Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Big Day

Last Wednesday started out with me trying to make some sketches of Montezuma's Quail in preparation for a possible painting. Then I got a call from my friend Dan, inviting me to go out and get some lunch with him.
First we stopped by Spenard Crossing where we saw the first shorebird of the Spring, This Greater Yellowlegs above. There were gulls, geese, Mallards, and Buffleheads as well.
After lunch we decided to check out the big, new Cabela's Store that just opened up in South Anchorage. Letting me go into a store like Cabela's is like turning a gambling addict loose in a Vegas casino.
The place had a fine selection of binoculars among other great outdoor stuff. I already have 10x42 Leica, and Pentax binoculars. Both of which come with lifetime warranties, and are top of the line. I should not even be looking at binoculars. Nevertheless one pair really caught my eye. Zeiss, Terra ED, 8x42 binoculars. They are lightweight like my Pentax binocs. They close focus at 5.5 ft, (1.5 meters). They are super crisp and bright, and have the usual lifetime transferable warranty.
It was the price that hooked me. $350.oo. Years ago I had a beloved pair of Zeiss binoculars that was stolen from me in Costa Rica. Those binoculars cost, $900.oo in the mid 1980's. This new pair is superior at less than half the cost. I could not walk away from that deal.
In the afternoon, my friend Gary from Homer came by to pick up some artwork for his gallery. We had to try out the new Zeiss binoculars so we went to Potter Marsh, south of Anchorage. It was mostly ice free.
We saw a Bald eagle, a pair of Sandhill Cranes, some Green-winged Teal, and a Pintail. This ice encrusted frond of grass floating on the water caught my eye. Luckily an obliging Mallard came over to pose next to it.
There were also a few 'Dusky' Canada Geese around. They are very small geese.
From Potter Marsh, we headed over to Cuddy Park in Midtown Anchorage. It still had plenty of ice but it was full of ducks, (Mallards), geese, and gulls. Gulls have been back in town for less than a week.The small gull in the foreground is a Mew Gull. The larger gull in the upper left is a typical adult, Herring Gull. It was the other gull that caught our attention.
It was a large gull but seemed to be a little smaller than the Herring Gull. It had black markings on its beak, not red like most large gulls. Pale eyes with red eyelids.
The black tail really intrigued us. Considering the dark mottling on its secondaries helped us to decide that it must be an almost-adult Herring Gull. I sent this photo to the resident gull expert, Aaron Bowman to make sure.
Then we went across the street and had dinner at my favorite restaurant, Burrito King. Don't let the generic name fool you. It has wonderful, traditional Mexican food at a reasonable price.
Next we went to Spenard Crossing and Westchester Lagoon. We saw nothing unusual and we ended the day at sunset, 9:30 pm.
 I was dead tired from all the walking that we did that day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Some Old Friends

The title of this post has a double meaning.  These photos were taken by some old, and I do mean OLD friends, (they got old, I did not) and the subject matter are old friends from the past as well.
The bird above is a sub-adult Cooper's Hawk in a Palo Verde tree in Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona. The photo was taken by Maggie who has contributed many photos to this blog in the past. Before moving to Alaska I lived in Lakeside, AZ for 19 years. It was there that I met Maggie, who was the High School Art teacher on the Apache Reservation in Whiteriver. Now she lives in Tucson and is a volunteer naturalist in Sabino Canyon.
There are no Cooper's Hawks in Alaska, and they are one of many species that I miss seeing.
Are rattlesnakes old friends? You bet they are. I really miss them and I have gotten out of the habit of watching where I step since there are no snakes in Alaska. Maggie photographed this Western Diamondback in Sabino Canyon. she did not get too close to it. Diamondbacks play for keeps. they are far more pugnacious than any of the other species of rattlesnake that I have encountered, (and I have interacted with many species of rattlesnake).
The rattle and the diamondback's famous, 'coon tail'. Some other species of rattlesnake also have ringed tails that are similar.
Once I encountered a Western Diamondback at a place called Seven Mile Wash. I saw it at the same time that it saw me. We were about 15', (that's 5 meters) apart. The 3' long snake threw itself into a defensive coil and started striking at me from that distance. It struck at me with such vigor that it threw its whole body forward with each strike. In three lightning fast strikes it had covered half the distance between us. then it stopped and held its ground. I realized that I better be on my toes or it could be in striking distance in another heartbeat if I was not careful. Too bad I did not have a camera with me at the time, but I have plenty of other diamondback photos anyway. I grabbed a stick and picked it up to show my friends who were nearby. It soon calmed down and we admired it for awhile, then let it go in peace.
Yesterday Maggie sent me this photo of a large Gila Monster in Sabino Canyon. Gila Monsters are also venomous but not nearly as dangerous as a diamondback. This was also in Sabino Canyon. She said that she also saw a large Gopher Snake and a Coachwhip, (Red Racer), but they moved too fast for a photo. To me, this lizard is like seeing a diamond necklace or a gold  nugget on the ground. Something of great value and beauty.
Maggie nicknamed this one, 'Godzilla'.
This is an old friend that I do not miss. My friend Don from California sent this photo to me yesterday, along with some old stories from our childhood in Carpinteria involving Potato Bugs. I think that their proper name is Jerusalem Cricket. We called them Potato Bugs and they are big, fat, ugly, and they creep me out a little. Native Americans call them, 'Earth Children'. They bite, as both Don and I can attest, but they are not poisonous. 
I look forward to more of these kinds of photos from both Maggie and Don.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Feel of the Paint

The photo above is an extreme close up of my newest effort. The varnish is still drying on this one. If you cannot yet tell, the bird is a Sandhill Crane. I like these highly magnified photos because they show the raw texture of the acrylic paint that I use in my paintings.

Adding my signature is the last step in the painting process. Some paintings are so bad that I do not ever sign them. In fact I have signed many paintings in the past that I wish I had never signed. 
I was happy to sign this one. Whether I paint well or totally fail to achieve the results that I desired, I am compelled to keep at it.
Why do I keep painting no matter what? It is the love of the process of creating something using just clumsy brushes and a few basic colors. There is joy in mixing and applying colors and feeling the painting slowly come to life. It is intoxicating to me. It is in some way a very selfish act.
There is nothing intellectual about it for me. My head is full of incoherent mush. It is all organic emotion, satisfaction, creation. Something beyond just me.
This particular painting started out with me trying to create the look of snow covered mountains soaring up into the clouds. It is a look that I have revisited many times in earlier paintings.
The interesting challenge of it is to paint a flat background and create the look of atmosphere, contours and depth using only snow.
Sandhill Cranes are also interesting to paint because of the subtle tonal variety, and texture of their plumage.
There are two main cranes in this painting with flying cranes in the background.
So finally, this is the whole painting. It is 16x20". I am proud of it. For now anyway.
This photo was taken in a different light. What should I name it? Niel Young did an album called, 'Ragged Glory'. I like that name but I already used it as a title for another painting. The ruffled feathers at the tail end of the cranes reminds me of feather dusters. Feather Dusters is also the title of another painting. How about, 'Ruffled Glory'? No, that's stupid. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Some Recent Activities

The best thing ever; Spring is springing, (a little at a time). There is open water in a few spots, like Spenard Crossing.
But not so fast. Most of the lakes are still frozen over. It is solid enough that airplanes can still land on them. 
The word has spread among bush pilots about all the fun that Scott Christy and crew have been having on the outer coast of the Kenai.
Scott's wife Jean gets towed on a makeshift sled. The temperature was in the mid-forties farenheit, warm by our standards for this time of year. Soon it will be unsafe to use skis, or wheels on the planes when they land on the lakes.
The ice formations keep changing shape over the course of the Winter.
Jean shows off her ice axes.
Now back to Spenard Crossing. I managed to go by there on Wednesday. At one end there was a sliver of open water. We saw Mallards, Common Mergansers, and a few Buffleheads. There were some gulls just off the coast, but the Canada Geese have not made it up here yet. Any day now.
This is the best photo I could get of a male Common Merganser.
I tried to get some decent photos of the Common Mergansers who were demonstrating courtship behavior. As is typical with mergansers, the males kept their distance while the females boldly came closer.
This is a better photo of the Nyala painting. I still do not know which painting I will enter into the Artists for Conservation show.