Saturday, April 21, 2018

Evergreen Lake Spring - Watercolor

"Evergreen Lake Spring" Watercolor

After a tiresome winter, it's finally spring at Evergreen Lake where everything appears back in perfect order. The trout are jumping, ducks are quacking and dippers are dipping.

Rushing out of the rugged Front Range, Bear Creek becomes a lazy river as it enters the wide reservoir. The painting’s foreground features sparkling highlights that flicker across the pond’s icy inlet.

On land, the variety of fresh vegetation displays a rich diversity of size, shape and color. Known as Elephant, the big, gray butte concludes the background while wispy, white clouds sweep across a cerulean sky.

An arched footbridge transports the ambler to a winding boardwalk through a marsh of soggy cattails. The yellow reeds are a place where red-wings make a ruckus over food, relationships and intrusion.

Despite the blackbirds' protestations, most creatures consider the warmer weather a Godsend. Pressed beneath an arctic crush, we welcome spring as an uplifting prelude before the way-too-short summer season.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Noble Meadow Loop - The Windy Season

Noble Meadow

I’m enjoying our warmer temperatures but if it gets too hot, I feel uncomfortable. I actually don’t mind the wet and cold so I savor being out in stormy weather observing the wonderful lighting effects.

I can stand the heat and certainly the chill but there’s one annoying element that drives me crazy and indoors. It’s the ferocious west wind that whips down from the white mountains and batters the foothills.

The raging mistral is making its annual appearance as its the driving force ushering in spring. The windy season usually lasts for a couple of weeks but this year it seems to have been blowing for more than a month.

Every morning the early light is blemished by a murky haze that veils the normally blue sky. The relentless gale has disrupted the peaceful atmosphere causing the local wildlife to be constantly on edge.

The unstoppable breeze is born in the big peaks and funneled down through Noble Meadow like a runaway locomotive. You can find some relief by rerouting through a calm sanctuary of protective pine trees.

The tempest does serve a purpose, though, by removing dried grasses and broken branches while preparing the earth for new growth. I get that it’s an integral part of nature as it plays a crucial role in sculpting the landscape but I’m getting pretty tired of the wind.

The windy season

A murky haze

The peaceful atmosphere is disrupted

The local wildlife is on edge

The breeze is funneled through the meadow

Protective pine trees

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Easter Snowstorm - A Bad Dream

Easter snowfall

After a few weeks of beautiful weather in Bridgeport, Nebraska, things turned ugly in a hurry. Mother Nature made a fool out of anyone who thought spring was here for good.

Saturday night was no joke as the Great Plains was buried under six inches of heavy, wet snow. The flakes came down like rain and covered the hills, trees and corn.

The west pasture was completely white except for a swath of blue creek that wound its way through the prairie. The stream flowed freely until reaching a fresh beaver dam that diverted the water, flooding nearby fields.

The migrating birds were stunned by such drastic weather changes but the bucket calves seemed perfectly content. So much moisture will give a big boost to the farmer’s first crops being planted this season.

By Sunday afternoon, the sky cleared and a warm sun melted most of the accumulation. For a few days there will be a bit of ice and lots of mud but by the end of the week, the landscape will reawaken and this event will be remembered as nothing but a bad dream.

Buried under snow

Snow covered the hills, trees and corn

The pasture was white

A winding creek

The stream flows freely

Contented bucket calves

The moisture will boost crops

The landscape will reawaken

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Early Birds - Bringing the Mountains Back to Life

Early Birds

After a long, dark winter, the mud season is upon us and the bleak landscape is taking on a more encouraging atmosphere. Elk are on the move and our feathered friends are beginning to make their presence known.

The predictable arrival time of some of our most common birds is a trustworthy indicator of the upcoming seasonal transition. The availability of fresh water seems to coincide with the appearance of these early birds.

The first to show are male red-winged blackbirds as they begin establishing territory at the local wetlands in February. Dressed in formal black with a red and yellow wing patch, their familiar call breaks winter’s long silence.

The robin’s evening song betrays his presence as these surprisingly hearty birds seem to tolerate early spring’s cold and snow as well as anyone. They spend most of their day hunting for insects in the dried meadow grasses.

Canada geese come next as they arrive in pairs and land on the lake’s shimmering surface. They float about the ice-cold water with ease, creating picturesque reflections that are shattered by wind-driven waves.

By mid-March, mountain bluebirds burst onto the scene as they suddenly occur in droves and takeover the foothill’s grasslands. This time of year, during the breeding season, their blue coloring is so saturated it seems unreal.

