Monday, November 21, 2022

Autumn in SE O'Brien County

I was asked to write and illustrate another piece for Bleeding Heartland this past week. This one is titled "Autumn in SE O'Brien County". There are some image repeats from the last blog entry, but some new and with a story to illustrate.  Give it a read if you have a moment - I hope you enjoy it! 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Autumn Drought = Autumn Color!

 

Autumn Road - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 

I really believe we are seeing the best autumn colors this fall than I've seen since we moved here 20 years ago...its been just beautiful!  We just weren't expecting it...3rd drought year in a row...listed in the "Extreme" category now, with the worst (5 out of 5) "Exceptional" creeping even closer.

According to a state arborist, we are getting great color due to the warm/mild weather preceding our first hard frost.  We haven't had any rain since then so the wind has been the only thing dropping leaves now...and its been monotonously windy since the colors came on!

 

Hale Slough - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 

I'll leave you with some nice Fall color in NW Iowa near and not so far from our acreage.  (Click on each image for a larger view).

 

Receding Pool  and Cottonwoods - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison 

Garlock Slough - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Arching Autumn Colors - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Autumn in the Waterman Valley - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison


Happy Fall out there!   See you on the Tallgrass!

Friday, October 7, 2022

Artwork Friday!


"Inciting a Riot!"  Blue Jay Portrait - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

It's Artwork Friday!  OK...I decided "Archival Works Friday" was too constricting - I think this will give me some room to just try and post something interesting once a month, whether it's new or old...sometimes my brain just drops something out there and I say to myself "why not?"!

I'll try and broaden the original idea a bit and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month.  I hope you'll find it interesting!

Maybe this should be called "Blue Jay Friday". 

I just recently finished this Blue Jay color pencil drawing, and readily admit that this is not an old piece...but the idea does stretch back many years...Blue Jays and I.

I have always loved Blue Jays...these birds have real character and are very intelligent; part of the bird family "Corvdae", which includes crows, ravens and magpies.  My first personal “close encounter” with Blue Jays was when I was maybe around 11 or 12.  I had snuck up on one, on a friend's bird feeder, and reached up and grabbed its tail...of course the jay let out a loud squawk and flew off - leaving that stupid kid (me) with a handful of tail feathers!  Through the rest of the summer (until molt in August) everyone in the neighborhood recognized this "tailless" Blue Jay wherever it went!  I even got the feeling it was extra keen on avoiding "me"!

It's funny how us humans place our own judgments and morals on wild creatures...Blue Jays seem to get unjustly criticized at times.  Blue Jays are obvious when they're in the vicinity...noisy, constant calling; often arriving in numbers, and usually dominating the bird feeders.  Some people think they're pushy or mean, so have a personal dislike for them...placing human judgment on something is really misguided; in doing so it is easy to miss the “larger” picture...the entirety of these amazing and beautiful birds.

When we hear jays around the acreage, we can very often discern what is going on by the calling...the chatter of the airwaves if-you-will. I can often hear when they are calling to alert to a good meal to be had (at the feeders), whether they seem to be in a good or bad mood or when they are on their own and pensive (see - there I go placing human attributes myself!). I have often heard individuals do the most pleasing quiet gurgles, and jingles, when they seem to think they're alone and unobserved. When they're aware they're being watched, they can be quite quiet and alert.

They're good at imitating other birds – particularly Red-tailed Hawks. I often stop what I'm doing when I'm outside, to look up for a Red-tail whenever I think I hear one call...I can now spot “most” impersonations, but occasionally I have to say out loud “good one”! Even a Red-tailed Hawk would be proud of some of those attempts of jays (and even starlings, by-the-way) trying to imitate them!

I've found over the years how good they are at spotting hawks and owls in the yard. This can be beneficial to me if I have the camera handy. What better way to have a predator alarm! Crows are also very good at this...a flock mobbing a hawk or owl is a fairly common occurrence. And I've watched jays actually bully some hawks they should be wary of...like a dangerous game of cat and mouse. But they don't always come out unscathed.

