Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Friday, October 30, 2015

California and Some Moose

My childhood friend Don sent me some photos from his place in Nipomo, California. He got this lucky shot of a House Finch as another one flew by in the background.
A California Scrub Jay.
Beautiful colors but an annoying screech. They can also make some pleasant burbling sounds.
These birds come round to his backyard in hopes of snagging some peanuts or some other delectable goodies. These are familiar birds in CA that I really miss seeing because they do not live this far north.
Don found this California Alligator Lizard on his property when it was very young and near starvation. He brought it indoors and gave Abraham an easy life.
This Giant Hairy Scorpion looks alive but it has been dead for 40 years. The story of it goes like this;
A group of friends went down to Baja California, Mexico for some snorkeling after high school. We slept out on the sand dunes, (very comfortable). I do not remember the details of the encounter except that I jumped out of my bedroll early one morning when I found that I was not sleeping alone. This guy was sharing my bedroll. 
We captured it but it soon died in the heat. Don soaked it in glycerine which has left it fresh and pliable all these years.
On Monday I was out and about with my cheap little Sony camera. I photographed this raven at a shopping center.
There was a cow Moose with her nearly grown calf in the trailer park behind my place. They seem to like visiting the place, go figure.
They were not too concerned about me. I was about 15 ft, (5 meters) when I took this photo.
They are very powerful and imposing creatures. Imagine stepping out your door in the morning to be greeted by this visitor trimming your trees. We almost hit another Moose on the way to work the next morning.
Just a shot of a friendly American Robin.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Last of the Migrants

We have been having rainy, gloomy days here in Anchorage for weeks on end. Last Saturday was no exception. There was an Audubon field trip scheduled on that day but when I looked outside to see yet another wet miserable day I decided to stay home.
That was a mistake. Aaron Bowman the trip's leader spotted sub-adult, Slaty-backed and Thayer's Gulls at Cuddy Park. I have seen them both at Cuddy Park before but they are hard to get gulls. Slaty-backed are an Asian species that only occasionally shows up in Alaska. I have only seen one.
I had Monday off from work and low and behold, the day was bright and sunny. No painting for me, I headed to Cuddy Park and then to Spenard Crossing to see if the Hooded Merganser was still hanging around.
At Cuddy Park I saw lots of confusing sub-adult gulls. What species is the gull in the photo above? You tell me. I'm all mixed up.
I knew that I could not sort them out on the spot so I tried to photograph every gull present.
I make the assumption that the front gull is a typical adult, Herring Gull. What about the darker gull in the back? I wanted it to be a Thayer's Gull but they have darker eyes and are smaller than Herring Gull. I can only conclude that they are both Herring Gulls. Different subspecies?
This one looks like a typical first Winter, Herring Gull to me.
The first Winter, Slaty-backed Gull looks very similar. Which one is this? I do not know. The various field guide illustrations are far from definitive.
It must be an almost adult Herring Gull with the beginnings of a red spot on its beak.
The big gull on the left is presumably a Herring Gull and the gull on the right is a little smaller. They both seem to have dark eyes but that may just be the angle of the light. The smaller gull is probably Thayer's but I am far from certain. I gave up on gulls and went over to Spenard Crossing.
There were still plenty of Mallards, a few Wigeons, and lots of immature Shovelers like those above. There were some other ducks far across the lake that I could not see well enough to identify. If the Hooded Merganser was there, I did not see it.
I got this bathing magpie in mid blink.
"Oh it feels so good".
After the bath the magpie flew over to me. I got it in mid blink again.
 This shot from a slightly different angle shows that the bird did not have a cataract on its eye. I believe that some of these magpies enjoy human attention. I have had lots of interactions with magpies in this same area over the years. Magpies like to play.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Dark Jays and Stuff

This is a detail shot of my latest painting, ' The Dark Jays'. Before I show more of it I will post a few random things that I have photographed in recent weeks.
First is just some Brown Bear tracks in the mud at Potter Marsh.
Also at Potter Marsh, Mallards and Green-winged Teal. Those are just about the only ducks that have not migrated south yet.
Fall colors along Chester Creek.
I tried to come up with an unconventional perspective on Fall foliage. Easier said than done.
Snow on the sides of the bike path. UAA in the background.
Maple trees are not native to this part of the state. This is an ornamental tree beside the hospital.
Wet Maple leaves on the sidewalk. We have been getting an immense amount of rain in recent weeks and only one snowstorm last month. I'll take the rain any day.
I photographed these Steller's Jays gathering nesting material earlier this Spring. It was the inspiration for this new painting.
Another detail photo of the same painting.
The entire painting. It is 11x14" and the actual painting looks better than the photo.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Identifying Unfamiliar Birds

