Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Osprey watching

Nature Journal page on Osprey graphite and color pencils by Meera Rao 

I think he will be to Rome
as is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
by sovereignty of nature 

~Shakespear  Act 4 scene 7 Coriolanus~

I love watching the ospreys that frequent our backyard.   They were already back from their winter migration by the time we returned on March 1 from our trip to India and London.

Their nest (called aeries) on a platform in the river with a 'no wake' sign looks like haphazardly arranged sticks. It has to be well constructed though as it has withstood many hurricanes and storms!  They have been coming back to the same spot for many years now. I do not know if these are the same birds. I read that they mate for life and their lifespan is anywhere from 7-20 years.  Only recently I read about how to tell apart a male and female but in practice though, I can't! Two days ago I saw one chick - I had been hearing the persistent  cries for food for a few days now. I wonder how many will hatch.  One of the parents always eats the fish (she/he catches by diving into the river- a wondrous feat to watch.) on the same branch of a pine tree in the yard. I see the fish fluttering for a few minutes under the sharp hooked talons as the bird tears into the head! A pair of fish crows always appear as soon the osprey catches the fish.  They follow the raptor to a nearby branch cawing and being a nuisance. The fish crows watch carefully for any scraps that fall to the ground and swoop down to dine. There is usually no trace of any leftovers anywhere near the tree :)  

sketches of osprey from my sketch book 

I watched and sketched the ospreys over the past two months before I committed to devote a page in my journal. I added a sketch as my idea for the page evolved. Meanwhile, I learned that it is the second most widely distributed raptor species after Peregrine falcon. All ospreys around the world are part of single species except Eastern Osprey which is native to Australia. These migratory birds are found everywhere except in Antarctica. The Genus name Pandion derives from mythical Greek King of Athens, Grandfather of Theseus, Pandion 11. The species name comes from ancient Greek haliaietos:  hali -sea aetos - eagle. 

I read that the sexes appear fairly similar, but the adult male can be distinguished from the female by its slimmer body and narrower wings. The breast band of the male is also weaker than that of the female, or is non-existent, and the underwing coverts of the male are more uniformly pale. The explanation said it is straightforward to determine the sex in a breeding pair, but harder with individual birds. I will have to watch them even more closely paying special attention to the markings to make some progress on id-ing them! I am looking forward to find out how many chicks hatch and seeing the family flying around in about a month or so :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Draw, Sketch, Or Illustrate!

Cat graphite by Meera Rao 

I signed myself up for an online Natural History Illustration course in early March when it became evident that we are all going to be sheltering in place and social distancing.  We had just returned from our trip to India and London. I was not motivated to finish my paintings, the travel sketches, scan or organize them. So this seemed like a good idea to push myself to do any art! I found doing detailed studies was really like meditation and has helped me cope with the new normal! 

The Cat in graphite was the final piece and I had to upload it by deadline to complete the course before I was fully done with it :) I have always been conflicted about details- I know that I like and also don't like details- a love/hate relationship. I start out tentatively feeling overwhelmed, then get fully immersed enjoying the process, being meticulous, before loosing steam half way through! So, I am glad I am almost finished with this cat. I will get back to it when I regain my patience so I won't ruin the drawing! I had planned a dark background but had to abandon it - broken electric eraser :(  I had stalked and photographed this neighborhood explorer a couple of years ago and I used those photos as a reference.

Finches, Carolina wrens and Osprey sketches by Meera Rao 

The field sketch homework assignments for the class made me keep my binoculars handy, watch the birds in my backyard and sketch them in action. Fortunately, the birds were not on quarantine and continued to visit our yard :) I see these birds everyday, but sketching for class made me really look and try to capture the features down correctly as it was a natural history illustration class where we had to get the shapes and attributes right :) 

The Osprey always eats the fish on the same pine tree branch. There are always couple of crows that usually bother the bird, eat the scraps that fall to the ground and linger around the till the Osprey has finished the meal. A fun drama to watch! The finches and the wrens never stay still - after watching them and studying them I resorted to taking a few still photos to check the accuracy of my sketches.  

Blue Bird sketches by  Meera Rao

The Blue Birds busily hop around the branches playing hide and seek. They don't let you come close. So for my sketches, I decided to watch videos of the birds at a feeder on continuous loop at the @wildbirdsunlimited twitter feed.  It was easier to pause the video every now and then to check the accuracy of my sketches. I do feel a lot more confident in sketching them now :) 

Horses sketchbook studies by  Meera Rao

Horses were a challenge for quick sketch studies. One of the strategies I honed doing all these drawings of moving creatures is to work on multiple sketches at the same time adding bits to each as I caught the animal/bird back in that pose. Some poses were never completed, some I struggled with proportions. But in the end, the sense of accomplishment was satisfying!   

Buttercup study  in sketchbook by Meera Rao

Dandelion study by Meera Rao 

Christmas cactus botanical study By Meera Rao

For botanical studies, I had plenty of buttercups, and Dandelions in the yard ! I pulled out whole plants and loved studying them up-close. I am in awe of their beauty and complexity. Sketching the Christmas cactus was an exciting challenge and I learned the subtleties of botanical 'illustration' vs sketching.

Landscape study By Meera Rao 

Nature journaling part of the course also included drawing landscapes and nature finds - in general paying a lot of attention to light, shadow, and details and specifics.  It is important to notice the surroundings and see big picture while observing the little details. 

Nature finds study sketches by Meera Rao 

I studied Botany and Zoology for my undergraduate degree many years ago and I enjoyed immersing myself once again in scientific recording of plants and animals for the past six weeks. Completing the Virginia Master Naturalist course last year has me noticing nature more intensely.  Now, I need to concentrate on making pleasing compositions as I fill my journals and sketchbooks. 

Monday, April 6, 2020


Trapped mixed media on wood panel 6"x6" By Meera Rao

A big thank you to Clint Mansell of Principle Gallery for selecting my painting Trapped to be included in the Capitol Hill Art League Open call show "Perspectives".  I am pleased to be one of 25 artists whose work was chosen. The show now of course will be on line :)  Capitol Hill Art League Perspectives Online show   has a video of the Juror's statement and digital copies of the all the selected works.  Seeing them like that gives a different perspective to the show! 

It has been a interesting few weeks when social distancing, sheltering in place and lockdown have become the new normal. The silver lining has been reading stories to my grandchildren couple of hours a day. These daily meetings are wonderful and remind me constantly that we have the heavy responsibility to make things right for them.

We have also moved our shopping online. I enrolled in an Natural History Illustration course -online of course! The backyard is a sanctuary as always and the flowers, buds and 'weeds' have been great specimens for my homework for the course! In-between I have been slowly sewing a few masks and making time to connect with friends and family all the while hoping and praying all this corona virus pandemic ends well and soon.

I guess it is a wake up call for all of us to look deeply inwards as well as outwards - globally, make some important changes for the better for all life on this fragile earth.

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