The tolai hare is the only rabbit/hare species found in Mongolia. They’re usually seen in rocky or semi-desert areas. My subject was one that I saw one evening at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I was positioned up in the rocks above the spring-fed stream waiting for argali sheep to show up when this hare hopped out from behind some rocks into plain view. What made it even better was there was a hoopoe perched on a rock not far away. Both species are very skittish and bolt at any movement. Here’s a couple of photos of hares I’ve seen during my trips to Mongolia.
Also at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu. You have to see them before they see you to have any chance of getting photos. Sometimes they wait until you’re so close that you’ve almost stepped on them and then they explode from right at your feet, which really boosts one’s heart rate!
During the 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition we were enroute to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area to explore critically endangered Gobi bear habitat (saw tracks and scat but no bears, not surprising when the total population is currently estimated to be 40 of them). The Fergon van that carried our equipment was stopped by a blocked fuel line. We all got out of the SUV and poked around while that was attended to. I spotted this tolai hare right away and got some decent photos before it bounded off.
I recently pulled out about a dozen paintings that for one reason or another I’d never gotten to “work” and can now see what I need to do. As I finish them I’ll be posting them here on my blog and also in my Fox Studio Facebook group.
“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Takhi Family Group)” was one of them. Spent my work day yesterday fixing it, which turned out to be an almost total repaint except for the horses, who just needed some tweaking, and the mountains in the background. In takhi/Przewalski’s horse family groups, as with American feral horses, the group (once called “harems”) they are led by the senior mare. She decides when and where they move to. The stallion brings up the rear which means he can keep a watchful eye on everyone, ready to defend them from predators like wolves, which are common in Mongolia.
I saw this family group of takhi at Takhiin Tal which is located at the upper eastern corner of the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, not far from where the last wild takhi was seen at a waterhole in 1969. I had permission to get out of the car and approach them, which I did slowly in a zig-zag pattern. They kept an eye on me while I took photos and finally moved off, giving me this great example of wild equid behavior.
“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Family Group)” oil 18×36″ price on request
Still doing my Inktober52 pieces every week. As always I’m always finding a way to use animals for my “solution”. For “Tail” I used one of the photos I took a couple of years ago of a pair of young skunks whose mom had brought them into our yard. It’s been quite popular. If you’d like to follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss any of my drawings, you can find me at www.instagram/foxartist/
The vegetable garden is really starting to produce. Peas (Hurst Green Shaft, an English variety) are almost done. Lettuces (Forellenschluss, the original of Flashy Troutback, and Merveille des Quatre Saisons) are being picked regularly, also ‘Little Snow Pea Purple’ the first pod pea we’ve tried and it’s producing like crazy. We like to let some of the green zucchini get big enough to stuff. We had a second helping of that last night.
The “big” experiment has been to try a turban squash. We have quite a nice microclimate on our property but would there be enough heat for one to really grow and get big enough to eat?
It’s looking hopeful so far! Our growing season goes until the first frost in or around mid-October so plenty of time, I think.
New to the garden and the last lilies to bloom this year are these spectacular ‘Gold Band” lilies from Old House Gardens, a wonderful employee-owned business that raises and sells heritage varieties of bulbs and tuberous plants that are often not available anywhere else.
Finally, back to the “Art Dept”. I currently have a show up at the Arcata Healing Arts Center, a lovely peaceful venue located at 940 Ninth St. Arcata. All the paintings are from my various trips to Mongolia, sometimes in realistic settings, sometimes using decorative motifs common in Mongol art. It will be there through the end of the year. The Center is open by appointment only, but quite a bit of the art can be seen through the windows. I love how my work looks on those warm golden walls!
This is the second, and largest, of the three argali paintings I’ve just finished. You can see the first one here. I’ll post the third one next Friday.
I spent over an hour watching these rams at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in 2010. And sometimes they watched me. But mostly they grazed, scratched, rested and did a little pre-rut testing.
One of the things I wanted to capture in this painting is how individual they all are, being different colors depending on their ages and having horns of various sizes and condition. It was a group of five and these were the three big boys, fully mature males, who probably weigh over 300 pounds each. Behind two of them is one of the younger rams,
I’m very proud to announce that my latest takhi painting “Enchanted Evening”, has been accepted into the Society of Animal Artists’ 52nd Annual Exhibition of “Art and the Animal”. This is the fourth year in a row that I have had work in the show and they have all been Mongolia subjects, which pleases me a lot.
The exhibition will be held at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, which is located in Oradell, New Jersey, and officially opens on the weekend of October 5-7. I plan to be there for all the festivities. More details later on as the opening approaches, but consider yourself invited!
