Snowy’s Island Sanctuary ~ Painting a companion piece!

I enjoyed painting Snowy’s Evening Retreat so much that I decided to paint another Snowy Egret painting as a companion piece. It is entitled Snowy’s Island Sanctuary. The warmth of the golden hour bathes the scene in sunlight. The all white-feathered bird, with its large, bright yellow feet stands out against the dark background, raising its wings and sporting a full crest of head feathers.

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary    by William R. Beebe, 30 x 24, Oil on Linen, $6200

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary by William R. Beebe, 30 x 24, Oil on Linen, $6200

Snowies most often nest on barrier islands, where they are less vulnerable from predators. They form colonies and nest in trees, bushes and mangroves, usually along with other types of egrets and herons. In my painting, the Snowy has emerged from the shadows and is framed by palmetto greenery. Its sanctuary is Isle of Palms, a barrier island near Charleston, SC.

Without camouflage, this particular bird smartly chose to nest on a lake’s very small island on Isle of Palms. I love the way the palmetto fronds all point to the bird as if it is on stage with spotlights highlighting the star of the show.

With water all around, this carnivorous bird has a diverse food supply nearby consisting of fish, crustaceans, insects, reptiles, and other aquatic animals.

It’s hard to believe that at the turn of the century these magnificent birds almost became extinct due to plume poachers hunting them for their highly sought after nuptial plumes. Their feathers were valued at $32 per ounce, at the time higher than the price of gold! The delicate, white feathers were used in the fashion industry to adorn women’s hats.

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary   by William R. Beebe, feather detail

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary by William R. Beebe, feather detail

Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and environmental measures enforced like the protection of wetlands, the species is now thriving.

Living here in the Lowcountry, I see Snowies on almost a daily basis. This year in particular has been a good birdwatching year for Snowy Egrets. I’ve seen several nesting rookeries, with dozens of Snowies at different stages of raising their young.

They usually lay 3 to 6 eggs. It takes 20-24 days for the eggs to hatch and then 30 days more before they fly. Both male and female birds share in the parental responsibilities.

My painting depicts an adult Snowy taking a break from the nest, stretching its wings and having some me time. It took the time to preen, display its feathers, and eventually took a short flight before settling in for the evening.

Snowies provide me with much entertainment while birding; the way they forage for food with their big, yellow feet disturbing the bottom sediments and startling their prey, the way they circle their nest and tumble from the sky, their loud raucous calls, and the way their silky plumes stand on end to attract a mate creating some most amusing looks.

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary by William R. Beebe, feet and palm detail

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary by William R. Beebe, feet and palm detail

Snowy’s Island Sanctuary captures a real moment in time for me. It was one of those magical Lowcountry experiences, which compelled me to recreate it on canvas. I worked on capturing strong lighting and depth. I also strove to create natural looking greens by mixing a variety of colors, never opening a tube of green paint.

I will be painting more Snowy Egrets in the future, but my next painting will be of the Riviera Theater on King Street in Charleston.

I will be posting work-in-progress pics of the Charleston painting on my Facebook Page. It will be a big project painting this iconic Landmark in the heart of Charleston.

Thank you as always for reading my journal and for your interest in my art. I hope you like Snowy’s Island Sanctuary.


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion….
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

Snowy’s Evening Retreat

About this time every year in the Charleston area, birders are treated to seeing large gatherings, or colonies, of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets nesting in dense foliage along the wetlands known as rookeries. Nesting actually begins in early spring, but right about now the young birds become very active and begin to test out their wings. The adult birds are very active too, raising their little ones and continuing to court their mate, sporting beautiful breeding plumage and strutting their stuff.

I am fortunate to live near several rookeries and have spent quite a bit of time recently studying the habits of Snowy Egrets around the Lowcountry. This season has proven to be exceptional as far as imagery goes, inspiring my most recent Aviary painting entitled Snowy’s Evening Retreat.

Snowy’s Evening Retreat   by William R. Beebe, 30 x 24, Oil on canvas, $6200

Snowy’s Evening Retreat by William R. Beebe, 30 x 24, Oil on canvas, $6200

Interestingly enough, almost 200 years ago in the spring of 1832, John James Audubon was in Charleston doing the same thing! He reported having seen thousands of Snowies in full breeding plumage. He painted the delicate, white Snowy Egret as I often see it, stalking along the water’s edge. In the distance of his painting one can detect a tiny hunter coming toward the bird, a sign of danger lurking, for they were considered a delicacy. The beautiful, white breeding plumage became highly sought after in the late 19th century for women’s fashion-wear, to the point where the species almost became extinct. Thanks to individual state Audubon Societies formed in the 1890’s and eventually the National Audubon Society, formed in 1905, we are all blessed to have a strong egret population today.

Recently, I’ve completed a number of bird portraits, substantial in size. I chose to paint the birds roughly life size, with solid backgrounds not to distract from the bird. I’ve read that Audubon, on his quest to paint every bird in America, painted each bird life size. Although, I’m not scientific like he was (measuring each bird’s length and height), I do prefer to create paintings in which the viewer can get an idea of roughly how big each bird is.