A couple weeks back I was out in the north pasture photographing some dew covered webs and suddenly a big ruckus broke out up in the northwest corner of the backyard.  Blue Jays were having a fit...no, they were definitely upset and one jay was clearly beyond distressed. I thought to myself “someone had just become breakfast”. I made my way over to the yard as jays were dispersing in different directions. Moments later a large mature accipiter – had to have been at least a female Cooper's Hawk, flew up out from underneath a low sweeping conifer – carrying away its meal for the morning...Blue Jay feathers scattered about under the tree verified the menu.  Real life drama in the bird world!

I really enjoy trying to photograph Blue Jays. Their personalities really seem to shine at times, especially when they get cranked up or mischievous! The color pencil drawing at the top of this article says it all!  I read many years back that a flock of Blue Jays is called a "Riot" or a "Party"...hence the subtitle for this small life-size Blue Jay Portrait - "Inciting a Riot!"...gotta love these birds!

Blue Jay color pencil drawing from some 40 years ago...we all have to start somewhere!  (prismacolor color pencil drawing © Bruce A. Morrison)

This wasn't my fist Blue Jay drawing, but probably my most expressive and detailed...my first color pencil Blue Jay was done on archival/colored mat board, 40 some years ago...I've done others in more recent years as well.

 

I'll part by saying enjoy “all” the birds...they aren't little “people” and don't have our motives or faults, no matter how endearing or disconcerting!  Give 'em a break and enjoy watching every chance you get!

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

After the Autumnal Equinox

 

This can be a real fun time of year, and bitter sweet in some ways.  We had to say goodbye to many of our summer friends, like the Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, the Wrens, Chipping and Song Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels and the Hummingbirds.  

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to properly time their departure?  Ha!  Just put out a new jar of grape jelly and the Orioles leave...just mix a new batch of sugar water and the Hummingbirds leave!  It's crazy, oh well...

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the Viburnum - photo - © Bruce A. Morrison

 

I've been welcoming the new arrivals the past few days.  Lot of Harris's, Lincoln's and White-throated Sparrows; a few warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  The Harris's and White-throated Sparrow lyrics have been the new morning staple out here on the acreage...very pleasant music to start the day with.

And I've been trying to get photos but there are so many distractions in the studio and outside.  Apples to pick, seed to harvest in the pastures, chain saw work in the groves - still left over from the last derecho 2 months back (final small cleanup work).

Also been trying to get back into some artwork!  Much has been left for summer work and now maybe can be picked up once more.  I had a Dickcissel idea last spring and it keeps evolving/changing...maybe it'll be next???  Also have a larger painting on the easel that got started too late in the spring...waiting for summer and fall to end.

"Eastern Kingbird - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
 

I had a friend stop by a couple months back mention Eastern Kingbirds...I joked how they seem to move in the opposite direction - fence post by fence post whenever I have my camera with me!  Funny but true.  I did manage to find some fair poses in my image files that made a nice iconic Eastern Kingbird pose for a small color pencil portrait.

"Red-breasted Nuthatch - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

Getting the pencils out brought on more image ideas that had been pent up all summer.  I haven't caught up with all those ideas but I've done a few. Here's a Red-breasted Nuthatch...one showed up a couple weeks ago and it makes an appearance every now and then.  Hope it sticks around! 

"Sharp-shinned Hawk - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
 

I've had some raptors in the yard this summer...mostly Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and an occasional Red-tail.  This bird, a Sharp-shinned adult gave me such a great pose a few years back...I knew I had to save the idea for a drawing.  With it now being Autumn and our colors so poor this year, I decided to give it a colorful background to set it off.  I try and do all these bird "portraits" life size.  Sharpies are only about Blue Jay size or slightly larger, so this is not the biggest drawing - but then, in comparison the that Red-breasted Nuthatch it sure looks big!

Now I need to catch up on framing!  Always something!

