The Birdman of Assateague! ~ Exploring with Beebe

Last week, with my Canon Digital Rebel camera all charged up and an overnight bag packed, I set out for a two day photography excursion to Assateague Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  After many recent outings to local wetlands, I thought that it might be time to take this waterfowl/bird thing to the next level.  I’ve spent many years out on the water, schooner hunting, but this was my first time wandering the wilderness in search of the avian species.

Driving through the neighboring town of Chincoteague, I noticed a street named Beebe Rd.  I thought to myself, it must be named after C. William Beebe the naturalist/oceanographer/writer, whom I wrote several biographies about in school as a kid.  For sure, my distant relative, whom my father met, had wandered the same trails back in the early 1900’s that I soon would be hiking.

I made a mental note, that when I returned home I would look through storage and find the book that I borrowed from the Catawba College library back in 1975 and never returned, entitled Exploring with Beebe, and read it!  The only other person to ever check out the book was back in May of 1956, so I don’t feel so bad. :-)

The weather cooperated and I was able to document a variety of species of waterfowl and shorebirds on film (digital).  I walked many miles along nicely paved paths that circled the large wetlands.  Starting out on Beach Road, I spotted numerous white egrets and snowy egrets.  Along the Wildlife Loop, I spotted a great blue heron, many more egrets, a blue-winged teal duck or two, a green heron, martins etc...  I photographed terns diving into Shoveler Pool and a Lesser Yellowlegs strutting his stuff. 

I took hundreds of pictures, many of which I’m excited to paint.  My mini-expedition was very successful and my energy level is way up.  I managed to get by with only a few mosquito bites.  It happened to be a relatively slow time for seeing migratory birds, so I am planning on going back when I know certain species are more likely to be there. 

Thinking of myself amusingly as the “Birdman” upon my return, I found Exploring with Beebe and started reading.  Turns out, C. William Beebe was and remains The Birdman!  He wrote books entitled Two Bird-Lovers in Mexico in 1905, The Bird in 1906, Pheasants: Their Lives and Homes in 1926, and many other books and manuscripts, documenting his expeditions for the New York Zoological Society to places like the Galapagos Islands, the jungles of South America, Borneo and just about any other exotic place one can think of. 

Early in his career, he became the curator for the New York Zoo, and was the one that introduced a “flying cage” for the birds.  On his many travels, he himself would catch rare and unusual species of birds and transport them back for all to view at the New York Zoo. 

His achievements were many and he became quite famous in his day. As I read his many exploits of handling large iguanas and giant lizards, sharing the ground with deadly poisonous yellow and black bushmaster snakes in the jungles and tropical swamps of Panama, trekking through the thickets of dense unexplored jungles, and lowering himself to record setting depths of the sea while avoiding sharks, I can’t help but think what a nice walk in the park I had at Assateague!!!!!!!!! :-)

Turns out, one of C. William Beebe’s many expeditions was to the Great Barrier Islands of Virginia.  So in the end, I most likely was literally following in C. William Beebe’s footsteps and figuratively exploring with Beebe!

Here are a few of my photos from my little adventure.

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Was Somebody Trying to Tell Me Something??? ~ A Surreal Experience!

The title of my last blog, Getting My Ducks in a Row, was meant to be taken figuratively.  In it I talked about getting organized and prepared for future paintings of waterfowl.  Well, the morning I posted the blog something surreal happened to me.  I was taken literally!

I headed to Newport News, VA to get our car serviced.  I left a little early to stop by a pond in case the ruddy ducks were hanging out close to shore.  After taking a few shots I got back in the car and headed to Newport News.  Along the way, I noticed Newport News Park and made a mental note to stop by on the way home.  

I had been by the park many times but never really noticed it.  As I drove in, I saw a big lake and lots of hiking trails.  I pulled into a parking lot and went to see what the little kids were feeding.  Hoping for ducks, I was disappointed to see just bubbles from either fish or turtles.  

I drove around the bend, pulled into another parking lot and spotted a marshy area.  I had my camera out with my zoom lens ready and once again hoping for a duck or two.  As I approached the water, a noisy squadron of ducks came bombing down into the quiet cove, landing right in front of me!  They were all mallard drakes, with beautiful emerald green heads.  

