Late April and early May brings, along with the warming weather and the greening up of our local woods, the birds that come up from the south to establish territories and raise new generations of their species. On recent walks we encountered the least flycatcher (left above), the smallest of North American flycatchers, and a strawberry-red male summer tanager. Both of these species spend their winters in Mexico and Central America, and it never fails to amaze me that these little characters (especially the flycatcher which is only about five inches long and under an ounce in weight) survive such lengthy round-trips, year after year, throughout their short lives. While the least flycatcher migrates over land around the Gulf of Mexico, many summer tanagers make the long 500 mile jump over the gulf. When they reach breeding areas they have no time to rest as they stake out territories and forage for themselves and their young. Then, as the days grow shorter, something in their genetic makeup programs them to take wing, setting their flight plan back southern climes.
Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22. I am old enough to remember the first Earth Day, in 1970, the year I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. It was also the year the Environmental Protection Agency was established. These actions would not have been taken without the voices of people like Rachel Carlson who, drawing from their experiences and foundational scientific research, told us how human activities were damaging the environment and threatening the existence of innumerable species. Just as now with climate change, there were some who said there was no emergency, that those who spoke up were alarmists. My wife and I moved to the Quad Cities in the late 90's. People we talked to, who had always lived there, talked about a time in the 50's and 60's when they saw few Bald Eagles, and the ones they saw were all adults. Then the country woke up and banned DDT. Now, in the winter when the Mississippi river freezes up, eagles by the hundreds, adult and immature, flock to locks and dams to feed on fish below the dams, where the water remains ice-free. In the spring, flocks of White Pelicans migrate along the river as they head north to breeding grounds. A Peregrine Falcon pair nests on one of the buildings in Davenport. We listened to science in the 70's and avoided disaster. Now, new voices are calling for action to reduce our carbon footprint before climate warming becomes catastrophic. Again, we need to listen.
January at the Langley bird feeders brought two surprises. The first, which I spoke about in my previous post, was three Eastern Bluebirds that, for the first time in my experience, came to feast on the berries and nuts in our suet feeder. The second was a robin that arrived only a few days later. As with the bluebirds, it was the first time I have ever seen a robin at our, or for that matter, anyone's feeder. While the bluebirds were quite comfortable snacking directly on the suet and seed cylinders, the robin was satisfied gleaning spilled seed on the deck below. Why did these two members of the thrush family show up, for the first time, at the same time? It has not been an especially harsh winter where we live, no ice, very little snow, and relatively mild temperatures. On our neighborhood walks, my wife and I have observed large flocks of robins and starlings feeding on the berries of ornamental fruit trees. They were present for several days and, perhaps, consumed all the winter fruits the robins and bluebirds depend on to sustain themselves when insects are hard to find. For whatever reason, we were happy to see them up close, and hope our feeders are helping them get by through hard times.
On the first day of 2021, three Eastern Bluebirds came to visit. It was the first time we have ever seen bluebirds on our feeders. Perhaps winter berry crops have been sparse and they were forced to expand their foraging from the forest into urban backyards. Their interest was probably piqued by the presence of the typical seed eaters, the sparrows and juncos, chickadees and titmice, and found (to their great surprise and pleasure) dried pieces of fruit embedded in a Supreme seed cylinder. So their presence was probably due to mundane reasons. But, even though I am not a believer in supernatural forces, I could not help but feel that the appearance of these beautiful creatures was a harbinger of good things to come in the new year. As Emily Dickinson wrote, hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
It is always a pleasure to display my art in my hometown, Wichita, so I am happy to say that my painting "Shooting the Breeze" was accepted in the annual Oil Painting Exhibition at the Wichita Center for the Arts. The show will run from January 29 through March 27. At this time, attendance is by appointment only.
