In March of 2011 I was one of thirty artists invited to go on a “dream junket” to San Carlos, Mexico to paint, sketch and shoot reference for a Sea of Cortez exhibition at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona. And of course I happily accepted the chance to spend a week in a beachfront condo with 29 fellow artists.
One of the truly special things we got to do was to spend a day in a boat cruising some of the islands. There were birds everywhere and just about every one of them was a new species for me.
At one point, fishing lines were put in the water. I didn’t pay much attention since I was riveted by the bird life, which included brown pelicans blue-footed boobies, gannets, cormorants, frigatebirds and wonderfully graceful tropicbirds.
We cruised around near this outcropping on one of the islands.
A gannet flew by.
And, at a distance, a magnificent frigatebird flew by. In the meantime, someone hooked a yellowjack and hoisted it onto the boat. We were all gathered around admiring it when I looked up and spotted a frigatebird flying towards the boat, coming closer and closer. I had my camera with the long lens and started to shoot photos as fast as I could as the bird came right over our heads.
Frigatebirds mostly make their living stealing fish from other birds and this one had spotted ours, hoping for an opportunity to snag it. Alas, no. But I snagged enough good photos to create a triptych I titled “Magnificent Flyer”. I was honored when it was chosen to be used for the exhibition and direction banners at the museum.
Two years ago, in 2015, we spent a some time in England before going on to a business meeting my husband had in Bucharest, Romania ( you can read about my adventure there here). My main hobby is gardening. In England it’s a passion, to put it mildly. And one of the things I learned on our first trips there in the 1990s was about the GARDEN SHOPS. Oh my. We may have big garden centers in the US, but I’m pretty sure there are few, if any, that are anything like this typical one, Stewart’s Garden Centre, just outside of Christchurch.
I had a list of seeds I was looking for…
This was one of about eight display racks from various companies. I managed to not limit out the credit card. I love the quintessential English wallflower. In the tiniest pocket garden in the front of an attached house, if there’s anything planted there it will probably be a wallflower. So I made it easy for myself and got a packet each of every color I could find. The English also love, love, love their peas, so this was the place to pick up some. It was late in the season and there weren’t a lot to choose from, so I got three and hit the jackpot with Hurst Green Shaft. The best pea we’ve ever eaten. Had plenty of seed left from last year so growing a bunch of it this year.
But what really grabbed me, starting with the display of everything barnyard at the top, plus gnomes, was the vast number of animal species available, many quite exotic. Really, have YOU ever seen garden statues of meerkats in four sizes available at Home Depot? Didn’t think so.
Seriously, how cool is this?
And of course there are plants. Lots of plants. Hibiscus. So very English.
MUST have red geraniums, of course.
Bedding plants. Petunias front and center.
Part of one aisle, about halfway down. I think there were at least four, plus various side areas. And of course a place to get a cup of tea.
But back to the animals. This juxtaposition of species stopped me in my tracks.
It was a little overwhelming. Oh, look! a lion on plant pedestal. I think staff is having too much fun.
This display is what the fine old English word “gallimauphry” was invented for. A nude, an eagle and a modern sculpture fountain thingie.
The English do love their hedgehogs. And I know you want a closer look at this one.
Finally, after all that one needed a good tipple. And it just so happened they had “Hairy Potter Beer”.
“Well-seeded” we were finally done and ready to head north to Stonehenge. You can see more photos from the trip here.
Not all good tales come from exotic locales. You don’t have to have a passport to get to somewhere worthwhile. And good adventures don’t all have to be exciting, much less life-threatening. Just getting out into nature wherever you live or travel to can yield fun, amusing and interesting stories. I’m known for my adventures in Mongolia, but I love to get out in nature and animal watch wherever I am. For instance, last March I spent over a week exploring southern Georgia and also some of the northern Florida barrier islands like Amelia Island and the town of Fernandina Beach, Florida, which turns out to have a wonderful and clearly much-loved community amenity, Egan’s Creek Greenway, a park braided with trails that run right through the town. Kudos to the townspeople who had the will and vision to set aside this natural area. You can read more about my March 2016 trip here and here.
We live in a rural coastal county in northern California, where the biggest reptile one is likely to encounter are large but harmless gopher snakes or a watch-your-fingers-cause-they-bite Pacific giant salamander. So it was a bit of stopper to see this sign upon entering what is essentially a town park…
It was late afternoon and the light was getting better minute by minute.
The trail split. I followed the one to the left, saving the one along the stream for the way back.
It was March but a few wildflowers were already blooming.
I really liked the three different textures of the grass, water plant, and trees.
I saw a movement around twenty yards ahead. I had my long lens so was able to get some good photos of what I believe are marsh rabbits (Silvilagus palustris). I noticed that they stayed in the shade, which makes sense for a prey animal. They are similar in appearance and size to the brush rabbits we have here in Humboldt County.
Turtles! This was a big deal for me since I’d never seen any in the wild before other than sea turtles in Hawaii. They are yellow belly sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta).
