Leaf of the Day: Can Moorhens Count?

This is rather a belated post but wanted to let you know that I left Orlando on Monday with a clear conscience having rescued a tiny little moorhen chick from a certain early death. On Sunday we saw a little black smudge of fluff wandering lost and alone by the lake, cheeping loudly and plaintively.

I am no bird expert but remember being told it is best to leave baby birds to be found by their parents, but it’s hard to hear that pitiful little cheeping and do nothing. So after half an hour, as the ospreys were circling overhead and the great white egrets had turned their steady gaze in its direction and were sharpening their rapier bills, I went off to look for the family.

They were pottering about, much further down the shore, quite oblivious to this missing baby so I gathered it up and took it along to join them. It was all feet and fluff, wriggling its huge feet in my hands, weighing nothing and pecking so ineffectually at this its most benign captor.

The reunion was predictably sweet and affectionate (thank goodness). The mother did a double take, was she counting up the others? … then rushed over to reclaim this odd little thing which chirped, splashed and waved its skinny little red featherless wings in sheer delight ..it would melt the very hardest heart.

She immediately started looking for some food for the prodigal ….
This I think is a snail being offered.

Then a fish, which 2 chicks tugged at for a while until she reclaimed it and fed it whole to one chick. I thought it was a bit like us having to swallow a whole cod.

So the question is, can moorhens count? Do they even notice if one chick is missing? Do they normally go searching or is this moorhen just a feckless and inattentive mother. Last year we watched 6 goslings reduced to just 2 over about a month. I hope these 7 will still be together when I return.

Leaf of the Day: Flaming June and some Moorhen Chicks

The first day of June, “flaming June “and the temperatures are rising. It is also the Roman festival of Juno Moneta, the goddess who is in charge of issuing warnings.
Here in Orlando it is the official start of the hurricane season and the TV is warning us to “be prepared” and Kmart has huge stacks of emergency supplies to stock up on.

It was irresistible to put this beautiful image on today’s blog. It is of course “Flaming June” by Lord Leighton, bastion of Victorian painting and painter of languid classical figures. This beautiful painting has an interesting history too as, rather than residing in some august European museum it now graces the walls of the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.

This article comes from Victorian society of America’s Newsletter 2005

“Flaming June was painted c.1895 and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. It was not sold however, and, as Leighton died the following year, it came to reside with his family. By the 1930s when Victorian art was out of fashion, and Leighton’s work could be had for £200, Flaming June ended up in a hairdresser’s salon in Albemarle Street, Mayfair. There were surely other owners, but eventually the painting was so unappreciated that it was walled-up, hidden behind paneling in a house on Clapham Common, S. London. This wasn’t known until 1962 when, during demolition work, the painting was uncovered. The revelation however, was not to be the painting’s salvation. The demolition contractors were clearly modernists and naturally thought nothing of the artwork, so they sold the piece for the value in its frame. This was not an unreasonable notion as Victorian subjects were not only unfashionable by this time, but distinctly passé. Yet the frame was of Leighton’s distinctive tabernacle style strongly influenced by Renaissance altarpieces and Greek architecture.

A Polish frame-maker in Clapham concurred and priced the painting
at £50 and the frame at £60. At this point the original frame appears to have been lost. As for the painting, £50 proved too expensive for at least one potential buyer, who saw Flaming June in a shop window without its frame with a £50 price tag on it – and didn’t buy it. “I was 15,” he said, “and I didn’t have fifty pounds”. That young man was Andrew Lloyd-Webber, now one of the world’s leading collectors of Victorian art.
The painting finally arrived for sale in London’s West End. The interest in historically correct framing and the centenary exhibition of Lord Leighton’s work at the Royal Academy prompted a reproduction of the original frame to be made by Arnold Wiggins & Sons. Information from the Wiggins Picture Frame Archive and drawings and casts made from Leighton’s original frames made it possible for an accurate reproduction to be made.
The painting fell to the Victorian picture-dealer Jeremy Maas, who
tried to persuade every museum director in England to buy it – without success. Mr. Maas eventually sold it to the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis A. Ferre, who presided over a most astonishing increase in the picture’s value.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s visited Puerto Rico every year for two decades, lavishing lunches and dinners on Mr. Ferre and trying, and failing, to persuade him to sell.
Of course, by now, in 1996 to be precise, Lord Lloyd-Webber had managed to scrape together his fifty pounds. He offered six million for it. He sent letters of appeal. Nor was his offer the only one. It is wanted by Isabel Goldsmith, John Schaeffer and Jerry Davis, the big hitters in this market; and wanted by every art collector who sees this as the most luscious Victorian painting. Charming, smiling, Don Luis resisted more than 50 offers and kept the picture for 40 years until his death three years ago at the age of 99. He left a large art collection, much of it hanging in the Museo de Arte in Ponce, but his trophy is Flaming June.”

However, despite the hurricane warnings, the weather is set fair, and I went for a quick visit to Leu gardens and it is, just as it was, tranquil and beautiful. Some things have changed in the last 4 weeks ..some plants have completely disappeared and others are in bloom. I am now on a very tight schedule to get the next unit done for the course, so I collected a few leaves for inspiration but that was as far as I got, well after all it is Sunday…the sky is blue the lake is limpid and hours can drift by watching the lizards and the squirrels and now the mallard with her ducklings who are almost nothing more than stripy balls of fluff with a beak.

They have to be very high on the cute scale, rivalled only by three little black fuzzy moorhen chicks and then, at sunset, Chris and I sat beside the lake to watch the sun roll down and the light the clouds.

These quick sketches are done on wet paper after pencil sketches .. but I couldn’t really see their feet very well but I do know that they are huge. (Long grass or water are often the artist’s friend.)

Moorhen Chicks

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.