Monthly Archives: October 2009

Willow Ptarmigan

PtarmiganMy trip to Bethel got me thinking about ptarmigan. The school district media center happened to have two very nicely taxidermied winter-plumage birds, so the students and I drew them in several classes. The kids knew ptarmigan well–they are a popular game/subsistence birds out there.

Ptarmigan are also pretty common around Juneau; we have all three Alaska species (rock, white-tailed, and willow), with rock and willow being the most abundant here. Willows are lower-elevation birds in general. They like deciduous thickets. I’ve often followed their soft, snowshoed tracks among the blueberry bushes behind my house. Every once in a while, I see one. It’s always a special occasion. They’re so trim and white and neat, with those sharp small black beaks and bright black eyes.

This sketch is based on a photo by my naturalist/photographer friend Bob Armstrong.

Tundra Morning

Tundra-morning   Big gap in postings because I have been in Western Alaska, doing sketching classes with students of the Lower Kuskokwim School District. I didn't have time to do much sketching in my own book (most of my drawings were big ones, done as examples for the classes). But I did get out one morning for a walk on the tundra. The landscape is so flat, and there is so much water: tundra pools and sloughs, ponds, lakes, and the big Kuskokwim River and its side-channels. Dry land is a thin layer of grass and willow brush, pressed from above and below by sky and water. While I was there, freeze-up began…leaves of ice creeping almost visibly fast across the ponds…

Otter Skull

Otterskull Watched a river otter rollicking along the beach stones and it reminded me of a sketch page from last spring, when I had a good chance to look closely at a skull. One of the most interesting things about it was the very simply-shaped incisor teeth, when compared with those of a dog. Dogs' incisors are three-lobed and fairly robust, while river otters' are simple, straight, and almost delicate. I suppose otters don't do very much "dissection" nibbling of prey; they swallow a lot whole… but they do groom themselves, surely as much as dogs… Hmm…

Yellow Pond Lily


 Pond-lily2-khSpent a fair bit of time today wandering around a medium-elevation bog. Plants were about the same stage as those at sea level, though a couple of pond lilies still had underwater buds (!) This was particularly interesting, because I could see almost all of the stages of flowering at once. I had never studied their blooming cycle that closely. I was fascinated at how the pods dissolve in the still, tea-colored water of the bog ponds; I could see scatterings of seeds underneath several plants.

I always feel a little guilty picking a pond lily flower or seedpod. They're so big, and so gracefully-formed: like urns or chalices. But there were so many this summer that I'm not feeling too terrible about it. Several of my plant books say the seeds are edible and tasty. I'd say edible, perhaps borderline tasty. They're big, anyway: as big as grains of Calrose rice.