Monday, January 21, 2013

Tiny Voices, Part I

Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis selata 

Winter is a delightful time to be a bird-loving naturalist in Texas! As with the rest of the winter-bound world, the deciduous trees have shed there leaves. It is much easier to see even the smallest species as they flit branch to branch, and even the softest of songs (no longer absorbed by the forest canopy) can be heard clearly. But in Texas, after no more than two or three days of overcast skies and maybe a bit of precipitation, residents can count on several days of clear skies and moderate to balmy temperatures. And if you're fortunate to awake at dawn on such days you're sure to be greeted by such brilliant sunlight and the sublime voices of a chorus of song birds that you may very understandably suspect that Spring has arrived early.

female Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

On such mornings I frequently begin the day with a ramble (usually accompanied by our Welsh sheep dog, Hannah) along the serpentine stretch of the Trinity that passes through a stand of old hardwood trees behind our house -- frequently stopping to search out the source of one birdsong or another, some year round residents, some winter visitors, and some transients just passing through on their way to their winter digs in Central or South America.

Chipping Sparrow, Spizella passerina

I travel light on these walks (a small pair of binoculars, pen, pencils, and a pocket-sized sketchbook/journal for line drawings and notation) -- limiting myself to slow, careful observations, line drawings, and notes about everything from coloration to song to flight patterns to food to how they move about on the ground (if they move on the ground). If color is added to a drawing at all, it comes after I return home (usually over a warming mug of tea).

Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos 

I rarely get much of a physical workout on these excursions, but my mind is well exercised and my spirit salved. Life is beautiful and my little corner of the world is full of magic. (I hope yours is too.)

another Zeta double-page mockup (I'm loving this new paper!)

In Tiny Voices, Part II, I'll introduce you to some more of our winter-time avian visitors (this time with a focus on water fowl) and offer a few step-by-step tips on sketching your own winged wonders. I hope you'll join me then.

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