These were to the right of the ones in the first photo, all catching some last rays before sundown.
I had learned about this trail while chatting with my Airbnb host and this was my only chance to check it out. I couldn’t have come at a better time since the light was great and there was almost no one else around.
I came upon a great egret in soft cool light.
It took off and I got a good shot of it in flight.
After that sign at the trailhead, this log stopped me for an instant.
I came to another open area adjacent to a deep water-filled depression where the trails went off in different directions, I was getting pretty close to being back to where I’d started. I happened to look down into the pond…
And what do you know? An alligator! At least six feet long, also catching the last of the day’s sun.
Can you spot the gator?
I walked on and a short time later came upon another grazing bunny who quickly hopped into the brush. I caught up to where I thought he’d gone and there he was, holding very still.
A few minutes later I spotted this male cardinal. We don’t have these where I live so I always get a kick out of seeing them even though I know they’re quite common.
A short distance more and I was out of the greenway into the open and here was a big pond with not only a great blue heron (we do have them here on the west coast, too), but more turtles!
As I photographed the heron and turtles, I spotted something in the sky. It was a red-tailed hawk circling around. I took a lot of photos and finally got a few of the bird as it turned and caught the light.
What a day. But there was one more treat in store.
As I walked back to the parking area I spotted a small bird hopping around in the chain link fence and managed to get this one photo. It’s a palm warbler, a new species for me.
The whole walk was at most three hours. I had nothing in mind, just to explore a new area and see what was there. What places are there where you live that you’ve never gotten around to exploring? We tend to take where we live for granted, but nature is ever-changing and no walk or hike will ever be exactly the same. If you’ve discovered a local gem where you live tell me about it in the comments!
I was staying at the research camp at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in September of 2012. It’s one of the best places in Mongolia to see argali mountain sheep (Ovis ammon) and Siberian ibex (Capra siberica).
I went out walking one morning for a day of hiking around and it quickly turned into One of Those Days that wildlife watchers and artists dream of…nine separate sightings and three times spending an hour or more with an entire group.
About halfway through the morning I’d come along the top of the valley and was now walking down a draw towards the valley, intent on heading towards the western end rock formations and following a very narrow path left by various animals, both wild and domestic. I was maybe ten yards from where the draw joined up with a larger one which would drop down to the valley when, with no sound or warning, two ibex nannies came running at full speed around the corner of a rock straight at me! They pulled up fast, gave me a look and turned. One bolted back up the way she’d come and the other, which I now saw had a kid, ran off down the direction I intended to go. Everyone involved was equally surprised. Needless to say I didn’t get any photos of the actual encounter, but I can see it in my mind’s eye. all of us standing there for an instant looking at each other. No idea, of course, why they were running so hard and fast.
And, as you can imagine, my heart was pounding. They could have easily run right over me. But everyone was fine, they were gone, so I continued on down the draw. And, believe it not, there was the nanny and kid…
Amazingly, the ibex had stopped running, had gone up on a rock formation and was just standing there.
I walked forward a slow step at a time and got close enough for a few shots and her youngster. The photo above is not cropped. It was taken with my Nikon D750 and Nikon Nikkor 80-400 lens. She looked around a bit then she and her baby vanished on down the valley. I waited a bit to let them get ahead of me and be able to go where they wanted to go. I think she’d seen enough of me for one day.
Here is a far more common way of seeing ibex. One learns to spot them from quite a long distance because the pattern of head and horns doesn’t match the rocks.
And here are some more photos of other sightings that day. I finally got down to the rocks on the south side of the western end of the valley and found a large group of nannies and kids, who I hung around with for over an hour.
Farther down the valley there was yet another group. A couple were wearing radio collars. Once they settled down I sat in plain view, photographing and sketching them.
They finally moved off out of sight, but I’ve learned to hang around and wait. This time I was rewarded by having the whole group reappear and cross in a long line along the ridgetop, finally disappearing out of sight for good.
There were a couple more long distance sightings of one or two ibex on my way back to camp, but they were either too far away or in the shade for photos anything other than “I saw them” shots, which I always take as a memory jog, if nothing else.
And that’s the tale of my “Ibex Day” which I will long remember.
My husband joined the Air Force when he was seventeen. After training he was assigned to the Air Force Security Service and posted to Berlin six months after the Wall went up in 1962 (and if I tell you any more I’ll have to kill you). At first he worked at Templehof, the obscenely-scaled airport designed by Albert Speer. The building was wired with high explosives. If, as the saying went at the time, the flag went up, meaning the Soviets had invaded, then they had less than 30 minutes to destroy what needed to be destroyed and get out. They didn’t actually expect to survive. Later he was at the Marienfelde Operations Site at the southern edge of the city. He served his hitch and came back in one piece.
While he was there he had time to wander about West Berlin, sometimes taking photos. He’s given me permission to share some, which I appreciate since it gives me a chance to honor his service to our country. He has an enlargement of the one at the top in his office. I call it “the Life magazine cover shot”.