We've got another dry Fall here on the acreage...our third severe (listed) drought in a row.  We seem to be in a "finger" stretching up from the southwest; travel 10-20 miles north and its not as bad...travel 20-30 miles east...again not so bad.  Further south seems to get rain as well...it is what it is.

Really the only issues we have here are the gardens being poor producers, the orchards were insect and bird damaged, and the pastures had poor seed production, stunted growth and many plants gone dormant, again.  We've found out the hard way that the American Viburnum we've planted are not "consecutive year" drought tolerant...holes are being punched into the 20 year yard planting here.

Weather all over the world seems to be in the news...Hurricane now hitting Florida, drought out west, and the NE...flooding in so many locations worldwide.  We'll just be grateful for what we have and do the best we can for those in need.

Its a crazy world out there - be kind to one another and I hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

Friday, September 2, 2022

September Archival Works Friday!

It's Archival Works Friday!

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month.

I am now including photographs of past years. I hope you'll find it interesting! 

 

My first large format camera - a 1951 Crown Graphic

I was first introduced to “large format” photography back in the early 1970's when a student at the University of Iowa's School of Art.  My Father-in-Law bought an old Crown Graphic 4X5 press camera from an older gentleman who had been a professional photographer all his life. The retired photographer “Andy” had bought this camera new back in 1951. I was a one year old in '51!!!

For those out there that don't know what large format is – its a camera that takes any type of sheet film from 4X5” and larger.  One sheet of film.  Large format cameras were build to accept film holders – they held 2 sheets – you'd shove the holder into the camera's back, pull a dark slide out of the holder, take the photo, push the dark slide back in and pull the holder out...if you wanted to take another photo you would turn the holder over and shove it back into the camera back and repeat the process.  You had to remember to mark the holder or flip the dark slide so you'd remember that sheet was already exposed...in the heat of the moment I must have double exposed my share of film over the 30 years I used my 4X5's!  Oops!!!

I also had a Graphic 6 sheet holder – this was very cool if it didn't jam up or fail...it was finicky!  If I were to fog or waste a sheet – B&W film wasn't too bad...maybe about 35-50 cents a sheet, but the color film could be as expensive as $1.50 to $2.00 a sheet!  To make matters worse, if you didn't realize you screwed up your shot, having to get it processed or doing that yourself spent more money on processing or chemical costs!   It was always a moment for regret after processing a batch of film only to find out something had gone wrong!  A sheet of color film, after being processed could add up to as much as $5.00 “A SHOT”!  That was a bundle to lose back in the 70's through the 90's!!! Especially for just one picture!

There was a lot of ways to lose shots...the subject moved...the tripod jiggled a bit during a time exposure...the film holder leaked, or jammed...you just plain blew the exposure...and a lot more ways!

Don't get me started with how easy everyone has it these days!!!  Oh dear, my age is showing!

I became very good at processing sheet film...I worked in a professional photo lab in Kansas City for 3 years back in the mid 70's...processed thousands of sheets - “manually” by hand. And I found I could cut my costs by over a third by doing my own that way, but it was extremely tedious and time consuming...and chemicals were not cheap or forgiving.

My 4X5 Field Camera - a Tachihara
 I used 2 types of 4X5 cameras – the first one I mentioned a ways back was just one year older than me...the other was a beautiful wood/folding field camera...a beautiful piece of workmanship, a Tachihara 4X5 Field Camera.  This wooden field camera was lighter than the lenses and lensboards I used!  I won't get into all the drawbacks or challenges of large format film and cameras, suffice it to say I've already mentioned a few, but the 2 toughest hurdles for me were always depth of field and the shutter speeds you were forced to use.  Most large format landscape images required F/32 or higher and shutter speeds of ½ second or longer...ya, try hand holding that!  NOT!  My favorite tripod was a wood ash tripod – still use it to this day – HEAVY bugger but steady as a rock!

I guess I could keep complaining or bragging about how I had to walk to school for over a mile, up hill both ways, when I was a kid (Really – I kid you not! Well, after grade school any way) But it was “work” for sure. (Just don't get me started on cameras and smart phones these days – Aacck, there I go again!)

