Bird in the fir tree

Constant one hundred percent wet rain for the last few days has kept me indoors most of the time so to not drive my husband crazy, I sat at the window for a while and sketched the bird activity at the feeder. What an assortment and variety of birds gathered around the feeder at the same time without social distancing or carrying whether the other species was within their space; but tolerance became short at times, when I noticed a bird would charge another with warning “this is my feeding territory, go find your own.” A total entertainment for Bill and myself, plus practicing and learning to loosely sketch different shapes and colors of birds. Next sketch will be the hummingbird feeder activity….that will be a challenge!

The bird in the tree is nondescript. There were several Evening Gros-beaks, Oregon Juncos, a variety of House Finches and Chickadees, and others at the feeder that day of the sketch.

The sketch was done using wet on wet with Paine’s Gray watercolor onto the heavy textured handcrafted w.c. paper.

Spring wild daisies in the fields

I love late spring while the open fields and shoulders on the roads throughout the rural areas on the island are covered in colors of sparkling spring green mixed with large clumps of stark white flowers dotted with yellow centers. The fields are covered with the white ox-eyed (Leucanthemum vulgare) daisies that are sometimes called dog daisy and considered a weed. Their origin is Europe and Asia and now habitat North America. The roots and leaves are edible either raw or cooked according to my research about the flower. I have not attempted to include these in my diet.

There is a large open field near my house covered with these daisies. I walk passed it on the road and a driveway dividing the field just to enjoy observing the beauty of the spring colors, plus wild birds flying above or darting into the tall grass and flowers. Yesterday after my walk I recorded the scene onto the heavy weight handcrafted paper using watercolor gouache. The gouache is a perfect medium for this type of paper that otherwise soaks up the transparent watercolor paints making the images too light.

This morning’s storm warning

The skies were covered with a mix of patchy white, and steel gray clouds this morning; the type that look like a storm was moving in our area from the south. The air was heavy and cool. All was quiet except for the loud brassy, “caw, caw, caw”, coming from the direction of the nearby evergreen branches hanging overhead. Moments later the raven received a reply from its mate in the distance. These loud cries went on for several minutes while I was walking back home from my morning stroll.

As I passed by where the large raven was perched on the tree branch, I could hear a clap of thunder from the sky and getting louder with each rumbling, like an angry dragon. There was still a distance to go before reaching home, so I sped up my pace in time to step through the doorway as the intensity of the storm increased. Finally secure in my home, my husband handed me a cup of hot coffee and then we headed back outside to sit on the porch, with a covered roof, to watch the storm from our comfortable chairs.

The storm has now passed and the skies are brighter. The small birds are singing to each other again and there has not been any other warning calls from the raven. Nature gives many gifts and surprises that amaze me each time I pay attention to what surrounds me.

Columbine Aquilegia formosa

A crown I would wear
it would be a Columbine
on top of my head

Another day at the Pacific rim Institute on Whidbey Island to do some sketching and photographing of the wild native flowers in full bloom on the grounds. I spotted the Aquilegia formosa columbine with its long graceful reddish stems holding up brilliant red and yellow blossoms looking like crowns that would fit on a royalty’s head. When the soft breezes flow through the flowers the blossoms gracefully dance and sway with the breeze attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. The blossoms are short lived so I felt fortunate to have seen them at their peak color.

Pacific Rim Institute native plants

Midway through Whidbey Island is the narrowest section of the island that contains a dry prairie where the Pacific Rim Institute is located on one hundred seventy five acres of maintained native grasses, plants, flowers and trees. The seeds from the plants and trees are meticulously collected by volunteers and workers at the PRI for reseeding on the property.
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Last week, I walked the trails that meander through the grass fields to view, photograph and sketch the blooming native plants that are spread throughout the property. One particular rare plant I have been interested in identifying is the blue camas (Camassia quamash), a former sweet flavored food source of the Northwest indigenous peoples. It was in full bloom covering the ochre fields with blotches of purple amongst the colors of other native flowers.

Another rare species is the golden paintbrush (Castillija levisecta), a rare native plant growing only in the Washington state counties of Thurston, Island and San Juan,. The blossoms were just starting to open to full bloom while I was there. It was a thrill to view these rare and endangered species so I recorded them with my camera for future paintings.

There is a seed collecting and planting section within PRI property where several species of plants are growing and blooming. One of those plants is the Blue Flag iris (Iris missouriensis). Olsynium douglasii in the painting is an incorrect label. I spotted the iris blooming in the bulb and seed collection area. During its blooming stage, the flower will be picked to direct all the energy back into the bulb to create a healthy large bulb and then replanted into the fields. I photographed this flower to do a detailed render of it in watercolor rather than spend several hours to do a live painting. My final painting project is not an accurate botanical painting just a fun painting challenge.



The rising morning sun on the field

This painting is to honor Earth Day using mostly natural products from earth: Water, watercolor paints, 100% cotton handcrafted watercolor paper; plus, this scene is of my favorite nearby grass field with the morning sun just peaking over the tall evergreens on the hill to the left. I tried to capture a demarcation of the rays casted on the tops of the forward evergreens. In front of the evergreens is a large row of the wild Nootka Rose bushes with their deep red vines that last through the winter. Celebrate our beautiful earth!

Fall scene at historic lawnmower repair business on Whidbey

When Bill has to bring his disabled riding lawn mower to his favorite dependable small engine repair person, I hurriedly hop into the cab of his truck for the ride plus I bring along my camera. This large and scenic property looks like a former historic family farm with worn weathered gray buildings that several years ago had transformed in to a recycle and repair lawn mower business.

The large quonset hut is a treasure full of every tool and other important pieces of equipment for a repairperson’s dream full of handyman’s tools to do a successful job on several vehicles. Not knowing how to repair any large metal objects, I cannot identify most of these interesting old and well used tools or parts. That’s why I take every opportunity to go along with Bill when he discusses his mower with the repair person. It’s a chance for me to observe all the stuff in the hut and surrounding area! It is a large assortment of items great for sketching interesting compositions; plus, it’s beautiful inside on a sunny day with the bright warm rays filtering through the large sliding barn door creating warm highlights and interesting shadows over the objects.

During the late fall when we were there, I asked one of the pleasant and friendly owners if I could photograph some of the stuff hanging out on the property for painting at a later time during the winter. He was more than happy to let me photograph the property plus, letting me do plein air painting in the future. Not having a lot of time to pull out my sketchbook at that moment before Bill was finished talking with the owner, I snapped a few frames of the old office shed that has now developed patina with paint peeling off the siding over the years, stacks of broken branches and leaves from the nearby trees are in heaps on the no-longer porch and against the side of the shack. The heavy old colorless fishing boat that hasn’t seen large waterways for many years lies in the tall grass field and stacked high with previously cut long ochre grass. Next to the boat someone had gathered a pile cut grass and a left a rake.. had someone left their work unfinished?

I used transparent watercolor paints on heavily textured paper handcrafted in India from recycled cotton rags.

Outdoor light filtering through the window into a dark corner

A great day with lots of time and fun sketching indoors with my graphite drawing tools! Comfortably settled onto the couch, I sketched the door to the back yard with all the stationary objects nearby it. The corner is darkly shaded but where the outdoor light filters through the large window, it creates highlights and shadows on the surrounding objects and floor.

The red flowering Weigela plant seen through the window is dormant during the winter displaying it’s interesting thick form of branches. In summer it displays deep red blossoms.

Autumn in the Forest

It’s the middle of a Northwest winter January with the weather not user friendly for sitting outdoors with my painting tools to sketch the nearby scenery in my neighborhood. It is in the upper 30’s, damp, overcast with dark gray clouds and possible rain; plus, not a great range of values within the landscape for an interesting composition. The marine air from the surrounding salt waters of our island seeps through any type of protective clothing one might wear to prevent the bone chilling effect from our winter weather. So, I selected a warm feeling sketch from a photo I had taken during this last autumn while taking my daily walk through the neighborhood.

I completed the watercolor painting yesterday, and felt it was ready for sharing on my blog to remind those viewers who are tired of the winter blues and looking forward to warmer weather during the forthcoming seasons of 2020.

Winter scenes on the island where I live

November is a wet, cold, foggy and very windy stormy month on Whidbey. People dress in their warmest and waterproof clothing and only those adventurous outdoor souls will continue with their daily walks. Even so, the winter months offer some of the most beautiful rich earthy colors as seen expressed in the watercolor painting I did this fall in my sketchbook (the reason for the vertical folds.)

This scene is from Wanamaker Road looking toward Admiralty Head lighthouse on Whidbey State Park near the Keystone ferry landing. The forward water is Crockett Lake, a habitat for birdlife; Whidbey State park; Strait of Juan de Fuca as it leads into the Pacific ocean to the right; Port Townsend; and, the Olympic mountains in the distance. The day was heavy with gray blue clouds and some land fog tucked into the valleys and foothills of the mountains.

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It rarely snows on the island but when it does, it can be wet, soggy and miserable but, melts away with a few days of rain afterward. After the first snowfall the dry freezing air is filled with fragrance from nature and snow. It will bite my nose when inhaling. It will be still and muffling quiet with not a creature moving. Even the birds tucked safely to keep warm in the underbrush won’t attempt to venture onto the snow in search of daily food; although, I have noticed other animal tracks belonging to rabbits, coyote, deer and others I cannot identify.

This is a charming old homestead scene located in the area watershed that provides water for our community’s daily water source. The snow and rain caught on the heavily forested trees will seep into the ground and eventually reach our large well. It is important that the water source not be contaminated by cutting the forest for development.

This large acreage of land is the essence of old Whidbey and one of my favorite subjects to paint.

Two bird nests in the neighborhood

Seeing two bird nests in a period of two weeks is a real treat, especially since I usually spot one or two during an entire year. The location of the two nests were carefully selected by the builders being confident they were protected from predators. The Oregon Junco nest was tucked into the base of the white Lavender bush, well hidden from searching eyes. Each time I would browse through my vegetable garden close to the Lavender bush, loud repeated chirps were coming from the Junco perched on the garden fence. Suspecting the bird’s nest was within the close vicinity, I exited the garden to a chair to observe the bird’s behavior. Sure enough, she flew into the lavender, then a few minutes later she sped out. I walked over and separated the lavender stems to find the bird nest with the beautiful spotted medium sized eggs tucked deep into the woven nest of twigs, mosses and grasses. It was beautiful.

Then while spending a day at one of the nearby beaches on our island, I watched a Killdeer bird lower a wing while limping, turning around and appearing to be injured while crying out loudly to distract me toward herself and away from the nest. Knowing this behavior was to protect her nesting eggs, I did a thorough search around me for eggs on the open sand but none were visible. Being that the bird was experiencing extreme fear, I walked away and watched her bird-walk quickly to the nest to assure the eggs were intact and safe.

Keeping an eye on the spot where she had settled down, I slowly walked to that site and after a few minutes saw four eggs close together in an open shallow indentation on top of the sand. They were beautiful and blended with the color, shape and markings of the surrounding stones and sand. It was very difficult to differentiate the eggs from the stones and sand. I am amazed I had not accidentally stepped on them during my many walks across the sand to the shoreline.

Since they are so susceptible to danger, I inserted driftwood stakes around the nest to warn walkers.

Weathered Hemlock Tree

Yesterday I joined the Whidbey Plein Air painting group at the Freeland Park located on the southend of Holmes Harbor. There were several various skilled artists at the site already, so I selected this weathered old Hemlock tree near the water for my subject using a graphite pencil to emphasize the detail. It gets breezy at this location as the cool afternoon winds blow from the north across this narrow section of the island targeting this tree to carve out this surviving twisted form. I was able to finish my sketch before leaving to avoid getting hypothermia from sitting too long in the cool wind.

Spring Nest Builder

The kitchen window in my house offers me a wide open view of the wildlife activity in our backyard while I’m at the sink; consequently, I’m frequently peering out to see any new action each time I glance up from what I doing at the sink. Often there will be a lone deer or a whole family of deer slowly cruising the perimeter of the lawn area searching for tasty appetizers among the many plants before settling down to a serious meal on a rose bush, camellia plant, or other valuable plant.

Almost every morning rabbits visit on our grass and weed lawn intent on whatever is within their munching range.  Well, its better they be there than in our fenced vegetable garden that contains really tasty stuff they like!  One year they ruined our entire bean crop by biting into the base of each stalk.  We then found the hidden opening in our fence and mended it.

Last week, I really got behind my morning kitchen clean up when I peered out the window to watch a lone robin pulling on a long strand of  grass attached to a large clump of ornamental grass planted near the frog pond.  The robin’s back and legs were stretched out as far as they could reach to snap off that one strand.  It was added to the other long strands of grass that were trailing from its beak.  I watched this gathering for several minutes before the Robin flew away to its nest building in the nearby tree.

I am so thankful and lucky to have a large area that offers a safe nature refuge for a variety of wildlife.   Plus, while observing their behaviors, I can sketch and paint their actions for my journal.  This sketch was done with watercolor pencil.

The Old Apple Tree’s Story

 

 

On a picturesque old farm not far from where I live, grows a very weathered rugged apple tree that one could imagine holds a history of rich tales.  It’s not a form of beauty but one of great strength and character, covered with grayish scabby deeply crevassed bark with lichen clinging to it.  The long gnarly and twisting brittle branches reach out to the sunlight in every direction forming an awkward asymmetrical form.  The wide trunk still supports the heavy weight above its decayed hollowed frame and one wonders how it has energy to still produce red apples each year along with a few hanging leaves.