Snowy Egrets are smaller in size than say a Great Egret. Audubon measured a Snowy at 22 ½ inches in length and 30 ½ inches from head to toe. They are even smaller when legs are bent and necks are tucked. Upon recently witnessing and photographing Snowies on Isle of Palms, with a wonderfully, dark botanical background, I knew I wanted to create a substantial piece focusing not just on the bird, but also on the background.

I love seeing these beautiful, white birds surrounded by palmetto leaves, branches, and greenery. I often photograph them with dark backgrounds so the bird really stands out. In this case, I found the dark background fascinating. As I looked further into the darkness, I discovered overlapping layers of palmetto leaves, tropical in nature. The Snowy’s breeding plumage (aigrettes) was on display, wings were raised and his bright yellow feet grabbed hold of the greenery below.

Snowy’s Evening Retreat   by William R. Beebe, head detail

Snowy’s Evening Retreat by William R. Beebe, head detail

Snowy’s Evening Retreat   by William R. Beebe, feet detail

Snowy’s Evening Retreat by William R. Beebe, feet detail

The interesting flora surrounding the bird brought to mind not only Audubon’s famous work, but also the Aviary art of another wonderfully talented Charleston artist John C. Doyle. I discovered his art and passion for painting wading birds when we moved to Charleston two years ago.

From the 1980’s-2014, local artist John C. Doyle was traversing the Lowcountry studying, drawing, and painting Great Egrets and other birdlife. In particular, his paintings of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons caught my eye. Many of which captured the magnificent swamp and surrounding flora at Magnolia Plantation. His backgrounds were filled with light and color.

In my painting, Snowy’s Evening Retreat, I portray the egret away from the nest, courting its mate with crest displayed, actively flirting. The bird is roughly life size and the background is typical of the Lowcountry and the island’s rookery. The trees are dense, much of which are monochromatic, but the evening light highlights the greenery in the foreground and the bird. Light filters through the palmetto leaves adding depth and draws the viewer’s eye around the canvas.

Snowies are delicate looking birds with fine feathers. They are social birds with a playful personality. Their bright, yellow feet and yellowish beak area (lore) are good identifiers when trying to distinguish it from similar looking birds like the immature Little Blue Heron or the Cattle Egret.

Snowy’s Evening Retreat is the first of what I hope is a series of Snowy Egret paintings all inspired by this season’s bird outings here in the Lowcountry.

Thank you for your interest in my art and for reading my journal. Please check back soon to see what’s next on my easel. It could be one of my newly discovered locations in downtown Charleston or it could be another Snowy!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion….
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

The Many Looks of the Little Green Heron ~ Caught on camera from around the Lowcountry!

I spend many hours out in the field studying bird behavior and photographing them for possible painting subjects. Some birds can be more challenging than others to photograph!

The little Green Heron is a relatively small heron, which for the most part is very skittish and likes to hide along riverbanks or in bushes or trees. It is naturally camouflaged, sporting brown and green feathers, which blend in nicely with its surroundings. It is also very quick and will take off in a flash if it detects unwanted activity in the area.

Being skittish, fast, and naturally camouflaged turns birding for Green Herons into a challenging sport.

The fact that the Green Heron is a master of many looks also makes him fun to photograph.

I ask myself, if I were to paint a Green Heron, how would I like to portray him? The Green Heron is full of personality. One could create a large body of work just painting the many looks of the Green Heron.

I have been fortunate to have had a number of opportunities to zero in on the elusive little heron. I have a wide variety of images to choose from ranging from serious stalking-like poses to almost comical or amusing poses. I thought it might be interesting to show you some of the many looks of the Green Heron from images I’ve taken over the last couple of years around the Lowcountry.

My most recent sighting was in Mount Pleasant at a pond in the community of Charleston National. I came across a rookery where Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets were nesting. While photographing them I noticed a lot of activity from a pair of Green Herons in a bushy area near the water. Turned out the pair had four juveniles they were tending to.

The juvies had what looked like hair plugs on top of their heads (down feathers), where the adult head feathers will soon fill in. They were full of themselves, sometimes gathering 3 or 4 on a branch, waiting impatiently for Mom and Dad to come back with dinner.

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They let me get fairly close over time, as I returned four or five times to photograph them. It was the first time I’ve ever seen more than a pair together.

One of my favorite Green Herons was a bird I photographed in Huntington Beach State Park. It flew up onto the railing of a boardwalk over the marsh and put on quite a performance. He busted a move, he gave me his roadrunner-look with the spiked hairdo, and strutted his stuff like he was John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever! He stuck his neck out when I was leaving to say goodbye. :-)

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I was walking Folly Beach one morning and had my first sighting of a Green Heron at the beach. He was off in the distance perched on top of a gnarly old dead tree. He had a primo view!