Right in front of my eyes and my lens, the all male tailgate party formed an impressive row.  I took these shots of ducks in a row, coincidentally just after posting my blog by the same title.  I called home saying to Jen “You won’t believe what I am seeing!”  

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At the very same time, in front of me and behind me, there were rows of turtles lined up on fallen tree logs in the marsh.  Hoping the commotion made by the mallards wouldn’t scare away the turtles, I was “snapping” pictures as fast as I could of the turtles in a row and the ducks in a row.  Here are some of the pictures I took of the turtles.  

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Excited and amazed by what I just witnessed, I drove around another bend wondering what might be next.  There, along the right side of the road, was a smaller body of water with a fallen tree and the longest row of turtles I’ve ever seen.  I took this shot from afar, hoping it would turn out.  Check out the big daddy snapping turtle facing the wrong way!

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While I was busy photographing, a couple of naval fighter jets flying in tandem (row) buzzed overhead.  

I found this photography outing all very odd, coincidental, surreal and quite remarkable.  Was somebody trying to tell me something?  Was it a sign from up above, that I’m on the right track?  Is it my destiny to become a prolific painter of waterfowl and wildlife or is it all a momentary passion?

Whichever the reason, I was so inspired I came home and started a large 30 by 40 inch painting of the squadron of mallards (ironically, the common duck I mentioned in my last blog that I wasn’t sure I wanted to paint!).  They were anything but common.  They were wild and full of life, having fun in their protected natural habitat.  I hope you enjoyed seeing these photographs and that you find them as interesting as I do.  My painting is from one of several shots that I took that I think has the “Wow Factor”.   It will take a while to complete but I’ll post it as soon as it’s done.   

In the meantime, be sure to keep your ducks in a row and hopefully good things will happen to you!  :-)

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Getting My Ducks in a Row ~ The Art of Nature

The more I venture into the world of waterfowl and birds, the more I’m struck by the beauty and art of nature.  I’m busy getting my ducks in a row (as the saying goes), for a series of paintings that has me all jazzed up.  Doing my homework has actually been fun. I’ve been brushing up on my photography, Googling geese, Binging ducks, and Yahooing birds!

I’ve been studying what other artists are painting, especially experts in the field of waterfowl art.  I’ve been researching wildlife and nature preserves that are easily accessible to me.  I’m planning a quick trip to Chincoteague and Assateague, on the Eastern shore of MD and VA.

My last painting, entitled Gander in Flight, was hopefully just the beginning of many years painting the beauty of nature.  I thought it would be fun at this point in the process to show you some of the photographs that I’ve taken recently. Some will become paintings, some will be backup material to draw from when I’m looking for a certain something in a composition, and some I might not be motivated to paint but I can appreciate the image.

This great blue heron I spotted way across the pond.  I fortunately saw her take off headed my way, flying low and stealth-like. She landed near me and I was able to watch her predatory movements with fascination.  When she took off I was ready for her and lucked out with this picture.  

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Just this morning I had a calling to get in my T-Bird and go bird hunting.   Usually, I head right to the easel, but I had spotted a few ruddy ducks on the same pond last night and I couldn’t pass up a sunny, calm morning of photography.  This handsome, white swan saw me photographing three little ruddy ducks and swam all of the way across the pond to pose for me.  Like a runway model, he gracefully showed off his long neck and plumage and did a close-up swim-by.

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Mallards are the most common duck.  The mallard drake has the brilliant green head and the yellow beak.  I never thought that much about focusing a painting around this common duck until I studied some of the photographs that I took.  The way the male and the female stuck close together complimenting one another struck me.  I quickly changed my mind.  Visualizing future paintings of mallards is easy for me now.

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The little ruddy duck has always fascinated me.  I love the colors on the male; rusty-red body, white and black head, and a blue beak.  Not to mention how their little tails stick up as they swim along.  Up until yesterday, I thought to myself, where am I ever going to be able to photograph a ruddy duck?  I actually spotted these little, diver, ruddy ducks close to home!  They are constantly on the move, diving for food and being careful not to come too close. They make it difficult to get a crystal clear image of them.

