Each of the paintings I finished today have interesting stories and both of the reference pictures were taken at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge. Since G comes before V and I started the Great Blue Heron first, I’ll start with it.
To date, this has been the most challenging due to the many layers of feathers and fluff and stuff on this strutting heron. I’m not sure why I can’t just paint a predictably smoothed out bird, walking through a field with his neck stretched out in a profile position.
When I found this guy he was tiptoeing along a log, submerged in duckweed, his legs were covered in mud from his trek to the log. For some reason, even though I was pretty close, he just kept walking along the log toward me, feathers fluffed.
This is the second Great Blue Heron I’ve ever painted–the first was last month for the Ridgefield Wildlife refuge. The next one I paint will be in the 4th painting for my Bird Watcher series–my winter project. Over the past couple of years I’ve been watching them a lot. I posted about the rookery in Woodland a few months back–I’m still fascinated that these long, gangly, prehistoric looking birds can fly through the treetops with long branches in their beaks and not get hung up somehow–and yet they do. Then, they go from their high-rise commune of hundreds of birds to living a solitary life, separate from friends, save for an occasional egret or two. Although, after witnessing the squawking of the rookery, I do understand the need for quiet. When my children were young and squawking, it was rare that I would even turn the radio on in the car when I was alone. It was my time to “reset.” Possibly they can only put up with that sort of noise for so long and only once a year.
Interestingly, it takes upwards of 105-120 days before the young are ready to live on their own. 27 days to incubate, 55-80 days to fly and begin to forage on their own–returning to their nest to be fed each evening–and continuing on with that routine for about 3 more weeks. Compared to many other bird species, raising their young requires a lot of time and attention. A Great Blue Heron can grow to be anywhere from 38″ to 54″ with a wingspan of 66″ to 79″ and weight approximately 5.5 pounds.
Now for my next subject–V is for Virginia Rail. I chose Virginia Rail for a couple of reasons, I had a photo of one and I’m trying to use all my own reference material for this project and two, they are reclusive and not commonly seen but commonly around, so I thought I’d show you one.
These pudgy birds with the little head are, what should I say, odd-looking. The first time I ever saw one was a fluke. My husband and I had decided to walk the mile long path down at the refuge. My camera was new so I never expected to get any good shots of anything, but one has to practice, right? Anyway, all of a sudden there was what I call a “Yellowstone” moment. Everyone on the trail was all bunched up in one spot, peering into the swampy area beside the trail, pointing here, then there, exclaiming, “I hear it, it must be there!” So we asked, “What are you looking for?” Several people exclaimed in excitement, “A Virginia Rail!” Of course the fact that he’d come all the way from Virginia impressed us (Admittedly, smart remarks from the new “bird watchers” were shared between us), but we had no bird book with us and no way of knowing what this illusive bird looked like. So we walked up to a guy with the biggest camera lens (it was HUGE)–he looked like he’d had a little birding experience–and asked him what we were looking for. Pulling out his cellphone he Googled it and showed us a picture. At that, we thanked him and parted ways. The crowd had mainly dispersed, giving up on finding the little critter. We decided to stroll back to the spot of interest, stood there for a few seconds when my husband calmly says, “Is that it?” Sure enough, there he stood, maybe 15 feet away. Poking his head out of the grass and moving forward. I crouched down, focused and took a few shots, hoping for something. Then of course, we walked over to the man with the huge lens and pointed him in the right direction. I have no idea if he was able to find him but for us, it was “beginners luck.” Most importantly, my photos were sharply focused and very usable. The problem was, who would want a painting of a Virginia Rail? Since these paintings are meant to be quick and unrefined I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to put this little fella in the limelight. BTW, we saw another V Rail last week on our bird watching trip up North.
About the bird–I know nothing other than they are very private, secretive birds, however, they are quite common. They live along shores poking the ground, eating grubs, insects, small fish and such. The rest I’ll Google–not much on Google. Here’s what I found. Apparently they are permanent, year round residents in our area, they lay 5-13 eggs in a nest built on a platform of old cattail, both parents care for the young which are able to fly in less than a month. They have a harsh kuk, kuk, kuk voice which is usually heard at night.
Personally, I think they have a beautiful bill and legs to match. Their colors are fascinating but their body seems so out of proportion. But hey, some of us humans have heads too small for our bodies as well–or maybe it’s the other way around–who knows. Variety is the spice of life. 🙂 Have a good evening.