Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Radical Change

Okay, this is the third time that I have posted this photo of Harlequin Ducks that I shot this past Winter in Seward.
I have been posting a few progress photos of the painting inspired by the photo that has given me fits for the last few months.
When I reached this stage in the painting I began to realize that the composition of it was so hopelessly conventional that I needed to do something dramatic with it. It is the boring perspective that really discourages me. What can I do to make it better?
The only thing that I could think of to do was to use rocks to make the composition a little more dramatic, and to focus the viewer's attention on the ducks.
So it's still a boring painting. I cannot imagine selling it, but who knows? I can only hope that my next effort will be more inspired.
I'll end this post with a shot of a Robin near my home. Robins and warblers have only returned to the neighborhood in past few days. I also saw a male Northern Harrier in the field next door. Raptors of any kind are unusual in my neighborhood and I see about 10 female harriers for every male.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

This Week's Events

This morning, May 18th, I woke up to see this sight out front of my building, fresh snow. Last Winter, Anchorage had the all time record for the most snowfall. This late Spring snowfall, added to the early Autumn snowfall, makes it the record for longest snowy season. Both Winters have also been exceptionally cold. If it were not for the evidence of rapidly receding glaciers, I would be very skeptical about global warming. 
This Spring has been very cold, no green yet. Migratory passerines like swallows and warblers are especially    hard hit  There is a big die off of songbirds going on right now. It's all very sad.
The young owners of these bicycles will probably be playing indoors today.
There are usually mountains visible behind these houses out of my back window. Brooding storm clouds have blotted them out.
On Wednesday I went to Goose Creek with Dan Holayter to check on his cabin. The road to the cabin was either too muddy, or still too covered with snow to drive in. Notice the puddles of water in the road. We kept on sinking into the wet mess. A vehicle would have become hopelessly stuck in an instant in this muck. We had to walk in.
The snow was melted in the areas more exposed to the sun. Notice the pile of Moose poop in the foreground. I did'nt notice it when I shot this photo.
We made it to the cabin. It survived the Winter well, no break ins or wind damage.
Goose Creek was running high, as expected for this time of year. Fishing was okay for trout. No salmon yet.
I made it to Spenard Crossing earlier to see this mystery bird. Any guesses as to what it might be?
Does this angle make it any easier to identify?
This photo of the male and female together should make it easy to tell what they are.
Just like the similar goldeneyes, Buffleheads will soon start nesting in tree cavities.
I made time this morning to work on my latest painting, Harlequin Ducks and a Black Oystercatcher. I have  almost zero enthusiasm for this one. I also worry that the female in the center will not show up enough against the rock behind it. I may end up turning it into a rock if I cannot make it stand out better.
On Monday of this week, I was informed by Gary that he sold two of my paintings out of the Sea Lion Gallery in Homer. One was a Sea Otter painting, this one I believe.
The other painting was a Tufted Puffin painting. This one I believe. It is called, Highrise Housing. It's good to see that my art career still limps along, even if my passion for painting lags far behind.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

En La Neblina

Let's go back to the Ecuadorian cloud forest to see a small sampling of it's other bird life.
One family of birds that competes with the hummingbirds for their beauty are the tanagers and their relatives. One of the less striking representatives of the family is this female, White-lined Tanager. Unfortunately I was not fast enough on the draw to get decent photos of the more colorful species like. Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Grass Green Tanagers, Golden Tanagers, Beryl-spangled Tanagers, on and on. There are so many impressive species.
There are very few woodpeckers in this region. It seems strange, considering the abundance of moss laden trees everywhere. That particular habitat is taken up by the many species of woodcreepers and allies like tree haunters and foliage gleaners. One of the largest of them is the woodpecker sized, Strong-billed Woodcreeper.
While I was photographing hummingbirds on the back porch of my room, this tiny, White-sided Flowerpiercer dropped in to bathe in a small bowl, nearly at my feet.
Photographing birds in the dim light of the cloud forest can be challenging. It is so hard to get sharp images when you are forced to shoot at very slow shutter speeds. This is a confiding, Golden-crowned Flycatcher.
Unfortunately, like everywhere, this habitat is being degraded by the spread of human development. Most of the cloud forest has already been cleared. Who knows what species have become extinct even before they became known to science. This is marginal, (steep) farmland at best. That does not stop the deforestation.

One poor subsistence farmer named Angel Paz, was faced with the need to clear more of his forested land in order to make ends meet. However, he loved the many birds that lived in the forest and did not want to see them disappear. 
There was a breeding lek of the spectacular, Andean Cock of the Rock at the bottom of the ravine below his farm. He knew about the foreigners who were coming to the area to see the many birds of the cloud forest so he decided to try to convert his land into a bird refuge.
Mostly through word of mouth, birders started showing up the see the elusive, Cock of the Rock. He charged $5.00 per person, and led them down to the lek. Soon his financial woes were over as more and more birders showed up. Professional birding companies added Paz de Aves to the itinerary.
The photo above is a male Cock of the Rock taken with a hand held camera at a shutter speed of about two seconds. Other choice birds that can be seen on Angel's land are, Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Dark-backed Wood Quail, and so many other hard to find species.
One very elusive family of birds that birders salivate over are the antpittas. Several species occur at Paz de Aves. They are almost impossible to see. Angel, very slowly, would creep up to his antpittas and toss grubs to them. It took many months, but over time he got several individuals to accept his presence.
Word got out, and more locals started feeding antpittas on their own land. This Chestnut-crowned Antpitta was photographed with a very slow shutter speed on another farmer's land. The practice of enticing antpittas  with grubs, out into the open has spread throughout much of the Andes and beyond.
The abundant, Smooth-billed Ani is actually becoming scarce in many areas. Not the lower slopes of the Western Andes in Ecuador.
Another slow shutter speed produced a terrible photo of one of the most highly sought after cloud forest birds, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan.
This is my idealized portrait of the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Glitter Fairies

The heart of the kingdom of the diminutive Glitter Fairies, (faeries if you like) lies deep in the mysterious cloud forest on the western slope of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador.
There are many different kinds of these colorful fairies. they have delightful names like, Velvet Purple Coronet.
A close relative that lives in the same misty realm and can be found alongside it's more colorful, and much rarer cousin above. This is the buff-tailed Coronet.
The regally named, Empress Brilliant has bright colors that show best in direct sunlight. Unfortunately sunshine is usually a rare commodity in the cloud forest.
The Violet-tailed Sylph has an even longer tail than the Empress brilliant. This one is potentially dangerous to humans. It can take your breath away.
The tiny, Western Emerald has colors that change when viewed from different angles. As do most Glitter Fairies.
Of course these Glitter Fairies are better known as hummingbirds. I have written about these before but I have never posted these particular photos. All of these photos were shot in the area of Mindo, which is the epicenter of hummingbird distribution, and one of the top birding destinations in the world. 
This hummingbird feeder was hanging in the porch outside my room at Las Gralarias. These are Buff-tailed Coronets.
Too bad these birds are so shy around people.
An Empress brilliant forces the coronets to make room at the feeder.
One of the coolest hummingbirds is this, Booted Racket-tail. It is tiny. I'm not sure what the hummingbird in the background is.
Two female, Green Thorntails. They occur at slightly lower elevations that the Booted Racket-tails.
The Collared Inca is more colorful than it's cousin, the Brown Inca. Some of the many other species of hummingbirds that can be seen in the cloud forests of the western slope of the Ecuadorian Andes are as follows. You gotta love these wild names.
Gorgeted Sunangel
Sparkling Violet-ear
Brown Violet-ear
Green Violet-ear
Green-crowned Brilliant
Fawn-breasted brilliant
Green-crowned Woodnymph
Tawny-bellied Hermit
White-whiskered Hermit
Purple-throated Woodstar
Purple-bibbed Whitetip
Speckled Hummingbird
Andean Emerald
White-necked Jacobin
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
There are many others that I did not see. All the more reason for me to return someday.