The story behind the painting: Last August, nationally-known sculptor Pokey Park and I were on a two-week tour of the best wildlife watching locations. We were leaving Hustai National Park, one of the three places in Mongolia where takhi have been reintroduced, after a last horse-watching drive, which had already been very successful. Then, less than 50 feet from the road we spotted this small group of takhi coming down to a pool of water. We stopped and got our cameras ready. Would they come or not…
And here’s a short video that I shot on my Flip HD. Unfortunately we ended up with a lot of cars stacked up behind us, just like a bear or bison jam in Yellowstone. One woman came up next to me out in plain view (I was behind the open door of the car, using it for kind of a blind) and spooked them, but at least they’d all been able to drink. Enjoy!
I completed a major painting last week. It’s one I’ve been anxious to take on since I spent a hour with a group of five argali rams this past July at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I was there for six days, staying in one of the gers and taking meals with the scientists and an Earthwatch team.
I’d gotten up at 5:30am, thrown on the clothes that I’d laid out the night before, hoisted my camera pack onto my shoulder, slipped out of the ger and began a slow, careful walk down the valley.
I had learned that the only water in the area was coming from a spring just a few dozen yards from camp and that argali were coming to the valley regularly in the morning and evening. Which was quite convenient, saving me a lot of walking around and clambering over rocks trying to find them.
I picked a spot and sat down in plain view, having been told that makes them less nervous than if you try to hide behind a rock. Took a look around through my binoculars and, within a few minutes, up on the cliffs to my right…
As I watched them, wondering if anyone was going to come down, I had a feeling…and looked back over my shoulder to my left.
How long they had been standing there watching me, I have no idea. Then they started to move towards the stream bed.
As I watched, the sun started to hit the tops of the cliffs. Would I get to see these guys in morning light before activity in the camp behind me spooked them?
The first three crossed the stream bed to a small clump of trees. Two more rams had come down from the cliffs on the right. The Sunrise Boy’s Club was now in session.
There were three older adults with massive horns and two younger rams. The big guys were almost grey, their juniors a reddish-brown.
They browsed in the trees, did a little pre-rut testing (a future painting). And then….
But everyone settled back down. Except for this young one who decided to check me out, walking almost straight towards me. It made the others nervous at first, but they didn’t run.
I sat there in disbelief. For me, this is the grail of wildlife fieldwork: sitting out in plain view and having a wild creature choose to approach you.
But I wasn’t so paralyzed with delight that I forgot to take pictures, getting the best argali head reference I’ve shot so far.
He finally turned and walked back to the others who, as you can see, are standing there, watching. I found myself running this little thought thread: “We didn’t get this old and big by being stupid. Let the young guy check her out.” And then imagining the adventurous ram, kind of like a young British officer, reporting back to his superiors. “No problem, sir. None at all. Piece of cake.”
But he wasn’t done yet. For a second time, he walked down the stream bed towards me.
He finally rejoined the group. Suddenly they were up on their feet just as the light was starting to reach the valley floor. Oh, no! They’re facing the wrong way. Are they going to run up the hill?
Suddenly one of the young rams turned and bounded into the light. Yes!
And everyone else followed, crossing right in front of me and occasionally stopping for a nibble.
But now I could hear movement in the camp. The group split up, two of the rams going up into the rocks.
Three of them walked on down the valley in the bright sunshine.
I looked behind me and saw one of the scientists from the camp. He walked past me. The rams kept moving, but never ran. It’s good they’ve learned that in this place they don’t have to fear people.
The three finally made a right turn up into the cliffs, stopping, as argali often do, to take one last look.
On Friday, Part 2 will present a step-by-step post on the painting that came out of this wonderful experience.
I happen to love vultures, who form a big part of nature’s clean-up crew. Cinereous vultures are the largest raptors in Eurasia. They can weigh up to 30 lbs and have a 10′ wingspan. As it turns out, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu is a “hotspot” for them, with almost 250 known nests, a quarter of which are used each year. One of the interesting things about this species, as you can see from my painting is that, unlike other vultures, the adult’s heads are not bare of feathers.
It has recently been learned that that a large number of juvenile vultures, many of which are born and fledge during the spring and summer at Ikh Nart, winter in South Korea, thanks to a combination of GPS radio collars, wing tags and dedicated observers.
So far, the species seems to be doing well in Mongolia. I sincerely hope that continues because they are always an impressive sight as they soar overhead in the beautiful blue skies.
My plan was to go back to Kenya in 2005 for an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored research project “Lions of Tsavo”. But I was leafing through the new Expedition guide and a project I hadn’t seen before caught my eye, “Mongolian Argali”, whatever those were. Oh. Wild sheep. But….Mongolia. Now there was a place that seemed like it might be interesting to travel to. And who knew how long the project would last. Some went on for a decade or more. Others only for a year or two. I called the Earthwatch office, changed projects and, without realizing it at the time, changed my life.
Argali (Ovis ammon) are the world’s largest mountain sheep. A big ram can weigh close to 400 pounds. The horn curl can reach 65″. Their preferred habitat is rocky uplands, mountains and steppe valleys. They are currently listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened and Appendix II of CITES. Accurate population estimates are hard to come by. The most current one is perhaps as many as 20,000 in Mongolia. It is known that the total continues to drop in the western and central parts of the country, is stable in the south, but seems to be increasing in the east.
Threats include poaching, both for subsistence meat and for the horns, which are now in demand in China for use in traditional medicine. It has also been shown that there is a nearly 100% grazing overlap between the wild argali and domestic livestock, which includes horses, sheep, goats and cattle. Predation by the herder’s domestic dogs, particularly on lambs in the spring, is also a problem. Trophy hunting is not currently a large factor, but the license fee income (18,000 USD) ends up going almost entirely to the federal government. Very little trickles down to either the local people or for conservation projects. One response at the local level has been to create reserves where hunting is not allowed.
As you can see below, there is now an Argali Conservation Management Plan. My on-going involvement with the womens’ craft collective comes under item four on the list.
“Additional conservation measures are desperately required in Mongolia. Clark et al. (2006) outlined the following:
• Implement the recommendations outlined in the Argali Conservation Management Plan. • Improve enforcement of existing legislation that would help conserve argali. • Enhance conservation management in protected areas where argali are found at high population densities, and increase the capacity of protected areas personnel and other environmental law enforcement officers. • Work to improve the livelihoods of local communities in areas where argali are protected by local initiatives and re-initiate community-based approaches to argali conservation (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a). • Develop public education programmes to raise awareness of the status of and threats to the species. • Continue ecological research, monitor population trends, and study the impacts of threats, including work in the Altai and Khangai Mountains to complement research occurring in the Gobi Desert. • Implement the recommendations from the Mongolian Wildlife Trade Workshop as outlined in Wingard and Zahler (2006).
Until a joint research effort was started by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the Denver Zoological Foundation at the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in 2001, very little was known about argali ecology, behavior and population status. This was the research that I had signed up to help with as part of the second Earthwatch team ever to go to Mongolia.
It was April of 2005. Spring in Mongolia is a time of cold, wind and dust storms. Daytime temperatures during the team’s two week stay, living in a traditional felt ger, sometimes only reached 32F. I had the time of my life. When they found out I was an artist, one of the scientists asked if I would be willing to go out and do direct behavioral observations. And that’s what I did for the last three days, trekking out alone into the 43,000 hectare reserve with a clipboard, data forms, GPS, cameras, water bottle and snacks, trying to see the sheep before they saw me, otherwise any data I collected was invalid.
Although a lot of the animals were in poor condition coming out of a typical Mongolian winter in which temperatures can plunge to -40F, I saw many groups that included rams, ewes and lambs, gathered some useable data and got some pretty good photographs. It was a perfect two-fer. I was able to contribute to scientific knowledge of a species and at the same time get information that would be invaluable for painting them.
I’ve been back to Ikh Nart five times since then and argali have become a particularly favorite subject. I’ve also seen them now at two other locations: Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve and Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve.
I thought that I would share some of the photos I’ve taken and the paintings that have come out of them. It usually takes around three, often quite a few more, reference shots since I move animals around, change backgrounds or whatever it takes to make a composition work. I’m only going to show the main animal reference that I worked from. This fieldwork is critical. When working on a painting, I’m also remembering what it was like to be at that place, how the wind felt, the utter quiet when I stopped for a break, then trudging along, looking up and seeing that the sheep had already spotted and were watching me.
I got the email telling me to go the site and check the acceptance list yesterday morning at 9am. It was in alphabetical order, so I slowly scrolled down, holding my breath. And saw my name. Twice! I entered three pieces, so two out of three.
One of my goals for many years has been to have my paintings accepted into juried shows that are outside the “wildlife art ghetto” to which the genre of animal art has been foolishly and ignorantly consigned by many in the mainstream art world, even though great artists who these same people often admire also painted animals.
Clearly, the good folks at Greenhouse Gallery don’t share that bias, bless their hearts.
I’m proud to be an animal artist and know that our genre’s best work easily stands with the best in any other field of representational art. And I also know that to paint animals successfully requires a specific depth of knowledge that is not appreciated by those outside the field.
Here are the two paintings that will soon be on their way to San Antonio, Texas: