Sunday, February 13, 2011


Took a day trip to the Santa Ynez Valley yesterday. Took a sweet little back road into Solvang, then on to Lake Cachuma for a couple hours of relaxing and birdwatching.

Stopped along this road when I heard nuthatches calling. There were several White-breasted Nuthatches in the oaks; also Acorn Woodpeckers, Oak Titmouse, ad Yellow-billed Magpies.

The weather was gorgeous--sunny, clear skies, and warm. Hard to believe it's February!

Set up the camp chairs in a sweet spot with a lake view, under some huge oak trees. There were a few Scrub Jays, one even so bold as to land on the picnic table right behind us! There were more Acorn Woodpeckers and Oak Titmouse, along with a small flock of Bushtits.

But the biggest surprise came when I saw something big fly into a nearby oak. I knew it wasn't a crow or a vulture (too big for a crow and vultures never land that low in a tree). I walked around to get a better view and there, to my great surprise was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk! We had noticed a lot of California Ground Squirrels everywhere (there burrows were all over the grassy areas) and this bird was looking for lunch!

After a bit it flew to a small, bare sycamore nearby (about 50' away) and right over some burrows. It sat there for some time, then swooped down and landed in the grass. It came up empty though and went back into the tree. I kept snapping photos (with the lens zoomed out as far as it would go it was really hard to steady the camera in my excitement). Every time I focus, the camera makes a chirping noise and every time it did, the hawk would turn around and look our way.


Finally it swooped down out of the tree and headed right for us! It buzzed the chairs where we had been sitting and flew into an oak tree where we lost sight of it.

This was the coolest and most close-up sighting of a hawk I've had. A real treat. Got good looks through the binocs and some pretty good photos. I also got a short video after ti had landed in the grass (sorry for camera bounce--unavoidable zoomed out like that).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

IN BLOOM NOW: Magnolia x soulangeana

These "Magnolia Tulip Trees" bloom this time of year on campus. There's a few of them sprinkled around, but this specimen in one of the largest and most lovely; it is in the Sculpture Gardens at the north end of the UCLA campus. (photos taken with my Motorola Droid)


Sunday, February 6, 2011


We discovered something really neat close to our balcony this morning; an Anna's Hummingbird has built a nest in one of the Bradford Pear trees in the parkway. What a treat! I can get real close looks with my binoculars and managed to get a few photos.

The nest is built in what appears to be a good location, somewhat protected from rain and anchored by spider webs against wind. It's also in a well-camouflaged location away from the eyes of the neighborhood crows.

It will be fun watching the progress of this new family!

Momma on her nest. We got to watch her adding material this morning and smooshing herself around in it to make it just right.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Red-breastedNuthatch (Sitta caadensis)

I've been spending a lot of time lately practicing my drawing skills and playing with paint rather than spending too much time blogging. I got sidetracked into oils recently, too, and have been enjoying a bit of landscape painting. Over the winter break from work I also did some landscapes in watercolor.

The painting above was started last December (the background) and I just completed the bird this morning--figured it had sat long enough! It is not one of my more successful bird paintings, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. I was trying to lose the detail fussiness I usually get caught up in and keep trying a more painterly approach. I was also using way more pigment than I usually do, making the colors very deep and saturated in some passages; I also used some white gouache for mixing and highlights. I also found that when viewed from a distance, it resolves itself a lot better. Hovering over it with reading glasses is not the best way to judge things!

I have a few more sketches I want to develop into paintings, so I guess I'd better sign off and get to it!

Here's one of the watercolor landscapes I did recently...

...and this is one I did a few years ago. I always considered it one of the finest sky washes I've ever done.

I finding painting to be very zen; it's meditative and sooooo relaxing. The only thing I like more is watching birds!

(speaking of which, this morning there was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the pear tree in front ad a Bewick's Wren singing in the bushes across the street. Such lovely singers!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I took this short video of an Anna's Hummiingbird one morning from my studio window. It visited this flower every day until a rainstorm knocked the blooms over. It does cruise through the breezeway and occassionally land in the tree though, and often hovers in front of the window to tease the cats.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


We have always assumed that the Milky Way galaxy is our home. Now scientists have proved that this is erroneous. Wow--this is really a mind-bender!
Read on: