The last night of our Sea Wolf adventure was spent on the fringe of the world, a tiny island outboard of Elfin Cove that stands sentinel at the edge of the open Pacific. Its forest is all charm: small spruce and hemlock, an understory of windswept, deer-nipped grass, patches of deer-shredded blueberry bushes, and deer-bitten skunk cabbages. A gravel trail meanders from a beach of granite pebbles to a headland capped by a WWII cannon, still pointing oceanward but drooping down as if tired of watching. I could have spent days there, and am already trying to figure out ways to get back. This painting was started at sunset, the light fading fast, and finished the next morning.
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?
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…
I'm pleased to announce that the new children's book about humpback whales is finally at the printer, and should be in-hand in late June! See below for the cover and a sample page.
The book is 32 pages, 8.5X11, paperback, with full color illustrations and a parents/teachers section at the end. It costs $11.95. It's being printed now, and should be in hand by the end of June. Contact me if you'd like to pre-order or if you have any questions.
You can learn more about our When You See Flukes book project, and about humpback whales near Juneau, at our "Spot the Whale" website.
I've been working on text and illustrations for a new children's picture book about humpback whales–and not doing much nature drawing–so I thought I'd post an image from the book. My illustration pace has been glacially slow, but I'm hoping the book will be printed by the end of the year… or at the very least by next spring, in time for the whales' return to our Southeast Alaskan waters…
…And here's the second page of sketches commemorating the July naturalist kayak jaunt. This time: the view from sea level.
Spent a blissful three days puttering around Benjamin and North Islands with two naturalist friends. Kayaking and exploring conditions couldn't have been better: warm, sunny days with glassy water, cooler breezy evenings, lovely sunsets, few biting insects. Most importantly, we were surrounded by a paradise of nature puzzles and treasures to discover. Here's a first page of sketches; I'm planning a second page of memory sketches and notes and plan to post it soon.
UPDATE: looks like our mystery orchid is Malaxis (Hammerbya) paludosa, bog adder's-mouth orchid.
Went up Mount Roberts today–the view is gorgeous though a little surreal: because I went up on the tram I didn't have that feeling of pain-earned and endorphin-fueled accomplishment one usually gets from climbing 1000 feet up that steep trail.
I had sketchbook and a variety of supplies; I wanted to do a very fast watercolor sketch (10 min) of the view down Gastineau Channel. Decided to play with the metallic watercolors, which I hadn't done in a while. I like the earthiness of them.
When it came time to add the human elements in the lower left (bridge, harbor, town), I totally lost interest…Ah well.
Spent a pleasant couple of hours yesterday morning on a small island in Auke Bay, observing a pair of black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) at their nest site. I especially enjoyed watching the different behaviors of the female and the male. The female was very vocal, stood and walked tall when in motion, moved around a great deal. The male crept among the rocks, keeping his head low, and sat still for many minutes at a time. The female was the one to settle on the nest, though.
The scrape nest held three eggs, just at the edge of the ryegrass zone, green with black speckles and very hard to see. It was an eloquent case for being very careful when exploring the shore this time of year–and perhaps just avoiding this type of habitat altogether and staying below the tideline…
UPDATE: I have just learned that the tagged bird is actually a male, so the above-described behaviors should be role-reversed… This male was banded and satellite-tagged about four years ago. He has been returning to the same nesting area ever since.
Spent the weekend at a women's outdoor-skills workshop, held at a camp at the mouth of Cowee Creek. Cowee is an incredibly rich system–fed by glacial and meltwater streams, flowing down through spruce lowlands and out through a mosaic of uplift meadows, spruce groves, alder and willow thickets, and lovely oozy sedge-filled estuary. An hour with a spotting scope gave me plenty of material for bird sketches…