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One of the funniest poses I’ve ever seen a Green Heron make was right here in Carolina Park, Mount Pleasant, SC, where we live. Again, this one was stationed on a bare branch of a dead tree. His pose was cartoonish and made me laugh. :-)

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The most camouflaged Green Heron I’ve seen was at the Audubon Swamp in Magnolia Gardens, Charleston, SC. Bright green duckweed was all around covering the surface of the water, fallen trees rotting in the swamp. There he was, creeping along, looking for his next meal.

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One of my favorite birding locations is the Pitt Street Bridge, in Mount Pleasant, SC, because of the wide variety of birds that you can see on any given day. I like this shot of my Pitt Street Bridge Green Heron because it’s so colorful and the strong reflections of the broken reeds.

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I was just down in Kiawah and spotted this Green Heron along the edge of a creek. He had his head feathers flared and had just been flirting with his partner who happened to be hiding in the bushes on the other side of the creek.

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Here are a few other pics I’ve taken of this spunky little heron.

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I’m working on a portrait of a Great Egret at the moment, but I’m looking forward to painting the Green Heron sometime soon. I’m not sure yet how I will choose to portray him, but I’ve got some good ideas now.


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion….
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

My Guided Tour of Kiawah’s Birding Hotspots ~ A Three Hour Tour!

Unlike Gilligan’s Island, I wouldn’t mind being stranded on Kiawah Island. Yesterday morning I had the good fortune of having a three-hour guided tour of all the best birding spots in Kiawah. We didn’t go by boat. I was picked up by car at 6:15 am by a good friend and former Board Member of the Kiawah Conservancy (Allan Stewart), in order to be on the island for our tour departure time of 7:30 am. We arrived right on the dot!

Within seconds our guide met us in the driveway. Bob Hill is a long time friend of Allan’s and has become a serious birder, having traveled around the world photographing birds. He was prepared with bug spray to fend off the biting flies and the mosquitoes. He had water and Gatorade for us in the car. He had preplanned our excursion around the island to all of his favorite birding locations. This was an extraordinarily generous gesture from one birder to another. Many photographers do not want to disclose their favorite locations because of their competitive nature in getting the best shot.

Off we drove down streets lined with big oaks and palms. Magnificent homes with stunning architecture are all tucked back into the flora, blending in with the natural surroundings as planned out by the developer. One doesn’t get the feel that he/she is driving through residential neighborhoods, but rather through a nature’s paradise.

As we rounded a bend water was off to our right and I spotted dozens of birds all actively feeding in what appeared to be a large salt marsh. A photographer was already there with his giant zoom lens and tripod capturing the spectacle. Bob’s first stop on our tour turned out to be a sight I will always remember.

Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Black-skimmers, and I’m sure a few other species, were all actively feeding in the marshy pond. There were so many birds to focus on, some flying fast and others posing that it became a challenge to have my settings right. There was also strong backlighting, so choosing the right angle to shoot in relation to the sun was another consideration to factor in on each pic. I was torn between species! All the birds wanted my attention and I couldn’t give it to them! :-) Very stressful!

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Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I reluctantly got in the car, for this wasn’t our only stop and I could have stayed there all day. We had so much more to see. Next stop was by the Ocean Course along the beach (famous for hosting the Ryder Cup in 1991 and the PGA Championship in 2012). For this golfer, it was a treat to walk past the Ocean Course clubhouse, by the driving range and practice putting green. I was dressed more like a golfer because we had plans to go out to lunch afterwards and a collared shirt was required.

One of the birds I wanted to see most was a Black-necked Stilt. As we were walking down to the beach past the putting green I spotted one! It was all by itself in a shallow pool in the sand. I was too far away for a good shot at it, so like a rookie birder I took off on the run in order to get close before it flew away. As I was about to stop running and take a pic the lone Black-necked Stilt took off!!! Sorry, no picture. :-(

I did manage to get a few good shots of a Tricolored Heron, also known as a Louisiana Heron. It was actively feeding, acting almost like a Reddish Egret, chasing down small fish in a bit of a frenzy.

Tricolored Heron

Tricolored Heron

We moved on to a number of Bob’s other favorite birding locations. As the morning became progressively hotter the birds became less active and less visible. At one location, which happened to be where my brother and his wife were recently married, we spotted a pair of Green Herons along a small river/stream. I took this picture of the male Green Heron showing off his head feathers and strutting his stuff along the bank of the stream.

Little Green Heron

Little Green Heron

We heard the distinctive call of the Osprey up high in the trees as we were driving along. Bob pulled over and we all admired and photographed a handsome bird as he proceeded to tear into his morning catch.

Osprey

Osprey

A Bluebird posed for us in Bluebird Meadow.

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A Snowy stood atop a craggily dead tree.

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And of course gators lurked everywhere!

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Thank you to Bob Hill of Kiawah Island for being so generous with his time and for disclosing all of his favorite birding spots to me. Thank you to Allan for introducing us and for suggesting that we meet up and experience Kiawah together.I enjoyed our three-hour tour thoroughly!!!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion….
— William R. Beebe
What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe