Saturday, July 23, 2011

Odonata Summer

Twelve Spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) - male
on Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
(click on image for a larger view)

Its dragonfly and damselfly time on the prairie...they've been around for a few weeks but "now" they're coming on in real abundance and variety.  And about time!  These guys are good "mosquito hawks" and really help in that regard!  Besides they are really cool to watch.  

I like to follow the bloom here on the prairie pasture for good examples of flowers to use in my work...if I get out early enough there is less of a breeze and the chances of getting good photographs of things like the dragonflies improves.  I can often find them covered with a coating of dew and they're more at the mercy of the camera because they can't fly.

The Twelve Spotted Skimmer, pictured above, is a fairly common one all over the region but is still a very showy insect, especially when hanging out on a tall liatris above its prairie surroundings!

The Twelve Spotted Skimmer was here out at our place, but I found the Widow Skimmer shown below at an area preserve that had been recently acquired through the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. I may blog separartely on that in the Tallgrass Journal blog if I get a chance.

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) - female
(click on image for a larger view)

 The Widow Skimmer was still covered with dew when I found her in a new addition to Waterman Prairie south of us.  One thing you'll find with odonates is the sexes are marked differently and often differing colors too...kinda like song birds often are.  Go ahead and click on each of these photos for a closeup of real cool insects!

For some reason my blogs blinked out "photo-wise" for 2-3 days or so but I have them back online gremlins!  :(  Sorry for the inconvenience if you happened to log on then, but we're up and running again!

Hope you're having a great summer!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monarch Summer

Monarch with a caterpillar tattered Heliopsis helianthoides
(click on image for a larger view)

This is going to be a double post this time, both here and on the Tallgrass Journal blog as well...the prairie is an important theme in my work and my interests elsewhere. 

 Have you been seeing many Monarch butterflies out there this summer?  We've had a good number here on the remnant prairie pasture here at the studio...but the question is also academic, I guess you could say.  The Monarch Butterfly is probably one of our best know insects in North America, yet is one with many issues regarding its health and future in our world.

Journey North, an educational project through The Annenberg Foundation, is asking the question, and has been asking it for several years now.  Journey North is "A global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change."  It is also described as a "free citizen science project for students across North America".  Although this was intentionally set up as a K-12 curriculum, it is open to anyone's participation, and frankly benefits from that.  To learn more about the Monarch and Journey North go to their page at

I like to send in reports as they transform here at the prairie, it contributes to a better understanding of the Monarch and keeps tabs on issues of their population health and the environment around them...they are quite like the proverbial "canary in the coal mine".

Monarch Watch is much the same...Monarch Watch is part of the Biological Survey through the University of Kansas.  Monarch Watch is about the same business as Journey North - the health and status of this North American icon butterfly.  Monarch Watch also takes on the promotion of "habitat for Monarchs".  And because I like to watch and photograph (and draw and paint) Monarchs, habitat "is" important.  

If you are ever interested in growing thing for Monarchs, the following might be helpful.

They're well know for their dependence on milkweeds.  We have 4 species of Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family) here at Prairie Hill Farm - Common (A. syriaca), Butterfly Milkweed (A. tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) and Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata)...the latter, Whorled, is the only one that seems to be more of a "pest" plant here...I've never encouraged it but it is definitely the "bully" milkweed!  Which seems somewhat humorous because its also the smallest in stature...but I also see it as the milkweed of preference for the Monarchs here...oh, they love the Butterfly Milkweed, but mostly the seed pods!  Which I try and save to use for future propagation.  You'll often see me picking Monarch caterpillars off of the A. tuberosa and repositioning them onto the A. verticillata plants!  

But Monarchs, in the butterfly stage, love to feed on just about any nectar, so any wildflower you can find out here on the prairie is a great food source for Monarchs!  If I were to vote on what the butterflies like "here", I'd say mid summer favorites are the Heliopsis helianthoides like in the post photo above (sometimes called Ox-eye sunflower, but it isn't really a sunflower), Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Gray-headed Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and of course, flowers of all the milkweeds.  Later on in the summer the Liatris family and all the Goldenrods and all the Asters are butterfly magnets!  "Here" the Stiff Goldenrods (Solidago rigida) are the Monarch champs...they are very aggressive forbs too so they aren't necessarily "my" favorites!  

A side benefit here is our grove bordering the north and west side of our acreage.  We tend to be a migration stop-over in September here...its great seeing the 1-2-3 hundred or more Monarchs gather together in the evening, and disperse again in the morning!  What a great circle for the season to complete...I recommend keeping your proverbial door open for the Monarch each year...we need them and they need us!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Work'n the Summer

Late July Mid Afternoon (reworked)
9X12" - oil painting on mounted canvas
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

 July has been busy and like I remembered it as a kid - Hot!  Well it may not seem hot to my friends in Arizona or California, but we have some fairly messy dewpoint levels here (humidity)!  I can always take the heat but add a 75 degree dewpoint to it and I think climate change means we are the new Panama!!  :)

I have my first solo exhibit in decades coming up next month and I am really hustling to get everything ready for it.  The exhibit will be at Arts on Grand in Spencer, Iowa.  The show opens on August 16th and runs through September 24th.  There will be an opening evening event (I think they call it a "gallery talk") on August 25th, a Thursday begins around 5:30 p.m.   This is a good time to talk with me about anything and have refreshments and hors d'oeuvres.  And it would be a really great time getting to meet some of my blog friends if we haven't already done so!

When preparing for something like this, a great deal of time is spent matting and framing, varnishing, and even reworking paintings.  Any artist will tell you that sometimes knowing when something is really finished isn't s easy as you'd think!  The above painting was presented in this blog earlier (Here), but there was something about it that did not look "finished" to me...something was missing and I was fairly sure from the moment I had the thought, as to what it was needing!  A visual threshold; you know, like when you enter a room or space and "step" into it.  This painting was too flat for a visual "entrance"...had no weight to its foundation...I could think of several more metaphors but you may get the drift.  I think it now has that foundation and a threshold to enter over and into the space. 

 Late July Mid Afternoon (unfinished version)

(You can compare with the previous version here and see what I mean.)

I am also still at the easel and working in the field each day I can manage.  The early morning hikes with the camera equipment have been invigorating and I'm finding I'll be a long while editing through all the material I come up with!  Is that what "winters" around here are for??

Valley Plum Thicket Study
6X8" - oil painting on mounted canvas
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Here is a small study I did just recently...the plums and spring are long past but we had some freakish weather here during the Wild Plum got very hot and windy for a couple days straight and the bloom was on and over in just 2-3 days.  Pretty disappointing because I look forward to it each year!  I did this study from some photos of past blooms here in the valley, to make up for missing them this year.

Well, back to work here in the studio.  I do hope I'll get to see you at my exhibit opening evening in August!  I'll be posting about it some more in the coming weeks.

Stay cool and enjoy July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Slow Down!

July 1st Thunderhead in the valley
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

July, what ever happened to June!??  Things really have to slow down here, I'm just way too far behind in my work!

I couldn't resist posting another thunderhead off over the valley here...this one is fresh off the camera, just 45 minutes ago!  Things develop, change and move on all the time in nature...shouldn't expect anything different here!

I've been painting and framing and printing like a maniac in the studio the past few weeks...getting ready for a solo exhibit at Arts on Grand (Spencer, Iowa) in August.  I'll fill in more details in the weeks ahead...but I'll say it right now and again with each post - I sure would love to see ya there in August; I haven't met some of my blog friends yet!  Wouldn't that be great! 

In the meantime - enjoy every bit of July you can...time is not waiting for us!