Saturday, January 26, 2019

Teton Wildflowers - Watercolor

"Teton Wildflowers" Watercolor

During the dead of winter, I start yearning for the sound of birds and the scent of wildflowers. What better way to spend some down time than daydreaming about warmer weather while sketching with brushes and watercolor.

The Tetons are an impenetrable domain of jagged alps straddling Wyoming’s western frontier. Filled with flora and fauna, this rugged wilderness erupts with surreal beauty during the fleeting summer.

Blue trees cascade down into the forest meadows where fresh prairie grass is dotted with a profusion of Indian paintbrush. Looming above this American Arcadia, the spectacular peaks take on a tinge of pink during the peaceful mornings.

The geography is situated at a unique geologic junction. An extraordinary place where the northern plains were folded, buckled and exploded, creating the youngest mountain range in the Rockies.

There are no foothills as the outrageously steep pinnacles span over the surrounding landscape. It may be hard to believe but after spending time in the Teewinot, the natural charm found there might rival the grandeur of colorful Colorado.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Frozen Foothills - The Beauty of Snow

Beauty of snow

Deprived of sunlight, January is a dark month defined by brown meadows, black forests and gray brush. This forbidding time of year is exacerbated by isolation, solitude and endless waves of bad weather.

The storms come steamrolling down from the divide, dumping incredible amounts snow in a short amount of time. The wind-driven event shrouds the valley in a ghostly rampart that erases everything from view.

The next morning as cloud cover dissipates, warmer air is released into the atmosphere allowing an arctic chill to settle over the frozen foothills. The glistening, fresh powder instantly transforms the dreary landscape into a winter wonderland.

Pure, white snow brightens the area’s muddy palette as the trees appear greener, the grasses more yellow and the bushes more violet. The sparkling sky is a smooth gradient blended from cerulean to cobalt blue.

The forest is decorated with laced pine whose needle clumps collect drifts of plastered snow. The limber warriors are built to withstand the burden of heavy weight as they bend into impossible angles without breaking.

Making a trail through the park’s hard pack is a bear but the glorious scenery is worth the slog. The place is completely quiet except for the crunching of boots and the lively caws of a few hardy crows.

Springtime in the Rockies reinvigorates the soul while the summers are short and sweet. Fall is a magical time of year but there’s nothing in the mountains that compares to the beauty of snow.

Frozen foothills

Glistening, fresh powder

Winter wonderland

A brightened palette

Decorated with laced pine

Needle clumps collect snow

Limber pine are built to withstand weight

Glorious scenery

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Kountze Lake - Teeming with Waterfowl

Common Goldeneye

Kountze Lake is a man-made reservoir located in the middle of the city of Lakewood. During spring and summer, the central oasis is a hotbed of activity for both birds and animals but it seems to be busy this time of year too.

Upon entering the preserve, a vacant woodland was sparse with inhabitants save for a few fox squirrels. At the waterfront from out on the pier, the partially frozen pond was teeming with babbling waterfowl.

Canada Geese were shown in force, far outnumbering the rest of the birds. Conspicuous amongst the herd, a few white-headed floaters must have been hybrids of the Canada and the snow with their speckled plummage glittering in the evening sun.

Also basking in the warm sunlight, a male mallard’s already iridescent coloring sparkled even more brilliantly. The shovelers segregated themselves from the rest of the pack, staying close to shore on the rocks while forming a striking silhouette.

Most active of the bunch was a goldeneye that kept diving into the frigid water, disappearing for several seconds at a time. We weren’t expecting to see much wildlife on such a cold, winter day so we were surprised to encounter so many birds at such a small, urban lake.

Eastern fox squirrel

Conspicuous amongst the herd

Canada Goose x Snow Goose hybrid

Iridescent mallard

Northern shoveler

A striking silhouette

An active goldeneye

Disappeared under the water

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Bald Eagle - A Regal Bird of Prey

Bald Eagle

Back in 1872, Benjamin Franklin argued against the Bald Eagle’s nomination as the United States national symbol. The shifty bird’s frequent thievery prompted him to write that the bald eagle “is a bird of bad moral character”.

Franklin believed the wild turkey was a better selection because it was “a much more respectable bird”. While it’s true the bald eagle is an opportunistic feeder that will scavenge carrion and steal prey from other raptors, it’s also a fearsome hunter.

This huge, dark-bodied bird, with a seven foot wingspan, white head and tail, razor sharp beak, deadly talons and extraordinary yellow eyes is a fish’s worst nightmare. Although seafood is it’s favorite meal, the bald eagle will also strike turtles, snakes, ducks, geese, muskrats and rabbits.

The regal bird of prey can only be observed in North America but you can find them just about anywhere on the continent. They build some of the largest stick nests on earth with some measuring eight foot across and weighing up to two tons.

They prefer to make their home near an aquatic habitat such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs or oceans. If the local water source stays thawed during the winter, the cold tolerant eagles will reside in their territory all year long.

Mated bald eagles are paired for life and share all domestics tasks from nest building to hunting to caring for the young. They are devoted parents who faithfully safeguard the yearly clutch of two eggs and dutifully teach fledglings how to fly.

During the mid-to-late 1900s, the bald eagle population was decimated by hunting and poison, necessitating urgent conservation and a ban on DDT pesticide. The maligned bird became a national symbol despite support for awarding that honor to a turkey and now the resilient raptor has fully recovered from the brink of extinction.

A fish's worst nightmare

A regal bird of prey

Cold tolerant

A national symbol

Back from the brink