Monday 26 March 2012

Birds of Different Feathers

My trip to Mexico last month is quickly becoming a distant memory, but before it fades away completely I'd like to make one last blog entry about it - kind of a catch-all featuring a hodge podge of feathered characters that I observed and photographed.

First, a selection from the Barra de Navidad region where both marsh and beach habitats, and what must be a healthy ecosystem with ample food supplies, make for abundant and diverse bird life:

A jacana, with stilt-like legs and splayed toes
designed for treading across the floating water hyacinths.

Another hyacinth-treader: a moorhen. 
A glossy ibis swallows a snail.

A stilt poses gracefully on one long leg.

One of the many "cocodrillos" to be seen in
the mangrove swamp at nearby La Manzanilla.

An egret just a few feet from the crocodiles,
perhaps attempting camoflage.

Two shorebirds, two different speices: a whimbrel, left, and
a willet, right. (Hopefully I have identified them correctly!)

A hapless fish becomes lunch for an egret

From my sketchbook - a snowy egret

And from the botanical gardens in Puerto Vallarta, about 150 kilometres to the north of Barra de Navidad, I can't leave out this colourful show-off, a yellow-winged cacique. He was avidly demonstrating his gymnastic abilities in an effort to impress a demure female of his species.

Checking to see that she's watching.

The lively courtship display (she flew away unimpressed).

So on that colourful note, I say farewell to Mexico for now. I treasure the memories and cherish the opportunity to have observed and recorded so many bird species (you've seen only a handful). As one of my travelling companions noted, "Who knew Mexico had so many birds?"! 

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Home to Roost

Notice anything interesting about this picture? At first glance, it looks like a couple of ordinary windows on an run-of-the-mill Mexican building. It was located on the same street as our hotel in Barra de Navidad, just a few doors away. An average building, on an average street in an average Mexican town. Nothing special.

But look closer and you might notice something a little out of the ordinary....


Now you see them! Perched along the top of the ironwork burglar-proofing is a row of barn swallows. Every night during our stay, as dusk settled, these wee birds came to roost at this same spot.

From my sketchbook

The attraction of these particular windows, on this particular building was known only to the birds themselves. Their feathers looked a bit rough, so I suspect they were young, recently fledged birds and given there were mud nests higher up on the building, perhaps they were "teenagers" reluctant to leave home but too big to fit back into their nests (purely speculation on my part).

Some evenings there wasn't room for one more bird to squeeze in. Each bird maintained a personal space of a couple of inches between themselves and their neighbours, and they would peck at any incoming birds, defending this precious space quite ferociously! Other evenings, fewer of the birds would choose this particular roost and there would be abundant space for all. But each evening, as we ventured out into the town and walked past this window, we would look for this charming row of birds.

Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things can add up to something extradordinary.

Friday 9 March 2012

A Passion for Pelicans

I was fortunate to spend some time in Mexico last month - fortunate because the weather here in southern BC sucks big-time right now (rainy, cold, dark, grey, wet, and downright awful) and the Mexican warmth and sunshine was MOST welcome, and also because I'm grateful whenever I'm lucky enough to travel and spend time getting to know life in another country. I spent the majority of my time in a village called Barra de Navidad, just north of Manzanillo on Mexico's west coast, and was able to slip into a relaxing routine, enjoying delicious fresh-caught fish and just-picked fruit/veg, good meals at what became a favourite local restaurant, afternoon swims, strolls around the little town, more ambitious treks along the 6 km beach (challenging because of the slope and soft sand), and.... best of all... the opportunity to observe an astounding assortment of bird life!

Shorebirds at rest on a sandbar

A nearby marsh was teeming with waders - herons, egrets, jacanas, ibis, gallinules, coots and such (not to mention thick blooms of lush water hyacinths) and the ocean was absolutely alive with pelicans, frigate birds, terns, cormorants, gulls and others, all of whom could be observed fishing just off the beach and breakwater. The beach itself had its own contingent of waders (whimbrels, yellowlegs, and the like, and even a golden-crowned night heron spotted fishing one evening), and skulkers (vultures and caracaras looking for "snacks" that had washed ashore).

Heron and egret at the marsh

But the species that captured my attention and my artistic imagination was definitely the pelican - to be species-specific, the Brown Pelican. And so it these fascinating birds that are focus of the first of what I expect to be a series of blog entries about my time in Mexico.

I have observed pelicans before and have always found them charming. For ungainly looking creatures, they are graceful fliers and astoundingly efficient fishers who dive with arrow-like precision for their prey. But never before had I seen pelicans in such abundance or had this type of opportunity to observe their interactions with other species and their fantastic aerial skills. It was perfect holiday entertainment!

Cruising effortlessly in formation
A page from my sketchbook
There were groups of rowdy juveniles who spent a lot of time trying to steal fish from hapless cormorants. The more stately adults busied themselves honing their fishing skills, setting an example for the youngsters and probably showing off just a little.

Juvenile & adult Brown Pelicans
Like Olympic high-divers, they plummet into the ocean making only a small splash where they pierce the surface of the water.

And sometimes there's a delightful combination of ungainly goofiness and absolute grace about these birds that's uniquely "pelican-esque".

As an artist, I'm not quite certain where my newly acquired passion for pelicans will find expression. For the moment, I'm still pondering their forms and the feelings generated by them, and sorting through hundreds and hundreds of  photos of flying, floating, diving, drifting, squabbling, snoozing, swimming, roosting, resting pelicans. Stay tuned!

Friday 2 March 2012

Day of the Owls

So... this is my first attempt at blogging. It was inspired by the Most Amazing Day about a month ago in which I saw not one... not two... but three species of owls! That I find this amazing tells you something about me: I'm nuts about animals, and that obsession carries through into my profession as an artist because, as you'll see by my profile, the art I make is all about animals and birds. Therefore, a three-owl day is pretty special to me and it's one I won't soon forget, particularly so given I've only seen owls in the wild a handful of times till now. Just seeing one species in a day would be pretty spectacular, but to see three is truly amazing.

My camera is an important tool in my art practice. I use it to record my bird and animal encounters, and subsequently this photographic record provides me with very personal subject matter. I'm a stickler for making art that has a personal connection - it's an absolute "must" as far as I'm concerned if the art is going to reflect the soul of its maker. Happily this means my blog will be rich in photographic images (all of which are, by the way, protected by copyright).

Getting back to the Most Amazing Day, it started with a drive to Boundary Bay in search of snowy owls which are wintering in this more-southerly-than-normal region for reasons best known to the owls themselves. Nestled among the driftwood between the dyke and the shoreline were perhaps two dozen of these beatiful feathered creatures. I took literally hundreds of photos but here are a couple that I think best sum up the experience.

While observing these striking birds, I heard a little squawk behind me and there, to my delight, was yet another species: a short-eared owl. In fact I spotted not one, but two of them hunting in the field behind the dyke.

There were other birds to be seen on that eventful day, including eagles, herons and the like, but this day was for the owls. And to my continued amazement, it didn't end there. After heading home I set out with my collie for a walk that took us past a local ravine. There, posing quietly on a slender branch was a beautiful barred owl who was gracious enough to say put while I ran home for my camera.

And thus concludes my first blog entry. I hope you enjoyed sharing this Amazing Day with me. At some point in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future you will likely see images of the art that results from this wonderful day's experiences.

I'm not sure how frequently I'll be blogging, but I'm sure I'll have something interesting to share every so often and that you'll get to know a bit about my life as an artist and the creatures who inspire me.

Till next time...