There are a lot of stories I could get into with Large Format photography, but the all time favorite was one vacation back in the early 1980's.

On vacation, the family had to resign itself to the fact that I was always stopping to take pictures...always!  The tripod and back pack were ever present and a photograph could take up to several minutes to as much as a half hour or longer – depending on what was going on or where we were.

I carried a lot of loaded film holders, but it didn't take me long to run out of film! The only way to “re-load” film holders was in total darkness.  OK...if you're out camping in a tent, on vacation, your opportunities are limited!

One day in Cascade River State Park in NE Minnesota I ran out of loaded film.  This was NOT the place to run out of film!  We were camped in the park itself and there were too many cars, headlights and flashlights at night to chance changing film holders in the tent, so I went searching for the park ranger's house, knocked on the door and tried best I could to explain my dilemma...I showed him a sheet of film and a film holder...showing him how it worked. I asked if he had a room in his house that was able to be completely darkened in the middle of the day. He said the only room he could think of was the hallway closet and agreed o let me take it over for about a half hour!

Well the closet was “close” to being dark...there was light making it's way under the closet door, so I took clothes off their hangers (ya using the ranger's coats and jackets) and stuffing them around the door bottom. It worked! The room was very hot after a few minutes and I had to try and keep from letting sweat drip onto the film – literally!

As I was getting to my last couple holders I heard a woman's voice enter the house. Then I heard foot steps walking down the hallway toward the closet door. Next I heard the ranger's voice almost shout “Don't open the closet door – a man's in there!!!”

I don't remember much after this point except with me “popping” out of the closet drenched in sweat – then the ranger's wife shrieking hysterically!

I'm sure we spoke briefly before leaving the ranger and his wife behind, but really all I remember is the unstoppable laughter emanating from their house as I carried my pack of film holders back to the campsite.

I do remember leaving them a sheet of film as a memento of this auspicious/wacky occasion.

I'll wager the word “photographer” brings back a story for them both to this day!

Crazy camera nut!!! 

(No argument there...)

Friday, August 5, 2022

August's Archival Works Friday!

 

It's Archival Works Friday – so soon??!! 

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month. 

I am now including photographs of past years. I hope you'll find it interesting! 

I know I've gotten into this topic before with 'some' of you; it is something I relive occasionally when someone poses the question where I started; where it all began I guess. 

First it was just unintentional small steps...parents who didn't protest about the little things...frogs, toads and turtles "free ranging" in the basement; keeping a Brown Bat in a bird cage on the front porch; science summer school; teaching the neighborhood squirrels to eat out of my hand; wading and fishing in neighborhood streams. (OK...the bat in the cage didn't go over well but we kept it for a couple days anyway.) 

I gained an appreciation for the beauty of this scheme of things. I was fascinated by the light shimmering off the membrane of an amphibian, the colors and design of a turtle's carapace and plastron, the shapes of trees, their leaves, the hillsides along the Des Moines River valley, the rocks and fossils along the favorite stream of my youth - Lizard Creek, or lying on a pasture hillside staring at the sky...watching clouds and the birds that intersected my field of view. 


One day, after saving for weeks, I bought a book..over $12 - a lot of money back then for a kid!  I was eleven or twelve; the book was full of color illustrations by Louis Aggassiz Fuertes. They were awesome, beautiful...the slip cover of this 1937 edition book, for the lack of a better word, transported me. On the front cover were two of my most favorite birds, a Cooper's and a Red-tailed Hawk - perched on treetop branches above forested hillsides. The landscape and the birds were mesmerizing for a young impressionable me. I wanted to paint birds. 

Birds in the yard would never seem to hold still long enough for me to draw; I got the idea I needed to photograph them, and then I could draw them from their photo; brilliant idea I thought. After all, Audubon drew and painted from his birds after shooting them – this would be less messy! 