The wall went up very fast and sloppy at first, which is what you see in the photos, and was later replaced with the taller, permanent one (so the Russians thought at the time) that we brought home pieces of when we were in Berlin two months after reunification in 1990 (we got together in 1983). He got to see all the familiar sights fr0m his time there and I saw them for the first time. Checkpoint Charlie was gone and there was already a United Colors of Benneton store on the corner on the east side. We drove south of the city and David saw Berlin from that direction for the first time. I did a blog post about that trip with photos I took. You can read it here.
But here’s what it was like in 1962 (photos were scanned but were not processed or retouched):
I got back home at midnight last Saturday from two days in Grand Tetons National Park and five days at the 15th Annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop. Both were a resounding success. You can read about my time in the park here. This post is about the workshop, which I’ve attended four times in the past and plan to go to next year.
All the previous instructors had been invited and almost all of them where there, including nationally known artists like James Gurney, John and Suzie Seerey-Lester, Greg Beecham, Mort Solberg, David Rankin, Jeanne Mackenzie, Andrew Denman, Guy Combes, Ann Trusty Hulsey and John Hulsey, all of whom I know personally or have studied with or both.
One of the main events is the Quick Draw, a traditional name but almost every artist at this workshop did paintings. Here’s some photos of the event in action. It’s followed by sketches and watercolors that I did in the Grand Tetons and EA Ranch.
The weather was partly cloudy while I drove around Grand Tetons NP, which meant interesting light that could change very quickly. The aspens and cottonwoods were turning to their fall colors, too. All in all a perfect time to be there.
Both of the first ones were painted over the course of a couple of hours along the Moose Wilson Road.
I flew to Jackson Hole, Wyoming last Wednesday and spent a few days cruising the art galleries, the annual auction art and a stop at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Also had time to do some wildlife watching and location sketching and painting. I drove east to Dubois yesterday afternoon and had dinner with an artist friend and colleague who lives on a ranch.
I’m going to try to post something every day of the workshop, which begins this afternoon and runs through next Saturday morning. There are instructors and artists here from all over the country, including James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. He was the featured artist the year before last, when I also attended.
On June 15, exactly one month ago, I got to spend some of the most fun hours I’ve had in eleven years of traveling to Mongolia, buying a ger at the Narantuul Market inUlaanbaatar. Not to bring home, but to use at one of my favorite places in the world, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Dornogobi Aimag, which I went to on an Earthwatch project (still going strong) on my first trip to Mongolia in 2005.
Before I left home, calls were made for me to get price estimates so I would know approximately how much things would cost. As it turns out, it’s impossible to get traveler’s checks anymore and foreigners are limited on how much money they can take out of an ATM per day. So I carried $1500 in cash with me, which was converted into tugrik, the Mongolian currency, before we went to the market.
I didn’t do this on my own, but had the expertise and assistance of two Mongols. One, Dr. Amgalanbaatar Sukhiin (Amgaa), is the Director of the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve Park Administration who I’ve known for eleven years. He granted my request to be able to set up a ger in the reserve, designated some choices for the location and helped with the shopping (talking to the sellers, carrying the money and paying for things) and the set-up. The second is Batbold (generally known by his nickname “Shavka”), a herder who lives with his family near the reserve, in a ger, of course. He was kind enough to drive his truck to Ulaanbaatar, help with all the purchases, transport everything back to Ikh Nart and help with the set-up. This dream come true would not have happened without them, along with other helpers you’ll meet next week.
“Ger” means simply “home” in Mongolian, but it’s generally associated with the round “felt tents” that the Mongols have lived in for over a thousand years. It’s a structure that is perfectly adapted to conditions in the Mongolian countryside. I thought of buying and living in one for a week to ten days a year as a kind of final exam to see how much I’d learned over the years staying at the Ikh Nart research camp, tourist ger camps and visiting many herder families.
So, how did I do on the budget? The ger cost 1.5 million tugrik…$750 USD. We were moving fast so I didn’t write down what everything else cost. All of it together came to $1200, pretty much what I’d estimated. I also paid Shavka’s gas and road fees and something for his helper and that took care of the rest.
Next week: Putting up my ger at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve.
Here’s an album of the art I created while I was traveling last month. I had a lot of fun drawing the alligators at the Okefenokee NWR and Harris Neck NWR. They’re good models because they don’t move much. There really is no substitute for drawing from live animals, although I took a ton of photos, too. Other than the one at the top, they’re in chronological order, starting with New York. All but one pencil sketch was done with a Sakura Micron .02 black pen. I used a Pentalic Nature Sketch 7×5″ sketchbook, a very handy size. Drawings on white paper are difficult to scan or photograph. I lightened them as much as I could.
When I got back north and was up in the Hudson River Valley, I visited Olana, the home of American artist Frederic Church. The house wasn’t open but the grounds were. It was windy and pretty cold, but I was determined to do at least a couple of watercolors since the view from the house is famous and has been painted by a number of artists over the years.
I also spent a couple of days with an artist friend at his home in the Hudson River Valley. We spent one morning on location at this lovely pond.