An expedition in search of dippers had me scrambling through devils-club and alder tangle, up a steep, fast-moving creek above Juneau. The dippers kept zinging upstream past me with food, so I knew the nest was even higher. Just about the point where I decided it wasn't worth six million more devils-club stabs and the risk of spraining some valuable joint, I sat down for one more vigil. I never did see the dippers, but while I waited, this rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) nest was revealed to me–a great example of the fringe benefits of keeping still and paying attention.
The sketch is from a photo, as I had my camera but not my sketchbook…
Spent a few days in Gustavus, doing some maintenance on the cabin. I don't draw buildings very much… the porch roof was particularly challenging, especially from this angle…
Second page from Unalakleet sketches. I hadn't expected to see small birds at all–just ravens. But the town was fluttering with what the locals called "snowbirds." After some observation and research, I concluded that most of them were McKay's buntings (Plectrophenax hyperboreus), with a few possible snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis).
One of my sources said that they rely pretty heavily on the beach rye grass (Elymus) for winter food. I scouted around and discovered lots of small-bird tracks around the clumps of grass seed stalks, and very few seeds to be had.
I just returned from a two-week artist-in-residence visit to Unalakleet, in western Alaska on the shore of Norton Sound. It was a wonderful experience–and in addition to getting to work with wonderful students and teachers, I had the opportunity to observe and sketch a fascinating corner of the world. I'll be posting sketch pages from the visit over the next few days.
The first page was done from memory on my first day, when I was whisked off to visit some ice fishers on the river.
A walk along the road yesterday–partly cloudy day, sun and shadow alternating, temps in the 40s. Although things are melting fast, the ground is still frozen in many spots, and there's some snow left. Ice remains in many of the ditches. Still, a few caddisflies were drifting dreamily across the highway, their pale hindwings flickering.
I followed one until it touched down beside a puddle, then crept up on it, thinking I might be able to capture it gently and take it home to draw. Stealth, as it turned out, was unnecessary. I was able to reach out and scoop up the immobile insect from the puddle edge; it didn't move a bit. I carried it back to the car in my hand, my fingers cramping as I tried simultaneously to avoid crushing it and keep from providing it with escape opportunities.
Once at the car, I couldn't find a container, of course, so I transferred the obliging insect into a blown-up and tied-off plastic bag for the drive home and a drawing session.
What a lovely little beastie! By the lavish maxillary palps, she's female. Based on her early emergence and the pattern of her wings, I'm figuring she's a limnephilid, genus Psychoglypha ("carved mind?" "mind writing?"), known to flyfishers as a "snow sedge." I wound up quite smitten by her, and was pleased to be able to release her unharmed.
Here's the illustration that resulted from yesterday's sketch. Caveat: this is an artwork, not a technical illustration! Although it's based on real references, many of the features are exaggerated or approximated.
They're not out yet, but the snow is starting to erode, and underneath, in the moist soil, in the creeks and ponds and sloughs, they're waiting, dreaming of blood… They're no-see-ums or biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae).
A friend called me to ask if I wanted to offer a scientific view of a no-see-um to an art show in which he's featuring his own, rather more fanciful, version of the bug. Sounded fun to me. The challenge was figuring out what genus the insect in my reference photo is… I think I have it narrowed down to Culicoides, but not sure.
Well, I've neglected this site for some time… Here's my latest project. I hope it will be the first in a series.
Woodpeckers are busy drumming these days. Yesterday I saw a sapsucker busily hammering at an electrical meter box. He must have been thrilled at the resonance.
I've been busy on artwork lately–but not sketching. Here's the result. This is my second poster for the Alaska Folk Festival. Now that it's done…I'm back to sketching soon!
Everything's going to seed these days… all those unpicked blueberries are bloated with rain and tasteless now, bursting and spattering their little seeds onto the vegetation below, menziesia pods drying and curling, and these two bog/wet forest plants whose seed capsules I find particularly enchanting-looking…