Wednesday 24 July 2013

My newest neighbours

For a few days I've been hearing a lot of unusual bird sounds in my back yard. The cats have been hearing them too, and even though they're confined to second floor, cat-proofed sundeck, they have been particularly interested in observing what's going on down below in the garden.

My shady, secluded back garden has a number of big, old rhododendrons and other shrubs of similar size, and at this time of year lots of foliage has grown up from below in the form of ferns, hostas and the like. It's a perfect habitat for birds who prefer the lower levels of the forest rather than being high in the canopy. This year, to my delight, I have discovered that a family of spotted towhees has taken up residence!

The first hint was the regular sound of this beautiful adult bird calling out to announce his presence every morning and evening.

I also observed him raiding my lone blueberry bush. It's a prolific one and most years it provides me with several pints of berries to enjoy with my breakfasts. This year, however, it seems I'm sharing them with my new back-yard "tenant", not that I mind.
Selecting just the right berry.
Looking at me as if to say, "You didn't want this one, did you?"
Then I began to hear steady peeping. At first I couldn't identify the source, despite lots of peering into the greenery. However, I could hear fluttering in the undergrowth and the adult birds were being very attentive so I suspected there was a family being looked after. Over the past couple of days I kept my eyes open and my camera handy, and I finally I manage to catch a few fleeting glimpses. Some not-very-good photos were the outcome:
In the cherry tree.

Under the shrubs perhaps wondering "Dare I venture out?"
Among the leaf litter below an old rhododendron.

And then this morning, as I was watering the garden with my camera in hand (trying not to water my camera in the process) I got this wonderful shot:
Baby towhee, full view!
Perhaps not the most beautiful bird in the world, but in my eyes, he or she is gorgeous!
I also captured this lovely interaction between parent and fledgling:
Watching and learning.

A trio of tiny towhee drawings.

Towhees are common birds here in southwestern British Columbia, but not everyone's familiar with them. Despite the fact that they're a good-sized bird, just a little smaller than a robin, and that they have striking markings with their black, white and rust coloured feathers and bright red eyes, their reclusive habits make them less likely for the casual observer to notice.  However, I often see them when I'm roaming in Campbell Valley Park so they have found their way into my artwork more than once:


A small drawing of a spotted towhee.
And I even use an image of a towhee for one of the coloured pencil workshops I teach. It's a perfect subject on which to learn about birds and their textures.
With this delightful little family living right on my doorstep, I'm sure there will be more towhee inspired artwork to come. In the meantime, the cats and I will look forward to being serenaded by the towhee's evening song tonight.

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