Several years ago I was in Guayaquil, Ecuador when I saw a hummingbird. I had no idea which species it might be since there are 132 species of hummingbird that occur in Ecuador. How could I memorize all of them?
The bird darted off after a few seconds so I pulled out a pocket notebook, made a quick sketch, and wrote down as many details as I could remember.
A short time later I saw another one and managed to get a few photos.
Now you have both a field sketch and a photograph. Can you identify the species?  Luckily I had the ponderous Field Guide to the Birds of Ecuador to help me. Which do you think would be the most useful tool; the drawing with notes, or the photograph, in helping you figure out the species? 
A year or two later I saw another race of the same species, Amazilia Hummingbird.
The thing that inspired this post is a series of blogs that I read dealing with the pros and cons of using photography as a tool to identify birds.Follow this link to see the original blog that caught my interest.
The stodgy old birder who wrote the blog above and most of the birding elites who chimed in universally condemn the practice of using photography to identify birds. 
What poppycock! Try to get an unusual bird sighting on ebird or other bird organization like ABA without a photograph and you will learn just how skeptical the experts are. Submit a photograph and there will be little problem in getting your sighting accepted.
Of course you cannot always get a passable photograph of an unfamiliar bird and that is where field sketches become so essential. I seldom carry a bird guide with me so I depend on field notes.
I carried the same pocket notebook, (actually an address book) that I got in Ecuador for years until I filled it up; with bird lists and sketches instead of addresses and phone numbers.
The above drawings are from Prachuap Kiri Kahn, Thailand. The shorebird is a Marsh Sandpiper, the raptor is a Besra, the starling is a Vinous-breasted Starling, and the dove is a Red Collared Dove; all new birds for me at the time. I also got photos of the starling and dove to help with the identification.
I could not identify the tailorbird on top well enough to be certain. The bottom bird is a Spectacled Bulbul.
It is difficult to get a decant drawing of a bird that only stays put for a few seconds. 
Also from Thailand. My original black ink pen died, I got a blue ink pen and it died when I first started sketching this bird. Then I stole Gary's pen to get a better rendition of the Ashy Minivet.
These birds are from the Amazon jungle in Peru. I could not identify two of these birds. When making field notes, it is important to include the bird's habitat and behavior. I seldom try to describe the bird's voice, too difficult.
Some examples of a time when photography is better than field notes is when trying to figure out sub-adult gulls. Check these birds out. Iceland Gull above.
California gull.
Slaty-backed Gull.
Herring Gull. An advantage of photography is the ability to compare the subject's size in association with other birds.
The Glaucous-winged Gull, (left) Iceland Gull (right). Both gulls have nearly identical plumage but the Iceland Gull is significantly smaller. I could not have identified the vagrant Iceland Gull using field notes alone.
The take-away lesson is to use all of the tools at your disposal to get a proper bird i.d.
Shame on the birding snobs who think that photography is a less valid method for identifying birds.

Friday, October 2, 2015

More From Iran

In the last post I thought that I had uploaded all of the photos that I had set aside from Maggie's adventure in Iran. Yesterday I stumbled upon some more of her photos. Above is the Zoroastrian Tower of Silence. It certainly looks like a good place to go to seek silence.
A Zoroastrian Fire Temple. It is important not to let the fire ever go out.
I looked up a little information about Zoroastrianism. It is considered to be possibly the first monotheistic religion. Its founder, Zoroaster aka Zarathustra lived in Iran many hundreds of years before Christ.
He taught that Ahura Mazda is the supreme being; the Lord of Wisdom. There are also two opposing spirits; Spanta Mainyu- the righteous spirit, and Angra Mainyu- the destructive spirit. They influence the deeds of us mortals.
In the afterlife we will be judged for our deeds and the righteous will receive a happy eternity while the wicked will inherit eternal damnation.  Zoroaster taught that we should think good, speak good, and act good. It is very difficult for converts to be accepted into the religion.
Nowruz, the new year celebration is their main holiday and is celebrated by both Zoroastrian and non- Zoroastrian people in several countries throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
Some rugged and stark desert. Lots of that in Iran no doubt.
There are some high cool mountains in Iran also.
A proper sandstorm.
Vakil columns. A good place to escape the sandstorm.
Iran also has its own version of Whole Foods. It does not look much like a health food store. It looks more like a convenience store to me.
Are these burka clad women looking at all this colorful cloth with longing? I guess they wear more stylish clothes under their burkas or at home. Maybe this cloth is for making curtains?
The school girls at least get to wear a little more color. The truth is that women in Iran are allowed to wear colorful and stylish though modest clothing as long as they cover their heads.
Iran would experience a lot more foreign tourism if not for the overbearing influence of these guys.