Monday, May 18, 2015

Cycles Behind...Cycles Ahead

Blue-eyed Grass with native Bee
- photography © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

I've written about Phenology before; if you keep any kind of record of events or relating to events (like writing down rain amounts on your wall calendar) - then you're practicing Phenology.  The Aldo Leopold Foundation states that Phenology is " a segment of ecology focusing on the study of periodic plant and animal life-cycle events that are influenced by climate and seasonal change in the environment."

For instance, we keep records each year as to when certain birds first appear in the spring or fall during migration, when the Great Blue Herons in the Waterman Creek rookery across the road first return, when the native plants in the prairie pasture here begin blooming, and so on.

We don't specifically do this because we're doing scientific research or something of that nature, we also do it because we're just plain interested and its fun!  It also can help with just plain curiosity.

We've all heard someone exclaim that "things are sure early this year"!  Well, are they really?  Or are they just early compared to "last year", or are they running at an average?  Phenology can answer a lot of those questions.  But one reason I like keeping records like this are to "be prepared"!

If I know that the hummingbirds usually show up at such and such a time (on the average), and we put the feeders out a couple days ahead of time - we're ready for 'em!

I also know that certain other events like bloom time can be prepared on our prairie pasture one example is the Blue-eyed Grasses (Sisyrinchium campestre).  It is such a small flowering native forb that it can be easily missed if you're not out and looking in the right places.  But I know (from past years) that it usually shows up on May 15th.  But some years it may be early or late, so I'll start looking during the first week of May just in case.  This year it was fortunate I did - it showed up here on our pasture on May 7! 

The blossoms of this tiny member of the Iris family measure around 1/2" or slightly less across; so you can get an idea of how small the little native bee (specific species unidentified) actually is!  Iowa has maybe around 35-40 types of native Bees and some, like this one are quite small.  When does this bee usually show up here on our pastures?  Well - when their forage does, so each year I see this bee its on the day I find the first Blue-eyed Grasses in bloom!

Just because one plant bloomed early, does that mean everything is?  Not necessarily but sometimes other things show the same pattern as well...this year the American Toads here began singing the 3rd week of April - that is early for them also...about 2 weeks early!  

Ya, some years those cycles we all pay attention to are behind, and some years ahead - its fun keeping track and looking forward to the next arrival or departure...that's life ya know!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day 2015

(color pencil drawings  © Bruce A. Morrison)
The Chipping Sparrows are back; their pitched staccato song is once again in the door yard.  The American Goldfinch males are bold and Yellow once again, and the first White-throated Sparrow male of spring showed up yesterday morning as the frost left the waterleaf outside the kitchen door - It's spring!  And it's Earth Day once again - it should be every day; we live here and wouldn't exist without it!

My feelings about our planet and what we are doing to it have not changed since last Earth Day, nor the Earth Days before.  But I won't get too verbose this year...I don't want to wear you out with what you should already know and hold dear.  If you want to hear it again, you can revisit Earth Day here at the Prairie Hill Farm Blog from April 2013 - Earth Day...It "IS" Important!

I will celebrate Earth Day on this blog a little differently this year, going back to the rebel roots of my youth I guess.  I protested all that was wrong with our treatment of the Earth back then too.  Please take a moment and listen and reflect; after all "Who is Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth?"

Keep on Rock'n for a Free World Neil...

The Earth is our bed, our nursery and our life - do not spoil it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How It Needs To Be - For Our Sake

 "Monarch on New England Aster" 
color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

I've always had a soft spot for Monarch butterflies, but then who hasn't enjoyed these big beauties each summer?  They have always put on a great show here on our acreage and the prairie pastures.  But like many other people - some years ago I began to notice something just wasn't right.  My observations weren't exactly scientific; I was only observing a change, but it was certainly becoming clearer and clearer as I read more of what was going on in their winter sanctuaries, and how our newer agricultural pesticides were affecting them in their breeding grounds of the central U.S.

In the mid 1990's their numbers were estimated at 1 Billion.  In 2014 their numbers were estimated at 35 million.  The drop is so precipitous that status for protection under the Endangered Species Act was sought. In December of 2014 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for Monarchs, and announced the agency will now conduct a one-year status review.

This and the Presidential Memorandum last June (2014) is highlighting a real need to investigate and act upon the plight all of our pollinators are now facing; not just honeybees, but our native bees, and butterflies and the many other insects that pollinate our crops and the flora of this planet.

It is my sincere hope that we will all consider the findings and research from the independent science sector - those with no "skin" in the game.  For too long we have seen Big Ag research and studies showing a virtual "no effect" in results pertaining to environmental damage to flora and fauna.  And the "revolving" door of political appointments and corporate interests are blocking true independent research as well. I personally do not feel a need or "pull" to put all the "eggs" of our natural heritage into the basket of corporations that only profit with status quo or increases of millions of tons of pesticides each year.  But maybe that's just "me"? 

I will admit that I draw, paint and photograph things that strike me as beautiful, but I do not want to be categorized as simply a "decorative" artist.  I do work of what is personally important to me - the land, the flora and fauna of the tallgrass prairie...these are all important to me physically and emotionally, they are something I dearly want my great grand children and theirs to inherit and experience.  I don't just draw something because its "pretty", but to me its all beautiful, regardless.

The top image, the color pencil drawing of the "Monarch on New England Aster" is of beautiful subject matter, and it strikes me as something precious...I'm drawn to it by my interests in the Monarch butterfly, it's conflicts, it's future and it's habitat needs.  I'm drawn to do this piece because of my concern and my admiration for this species here in North America.  Aside from that, the drawing was also a challenge to do and I am happy with the outcome - it wasn't easy for me!

 "Monarch on Heliopsis helianthoides"
(front side of "Prairie Cantabile" two sided violin painting)
casein painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

The only other time I can really think of doing artwork of a Monarch was on the front of a painted violin done years back for a NW Iowa Symphony Orchestra fund raiser.  It wasn't the main subject or focal point but a supporting character.  I liked the way this casein painting depicted a jungle of seeming chaos...the prairie and all its complexities can appear as chaos to the casual glance!

I hope a "pretty" picture can raise awareness of a precious piece of the prairie's puzzle. I'll continue portraying the landscape that I love and the natural heritage I feel passionately about...I'd hate to think of doing so as just "documenting" what "once was".  I'd rather think of it as how it needs to be...for our sake.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Past and Present

"Black-capped Chickadee and Blue Jay Portraits"
from the Favorite Birds Portrait Series
colored pencil drawings - © Bruce A. Morrison

I was recently thinking about where portraits and paintings of birds have gone with me over the years.  I don't believe I still have the "very first" images I drew of birds, but do have some from my teenage years...the very first "commissioned" birds I can remember doing were india ink drawings...I may still have slides of those...I'll have to do some digging and see.  I think they were around 1966-67 when I was around 16-17 years old?

The "portrait " series I've been dabbling with the past couple years, when my time permits, have all been in color pencil.  The earlier ones in Prismacolor and the later with Lyra polycolor.  My very first color pencil of a bird was a rather badly done drawing of a Peregrine Falcon.  I don't remember the year but I'm guessing it was around 1962-3.  I vaguely remember what that drawing looked like and it's not a memory I care to hang onto!  But we all have to start somewhere.

 "Blue Jay" on mat board
colored pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

I took up color pencils again around the early 1980's...the image above is of the type of work I did at that time...using a colored board to draw upon was a convenient  tool - saving a lot of time in rendering a background color with the pencils themselves.  

"Snow Laden Cedar - Chickadees"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison

I did many drawings of birds but didn't "paint" a bird until my first year in Community College.  I was in my art teacher's office and saw paintings he was working on.  He had a painting of a Killdeer that I was quite taken with - here was an artist painting birds!  I always wanted to paint birds and this was the catalyst that pushed me forward!  My art teacher "Mr. Halm" (Robert Halm) encouraged all his students to do what "moved" them and that was wonderful encouragement for me.

The "Snow Laden Cedar - Chickadees" was a change from earlier years too, I was now placing birds in their environment.

It is occasionally fun to look back where you were years ago, but that was "then" and this is "now".   Keep moving forward!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Bright Spot

"Black-capped Chickadee"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

We don't get many Chickadees here on the acreage as we are somewhat removed from the timber that stands in the valley below to our SE.  We did have a pair or two when we first moved here in 2002 but West Nile disease had made its appearance in NW Iowa a year or two earlier and swept through the populations of certain birds...curiously, the Chickadees were one of those affected. (Crows and Blue Jays were other known victims) 

Occasionally through recent years we might have one in the yard for a few days, but they inevitably leave.  I presumed we didn't keep them because their numbers were down and they were likely seeking other Chickadees to associate with.

Black-capped Chickadee numbers have rebounded significantly in NW Iowa now and we're lucky again this winter to hear their cheery songs...its one bird I can imitate and talk to, and Chickadees are actually one of the songbirds that are not terribly skittish around people.  

I remember years ago on the north shore of Lake Superior at our small cabin, walking the paths we grubbed out to the lake shore...being followed by a small group of Black-capped Chickadees.  They seemed most curious about me and flitted along with me as I walked - all within arm's reach.  It was mesmerizing and quite uplifting!  I talked with them and they seemed fascinated by this "Big" bird on two legs, talking back to me as well.  

We're very lucky to have a pair of Chickadees this winter here.  On mornings when its well below zero and even with a stiff breeze - there is always one bird song cheering us all on - our Black-capped Chickadees!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Winter's Return

"Male House Finch and Snowfall"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
Its 2015 and winter has once again returned to Prairie Hill Farm.  Today we're in a ground blizzard warning; a few minutes ago the house was "gone" in the blowing snow, but now I can see it again.  The winter wind is creating the ambient sounds that envelop the studio, making me shiver!
The birds are feeding as best they can; they seem to be finding it difficult to stay stationary on the ground against the 45-50mph wind.  Whatever I put out for them takes flight as soon as it hits the tray or ground.
I took this photograph of a male House Finch a couple days back during a 7-8 inch snowfall.  Today that snow is blowing into the next county and the Finch is likely spending this day hanging on for dear life!
I hope this first blog of the year finds you doing well, staying warm and looking forward to a promising new year!  Stay warm!

Monday, December 22, 2014

After the Solstice

Series of My Favorite Birds (portraits)
color pencil drawings - © Bruce A. Morrison

Its the day after the Winter Solstice as I write - really don't like the days when they get so short! (Day "light", I should say.) But the bright side is day light will begin getting longer again!  There's always a good side to everything!

I had been working on a small series of bird portraits the past month, and have gathered them together here.  The last series I drew were all Sparrow family members - this time I've mixed it up a bit - but I haven't run out of favorite birds to draw yet!  I'm not sure I could ever find enough time to do that.

(Click on image for a larger view)

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Wishing the best for you and yours - hope to see you next year!
Thanks for visiting!