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Some shots I take just to capture the different water patterns.  The different lighting, colors and ripples of the water alone will provide me plenty of material to draw from when developing a composition.  Overly dark exposure on the waterfowl can create a nice silhouette of the bird on a glassy, reflective surface.  Here are a few silhouette, water shots I took that interest me.  

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Every year, a couple of lovebirds (mourning doves) land on our deck railing.  They take in some sun and enjoy the springtime weather.  Here they are soaking up some rays.  

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Some shots are somewhat humorous.  I took this shot of a great blue heron in this awkward moment.  If she knew it was going to be plastered all over the internet she would be mortified.  :-)

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Lastly, this picture makes me smile.  The  drake and the mallard hen swimming away, their tails up, ready to motor out to deeper water and to enjoy some time together.  

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It’s been fun to share some of my photographs with you.  Soon I’ll be sharing more paintings too.  I’m also busy visualizing how I want to present each waterfowl/bird in my paintings, to make sure I do them justice.  Hopefully, you all will check back in soon to see what I’ve been up to.  Thanks!

I’m no Marlin Perkins! ~ Photographing and Painting Waterfowl

When I was first learning to paint in oil, one of my early interests was seeing the Federal and State Duck Stamp paintings that were chosen from the hundreds of entries to the highly competitive annual competitions.  The coveted first, second and third place prices for the artists meant instant national recognition.  I always thought how cool it would be to have my painting of a duck on a stamp, limited edition prints made, and bragging rights for having won a national competition.

Well, over the years I’ve painted a few wood ducks, Canadian geese, mallards etc…but recently I have become somewhat obsessed with visiting our nearby marshland in search of waterfowl and the perfect picture.  Here I am, listening for a distant “quack”, ready and loaded with my little Cannon Powershot camera. :-)   I was pretending to be Marlin Perkins from Wild Kingdom, sneaking up on the wild and endangered gooney bird when Jen took my picture.  Normally, I would have my much larger Cannon Digital Rebel SLR camera and zoom lens with me, but on regular walks the tiny camera can come in handy.

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So far, my latest passion has produced somewhat limited success. I missed what would have been a great shot of a couple of golden eye ducks (identification is speculation on my part) because of my rustling of leaves from trying to get too close to photograph them.  Same goes for what would have been a lovely shot of a great blue heron along the shore of the James River with a distant pink sky in the background.  A couple of large hawks and osprey have buzzed over me but when I went to shoot, my camera was in the OFF mode!

I’m beginning to realize that I need to plant myself at what appears to be the perfect spot, and sit and wait for them to appear.  On a couple of outings, Jen has joined me and between the two of us traipsing through the woods and talking, the birds see a couple of rookies coming a mile away.  The other day after all the birds had disappeared she surprised me by producing a loud and quite authentic sounding bird call!  I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but I’m sure the bird hunters that we heard off in the distance were quite perplexed as to the never-before heard bird call.  :-)

I think the hunters have ruined it for us nature lovers.  The birds are too spooked, although, that is what makes a good photograph all that much more of a prize.   

I’ve taken a few artsy shots of geese and wetlands.  Here are a few photos that are close to what I’m looking for. I’ve already started on a painting of a goose in flight, from what I believe is one of my best photographs.  I’ve got another canvas drawn out of a distant great blue heron, standing poised in an interesting marsh formation.  As you can tell, I’ve decided to add paintings of waterfowl to my American Landscape portfolio.

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Branching out from photographing our local marshland, I plan on taking photography trips, in the near future, to the nearby Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland.  Chincoteague and Assateague Islands provide some of the best waterfowl wetlands in the world.  The Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge are also located on the Eastern Shore and are popular migratory stops for all kinds of interesting birdlife.  

It’s exciting to me to have such tremendous resources so close by.  I’m not planning on entering any Duck Stamp competitions. If my birdlife paintings are popular I will be happy.  The experience from beginning to end; the nature hunt, the photography and the painting, I assume is somewhat like what a hunter must feel, with the only difference being a happy ending for the ducks in my case.  They won’t be stuffed and mounted or put on a dinner plate, but rather their likeness painted in oil for posterity.  

My early artistic interest in birdlife has fortunately been rekindled.  Whether it is the surf and sanderlings, wood ducks on a pond, or a couple of geese resting in the marsh, this photographer/painter is looking for you!

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