Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Ten New Birds, 2011

The list of my favorite new birds in 2011 is arbitrary, and based mostly on my sentimental opinions. The one that I anticipated seeing the most was the Great Blue Turaco. The first individuals that I saw were in a city park in Entebbe, Uganda on my first day in the country. We also saw Ross's, Black-billed, and White-crested Turacos. All of them new species. They complemented nicely the Knyshna, and Purple-crested Turacos that I saw the year before in South Africa. Turacos occur only in Africa.
Who would'nt be thrilled to see African Grey Parrots in their natural habitat? This one was in the Bigodi Wetlands, in western Uganda.
Whenever I travel to a good birding destination, there are always certain species that stand out, and I want to see them most of all. There are others, such as vagrants, that are so rare that I have no real hope of seeing them.
The Short-toed Snake Eagle, (now called Bedouin's Snake Eagle) is a species that was never even on my radar screen because it is a vagrant to Northern Uganda, and we did'nt even venture that far north. We saw this one in Murchison Falls National Park.
Another extremely rare vagrant that I never even anticipated seeing was this Egyptian Plover, also in Murchison. They are extinct in Egypt, and most of the rest of their traditional range.
Not all my new birds were in Uganda. I got three lifers in Alaska this year. The best was this Redwing in Seward in November. It is a European, or Eurasian vagrant. Another bird that I could never have anticipated seeing.
Over the years I have seen other European vagrants in Alaska. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tufted Duck, Red-necked Stint, and Arctic Warbler which regularly breeds in a few select areas in Alaska. I have searched in vain for other vagrants that showed up in Anchorage, Siberian Accentor, Common Cuckoo,  Eurasian Widgeon, Common Gull, Ivory Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, and  others that I have no doubt forgotten.

Dusky Thrush was the Asian vagrant that I saw just a few days ago. Too bad I could'nt get a passable photo.
The primary target species for virtually every birder who goes to Uganda is the Shoebill. it can be reliably found nowhere else. Truly prehistoric in it's visage.
To me, the Black Bee-eater is the epitome of an exotic bird. I hardly dared to hope for this surreal species. What an incredible thrill it was, when Tom pointed this bird out in Bwindi Imperetrable Forest. Too bad I got such poor photos. I did my best to clean this image up a little in photo editing. We saw seven bee-eater species in Uganda.
Another gem that I first hoped to see in South Africa, but missed it. It was the first bird that I identified in Uganda. It turned out to be very common in many places there. The Scarlet-chested sunbird is certainly a great beauty. We saw a bounty of fourteen sunbird species in Uganda.
The elegant Lizard Buzzard was a raptor that I anticipated seeing first in South Africa, but I missed it there. I was happy to see them in Uganda. This individual was in Entebbe. We saw twenty two raptor species, not including vultures. This rounds out my top ten new birds for 2011. There are several runners-up that almost made the list.
Thayer's Gull was the first of my three Alaska lifers this year. I'm sure that I've seen them before, but they are easy to overlook.
Grey-crowned Cranes are another missed species from South Africa. They were fairly common in Uganda.
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill is one of nine species of hornbill that we saw in Uganda. It is by far the largest of the bunch.

African Finfoot is a rare bird that I never really had much hope of seeing. Another thrilling surprize.

The white-backed Night Heron is a bird that is even harder to find than the finfoot. We saw a pair of them in the same place as the finfoots, Lake Mburo. I saw many other incredible birds in Uganda. Use the search engine in this blog if you want to see more Uganda photos.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chasing Another Vagrant

At a little past noon today, Bob Winkler, (president of the Matsu Bird Club) picked me up, and we headed across town. When we arrived at Loussac St, there were already several birders  there. They had just seen the target bird, but naturally it left before we saw it. Notice the Robins in the trees.
We got set up and waited to see if it would return. The people living in the neighborhood must have thought that the gathering birders were a bunch of lunatics. They have been seeing birders from far and wide tromping around for almost two weeks.
The man with the beard is Bob. The woman in the photo is a local filmaker but I forget her name.

Someone's yard was being guarded by a Christmas dog.
There were lots of birds in the area because there are lots of Chokecherries, and Mountain Ash berries. This is a Bohemian Waxwing.
There was a flock containing fifty or sixty Robins. They were not shy.
Our target bird has been seen travelling with Robins, and we needed to scrutinize each Robin carefully.
It appeared that this Hairy Woodpecker was gathering peanut butter from a feeder and stashing it in the cracks in this telephone pole.
The best photograph I got today was this male Pine Grosbeak with Mountain Ash berries.
THIS IS IT. You cannot identify this bird from this terrible photograph, but it's my third Alaska lifer for the year. We did'nt have to wait for long before one of the vigilant birders spotted this Dusky Thrush. It is an Asian bird that breeds in the Central and Eastern Palearctic. It winters, (normally) in Central and Southern China, Taiwan, and Japan. I believe that this bird is the first seen on the North American mainland with the exception of a few individuals seen in Barrow, Alaska in past years. It has been many years since I have seen any new birds in Alaska. This bird must have been blown in on the same storm that brought the Redwing to Seward. That bird has not been seen since the day I saw it with Betty and Jean. The Dusky Thrush is a Turdus Thrush, like the Redwing.
This winter has also been good for Mckay's Buntings and Snowy Owls locally, although I have not seen any of them. I will soon be doing a post of the top ten new birds for 2011. My three Alaska lifers are sure to make the list. The rest will be my favorite Uganda birds.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jump In, the Water's Fine

For some reason I have a hard time coming up with an interesting setting for a Polar Bear painting. That is why I have painted many more Black Bears and Grizzlies. I have never painted a Panda, but I did do a Koala Bear some years ago.
This one, Jump in, the water's fine, is 9x12". It came together very rapidly. It seems to me that my best paintings happen fast. The paintings that take forever never come out as well, no matter how much effort I put into them.
This painting gave me no problems. I worried about how to make the water look natural, but I'm satisfied by the way it came out.

I spent Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day in Wasilla with family. On Christmas morning I took the time to walk around my nephew Dan's neighborhood. This is the view from his backyard.

A closer look at the little cabin. Does it's inhabitant suffer from cabin fever on these long, I mean short, winter days?  I think it's really just a shed.
The sun tried to break through the clouds, but could'nt quite make it.

It's all very picturesque, even in the dim Winter light.
There were some birds around, like this Hairy Woodpecker. There were also Ravens, Magpies, Chickadees, Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
 A Dusky Thrush, (Asian vagrant) is being seen in Anchorage these days. I have looked for it, but it's too hit and miss to be a reliable sighting, and too cold to spend so much time searching for it.
A frosty, Cow Parsnip seed head.
Some more of the same.

We had a large gathering at my nephew's house.

Since I was walking around the neighborhood with a light coat and no gloves, indoors sure looked warm and cozy through the window.
Olivia and Sarah watching tv.

Malek opens one of his presents while Sarah looks on.

Sarah looks too cute. It was a good Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More T-shirt Work

The main thrust of my time lately has been trying to get a design ready to submit to the large T-shirt company called Threadless. They have a very technically complex procedure for submitting designs. Designs are then voted on by the online public. Designs that get the most votes get printed, and the artists get paid.
Since I'm not sure of the process that Threadless uses to print shirts, I really have no idea whether my art can even be printed by Threadless. The design above is called, HARPY.
What kinds of designs will online,(adolescents mostly), respond to?  My guess is that exotic creatures will be more popular than North American species. I played around with this Keel-billed toucan painting to make it easier to be printed on a silk screen press. I may need to do this to all my designs. Threadless does not want captions on the designs.
Threadless also does not want photographs of designs. They want scans. This is a greatly reduced version of a scan of Carribea. My scanner can only handle a 9x12" painting. This painting was 12x24", so I just scanned part of it.
The scanner makes high resolution reproductions of paintings, 35 megapixels or so. Threadless wants them to be 250 kb or smaller.  That is to make them easier to upload to their website for voting. They want the original hi-res image if it gets chosen to be printed. Reduced images of scans are more digitized than photos. Scans must be easier to print on shirts.

Why spend all this time and effort with Threadless? Because there is nothing else going on in the art world right now. Winter is always completely dead around here. That is why I usually travel at this time of year. With the economy so down this year, it is not looking good for a trip this winter. A couple of designs getting accepted by Threadless would change all that.
This is a much simplified design to make it easy to print on a shirt. It is obviously meant to be on a child's shirt. My big technological challenge has been trying to figure out how to fit a design onto the Threadless t-shirt template. I wrote to them about the problem, and they e-mailed me a step by step procedure using Adobe Photoshop.
I only have an earlier version of Photoshop, and I dont know how to use it. It may not even be possible to follow the steps with it. So far, I can make no headway with it. Very frustrating.

Another painting that would not fit on the scanner. I made two seperate scans with it.  They look good as two different t-shirt designs.

This is the other half below. Which one looks better?
Another painting too big for the scanner. It probably looks better being cropped to the above proportions.
I cropped most of the scan of this bear alongside a waterfall. Will it look good on a dark shirt? I may make it even darker to add mystery.

I have many designs ready to go just as soon as I figure out how to layer the artwork onto the t-shirt template. This sun and moon is by far the strangest. Should I do more designs along the lines of this one? What do you think?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Entering a Second Childhood

The painting above is my version of the central part of a Medieval Russian, astrological chart that I found in an old book. I painted the sun and the moon as children. The moon sleeps while the sun is out. They were completely different in the original woodcut. All the symbols are my own little concoctions, and have no astrological meanings. I painted it on a scrap of white cardboard. It's called, The Ballad of the Sun and Moon, after an old Alejandro Escobedo song. It will never sell, and probably never become a t-shirt, but who cares?
Another version of the same painting that I'm toying with, using my photo editing program. It's all part of my entrance into my second childhood. Moving to Alaska must have been my mid-life crisis, so this has to be my second childhood.
When I was a young artist, I experienced an obsessive creativity that drove me day and night. Ideas would rush over me, and cause me to work at a frenetic pace, trying to get them down on paper or canvas.
Over the years, things slowed down until I gradually started to experience a stifling burn-out. That is more or less the state that I have existed in for the past 5 or 6 years. The slow down in the art market only fed my apathy.
Just since I started thinking about getting back into t-shirt designs, I have been experiencing a resurgence of that old passion for art. The ideas are plagueing me again, almost non-stop. It's a phase. It will pass, but it feels good in the meantime. Is it my second childhood?
This is an old painting that has been stowed away for years. This is an interesting house that I saw in Angangueo, Mexico. I'm certain to try many different kinds of artwork like this one, in an effort to break out of the stranglehold that age and experience have upon me.
Several years ago, I did a series of black and white paintings, like the Dall Rams above. Like the Angangueo house painting, these got stowed away as well.
another in the series.
Another one as well. I have a bunch of other things I intended to post, but I've got to get back to work.