Just the other day, we saw a few mallard ducks peddling cautiously across the pond as they seemed uneasy in new surroundings. The male was particularly striking with his green head sparkling iridescently.

There are many more species on the way as we’re expecting to see flickers, finches, sparrows and meadowlarks very soon. It’s an exciting time of year with flashes of color and continual chirping gradually bringing the dormant mountains back to life.

An encouraging atmosphere

Elk are on the move

Red-winged blackbirds show up first

Robins are surprisingly hearty

Shattered reflections

Bluebirds take over the foothills

The blue coloring is unreal

Mallard Duck

An exciting time of year

The mountains are coming back to life

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Winter's Last Stand - A New Beginning

Winter's Last Stand

After such an unusual season distinguished by sparse moisture and frigid temps, a blustery weather system arrived the day before the first day of spring. With time dwindling down, winter decided it wasn’t going out with a whimper.

Blowing in from the north, the storm didn’t unleash a tremendous amount of snow but the ferocious winds were brutal. About six inches of white powder coated the landscape, falling through cold air that plunged to nearly zero degrees.

The dark morning spawned a sinister gale that stole your breath and spattered your face with tiny bits of ice. Crunching beneath boots through a near whiteout, the windswept trail was almost impossible to perceive.

The stiff breeze was funneled down through the gulch, creating deep drifts in some places and patches of bare ground in others. Troublesome Creek was thawed and the ribbon of blue flowed freely into a pair of stair-stepped ponds.

The turbulent skies cleared, offering symbolic hope for a new beginning and a brighter future ahead. We shall proceed with caution because spring is our snowiest season so we’re not necessarily out of the woods just yet.

A blustery weather system

Not a tremendous amount of snow

A dark morning

Troublesome Creek was a blue ribbon

Turbulent skies cleared

A brighter future ahead

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Wild Iris Meadow - Watercolor

"Wild Iris Meadow" Watercolor

Wild Iris Meadow is a wonderful park located just beyond Evergreen, Colorado. It’s a warm Spring day but the weather is about to change as storm clouds have gathered over the snowbound Mount Evans Massive.

The black guidelines are scribbled in with a felt-tipped pen, setting the tone for the simplification of the pretty scene. The bright colors are derived from a palette of pure yellow, green and blue.

The loose brushwork is a difficult technique because it’s uncomfortable to let the fluid medium flow with uncontrolled freedom. Soft passages of warmer pigment spread unchecked across the painting’s lower foreground.

Working in this way provokes great difficulty while dealing with the immediacy of an unforgiving medium. Despite its challenges, hopefully, this quick sketch captures the surreal beauty of a pristine wilderness.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Northern Flicker - A Unique Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

We’re starting to see some unmistakable signs of an early spring. The daylight is lasting much longer, the snow is melting quickly and the lonely, winter trails are beginning to burst with new birdlife.

First to arrive this year were the red-winged blackbirds, then house finches appeared and then flocks of Canada geese searching for open water. I’ve also seen several mountain bluebirds as they’re decorating our brown meadow with a splash of bright color.

I like to observe the gradual changes that occur in the mountains during the seasonal transitions. I enjoy watching the birds come in and begin nesting but one of my favorites won’t show up here until it gets a bit warmer.

The northern flicker is a unique woodpecker that spends much his day on the ground, poking his beak into the ground while searching for insects. He announces his presence by establishing territory with a familiar call that echoes loudly throughout the pine forest.

These elegant birds are colored brown with a barred back and wings, spotted underparts, black bib and a white rump. The ones we see here are called ‘red-shafted’ because of the red wing and tail linings and the males sport a red ‘mustache’.

Because he spends so much time down in the dirt, the northern flicker engages in an unusual preening activity. Dust particles picked up by the flicker absorb oils and bacteria that are harmful to the bird’s feathers.

To clean himself thoroughly, the flicker squishes ants and then preens himself with the remains. Ants contain formic acid, which kills small parasites embedded in the flicker’s skin and feathers.

While hiking the summer trails, the flicker is flushed from the grasses and flashes white as he flies for the safety of a higher perch. Despite their off-beat hygiene and raucous call, I’m looking forward to encountering the northern flicker once the weather gets warmer.

One of my favorites

A unique woodpecker

A familiar call

An elegant bird

Bars, spots and a red mustache

A higher perch

I'm looking forward to encountering the flicker