Category Archives: Animals

The bear on the beach

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Just returned from a phenomenal expedition with Sea Wolf adventures, a small-ship cruise company with extensive experience and expertise on Glacier Bay and the Northwest Coast. We spent so much time hiking and kayaking (interspersed with eating outstanding food) that I didn’t get to do too much sketching, but this page records one of my favorite wildlife viewing moments of the trip.

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Working on skull skills

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Another memento mori, in progress. I started out with the same approach I used on the owl skull conversation last month, but the colors in the foreground were too nice to darken, and then it started to become moss, so I’m going with it. Planning to add some more detail (but not too much more) to the moss.

I like the story it evokes: pushing through prickling spruce branches from the bright beach, the cool and so-dark of mossy uplifted-berm forest; a pale glow resolves into a bone-seeker’s treasure. Who brought it here?

Rare visitor

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Last September, rangers and other employees at Glacier Bay National Park headquarters looked out their office windows at Bartlett Cove and spotted a very unusual warbler…a stranger to Glacier Bay, to Alaska, and even to the West Coast. It was a yellow-throated warbler (Setophaga dominica), a species whose usual range runs through the southeastern US and down to Cuba. This was the first Alaska sighting.

The bird stayed around for several days, plucking insects off the park buildings and delighting locals and birders from afar.

I was commissioned by a friend to create this illustration as a commemoration of that intrepid little explorer. Wonder if he’ll be back next summer?

A parliament of owls

 

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I love skulls. Skulls tell stories and evoke emotions. They’re beautiful as whole objects, but they’re also full of micro-landscapes and eerie abstractions that resonate in nameless ways with our own visual and tactile experiences. So I draw them often. But I’ve rarely painted skulls.

I got the urge a few days ago, so I pulled out a few bird skulls and looked them over. I intended to paint a raven skull, but my eye kept getting drawn to the owls.

I started with the one in the center. It was really meant just as an exercise in brush strokes and values. But after I got it roughed in, it looked lonely. I set out a couple of the other owl skulls and added them into the scene…and they instantly gave the whole painting a story. I like the way a single static, lonely skull on a dark field turned into a conversation.

Otter skull

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I went on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count a couple of weeks ago, and while we didn’t have any stand-out birds to report, it was a banner day for bones and skulls. The day’s discoveries included a murre skull, an eagle skull, a partial sea lion skull, a moose jaw, and numerous bird and mammal bones.

Plus this sea otter skull. Sea otters are increasing dramatically in Southeast Alaska. Fifteen years ago it would have been a shock to find a sea otter skull; I’ve seen at least three on or near the local beaches just this year.

Sea otter skulls are similar to river otter skulls, but there are some key differences. The average sea otter skull is visibly bigger than the average river otter skull, with a bigger nasal opening (I wonder why?) But even without these differences, the teeth distinguish them easily. Eaters of hard-shelled prey such as clams and crabs, sea otters have flattened, smooth-cusped molars where river otters have tendon-shearing carnassials.

This otter was probably several years old, judging from the skull size and the worn condition of its molars. I think the canine tooth was broken post-mortem; the break was sharp-edged and splintery, not worn at all.

Sea otters spend a huge amount of time grooming their fur, which is their primary insulation (they don’t have blubber). Looking at those precisely-shaped, comb-like incisors makes me wonder if their shapes have any special adaptive functions for fur maintenance…

The one that didn’t migrate

A few days ago, a friend called and said she had found a hummingbird in her garage. It had come inside sometime this fall and had either not been able to find its way out, or had just been too weak or cold to survive. It had freeze-dried, hanging by its feet from a wire, with its tail splayed out against the wall. The unusual position, in which it can “sit” balanced on its tail, with beak straight up, made for an intriguing view to sketch.

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Little Brown Dude

I like hanging out with naturalists. Say you’re out for a walk and you spot an interesting clump of scat. Where a non-naturalist friend will likely want to take a big step over it and keep on walking, a naturalist will crouch down, help you pick the scat apart and merrily join in discussing who produced it and what they ate for dinner.

Also, you can count on naturalists to not look at you askance when you make odd requests, such as: So…can I borrow that desiccated bat you have in your bookcase?

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It was fascinating to get such a close look at this little fellow, on loan from a naturalist friend who knew and liked him when he was alive.

Little originals

Have been sketching-for-sale lately, creating small originals to sell at the Saturday Summer Market in Gustavus. Here are a few samples:

hocker-hummingbird-sketch hocker-puffin-sketch hocker-yellowlegs-sketch

The hummingbird’s rufous sides aren’t very rufous, are they? I picked the wrong watercolor pencils, but then I ended up liking the color combination, so…

I rarely draw or paint puffins. They seem to get so much press already. But this one was fun to do. I liked the challenge of the water, and the challenge of showing some–but not too much–detail on the wing feathers.

The yellowlegs is my favorite. It’s from a photo of a bird down along the Salmon River. I love that it stretched its neck up, creating this unusual pose for a portrait. Something about the pose, or the eye, gives it so much character!