain and snow, high in the Andes Mountains to the east. These valleys that are connected to the distant Andes have been cultivated since long before the rise of the Inca civilization.
The valleys that are not connected to the Andes are bone dry. So dry that there is no vegetation in most places. The area recieves about one eighth an inch of precipitation a year. That's about half a centimeter. It comes down mostly in the form of a light mist.
The desert is so stark, that it's almost scary. Even though I was there at the hieght of their Summer, it was not nearly as hot as Phoenix, Arizona in the Summer. It is certainly beautiful.
Most of the Nasca Lines looked like this. The plane would tilt at 90 degrees, first left, then right, so that everyone could get a good look. The poor Brazilian sitting next to the pilot got violently airsick. He filled up three barf bags, his own, and the Welsh cop's, and mine.
The photo above, shows a figure with large bird feet. No one is certain of the purpose of these lines. They were laid down by successive generations of pre-inca peoples. Colonists knew nothing about their existence until someone flew over them in the 1920's. They must have had some ceremonial significance.
In the upper left of the photo, there is an observation tower next to the car, for people who dont want to fly to see the lines. I wonder if the erosion evident in the photo, preceded the tower, or is a result of it's construction?
A whale and an abstract design. The straight lines were made by pre-colombians after the figures were laid down. They were made by scraping off the top layer of soil, and pushing it to the side.
The Thunderbird. Of course these figures were named in modern times, not by their creators.
The Hummingbird. The real genius of these vanished peoples, was not the figures, it was their sophisticated irrigation systems. They even constructed irrigation canals that were covered to prevent evaporation. Some of them ran, and continue to run, for miles under the desert floor. Modern farmers still utilize them.
The spider was my favorite of the bunch. These people even constructed spiral wells, so that they could access the water as it gradually dropped lower.

The big attention getter is called the Astronaut. In more naive times, people speculated that it was inspired by space travellers. I imagine the guy is saying, "hi mom". It is about 200 yards, (meters) tall. I think these people were trying to get the positive attention of the gods in the heavens. There are eroded pyramids scattered throughout the desert as well.
There was this pair of Blue and White Swallows nesting in an embankment at the airport.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Fast Merganser

Hooded Mergansers may not be any faster than other mergansers. It was how fast I completed the painting.
Without much doubt, Hooded Mergansers are the most attractive of the various merganser species.
So for this painting, I pulled another old photo from a photo album. This photo was taken by my old friend Richard Inman at Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge, near Socorro, New Mexico. He sent me the photo to use as a reference, in case I ever wanted to use it in a painting. I've been meaning to do so for about 12 years.
First I sketched the bird on an 11x14" gessoboard. Then I roughed in some gray/green water.
In this stage I put a line of bulrushes along the top of the painting, and added some reflections of them in the water.
.Next I put in some thin blue reflections of the sky in the water, and a base of the duck's reflection. Then I extented some faint reflections of the top bulrushes.
The painting started to look like something when I roughed in the merganser.
The painting looks finished at this stage. I refined the subject and it's reflection, but I still have more work to do.
A detail of the completed merganser. There is still more work to do on the rest of the painting.
Richard's original photo had the merganser partially concealed behind more bulrushes. I added them. but I simplified the composition of the reeds.
The completed painting, Hooded Merganser, 11x14". I can't remember whether I've painted one before this. I bet I have.
Another detail photo. The whole painting only took a day and a half from start to finish. Time will tell whether I decide to make future changes to it. For now it looks fine.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Black and White

After completing the Harpy Eagle painting, I started kicking around ideas for the next painting. Small paintings are the easiest to sell and I have a lot of 9x12" gessoboards on hand. So first I coated one of them with gray gesso, and sanded it smooth after it dried.
Then I went through some of my many albums of reference photos for the zillionth time. I picked out the Black-capped Chickadee photo above first. I cannot remember how many times I have used this photo in paintings before, but it is my favorite chickadee photo.
Chickadee paintings are without doubt, the easiest of all subject matter to sell. It is no exageration to say that I have done at least 1000 chickadee paintings in my lifetime. There were times when I whipped out four chickadee paintings in one day. I am so burned out on them, that it is almost excruciating to make myself do another. That is why I surprised myself by being in the mood to do another chickadee painting.

This time I reversed the chickadee when I painted it. needless to say, I enhanced it's colors. You have to admit, the painting looks much better than the photo.
This is the other chickadee photo that I picked out. It is a copy of a print, made from a slide. The original slide does not look so bad.  I have used this photo in a number of paintings as well. I guess it's high time for me to go out and get more chickadee photos. I do have dozens of other chickadee photos to choose from.
This is my version of the last photo. A huge improvement if I may be so immodest.
The whole painting, Black and White, 9x12". Now that it's finished, I seem to remember that I did a nearly identical painting, using the same two chickadees, and the same basic composition. Only that earlier painting, was painted in black and white, without any other colors. Ironic that the black and white painting was not called Black and White. The first version may have actually been a better painting without distracting colors.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fire Island

This is not THE Fire Island back east that is infamous for it's wild parties, and outrageous behavior. The bad photo above is our little Fire Island just offshore from Anchorage. Fire Island is the low spit of dark land on the right of the photo. Sleeping Lady is the mountain in the background.
No one lives here and access to the island is severely limited. Most of it is owned by the military, or a Native American Tribe, called Cook Inlet Regional Corporation locally. They are getting ready to build a large wind farm on Fire Island next summer.
This photo, and those that follow, were all taken by Scott, who flew out to the island recently. Fire Island is unusual in the area because it has a real beach, and sand dunes.
As you can see by Scott's great photos, this is a very picturesque place. It might look warm and sunny, but our temperatures are in the high thirties faranheit, these days. Low twenties at night. Things are preticted to warm up to the low forties in the next few days. I'll take what I can get.
A small lake. This island is best known for it's constant winds. It is funny to me how different local areas here, have very different weather patterns. Here in Anchorage, the east side of town, where I live, is far less windy and wet, than south Anchorage. We also get much colder here in the winter, than the west side of town. The Cambell Creek Science Center, about three miles away, is the coldest part of town. Interior Alaska is much colder still.
You can imagine the frequent winds by seeing the striations in the sand.
Any plant experts out there that can identify this plant? I think it's non-native to Alaska.
A Devil's Club. See the spines on the stalk? That's how it gets it's name. They are wimpy compared to the spines on many plants in the Southwest.
This is not from Fire Island. Scott shot this photograph today. I'm not sure where. It's another view of the tundra jungle.
Scott told me where he went today, but I forget what he said. This must be Turnagain Arm.
I bet he shot this photo from his airplane, rather than climbing up some steep mountain.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


A local birder reported seeing a Long-tailed Duck, some White-winged, and Surf Scoters on Lake Hood, here in Anchorage. I dont have photos of any of those species, so my friend Dan and I went to check them out.
We waited about a week before getting around to going, so we missed them. While we were out and about, we headed over to Spenard Crossing to see if there was anything to photograph over there. We spotted this gull diving underwater. Who knew that gulls ever dive underwater? Care to guess what species it is based on it's wing pattern alone? You are a master birder if you can identify it.
This aint it. This is a winter, Mew Gull that was hovering nearby.
This is the Mew Gull, in front of the diving gull. Any guesses yet? It's an easy one now that you can see it's head.
Compare this gull to the top gull in the last photo. Notice the difference in head, and bill shapes? This gull is the one I shot a few weeks ago that I thought might be a Thayers Gull. Now I'm certain that it is. A new bird for me. Any guesses on the identity of the diving gull?

It's really no mystery. It is one of the most widespread, and common gulls in the world. It is made up of many sub-species, related species, and geographical races. It's just a common ol' Herring Gull. There is a reason why it was trying to dive underwater...
There was a large, rotting salmon just underwater. It was too big for the gull to pull up. So the gull was trying to tear off bite-sized chunks. Yuck!

It would hop up, and dive most of the way underwater to reach the big fish.  Those are Gadwalls in the background.
Another perspective of the diving, Herring gull.

It never went all the way underwater.
A Common Goldeneye passes in front of the Herring Gull. It gives some perspective on the relative sizes of the two birds.
There were no sea ducks at Lake Hood, but the top duck in the photo is sort of a sea duck. It's a female, Red-breasted Merganser, with a widgeon. I have never seen a Red-breasted Merganser on fresh water before, and never in Anchorage either. Although they nest on fresh water, they usually winter in the sea.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Harpy and the Moon

This is my latest painting. A Harpy Eagle, 12x16". I dont have a title for it yet.
Seeing one of these in the wild was one of my greatest birding goals. I finally got it in Ecuador about three and a half years ago. What a major thrill. Now I want to see the Phillipines Eagle. That's not likely to happen.
For the last several evenings, I have been photographing the end of Autumn in the field next door. I really like the way that the light of the setting sun iluminates the snow on the hillsides.
The light changes by the minute.
The snow line slowly creeps down the mountains toward the town.
Most of the trees are bereft of their leaves, but there are always a few hangers on.
Weed seed heads of some sort.
There are still a few sad, Daisies losing their battle against the cold.
Fireweed seed heads.
Another Fireweed seed head.

A rain puddle dried up. The mud cracked. Now it's coated by a fine film of frost.
The rain puddles that did'nt dry up, are freezing fast.
I like the abstract patterns of the frozen water.
The full moon rose over the mountains, just after the sun went down. Now it's time for dinner.