Along with colder temperatures and (sometimes) snow, winter brings flocks of Trumpeter Swans to the St. Louis area. They started arriving at Riverlands, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, a few weeks ago, and on our last visit I counted about two hundred. They were sharing Mississippi backwaters with White Pelicans, Canada Geese, Canvasbacks, and Coots. As climate change brings warmer winters, we see species like the White-winged Dove and Roadrunner extending their ranges further north. One wonders if, in the near future, Trumpeter Swans will shorten their migrations, saving energy, and overwinter on open waters further north. If so, we will greatly miss these special seasonal gifts.
I often submit works for the annual Kansas Watercolor Society exhibition at the Mark Arts center in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. This year I was fortunate to have two works accepted in the show, "Legacy of the Anthropocene" (a statement on the affects of climate change) and "Colorful Decorations for the Home." This show will run from November 20 through January 16.
I am very honored to have my painting "Shooting the Breeze" in the special Society of Animal Artists exhibition at the Hiram Blauvelt Museum in Oradell Museum this fall. This was originally scheduled to be the opening venue for the SAA annual Art and the Animal show, and would have included an opening weekend when member artists from all parts of the world would have gathered together, renewing friendships and celebrating creativity. The Covid-19 pandemic makes such a get-together impossible, but the Blauvelt has graciously decided to put on a spacial show for us. Judging from the photos, it looks great! If you would like to view all the works that are in this show, go to the Society of Animal Artists web site, click on Special shows, and scroll down to Members Show at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum (View Online). I am looking forward to a "normal" 2021, when (hopefully) we can resume the Art and the Animal tour which will kick off at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in New York.
It's July, 2020, we are sequestered in our home, waiting out a Corona virus pandemic that, as if adding insult to injury, has been politicized by an ignorant, immoral, incompetent president. Worried that any day we might receive news that a relative or close friend has come down with the virus, feeling sorry for the growing numbers of the unemployed and the nurses and doctors who are working on the front lines under unimaginable stress. Not to mention four years that have been lost in the fight against global climate change, and racism hiding behind the bland face of a cop snuffing out the life of a black man. Escapism comes in two forms. I can immerse myself in a large oil painting I am doing of my favorite place in the world, the Grand Canyon. And when I need a break from the painting I can look out my studio's windows and watch ruby-throated hummingbirds zipping in to sip sugar water from our feeder. Less than three and a half inches long, and weighing in at under a half ounce, these tiny bundles of energy migrate humdreds of miles north in the spring, mate and settle down raising a new generation of hummiingbirds in a nest not much lagrer than the end of my thumb. It is cathartic to watch a creature so small thriving in a world that must be full of so many dangers. Maybe our gift of sugar water will help them store up the fat reserrves they will need to complete their migration south, and hopefully we will see them again next year. And we can hope that next year will be a better time for all of us.
I had a great time at Niabi Zoo celebrating Earth Day. We had great weather and enjoyed helping families watch wild birds through a spotting scope. This photo was on the front page of the Dispatch today.
I just delivered some of my paintings to the 35th Annual Maple City Fine Arts Exhibit in Geneseo, IL. The exhibit runs from Sunday, May 4 to May 31 at two locations--the Geneseo Art League, 113 North State Street, Geneseo, IL and The Cellar Restaurant at 137 South State Street, Geneseo, IL. I will be attending the opening reception on Sunday, May 4 at the Cellar Restaurant at 3:30 pm. Hope to see you there, but if you can't make it on May 4, you can still see the exhibit at the Art League, Wed through Sat from 10 to 3 or the Cellar Restaurant, T-Th 5-9 pm; Fri and Sat, 5-10 pm and Sun, 4-9 pm. They try to have at least one painting from each submitting artist at each location.
Recently, I had a chance to see the Kansas Watercolor Society Exhibition 2013 in Wichita, Kansas. One of my watercolor paintings was selected as part of the exhibit. There were 87 paintings chosen out of 384 submitted. The quality of work was really impressive and I was proud to be part of it. The entire exhibit can be viewed on The Wichita Center for the Arts web site.
The exhibit can also be seen in person at 9112 East Central in Wichita, Kansas
"Songster of the Marsh", 20x16", Watercolor by Brent Langley included in the Kansas Watercolor Society Exhibition 2013