I peer at it for a length of time picturing the local deer reaching up for an apple; crows robbing its fruit; birds nesting on a branch; squirrels making their frantic runs up and down its trunk; children challenging a climb to its height and building tree houses; shade for those who relaxed under the branches on a hot summer day; and, the happy planting day by the past owner’s dream with anticipation of the pleasurable bite into its first apple

It has survived years of abuse from months of draught, cold wintery and windy weather, invasive bugs and negligence from human maintenance.  Slowly, its long life story will end as each important part of the dry withered tree can no longer endure the elements and lack of nutrients collapses to the ground.

 

Nature’s forces….

The winter wind blew with strong gusts and intermittent showers this early morning.  This type of cold gray wet weather will mostly discourage me from wrapping myself up in warm waterproof clothes to keep me dry while out in the elements; but, today I challenged the weather and ventured out for a quick morning jaunt.

Not long into my long vigorous steps, I spotted a very small empty bird’s nest on the wet road that must have been blown out of a group of bushes or trees by the force of the strong wind.  I bent down and picked it up to see if it was still intact and to my amazement it was and without any sign of past bird activity.  It had been loosely but strongly built with delicate roots, twigs, stringy strands of lichen and long black horse hairs; then, for some reason abandoned by the builder.   It is beautiful and I could not leave it to become damaged from vehicles moving on the road.  So it is the painting subject in today’s journal.

Pausing to observe the construction of the small nest reminded me of how vulnerable and unexpectedly our lives and comforts can be disrupted by nature’s force.  The severe weather and natural disasters this fall have caused so much sorrow and disaster to people’s lives where they have had to change their daily routines to unknown futures.   I pray they will find strength to cope and receive the support and love from family and friends this Christmas.

 

 

Raining Frogs and Worms

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If it can rain ‘cats and dogs’, why can’t it rain frogs and worms?  Sounds silly, of course, since I never see dogs, cats, frogs or worms falling from the sky when it rains; but, think about it for a minute.  Why then do I see dead stretched out worms and frogs on the wet road after a heavy rainfall during my morning walk when the sun shows it face between the cloud breaks?

In my long ago younger days, my dad and I would go together for walks after a long period of rainfall.  And, I being much closer to the ground at that time, would notice several worms on the road which made me wonder, “Why are there so many worms on the road after it rains” and “How did they get there?”  So asking my dad, who liked to kid, he  would always reply, “they fall from the sky with the rain”.  Being he was my dad who knew everything, I believed him!

So the other day after a long period of rain, I went for my daily walk and was reminded again of my dear dad’s comment, ‘worms fall from the sky with the rain’ .

A Moose…at last!

I’ve been to Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons National Parks, Maine, Vermont, Western and Eastern B.C., Canada and even into the Canadian Rockies and many other habitats for Moose and never spotted a one; even in the early morning and early evening hours with my eyes searching bogs, meadows and birch forests!  No Moose!

And then, while my daughter was driving our rented car along a quiet road heading toward Jakobstad, Finland this summer, we spotted about three of them grazing in an semi open field surrounded by birch trees.   She almost drove off the road we were so excited and surprised!   We did an immediate U turn and headed back to snap a few photos.   So as she drove passed them I quickly clicked the iPhone several times.  Yay, we have a record of our spotting!  I checked the iPhone to review what I had captured…..no Moose!  What!  How could it be I clicked only the field and trees between the Moose?   Too late.  There was no time allowed for another turn around as it was starting to get dusk and we needed to reach our new lodging for a few days in Jakobstad with relatives.

So all we have is a memory and my sketch using two photos from the internet….but that’s okay, I am assuming all Moose have that unique, awkward shape with parts that just don’t seem to purposely relate to each other   Even so, I love them as they are!

Dried Leaves in August

The summer has been dry and hot continuously, and remains so going into September.  Underneath a Large Leaf Maple tree in our neighborhood,  I found on the ground a few fallen wilted dry leaves still full of rich colors in lemon yellow, umber and ocher plus a (helicopter) seed.  The leaves that remain on the tree appear fresh and green waiting for the cooler nights to change their colors.

This dry summer has caused stress to the deciduous and evergreen trees on the island due to lack of water so I am assuming these leaves are the first to leave the branches.

Queen Anne Lace and Pearly Everlasting plants

Queen Anne in her purple gown proudly sits in the center of her lacy white cluster of petite blossoms.  Her striking throne is perched high on a thin stem that sways and nods with the soft breeze as it towers over the Pearly Everlasting puffy white blossoms.  Their soft faces peer toward the blue sky attracting bees and butterflies to collect their pollen.

As summer sunny days fade toward fall, the Pearly Everlasting dries lasting forever, while Queen Anne slowly fades and folds into her cage spreading her seeds for the following year.