Monday, April 27, 2009

We Have a Nestling!

At least one white fuzzy-headed nestling was looking over the edge of the red-shouldered hawk nest during my visit yesterday. I can't be sure yet, if there are any others.
Even if I hadn't spotted the youngster with my binoculars, I would have known the nestling was there just the same. The female was sitting higher on the nest and at one point appeared to be feeding young. She also flew from the nest to a branch near me with prey remains in her mouth. It was at this point that I stepped onto the driveway to snap an image, just as I’ve done many times before and the male let me know this was not okay. How did he let me know? I’ll show you in images.

The first image is the male alert and resting on a perch nine days earlier, taken while I was standing in nearly the same spot on the driveway. The second is the male on this occasion, assuming an aggressive posture after landing on a limb near the nest. And below you see the male flying toward me. This, in itself, is nothing new. Both hawks have flown toward me many times before landing on a nearby branch. But this time I could hear the wind under his wings as he passed within inches of my head and when I saw him turn and fly toward me again, I got it (!) and retreated several feet under the canopy. Either this happened because there was young in the nest or the male was upset that I was standing in the driveway between the female with prey and the house where they often exchange prey. In hindsight, probably both. After I retreated, both hawks landed on the roof indicating a prey exchange, though I couldn't see it from my new position.

Below, the female is mantling on the roof. This posture is often used to protect prey. She may have the prey under her, however, she lifted off without it and returned to the nest. Eventually I ventured to a closer but less conspicuous sitting position on the steps near the driveway where I could view the nest. I received no further attention from the male and the female preened while on the nest indicating she was unbothered. I couldn't say the same for myself.

It was while in this position that I raised my binoculars and spotted the fuzzy white nestling looking over the edge of the nest. And all those leaves that make it so hard for me to see, they are perfectly shielding the nest from rain and the hot sun. The timing of nature is so amazing. Stay tuned. I have no idea what will happen next.
This is the 14th post in a series on this nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks. To see the entire series click here. The bottom post will be the first in the series.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #35 to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Red-Shouldered Hawk Territory---III

"Today's observations were all about the house." Note: Apr 17th. I know that seems like an odd thing to say about red-shouldered hawk territory, but my photos and observations were mostly of the female playing around the house--on the roof, on the gutter, on the porch railing, on a patio table and the back railing.This is the house that shares the property with the nest. Both hawks stayed close to the nest on this three-hour visit, within sight of each other and/or calling to each other. That is to say, one was incubating on the nest, while the other remained nearby.
I’ve skipped a visit to bring you up to date and will go back to some other observations in my next hawk post. I was out of town over the weekend so I was feeling a bit of hawk withdrawal. Besides that, I especially wanted to check to see if we had hatchlings in the nest. The answer is, not yet. How will I know? Hummm….I’m guessing that I'll see something different, different activity, more attention to the nest, sitting higher on the nest when incubating maybe. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.
What I wanted to show you today looked to me like playing. Fun to watch. It was the first time I could capture that beautiful back view of the barred wings and tail while landing. This was what I saw out the window, the first time I saw one of the hawks.

You also get to see more views of those beautiful russet shoulders, the trait that gives these hawks their name. She looks quite at home, doesn't she?

To see the entire series on this nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks, click here.

Next: Greenery for the Nest (unless of course we have babies!)
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #34 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A New Blog on the Block--Sketching in Nature

My neighborhood blogging block, of course, is Nature Blog Network. And Sketching in Nature is the new blog, an international group blog created by artist, author and teacher, Cathy Johnson, also known as Kate.

I am delighted to be a contributing artist in this group and look forward to seeing how other artists work. It's a chance for everyone to peek over the shoulders of nature-loving artists and see what they discover, what draws their interest and what inspires them to create.

In my last post, I featured the male downy woodpecker that visited me while I was sketching an oak tree. I was also visited by a brown thrasher who graced me with song. There is a wonderful world out there to see and hear.
Below is the finished sketch.
To see another view and read more, click here. And do pay a visit to Sketching in Nature and linger for a while. Everyone's art is different. That's what makes it so much fun!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Downy Visit

I have always enjoyed woodpeckers, their flighty nature, their calls, their colorful plumage and peculiar lifestyle. The best time to see a woodpecker or any bird, for that matter, is when you're being still outside. They will come to you. I have never had this confirmed so quickly as when this male downy arrived.Both a male and female downy visited my feeders during the winter. I could see them come to the feeder together, sometimes even notice them approaching, tree by tree. But the best photo I could manage was the female with one eye peeping around the feeder!
Yesterday, I sat a chair outside with the idea in mind of sketching a tree. A tree will be still, I thought. But it wasn't the tree that was the problem.

I did sketch the tree, but not without many interruptions. A brown thrasher landed on its branches and I had to stop and photograph it. I watched the dogwood blossoms blowing in the wind as the cloud movement changed the light. And I had to get up and examine the tiny, newly formed oak leaves in their pastel shades of pink and green.
No sooner had I returned to my sketch when I heard a faint, "tap, tap, tap". I sat very still, uncertain where it was coming from. Again, "tap, tap, tap." Just over my shoulder a few feet away, I found a male downy tapping on the branches of a dogwood.
Now still, he was not. Not for a minute. But he was so close, it made me giggle. And he stayed long enough for me to take several images as he scooted around the limbs, going about his business. Tap, tap, tap.
He even showed me the back of his head.
And if you look closely, in some of the photos you can see the spots on his outer tail feathers. Hairy woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers look very much alike, except the hairy has a larger bill and is slightly larger in size. But according to Peterson's field guide, if you are close enough to see them, the spots on the outer tail feathers also set them apart. The hairy's tail feathers are all white with no spots.
This downy brought me an unexpected treat, something nature never fails to give me. Whenever you can, get outside and just be still for a while. Nature's performers are already gathered on the stage and its a busy time of year.

Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #33, at, to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You Gotta' Love the Squirrels

...especially the ones that live in red-shouldered hawk territory.

I watch them go about their activities as though the hawks aren't even there. Other times my eyes scan a tree limb several times before I even notice the squirrel clinging to the branch. They can be so still that I think they may be sleeping. Nothing moves, not even the eyes blink.

On my last visit with the hawks, I spotted a squirrel frozen in place on a limb just under the nest. The female hawk had just landed on a pine limb nearby. I could hardly believe he had gotten himself in that predicament. He was safe for the moment. The female had finished her meal and her mind was on other matters. The male was incubating and couldn't see him. A few seconds later he slinked down the trunk, definitely minimizing attention.
People often complain about squirrels that raid their birdfeeders, ruin fruit by taking one bite or dig in flowerbeds. But I have always enjoyed them and now I have an even deeper appreciation.

Female squirrels may raise two nests a season, numbering as many as eight young, combined. The first brood of squirrel youngsters are moving about while the hawks are feeding their young. The second brood of squirrels are leaving the nest just as the hawk fledglings are learning to hunt. How perfect is that?
And I don't mean that unkindly, favoring one species over another. I mean that nature has provided for the predator as well as the prey.
While I wait for hawk activity, I enjoy the squirrels. They move about with a perfect combination of alertness and oblivion, an awareness level that allows them to live and thrive right along side skillful predators.
If you love hawks, you've gotta' love the squirrels, too.
Ink and watercolor sketches in 5x7 Holbein Multi-Drawing sketchbook.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Hawk’s Eye

…and beak, the angle of his throat, the top line of the head and neck as it meets the shoulder, all of these make up the impression we know as hawk.

The fact that I admire a subject and spend time observing it gives me a deeper connection for making art. And this connection activates my ‘critical eye’. This is a good thing. I’m not speaking of the critical dialog that taunts when we make mistakes or worry about others judging our work. I’m speaking of the keen eye of familiarity. The integrated knowing that says, yes, that’s it, or wait a minute, something’s not right.

This isn’t about getting it perfect to life either. Far from it. It’s about pleasing the artist. And what pleases me is having the subject travel through my eyes into my heart and back out again through my hands, onto the paper. And when its right, I know it. My eyes are happy.

Now, knowing something’s not right and knowing exactly what to change are two different matters. My advice to any aspiring artists out there is just get started. Mistakes are our best teachers. They train the eye and fine tune our ability to translate what we see onto the paper. It’s like being in the dark and watching the world gradually take shape as daylight appears. We see vague shapes, a little bit at a time until the light gets stronger and brighter and all the details finally come into focus. One way to get that effect while painting is to walk away from the table, get a good night’s sleep and come back again with fresh eyes.

Below you see my first sketch.

After finishing, I walked away and came back to look at it several times. My eyes were instantly drawn to the beak and my impression, "old man with no teeth". Having watched this hawk in action and finding him far from toothless, I knew I had to change at least the beak. But I waited until the next day before beginning.
This sketch is on sketchbook paper which doesn't absorb color like watercolor rag paper, so its easy to lift. Using a soft brush, clean water and a paper towel for blotting, I started by erasing the inside edges of the beak. What happened next surprised me. Suddenly all the distraction was removed and I could see the other contributing problems. I changed the angle of the throat, softened the eye, strengthened the brow and changed the way the top line and the neck entered the shoulder. Gradually my old man turned back into the hawk he was supposed to be. I could see many more slight adjustments, but my sketchbook paper said, enough. And I had accomplished what I intended to do, wrap my mind around the details and shape of a hawk.

His next portrait will be on watercolor paper. Isn't he magnificent?

More hawk observations and sketches coming up.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Red-Shouldered Hawks--Incubation Teamwork

Every time I watch this pair of red-shouldered hawks, I marvel at what I see. Where there's repetition, I get a deeper understanding. When I see something new, well, it's just more fun of a different kind.
Precision team work, dedication, incredible loyalty, that's a few of the things I'm observing. Some might say they're just hawks responding to instincts. But my observations tell me there's a whole lot more going on. They cooperate, they trust each other, they count on each other and they're dependable.

On this particular day, the female was on the nest. And from time to time she could be heard calling with a soft mewing sound, solicitous and very different from the typical bold exchanges they often have.
Very shortly, the male arrived with food. He first landed on the limb you see below, then he flew to the top of the house in the nest yard where the female promptly joined him.
No more than a few seconds lapsed before they each departed, the female carrying the prey to a feeding perch, the male to the nest to incubate. As she fed, the male periodically called to her.

When the female had eaten all she wanted, she flew with the prey and landed on the other side of me, on a deteriorated nest platform. You can see below that her lovely landing was obscured by two trees. On this collection of sticks, she deposited the remains of the prey and flew to a different limb to clean her bill and preen.

Below, while she rested above me, I got a view of her tummy feathers or lack thereof. You can see the disarray of the downy feathers from incubation. But if you look more closely, you can also see her brood patch, where she has plucked her feathers to expose an area of skin with supplemental blood vessels that is especially suited for keeping the eggs warm.

And what you're seeing below is anyone's guess. She's either cleaning her bill or trying to pluck a twig. I think the former. She didn't leave with a twig.

There is a pine tree a short distance from the nest that the female favors. She visits it before returning to relieve the male, bringing a fresh twig full of needles to add to the nest. As soon as she arrives, the male departs. And this time he flew right to the cache platform, lifted the prey and moved it to a new perch to feed.

Special, huh? Teamwork worthy of admiration.

First image, sketch in progress of the male. This is the 10th post in a series about this nesting pair of red-shouldered hawks. To see the entire series, click here.

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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham