Saturday, August 29, 2015

"Paint the Past" Plein Air Weekend

Kings Landing Paint Out

On August 22-23 fifteen artists gathered at Kings Landing to plein air paint to raise money for the Kings Landing Foundation.  I was lucky to be one of them.  Others came from Fredericton, Saint John, Woodstock, Maine and as far away as Sydney, NS.  This is expected to become an annual event sponsored by the Kings Landing Foundation.  They treated us very well, giving us access to the Landing to paint as we wished.  The staff helped us with whatever we needed to set up our chosen scenes.  They fed us well and put on a reception on Sunday where the paintings were displayed and offered for sale.  The paintings will continue to be for sale at the Reception Centre until Thanksgiving.

Pictured below is an image taken by Don Carroll of me painting 'Lion', the Landing's Ox.  He was not sure he wanted his portrait painted but was willing to let me work.  Lewis, his caretaker, told me his history.  He is 15 years old, weighs 2400 pounds and unfortunately lost his mate a number of years ago.  He has been under Lewis' care his whole life.  Lewis gave him the unusual name, 'Lion'.  The barn in which he resides contains a beautiful set of stocks as well as his yoke, both very nice artifacts from the past.
Painting the Ox at Kings Landing
Shown below is the painting I did of 'Lion'.

Lewis' Lion
On Saturday I worked with the teamsters and the horses.  They were very accommodating and fed the horses in the barn rather than in the pasture so I could paint them.  I was able to watch the activities around the barn all day as I worked on my painting.  That was good entertainment!  There were at least 6 draft horses present including one colt.  It was easy to tell that the horses are very well cared for and loved.  They provide a great service to the Landing, pulling two wagons loaded with people around all day.  

Shown below is the painting I did of the horse barn and its activities.

The Horse Barn
The horses were not hitched to the carriage shown here.  It appeared to be only on display.  The wagon used to haul guests was much larger and sturdier.  Shown in the painting are the 'Gray' and two of the Belgians who were feeding in the central alleyway of the barn.  The colt was also present with its mother.  

The two paintings are presently on sale at Kings Landing at the Reception Centre. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Two Small Falcons

American Kestrel and Merlin

American Kestrel (Male)
Summertime brings two small falcons to our neighbourhoods.  The Kestrel and the Merlin are common hawks often seen perched on telephone wires or poles along roadsides.  Both are beautiful and fun to watch.  Falcons have slim and pointed wings and square tails and are usually very active.

American Kestrel (Juvenile)

The American Kestrel is smaller, about 27 cm long (10.5 inches).  It has a longer tail and two bold moustache stripes on white cheeks.  Its plumage is colourful, the male differing from the female with dark blue-gray on the wings.  Kestrels will sometimes hover over a field with rapidly beating wings as they search for prey.  At other times in a strong wind they can be seen soaring in place over a field.  They feed on insects, small mammals, and reptiles.

Merlin (Female)
The Merlin is larger and darker in colour (31 cm long [12 inches]).  When perched it looks more heavily-bodied and it does not have the moustache stripes.  Its breast is very striped.  The other falcon it might be confused with is the Peregrine Falcon but it is much larger and has a bold moustache stripe.

The Merlin is a very active bird and is often heard before it is seen.  Its kee-kee-kee can be heard from a great distance and the birds are very vocal when nesting.  Merlins feed on insects and other birds.  The ones shown above and below were feeding on dragonflies.  I have also seen them take a shorebird from a flock on the beach.

Merlin (Male)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Plein Air Watercolour Workshop

Painting in Nova Scotia

Port Joli Shoreline
 Last weekend we attended a Plein Air Watercolour Workshop on the outskirts of Port Joli, Nova Scotia.  Nine enthusiastic water colour artists gathered to learn from the world renowned water colourist, Roger Savage of Mersey Point, NS.  Roger has painted all over the world, won numerous awards and has a gallery at Mersey Point.  His teaching is educational, enthusiastic, and a joy to experience.  He is full of stories and humour so we enjoyed his classes.

On Saturday we visited a nearby shoreline and gathered in the lee of a fish plant to paint for the day.  Above is the painting I was able to complete.  It is difficult to get perspective and contrast with water colours but I think I accomplished it in this one.  On Sunday it was raining heavily so we assembled on the ample covered veranda of our facility.  This provided a nice pastoral scene.  Roger also set up a still life for those who wished to paint flowers.

Dirk's Belteds
Above is my painting of the scene from the veranda.  I loved the Belted Galloway cow and calf which were grazing below us.  This painting was difficult to get the correct value of the colours and the perspective.  I am happy with my result.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Shorebird Migration

Johnsons Mills Spectacle

Migrant Sandpipers
Every July and August an avian spectacle occurs on New Brunswick shores.  Migrating shorebirds rest and feed on our ocean shorelines on their way southward.  New Brunswick is an important stopover for migrating plovers and sandpipers and other shorebirds as they make their very long journey to the south. 

The eastern end of the Bay of Fundy is especially important for these birds.  There they gather in huge flocks to feed on mud shrimp.  That enables them to add much-needed body fat for their remaining journey to the Caribbean and South America.  These birds need to feed heavily and double their body weight in order to get enough energy to make the trip.

Pictured here is the Semipalmated Sandpiper which gathers in such huge flocks.  About 80% of the world's population of this species gathers in the upper Bay of Fundy during migration.  Upwards to 2 million birds gather there over the 6-week migration period.  Johnsons Mills (35 km south of Monction, near Dorchester) and Mary's Point (near Harvey) are two places where many birds gather.  Fortunately both areas have been made a nature preserve.  The Nature Conservancy of Canada protects land at Johnsons Mills and Mary's Point is part of the Shepody National Wildlife Area and is managed by Environment Canada.

Resting Sandpipers
The Semipalmated Sandpiper is a small sandpiper, about 15 cm long (6.3 inches).  It breeds on the Arctic tundra from Alaska to Labrador.  During fall migration it passes through here to winter in Mexico and South America. The birds feed on small arthropods, amphipods, mollusks, polychaetes and annelids in fresh and salt water by probing in the mud.  They nest on the ground in a hollow lined with grass. 

Johnsons Mills Showing Migrating Semipalmated Sandpipers
While visiting Johnsons Mills last week we saw a flock of 20,000 birds.  At high tide this flock is concentrated just above the tide line.  What a sight that is!  The birds are crowded in 'shoulder to shoulder' and somehow manage good group dynamics.  They vocalize often with a churk or a cheet.  In the resting flock some birds are sleeping, some are jostling for position, and many are flying out over the water only to return again and resettle in the flock.  This resting period lasts until the tide drops  exposing the mudflats so the birds can feed again.

The group dynamics is fascinating.  In flight the birds fly tightly together.  When the flock turns, they all turn at once so when you are watching the flock, at one moment you see their dark-coloured backs and the next you see their silver bellies.  So, the flock looks dark at one moment and silver the next.  It makes one wonder how they signal to flock members what the next move is.  The flocks fly in huge lines close to the ocean waves.  The long lines are many birds wide and thousands long.  These lines form spirals, ells and esses over the ocean.  To see thousands of birds performing aerial manoeuvres and then landing close to your viewing area is indeed a spectacle.

We are lucky to be able to provide an essential resting/feeding area for these birds.  It is an important legacy of which we must be responsible stewards.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ruffed Grouse

New Brunswick's Partridge

Ruffed Grouse
New Brunswick has four upland game bird species, members of Phasianidae.  These include the Ruffed Grouse, the Spruce Grouse, the Ring-necked Pheasant and the Wild Turkey which is gradually moving into our province from Maine.  The Ruffed Grouse is the most common of these species.

The common name for the Ruffed Grouse is the 'Partridge'.  This time of year it is not uncommon to see a female working her way along a wood's road with her chicks following along.  She is searching for insects and invertebrates on the ground to teach them how to find foot.  When she finds something interesting she clucks repeatedly and the chicks flock around to find something good to eat.

The Ruffed Grouse lives in deciduous or mixed woods where it nests on the ground.  It usually lays 8 to 14 buff-colored eggs which it incubates for 21 to 28 days.  The chicks are mobile soon after hatching.  It eats forbs, fruits, insects, buds and catkins of aspens, birches and cherry trees.  

The Ruffed Grouse is long-tailed and sports a crest.  It has a broad dark subterminal band on its tail which is complete in the male and incomplete in the female.  The central area of the band in the female is blotchy or missing.  When alarmed, the grouse spreads its fan-shaped tail and extrudes the black ruffs on the sides of the neck.  It then struts and looks as fierce as it can.  See the photo below.

The aggressive-looking bird shown above is a male as determined by the complete wide dark subterminal tail band.  

Ruffed Grouse are well camouflaged by their streaky plumage.  They are also good at hiding in the grasses and foliage when danger presents itself.  See the winter bird below sleeping on a log.  This bird was really difficult to see even with the snow around it.

The Ruffed Grouse can be differentiated from the Spruce Grouse by the crest on the head.  The Spruce Grouse has a shorter tail and neck and white spotting on its body. It prefers to live in coniferous forests.