Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Brown Thrasher

"Rufous" seems inadequate to describe the coloring of this radiant bird. The brown thrasher's orange red feathers almost glow in the sunlight. And they can sing, as well as mimic other bird song; but the variety and range is more limited, and the song of shorter duration than that of the mocking bird.

Brown thrashers are year-round residents of Florida, but not so much in the southern part of the state. I guess that's why I feel lucky to have seen a few in the past six years. Their long tails, brown striped white bellies, and yellow-orange eyes make them a real eye-charmer. But photographing them is a challenge, as they fly away when you approach even from a distance.

My daughter who lives in Atlanta tells me that brown thrashers are the Georgia state bird. She has probably seen many more than I have. The first time I saw a thrasher it was love at first sight. They have been my favorite bird ever since. Painting a brown thrasher in its natural grassland setting was a joy.

Brown thrasher is a 12x16 acrylic painting on panel; $325 includes barnwood frame; shipping is extra. Giclees, prints and cards are available at

This little piggy . . .

Fortunately, this little piggy does not go to market. Feral pigs run wild in Florida, usually under the cover of darkness. Other names for these oinkers are "wild boar," wild hog," or "razorback." Sound intimidating? They are if confronted. Their tusks are sharp and from three to six inches long. They can run fast and swim well which is why they seldom get caught, except when outsmarted by a hungry alligator looking for filet of pork. In this case, being pigheaded doesn't help.
Are they good to eat? I saw a feral piglet left behind by a roaming herd. He was plump, pink, and rather juicy looking, I thought. But wild pigs are seldom eaten, unless you're willing to risk the parasitic worms that embed their flesh and the myriad diseases they carry. The early settlers roasted feral hogs for dinner. These hardy folks lived in such primitive conditions, that they probably died of malaria or old age long before the effects of the worms kicked in. Many of them tried to keep domesticated pigs of their own, but the feral pigs managed to breakdown their fences and interbreed, creating more wild hogs.

Trying to eradicate wild pigs is like swatting at flies. They breed like jack rabbits, they're elusive, and they're always on the run.What do they do in the wee hours of the morning? They uproot people's lawns and flower beds searching for seeds, acorns, roots, fungi, worms and snails.

Golf club owners are terrified they will plow through their turf and cost them thousands of dollars in damages. Homeowners cringe when they see their well manicured lawns turned into a mass of overturned clods. How do I know this? Our back yard was feral-pig-plowed last night. Other yards in our neighborhood were also hit. In some cases, it's an easy fix -- simply stomp the uprooted sod back into place. In other cases, not so easy.

A friend of mine had her front lawn feral-pig-plowed three times. Living alone with a disability, she hired a lawn service to put her yard back together again. She paid for service twice. On the third time around, she complained to the Home Owners Association. Her persistence paid off, and she got money back for her piggy bank.

Living in Florida is not always pork chops and gravy, but it does provide an endless supply of stories for my blogs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Arabesque," egrets in flight

Another beautiful day in paradise. This is what living in southern Florida is like; there's always something to see, another new thing to learn, a wealth of nature's bounty right at my doorstep.

Today was no different. The Alligator Flag are in full bloom. This large leafed plant may grow up to 12 feet tall, sprouting slender stalks of odd-shaped purple flowers at its peak. The winter snowbirds who flock to our community usually miss their bright green leaves which frame the ponds and lakes from June through November.

Sometimes called arrowroot or fireflag, the plant announces the beginning of the summer season, and the end of fall when they wither into wheat-colored shards, dry and crisp.

Next to the flag is a gray wood piling that juts from the pond and serves as perch for the anhingas in the area. Today a new bird paid a visit. At first I thought it was a snowy egret, but noticed that the bill was shorter and thicker. The legs were blackish, but without the yellow feet attached. The bird was also too small for an egret.

I filed away an image of the bird in my head until I could refer to my audubon guide. According to the description, my visitor was an "immature" little blue heron. My reading explained why the legs didn't look black; they were actually a "dull slaty olive." In time, this juvenile will sprout the slate-blue wings and body of its parent and the long purplish back and head plumes of courtship.

As I walked past the second lake on my journey, a piercing "killdee" turned my head. Three killdeer, members of the plover family, had seen me before I had seen them. They scissor-stepped across the grass, heading closer to water's edge; their ear-piercing shrieks loud in my ears.

