Leaf of the Day: Killarney Trees and a Little Blue Heron

At least once a week I try to go and sketch outside and the weather is lovely at the moment so this afternoon I went to the lake to do a larger sketch of a clump of trees by the shore. I love working in charcoal, it is responsive and messy, a real welcome change from the waxy hard coloured pencils. This is 20 x 25 inches, charcoal and white chalk on a warm grey Ingres paper. I´m not very keen on Ingres paper and started working on the textured side by mistake which I like even less because of its mechanical looking surface but it was nice to work on a larger scale today.

I had the usual accompaniment of critics, jeering from the trees around me, mostly grackles which I wrote about before, perching sometimes just a foot way, all glossy and smart. When not screeching they have a disconcerting “uh oh” noise like some insufferable know-all’s ” I wouldn’t do that” comment, looking over your shoulder just as you are about to make a huge mistake. They sat by me, above me and below me squawking, “I wouldn’t put that mark there if I were you”, noises for about an hour. A pair of mallards was pottering about in the water at the foot of the trees, so happy and so sweet together.

The little ghostly blue heron was also silently patrolling up and down, quietly stalking its prey of dragonflies and little fish. Also known as the ‘levee walker’ it is the Italian greyhound of the bird world, delicate and fragile with twig thin legs, looking as though it has been carefully crafted from the finest and softest dusty blue suede. When you sit for long enough the birds come very close and I was able to do some more sketches of the heron.
This little bird is not so difficult to draw from life as it moves quite slowly and hesitantly and covers the same patch of floating marsh grass, up and down, delicately picking up its huge feet and gently placing them down again, almost walking on the water.

Trees by Lake Killarney

Sweet Mocking Birds and Unoiled Grackles

It’s a cool Monday morning; its 6.am, not yet light, and, before the sound of traffic on the mighty I4 highway cranks up some decibels, I am listening to the gorgeous little mocking birds who have already been singing their tiny hearts out for at least half and hour. There is one in the tree outside my work room and one a few roof tops away and they are calling to each other. These tame little birds are everywhere perching on wires, in bushes and on fences accompanying your walk through the city streets.
Maybe they are not the prettiest birds to some eyes but, like the English nightingale, any shortcomings in the dress department are compensated for 10 fold by their song.
While I am working they are my constant companions along with the chattering squirrels, some little wrens and and the ubiquitous and raucous grackles.
Male grackles are big glossy showy birds. Like old fashioned, brylcream-slicked teddy-boys they strut about in local neighbourhood gangs, their brilliantly blue iridescent feathers shimming in the sun as though doused with oily petrol. I am not sure exactly which species crowd in the trees and shout at me in the afternoons as there are 3 different ones, but the noise they make is incredible.
Imagine an excruciating mix of rasping creaks, pops, and whistles, scrapings of nails down blackboards, polystyrene screeching and the wheezings of desperate asthmatics..I just don’t know whether to rush out with my inhaler to administer relief or go and buy a shotgun.

I could not find a recording of the grackles that does justice to an up-close-and-personal musical encounter but the excellent Cornell “All about Birds” site has some snippets of sound with some images

Great tailed grackle here
Boat tailed grackle here
Common Grackle here

After that soothe your poor assaulted eardrums with some more mellifluous notes from the mocking bird here

The Big Beautiful Sun

One week on and the big beautiful sun has replaced the big ugly freeze. We live by Lake Killarney and this morning I went out early to see what was going on. The bird community was getting on with its very busy day. Immediately by the jetty there was a little blue heron hunting in the reedy grasses, a pair of mallards hanging around the boats and a delightful fat little moorhen who pottered up and down for about an hour. The large white egret was perched on a nearby mooring post and two of the beautiful anhingas flew down from their roost to snake their way across the lake, no wonder they are called the snake bird. They swim with their bodies so low in the water that only their long flexing necks can be seen. A huge flock of cormorants settled in the centre of the lake, seagulls flew up and down and the ever present big dark vultures were slowly circling way up in brilliant blue sky. The osprey I had seen a couple of days ago carrying a fish in its talons passed by high and fast and behind me in the pines on the shore the excruciating squeaky grackles flocked, flew and regrouped before dashing off. How wonderful to have all this just off the I4 motorway!
I was looking at the reedy grass to draw. It’s a marsh grass of some sort,
Maybe Salt Marsh Grass or West Indian marsh grass, I don’t think its Sawgrass. It was full of dragon flies well damselflies to be precise. I could see 2 types at least, the blue ones and the small red ones. I was going to try to identify them but was dismayed to read that there are over 500 varieties in Florida. Red and blue will have to do for now.
It was a beautiful morning. The water was so still the reflections were perfect.

A few pages from my 6 x 8 “sketchbook. Birds are hard to sketch, herons are easier as they move very slowly as they hunt. here is the marsh grass, the moorhen and the little blue heron.