I didn't have a camera, but my mother loaned me her old box camera. Ya, the old Ansco Shur-Shot Jr. at the top of this post, was to be my first camera. I actually took quite a few pictures with this Ansco...all B&W...it was a 120 film camera (2 1/4X2 3/4" or 6X7cm). You can kind of guess how useful it was as a bird camera though - not very. 

One incident convinced me to get a "suitable" camera. I was walking the upper banks along Lizard Creek's south branch west of town (Ft Dodge, IA) one summer afternoon. It was a typical hot and humid day and the afternoon wasn't the best condition to find birds. By just dumb luck I came upon a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree jutting out of the high bank below me. The bird was maybe 3 - 4 feet out from the bank on a branch about 8 - 10 feet above the water flowing beneath it. The bird was awake, looking across the creek into the woodland there. I dropped as fast as I could into the grass above the high bank and crawled very slowly on my stomach to the bank's edge and peered over - it hadn't seen or heard me, the noise of the creek had masked my presence. My heart was pounding so loud I was sure the bird would hear it! 

The owl was sitting in deep shade. I pushed the box camera ahead of me and tried peering into the viewfinder without raising my head too much and giving myself away. I was no more than 6-8 feet away from the bird, yet I could not find the owl in my viewfinder; the old box camera's viewfinder just was not bright enough. I looked up again and tried to reference where the bird was, then looked back into the viewfinder - still no bird, I looked up again and the owl was no where...it was gone. 

My first SLR 35mm camera in 1963
 

Whether the bird spotted or heard me I really don't know, what I do remember is the rush from the experience and the needling anguish of blowing it! That was not going to happen again! I spent the next year saving money from about any odd job I could find, (mainly my paper route) and bought myself an East German 'Practica IV' SLR and a 400mm lens. As best I can recollect, this was in 1963. 

My first bird photo with my Practica SLR in 1964 (White-breasted Nuthatch) on Kodachrome slide film with a Kowa 400mm lens and a bellows attachment for a closer focus range.


I became hooked on nature photography that way...birds eventually led to all flora and fauna and to the landscape. Painting nature eventually led the same direction. I don't know why I didn't become an ornithologist, biologist or botanist? There was always an urge to paint, draw or photograph and that's all I can say. 

We all gotta start somewhere! 

Hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Archival Works Friday for July (July already???!!!!)

 It's Archival Works Friday!!!

The next post for "Archived Works Friday” originated from a sighting and photograph taken in NE Kansas in the summer of 1976.

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month. I hope you'll find it interesting!

I wasn't real familiar with birds of the grasslands or prairies early on...I grew up in a river valley with plenty of woodlands to explore and the birds found in that habitat were birds I grew up with.

Back in the mid 1970's we lived in the Kansas City area (Lenexa – then Shawnee), and spent what little free time we had exploring the Flint Hills and down along the eastern border and around Marais des Cygnes...all neat places. One day we were along an old railroad bed and a Dickcissel was singing away. Believe it or not – I “thought” I knew what that bird was but wasn't sure so tried getting a shot of it (shooting color slide film back in those days).

Although using a 400mm lens at the time, it was still not close enough and the slide film image wasn't the best...but there was a “seed” of an idea germinating way back then – the bird's pose was visually interesting enough to keep in my files for some future use.


It wasn't until 30 years later that I finally put an idea down on paper in color pencil...and the “study” drawing of a male Dickcissel singing was born -


"Summer Song - Dickcissel" - color pencil drawing (In the permanent drawing collection of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI) - © Bruce A. Morrison

About 10 years later I used the original sketch as a reference for adding to a prairie landscape I titled - "Prairie Song, Dickcissel" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison; now residing in a private collection in Minnesota.

I've been posting some about Dickcissels here on the acreage a fair bit this past month – I have grown extremely fond of them and have been having some preliminary thoughts in my head about doing something with them again; this time also as a tribute to this little grassland obligate. We'll see what comes of that in the near future I hope...love these little “Barking Dogs” of the Prairie!

Thank you for reading along!

Hope to see you on the Tallgrass!