Saturday, June 21, 2014

Peregrines, Pretzels, Halloweens and Herons

Young Peregrine Falcon Balancing on Power Tower near Pretzel Park. Ballpoint Sketch by Ken Januski.

For quite a few years Peregrine Falcons have been nesting just a half mile from us in the steeple of St. John the Baptist Church right across from Pretzel Park. We only learned about them two years ago I think and have been extremely remiss in not following them more closely. If you must blame it on the half mile steep uphill climb that must accompany every downhill visit.

The climb can always lessen our motivation. But a close follower of them called us to say that she'd be there last night and so we walked down for a look. As usual I'd prefer to sketch them from life. But I couldn't convince myself to carry down a heavy tripod and scope not knowing if we'd find any peregrines. As is was two of the youngsters arrived though the other two and the parents had not yet arrived by the time we left. I took two quick photos and the ballpoint pen sketch above is based on them. In seeing them one thing that strikes you are the very large feet. When looking at the photo the very long primaries stand out. I intended to accentuate them here but I think I need to do a few more studies and sketches to get them right.

One of them was the youngest bird and as he hopped and flopped high in the towers with busy traffic below your heart dropped every time he seemed to miss his footing. But he did fine. Soon we'll be able to see peregrine acrobatics as the birds occasionally fly over our back yard shrilling calling in advance to alert us.

I still can't believe that we have such birds so close to us, and that we don't pay much more attention to them. I hope to get down next week to sketch them from life.

Three Young Green Herons at Manayunk Canal. Third State of Woodcut Proof by Ken Januski.

Above is the third state of the proof of the young Green Herons woodcut. I've decided to do one edition in just one color, black. After I finish it I may go back and do an edition with multiple colors. But for now I want to keep the stark and simple contrast that the print has. I expect to make just a few more changes before I print this edition. I do like it. And I especially like the fact that it incorporates a scene that we actually saw, three very young Green Herons.

Halloween Pennant Dragonfly at Houston Meadows. Photo by Ken Januski.

Many people consider Peregrines to be the perfect aerial predator. But others would say the same of dragonflies. I think it's probably true. Dragonflies are constantly active not because they're bored but because they're looking for live prey. And they will eat other dragonflies.

But when you see dragonflies such as the Halloween Pennant above or the Unicorn Clubtail below you don't think of predators, of 'nature bloody in tooth and claw.' Instead you just can't believe the beauty in front of you. I think that's particularly true of Halloween Pennants. What amazing structure, color and markings. (A couple of months later and it's still true that Halloween Pennants are amazing. But as I recently looked through my photos and my dragonfly guides I realized that this is really a Painted Skimmer!!).

Unicorn Clubtail Dragonfly at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Ken Januski.

Though we do get good views of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects with our birding binoculars we finally broke down and bought some Pentax Papilio close focus binoculars which are made especially for viewing things that are very close. They are fairly inexpensive (around $100) and seem to work extremely well for butterflies and dragonflies. Recently I've had to rely on my photos to ID some butterflies and dragonflies. I'll still take photos. But with these binoculars it's possible to see detail in the field, both for identification purposes and for doing field sketches. One of these days my first field sketches will appear here.


Gabrielle said...

Hi Ken,

The addition of the horizontal lines in the negative space of the print really make the herons stand out nicely. The two herons on the left are a real treat when your eye discovers them. I'm no art critic or anything, but I think this is a really strong piece. I'll be interested to hear what response you get if you enter it into any shows (which I think you should!).

A good friend of mine in New Jersey (also a birder and artist) is getting into dragonflies as well, so between you and her, I'm finding myself googling dragonfly names a lot now, to see what the heck a calico pennant or a Halloween pennant look like. It's well worth the effort as dragonflies are stunning creatures! We went to Bartram's Garden this morning and I need to identify the dragonfly I saw at the pond there. It had clear wings and turquoise blue eyes.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Gabrielle,

I'm happy that you like how it's progressing. I'm happy with it too. Not too much more work to do but I'm taking my time on it. I always find that finishing work is the hardest part.

Both I and my wife like the hidden herons so your response matches ours.

Bartram's Garden is also turning into a very good spot to bird, with lots of warbler and other birds there on a regular basis. It hosted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher last year. Oddly enough the dogwood in our yard is from Bartram's Garden, where we bought it at least 15 year ago. It's another place that we don't get to as often as we should.

Good luck with your dragonflies. I didn't really start putting much effort into identifying them until a year or two ago. But slowly, as with birds and butterflies, I and Jerene are starting to get familiar with at least the common ones. But now I travel with sketchbook, camera and two binoculars in hand. I'm sure I must look like a far more serious naturalist than I actually am.