The killdeer are brown above and white below, with two black-striped chest bands; a striking contrast against the brilliant white chest feathers. Up close, the killdeer's black eyes pop out against a red backdrop. Even in flight their high-pitched song is unmistakable.

This is the same lake that inspired my painting: "Arabesque," named for the graceful white egrets that frequent the area. Landing, lifting, or flying across the lake, their movements resemble a graceful dance.

Brilliant white feathers make a striking contrast against the blue-green waters and the copse of trees in the background.

Arabesque" is a 14x18 oil on canvas with barnwood frame; for sale at $275 plus shipping. Giclees, prints, or cards may be purchased at:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In the life

I grew up in an emerald green valley ringed on all sides by a craggy strip of mountains known as the Wasatch front. These rugged giants, and the springs, lakes, and rivers that divide them, were the guardians of my youth. From my bedroom window, the mountains rose like giant hands in prayer; casting benevolent shadows on the surrounding neighborhoods and farms.

On clear summer days, the sky filled our valley with morning light long before the sun had reached its crest on the jagged peeks and thrown off its coverlet of shadow cast by aspen, Juniper, and sage. A neighbor’s rooster proclaimed break of day, and the sounds of engines starting and cattle lowing struck the chords and the notes that play out in my head even now.

On the Western side of the valley, the distant mountains completed the circle, framing a patchwork of fields and farms that spread out on the valley floor like a farm wife’s quilt. At day’s end, the sun, saving the best for last, celebrated its descent in triumphant tones of amber and rose before snuggling deep into mountain shadow.

On evenings such as this, time stood still as I watched my father practice the art of fly tying. Like a true artist, he adjusted clamp and vice to secure the hook while he twisted and wrapped the tiny feathers into place. Although each fly was unique, he duplicated one lusty specimen many times over for its ability to snag rainbow trout and German browns.

With the same skill he used to cast his fishing line in a timeless dance over canyon waters, he cast his children out to experience life. If we encountered rough waters or found ourselves in over our heads, he would reel us back in for further instruction.

Sometimes his reprimands were harsh. At those times, his words cut through our disobedience with the sharp edge of truth. Then he would cast us out again, giving us more line from time to time, until we got it right.

Because of my father’s skill as an angler, I grew up with a man-sized appetite for pan-fried trout. Father cleaned them. Mother cooked them -- dusted in flour and fried in butter, without the cholesterol guilt or fat gram shame. We dined on fish two or three times a week. The extra fish were frozen for winter meals and to keep my father’s dreams alive for the next fishing season.

Sometimes the family went with him on his fishing expeditions, wandering the byways and dirt roads of Southern Idaho, Wyoming, and Northern Utah in search of the best fishing holes. He waded up to his armpits in the rivers and dams along the Wasatch front; the winding Snake River, the wide Green River, and the brilliant blue Bear Lake.

When my father could no longer fish, he shared the woven intricacies of fly tying with his grandchildren, leaving them an inheritance that would continue on like an echo in the same canyons and mountain streams.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Loggerhead shrike

A saucy bird with an unusual song, the loggerhead shrike is both striking and endearing. Slightly smaller than the mocking bird, but with similar coloring, they are often confused one with the other.

There are distinct differences. The loggerhead has a thick black beak that turns downward and short black legs and feet, while the mocker's beak is shorter and thinner and its legs longer. Shrikers also appear fatter than the grayish-tan mocking bird, having a whiter belly that makes its black wings and tail appear darker and its silver rump and upper wings more striking.

The loggerhead shrike, one of my favorite birds in southern Florida. I had to capture my impressions of him on canvas.

Please enjoy my acrylic painting on 12x16 panel; $325 includes barnwood frame; shipping is extra. Giclees, prints and cards are available at:

Cypress incubator

Each day, I walk by a small cypress copse that juts out into the lake. Sometimes the branches are filled with migrating cormorants looking for a free lunch, or with egrets and herons returning to their nests.

Together the mated pair clean and fix-up their old digs. During this renovation, the herons come and go at will; not returning for days at a time. Once the eggs are laid, the parents take turns incubating them and later caring for their brood. This process may take more than three months and provides the neighborhood with weeks of entertainment.

When the newborn chicks hatch (usually three), their oversized beaks rise above the nest, begging for food. The parents continue to take turns guarding the nest and flying off to fish or forage.

Before the chicks leave the nest permanently, they flutter from branch to branch within the copse, until they learn how to fly. The parents are extremely patient, allowing their youngsters to stay until they are good and ready to survive on their own.

I remind myself that all things of value are worth time and patience, that goes for life, families, faith, and yes, my paintings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Birds of prey

Have you ever noticed how tenacious birds of prey are in pursuit of their supper?

A red shouldered hawk frequents the southern oaks behind our villa. I observed him sitting on a nearby branch for at least 15 minutes. I assumed he was waiting for one of the unsuspecting squirrels that romped through the branches.

He sat frozen, except for his eyes that darted from limb to limb. While he waited, a flock of finches gathered; first one or two birds, and then a huge swarm. They chattered away, calling attention to their common enemy waiting beneath them.

Would they have the nerve to dive-bomb him or attack him, I wondered? The hawk didn’t wait to find out. Exasperated, he flew off to find a new perch.

An osprey chose his hunting site in a dead tree at the south end of our pond. I took a picture of him as he scanned the water searching for fish. When he spotted his prey, he lifted off with wide wings and literally performed what looked like water skiing as he skimmed the water's surface.

His sturdy legs and clawed feet sent out a spray of water before he lifted upward, clutching a huge sunfish. I’m told that ospreys have valves in their nostrils which close on impact, preventing the water from getting inside. Their feathers also repel water from an oily substance that coats the plumage. The osprey made a great catch without having to dive in as many other birds do.

Because tree owls hunt mainly at night, it is rare to see them. Their keen hearing protects them as they sleep during the day, and helps them pinpoint their prey even in the dark of night.

On my daily walk, I saw a suspicious shape in a tree. I chalked it up to my vivid imagination, but instinct pulled me closer. When I was only a few feet away, the owl’s eyes flew open. His keen hearing alerted him to my presence. The owl blended so well into the bark that until I saw the yellow of his eyes, I was never really certain.

The owl was sitting on a limb that was much too close to the ground for his safety. He must have fallen asleep before sunrise and didn’t recognize the danger. His seeming negligence didn’t last. Before I could get a picture, he took off, flying swiftly but surely to safer climbs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Innset Kirke, Norway

My husband is Norwegian. He still has many relatives living in Norway.

I get requests from my husband and his U.S. relatives to paint scenes from Norway. One painting was sold at an art show two years ago. Two Norwegian tourists recognized their bay town and bought the painting for a Christmas gift.

The featured painting is a historical site called "Innset Kirke." The beautiful building has been preserved and renovated. I wanted to highlight its past religious significance and the burnished glow of the wood.

Painting is oil on 11x14 canvas; framed in an antique country wood that is peach tinged to further enhance the orange highlights of the building. Price is $325 plus shipping. To purchase original or giclees, prints or cards, please go to my web site at:

Partridge in an oak tree

When I spotted the two birds, they were running alongside the chicken wire fence, hidden beneath the Brazilian pepper, the hedgerow, and the Spanish moss which draped from their lower branches.

When the birds saw me, a soft chortle started up in their throats, and they ran for a hole under the fence which led to their escape. They were so fast on their feet that I failed to capture the details necessary for identification.

Checking my Audubon Field Guide later, I tried to piece together my impressions: stocky round bird, reddish brown feathers, unique head markings or Mohawk haircut; a chipping or swamp sparrow I wondered? Naw, too small.

It was a year later in March before I saw another pair scurrying along the fence line. This time I got a good look before they slipped under the fence and disappeared in the dry pasture stubble. Turns out, they were northern bobwhites; members of the quail or partridge family and indigenous to Florida.

When the mating season begins each spring, coveys break up and mates build their own covered nests in the grass. In late summer, families join others to form a new covey until the next breeding season.

My husband and I saw the bobwhites almost every day for several weeks. One lusty fellow searching for a potential mate flew to the upper branches of a live oak and serenaded us with a “bob bob white.”

On days when we didn’t see the quails, my husband would whistle his own rendition of “bob bob white,” and we waited. Sure enough, an answering call told us where the bobwhites were located that day.

When the spring rains came early that year and flooded the grasslands, our bobwhites disappeared. My husband still whistled to see if they had returned, but there was no answering call. I hope we see them again this year.